Friday, June 24, 2016

Reflections on Day 6

Thursday at General Assembly is the backstretch of the Kentucky Derby. All the pomp leading up to the event is over; the horses are out of the gate and are galloping at racing speed. It’s too soon to look to the finish line, for there is a lot of race ahead. But a failure to keep pace on the backstretch will make finishing well impossible.

Thursday is the first full day of plenary business. The exhibit hall is closed. Major business is addressed. And the Assembly’s unique personality begins to reveal itself.

By its actions on Thursday, the 222nd General Assembly is progressive, but not radically so. It is distrustful of institutional authority. After spending an hour and a half following parliamentary rabbit-holes on an item that had a unanimous recommendation from its Assembly committee, the commissioners almost as a whole recognized the ease by which they can expend precious time on minor technical details, and, therefore, the value in trusting the committee work of their fellow commissioners.

That led to overwhelming majorities rejecting later amendments to committee actions. Ultimately, all committee recommendations presented Thursday were approved, a few with minor amendments. Among the actions:

- By a 73%-27% vote, the Assembly rescinded the mandate requiring the consolidation of synods issued by the 2014 General Assembly. A minority report remanding the work of consolidation to a task force of eight persons failed.
- The Assembly answered an overture seeking an apology on behalf of the church to members of the LGBTQ/Q community who have been excluded from office and prosecuted for their sexual orientation with a statement of regret. The overture had split the progressive wing of the church, with the moderate left (Covenant Network) advocating for the softer response in recognition of the unity of the church and the rights of conscience and judgment preserved in Amendment 10-A.
- The Assembly approved a “2020 Vision Team” to develop a new guiding statement for the denomination, and make plans for its implementation. The task force is to be composed of persons who are out-of-the-box visionaries – which runs the risk of losing perspective of what is politically possible, an affliction that stymied the work of the first Mid Councils Commission in 2012.
- In a related action, the Assembly approved an Administrative Commission to address the organizational issues in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and explore possibilities of organizational restructuring with the Office of the General Assembly. The commission will have limited powers to change staffing patterns, but can’t order merger or realignment without Assembly approval.
- The complete set of items known as the “Foothills Overtures” arising from Foothills presbytery, were disapproved.  The overtures sought to change the threshold for constitutional amendment, and the way the General Assembly conducts business and approves social witness policy

In other Assembly events, my good friend and colleague in Lake Huron Presbytery, the Rev. George Baird, was honored with the C. Fred Jenkins Award, an award given to one who has given “wise, prudent, and vigilant support to the Constitution and polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” Also, eleven new mission co-workers were commissioned including Lake Huron Presbytery's own Juan Lopez and the Rev. Cathy Chang, now serving in the Philippines.

The Assembly adjourned for the evening at 11:15 pm, having to provide time for commissioners to return to their hotels before the light rail system closed for the night.

There is plenty of race yet to be run. On Friday, the Assembly makes the back turn and heads toward the finish line. More to come.

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