Friday, June 16, 2006

Letter from the Birmingham Convention Center, 1

I don't know how my friend Wayne Sherwood managed to give such wonderfully rich and detailed accounts of the 216th General Assembly on a daily basis. Wayne must not sleep. Hm ... vampire, perhaps? By the time the 217th General Assembly had elected the Rev. Joan S. Gray as moderator on the third ballot it was already past my bedtime.
The Rev. Deborah Block, the candidate supported by most progressives, finished second after leading on the first ballot -- although only 34 votes separated her from the fourth-place candidate the Rev. Kerry Carson, the most theologically conservative of the four candidates. He and the Rev. Tim Halverson, an avowed centrist, wound up with 20 votes on the final ballot out of 488 votes cast.
Gray's cause was no doubt helped by the fact that her book on Presbyterian polity is must-reading for candidates for ordination to ministry of word and sacrament these days. It certainly helped me get through the ordination exams back in the day.
It's way too soon to tell what her victory means about the tone and tenor of this assembly, but if it suggests anything it is that we are a moderate body.
Of course, Dr. King's great letter was addressed precisely to the moderate faith community, and he appealed to his brothers -- the eight Birmingham clergy named in the letter were all men -- to eschew their moderation in favor of a decisive commitment to justice. He noted that the inaction of the many good people of the South was more damaging to the cause of justice than the actions of the few people moved by hatred to acts of violence.
King said we are all tied together in an inescapable web of mutuality, a single garment of destiny. While he certainly meant to remind his readers of the common bonds of faith, he particularly aimed to underscore the bonds of humanity that brought him to Birmingham, for the injustice here was a threat to justice everywhere. The privileged and powerful are inextricably bound to the poor and powerless. Those at the center of power are bound to those on the margins. The Presbyterian Church is tied together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, but the question remains before us this week as to whether that tie that binds can be broadened to include those marginalized by the church today.
No time to spell check -- got to run to a committee meeting.
Grace and peace.

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