Friday, July 09, 2010

Blogging the Assembly

Late last night the Assembly voted to commend to congregations and presbyteries a study report on same-gender marriage. Following that vote, GA voted to let that action be the Assembly's response to a series of overtures that proposed changes in the definition of marriage in our directory of worship, and one that would have clarified pastoral rights and responsibilities in relation to same-gender marriages in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal.
The final vote on that proposal came sometime after 11:00, and it passed by about 40 votes. I think some of the commissioners were just too tired to keep debating into the night. I was certainly tired by that point.
The argument that carried the day, it seemed, was that the study document provides an opportunity for the entire church to enter a season of study and discernment about marriage.
So we move ahead. I have deep doubts about the prospects for conversation. It has been our experience over the years that, absent a proposal requiring a vote, the church simply ignores difficult issues until the next GA.
The question is not going away because the people whose lives are most deeply wounded by the church's inaction are not going away.
So, on the whole, GA was a mixed bag.
If nothing else, this Assembly provided one great line. During the marriage and civil union committee's hearings Tuesday afternoon one conservative advocate lamented that over the past half dozen years or so GA has become "a big gay party."
That's one of the best descriptions of the joyous people of God I've seen in a while, so here's my motto for the 220th GA: Pittsburgh 2012 -- The Next Big GAy Party!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Blogging the Assembly

I don't know what it is with me and laptops these days. Mine has blown some video function again, and since yesterday the screen presents everything as if it's a film negative. Incredibly annoying, and it reduces the world (the on-line world, in any case) to a pale and mostly monochromatic version of itself -- kind of the like the Presbyterian Church, come to think of it.
But a couple of things happened today that offer hope of a more colorful and diverse communion. The one that will get all the attention is the vote this afternoon to open ordination to called and qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. Along with thousands of others, I've worked for a long time and countless hours on that goal, and today is another step on the long road to equality and justice.
Not many will pay much attention to one other item. GA voted down a recommendation to allow for the creation of linguistic presbyteries. Some in the Korean-American church sought the change, but it struck many as a Trojan horse in which theological purity was the real issue. Saying "no" to the proposal makes it more likely that the Korean-American Presbyterian congregations within the denomination will continue to be more fully integrated into the larger church and thus the larger church will continue to be shaped and informed by its Korean sisters and brothers as well as the other way around.
There is a great deal of fearfulness that surrounds these votes: fear of change, fear of the other, fear that the changes will bring about the end of the PC(U.S.A.).
I am afraid that the "changes" my laptop is undergoing may be fatal this time. But the church is much sturdier, and it will endure. I hope that soon both the church and my screen look brighter and much more colorful.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Blogging the Assembly, Day 3

I am just too tired to think about much, though Jay Leno is on right now in the background and he seems to have just hosted a wedding on Latenight. How romantic ... and spiritual.
Well, the committee on civil unions and marriage at GA today endorsed a change to the church's definition of marriage from "one man and one woman" to "two people." It probably won't get us on Leno, but it will open a lot of doors that had been closed.
The committee that deals with ordination issues recommended a rewrite of G.60106b -- the section of our Book of Order that bars ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender church officers. The revised language removes all such categorical barriers.
It was a good day at GA. But now it's almost tomorrow, so I'm crashing.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Blogging the Assembly, Day 2

I heard this story today: in March of 2003, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, the session of a Presbyterian church in Iowa was meeting. The pastor asked elders to share their thoughts on the simple question, “what would Jesus do?” As they went around the circle, one elder became increasingly agitated. When it was his turn to speak he said, “if you’re asking me if Jesus would drive a tank into Bagdad, then my answer is no. But Jesus would be wrong!”
That story underscores for me one face of the faithlessness that plagues our nation. We really do not believe in the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives. We really do not trust in the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to have real power in the real world to bring us even one hour closer to the reign of God’s shalom.
I saw this car yesterday just covered with bumper stickers. One in particular caught my eye. It read, “atheism is the cure to religious terrorism.” Needless to say, I found the sentiment off putting, atheism being its own peculiar brand of religious intolerance.
And I thought, no, for us Christians, the nonviolent way of Jesus is the cure – the only effective response to the violence of terrorism and every other form of violence from the personal and local to the regional or global.
In the Confession of 1967, our Presbyterian forebears spoke a prophetic word calling the church to commend to the nations the way of nonviolence. As the Confession states, “The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace […] even at risk to national security.”
A lot has changed in the 43 years since that confession, but the timeless charge to be ambassadors for Christ in his ministry of reconciliation has only grown more urgent in a world awash in violence. Just yesterday there was another suicide bombing in Baghdad and a bomb scare that briefly closed New York’s Kennedy Airport. Day before yesterday there was a murder about 8 or 10 blocks from I am right now – the 25th murder this year in Minneapolis.
I can’t help but hear Jesus saying, “enough of this. Put away your swords.”
If we are to be the body of Christ in the world, then it must be us who says, “enough of this. Put away your swords. And your guns. And your bombs.”
To say that with power and authenticity we must learn to live it in our own lives. It is not enough merely to say – or even to sing – we ain’t gonna study war no more, we must also begin to study the nonviolent way of Jesus, and to listen, anew, for Christ’s call to us to be peacemakers.
Our church, through an overture that is under consideration here this week, is inviting the whole church into just such study and discernment. We want to have a conversation similar to that which the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity invited us into a few years back; this time around the practice of nonviolence and its implications for our common life, including asking ourselves challenging questions about our own theology of war and our participation in it.
My church sits less than two miles from the Pentagon, and some of our members are connected to the defense establishment one way or another. We also live and work in Metro DC, often called the murder capital of the world. So this is very real to us.
We do not wish to see the creation of a limited study group that would bring to some future assembly a position paper to be voted up or down and then placed on a shelf to gather kudos and dust. Rather, we encourage the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to work in consultation with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Fellowship to find or develop low-cost and no-cost ways to engage and facilitate a conversation across the church.
Both programs are already beginning to use social networking and other electronic means to disseminate information, and we believe that is but the first of many possible steps that can be taken.
As our Constitution reminds us, the mission of the church in any generation is to be found in "sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world" [G-3.0300c(3)(e)]. We believe GA action endorsing our overture can be a crucial step in fulfilling that mission.
We shall see.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Blogging the Assembly

A few images from the first 30 hours or so of the 219th General Assembly.
Elder Cindy Bolbach, from our neighboring congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Arlington, was elected moderator. That means that four of the past five General Assembly moderators have joined us at Clarendon for worship or fellowship during the past seven years. For a little church that often finds itself at odds with the denomination we do seem connected to its leadership. And we say, "yeah, Cindy!"
Before heading in to the opening worship this morning I joined my More Light friends and colleagues in a public witness across the street from the convention center, reminding those entering worship that not everyone feels welcomed by the church. We were led in singing by a man wearing a fabulous rainbow stole that had graced our communion table at Clarendon a week ago.
Worship at GA is a pretty grand and moving affair, and it included puppets, waving banners, dancers and a liturgical artist, as well as preaching, communion, and, for the first time, a baptism.
I have spent the rest of the day in meetings or preparing testimony, and now I'm watching fireworks out my hotel window. A nice beginning.