Earlier this week I made my facebook status:
Train Wreck: a metaphor to describe something disastrous yet inevitable or distasteful yet morbidly fascinating and possibly taking place in Minneapolis this week...
The “train wreck” is a reference to the 219th meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). As the meting of the General Assembly closes this morning I can remove the word “possibility.”
In a variety of actions this week commissioners recommended changes that if approved by a majority of our 173 Presbyteries would:
Remove the “fidelity (within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman) or chastity (in singleness)” requirement for those seeking to be ordained as deacons, elders or pastors. The intent of this action is to make it possible for sessions and presbyteries to ordain individuals who define themselves as part of the GLBT community. This recommendation narrowly passed 373-323-4.
This will be the 5th time in the last 15 years the GA has asked the church to remove this requirement. It's not that they haven’t heard our answer on the previous occasions – they simply haven’t liked our answer, so they keep asking.
Approve a new Form of Government (nFOG) that is intended to be more flexible than our current Book of Order. The commissioners overwhelmingly approved the nFOG 468 – 204 – 6.
Add to our Book of Confessions the Belhar Confession written in South Africa in 1986 as a call to resist injustice, specifically racism.
The commissioners also took actions that do not require the approval of our Presbyteries. Of particular interest they:
Asked the Board of Pensions to extend health benefits to same-gender domestic partners and their children. The commissioners also rejected a proposal that the Board of Pensions no longer provide coverage for abortions (expect when necessary to protect the life of the mother).
Asked for a retranslation of the Heidelberg Catechism specifically to address a condemnation of homosexuality, which appears in the current translation but apparently not in the original German.
Approved a controversial Middle East Report after lot of changes to remove what many consider to be a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli bias. The report did retain language denouncing Caterpillar for continuing to sell products (i.e. bulldozers) to Israel. The commissioners always stop short of divesting from Caterpillar – perhaps because the denomination has $12M invested in Caterpillar stock. Commissioners also aren’t pleased with Motorola, ITT, United Technologies and Hewlett-Packard but Caterpillar always gets singled out (probably because bulldozers knocking things over makes better video that checking email on a HP laptop). Maybe we should also denounce 3M because the Taliban uses Post-It notes… just saying.
Some of the most troubling actions surrounded the work of a committee on civil union and marriage. After rejecting three overtures that asked to reaffirm a Biblical and historic understanding of marriage the commissioners voted to send us two reports expressing differing views on marriage. Essentially one report holds marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, the other as a covenant between two people.
By approving both reports and commending them to the church for study the commissioners “side-stepped” debates on:
- Changing the definition of marriage from “between a woman and a man” to “two people”
- Allowing pastors to perform and sessions to approve same-gender unions in states where they are permitted.
It was a brilliant parliamentarian move – but it wasn’t easy. The vote to set aside debate on redefining marriage was extremely close (348-324). The result is, as of today our constitution still defines marriage as a between “a woman and a man” but we are split on whether or not that “works for us” so we are studying.
- We will again be voting on removing standards for ordination that were placed in our constitution in 1996 and affirmed four times.
- We will continue to provide health coverage for induced abortions.
- We will extend health coverage (for non-ordained staff covered by the Board of Pensions) to same-gender domestic partners and
- We are gong to spend some time thinking about what it means to be married.
That’s what happened in Minneapolis this week.
It was disastrous yet probably inevitable.
It was distasteful yet somehow morbidly fascinating.
It was a train wreck.
btw – The PC (USA)’s GA web site is a great place to read details about each of these items. Another good source is the Presbyterian Outlook.