The last several General Assemblies of the PC(USA) have been called “apostate” and faithless because of some of their decisions, mostly relating to the ordination and recognition of homosexual people (LGBT). These words were thrown hard and received painfully by many on all sides of these issues. They were labeled as gutless by some who sought tougher statements about what is happening in Israel/Palestine. More often than not these epithets are often thrust by those who perceive themselves to have “lost” a battle. Will this assembly be labeled the same?
The 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) has been hard at work the past several days under immense pressure as a result of some unusual events that have occurred here in Pittsburgh. I certainly do not agree with all the decisions made here, but rarely is anyone happy about every decision a General Assembly makes. And sometimes people do things believing they are being faithful without realizing the terribly divisive and negative impact of their actions. The mood of this assembly has been subdued, more so than previous, but there is still faithfulness here.
With 688 commissioners and almost 200 advisory delegates, it’s nearly impossible to even get consensus on so many of the issues before them. As is the usual case, this assembly is hesitant to take action, though it seeks prayer and discernment. In some people’s minds this does not speak well to the myriad of issues before this assembly, nor does it serve the Gospel.
We in the PC(USA) are a contentious bunch—we believe that God’s Spirit is present in our deliberations while holding in tension the disappointment and frustration of our fracturedness. We believe that hearts can and are changed by these arguments, as we weigh the issues against our calling as followers of Jesus the Christ.
Yesterday, the GA voted to not divest from companies who have been accused of perpetuating the violence that is happening in Israel and Palestine. Today we called for prayer. We are not always decisive. We cannot always do what people want us to do. But we are faithful, even some cannot see it. We are a big ship to turn, and sometimes our faithfulness does not look like people would expect faithfulness to look. And sometimes, in faithfulness, we mess up.
It took a long time for the body to recognize the gifts that women bring to ministry and the need to recognize that they, too, are set apart by God for particular work. It is taking a long time to recognize that LGBTQ sisters and brothers are and have been set aside by God for particular work, but we’re getting there. God’s Spirit is not easy to discern.
I recognize and confess my own impatience with our inability as a community of faith to speak clearly and directly to the pain, suffering, and oppression that is happening in our world, whether it be with LGBT persons, Israelis and Palestinians, Syrians, those who are hungry all over the world, or even those who risk their lives crossing our borders to come to the U.S. to earn a better living to support their families.
But I also recognize that each gathering of our General Assemblies have these moments when the Spirit of God breaks through the cloud of confusion offering glimmers of hope. They happen in a flash sometimes, and they can be difficult to recognize. But they do happen. And this GA is no different. In the sharing of hurts there is healing. In the offering of grace there is hope.
We don’t always make the “right” decisions, but conversations happen, hearts are shifted (even if only a tiny bit), and lives are indeed transformed.
I hope and pray that we (I) can see through the challenging stuff to witness the intense efforts at faithfulness and the glimmers of God’s Holy Spirit that peek through the cracks in our sometimes exaggerated, self-defending armor. And by God’s grace we might witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God has, indeed, come near.