At this morning’s ecumenical worship at the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA) the sermon was presented by the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada and recently elected president of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in North America. He preached from John 1.1-14.
Rev. MacDonald shared that the first fourteen verses of John turn up-side-down the powers of the world that more often than not make life so difficult for so many. In these opening words the evangelist challenges the powers that be with the power of a loving and grace-filled God who seeks communion with creation. Rev. MacDonald said, “We have operated under the illusion that we [the West] have brought the Christian faith to people and that God got off the boat [in North American] with Columbus.” This way of operating, he said, can no longer guide us as we have come to realize that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not so much about announcing the beginning of God’s presence as revealing the presence of God already present in creation and in history.
It is a subversive Gospel (good news) we follow as Jesus challenged the assumptions of our own power as human beings (and the people that seek to concentrate and harness that power). The Good News, Rev. MacDonald shared, is that God’s Word confronts a worldview that “animated colonization, and that animated some of the most horrible destruction of creation and history.”
As part of the prayer for communion, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S., shared in her prayer of Thanksgiving that as “wisdom” God inspires us to to speak truth, as “power” God strengthens us to do justice.
The conversations shared at this General Assembly have been challenging and not without controversy, as one might expect in a denomination that lifts up the value of “freedom of conscience.” As the committees wrapped up their business, there are those who are celebrating the actions of the committees and those who are mourning the loss of a denomination they no longer understand or feel they are a part. In past G.A. gatherings votes and measures have flipped back and forth from protecting the status quo to prophetic expressions of hope and change, and even taking giant steps backward. As we shared in the elements of communion this morning, celebrating Jesus’ sacrifice through the bread that unites us and the cup that challenges us, it is hard for me to not be proud of a church that challenges itself to take risks on behalf of those who suffer.
If you have not had a chance to read the news coming out of this General Assembly, I encourage you to do so here and here. It would seem the Spirit of God is pushing us to be the church of and for the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering.
Could this be a turn in our denominational life together? Is it possible that those, for whom the trend of our communion has been challenging, leaving has allowed us to be more unified and focused in our call from God to reach out to the marginalized and the suffering, and less embroiled in ideological debates? I am grieved by those who are choosing to leave, but feel we may also be witnessing a clearing of the fog we have endured for so long which prevented us from paying attention to and acting upon the movements of God’s Holy Spirit. We’ll see how it all goes starting this afternoon.
- Approved amending the Book of Order of PCUSA to change marriage language allowing inclusion and equality for same-gender covenants and a freedom of conscience amendment, allowing pastors who oppose same-gender marriage as a matter of faith, the discretion to not preside at said marriages.
- Approved an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) giving teaching elders (pastors) immediate relief and authority of conscience in states with civil marriage equality.
- Approved divestment from corporations (caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions) due to their involvement in Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. (I have yet to read the amended motion so can’t say what it looks like)
- Approved divestment from for-profit prisons, jails, and detention centers.
- Referred Fossil Fuel divestment to the Mission Responsibility through Investment committee (MRTI) for further exploration.
- Approved adding the Confession of Belhar to the PCUSA Book of Confessions.
- Approved a more “interreligious stance” in PCUSA polity/policy
- Approved the commemoration of the Armenian genocide
- Approved recommendation to restore our relationship with Cuba
- Approved affirming PCUSA’s opposition to the death penalty and calling for a moratorium on it.
- Approved the MidCouncil recommendations (looking at synods and other structures)
- Disapproved and approved a whole slew of other things…
And, as my friend Andrew cautioned: none of these decisions are final until approved or disapproved by the Assembly. Those votes will occur over the next three days. Changes to the Book of Order and Confessions, if approved, would then need to be ratified by the Presbyteries.