It is a glorious summer day in Edmonds today – temperatures are in the 70’s and the sun is shining through gaps in large fluffy clouds. This is why I live in the Northwest!
Living here, it is sometimes difficult to pay attention to the work of the larger PCUSA denomination, but this last week the news media reminded us what the national church has been up to! As you may know, the 221st General Assembly was held in June in Detroit Michigan. At the General Assembly our commissioners and advisory delegates met, discusses, prayed, worshiped and made decisions. They commissioned new missionaries and celebrated new worshiping communities. They heard reports of the many ways churches and individuals in the PCUSA are following God’s call into new ventures, and building coalitions to serve God and neighbor. But there were two issues in particular that caused the most controversy, received the most press, and subsequently deserve some explanation.
One of these was the question of what faithful Christians can do to help alleviate the conflict in Israel/Palestine. We are a church that has two historical allies in the region: Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians. As Charles Wiley has said, we are like a family where two siblings are arguing, unable to resolve their conflict without outside assistance. The PCUSA affirms and defends Israel’s right to exist as a country. And the PCUSA also affirms and supports the ideal of a two-state solution for the region. We long for the day when both Jews and Christians can worship freely, live in peace, and be assured of their safety. How to do that is the big question. After many hours of committee work and assembly discussion the assembly narrowly approved divesting from three specific American corporations who do business with the Israeli Army as a political protest against the human rights violations that have occurred. This applies to denominational investments, such as the Presbyterian Foundation and the Board of Pensions. This is our own choice for divestment, limited to three corporations – not an endorsement or affiliation with other strategic divestment groups.
A second set of issues surround the reality of the legalization of same-sex marriages in many states, including Washington. Several presbyteries sent overtures to the Assembly asking for guidance regarding the participation of Teaching Elders (pastors) in such ceremonies. Is this forbidden, permitted, or encouraged by our Book of Order? The Assembly issued an “authoritative interpretation” (AI) that Teaching Elders may exercise freedom of conscience in choosing to marry same-sex couples in the same way they exercise freedom of conscience in their decision to marry opposite-sex couples. This means it is permitted – not required nor forbidden – and left up to the discernment of the individual pastor. The assembly was careful to note that the use of a church building for such ceremonies is (as all church use is) under the authority of the session of the church. The session may choose to allow or not allow the church building to be used for these ceremonies. The AI is effective immediately.
A second item of business related to same sex marriages concerns changes in the language of our church’s Book of Order (constitution.) These changes must be ratified by a majority of the presbyteries in order to become part of our Book of Order. The proposed changes include defining a marriage as “between two people (traditionally a man and a woman)” instead of “between a man and a woman.” Our Presbytery will vote on these changes at a meeting early in 2015.
On July 1st, there will be a regional gathering of the Presbytery to learn more about the GA actions, 6:30 PM at North Creek Presbyterian Church. We will gather at 6 in our church parking lot to carpool there if you’d like to share a ride. And a final opportunity will be Sunday July 20th following worship when Karen R., our Presbytery’s Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD) will give us her thoughts and impressions on the Assembly.
Don’t forget that I am always willing to talk about the General Assembly and how it works, as well as how the actions there “filter down” to us at Edmonds. Give a call, drop by the church, shoot me an email – and we can get together and talk.
I know that the actions of the GA, while not unexpected, still raise some anxiety in our congregation and throughout the country. Please keep our denomination and its churches in your prayers. As Karen asked us on the Sunday following the General Assembly, please continue to pray for hope and reconciliation.
with thanks in Christ,