GA222: A Gospel Vision for the Church

The 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was one of the most positive church experiences I’ve had in a long time. There were moments of disappointment and frustration, as always, but I sit several days after closing worship with a sense of hope and deep gratitude for the people and the work of the PC(USA). I also sit ready to get back to work (after a brief rest, which I hope you all are taking as well), because we as PPF have a special role after this GA that could have just changed the way our denomination engages with peace and nonviolence. It will be our job, with other partners, to help interpret what some of these new policies and statements mean for the way that we as the PC(USA) moves forward.

Matthew 25: On Becoming a Church Committed to the Gospel of Matthew 25 passed almost without fanfare. When we first began scheming about this overture during the Activist Council meeting in September, we wanted to craft an overture that was biblically grounded, that inspired us to live more deeply into who the Church is called to be, and (of course) one without financial implications. There were several overtures originating from Foothills Presbytery that sought to severly limit the PC(USA)’s ability to respond quickly to social issues and create an insurmountable bar for bringing overtures and constitutional amendments. The Matthew 25 overture was seen as the more genuine way to be church, which was our intention and hope. In plenary, this overture was passed in the consent agenda, meaning it was not discussed individually. It’s wonderful how quickly the GA identified the mission and calling of the PC(USA) with this overture, but part of the beauty of this overture was in its invitation to really talk about how we’re called to be in the discussion of it. Since that didn’t happen during plenary, it is our job to find ways to share this overture with the larger church and to help interpret what this means for us as a church. Rick Ufford-Chase’s new book, Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions for the Church in an Age of Empire is one way that we hope to participate in a denomination-wide discussion about the Church’s calling to be bold and prophetic. Stay tuned for follow-up on how to host or join a book group.

Peace Discernment: This General Assembly also amended and passed a report written by ACSWP (Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy) that was the culimation of the six year peace discernment process that many of you have participated in. PPF had an overture in this committee which allowed us to have a strong voice in the committee to advocate for amending the ACSWP report to include more active nonviolence. The committee and plenary both passsed an amended version of the five affirmations of peace that call the church away from our traditional Just War theory and toward a position where active nonviolence is our starting point. Although Just War theory is included as one of the traditions from which we draw, the affirmations more strongly affirm nonviolence and resistance to war as the PC(USA)’s priority. This is the history of PPF–for decades we have been the leaders in interpreting and modeling what active Christian nonviolence means for Presbyterians. This is the present of PPF as well–we can continue to be leaders in our denomiation who theologically interpret and model what these new affirmations mean for us as Presbyterians.

From the affirmations of faith: We place our faith, hope and trust in God alone. We renounce violence as a means fto further selfish national interests, to procure wealth, or to dominate others. We will practice boldy the things that make for peace and look for teh day when ‘they shall beat their swords into ploughsares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ 

Fossil Fuel Divestment: I also sit three days after closing worship still profoundly disappointed, at times angry, and also incredulous that the General Assembly did not pass the fossil fuel divestment overture that many of you worked so hard to get to this point. The overture calling for divestment from fossil fuels arrived at the GA in Portland with over 30 concurrences. As far as anyone I’ve talked to can remember, this is the most concurrences any overture has ever had. That in and of itself should speak volumes to the urgency and relevance of this issue for our church. Many people in PPF worked with Fossil Free PCUSA and others to help pass this overture. It passed strongly in committee, with help from the testimonies of the delegates from the Iraqi Kurdistan delegation, but it did not pass in plenary due in part to a poor presentation of the committee’s work by the committee leadership. Now we have work to do. Although the GA failed to act prophetically on this urgent and relevant issue of peace, we must work with others in the PC(USA) to push oursevles and other individuals, congregations, presbyteries, and Presbyterian organizations to divest ourselves from fossil fuels, to be active participants in the movement for creation justice. Just because the GA did not act in a bold way does not mean that hinders all Presbyterians from doing so.

Middle East: We saw the Middle East committee do great work, passing overtures to do a prayerful study of BDS over the next two years, calling on Realty Company Re/Max to stop selling and advertising properties in the illegally occupied West Bank, and approved a report by ACSWP that does not take a position on a one- or two-state solution, but instead calls for human rights in the absence of a just peace. The overture to boycott HP did not pass in committee, but overall we are very happy with the results of the Middle East work at GA and are deeply grateful to support the work of Israel Palestine Mission Network and work with them, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other organizations advocating for justice in Palestine and Israel.

There were several other overtures dealing with reproductive choice, the Sanctuary movement, LGBTQ justice, and acknowledging the U.S. military’s role in the killing of nearly 300 Korean civilians near the village of No Gun Ri in July 1950. The General Assembly voted favorably on all of these issues, and we look forward to participating in the work that this GA calls us to. We move forward in all of this work within the framework of the Belhar Confession, which was also adopted by the 222nd General Assembly.

Even in the disappointment and frustration of the failure to move boldly on fossil fuel divestment, this General Assembly reminded me of how the PC(USA) continues to call me and us deeper into the call to work for Christ’s peace through justice. I believe that PPF truly modeled a way to live and work for peace in our interactions with each other and other organizations, through the work that we adovcated for, and in both the Progressive Issues Briefing Breakfast on Saturday (a first for us) and the Peace Breakfast on Wednesday, where Rev. Osagyefo Sekou delievered a challenging and inspiring keynote. Rev. Sekou, with Peaceseekers Jill Bolander-Cohen, Evelyn Chumbow, and Bill Coop, reminded us that the work of Christ is peacemaking. We are called to practice peacemaking in the face of white supremacy, human trafficking, and war. We are called to examine ourselves, to challenge each other and our institutions, and to model humility and boldness as we work together to live out the call to resisting the violence and evil of oppression and domination.

We leave this General Assembly with the tools to engage in conversations with other Presbyterians, with our congregations, and beyond the bounds of the PC(USA). We as PPF are poised to truly help shape the next years and decades of our denomination. Let us model a self-reflective, bold, multi-generational, diverse, and intersectional approach to living and working for the things that make for peace. It is a joy and a challenge for which I am grateful to be church with you.