Putting away the event of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church would probably be the best of all worlds as far as my emotions go, but neither my emotions nor those seeking information will allow that. I woke up this Sunday morning thinking about the letter from the Palestinian Business Committee addressed to Kristine—a commissioner who was a member of the committee on Middle East Issues. It was handed to her as she began participation in the consensus part of plenary, the part having to do with divestment. My thought, as I awoke, was it had to be a staff person or GA helper, who handed her the letter because no one else was allowed in the area.And then as I entered our courtyard at church this morning a friend asked about my perceptions of General Assembly. So let me lay it out in a more structured way than I have in other postings.
This GA was lawless and chaotic and here are the reasons:
Marriage: As so many have already written, the GA voted on an Authoritative Interpretation that should never have been voted on because rather than being an interpretation it was a redefinition of the Directory of Worship’s definition of marriage. It contradicted not only the Directory of Worship but also the Book of Confessions which alongside of the Book of Order is our constitution. That makes the action unlawful.What caused it to be chaotic is the fact that the item was addressed before the assembly with this recommendation by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution:
“This overture proposes an authoritative interpretation which would allow the exercise of pastoral discretion and freedom of conscience in conducting a marriage service for any couple as permitted by the “laws of the place where the couple seeks to be married.” It suggests an interpretation contrary to the clear statement of W-4.9000.
Section W-4.9001 and related citations (W-4.9002a, W-4.9004, W-4.9006) limit marriage to couples who are “a woman and a man.” Because these statements are clear and unambiguous, they can not be interpreted in a manner that is inconsistent with their plain and ordinary meaning.
The Book of Order is not based upon state and civil law, but the church’s understanding of Scripture and Reformed theology. As noted in Southard v Presbytery of Boston (GAPJC 2012, 220-02), “While the PCUSA is free to amend its definition of marriage, a change in state law does not amend the Book of Order.”
Freedom of conscience is a foundational principle of the PC(USA) (G-2.0105) but must be exercised within certain bounds. The exercise of freedom of conscience in and of itself is not necessarily a violation of polity or an obstruction of constitutional governance. Such freedom of conscience, however, is not freedom of action. All persons in ordered ministry have a duty to fulfill constitutionally mandated responsibilities.
If it is the will of the assembly to change the definition of marriage, such a change is better accomplished by amendment of W-4.9000 rather than by authoritative interpretation.”
But when the ACC was asked in plenary to explain why the AI was not an acceptable answer for what the GA was trying to do, they gave a different answer. And when they were asked why their advice on the item 10-03 did not match their advice on the floor they ignored the question. Leadership in this GA was so focused on moving the PC (U.S.A.) into a position that would conform to postmodern western values rather than biblical values that they were willing to lay aside proper procedure even to the point of telling commissioners that it was up to them to fix the contradictions they were voting on.
Divestment and Israel: I have already written a considerable amount on this subject. The committee members were manipulated and controlled. They were never given the other side of the story. They were even addressed by a Palestinian who inferred that a Jewish State of Israel from its beginning was an illegitimate state. This was Rifat Odeh Kassis who spoke to both the committee and the plenary before the vote on divestment. He also inferred that the first Christians were Arabs and not Jews.
Actions on Middle East issues were more than illegitimate, they were imposed by outside organizations who from the very beginning menaced the committee with their complaints that the original moderator of the committee was unsuitable because he had traveled to Israel via funds by a local branch of the Jewish federation and had attended an interfaith Seder. They failed to note that he had also visited Palestinian refugee camps.Commissioners in the ME committee pleaded to hear the other side and were ignored or lied to.
Life Issues: One of the saddest outcomes of this GA was their rejection of an overture that would have protected infants aborted alive. The committee not only rejected care for the unborn, they rejected care for those babies who survive abortions agreeing with those abortionists who commit such acts of murder as snipping the spinal cords of babies surviving botched abortions.Item 09-02 was disapproved both in committee and plenary. This is the first two recommendations of that item:
"1. Call for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and member congregations to enter a two-year season of reflection upon the plight of children unwanted by human society, both born and not-yet born, and to purposefully seek to enter the pure worship of God by offering aid, comfort, and the Gospel to those responsible for the care of our most desperate orphans (including those who survive abortion procedures): parents, siblings, church and community leaders, and the medical profession.
2. Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk to issue statements that denounce the practice of killing babies born live following an abortion procedure, such as was revealed in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia."One of the commissioners, an evangelical teaching elder, privately stated that once he spoke up for the unborn he was no longer allowed to speak in the committee. Some will be angry with me for using this analogy but an analogy is not wrong when it is right. This clearly aligns the PC (U.S.A.) with the German Christians of the Nazi era. They do not care for the life of the weakest of humanity.
My recommendations to the orthodox in the denomination (and please, this is my own personal opinions)
The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has proven itself lawless. By this I mean those directing the assembly, those organizations offering official advice, and those setting the rules, which in many cases were not legitimate rules, paid little attention to proper policy or even human decency as they led and advised.It isn’t just that the GA illegitimately voted for an AI that immediately opened the door to same sex marriage, it isn’t just that they voted for divestment from three companies doing business with Israel, it isn’t just that they ignored the plight of the baby who survives an abortion, it is that they manipulated, broke standard policy and lied, that is the biggest problem. And they did this because they call good evil, and evil good. They did it because they have rejected the word of the Lord of the Church.
I believe there needs to be several reactions here:There are some churches that are in conservative presbyteries. They are in safe places. Unless they feel called to leave they should stay. The denomination needs to hear their voices. Broken people in the PC (U.S.A.) need to hear, over and over, God’s good news of salvation and transformation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I believe that the Fellowship of Presbyterians will provide an open door and a safe place for these churches. And for equipping those who stay the Presbyterian Layman and Theology Matters are providing excellent material.There are some churches that are in hard progressive presbyteries. It may be hard to leave but unless the Holy Spirit is calling on them to stay and be the voice of Christ they should probably go. Presbyteries need to understand that those among them who are orthodox are weary and want to serve God without giving time and money to questionable causes. They can’t serve on Presbytery committees that wink at apostasy and false doctrine. They can’t bless candidates who will not affirm biblical truths. They can’t be a part of conferences where false teachers offer a false gospel.
There are some people who are called to a prophetic ministry in the PC (U.S.A). They are called to keep speaking God’s truth until they are no longer allowed to speak. They are called to speak as the insults pile up and their voices grow hoarse. And they must obey the Lord.
And then there are those who are in circumstances that we may not know about or understand, personal circumstances that change the direction they intended to go. This is why we must not judge each other about staying or leaving. God is the sovereign Lord over all of our decisions. He may stop some of us when we did not intend to be stopped. He may turn some of us aside when we did not intend to turn. May he, the Lord of our life, have mercy on all of his sheep.
 The letter in the second paragraph begins: “As you begin deliberations on a number of overtures related to divestment from those companies complicit with ongoing occupation, we would sincerely offer our insights into the best ways to support economic growth and development in Palestine.”
The letter goes on in bold letters to state “Our primary message to you is that the greatest constraint on our economy and economic development is NOT capital but the occupation.” Then there is a whole list of ways the “occupation” hurts Palestine.
 While it was undoubtedly Presbyterians who complained all of those who are pro-Palestinian only are connected to and influenced by both Christian and Muslim Palestinian groups outside of the PC (U.S.A.).
 I would recommend the book The Nazi Doctors: Medical killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Jay Lifton