This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, July 6, 2012

GA220 + Day Seven (Thursday)

            This was a long day, capped by a remarkable act of complacent cowardice.  The Assembly decided, by two votes, to continue to benefit from and support American corporations actively participating in atrocities against Palestinians.  They provided themselves scant cover by concocting a naïve and idiotic initiative about encouraging investment in the West Bank.  How we are supposed to invest in businesses under constant threat from a military occupation was not made clear… mainly because nobody gave a crap.  The man who set the tone for this discussion was the one who stood up earlier, during a discussion of economic policies, and affirmed the goodness of greed as an essential element of economic growth.  The idea of a deadly sin being advocated on the floor of a General Assembly says it all.  Basically the Assembly bowed down to Baal.  And then congratulated themselves on their own civility.
            They did approve a long list of social issues policy statements.  Many of these were faithful and even courageous.  However, they also cost nobody anything beyond the energy it will take to bury them deep in the Minutes and forget about them.  While such pompous pronunciamentos say the right things about justice, poverty, peace, housing, children, and so forth, they rarely trickle down to have any effect on what goes on in local churches and presbyteries, let alone the lives of individual Presbyterians and their families.  These statements, some of which actually call for the Stated Clerk to communicate with government leaders all over the world, may have had some impact back in the day when the Presbyterian Church had some political clout.  Those days are long gone.  Now we just look ridiculous. 
            At the same time, a document like “World of Hurt, Word of Life” is extremely valuable as an educational tool, and I really hope churches and presbyteries use it.  We need to see these policies shape our own lives together and forget about influencing governments.  It’s about us, and how we respond to the gospel in our social-political-economic life.
            The Assembly tends to lose its nerve when anything actually starts to have to do with real money, or threaten to be controversial.  Thus they approved an initiative to enter into discussions with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians about a possible merger of our pension plans.  While the Assembly had enough self-respect to quickly dispatch some other schemes to not only make it easier for churches to leave the denomination, but to give those who leave, or are prodding others to leave, a continued voice in our denomination, they managed to cave on this one.  If our pension plan would benefit from a greater number of participants, the denominations to talk to would be those which which we are in some kind of communion: the UCC, the RCA, the ELCA, the KPCA, and the Moravians.  Why we would partner with people who wish us harm is beyond me.
            But we’re partnering with people who make armored bulldozers for use against innocent civilians.  So our partnership standards are pretty low anyway.
            When the Assembly votes, they have this screen reminding them of the options (Yes, No, Abstain).  In one corner of this screen there is an image of a rotating Earth with gold lines of communication spreading across it.  But in the image the planet is rotating backwards, from west to east.  It is a fitting commentary on this Assembly so far that they want to go backwards too.  Conflict avoidance is the order of the day.  No one wants to have anything to answer for when they go home.
            A few weeks ago the Outlook magazine interviewed a few Executive Presbyters.  They advised the Assembly not to do anything controversial either.  They seem to think we’re still dealing with the fallout from the big changes of the last Assembly.  They want things to quiet down.  They are afraid our presbyteries are in trouble due to too much controversy and too many churches applying to leave because of it.
            Well, I’ll grant that Executive Presbyters may be in trouble, as presbyteries find that kind of bureaucracy less affordable.  But presbyteries and congregations are only in trouble to the degree that they stop trusting in Jesus Christ.  And Jesus calls us to a transformed life witnessing to his justice and peace.   

            One of the ways we’re trying to turn the clock back is this policy about internet access.  The principle is that the commissioners should not be influenced by outside forces when they are in deliberation.  In the old days this was easy.  They simply didn’t let non-commissioners into the enclosure.  Then came portable phones.  Then came the internet.  So they will allow phones into the enclosure, but they have jammed the wireless so all we can receive that way is the G.A. intranet. 
            However, those who have fancy-enough phones can now get the internet from their cell-phone signal.  Which means that this policy is obsolete.  They are in effect privileging people with advanced phones over those who only have computers.  Phone users have access to the internet while computer users don’t.  So either this policy has to go, or they have to start confiscating phones from commissioners when they go into the enclosure.
            Hey!  It’s the 21st century!  The future is open-source.  Which means we’re going to have to trust people to have access to everything available and sort it out for themselves.  The coming generations are internet savvy.  They can discern the manipulative crap from information that they find helpful.  Let them do it.  This blocking of the signal is paternalistic; it treats commissioners like children (or jurors) who can only be allowed access to limited resources.   

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