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Thursday, June 19, 2014

PCUSA General Assembly 221 + Day Five (Wednesday)


Family Reunion.
     The actual business of a General Assembly is often confusing, frustrating, and barely tolerable.  It concerns the commissioners who are often overworked and overwhelmed.
     But there is another GA going on.  This is the “family reunion.”  This includes people like me who come to support and resource the commissioners, but also to reconnect with friends and colleagues.  So around the edges there are all kinds of luncheons and meetings that sometimes relate to business, and often don’t.  At this level the business almost becomes a pretext for getting together and sharing what is going on in our lives and churches.  We advise, console, support, connect with each other, tell our stories, laugh and cry; it involves a not insignificant amount of alcohol.
     I am coming to the realization that the real business of a GA is not in the plenary or the committee meetings but in these smaller, formal or informal, gatherings around the edges where relationships are being built and maintained, and real insights shared.  Indeed, the business meeting is becoming a pretext for the more important gathering of Presbyterians for mutual support and encouragement.
     Next week Susan and I are going to the Wild Goose Festival.  I will attempt to blog from there as well.  It is rather a completely different kind of gathering.  But in another sense, it is kind of like a General Assembly… without the business meeting.  It is a gathering of Christians for education, celebration, mutual support, and networking.
     I suspect that the future will be towards ecclesiastical meetings that look more like Wild Goose, and less like the  stockholders’ meeting that GA can devolve into.

Lunch. 
     On Wednesday I went for lunch to the Israel Palestine Mission Network luncheon, which featured a talk by Jerry Pillay, who is the General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in South Africa and President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.  The question repeatedly comes up as to whether what is going on in Palestine is appropriately defined as “Apartheid.”  Having experienced Apartheid first-hand in South Africa, Pillay should know what he is talking about.
     He visited Palestine with a delegation from South Africa a couple of years ago, and he reports that many of the oppressive techniques of Apartheid are indeed being inflicted upon the Palestinians.  Indeed, he reported that in some ways what is going on in Palestine is worse than South African Apartheid.  He and his group were often left in tears from having memories of their own horrible experience re-awakened and from seeing first-hand what the Palestinians are forced to go through.
     For some reason, the masters of the Assembly saw fit to invite this rabbi to address the GA from the podium, who basically pleaded that we should not offend the Jewish community by approving divestment.  There was no opportunity for a representative of the Palestinian community to respond.  (I am told there will be.)  But if this isn’t a clear attempt to either sway the commissioners or mollify our Jewish friends, I don’t know what it is.  And now, after all these personal appeals, if will make it look like an even more deliberate slap in the face if and when we do approve divestment.

Belhar.
     The big news of Wednesday evening was the approval of the Belhar Confession for inclusion in the Book of Confessions.  We tried this 4 years ago, but it failed to garner the requisite 2/3 majority of presbyteries’ approval.  (There was a lot of other stuff coming to presbyteries that year and Belhar kind of got lost in the blizzard.)
     The Belhar Confession was composed by Christians in South Africa during the horror of apartheid. This is a wonderful confession which will add a new, non-European, dimension to our Constitution.  It is all about inclusion and diversity, with segregation the big anathema.  Now Belhar will go back to the presbyteries again for ratification.
     If this Assembly once again endorses Apartheid in Palestine after approving by a wide (86%) majority the Belhar Confession, it will be a mind-numbing contradiction.  If we refuse to divest in companies enabling, enforcing, and profiting from Apartheid, we will be demonstrating that our enthusiasm for Belhar is a lie.
      

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