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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

PCUSA General Assembly 221 + Day Seven (Friday)


Synods.
            For years, the denomination has been debating/discussing the function and purpose of synods.  Synods are regional councils, made up of several presbyteries.  At one time, at the height of the corporate/bureaucratic era in the church, they were very powerful.  That was when we went to larger and fewer synods.  But for the last 30 years they have been declining in influence.  Recent General Assemblies have even considered abolishing them altogether.
            The new recommendation is to make them still larger and fewer, which I do not think is a good idea.  It is merely the continuation of a movement that hasn’t worked and is liable only to make synods even less relevant to the life of churches.  It reflects an obsolete, Modern, hierarchical/bureaucratic, management mindset that we have to get away from.
            While I have been a proponent of synod abolition, I have now realized that, under the new Form of Government, in which presbyteries are given far more power, synods can provide a newly re-necessary oversight function, checking that power when it is abused.  So I hope we keep synods.
            But here is my humble, though far-reaching, suggestion, based the following assumptions: that the task of a congregation is to do mission.  The task of a presbytery is to support the mission of its congregations.  The task of a synod is to assist the presbyteries in supporting their congregations:
            What if we went to smaller synods made up of smaller presbyteries?  Maybe reduce presbyteries down to around 12-25 churches, 1-6K members, with a Stated Clerk and an Administrative Assistant.  This would give us perhaps 200-225 presbyteries.  Reduce synods down to like 6-10 presbyteries, with maybe 25 synods in all.  The synods could then afford staff to support the work of the presbyteries.  And they would be close enough to the presbyteries to be effective
            For instance, in my region (which I arbitrarily identify as the Northeast megalopolis stretching from Boston to Richmond) we could have 4 or 5 synods and maybe 25 presbyteries.

Moderatorial Malpractice.
            It is out of order for some expert, when she is asked a question, to proceed to make a long speech on one side of the matter at hand before answering the question.  Yet that is what this Moderator decided to allow.  It is inappropriate as well for a Moderator to engineer the calling of a question before adequate testimony has been heard from people on one side of an issue.  And, while it may not be technically out of order, it is a violation of fairness for a Moderator to overlook the many YAADs waiting to speak in favor of divestment from fossil fuel companies.  The Moderator knows who is waiting to speak and their position on the motion at hand.  He chose to do this. 
            It is nice to hear everyone declaim their desire to care for God’s creation and so on.  They just don’t want to do it anytime soon.  The Assembly does not know from Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now”.  And if any issue demands to be addressed now, not after two years of study by an overworked, understaffed entity of the General Assembly, it is that of global warming.  The movement to divest is surging now.  We could have been a part of that.  Now, sadly, we’re not.  Other institutions are responding to this call. Not us.  The YAADs advised the Assembly to act.  They chose not to.  Apparently, we want to retain our “place at the table” with frackers and mountaintop removers, et al.  Congratulations to GA221.  
            Thank God we didn’t have anybody embarrass us by denying global warming.  At least that level of ignorance was not present at this meeting.

All Politics Is Local.
            Here’s a take on the way these debates and votes go.  We care most about what people we know will say about us and to us.  We care less about people far, far away whom we are not going to see at the grocery store or the bank. 
            We know Gay people.  They are our friends and family.  We have relationships with them.  We will have to face them when we go home.  We may even be Gay ourselves!  This is a strong incentive to vote in favor of measures that benefit Gay folk. 
            There is nothing wrong with this.  It is a big reason that many exclusions and bigotries have diminished over the past few years.  As America becomes more diverse, different kinds of people become our neighbors.  It is harder to demonize them.  This has been a very good thing for our country.
            Most of us have Jewish friends and even family members.  I suspect this is why it is so difficult for a body like the General Assembly to do anything that might offend them.  (Then add a layer of Holocaust guilt.)  We know we will have to explain/defend ourselves when we get home.  We also know people who work for companies enabling and profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  Politics is not just local, but often personal.
            While there are Palestinians among us, there are not that many and they are not that visible.  Palestinians are still mostly far, far away, and the image most people have of them has been shaped by our media, which has decided they are all terrorists.
            (One example of this is the appropriate deep concern for the three kidnapped Israeli young people… while not acknowledging that Israelis have killed on average about one Palestinian child every three days since 2000.)
            So tonight’s vote, however close, to authorize divestment from these three companies is that much more impressive and even courageous.  To vote to support suffering people we don’t know personally, and risk offending people we do know and meet daily, is a remarkable thing.  The Assembly should be commended.  

Drones.
            Someone, who was apparently a former Navy chaplain, informed the Assembly that opposition to drones was “naïve” since the military was well on the way to expanding the use of drones, even to the point of abandoning the use of manned combat aircraft altogether.  That was interesting news.  However, the idea that the church should not comment on anything because it is a done deal as far as the military is concerned is a surrender of the church’s prophetic witness.   
            I usually don’t have much patience with these resolutions aimed at some other entity, like the government.  But they do have an educating function and encourage and advise participation in a democratic political system.  These things should really be addressed to the church.  Yes it is naïve to have any expectation that the military will listen to us, let alone change their behavior.  But it is not naïve at all to organize followers of Jesus to exercise their own rights and responsibilities as citizens. 

1 comment:

Carl said...

I agree with the smaller presbyteries/smaller synods idea. Smaller presbyteries would come closer to Calvin's original ideal for presbyteries as communities of those doing ministry, to engage in study of the scriptures and mutual support/reproof. Hard to see how that can happen in most presbyteries today...