Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reflections from the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Nine

Celebrating World Mission.

In its report to the General Assembly, our office of World Mission both celebrated the retirement of mission co-workers and commissioned a new class of co-workers:

Retiring from active mission service:

  • Marta Bennett – 21 years
  • Tim and Marta Carriker – 38 years
  • Nancy Dimmock – 31 years
  • Farris and Thelma Goodrum – 33 and 26 years
  • John and Gwen Haspels – 41 years
  • Sadegh Sepehri – 20 years
  • Tim and Gloria Wheeler – 32 years
Commissioned to new positions of mission service:
  • David Cortes-Fuentes and Josefina Saez Acevedo, serving in Cuba and working with the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba in theological education
  • Charles and Melissa Johnson, serving in Zambia and working with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in agricultural development
  • Juan Lopez and Cathy Chang, serving in the Philippines and working with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines to prevent human trafficking in the region
  • Noah Park and Esther Shin, serving in Egypt and working with the National Evangelical Synod of the Nile in theological education
  • Donna Sloan, serving in Malawi and working as a long-term volunteer with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in theological education

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Eight

And One Non- Action:

The General Assembly approved doing nothing about the place and role of Synods in our denomination. This is mind-boggling and very discouraging. After several, different mid-Council commissions and years of talk, study and debate, the strong forces of institutional inertia have taken control to make sure nothing changes.

Tod Bolsinger was the moderator of the first and the best mid-council commission years ago now. Their report was imaginative, creative, forward-thinking and bold; and was utterly dismissed and tossed into the trash by the General Assembly that year. Tod has written a good new book on church leadership titled, Canoeing the Mountains. Please read Tod's book. Let's talk about leadership in this new era.

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Seven

The Top Five Action Items:

The 2016 General Assembly is now adjourned. What was accomplished?

The easy election of a new Stated Clerk: The clear, first ballot election of our new Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson is an important leadership change. J. Herbert has served as the director of our denomination’s Washington office. Thus he brings a wealth of experience working with the national offices of our church to his new position as our Stated Clerk.

The Way Forward: Those of us carefully following the conversation leading up to the General Assembly were impressed by the list of overtures being brought by Foothills Presbytery all concerned with the internal structure and decision-making process of the General Assembly. I thank the leaders at Foothills Presbytery for pushing this important conversation although their overtures were not approved. Nonetheless, in true Presbyterian fashion, the General Assembly created a Way Forward Commission to study the structure and function our General Assembly. Please pay attention to the work of this team over the next two years.

Support for Palestine: Although profoundly complex and deeply divisive, the General Assembly spoke again into the Israel Palestine issue. The report that was adopted is important. Please see my blog article on it. Our Church needs, in my mind, to focus on supporting, encouraging and creating partnerships with Christians in Palestine.

The almost apology: The carefully worded statement from the General Assembly expressing sorrow, but not apologizing, for the way our Church has treated LBGT persons is important. See my blog article which includes that actual statement.

Directory for Worship: The easy approval of the proposed new Directory for Worship is vital. This is a constitutional issue on which our Presbytery will have the opportunity to vote. Please study the proposed new Directory for Worship.

Reflections from the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Six

A pastoral letter to our Church . . .

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a new season in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as witnessed by the actions of the 222nd General Assembly (2016). The body of 594 commissioners who gathered June 18-25 in Portland, Oregon, elected Co-Moderators Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, and J. Herbert Nelson as the Stated Clerk. Both were historic, and both signal a new way forward for our church.

The business decisions made by the body also were transformative for the 1,572,660 members and 9,642 churches of the PC(USA). The work wasn’t easy, and involved careful deliberations. Collectively, the body acted on nearly 100 overtures by discerning the will of Christ.

Among other things, we now have a new addition to our Book of Confessions – the Confession of Belhar. It is the first of our confessions that comes from the global south. And, the PC(USA) has a new Directory for Worship; and Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy and Procedures. God is truly guiding us to be more faithful and just to all of God’s creations.

Much discussion has been taking place around the identity and purpose of the denomination, and this week the assembly voted to create a 12-member Way Forward Commission “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA),” and a 15-member 2020 Vision Team to “develop a guiding statement for the denomination and make a plan for its implementation.”

To quote Stated Clerk-elect J. Herbert Nelson, “We are not dead ... we are alive, we are reforming and we are transforming this world, one person at a time.”

Looking outward, the assembly voted to engage in selective, phased divestment from fossil-fuel companies through the PC(USA)’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, and re-affirmed a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine.

Please know this is only a snapshot of the actions taken, and just a glimpse at where God is leading this denomination. Complete business actions can be viewed at www.pc-biz.org.

We are, brothers and sisters, in a new season. It’s exciting, but also a little scary. Yet in the midst of it all, take comfort that God is still guiding and controlling all – and we need not fear. God is calling us to hope, and to God be the glory!

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

The Reverend Denise Anderson and the Reverend Jan Edmiston
Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly (2016)

Ruling Elder Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Friday, June 24, 2016

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Five

Social Justice Committee: Item 11 - 05

Very important words:

After a careful and long time of selecting the proper words, the paragraph copied here was approved by the General Assembly. This language does not include an explicit "apology". The question about whether the church should apologize was central to the debate around this issue. The original overture from New York City Presbytery was an explicit apology. This is not a constitutional issue, and this language is not intended to be added to the Book of Order. This is simply a statement approved by the General Assembly. This compromise language passed 463 YES to 51 NO:

"Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA).  We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7]"

Reflections of the meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Four

The NEXT Church Report: Denominational Listening Campaign around Transformational Mission

In addition to the "We Gather at the Table" church-wide survey which was inspired by Moderator Heath Rada, there is another resource that should be widely considered. The NEXT Church sponsored a series of listening visits across the denomination and their report is now available on their website. This report is very important. The conclusion of the direct connection between "congregational vitality" and "missional engagement" has become a foundational truth for the church today.

These discussion questions quoted from the NEXT Church report are vital:

Questions Going Forward 
● What does denominational participation mean today? 

● Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting? (Questions such as, what is mission? What is the role of the presbytery?) 

● Is mission the threshold/entry space that worship was in previous era? If so, what resources exist (or need to be created) to help integrate education and spiritual development through mission, if that’s where people are engaging first? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Three

When We Gather at the Table: A PC(USA) Snapshot. Item 04- Report

            Many of us will remember that General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada, during his years of service since 2014, initiated a church wide “conversation”. This project became a comprehensive survey seeking input from across the church; in the end 3,427 Presbyterians participated. A full report has been written, summarized and provided to the Way Forward Committee at this year’s General Assembly.

            The concluding section of the report identified several “segments” or “clusters” within our church. “While these ‘clusters’ are informal and fluid, their identification may aid us in viewing the diversity within the PC(USA).” This discussion is interesting, giving us a helpful snapshot of our church today:

Segment 1: Purposeful Progressives (35%)
Segment 2: Disappointed and Discerning (19%)
Segment 3: Family Facilitators (15%)
Segment 4: Rooted and Resolute (10%)
Segment 5: Not categorized (21%)

            With which cluster do you associate? Within the church, do you regularly have serious conversation with people from other clusters? Do you consider this kind of wild diversity within the membership of our church a good thing for our common life, or a burden?

            The full report, including descriptions and definitions for each of these Segments is included in When We Gather At The Table, found as Item 04-Report within the Way Forward Committee on PC-Biz.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reflections on the meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Two

The Israel Palestine Conflict:

Once again the Israel Palestine conflict will be an important topic and action item at this year's General Assembly. The General Assembly is receiving a lengthy report from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy titled, "Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace".

Our Church has advocated for the traditional "two-state" solution to this conflict for many years. But Israel's action on the ground in the West Bank has evoked some deep skepticism about whether the "two-state" solution is still a viable option. The report coming to this year's Assembly articulates some of the issues which call into question the viability of the "two-state" solution. This paragraph from page two of the report is important:

"Israel's policy trajectory of continued settlements and brutal occupation is deeply troubling. Not only does it make a two-state solution increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, but the emerging, de facto single state's systematic violation of Palestinian rights and democratic values is eroding Israel's moral legitimacy. This has presented a growing crisis for a church that has historically supported Israel as a homeland for Jews, and we note growing divisions in the US Jewish community as well."

There is a Committee at this year's General Assembly focused on Middle East issues (Committee 8). The Advisory Committee's report will be considered by this Committee; it is action item 08-06 and is now available for review on PC-Biz.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Encouraging a Ministry of Support for Refugees.

     Her name is Marwee; she is not a category.

                We talked with a woman. It was not any woman. We talked with an African woman. It was not any African woman. We talked with a Moslem African woman. She was not any Moslem from Africa. We talked with a Moslem African woman who spent years living in a refugee camp in Uganda. She is not a category. Categories cannot smile. Her face burst into a bright smile when we asked to see a photograph of her husband and young daughter who are still in the refugee camp waiting and waiting and waiting to move through the United States immigration process.

                We talked with a refugee. It was not any refugee. She is a very grateful, strong willed and resilient Moslem African woman whose beloved father owned a business. There was fighting between rival warlords. They lived in a home, on a city street in Mogadishu, Somalia. The fighting was outside their door. Her father was killed. He was her father, not a category or a statistic or a number.

Her mother loved her; loved her hard. Her mother loved her so hard she insisted that she leave; leave their home; leave their city; leave their country. Her mother’s hard love did not want her beautiful, smiling daughter married off by force to one of the many soldiers outside their door who sought young girls with smiles. Her mother could not make the journey; she stayed behind in their home; she died. Her beautiful, smiling daughter never saw her again.    

Her name is Marwee. She is a smiling, smart Moslem African refugee who has two kids with her in a small, neat apartment in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She praises the abundant support from Church World Service. She is not a category. Her young son has a soccer ball. He is not a category either.

Why do we think in categories so quickly, so easily and so dismissively? American and African; Christian and Moslem, black and white, citizen and refugee, rich and poor, male and female, us and them. Categories do not smile. Neighbors are not categories.

Jesus said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Reflections on the meeting of the General Assembly 2016, Part 1:

Directory for Worship

Coming forward to the General Assembly this year is a full revision of the Directory for Worship, which is part of our Book of Order. This recommendation is coming from the Mission Agency at the direction of the 2014 General Assembly.

I have not seen much discussion of this proposal. I do not expect this question to be controversial or divisive. But this is a constitutional question and if it passes the General Assembly we will be voting on this recommendation in our presbytery.

I have not yet studied every paragraph on the proposed new Directory for Worship. But I enjoy and appreciate this new paragraph at the beginning:

W-1.0102 Grace and Gratitude

God acts with grace; we respond with gratitude. God claims us as beloved children; we proclaim God's saving love. God redeems us from sin and death; we rejoice in the gift of new life. This rhythm of divine action and human response - found throughout Scripture, human history and everyday events - shapes all of Christian faith, life, and worship. 

You can find the proposed new Directory for Worship on PC-Biz as action item 14-04. It will be first considered by Committee 14: Theological Issues and Institutions.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Reflections on Israel and Palestine: Part Seven

The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is the senior pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Palestine. During our study tour in Israel and Palestine we visited his church, worshiped with them on Sunday morning, and enjoyed a fabulous meal. Rev. Raheb only had a few minutes to greet our team before leaving on an international trip. But his new book has been compelling and powerful; it may be one of the most important books I have studied this year. This book, and especially his understanding of history, challenges me, and our church. 

Mitri Raheb, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes , (2014).

Quoted from Chapter 1: History and the Biblical Story

“As a Palestinian, the history of my country can be traced from primeval times until the present. For Palestinians, the Romans were not the last empire. Our history continued after the Romans with the Byzantines (332), Arabs (637), Tartars (1040), Crusaders (1099), Ayyubides (1187), Tartars (1244), Mamluks (1291), Mongols (1401), Ottomans (1516), British (1914) and Israelis (1948/ 1967), to name just the main occupiers. . .

. . . In looking at the myriad works on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all start at some point in the late nineteenth century with the beginning of the Zionist movement. Scholars have studied every conceivable aspect of this conflict. And yet all of these studies are done in historic isolation. They lack that historic depth of the centuries and, while they focus on the uniqueness of the current conflict, they fail to see it as part of an ongoing pattern. This historic disconnect leads to false political analyses, for which the Palestinians are paying a high price. . . .

. . . Yet, I also see how the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, struggles to find a faithful response to various and recurring empires. I understand sacred history to be one response to the secular histories of brutal empires. As powerful empires continue to be a recurrent theme in the history of Palestine, the question of God remains crucial, and faith is both challenged and engaged.”

My Question:
Mitri Raheb offers a compelling understanding of history, and the study of history, which takes into account the full chronological sweep of the generations.
But this understanding of history is directly opposed to an understanding of history which supposes a bold, theological connection between the Genesis covenant with Abraham and modern Israel’s status as a nation-state, indeed, an expanding nation-state which increasingly includes the Palestinian’s land. This understanding of history jumps from the biblical narrative of Genesis to the modern state of Israel. This conceptual jump, in Mitri Raheb’s opinion, makes the Palestinians “theologically invisible.”
In this example, a commitment to mutual forbearance , a foundational Presbyterian doctrine, completely breaks down. Both of these different views of history, and the consequences of these views, cannot be legitimate and acceptable.

Yet, these opposing views co-exist in our church. How should we respond?