221ST PCUSA GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONCLUDES IN DETROIT – The highest council of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the General Assembly, composed of commissioners from 172 presbyteries as well as representatives from the synods, the PCUSA Mission staff and seminaries ended its weeklong meeting having acted on a number of issues. A letter from the General Assembly leadership commenting on its work is attached to this post, but two areas of discussion stood out — defining the nature of Christian marriage and concern for Palestinians in Israeli-controlled areas in the Middle East.
By wide majorities, the GA voted to permit Presbyterian teaching elders (ministers), at their discretion, to perform same-sex marriages in states where they may legally be done. In addition, it proposed a change to the “Book of Order” (part of the PCUSA Constitution) to define marriage as being between “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” This action follows years of debate and study. General Assembly leadership was sensitive to the face that this action will not be welcomed by a number of Presbyterians and congregations and has issued a pastoral letter to churches in an attempt to put the action and responses to it in context. It’s important to understand that this action only widens the discretion of ministers and congregations in terms of who they may marry. The new language is not coercive.
The other headline-grabbing issue was the action to divest the holdings of the Presbyterian Foundation and other central church entities of companies identified as doing business with Israel in a way which supports what many view to be an unjust treatment of Palestinians. This issue has been debated and voted on in several GA’s, but supporters won out this time by a small margin. The move has been the cause for some criticism and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out against it.
Of course, the General Assembly also acted to commission missionaries and new congregations, elect a new moderator and vice moderator of the PCUSA, and to commit to other assorted work that didn’t make the national news. In the coming weeks, we will seek to interpret these actions of the General Assembly and arrange for opportunities for discussion. Please keep our national church and its leaders in your prayers during this time of change and transition. Attached to this post is a letter for the General Assembly leadership regarding actions at the General Assembly. Documents which give the rationale for the GA actions may be found in the “Files” section of the Laurel Presbyterian Church group Facebook page. More information about the General Assembly may be found at http://www.pcusa.org.