The 225th General Assembly began with worship on Wednesday, July 6. The Rev. Kate Murphy from Charlotte Presbytery gave an outstanding sermon based on Acts 9:1-9. You can find that on the homepage of the 225th General Assembly under the worship tab.

Race and Gender Justice Committee Moderator Willye Bryan presented the committee’s report virtually during the seventh plenary of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), on July 6, 2022, at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rich Copley)

First committee up for Plenary 7 was the Race and Gender Justice Committee. They had 11 items on their docket. All were approved by the committee by a vote of over 91% and were originally placed on the consent agenda. However, it was decided to pull two of those items off for consideration by the full Assembly. The committee then gave somewhat brief summaries of the items they had considered:

  • RGJ-02 A Resolution on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit People
  • RGJ-13 Report from the Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force
  • RGJ-14 On Violence and Hate Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
  • RGJ-08 On Offering an Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy
  • RGJ -03 A Resolution on Reproductive Justice: Black Maternal/Birthing People and Infant Mortality
  • RGJ-11 A Resolution on Racism as a Public Health Crisis
  • RGJ-07 A Resolution Addressing the Lack of Installed Pastoral Leadership in People of Color Congregations in the PC(USA) (Apparently 80% of these 400+ congregations do not have installed pastoral leadership.)
  • RGJ-12 Report of the Special Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation
  • RGJ-09 On Directing the Office of the General Assembly to Issue Apologies and Reparations for the Racist Closure of the Memorial Presbyterian Church, Juneau, Alaska
  • RGJ-10 Resolution on Race, Reparative Justice, and the PCUSA (A valid question: why does the church keep asking for the same thing – reports on racism – but then does nothing about them?)

The committee then brought before the Assembly RGJ-07, A Resolution Addressing the Lack of Installed Pastoral Leadership in People of Color Congregations in the PC(USA). Through conversation with representatives from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, which was able to identify available funds in their holdings, there will be no financial implications to this resolution. Originally, PILP was asked to forgive loans totaling something like $40 million, which would have shut them down. So they came up with an alternate way forward. There was a question raised of how many churches overall do not have installed pastors – which is most of the churches in this presbytery. Since the resolution also calls for reparations, there was a question of how this would be handled. Apparently, the Presbyterian Mission Agency is establishing a Center for Repair of Historical Harm (Center for Repair), which would be able to work on this. The Assembly approved this resolution by a vote of 368-21.

Next up was RGJ-08, Offering an Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy. After minimal discussion on this important issue, the Assembly approved this by a vote of 373-19.

This action contains an outstanding LITANY OF REPENTANCE. Although it’s long, I include it here:

As white Christians we repent of our complicity in the belief in white supremacy: the belief that people of European descent are superior in intelligence, skills, imagination, and perseverance. We acknowledge that this belief in white supremacy has been the foundation of, and an excuse for, atrocities against people of African descent in the United States and in the world.

We repent of our failure to recognize and take responsibility for the legacy of slavery.

We repent of the injustice, pain, humiliation, and suffering imposed on African Americans by our ancestors and ourselves through actions and inaction. We repent of our complicity in failing to act in mutual loving relationship.

We repent of closing our eyes to the degradation and injustice forced upon African Americans who were enslaved, segregated, terrorized, and imprisoned.

We repent of covering our ears to the crying of families torn apart, to the sound of human flesh being struck, while songs of freedom and heavenly grace flow from our lips.

We repent that we have failed as an institution and as individuals to use our voices to abhor and end lynching, segregation, and racial profiling. We regret our generations of silence on these issues so that we could maintain a comfortable life in our churches, homes, and communities.

We repent of shutting our hearts to the experiences of fellow humans whose stories of pain, suffering, hardship, struggle, love, and joy mirror our own life journeys, yet are deprived of privilege and marred by racism. We have turned our backs and walked away pretending not to see, yet we saw, pretending not to know, yet we knew, and convincing ourselves that we were not complicit, yet we are.

We now know that we as white Christians have benefited directly and indirectly from these injustices. We name ourselves as complicit and repent. 

Finally, we repent of our violent actions to suppress Black agency. African Americans, since the time of slavery, have actively pursued their freedom … built this country … laid foundational structures … and demonstrated their capacity to fully participate in the construction of this American society in spite of white supremacy.

As repentance means turning and going the other way, with Christ’s help we seek to do so. At the same time, we commit ourselves to walking with people of African descent toward the goal of healing, reconciliation, and eliminating racism as we seek to dismantle white privilege.

With that, the Committee on Racial and Gender Justice concluded its report, and the Assembly moved on to its lunch break. (A special shout out to the Racial and Gender Justice Committee. Their outstanding – albeit lengthy – presentation meant that no one called on a GA Parliamentarian – or, at least, no one called on me while I was on duty during this plenary. For that I am grateful. Four down, one to go.)

Plenary 8 began with, among other things, a recognition that the Assembly was slightly behind where they needed to be.

The first committee to report during this afternoon session was the Standing Rules of the General Assembly. They began with STAN-22, On Amending Standing Rule B.2.d. Regarding Young Adult Advisory Delegates. This goal is to expand who can be elected as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate to the General Assembly to include young adults who are part of New Worshiping Communities, as well as tweaking the age of who would be eligible from 17-23 to 18-26. (Note #1: the Young Adult Advisory Delegate from Albany Presbytery is annoying.) There was a slight kerfuffle over whether the YAADs needed to be baptized, but the Assembly decided not to approve an amendment requiring that. We then got to the point where we were amending amendments. (Note #2: a number of “frequent flyers,” who spoke so many times yesterday that they got to the point of being annoying, only confirmed how annoying they could be by speaking again today. I’m not sure whether these people are more annoying when this happens when we are meeting in person or when it happens on a Zoom meeting.) One highlight was an amendment proposed by Andy Rice, our Teaching Elder commissioner. Former PWV member Mikel Pugh also spoke, agreeing with Andy’s amendment. However, that amendment failed. An amusing moment happened when a child of one of the commissioners appeared on his Zoom screen while he was speaking. Finally, after an hour and several amendments, the motion was approved by a vote of 380-14.

Next up was STAN-38, On Amending Standing Rule C.1.c. Regarding Committee Moderators and Vice Moderators—From the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly was up next. After some limited discussion, it passed.

After being warned that they were falling behind where they needed to be, the Assembly dealt with STAN-15, On Amending Standing Rule F.4.b. Regarding the Presentation of the Per Capita Budget. If a per capita budget is passed that doesn’t provide for the funding of all proposals adopted at a General Assembly meeting, all proposals would be scaled back in proportion to the amount of funds that were approved. After no discussion, this passed.

Next up was STAN-23, On Amending Standing Rule A.1.c. Regarding Translations. Again after no discussion, the motion was adopted by a vote of 361-20. (The commissioners obviously being spooked by how much work remained before them.)

The last piece of business from this committee was STAN-36, On Creating a Special Committee on the Standing Rules of the General Assembly—From the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. This special committee will look at ways to help us have hybrid General Assembly committees in the future. After a few questions from commissioners, the motion was approved by a vote of 367-16.

After a 5-minute break, the Assembly turned to the work of the Environmental Justice Committee.

The first proposal they brought to the Assembly was ENV-04, On Creating the Presbyterian Tree Fund. It sounds silly, but the intention is to create a fund to offset the environmental impact of travel by Presbyterian Mission Agency staff by planting trees, as well as other greenhouse gas sequestration projects. It also includes a request to PMA staff to limit their travel. A concern was raised that this might limit the work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. A committee member reported that this was an optional opportunity, and although people attending PCUSA-sponsored events would be encouraged to contribute to this fund, they would not be required to do so. After the motion was amended once and a second proposed amendment failed, the motion was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 349-25.

Because the Assembly keeps falling further behind, there was a recommendation to limit the debate time for each speaker from 2 minutes to 1 minute. The Assembly voted to approve this by a vote of 236-146, but since that fell short of the 2/3rd vote necessary to make this change, it failed.

Aaron Ochart, vice-moderator of the Environmental Justice Committee, spoke during the eighth plenary of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on July 6, 2022, at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (Screenshot)

Next up was ENV-10, Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) Response to 223rd General Assembly Directive on Environmental Policy. This proposal includes divesting from additional companies, specifically adding American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, Occidental Petroleum, PPL Corporation, and United Airlines to the list of companies previously identified by MRTI for this focused engagement, which included ConocoPhillips, Duke Energy, Ford, and General Motors. This provides for more selective divestment rather than a comprehensive divestment, thus allowing the denomination to remain in discussion with other companies involved in the fossil fuel industry.

There was then a motion to limit debate to 1 minute, 30 seconds rather than 2 minutes. This got closer, with the Assembly voting by 65% to make this change, but since it fell short of a 2/3rd vote, it still failed.

At this point, I took a dinner break, expecting the Assembly to wrangle with this for a while. I was wrong. I suspect there were some amendments, but ENV-10 was finally approved by a vote of 340-41.

When I started watching again, the Assembly was working on amending ENV-09, On Actions in Support of an Energy Transition. The Assembly seemed to be mostly supportive of the work of Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) and selective divestment. (I apologize for missing about an hour of this report and for not being able to provide a more comprehensive account of what happened. I think we will all be well served by reading how the Presbyterian News Service and The Presbyterian Outlook report the actions taken on this issue.) Amendments pushing for faster action and broader divestment were made but failed. The vote on one proposed amendment calling for a quicker and more comprehensive response was extremely close, 187-196, but ultimately failed. It seems that there was general agreement that climate change is an issue that must be addressed, but people have very different ideas on how best to do that. Most commissioners seemed to believe that it was more important for the PCUSA to have “a seat at the table” to be able to engage corporations with the hope/intention that we would be able to press for these companies to change their corporate practices quickly. In the end, ENV-09 was passed as amended with comment by a vote of 345-40. It may have been fatigue – my own as well as that of the commissioners – but this seemed like a holy moment, showing why we are Presbyterian and, at least for me, making me proud to be a Presbyterian.

The committee then moved that overtures ENV-01, On Learning About and Starting the Process of Divestment from Fossil Fuels; ENV-06, On Affirming the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Paris Agreement); ENV-07, On Fossil Fuel Divestment; and ENV-08, On Declaring the Time Is Now to “Cherish Creation, Cut Carbon, and Speak Up” be answered by action on ENV-09. The Assembly voted 340-36 to approve this request.

The last action coming from this committee was ENV-02, Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation. It was amended to include the language “Preemptively stop or suspend fracking and other fossil fuel extraction that endangers local communities with dangerous, toxic waste water that is frequently dumped in streams or other water supply sources and Halt the construction of fossil fuel pipelines. Not only must we transition our energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels, but these pipelines are also hazardous to the communities in which they are built.” This was approved by a vote of 243-110.

Before voting on the amended motion, the committee took its dinner break even though they were way behind where they thought they would be. In hindsight, the hour spent squabbling about Young Adult Advisory Delegates earlier in the day was mostly wasted time, but that only became apparent in hindsight.

At 8:42 PM, the Assembly resumed by voting on ENV-02. The motion as amended passed 325-27.

The Bill and Overtures Committee proposed that debate be limited to 1 minute, 30 seconds per speaker. Commissioners finally agreed to this by 76%. They then moved to amend the docket by shifting the Health Safety and Benefits Committee Report to follow the Rules Of Discipline Report tomorrow, July 7. The Assembly approved this by a vote of 339-46.

The Rev. Erika Rembert Smith, Moderator of the Addressing Violence in the USA Committee presented during the ninth plenary of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on July 6, 2022, at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (Screenshot)

The Assembly then turned to the report of the Committee on Addressing Violence in the U.S. They had 8 items to present. VIOL-04, On Encouraging Our Churches to Counter Polarization in Our Society, was approved as part of the consent agenda. Among other things, it calls us to watch our language, which is often unintentionally violent.

The first item the committee presented for action was VIOL-06, Resolution on “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform.” Language referring to the events of January 6 was removed from the initial report because the committee felt by including references to that event, it could lead to further polarization in our denomination. They also felt that this resolution was not meant to tell anyone how to vote but rather to protect everyone’s right to vote. While one commissioner thought there should be more “teeth” in this motion, none was proposed, and the Assembly moved to approve this as amended by a vote of 370-15.

Next up were 3 related items of business, all of which addressed gun violence. The first was VIOL-07, Gun Violence Report and Recommendations. Gun deaths have increased dramatically since 2010, as has gun ownership. There are now more guns in the U.S than people. If approved, this report would begin a Decade to End Gun Violence. The committee decided to include some language from VIOL-01, Regarding Our Commitment to Gun Violence Prevention, and VIOL-05, On Advocating for Reduction of Firearm Violence. There was an amendment to drop any attempt to conduct a Hands and Feet-style opportunities to end gun violence at General Assemblies through 2032. The amendment was approved by a vote of 302-75. (This seemed somewhat out of character based on earlier votes today, so I have to wonder whether commissioners understood what they were voting on.) There was an additional amendment that sought to “include providing education and resources around gun-free congregational security.” This amendment was approved by a vote of 343-43. There was another amendment that “The PC(USA) calls upon all elected representatives, at all levels, to earnestly, courageously and urgently pass meaningful legislation that protects individual rights as well as provides for the common good and public safety.” The amendment was approved by a vote 296-85. The Assembly then voted on the motion as amended and approved it by a vote of 367-19.

The Committee then proposed answering VIOL-01, Regarding Our Commitment to Gun Violence Prevention, by the action it just took on VIOL-07. The Assembly agreed by a vote of 367-10. They also asked to have the Assembly address VIOL-05, On Advocating for Reduction of Firearm Violence, by its action on VIOL-07. The Assembly agreed by a vote of 365-13.

The next item was a Commissioner’s Resolution, VIOL-11, On Directing MRTI to Place Gun-Related Companies on the Divestment List. The committee revised the original resolution since it could not be adopted as written for some reason. What they proposed was “Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to engage with Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Kroger, three publicly-traded retail companies held by either the Board of Pensions or Presbyterian Foundation, that sell guns not classified as semi-automatic and assault-based weapons.” There was an objection that these companies only sell guns but do not manufacture them. (Note: You recognize that you’re getting tired of hearing particular speakers when you mute them once you see their faces appear on the screen.) The president of the Presbyterian Foundation said that they do not invest in 108 companies that manufacture guns, far more than are on the list provided through MRTI. In a close vote, Commissioners voted to approve this amendment by a vote of 183-173. There was then an additional amendment to “Share information on what MRTI is already doing to encourage divestment in regards to companies on the ‘do not buy list’ with all the new resources on gun violence to encourage divestment on many levels.” This was approved by a vote of 280-60. One commissioner questioned whether we are going too far with this step. After several more speakers, there was finally a motion to call the question to cease debate, which was approved. (This has seldom happened so far at this Assembly, demonstrating that commissioners have far more patience than I do.) The amended item was then approved by a vote of 253-107.

At this point, it was 11 PM, and there was one more item to consider: VIOL-08, On Living in Healthy Relationships Free of Violence and Coercion. There was an amendment to Encourage members, congregations and councils to minister to those who are incarcerated and their families, and direct the denomination to identify or develop resources compatible with our faith tradition to equip these ministries. The amendment was approved by a vote of 320-26. There was then an additional amendment to “Require presbyteries to include domestic violence training as part of boundary training for Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders.” There was a question of who would provide this kind of training. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution, through our new Synod Executive Forrest Claussen, advised the Assembly that they could not require such training without changing our constitution. Fortunately, the Assembly took that advice and disapproved the amendment by a vote of 106-246. There was then an amendment To request ACSWP to research the possibility of encouraging all Presbyterians to join the National Rifle Association in an effort to gain control of their lobby so as to reverse their political advocacy. (It is unclear at what point the Assembly went completely off the rails. It was obviously at some point prior to this amendment.) The good thing was that a number of commissioners who had not previously appeared were able to speak up. The motion to amend failed by a vote of 2-326.

There was an announcement that the Assembly would lose its Korean interpreters at 11:45 PM, so a motion was made to call the question and end debate. That passed and the motion as amended was then approved by a vote of 338-12. That concluded the report of the Committee on Addressing Violence in the USA, and with that, the Assembly adjourned at 11:45 PM.

In some ways, this was a good day, maybe a great day, and certainly a historic day for the Presbyterian Church. We addressed racism head on. We fought over how to address climate change in a way that was done decently and in order. This is an issue about which people of good conscience can – and do – disagree. Some would have wanted us to do more about this, and others would have preferred a more restrained approach, but I think we could all agree that it was handled in a very Presbyterian manner.

Yet, there was a point, sometime in the middle to the latter part of the afternoon, that I found myself yelling at the computer screen in much the same way that I sometimes find myself yelling at the TV when I’m watching college football games, particularly when I’m watching Penn State, my favorite team. It had about the same effect on commissioners as it does on the referees or the Penn State quarterback – not much. Maybe this says more about me than it does the 225th General Assembly. Maybe this reflects that I have attended about 15 General Assembly meetings and have a sense of how I think things need to go. At some point, we probably need to take ourselves less seriously and maybe not try to address every issue that comes up. But I also have to recognize that some of these issues that the Assembly addresses I have never heard about. There are perspectives on some issues that I would have never considered or even thought about. I still have a lot to learn. We all do. I almost wish we could stop here and digest everything that happened today, but that’s not how things work. There’s still three more days to go.