The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, shares words of encouragement at the opening of plenary 12 on July 8, 2022, at the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The preacher for the opening worship service on Friday, July 8, was the Reverend Dr. Mark A. Lomax, the pastor of the First Afrikan Presbyterian Church of Lithonia, Georgia and associate professor of homiletics at the Interdenominational Theological Center, speaking on Jeremiah 29:3-9. You can find a video of the service on the worship section of the GA 225 website.

Plenary 12 took up where Plenary 11 left off – dealing with the report of the Rules for Discipline Committee, specifically ROD-03 and reconsidering whether to include participants in New Worshiping Committees under the Rules of Discipline. The co-moderators spoke to ways that there might be some parliamentary shortcuts they could take, specifically limiting debate, and for at least the motion at hand, to only call on one speaker for and one speaker against before proceeding to a vote. The motion was made to reconsider and then to rescind the action previously taken. That passed by a vote of 292-54.

The Assembly then moved to consider the remaining chapters in the Rules for Discipline, Chapter 8 TRIAL IN A DISCIPLINARY CASE, Chapter 9 CENSURE AND RESTORATION IN A DISCIPLINARY CASE, and Chapter 10 DISCIPLINARY APPEALS. No amendments were offered to these sections, so the Assembly moved to vote on the proposed Rules for Discipline as a whole. They were approved to be sent on to the presbyteries by a vote of 354-9.

A second recommendation on ROD-03 was to Appoint the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) to recommend to the 226th General Assembly the continuation and application of any existing authoritative interpretations relating to the current Rules of Discipline as they apply to the new Church Discipline section of the Book of Order. Seeing no one wishing to speak, the Assembly moved to a vote, and this motion was approved by a vote of 352-2.

Next up for consideration was ROD-02 On Amending D-7.0201 and D-7.1501 of the Revision to the Rules of Discipline to Remove Time Limits for Filing Allegations in All Disciplinary Cases. The committee recommended that this be answered by the action just taken on the approval of the new Rules for Discipline. The Assembly agreed with a vote of 352-5. That finished up the work of the Rules of Discipline committee.

The Assembly then turned to the work of the Health, Safety, and Benefits Committee. Their work fell into four main areas: mental health, reproductive justice, family leave, and sexual misconduct. The first item they brought to the Assembly was HSB-06 On Amending G-2.0804 and Recommendations Regarding a Family Leave Policy. Among other things, they are recommending that paid family medical leave be included as part of the minimum terms of call for each presbytery, but they made no suggestion as to how long that family leave should be, leaving that up to each presbytery to decide. There was an amendment offered to make that 12 weeks. (Note: It is annoying when commissioners speak to motions while they are in their car. Hopefully, they are not actually driving, but it’s hard to tell. ) The amendment was approved 262-110, and the then amended motion was approved by a vote of 346-33.

The next item was HSB-07 On Amending G-2.0804 Regarding PC(USA) Paid Family Leave. The committee recommended that this be answered by the action just taken on HSB-06. The Assembly agreed by a vote of 360-10.

There were eight recommendations made by the committee that came out of the work of the Sexual Misconduct Survivors Task Force in HSB-05.

There was an interruption to discuss technical difficulties. People were complaining that they wanted to speak against parts of the motion on family leave but were not allowed to speak. Oh well, the Assembly moved on.

HSB-05 Recommendation 2: Regarding Boundary and Child Protection Training for Inquirers and Candidates would require them to receive boundary training with required recertification at least every 36 months. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution had some significant problems with several parts of the recommendations, stating that they create jurisdictional and constitutional problems. Nevertheless, the recommendation was approved by a vote of 342-46.

HSB-05 Recommendation 3 had to do with similar training for Commissioned Ruling Elders. It was approved by a vote of 358-13.

HSB-05 Recommendation 4 had to do with similar training for Certified Christian Educators. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution had some concerns, but those were ignored as the Assembly voted 305-60 to approve it.

HSB-05 Recommendation 1 seeks greater accountability of inquirers and candidates, saying “that during the time the individual is enrolled as an inquirer or candidate, they are subject to the concern and discipline of the presbytery in matters of sexual misconduct.” The Advisory Committee on the Constitution raised serious concerns about this too. There was an amendment seeking to address that concern, which said the session shall report any matters of sexual misconduct by inquirers and candidates to the presbytery. The Assembly accepted this amendment with a vote of 282-80 and then approved the amended motion by a vote of 324-46.

HSB-05 Recommendation 9 would require that each council require “boundary training, which includes the topic of sexual misconduct, and child sexual abuse prevention training for its members at least every thirty-six months.” This was approved by a vote of 351-24.

HSB-05 Recommendation 6: Regarding Referring Allegations of Sexual Abuse to the Presbytery would require sessions to refer allegations of sexual misconduct of one of their members to the presbytery. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution strongly objected, and the committee agreed with them this time, recommending disapproval of this recommendation. The Assembly accepted their advice by a vote of 358-17.

Next up was HSB-09, Special Committee to Study the Reformed Perspective on Christian Education Recommendations on Amending the Book of Order. This group recommended that Christian Educators be required to receive boundary training. The committee felt and recommended to the Assembly that this be answered by the action on HSB-05 Recommendation 4. The Assembly agreed with a vote of 368-5.

HSB-11, On Affirming Reproductive Justice, a commissioner’s resolution, was pulled from the consent agenda. Among other things, it called for the PCUSA to Reject attempts at all levels of government to reduce, limit, or eliminate access to abortion care. There was an amendment adding This theological reflection should consider the sometimes conflicting interests of both pregnant people and unborn people living in a womb. That amendment failed by a vote of 129-259. Another amendment added language at the beginning and end of a section: In appreciation of the complexity and seriousness of issues concerning abortion, we affirm that women and pregnant people are full moral agents, created in the image of God. Recognizing that God alone is Lord of the conscience, we support their moral capacity to decide whether to continue or end any given pregnancy. Any decision should be made with care, compassion, prayer, and understanding. One commissioner found the language patronizing. There was then an amendment to the amendment striking the last sentence, feeling that this language was particularly offensive and patronizing to women. The Assembly agreed to strike that language by a vote of 295-92. The amendment as amended was then approved by a vote of 287-103. There was then an amendment to sections 3, 4, 5, and 7, adding “contraceptive[s]” to these sections out of a concern that access to contraceptives might be limited or restricted in the future. This amendment was approved by a vote of 364-21. There was then another amendment proposing, among other things, to strike the sentence: Reject attempts at all levels of government to reduce, limit, or eliminate access to abortion care. The Assembly rejected this by a vote of 63-318. They then voted on the main motion as amended, which passed by a vote of 348-38. With that, the report of the Health, Safety, and Benefits Committee concluded.

Even though there were 10 minutes remaining in the plenary, the Assembly decided to take a break at this point rather than begin the report of the next committee.

After lunch, the International Engagement Committee began their report. The first thing they presented was INT-15, On Advocating for a Peace Agreement in the Korean Peninsula. This was approved unanimously 362-0.

INT-12, Regarding a Korea Peace Treaty, basically dealt with the same issue. The committee recommended that INT-12 be answered by the response to INT-15. The Assembly agreed with another unanimous vote, 360-0. (They were on a roll now.)

INT-19, On the Russian Military Invasion of Ukraine, was the next item to be considered. Among other things, it “Condemns the Russian military invasion of Ukraine and crimes against humanity, and call(s) for a cease-fire and the immediate resumption of internationally mediated negotiations.” Unable to make it three in a row, the Assembly nevertheless approved this by a vote of 374-1. (How can you vote against this?)

INT-14, On Expanding Mission Engagement and Education with Eastern Europe, was considered next. Among other things, it calls on the Presbyterian Mission Agency to publish articles that help Presbyterians understand the complexities within the region and our own country’s engagement and  develop and promote a reading list and study guide/tool kit in cooperation with the Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia Mission (BURM) Network for churches and individuals interested in learning more. Another unanimous vote 364-0.

The last item from this committee was INT-02, On Recognition That Israel’s Laws, Policies, and Practices Constitute Apartheid Against the Palestinian People. (They obviously saved the most controversial item for last. There was no chance that this one would get a unanimous vote.) It begins with Recognize that the government of Israel’s laws, policies, and practices regarding the Palestinian people fulfill the international legal definition of apartheid. Apartheid is legally defined as inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them. The committee had added the words “the government of Israel” to this statement to clarify that this was more the actions of the Israeli government and not necessarily the people of Israel. Previous actions of this Assembly affirm the right of the state of Israel to exist and also denounce anti-Semitism, but this motion calls the government of Israel to account for its actions that cause suffering for the Palestinian people.

An amendment was offered as an introduction to this item that said, “Recognize that as Presbyterians in the United States, we view the suffering of Palestinians and the tangled conflict in Israel-Palestine from our own particular point in a history rife with racist acts, our own social and legal expressions of apartheid, and our own contemporary struggles with life-destroying inequities resulting from systemic racism, and acknowledge that these are issues that continue to beset and undermine our efforts to be the church to our own people. (Confession of Belhar, Book of Confessions, 10.5.) We are compelled to speak because our land and our country were and are complicit in our own systems of separation, alienation, hatred, and enmity, systems which historically served and continue to serve as models for others to do as we have done.” The amendment failed by a vote of 176-271.

Comment was made that adopting this motion would damage our relationship with our Jewish neighbors. Another was “let’s name the harm, let’s name the pain.” Another objected to the use of the word “apartheid.” A motion was then made to call the question. That required a 2/3rd vote and received it with a vote of 304-87 or 80%. (I’m more sure of the percentage than I am of the exact numbers.) The motion was then approved by a vote of 266-113 (70%-30%). That concluded the report of the International Engagement Committee.

The Assembly then moved to reconsider VIOL-07. There was a concern that we are deferring to individual rights too much. The motion to reconsider carried 277-88. There was a motion to amend by dropping the words that protects individual rights as well as provides so that this would read The PC(USA) calls upon all [civically] elected representatives, at all levels, to earnestly, courageously, and urgently pass meaningful legislation for the common good and public safety of all our citizens, residents, and visitors The amendment was approved by a vote of 265-102. Another amendment was offered that wanted to make the Presbyterian Mission Agency rather than the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy responsible for creating and implementing the Decade to End Gun Violence. This was approved by a vote of 347-10. This brought us back to the main motion, voting on VIOL-07 as amended, which was approved by a vote of 333-33.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett spoke before her reelection as president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency during the 13th Plenary of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on July 8, 2022.

After a break, the Assembly moved on to the report of the Committee on General Assembly Policies and Procedures. The first item that they brought to the Assembly was GA-PAP-13, Re-election of the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett as President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. In speaking to the Assembly, she reported that the 1,000th congregation had adopted the Matthew 25 initiative. The Assembly voted to reelect her to another 4-year term by a vote of 322-5. In a nice touch, her daughter – a teaching elder in Philadelphia – and her granddaughter participated in her commissioning.

The next item before the Assembly was GA-PAP-20, On Adding Financial Questions to the Session Annual Statistical Report, with the hope that the answers to these questions would better identify a congregation’s vitality, as well as some opportunities before them. (Note: it has come to the point when some individuals show up on the screen I say out loud, “Oh no, not him again.” There may be a few women who provoke such a response, but most often, it is a man.) Kris Valerius reported that 90% of the congregations in our denomination complete the annual statistical report. (That’s much higher than I would have guessed.) A commissioner who is also a clerk of session spoke against this because she felt that this would be incredibly burdensome. Another thought this was going to be too much work for small churches and that churches were already providing enough information for the General Assembly to figure these things out. Although perhaps sympathetic with these complaints, the Assembly still voted 230-138 to approve this.

GA-PAP-22, Updating the Memorandum of Agreement between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Board of Pensions, was considered next. The committee recommended disapproval of this item. There was a substitute motion to “Refer item GA-PAP-22 to a special committee in order to assess the relationship between the Board of Pensions and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), particularly regarding directives from the General Assembly, and bring any recommendations for modifications to this Memorandum of Understanding and/or any other documents that guide this relationship to reflect current realities and emerging circumstances to the 226th General Assembly.” The moderator of the committee reported that this idea was considered by the committee but was rejected.

A commissioner thought that the money spent on such a special committee would be better spent elsewhere. The committee rejected this substitute motion by a vote of 117-249. The committee’s initial recommendation was then brought to a vote, and the Assembly agreed with them and voted to disapprove this by a vote of 321-46.

Next up were some items for celebration that were all approved on the consent agenda: GA-PAP-11, Approval of Associate Stated Clerks of the General Assembly Tricia Dykers Koenig, Laurie Griffith, Kerry Rice, Nancy Taylor, and Y. Dianna Wright, and GA-PAP-18, Institutional Relationship Agreement between Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Inc., and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

At that point, the Assembly took a 10-minute break, which I used as an excuse to go home for dinner. Let me admit this was bad timing because when I was able to log back on after I finished eating, the Assembly was in the midst of hearing a report from the Financial Resources Committee.

It appeared that they were dealing with FIN-10 Recommendation 1 Align in Mission, Purpose, and the Use of Resources: Report of the Special Committee on Per-Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability.

Not surprisingly, there was a substitute motion. The main motion was calling for “a Task Force to oversee and facilitate the unification of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) into a single agency, revise the Organization for Mission to reflect this change, and work to align the entities, boards, committees, and constituent bodies of the General Assembly toward long-term faithfulness and financial sustainability of its mission within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)”. The committee had changed the recommendation of the Special Committee that had been studying this issue for three years and which had proposed having a commission to deal with these issues.

Since there was a substitute motion, the Assembly first had to work to perfect the main motion. There was a motion to amend Recommendation 1 by adding two Young Adult Advisory Delegates from the 225th General Assembly. This was approved by a vote of 303-49. They then moved to perfect the substitute motion and made the same amendment to it, adding two Young Adult Advisory Delegates from this General Assembly to the Task Force. This was approved by a vote of 273-68. There was then an amendment to change the language to that proposed by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution regarding which committees the proposed commission would have the authority to deal with. This was approved by a vote of 313-24 (I think). There was then an amendment to add language at the end of the section by adding: In forming the commission, attention will be paid to best practices of representation to ensure that in addition to representation from agencies, there is diversity in identities, particularly including race, age, sexuality, and gender. It was suggested that this language probably should be placed in a different spot within the motion. The maker of the motion gave her permission for that to be done, apparently by one of the parliamentarians. This amendment was then approved (although I didn’t get the numbers on the vote.) There was another motion to amend but it was declared out of order. With that the substitute motion was declared perfected and so the debate became whether the substitute motion should become the main motion.

(Note: it was really hard to keep up with this while doing the dishes.)

My sense is that the main motion wants a task force to study this, which means any recommendations they make would have to be approved by the next General Assembly, while the substitute motion wants to have a commission with the power to make substantive changes that would be reported to the next General Assembly. The head of the Presbyterian Mission Agency board as well as Gregory Bentley, one of the co-moderators of the 224th General Assembly, spoke in favor of a task force, the main motion, while the head of the board of the Office of the General Assembly spoke in favor of the substitute motion, which calls for a commission. The Assembly voted 278-89 to make the substitute motion the main motion which would appear that they are in favor of appointing a commission to deal with this. The vote to approve what was now the main motion was 321-54. So there will be a commission with the power to unify these two agencies. I got the sense – and I may well be wrong – that there are at least some racist undertones at work in all this. Both the Stated Clerk, the head of the Office of the General Assembly, and the executive of the Presbyterian Mission Agency are black. If the two agencies are combined, one of them is probably going to lose their job. I would say that the intention of the report and the action of the Assembly were not meant to be racist but its implications may well be. If this is framed as a power struggle, the Office of the General Assembly won and the Presbyterian Mission Agency lost. It occurred to me that this may be like voting for the Homecoming Queen in high school. There may be good reasons for who wins, but you also know that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that you don’t really understand or know about. With that significant vote behind them, the Assembly took their dinner break.

After dinner, the Financial Resources Committee continued their report with FIN-01 Recommendation 2 to Direct the General Assembly Moderator(s) to appoint a Funding Model Development Team to develop, recruit, implement, and provide oversight of possible funding model experiments. There was an amendment seeking to add two Young Adult Advisory Delegates from this General Assembly. This was approved by a vote of 266-76. The motion as amended then passed by a vote of 344-12.

The committee then recommended to the Assembly FIN-11, which is the 2023-2024 Mission Work Plan of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It continues to focus on the Matthew 25 Initiative and plans to establish a Center for the Repair of Historical Harms as well as an Office of Innovation, Futuring, and Discernment. This had been approved as part of the consent agenda and was presented to the Assembly as information. For some reason, the committee then suspended the rest of its report until tomorrow.

The General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee was up next. They reported on several items that had been placed on the consent agenda, including the winners of the Women of Faith Awards and the Sam and Helen R. Walton Awards. The first item they presented for a vote was GA-MC-05, Regarding the Creation of an Advocacy Committee for LGBTQIA+ Equity. Among other things, it calls for adding a half-time staff position. The Assembly approved this by a vote of 310-51.

They next brought to the Assembly GA-MC-04, On Renaming the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns to the Advocacy Committee for Women and Gender Justice. This was approved by a vote of 337-37. This was followed by GA-MC-07, On the Inclusion of Inclusive Gender Options When Gender Information Is Collected by Any Entity in the PC(USA). Apparently this was originally suggested by a small church in National Capital Presbytery. It was approved by a vote of 328-46. The next item was GA-MC-12, Changing Families and the Church. There was no discussion (indicating perhaps that commissioners were either tired or bored or perhaps both), and the vote was 337-33. This was followed by GA-MC-11, On Changing AIDS to HIV in the Presbyterian Planning Calendar. (This may be important but did it really need to come before the GA for a vote?) A commissioner reminded the Assembly (and me) that words do matter and that the Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN), which recently changed its name to the Presbyterian HIV Network (PHIVN), thought this change is important. It passed on a vote of 365-7.

Anne Wilson, co-moderator of the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee, presents the committee’s recommendation for the 226th General Assembly on July 8, 2022 during the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Finally, there was GA-MC-15, On Determining the Format for the 226th General Assembly. This was apparently the item on which the committee spent most of its time. They recommended what was called the Omega Options with committees online and plenaries in-person. There would be two initial plenaries online to open business and to elect moderators as well as opening worship. Then committees would meet and carry out their work online. Specifically, plenary 1, opening worship, and plenary 2 would be held online around April 30. There are several possibilities for how the committees could meet with

  • Shorter, weekly committee meetings starting May 1, OR
  • Three day-long meetings in the month before going to Salt Lake City, OR
  • A schedule that is somewhere in-between the previous two options

Plenaries would then meet at an in-person gathering in a Salt Lake City hotel ballroom over June 29 – July 3, 2024. Budgeting includes single hotel rooms due to potential ongoing health concerns. This could still allow for special dinner and breakfast gatherings and would include several group meals. In-person worship could happen. An assembly-wide participation in a local action for justice may be possible.

There was an amendment that The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly is instructed to treat the 224th (2020), 225th (2022), 226th (2024), 227th (2026), and 228th (2028) General Assemblies as intentional experiments in formatting of the General Assembly in the future. When possible, each assembly will take the feedback from the previous General Assembly under advisement as they set the format for the following General Assemblies, with preliminary planning for two General Assemblies ahead (general format, location(s)) and more detailed planning for the next General Assembly (more detailed refinements). The 229th General Assembly (2030) will then set the standard format for the General Assembly going forward. This Assembly is encouraged to seek feedback from all experimental Assemblies (224th-229th) in their deliberation.] This amendment was defeated by a vote of 127-227.

There was then an amendment calling for a more traditional, “in-person” assembly. The vote on this was 161-198, so that idea was shot down.

The Assembly then voted on the motion as presented by the committee. It was approved by a vote of 267-105. That completed the work of the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee.

The Bills and Overtures Committee then recommended amending the schedule to start worship tomorrow at 10 AM with the Plenary 15 starting at 11 AM. This was even though through the deft work of the moderators and remarkable restraint by at least some commissioners, the Assembly seems to be back on track. The motion to change the docket was approved 315-83. Then with a prayer, the Assembly adjourned at 10:22 PM.

I think the work of Day #5 was enough to make my head spin. There are times when I love the General Assembly. I am intrigued. I am inspired. I learn about things that I never knew before. I am so proud to be Presbyterian. There are other times, though, when I think, “What kind of fresh hell is this?” A Presbyterian version of hell may well be sitting in an eternal General Assembly meeting where you are tortured by periodic announcement such as “Commissioners, you have been advised” and where you are constantly seeking to be recognized but then can’t be heard or are told that your motion or amendment is out of order. In some ways, though, I think General Assembly meetings are evidence of God’s grace because even though we seem to spend too much time on the trivial and pass motions that are offensive to some and that seem silly or stupid to others, nevertheless, on the whole, we still keep finding ways to point people to the love and justice of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that Jesus is still going ahead of us, beckoning us to follow him into a future where our Savior is working with people that we have overlooked. Sometimes that happens unintentionally, but too often, or at least more often than not, we have overlooked the people our Savior loves or we have ignored them because they are different than we are.

I am glad tomorrow is the last day of this General Assembly. I hope we end early. (But I wouldn’t bet on it.)