Category Archives: Social Responsibility

Decision In Scotland

In just a few hours the citizens of Scotland will go to the polls to answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” According to the most recent polls “No” still leads, but by a statistically insignificant 4 percentage points while “Yes” has been rising rapidly in the last couple of weeks. So in a decision that is too close to call we will have to wait until 6 AM Friday in Scotland to know the results.

While at first glance this may seem like a political decision, the results carry consequences and uncertainty for the churches. The referendum is essentially asking whether to repeal the Treaty of Union of 1707 as adopted by the Acts of Union by Scotland and England. The Acts have 25 articles, some of which have been repealed individually. But Article 25, by far the longest, is the one that guarantees that Scotland will have their own religious identity and adopts the Presbyterian form of church government. The Article says in part:

And Her Majesty with advice and consent foresaid expressly Provides and Declares That the foresaid True Protestant Religion contained in the above-mentioned Confession of Faith with the form and purity of Worship presently in use within this Church and its Presbyterian Church Government and Discipline that is to say the Government of the Church by Kirk Sessions, Presbytries, Provincial Synods and Generall Assemblies all established by the forsaid Acts of Parliament pursuant to the Claim of Right shall Remain and Continue unalterable and that the said Presbyterian Government shall be the only Government of the Church within the Kingdom of Scotland.

It was the place of the Kirk in the national legislation that initially seemed to hold the attention of the Church of Scotland and at their 2013 General Assembly three committees reported on various aspects of independence and possible implications for the Kirk. Maybe the recommendation, or interpretation, that got the most traction was the idea that future monarchs should have a second coronation in Scotland. But also coming out of that Assembly was the idea that the Kirk would be involved in fostering respectful debate on the topic without taking a position on independence itself.

It was in this spirit that the Church of Scotland General Assembly this year set aside an afternoon for a public discussion in the Assembly Chamber. In the debate the Rev. Dr. Doug Gay of the University of Glasgow spoke for the yes position, Douglas Alexander MP spoke for the no side, and former Moderator of the General Assembly Alison Elliot OBE represented undecided voters and asked some probing questions on their behalf. A fourth speaker, John Sturrock QC, had the unenviable task of summarizing at the end.

The afternoon was lauded as a model of civil and respectful discussion on the topic and the video of the event has been preserved on the Kirk web site.

From watching the event I was struck by how it dealt with topics and issues of concern to the whole of Scotland in both the civil and secular realms. Yes, issues of social justice and themes of church and society were certainly present, but this was a discussion about the national implications.

[As an aside, it is clear from the polling numbers that the vast majority of those in Scotland do not view this decision as one of nationalism but of finding the better system.]

That evening there was a similar debate held at the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. Former Moderator of the General Assembly the Rev. Dr. John Ross presented the unionist side (no) while solicitor Mr. Neil D.M. MacLeod presented the nationalist (yes) side.

This debate formed a nice counter-point to the afternoon event as it focused on the religious implications of the vote. Among the points of discussion was Article 25 which I mentioned above and what would happen to churches and religious protections if a newly independent Scotland were writing a constitution from scratch. Here are a few of the arguments are presented in the article (here edited for length):

Setting out his position, Rev Dr John Ross said that in September “we run the risk of altering Scotland’s Christian landscape beyond recognition”.

The Glenurquhart and Fort Augustus minister explained: “Since the Reformation of 1560, Presbyterian Christianity’s place has been close to the centre of political and public life.

“For 450 years, through a formal compact between Church and state, Presbyterianism has helped shape our national destiny.

“Now in the name of inclusion and equality this ancient prerogative is to be repudiated.

“The fact of the matter is, that despite a majority of Scottish people considering themselves to be Christian, in a future independent Scotland, as a matter of public policy, and for the first time since the Reformation, Christianity is likely to be officially marginalised, deprived of its status as the national religion.”

On the other side…

Mr Neil DM Macleod responded: “Britain has promoted secularism, moral relativism and the cheapening of life.

“Abortion, Sunday Trading, the destruction of family life have led to a broken Britain.

“You have the choice of change for an uncertain future where a ‘no’ vote means the Church has no voice, where a growing pace of change will push the church to the fringe, and our influence is no better that a bowling club.

“Or you have the choice to vote ‘yes’ for positive change, where the church articulates a clear vision of the place it should have in the nation state; what other rights would we want to see, for example whether the church should advocate for protections for freedom of religion or freedom of worship.”

He concluded by saying change is coming to Scotland, and “the question is whether Church is willing to play its part in that process of change”.

As a follow-up the next morning the Assembly of the Free Church heard from Communities Minister Roseanna Cunningham who spoke positively of the place of religion  in a post-referendum Scotland. She expressed her assurance that the government wanted to work with Christian groups and that “the Scottish Government recognised the important role of the Church and the wider Christian community, even if they took a different position on legislative matters.”

In the time since the General Assemblies there have been a couple of notable developments. The first was in late August when a group of Church of Scotland ministers signed an open letter endorsing independence. While completely within their right to do as individuals the Moderator of the General Assembly did issue a statement to clarify that they were taking a personal position and the official position of the Kirk was neutrality on the issue.

The second development was another evening of respectful dialogue sponsored by the Church of Scotland. This time it was in Glasgow and carried live on stv. Again, the video is available through the Kirk web site.

From here the Church of Scotland is focusing on reconciliation following the referendum. This includes the Moderator giving a prayer for unity and message of reconciliation last Sunday that was broadcast on BBC radio, An appeal today to use a “ONE” logo as a sign of unity (although its resemblance to the yes logo is hard to overlook). And a message from the Moderator discussing his vision for reconciliation and how others can help, including his plans for a major service of reconciliation at St. Giles this coming Sunday with the anticipation that many of the major figures in the debate would participate. With the vote likely to be close and 97% of the electorate – which has been modified to include those down to age 16 – registered to participate, there are likely to be strong emotions afterwards. [UPDATE: As the day gets under way there are also many signs of understanding whatever the position of the neighbour or the outcome of the vote.]

The Free Church is also officially neutral but they have issued a piece on “How should Christians vote in the independence referendum?” that does not take sides but presents some Biblical principles to keep in mind. They also issued a second piece today on “Praying for Scotland.”

Finally, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland has taken the stand, laid out in a position paper, that both alternatives are flawed and their recommendation is to abstain from the vote.

So truly our prayers are with Scotland for the referendum vote tomorrow (actually it is already the 18th in Scotland as I publish this). May God guide the citizenry to discern wisely in what will be a historic and unique moment in their history.

But to close with something a bit lighter, the Herald ran a political cartoon today that probably sums up the feelings of much of the population, one way or another, on this day before the vote.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of August 2014

With the GA Season winding down and my summer vacation behind me it seems time to resume the headlines posts. While I have delusions that I might get caught up back to when I dropped the posts for GA season, that will probably not happen. There were a couple of interesting items in that time period and I might do one major highlights piece, but we will see if that actually happens.

But for now, let’s turn to the first half of this month and what caught my attention.

A significant news thread in Europe was the centenary of the start of World War One and the involvement of the UK in that conflict. For a number of reasons I won’t go into several significant national commemorations were held in Scotland with the major involvement of the Church of Scotland.

Scotland commemorates World War One centenary (from BBC News Scotland)

Church of Scotland Moderator urges world leaders to learn from WW1 (from Ekklesia)

Across the Presbyterian branches there were calls for peace in Gaza

Gaza: Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland in plea for peace (from Belfast Telegraph)

Largest Presbyterian Denomination in US Demands Obama Push for Israeli-Hamas Ceasefire (from The Christian Post)

Head of Church of Scotland in plea for peace in Gaza (from Herald Scotland)

And in an interesting side note, that last headline brought some comments about how for Presbyterians that headline should have referred to the Moderator of the church since, as this letter to the editor points out, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church:

The true head of the Kirk (letter to the editor in Herald Scotland)

An Irish minister who died in a tragic scuba accident is remembered

Deeply committed and straight-talking Presbyterian minister (from the Irish Times)

In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, the historic Greyfriars Church of Scotland building was sold to a local businessman leading to some concern over the fate of the building. The new owner is having the building inspected to determine what it would take to preserve the building and possible uses while others are looking at possible paths to ensure preservation.

Greyfriars church sold (from Trinidad Express Newspapers)
‘I felt compelled to buy Greyfriars’ (from Trinidad Express Newspapers)
National Trust moves to protect historic Greyfriars Church (from Trinidad Express Newspapers)
I can’t make guarantees (from the Guardian)

Southside Presbyterian Church of Tucson, a church which was a leader in the sanctuary movement 30 years ago, is once again offering sanctuary to undocumented individuals.

Presbyterian church in Arizona offers sanctuary to undocumented migrant (from Reuters)

Also, from the PC(USA), a lawsuit that includes the denomination as a defendant

Minister’s lawsuit targets his own denomination over sexual abuse allegations (AP story in The Kansas City Star); “The Rev. Kris Schondelmeyer, a youth minister in Toledo, Ohio, is seeking unspecified damages in a lawsuit he filed against the Louisville, Ky.-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); First Presbyterian Church of Fulton, Mo.; the Missouri Union Presbytery in Jefferson City; and his alleged abuser, Jack Wayne Rogers.”

Finally, a profile of Doran, Minn., population 55, caught my attention because of the emphasis on the Presbyterian church and how it is the last remaining house of worship in town as well as a community gathering spot.

Doran, Minn.: Little town on the prairie (from the Daily News of Wahpeton, ND and Breckenridge, MN)

So until next time…

221st General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

We now approach a very busy week of General Assemblies. Hold on to your proverbial hats…

Leading off in the lineup is the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The gavel will come down to convene the meeting at 11:00 AM local time tomorrow (14 June) in Detroit, Michigan and it will run for one week until Saturday June 21.

The source for information is the on-line PC-Biz system. It can be access on the web at There are is also a PC(USA) event guide for the Guidebook App Android and iOS apps.

There is a docket posted and you can also find the schedule, reports overtures/business items on PC-Biz as well as all the Constitutional documents, the Manual of the General Assembly, and other useful items on the PC-Biz Resources tab.

The Assembly will begin with the usual formalities on Saturday afternoon followed by the election of the Moderator Saturday evening. Sunday is worship and receptions in the afternoon and then the Assembly goes into committees that evening. During committee time, which will run through Tuesday evening, PC-Biz is the place to find out what the committees are doing with the pieces of business near and dear to you.

Things open up again on Wednesday afternoon as the Assembly returns to plenary and than it is a mad push to get all the business done by Friday night or in the wee hours of Saturday morning. (What time will the buses stop running?) But one of the realities is that there is no real schedule of when particular committees report until later in the week when committees have finished their business and they are assembled on the docket like a jigsaw puzzle. The final Saturday morning is just closing formalities.

All of the plenary sessions will be live streamed.

The tracking utility on PC-Biz is the best place to follow business. While the PC(USA) does have a general Twitter account (@Presbyterian), the General Assembly feed (@presbyGA) usually provides more play-by-play. This will be the first GA for the Presbyterian News Service on Twitter (@PresbyNews). The hashtag for the meeting is #ga221.

News items will also appear on the GA221 web site as well as the Presbyterian News Service feed. There is also a photo gallery. (And I will probably need to adjust that link.)

In looking at my rapidly growing list of who will be tweeting from GA I am thinking that the best thing to do is to point you at Bruce Reyes-Chow’s Twitter list for GA221. Bruce himself tweets at @breyeschow and @brc_live. The outgoing Moderator, Neal Presa, can be followed at @NealPresa. And one of these three will be the new Moderator – Heath Rada (@heathrada), John Wilkinson (@johnwpcusa) or Kelly Allen (@kellysueallen). In this list of individuals let me throw in the Director of Operations, Thomas Hay (@DirOfOp) and a true GA Junkie in his own right, Andy James (andyjames).

Out in the press corps, keep an eye on the Presbyterian Outlook on their web site ( and Twitter (@presoutlook) as well as their special correspondent Leslie Scanlon (@lscanlon).

Besides the election of the Moderator, two other issues will be among the hottest of hot-button topics discussed, debated and discerned this week..

Internally, the biggest question is probably the PC(USA) definition of marriage. Most everyone acknowledges that the definition given in the Directory for Worship (W-4.9001) is a bit of a problem since the part about marriage being a civil contract between a man and a woman is out of date in many jurisdictions. There are proposals to issue an Authoritative Interpretation to allow pastors to preform marriages in those jurisdictions. There are also overtures to change that section of the Book of Order. This has a long way to travel in the next week and a Book of Order change will require the concurrence of the presbyteries.

Externally, the headline issue is the return of a proposal to divest from three companies whose products are used to help Israel in their occupation of Palestinian Territory. This has been built up by interest groups on both sides and as of yesterday the ga221 hashtag was being flooded with tweets supporting divestment. At the 220th GA this was the closest vote of the Assembly with the divestment proposal failing in plenary by two votes. We will see what happens this year.

So we have a lot to look forward to this coming week. I, unfortunately, could not make a trip to Detroit work for me so I will be live blogging the live stream as I am able – trying to provide some color commentary to the play-by-play on Twitter.  As always, best wishes and prayers for all the commissioners and leadership as they deal with important issues but also so that they may not lose sight of the call to make disciples and build up Christ’s body in the minutia of individual business items.

Finally, in honor of Detroit and maybe as a metaphor for either the PC(USA) Book of Order, or the PC(USA) itself with its many splits and mergers, I leave you with Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time.”

Some Thoughts On Fossil Fuel Divestment Overture At The 221st General Assembly, PC(USA)

Let me begin this post with full disclosure that this piece probably falls more into the category of commentary than analysis or reporting.

Second, why the heck would I be writing commentary on this? If you are not aware I am a geologist by profession so I do have some background in this even though my primary specialty is earthquakes. But I did work for an oil company one summer during college.

Third, this is business that is before the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) next week so it is of concern to many of us.

The main overture that I want to speak to is item 15-01 from the Presbytery of Boston with concurrences from 11 other presbyteries. It will be reviewed by the Assembly Committee on Immigration and Environmental Issues. This committee only has three other items of business to consider besides this one, one regarding immigration, one about sustainable development and one about coal export projects.

The overture calls for the 221st GA to recognize the “moral mandate for humanity to shift to sustainable energy.” As part of this it asks for no new PC(USA) investments in fossil fuel companies, divestment from current holdings over the next five years, report on the progress and tell the fossil fuel companies why they are doing this.

In considering fossil fuel divestment let me discuss two particular aspects of this topic that I don’t think are getting aired in the materials I have read.

First, go with me on a thought exercise. Don’t worry, this won’t take long…

Name the materials in your home that are extracted from the earth.

I do this exercise with students all the time and it is quicker to name the materials that are not earth-related. The obvious one is wood if you live in a wood frame house, have wood shingles and probably have wooden furniture. The other is fabric that comes from animals (such as wool or leather) or plants (cotton and hemp for example). In my experience that is it.

Someone usually asks about the carpets and if you have common polyester carpets guess what, they come from petrochemicals. In fact, you may be surprised to find the amount of material in your home or car that are petrochemicals.

My point is that saying companies are just about fossil fuels ignores other uses of the materials extracted, whether it be the petroleum that goes into plastics or the coal that goes to make coke for iron/steel production. Yes, according to the ExxonMobil Annual Report only 11.7% of their annual revenues were from the chemical side, but neither the overture nor the Carbon Tracker report they reference make any mention of secondary uses of the material.

The second thing that strikes me is the method being employed. I always wonder when companies or industries are singled out for boycotts or divestment when we are trying to make societal changes. I think it is generally better to change things either through the demand side, not the supply side of the equation or to promote better alternatives on the supply side. Before Edwin Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in the United States lamp oil came from whaling. While whaling is still an active, but controversial industry, the whale oil portion did not drop off because of government regulation or environmental concerns. Rather, the rise of the petroleum industry produced a less-expensive alternative.

Similarly, I would argue that the same thing would be more effective here. Time and resources should be put into alternate and more environmentally friendly sources of energy and helping develop conservation attitudes.

To this end, I appreciate the advice provided by the Assembly Committee on Social Witness Policy which instead suggests a balance approached typified by the amendment they suggest that says “To this end,
the church shall work to shift its energy investments increasingly into
renewable sources as it undertakes parallel actions to reduce its
nonrenewable energy consumption and that of its members.”

Let me ask if more can be done internally by the PC(USA). Can the national office be heated, cooled and lit with more alternative energy? Can trips to the offices be reduced by telecommuting or car pooling? Can the General Assembly reduce its carbon footprint? Can incentives be given to employees of the PC(USA), its middle governing bodies or its churches to conserve, use alternate energy and reduce their carbon footprint. We ask others to be environmentally responsible, how can we set the example and promote that within our denomination?

There are also a number of pragmatic considerations in all this. Yes, this is a social witness statement and that alone is sometimes good enough. But remember that the General Assembly speaks only for itself and while there are obviously at least 12 presbyteries that agree with this action the only investments it directly controls are its own. Furthermore, that is not always the case as I remember hearing representatives from the Board of Pensions and the Foundation at the last GA talking about the investment process and what influence they did, or did not have, on the outside investment advisers they contracted with. Finally, I do not want to diminish the fact that this is making a social witness statement and any actual effects are just part of the equation, but it is interesting reading about how Stanford made the decision to divest from only coal when a full fossil fuel divestment was asked for by a student group. The change was both for financial reasons as well as moral as this article discusses:

Beyond the hit to Stanford’s pocketbook, the university figured that
divesting from all fossil-fuel stocks would be seen, justifiably, as too
ivory-tower. “It would have been viewed as hypocritical to say, `You
should divest from fossil fuels,’ when everyone on this campus consumes
fossil fuels,” [Stanford President John] Hennessy said. “There’s a hypocritical issue to it.” And
what’s true for Stanford, he noted, is true for the globe. “You try to
replace all fossil fuels? We are so far from that happening.”

divesting just from coal-mining stocks should, financially, have “little
or no endowment impact,” Hennessy said. The university, he said, can
put the dollars it was investing into coal-mining companies into other
energy sourcesperhaps other fossil fuelswhich,
like coal stocks, help guard the endowment against the threat of
inflation. Moreover, Stanford will remain invested in coal consumption.
The divestment doesn’t apply to stocks of power companies that burn
coal. And it doesn’t apply to shares in steel makers, Hennessy noted,
for whom a fuel source other than coal isn’t readily apparent.

Finally, the argument can be made that keeping the stock and using it as the entry into stockholder meetings and resolutions is a more effective method to promote a social witness policy.

So there are some of my thoughts on the matter. Your mileage may vary. But this overture has plenty of advice attached to it and based on how Assemblies operate I am pretty confident it will be in a much different form when it reaches the plenary and then my undergo another revision, possibly major. Or maybe it will fly through and get put on the shelf with all those other social witness statements. Stay tuned…

[Addendum: Full Disclosure: First, I own stock in energy companies
because when I started investing the advice I received from my
Presbyterian minister – a former stock broker – was “invest in what you
know” and I knew geology. Second, a notable portion of my undergraduate education was provided by scholarships from energy companies and even some money that come from Edwin L. Drake a long time ago.]

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Week Ending October 20, 2013

Another week on the quiet side in my news stream, and the couple of active items that were there are “works in progress” that I will defer to the next round when there should be something more to report than “the committee is thinking about it.”

So to begin with, a few items from churches in Africa:

Malawi: Domasi CCAP Advises Faithful to Vote – from; “Domasi Presbytery of CCAP Blantyre Synod has called on all its faithful
that registered for the 2014 Tripartite Elections to exercise their
rights and responsibilities by voting for leaders of their choice.”

M’mbelwa roasts Livingstonia Synod over Kanyika mine – from Nyasa Times; “M’mbelwa district council on Monday took a swipe at  CCAP Livingstonia
Church and Society for frustrating the mining of niobium at Kanyika mine
in Mzimba.”

Presbyterian University College Council inaugurated – from Ghana News Agency; “The
Right-Reverend Professor Emmanuel Martey, Moderator of the General Assembly of
the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, has inaugurated the 5th Presbyterian
University College Council at Akropong.”

A couple of notes from the Church of Scotland:

Have your say on Scotland’s future – from Carrick Gazette; The Church of Scotland is ramping up the discussion sessions ahead of the independence vote.

Church of Scotland proposes changing religious observance in schools to ‘time for reflection’ – from Christian Today; “The Church of Scotland has proposed changing religious observance to a ‘time for reflection’. The Kirk said a time for reflection in schools would help shift the
debate about religious observance in schools from an argument between
opposing views to learning together.”

And finally from the PC(USA) and the Presbytery of Chicago:

Wild patience: Years of discussion lead to signing of covenant between presbytery and Islamic communities in Chicago – from The Presbyterian Outlook

So there is what caught my eye for last week.

Presbyterian Headlines For The Two Weeks Ending Sept. 22, 2013

Well, the crazy part of my life continues, so here are two weeks worth of selected headlines related to Presbyterians around the world.

When we left Scotland last time there was great anticipation of the hearings before the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament regarding the Marriage and Civil Unions Bill. While the Free Church of Scotland also testified, the media focused on statements by the Church of Scotland representative that due to potential legal challenges to their position of not preforming same-sex marriages they “may stop conducting marriages” all together.

Church of Scotland ‘may stop conducting marriages’ – from BBC News

Church of Scotland May Stop Performing Weddings to Avoid Gay Marriage Battles – from Charisma News

This led the Kirk to issue its own clarification

Marriage: Business as usual for the Church – Church of Scotland press release

Church of Scotland clarifies ‘there are no plans to stop weddings’ over same-sex marriage dispute – from PinkNews

And a major point of the legislation is the legal protection for conscience and religious viewpoints on the issue, and this also got some media coverage:

Ministers face legal warning over gay marriage – from The Scotsman

Scotland: Legal experts agree that a legal challenge against churches over equal marriage is unlikely – from PinkNews

Church of Scotland calls for ‘robust’ protection over gay marriage – From Christian Today

Moving to the other side of the world:

Drinking to the Gospel: Presbyterian Church in New Zealand Embraces Alcohol to Evangelize, Attract Members, Make Money – from Christian Post

Knox Church rebuild plan signed – from 3News NZ; “The landmark triple-gabled Knox Presbyterian Church
in Christchurch is to be rebuilt with a new lightweight cladding to
better withstand earthquakes. The brick and limestone building on the corner of
Victoria St and Bealey Ave was severely damaged in the February 2011

Accuser backs church sex inquiry– from NZ Herald; in an ongoing church disciplinary case “The woman at the centre of a sexual misconduct complaint against a
Korean Presbyterian pastor is standing by her claims and is backing a
church investigation which found him guilty after a criminal court
cleared him of any wrongdoing.”

In the PC(USA):

Catholic, Presbyterian leaders oppose attack on Syria – from the Louisville Courier-Journal

Largest Presbyterian Church in Texas Filing Suit to Keep Property Should They Leave Denomination – from The Christian Post

And a couple of church fires, the first in the ARPC and second in the PC(USA):

Ballston church keeps the faith through two fires – from YNN

Firefighters extinguish massive flames at Walhalla Church – from Fox Carolina

And a few others:

Vanuatu church group here with helping hand – from Solomon Star; “A MEN’S fellowship group from [Sea Side Paama Presbyterian church in] Vanuatu is currently assisting Magdala
South Seas Evangelical Church (SSEC) in Honiara with the construction of
their new church building.”

Women’s group sends comfort to residential school survivors – from Kamloops The Daily News; “A group of compassionate Kamloops women
is hoping to lend comfort during emotional testimony at the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission in Vancouver this week. The St. Andrew’s
Presbyterian Church group members have been knitting prayer shawls that
will be brought to Vancouver and handed out to victims and families
impacted by the residential school system.”

Finally, a news article with a couple of familiar names from Scotland…

The Rev. John Chalmers, Principle Clerk of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, was inducted as a new Chaplain to the Queen and The Very Rev Ian Torrance, former Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly and past President of Princeton Theological Seminary, was inducted as Dean of the Chapel Royal:

New Dean of the Chapel Royal and Queen’s Chaplain inducted – from Christian Today

There were a number of interesting articles in these two weeks that were interesting but here is what made the cut. I will try to keep it down to one week spans for a while.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Week Ending July 6, 2013

[Let me begin with an editorial note: Over the next six weeks I have an extremely busy schedule of travel and family events. If you see nothing new on this blog until the middle of August nothing is wrong. I will post as able but it will only be occasionally.]

The following items caught my attention this past week:

Gayism is “satanic” – Presby Moderator – from Report on remarks by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana

Punish Ken Agyapong over genocidal comments – Presby Moderator – from Vibe Ghana: A completely different take on what appears to be the same speech.

Londonderry pastor to replace Ian Paisley at Belfast Church – from Belfast Newsletter: A high-profile pastoral transition

Presbyterians Seek Action against Slavery – THISDAY Live: “The Synod of the West of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria has raised
the alarm over the ugly phenomenon of forced prostitution and
child/human organ trafficking which,  it said, had assumed pandemic
proportions in Nigeria.”

220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) — Thursday Evening

Live blogging the Thursday evening session…
If you are following along live you will want to hit refresh periodically to reload the post. (And please excuse the typos as my fingers fly.)

Also, I am experiencing technical difficulties with my connection. It is better but not perfect. I will do the best I can considering the circumstances.

The proposed docket for the rest of the Assembly is posted at Bills and Overtures.

This evening’s schedule is simple – Middle East Peacemaking Issues (Committee 15) delayed from the afternoon and Mission Coordination (Committee 10).

The evening begins the the regular items of music and prayer.

1001 Worshiping Communities video

Bills and Overtures – Like Gradye Parsons has a figure of John Calvin on his desk, Bills and Overtures has unveiled a praying gnome for their desk.
Bills and Overtures proposes that Middle East goes first this evening and when they conclude the Assembly then do all of Mission Coordination except Special Offerings which will be done in the morning.

Committee on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues – Committee 15
The Committee Moderator begins with words of introduction and the roadmap for the report.
The PC(USA) Area Coordinator for the Middle East give some background and reads a quote from the Kairos Document.
Now, a brief report from the Middle East Monitoring Group

On to business…

Item 15-04 Regarding a peaceful, diplomatic solution between the US and Iran
Recommends approval with amendment
Commissioner speaks against it reminding everyone of 9-11
Commissioner, neither for or against, reminds everyone to pray
Commissioner reminds us that Iran had nothing to do with 9-11, Also, experts remind us we have not had dialogue with Iran for a long time
Commissioner speaks against and contradicts the previous speaker saying the Iran is a serious threat
Call the question
Advisory delegates strongly yes
Commissioners – 81% yes, 19% no, 0% abstain

Item 15-11 On Corporate Engagement
Brian Ellison, chair of MRTI, gives an introduction to corporate engagement in general and this issue specifically. He makes the point the dialogue has occurred and has been over a period of time. However, it has not been fruitful so when engagement does not work divestment is the only remaining option.

[Speakers are lining up. There are 36 in line by one count from someone in a better position than I.]

Taking questions before hearing Minority Report
Advocacy by this morning’s ecumenical partner was questioned. There was a point of order that calling the question is being used in an aggressive manner.
Commissioner asks how much money and income are we taking about here? For BOP just enough shares are held by BOP directly to allow MRTI to file shareholder resolutions. In managed investment accounts it is much higher (did someone tweet these numbers – they went by too fast)
(Thanks Layman tweet) BOP has $10M in Caterpillar, $6M in HP and $432K Motorola Solutions.

Minority Report is presented – main point is rather than divest let’s selectively invest

Any amendments to the main motion? None so declared perfected

Amendment to the minority report – Instruct GAMC to create a process to raise funds to invest in the West Bank
Amendment approved 60% yes, 36% no, 4% abstain

No more amendments – The substitute motion is declared perfected
“Shall the Substitute Motion become the Main Motion?”
Caterpillar helped clean up after recent tornado
This is not either/or but both/and
Can we actually divest this money and how long would it take to do that?
   Answer for BOP: Divestment list goes out to managers in early December. Managers don’t have to sell right away (It’s complicated – do it so shareholders are no harmed)
   Answer for Foundation: Similar – not right away but decently and in order
Caterpillar Employee – “You are being shown a very narrow view of Caterpillar”
Palestinians are not asking for a check, they are asking for justice
This action will not achieve what MRTI seeks but will have unintended consequences and alienate partners. No one cares about our symbolic action
This is an opportunity to achieve justice in this situation
Main motion offered as a simple solution – it is actually very complex and will only be “a whisper lost in the storm”
We have enough investment from the US in Israel and the West Bank – Now is the time to divest
Afraid that divestment will harm partnership his church has. Divestment makes the PC(USA) look like an admonishing parent.
The Jewish community – if we divest it will be approved by many in the Jewish community

5 minute stretch break and house band is playing reflective music and not ABBA

Question: What about other mainline churches? Different denominations are in different places in the process and are structured differently. Brian Ellison – Methodist Church has no equivalent of MRTI and differing reports brought by different committee and the Methodists decided not to divest
Question: What about being at share holder meetings? Brian Ellison – Yes and sometimes it is our ecumenical partners
Question: If we take a motion to multiply, when will we know that we’ve reached the moral sin of greed? Answer from presenter of Minority report “I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer.” (and leaves the podium)
Question: Could ACSWP person tell the Assembly what they told us in Committee? ACSWP Rep says that it is very difficult to find places to invest in West Bank and the profitability is uncertain. Humanitarian investment

“I carefully and prayerfully call the question”
Advisory delegates right at the 2/3rds to close debate
Commissioners – 87% to 13% – debate has been closed

Voting on making the substitute motion the main motion
Advisory delegates fairly strongly “No” except EADs strong yes
Commissioners – 333 to 331, 2 abstain. The substitute becomes the main motion

Bills and Overtures moves to limit speeches to 1 minute (Requires 2/3)
Advisory delegates strongly yes
Commissioners – 85% yes 15% no – for the rest of the evening speeches are 1 minute

Commissioner moves to limit time on this item to one more hour (Requires 2/3)
86% yes, 12% no, 2% abstain

Debate continues
“As Presbyterians we have a lot of experience with divestment – We call it withholding per capita.” Urges supporting investment
Visited the Palestinians – They want divestment

[FYI – Right now PCUSA and #ga220 trending on Twitter]

Commissioner asks if the cards can be used to see if people still want to debate – Sea of Orange
Moderator recognizes commissioner to call the question
Commissioners – 88% to 11%, debate is closed

Questions: (actually other points) Commissioner noted that one microphone was not called on as much as the others. Another commissioner says their microphone was only called on once. One commissioner asks about the process for calling the question with the cards. There is the question raised if this is defeated can the main motion be brought back? (Answer – by a motion to reconsider)

TSADs stongly no, YAADs slightly no, EADs slightly yes, MADs all no
Commissioners – 55% yes, 43% no,  1% abstain

There is weak applause and one person in the back shouts “NO!”
Moderator compliments Assembly on civil discourse – stronger applause

Item 15-10 Pursuing a creative course of action regarind the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
Recommends approval with amendment
May be illogical in light of the action just taken. “That is your problem to deal with Mr. Moderator.” reply with a sarcastic “Thanks”

Stated Clerk recommends arresting this report to look at the language of the other items based on the previous action.

10:30 PM

Adjourn with prayer to reconvene in the morning at 8:30 AM

220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) — At The Mid-Point

This morning marks the mid-point of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) both chronologically and structurally. It is the point where commissioners must “recalibrate.” They have been working on their committees and their focused issues for the last couple of days and now will take this morning to be briefed on what the other committees have done in preparation for the resumption of plenary this afternoon.

As usual, the committees had a variety of completion times over the last couple of days with a couple finishing on Monday and Committee 13 on Marriage and Civil Unions getting their work finished just before the shuttle buses stopped running last night.

I have decided not to make many detailed comments about the committee work right now. I need time to digest what I saw and heard regarding what the committees did. I spent most of yesterday with Committee 5 on Mid Councils Review as they worked through the Mid Councils Commission recommendations. I think the opening line of the Outlook article captures it best, “One by one, a General Assembly committee shot down key proposals from
the General Assembly Commission on Mid Councils – including one to allow
provisional non-geographic presbyteries during a “designated season of
experimentation” for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

This was a painful thing for me to watch as the committee approved only two of the eight recommendations the Commission brought, and those for review task forces. All the structural recommendations were defeated. I admit to having my own issues with some of their recommendations, but from my seat there really seemed to be a sense for many that “we have never done it that way before.” Or as Commission member John Vest put it in a tweet “I hope no one is surprised that ACC & COGA have raised concerns
about the MCC report. Our system is set up to protect itself.”

The other reason that it was painful is that I have real empathy for them. I have been in their place with a report from a Special Committee that I was on being debated by GA. When our Special Committee completed the report and got ready to adjourn for the final time we were reminded by the OGA folks “this report now belongs to the General Assembly.” We had done the work but we no longer owned the report and now it was up to someone else to do something with it. I will write a more formal thank you letter latter, but for now, I want to thank the members of the Commission on Middle Governing Bodies Mid Councils for their work.

But it was not just this committee. From Twitter messages and conversations I had throughout the day there were stories about issues with other committees as well, many that reflected John’s comment above that “Our system is set up to protect itself.”

The last committee to finish, just as they were trying to turn out the lights in the convention center, was the Committee on Marriage and Civil Unions. No surprise that this committee was in the biggest room and worked the longest. It was also the closest watched and all day yesterday there were tweets about what the committee was doing, sometimes suggesting that it was a parliamentary quagmire or accomplishing a whole lot of nothing. I don’t know what it was like at that time but I attended the meeting after dinner yesterday and I found that during the time I was there it was being run in a slow but deliberate manner by the moderator. Considering the sensitivity and importance of the topic it appeared that the moderator was being sure everything was respectful and clear and that everyone was heard. Yes, it was slow going but the real indicator was that when the business finished the members of the committee rose and gave the moderator a standing ovation. She must have done something right.

Now what is going to plenary? Here are a few major items that were recommended by the committees. I am waiting to hear if any of these will have minority reports as well.

Marriage – The request for an AI was not recommended but the overture asking that the Directory for Worship be changed to read that marriage is between “two people” is recommended

Mid Councils – Recommendations to form a task force to reduce the number of synods, no provisional experimental/non-geographic presbyteries, a task force to review GAMC and OGA and a Racial Ethnic Ministries Task Force (Outlook article)

Middle East – MRTI’s divestment recommendations recommended (Outlook article)

Special Offerings – Recommendation that most are preserved in their current form with the Communion Offering to be restructured (Outlook article)

Church Orders – Most asked-for changes to the Book of Order were not recommended, but on a split decision (28-20) they are recommending adding to G-2.0104a (previously G-6.0106a) the phrase “This includes repentance of sin and diligent use of the means of grace.” (Outlook article)

Confessions – The revised version of the Heidelberg Catechism was recommended as well as a recommendation for a redo of the process to add the Belhar Confession (Outlook article)

Plenary sessions resume at 2 PM this afternoon. Bills and Overtures has posted a proposed docket for the rest of the Assembly. Live streaming will resume and Bills and Overtures has done a pretty good job of spreading out the reports generally giving us one high-profile issue per session:

  • Confessions – Wednesday afternoon
  • Mid Council Issues – about 10 AM Thursday morning
  • Middle East – about 3 PM Thursday afternoon
  • Mission Coordination (Special Offerings) – Thursday evening
  • Election of Standing Committee Members – Friday Morning
  • Review of Biennial Assemblies – Friday Morning
  • Immigration Issues – about 10 AM Friday morning (this is the hot-button item of the session)
  • Civil Union and Marriage – about 1:50 on Friday afternoon
  • Church Orders – about 3:30 on Friday afternoon
  • Peacemaking and International Issues – Friday evening

So there is the line-up. I plan to be present and live blogging all these sessions. See you there.

Finally, to all my U.S. readers – a happy Independence Day. I don’t know if I will actually get my traditional July 4th reflection done on time, but I will try.

2012 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

  Coming up this Saturday the first large General Assembly of the 2012 season begins as the 2012 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is convened in the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh.

The Assembly will begin at 10 AM on Saturday 19 May and adjourn a bit after 3 PM on Friday 25 May. On Sunday afternoon 20 May there will be a large public festival in Prince Street Gardens called Heart and Soul 2012, inspired by the similar and successful Roll Away the Stone program last year.

So, to follow along with the GA here is what you need to know

If you want to have the polity documents at the ready you start at the Church Law web page and from there can get the Acts, Regulations, Standing Orders, and An introduction to Practice and Procedure in the Church of Scotland (2009 edition).

The business of the Assembly is not as high-profile and controversial as some years because issues regarding human sexuality are not on the docket — the Theological Commission dealing with issues related to same-sex relationships in the church that was created by the 2011 GA will report next year.

But based on the press release and some of the media attention the report A Right Relationship With Money will be interesting to watch.  This report, part of the work of the Special Commission on the Purposes of Economic Activity, is docketed as an Order of the Day at 2 PM on Monday and comes under the Church and Society Council.  This is the only Order of the Day that I see in the docket.

I will update this info as necessary and comment in other posts as the week progresses. Prayers for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the General Assembly meets.