The 55th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan convened at Chang Jung Girls High School in Tainan on April 6, 2010. The theme for the event and for the General Assembly for the coming year is “Let cultures flourish; Let God’s justice take root.”
The officers of the General Assembly were elected in the first evening session. Congratulations and best wishes to the new officers: The Rev. Hsien-Chang Lai – Moderator of the 55th General Assembly; the Rev. Lyian-Syian Chiohh – Vice Moderator; the Rev. Dr. Pusin Tali – Clerk of Assembly; the Rev. Jong-Fong Hsu – Assistant Clerk of Assembly.
Business of the Assembly included the approval of the new Rukai Presbytery which includes a significant component of Rukai Aborigines, discussion and statements on gender equality, presentations and urging dialogue on global religious conflicts.
One high-profile issue that the GA addressed, and one that denominational officers have spoken out about, is the proposed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China (ECFA). There are multiple stories about this, one talking of “speaking up for marginalized peoples,” another talking about the effects it will have on young people, a third about possible economic and environmental damage. There was a presentation to GA and the Assembly endorsed a petition that calls for a public referendum on the ECFA.
Another high-profile issue was abolishing the death penalty in Taiwan. There is an ecumenical coalition against the death penalty and the GA debated how to add their voice to the discussion. The article says:
When this statement was first read in the recent 55th PCT General Assembly, some pastors were worried that it was adopted too hastily and they would have a hard time convincing their parishioners. They also feared that passing such a statement when the general population still viewed capital punishment as a sensitive issue might fuel controversy within churches. In response to their concerns, former PCT General Assembly Moderator Leonard Lin stressed that there are currently 44 inmates on death row that could be executed starting June – making the abolition of the death penalty a pressing life and death issue that everyone should be concerned about. Lin further noted that PCT had campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty for more than 15 years. With rising suspicions that there have been mishandled cases, wrong sentences, and instances of torture used to extract confessions, the integrity of the judiciary needs to be improved. More importantly, PCT must make a stand when debate on the death penalty keeps deviating from the real issues at stake.
In the end the Assembly agreed and…
…issued a statement… in support of abolishing capital punishment based on its religious convictions. According to this statement, human beings were created in God’s image, given immeasurable dignity and value, and that is why even murderers have human rights. The statement underscored that though offenders should be punished according to their crimes, the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment that is both irreversible and widely abused. It is also fraught with problems because Taiwan’s judicial system’s impartiality and fairness has been compromised. Furthermore, churches and organizations around the world have come to agree that death penalties don’t alleviate social problems or crime. The statement urged Taiwanese society to abide by their religious convictions instead of giving in to their feelings, by taking a step toward forgiveness and reconciliation. It said even murderers should be given the chance to live so that they might accept Christ, repent of their sins, and use the rest of their lives to reconcile with victims’ families and pay restitution.
A bit more on this in just a moment.
Finally, this GA, like its siblings around the world, is an opportunity for other activities and this includes two pastors who biked to the the Assembly and a hospital that offered free blood tests and check-ups to pastors.
Some of the most interesting accounts in English comes from two Canadian couples who attended in various capacities and mentioned it on their blogs.
Ted and Betty live in Taiwan and teach at Tainan Theological College and Seminary. They each have brief accounts about their participation in the GA, Ted just mentioning his speaking to the Assembly and Betty giving a nice account of singing for the Assembly with the College Choir and traveling with the international representatives to the Assembly on their local tour.
Those international representatives included fellow Canadians Scott and Anne to were the official representatives to the Assembly from the Presbyterian Church in Canada . They have put together a blog with a very nice account of their trip of which the GA was just a small part. I will leave you read about their wider travels for yourself if you are interested, but they talk about a few very interesting details of the church and the Assembly. Regarding the history of the church they mention that the first Protestant missionary arrived in 1865 from England and was soon followed, in 1872, by Rev. Dr. George L. Mackay of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission. But what is most interesting is their account of the business of the Assembly that I have mentioned above:
This morning was an exposure to the business end of General Assembly of the PCT and I don’t think it differs much from the PCC. From what I could gather from Sidney’s translations the two most contentious issues were the terms of service on the Christian school boards and concern over a letter written to the government calling for a ban on capital punishment. A recent poll showed that 80% of Taiwanese are in favour of capital punishment. In both cases the agony was over procedure more than content.
We heard from an expert speaker concerning the implications of a proposed free trade agreement between Taiwan and China and it sounded so much like the NAFTA headache that I wanted to get up and speak to the issue. Never trust an elephant when you get into bed with it.
Any GA Junkie will appreciate that comment about the “agony was over procedure more than content.”
So that is what I know of the meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.