The 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is off and running. 219 assemblies are quite a number. We have been thinking we are important for quite some time. Of course our representative democracy closely parallels and was the inspiration for the government of the United States. We Presbyterians like to brag that we started the Revolution. King George III called it "that Presbyterian rebellion" or something like that. Rev. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister, was the only clergyperson to sign the Declaration of Independence.
The church I presently serve traces its roots back to the Revolution. A bunch of "born fightin'" Scotch-Irish mustered at Fort Watauga and ran down the British at the Battle of King's Mountain. After that, it was all over.
We ornery, hard-nosed Presbyterians have been fighting and democratizing for some time. Every issue that we face as a country, we take on at a General Assembly. This year is no different. In addition to issues that are internal ecclesiastical issues, we tackle big ticket items. Tackling them means nothing more than we offer our opinion.
But the process of writing, receiving, hearing, debating, and ultimately voting and publicly expressing our opinions on issues that face our country and our world does have effects.
- We seek to hear voices that are not heard at all or as much as they should be heard.
- We raise awareness and consciousness.
Presbyterians aren't the same as they were in 1780. It might be hard to imagine our fightin' forebears considering a resolution like this:
To direct appropriate General Assembly Mission Council staff, and to call on all congregations to enter into a six-year “time of discernment” seeking clarity on whether God is calling the church, at this historic moment, to embrace nonviolence as its fundamental response to war and terror.Every issue from marriage equality, to Israel/Palestine, to ecology, to ending discrimination against women, has a resolution (or more than one). For the next couple of days, committees will meet, combine. rearrange, and debate all the resolutions, and send some kind of action upon them to the plenary session of the entire General Assembly on Wednesday. The larger body will debate, possibly amend, and approve or disapprove what the committees have sent to it.
It is an entertaining process. You learn a lot about the world. You learn a whole lot about Robert's Rules of Order, and perhaps more than anything you move beyond an oppressive cynicism that tells us that in this world there is nothing anyone can do about anything.
No, there is one thing we can do. Each of us can express and seek to defend a point of view. We can care enough to speak. We can be respectful enough to allow others to do the same.