the 221st General Assembly

Posts tagged ‘church’

Talking Heads, Sermons, and Disheartenment

Talking Heads, Sermons, and Disheartenment.

In Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Aunt Alexandra is described as being “positively irritable on the Lord’s Day”. It is a trait I share with Aunt Alexandra. In the book, Scout traced this feature to the effects of Aunt Alexandra’s formidable “Sunday corset”. My irritability, on the other hand, usually stems from the “service of Christian worship”.
When I was younger, I imagine I had different reasons for being uncomfortable with church. Some of these were probably legitimate – things that bothered me; things that, truth be told, probably still bother me. Others were more a case of me being a whiner – it’s too long … it’s boring ….
Today, I’m more irritable on Sundays than on any other day of the week because I’m disheartened. Now, I have little problem with the inane things we sing that pass for hymns. I do find myself stopping to think of the words, often being puzzled, often disagreeing with the messages cloaked beneath their thin religious veneer, often dropping out of the singing. I have little problem with the forms of worship – again minor quibbles. I generally enjoy the special music. I can’t fault scripture. I’m not keen on pre-printed group prayers – usually I don’t find much beyond the Lord’s Prayer to be needed; and the confession often makes me laugh. Group prayers of confession rarely reflect my sense of my own sins. [That is a topic for another day … or year.] These ‘prayers of confession” more often reflect what their writers think we should feel bad about, or the values they think we should adopt. I’m not opposed to an offering, though I’ve often thought that we could go without the offering and not really miss it.
I admit, I’m inclined to laugh at the pretension that what we do in our twenty-first century church meetings is derived directly from scripture or the practices of the early church. Some things are mentioned in the New Testament, and others are attested by early church writings – but much of what we do week to week is made of whole cloth. I’m not imagining that that somehow makes our practices illegitimate. It doesn’t. They just don’t live up to their pretensions.

Majority Report: Committee 15 proposals specifically targeting Israel

At this moment, GA Committee 15 has eleven items on its proposed docket. [By this I mean to indicate GA 220 Committee 15 composed of commissioners who will deliberate on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues – not a permanent standing committee.] Of these eleven items, seven directly target Israel for criticism and/or action. One, item 15-04, supports “peaceful, diplomatic means to resolve tensions forming … between the U.S. and Iran”. It does mention Israel tangentially – but the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) makes the issue entirely about Israel and insists that the overture “points to the continued power of Israeli and U.S. political leaders and interests who favor unilateral war”. Three items recommend a different course for the PC(USA).

Israel = Apartheid Proposal

In item 15-01 the Presbytery of Muskingum Valley calls on GA 220 “to recognize that Israel’s laws, policies, and practices constitute apartheid against the Palestinian people.” This overture is supported by ACREC, the Presbyteries of San Francisco, the Palisades, the Redwoods, and by the Synod of the Covenant. ACSWP offers a modified resolution.


Divestment Proposals

Items 15-03, 15-08, and 15-11 call for the PC(USA) to place Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions to be placed on the General Assembly Divestment List. (Oddly, item 15-03 from the Presbytery of San Francisco enumerates only Caterpillar but mentions the other two companies in its rationale.)

This divestment proposal is advanced by the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) and the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC). It is endorsed by the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC), ACSWP, the Presbyteries of New Brunswick, North Puget Sound, Scioto Valley, San Francisco, and Palisades, and by the Synod of the Covenant.


Boycott Proposals

Item 15-02 is an overture from the Presbytery of San Francisco calling for the boycott of certain products from the Occupied Territories. It is supported by ACREC, ACSWP, the Presbyteries of New Brunswick and Scioto Valley, and by the Synod of the Covenant.

In item 15-06, the Presbytery of Scioto Valley calls for a response to the Kairos document, particularly in its emphasis on boycott and divestment. This overture is supported by the Presbyteries of Genesee Valley and Northern New England, and by the Synod of the Covenant.


Other (Astonishing) Criticism

Item 15-09 is in a class by itself. In this curious overture, the Presbytery of San Jose urges the General Assembly to:

  1. Commend the U. S. State Department for its annual published listing of incidents of religious discrimination by the State of Israel affecting the human rights and religious freedom of Arab Christians and other Palestinian citizens.
  2. Commend the U. S. State Department for reporting on the failure of Israel to protect Christian Holy sites throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
  3. Urge the Israeli government to end any and all religious discriminatory practices.
  4. Urge the Israeli government to enforce its own legal obligation to protect Christian holy sites throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
  5. Direct that the Stated Clerk contact President Obama and the Israeli ambassador to the U. S. asking them to assist in ending all religious discriminatory practices and to protect religious groups’ holy sites in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

ACREC and ACSWP support this overture.

As observers consider this docket, a very warped picture emerges. The fact that the climate is so weighted in one direction will dictate the tenor of the conversation in Committee 15. It is true that commissioners have less actual material to consider than they did two years ago. At the same time, it is clear that the institutional weight of the PC(USA) supports a particular, lopsided viewpoint. Commissioner depending on information from PC(USA) sources will be hard pressed to hear opinions that differ from what is effectively a majority report.

I’m tempted to say they might as well just place these proposals on the consent agenda for GA 220’s giant rubber stamp and have done with it.

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