Reported by Erica Restaino
Each day of General Assembly is long, but many of us expected Friday to be an especially long day since the Middle East Issues Committee was on the docket. All week, individuals and groups had bombarded us with information. For many, including myself, it was overwhelming.
I arrived at General Assembly with open ears and an open mind because I recognized that for most of the issues, I was not an expert. While the YAADs may not have had an actual vote in plenary, we had the potential to sway the commissioners in one direction or another. Therefore, I listened to others in order to discern what I believed to be the best course of action.
With the issue of divestment, arguably the most controversial topic of GA221, however, I was at a loss. I listened to people who spoke passionately on both sides of the issue, but it was still difficult to decide what the right course of action would be for the church to pursue. Regardless of the decision made, people would be hurt and relationships would be strained.
When the debate over divestment arose in plenary, I knew that this was going to be the biggest challenge for the commissioners and delegates. The group was so divided over the issue that it was difficult to see a way forward. There were long lines at every microphone to speak because so many people felt so passionately one way or the other with this decision. The speeches were emotional, but I was impressed that the people who spoke remained respectful towards one another, which gave me hope.
When it finally came time for the vote, I knew that we were reaching a pivotal point in the General Assembly. Whichever way the vote went, many people would be upset. However, I tried to ignore this as best as I could. I tried to decide what I believed would be the best decision for the PC(USA), the Palestinian people, and the people of Israel.
When the final vote flashed on the screen, I could not believe the results. 310 people voted to approve the overture to divest from Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions, and Caterpillar. 303 people voted against the overture. After what seemed like unceasing debate, the vote came down to only seven votes.
I will not say whether or not I agree with the final decision, but I will say that I was proud of the PC(USA) in that moment. There were many people who were happy with the decision to divest, but they did not cheer or clap. Instead, they were sensitive to all those who were pained by the decision to divest. With such a sharp divide with this issue, I was proud that as a church, we were able to still move forward.
I am sure that we will face both positive and negative repercussions from this decision to divest, but after the results came from the vote, I was filled with hope that the PC(USA) would face these repercussions together. Rather than remain divided on the issue, I have hope that both people who were for divestment and those who were against it will remain able to work with one another.
After such a controversial climax to the evening, we settled down to discuss the overtures from the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee and the Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministry. It was late, and everyone was tired from such an emotionally and physically draining day, but we continued to work through the overtures set before us by those two committees. We finally finished for the night just before midnight. After that last vote of the night, people clapped and cheered because we had finally finished. Even though we had voted on some very controversial topics throughout General Assembly, it did not feel as though we were divided.
The Office of the General Assembly describes the purpose of General Assembly saying, “It reviews the work of synods, resolves controversies in the church, is responsible for matters of common concern for the whole church, and serves as a symbol of unity for the church.” During the 221st General Assembly, it was clear that we were divided on many issues. However, I hope that the ability of the commissioners and advisory delegates to still work alongside one another even after voting on such controversial topics will serve as that symbol of unity for the church.