The Presbyterian Outlook is an independent weekly newsletter covering the life of the PC(USA). This series of articles provides a helpful overview of the actions taken by the 221st General Assembly.
Reported by Kathy Dean
Yesterday was a very good day! Marriage passed—it is much more complicated than that but from my perspective marriage passed.
Susan De George and I are wife and wife, and yes, that terminology sounds odd to me. In 2008 we decided that we didn’t want to wait any longer for the government to make our union legal so we had a big wedding with our friends Janie Spahr and Ray Bagnuolo officiating. Harriet Sandmeier offered a blessing, our children were our wedding party, and our family and friends traveled to my son’s home in northern Westchester to celebrate with us. At the time, Susan was serving South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, a More Light congregation that always welcomed us into the church family, but we didn’t want to risk bringing them up on charges by having our wedding there. After the service we considered ourselves wedded but we still had to file taxes separately. In June of 2011 Susan and I were legally married in New York at a civil ceremony where Susan’s daughter, who had just turned eighteen, was our witness and one attendee. All good but still not like our heterosexual friends.
When Susan left her pastorate to become Stated Clerk I was concerned, but the people of the Presbytery of Hudson River have been overwhelmingly accepting of us. Starting with the presbytery staff, we have not felt second best from folks in the presbytery. All good, but again, still not quite like our heterosexual friends.
Because Susan worked for many years on lgbtq ordination and marriage equality at the local, presbytery, and national church levels, I started attending General Assemblies. GA was a wake up call for me. In Birmingham, for example, none of the numerous Presbyterian congregations would allow the More Light group to have worship in their buildings, so on Sunday morning a group of us boarded buses for the suburbs, headed for a UCC congregation. As we left the bus, members of the church helped us off, quietly saying “you are welcome here.” That was in 2006 and I still cry every time I remember that day. Back at GA, the mood was angry, and lgbtq issues were voted down.
In 2010 we went to Minneapolis. Susan was a marriage overture advocate for Hudson River and related her experience as an out partnered lesbian pastor before the Civil Union and Marriage Committee. As she left the committee room she was insulted and cursed. Again, GA was not a friendly place. The marriage overture passed in committee that year but it barely made it to the floor of plenary. Political maneuvering managed to make it disappear.
So we came to the Detroit GA. People were hopeful. People were friendly. I was not sure what to think about this. Conservatives and liberals were talking to one another. Many of the advocates who selflessly worked for lgbtq rights had either retired or moved on to other jobs. Young, smiling people had filled the void. They seemed confident. I wanted to say to them—don’t you know all the bad things that could happen here?
Then marriage passed overwhelmingly in committee. The moderator asked every member of the committee to contribute in the discussion. They did a round robin and everyone was given the opportunity to say whatever needed to be said. I found it hard to understand what happened but there was love in that room. So on to plenary.
Yesterday I sat with Susan and our friend Ray as the votes were tabulated in plenary. People from More Light, CovNet, TAMFS and other supporters were in the bleachers. We wore our rainbow scarves, stoles, flowers, and necklaces. We quietly prayed that this time maybe the marriage overture would pass. One vote after another was in favor of marriage equality. There were no loud cheers. We all knew that people on the other side of the issue were devastated and we knew what that felt like firsthand from past GAs. But there was quiet sobbing throughout our section. This assembly has made us equal, like our heterosexual friends. And as long as I live I will remember how I felt the day GA 221 passed marriage.
Reported by Dale Southorn
What a day! Our second full day of plenary sessions began with encouragement from our own Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews. Of course we are always proud to see her on the platform, but what she said was particularly helpful. She set the tone for a morning of listening and sharing on the most controversial issues of the day. My group included Stephen and Erica from HRP. But it was good to hear from other commissioners from around the country as we spent 90 minutes in small group discussion and prayer.
We then went to work on several issues related to marriage equality. There were both procedural and theological issues debated. There were moving testimonies on the pain of exclusion, but we also listened respectfully to pastors and elders who worried about how their churches would react back home. The assembly was more than ready to move forward on a more inclusive definition of marriage. We were ready to give pastors and sessions permission to perform marriage ceremonies for all, and we rejected an attempt to make us study and talk for another two years. In the end it moved quickly and efficiently, almost a little anti-climatically. Over dinner I met my daughter Debbie for dinner. She had ridden her bike all the way from Chicago just to see me. Seriously, she did ride her bike, but she was comiing to the “Allied Media Conference: Working for a More Just World” conference at Wayne State.
Our evening was interesting, focused on interfaith partnerships. We even heard from a representative of the Seventh Day Adventists.
The night ended with hundreds of red beach balls being unleashed on us representing the New Worshiping Communities in the last two years. We let loose to the music of the hit song Happy by Pharrell Williams. It was a perfect way to end the day and leave the hall “happy!”
Reported by Stephen Valastro
We were asked to make comments on what has happened during our time on the plenary floor today, Thursday June 19, 2014. I have taken on this task for Thursday afternoon when one of the most controversial topics of this General Assembly was being brought before the body. When I state that the advisors approved or disapproved I am not breaking it down but taking into account the YAADS, TSADS, Ecumenical advisors and Mission advisors as one unit of advisory delegates.
Committee 10 the committee on Civil Union and Marriage made its report beginning after the midday break with a majority motion brought from committee to disapprove of overture 10-07 the creation of a task force On Creating a Task Force to Identify Common Ground and Reconcilable Differences with Respect to Same-Gender Marriage—From Eastern Korean Presbytery. A minority report was made and perfected to create a task force on marriage and the confessions to resolve the perceived tension between the scripture, the confessions and the book of order. The minority report was amended from a 4 year study to a 2 year study. After an hour of debate with emotional yet calm discussion from both sides the question was called. In that hour many commissioners and advisory delegates spoke to both sides graciously and with respect. The motion to call the question was approved and the question was called. The minority report was ultimately defeated and did not replace the majority report. More discussion followed. A motion was made to limit speeches to 1 minute and was approved. After more discussion the question was called. The advisory delegates voted in favor of the committee’s motion as did the commissioners.
The committee brought a motion to disapprove 10.001 amending the book of order W 4.9000 Concerning the Church’s Role in Legal Marriage and Services of Christian Covenant—From the Presbytery of Lehigh. The originator of the motion spoke to it and the question was voted on. Advisory delegates voted for the committees motion on disapproval as did the commissioners and it passed disapproving the overture.
The committee moved 10-003 to be approved as amended. A point of order was called that the overture was out of order because it was unconstitutional. The ACC ruled that it was not a constitutional issue and the ruling was discussed. The moderator ruled it in order and after heated discussion and a challenge the body voted and the moderators ruling stood. The body would discuss and vote on the Authoritative Interpretation before the body. Discussion on both sides was emotional and very passionate with concern for home presbyteries and congregations including those in my own For Faith Parish, a great concern to myself. The question was called and approved to be voted upon. Voting to approve the amended AI was taken. The advisory delegates voted to approve and the commissioners voted to approve the AI 371 for and 238 against. While I don’t have to say how I voted I am going to with an explanation. I voted to approve the AI so as to allow Pastors to be able to tend to all of those in their care and with the help of their sessions discern whether they will allow Pastor’s to marry congregents who are in same sex relationships.
The committee moved that 10-4 was answered by 10-3 and the motion passed.
The committee moved that 10-6 was answered by 10-3 and the motion passed.
The committee moved 10-2 on amending the definition of marriage in the book of order W 4.9000. A motion was made to amend the amendment to add “traditionally between a man and woman” to the overture. The amendment passed marginally by the advisory delegates yet passed by the commissioners 518 to 93. A great deal of discussion on amending the definition of marriage took place. Once again there was very emotional and passionate discussion with great concern on both sides of the issue of how this would affect our denomination in many ways. The affect this would have on those congregations who will have to discern their future with the PC-USA, our mission partners around the world and the relationships the PC-USA has with other faith denominations. After a lengthy time of discussion the question was called and by voice vote the advisory delegates and commissioners approved voting on the overture. The amended amendment to redefine marriage in the book of order W 4.9000 passed with the advisory delegates. The commissioners voted and passed the motion 429-175.
The committee moved that 10-005 was answered by 10-2 and the motion passed.
The committed brought 10NB (new business) to the body and moved approval. 10 NB is;
Recommend the 221st General Assembly (2014) direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to establish a way to bring reconciliation to the church that would involve visiting each presbytery and serving as a resource for each presbytery’s discussion of these actions in congregations and the presbytery at-large and present voices of reconciliation for the unity of the church.
After little discussion the advisory delegates voted almost unanimously to approve the motion. The commissioners voted to approve 521-31.
The Committee on Social Justice came up next and began by moving 09-07 On Gun Violence Prevention—From the Presbytery of Hudson River. After a somewhat brief discussion the advisory delegates voted very highly to approve the motion. The commissioners voted 484-87 to approve. Once again I would like to say how I voted. I did not vote to approve this motion not because I am for gun violence it is just the opposite I abhor gun violence but I personally do not agree that this is the solution. My opinion notwithstanding I will abide by the decision of the General Assembly because while I feel strongly on this issue I feel so much stronger in our form of government. Being here and witnessing what we can do as the body of Christ has only solidified my love for our denomination and the way in which we run our church and minister to each other.
The committee moved that 09-01 was answered by 09-07 and the motion passed.
The committee moved that 09-21 was answered by 09-07 and the motion passed.
The committee moved 09-16 Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age—From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. Brought by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy this is one of the longest reports of the 221GA. It is a very comprehensive report and recommendation. There was a motion to refer the overture back to ACSWP that was defeated. After some discussion the advisory delegates voted to approve with over a 75% margin. The commissioners voted to approve 425-170.
The plenary recessed for dinner at 5:30 after prayer.
In Christ’s Service
Stephen M. Valastro Ruling Elder Commissioner 221 General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church USA
Leslie, serving as a commissioner on the Civil Union and Marriage Committee, sums up their work:
Read a Facebook report from an observer of the work of the Committee on Civil Unions and Marriage. My comment: “[This] was one of the most powerful experiences in my life. It was not a pale image of Pentecost.”
The result of our committee work was anticipated early during our deliberations: passage of an amended version of the overture our Presbytery sanctioned overture to redefine marriage to include covenants between same gender couples, and of an AI (Authoritative Interpretation) to affirm pastoral discretion in performing marriage ceremonies.
What wasn’t anticipated was that our deliberations would be framed in love…of the Triune God, the Church and each other. Despite passionate beliefs, acknowledged pain and fear, we listened to each other intently, argued points not with people and strived to find ways to help the church reconcile on the issues at hand regardless of the ultimate outcomes of the Assembly.
It was almost like understanding different tongues.
We completed our committee work feeling united in Christ and energized, rather than debilitated, by our work. Thanks be to God.
As well as going to committee meetings and plenary sessions, there are lots of opportunities at General Assembly to meet with others who are concerned about the same issues that we are.
On Saturday evening, Peggy Howland, Susan Andrews, Kathy Dean and Susan DeGeorge attended the More Light Presbyterians dinner and listened to Alex McNeil give a keynote speech about how things are changing in the church for lgbtq people. Alex’ speech can be found at http://ga221.org/2014/06/15/from-prophecy-to-evangelism/.
Today, several Hudson River Presbytery folks attended the Covenant Network lunch and heard Mark Achtemeier speak. Among those attending were Elise Lemire, Tami Seidel, and Rhonda Kruse.