Seeing Things (for the First Time) – GA220 Part 2

So when we broke into committees, I was really excited. I could not wait to get into stuff in polity. And I’m not kidding. I’m somewhat of a polity nerd. I mean, who else is going to come up with #politypickuplines?!

We started off like I imagine most committees did. We had some icebreakers and “get to know each other” time, where we went around the room saying how long it took us to get to Pittsburgh, the first album we ever bought, etc., etc. After that, we had somewhat of a “what are we going to do here?” session where we came up with a covenant and briefly went over some of the topics we were going to cover. And I must say, our leadership team immediately impressed me. Our moderator knew her stuff, as did our vice-moderator, assistant, and parliamentarian. They were awesome all week long.

I’m not going to cover all the things that we talked about, because that would probably bore most of you to death. So I’ll just talk about the big things that I remember, which were the things we spent the most time.

The first really big thing I remember covering was an overture from some Southern California Presbyteries that had to do with church property. These overtures were presenting the idea that a church could leave a Presbytery with all of the property involved, not owing anything to the PC (USA) if they had a congregational meeting and 2/3 of the congregation voted to leave. Now, I’m Presbyterian through and through. So, when I read these overtures, I did have a good chuckle. I thought, “Really? Do the authors think this is going to pass committee?” (I mean no offense to the authors of the overtures here. I understand their situations given the recent church environment and why they would present these ideas… But, c’mon… These overtures were extremely anti-Presbyterian.)

So we get into discussion (we often had informal discussion before starting the actual business) and others immediately expressed my concerns on the committee. If this were to pass, then this could be a very slippery slope for the PC (USA) to lose a lot of congregations. However, when the formal stuff started, someone immediately moved the motion on the floor with the intent of approving the overture. Surprisingly, it was seconded. So we got into debate and it got a little bit intense. The party that moved to approve the overture also amended the language so it read ¾ of a congregation instead of 2/3. This, my friends, did not help their cause. Our main concern ended up being, “Well, what about the people that don’t want to leave? What will they do for their congregation? Should they just be left out in the cold?” That’s right. Just like Robert wanted us to do, we thought of the minority and protected them. The motion failed. Hard. (It was later presented as a substitute motion in plenary where it was ruled out of order by our esteemed Stated Clerk [#teamGradye] because the Book of Order does not designate this as a congregational duty. They would need to amend two parts of the Book of Order to get this passed.)

It just struck me that what I just covered might have been the second big thing. The first was really an overture from the Presbytery of Western New York that was attempting to change some language in the Book of Order that eliminated a list of people that the PC (USA) does not discriminate against (Warning: this section is going to be a bit long).

Again, I did not think that this was a good idea. In an ideal world, I don’t think there should be a need for such a list. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. If we eliminate that list of people we don’t discriminate against, what do you think is going to happen? Bad stuff. Bigotry kind of stuff. We’re would get, “Well, it wasn’t explicitly listed, so we didn’t know not to include these people!” It would have been a mess if this overture had passed.

But in the middle of this discussion, the Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) stepped up their game. They started presenting amendments that tried to expand the list of people we don’t discriminate against! And, might I say, they did a damn fine job. In the end, their amendments were struck down, because the first time they just didn’t use the right language. But on the next day, they moved we re-visit this overture and they tried to amend it again. The reason we were doing this is because one of our YAADs, Jeremy, felt so strongly about this issue.

You see Jeremy had a transgender friend. She was told, by a Presbyterian pastor, that she had no place in the church and that she was going to Hell. She then went home and shot herself. When Jeremy shared that story, we all cried. It was horrible to hear. And it gave us a lot of understanding into his reasoning for doing this. (Jeremy, if you read this and think I was out of place for sharing this story, I apologize. But it was one of the more important parts of my week and I felt that it needed to be shared. You are strong for sharing it with us and I wanted to convey your strength, as well as the strength of the other YAADs for doing this. You all are going to be great in the church.)

When they presented the motion to re-visit this overture, they were pressured by many in the group to share their reasoning and after much confusion, a young man named Wilson (another YAAD who absolutely kicks @$$) gave an adequate explanation and the committee agreed to bring it back to the floor at the end of the day. The YAADs fought long and hard for this change in language. They expanded the list to include many more people, but at the end of the day, it didn’t pass. We decided that we couldn’t just do this right here. The committee knew it was hard to say no to those kids. They put their hearts, souls, and all of their faith behind this. It was not easy to vote them down (For the record, I voted in favor of sending it to plenary, because I knew it was going to fail and those kids needed all the support I could provide them. I closed my eyes for the vote, because I didn’t want to see who voted yes/no.). At the close of committee, I told Jeremy, “Don’t give up kid. You’re too good to give up. Remember that we find a lot of grace through this pain. Even Jesus had to die before He conquered death.” I hope Jeremy and the other YAADs heard the massive amount of support they had in the committee despite their motion failing. It broke my heart, but I know these kids will be resilient and keep fighting the good fight.

On to lighter overtures: the ones presented to us by the Presbyteries of Baltimore and National Capital dealing with sexual abuse.

So with these, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) recommended we disapprove the overture both Presbyteries agreed on, mostly due to the second paragraph they wanted to ad. They had no problem striking the language that would drop the language limiting reportable sexual abuse cases to only minors and people without mental capacity for consent. Their problem was with how these cases were to be handled and reported to judiciary committees. What we did here though was talk it out and find an agreement between the overture advocates and the ACC.

We found that in the Book of Order, in a different section, that this second paragraph written out in the overture was already covered. There was already a section that dealt with judicial committees and administrative leave in the case that these things need to happen in a congregation. The overture advocates supported our amendment that we drop the second paragraph and just adopt the first part that struck the language I mentioned earlier. We found that by doing this, the ACC and the advocates could find common ground in protecting a wider range of abuse victims as well as having the administrative leave done decently and in order (You might remember that I got on the floor and defended our action when it came before plenary). It was a total win-win. I was extremely proud of our committee for hashing this out. Of course, before we came to this, there were amendments upon amendments and much heated debate about what all this would entail. It took us over a day and a half, but we did it properly. This, in my opinion was what committee work is all about. Polity really kicked but in this regard.

I obviously didn’t give all the details of what happened in polity. You can still log on to and check out all of our overtures and what was said, but I can’t describe it all here. I’m already over 1520 words and my fingers are tired. These were the things I remembered the most, briefly described, and the discussions that mattered the most to me.

Look for Part 3 in the next couple of days. I’m going to get into the really emotional stuff in that. The “big” plenary sessions; where the marathon was all uphill.

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