Seeing Things (for the First Time) – GA220 Part 3

So here we go with my third (and hopefully final) blog post on my experience at GA220. This is going to attempt to cover the plenary sessions from Thursday and Friday. There’s a lot to cover, so we’ll see how far I get before I hit a huge word count. Also, I’m skipping the “little” stuff again, which includes the actions of my committee on the floor (I mean, c’mon, most of it was debating on how long we’re going to debate anyway. Or whether or not we should set up a task force to tackle something ::eyeroll::). I’m going to hop right on into the divestment talks and all that good, emotional, potentially divisive stuff.

When we broke for dinner, we were all on the edge our seats for committee 15: Middle East and Peacemaking Issues. The idea going around was that this committee had Order of the Day and would start at 3, no matter what. However, many of us realized in the middle of the previous conversations, that no one had actually moved that this committee take Order of the Day, so it got pushed back to after dinner. When they took the floor, we jumped right into it. First thing brought to the floor from this committee was overture 15-11, which was the Mission Responsibility Through Investment’s (MRTI) recommendation to divest from Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola due to their continued knowledge of how their products are being used in Occupied Palestinian territories and their continued willingness to sell their products to Israel despite this internationally-illegal occupation. So as soon as that was brought forward, a substitute motion was made to adopt the Minority Report’s statement as the main motion. This substitute motion was trying to make overture 15-10, which encouraged positive investment and conversation between all parties in the region the main priority. What I mean by the idea that they were trying to make 15-10 the main motion is that the people that wrote the motion used almost the exact same language as 15-10 without telling anyone on the floor that they were doing so. Their strategy was this: act like you didn’t know 15-10 was there, use language of 15-10 before we talk about 15-10, sidetrack conversation away from 15-10, and make people think that positive investment in Palestinian territories (while keeping investment in aforementioned companies and Israel) will do more good than divestment (Here you go, Palestinian kids! A new school! Sure, it’ll be an Israeli mall in two months, but today it’s your school!). – Sorry if this description seemed a bit rough or even unfair, but that’s sure how I interpreted it going down.

So as we got into debate about making the substitute motion the main motion, it started getting heated at points. We had people speaking against making this the substitute motion (myself included) and people speaking for making it the substitute motion (think people that are in the median age-range of the PC (USA)). Surprisingly, we didn’t debate for that long. And, it was unfortunate, that not everyone got to speak their piece on this issue. People, at the end of the night, stood up and called out Neal Presa for not calling on certain microphones (someone should have called those people Out of Order, because they were, but I can see why they were frustrated). So when the question was called (that was a close vote) and we decided to vote on whether to adopt the substitute motion as the main motion or not, the vote was painfully close. We adopted it with a margin of 311 against adopting the motion and 319 in favor of adopting with 9 people abstaining (I believe that’s a pretty accurate number, but my memory is a tangled web, so forgive me if I’m not 100% spot on with the numbers). For the record, the TSADs and YAADs voted  heavily against making the substitute motion the main motion (think numbers in the upper 80’s, lower 90’s). This vote was very, very telling of the generational gap in our church. After the substitute motion became the main motion, conversation was again held to a shorter amount of time than I thought would be the case. When the question was called, we had (surprisingly) another generationally-split vote. Unfortunately, for my generation and others who voted with us, what was the substitute motion, now the main motion, was adopted by the 220th General Assembly of the PC (USA) and we decided that we would keep our investments in the companies as well as trying to invest in Occupied Palestinian Territories as well (or, as I said earlier, building Palestinian schools that will become Israeli malls).

The good news coming out of cmte. 15 was that we did agree to boycott Israeli products that are manufactured and/or sold from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We also decided that apartheid was too strong of a word to use in this situation (I have mixed feelings here) and we more or less got through the rest of the committees business without a hitch. There was talk of bringing divestment back up through some parliamentary procedure in the morning, but it failed to happen. Which is a good thing, because cmte. 13: Civil Union and Marriage Issues was made Order of the Day and we had to start that at 1:50 PM. Woot!

When cmte. 13 took the floor, which was shortly after 1:50 PM on Friday (of course it was late. We’re Presbyterians in a meeting. We’re never on schedule), we started immediately with overture 13-06 which was an attempt to change section W 4.9000 regarding the definition of marriage. The language that was substituted defined marriage as a covenant between two people instead of between a man and a woman. As you can imagine, this was (and still is) a big issue for us. We debated this for about 3 and a half hours – almost all the way up to dinner. It got really intense.

I should note that earlier in the day someone requested of our esteemed moderator that debate be allowed to go on longer this time, since this is a more sensitive issue to a lot of people than divestment was. We also voted to limit time at a microphone to one minute. In regards to these rules, Neal did a pretty darn good job limiting and moving debate along. Most people got to speak and despite some people standing with the call to question paddle for quite a while, the debate lasted the whole afternoon.

It was obvious that we are somewhat of a divided church on these big issues (duh). We had a lot of people, mostly the younger folks (which is anything below 45 in the PC (USA)) on the side of re-defining marriage and a lot of people speak out against this redefinition. There were passionate arguments on both sides, with both sides being, for the most part, pretty articulate about what each believes. I was really proud of my fellow TSAD from SFTS, Jeff Ferguson (@sftsconservativ) who stood up and gave an impassioned statement for the redefinition of marriage because he’s an evangelical conservative that believes in equality. I was just as disappointed when a woman (whom I believe was a teaching elder, i.e, pastor) stood up and said that homosexuality is a sin punishable by God. Truthfully, I was more than disappointed. I was heartbroken and outraged. I’d let you know exactly what was going through my mind when she said this, but I’m trying to keep this blog somewhat free of foul language. I understand her point, given Biblical language, but I don’t understand why people get to pick and choose what verses are to be taken literal. Anyway, that’s another blog post for another time.

As the debate went on, emotions rose and fell. Tears were spilt, passions were uncovered for all to see, and we all probably got a little tired of the same points being brought out. So Neal finally recognized someone holding the “call the question” paddle. When this person was recognized, I was hit with a truck of emotion. I’m telling you, I almost lost it. Of course, everyone was ready to place their votes at this time so we called the question with a resounding majority. As the ADs were asked to vote, I hit my number and just put my head on the table. I couldn’t watch. I don’t remember the actual AD numbers, but I know that the TSADs and YAADs said yes with a resounding majority (something like 87% and 91%, respectively). When Neal called for the commissioners’ votes, I just closed my eyes and started praying. I honestly felt like we had it. The debate had gone in a way that I felt a lot of people might have been persuaded to vote in favor of this amendment. When Neal read the results, my heart was broken again. It ended up being 48% in favor of changing the language, 51% against and 0 abstentions. We lost by 30 votes. I know that this is hopeful to a lot of people, because the number was so close, but this was my first GA. It broke my heart all over again. As Neal read those numbers, I just started crying. I couldn’t help it.

Immediately after the vote, we broke for dinner. The TSADs all sat together and discussed the events. A fellow TSAD from Princeton, Jon Reinink, brought up a good point. He said something like this (not an exact quote): “I’m not doing this with the effort that everyone will be comfortable with these new ideas. If people want to leave the church, that’s fine, because they’ll already have a church. I’m doing this for the people that don’t have a church. For the people that have been excluded and outcast from their worshipping communities but still want a place to belong. We need to be there for them. And if people leave because of that, so be it.” I told him I was going to use that idea. He said that was fine.

So when we came back to plenary from dinner, cmte. 13 continued with their agenda. There was a motion to dismiss many of the other overtures by the action taken by the committee when they decided that there needed to be another two year study on what the meaning and definition of marriage would be. Then, someone moved that overture 13-05 be included in this list. This, my friends, is where the parliamentary bullying really started. Every LGBTQ advocacy group at GA wanted 13-05 to be considered on its own and hopefully passed. 13-05 would have allowed something called “Authoritative Initiative” to take place which would have allowed teaching elders to marry same-sex couples in states where it is legal without having fear of being taken before the General Assembly Permanent Judiciary Council (GAPJC). 13-05 was the main thing all the advocacy groups were focused on. We all knew we would lose the redefinition of marriage. We just didn’t know by how much. We wanted 13-05 passed more than anything. This, in our opinion, was the big tamale. Unfortunately, the movement to include 13-05 in the list came so quickly that it seemed a lot of people didn’t know what was happening. I felt like we were blindsided. The conservative side of the church spent 3 and a half hours putting us in the corner, throwing haymakers and we didn’t have our gloves up. Then, we came out of our corner after the next round started and they just kicked us in the groin. We spent 45 minutes, maybe, talking about this overture. 45. That’s all. On the big tamale. We spent less than 1/3 of the time on something we knew we were going to lose.

I got up and spoke against including 13-05 in this list, and I spoke from the heart about it. Unfortunately, again, I felt like my voice was not heard. Before I knew it, it was over. Someone had called the question and once it was called, the votes came out and this substitute motion passed with a larger majority than our previous vote. Talk about having the wind knocked out of you. I felt the room deflate at this time. After cmte. 13 was done, I had to leave the room. I ran into several people in the hallway and just started crying again when I was talking to them. I couldn’t help it. On my way back in, I ran into Tara Spuhler McCabe, and again, just started bawling when I tried to talk to her. This was devastating to me. I mean, c’mon! You want two more years of conversation on this but aren’t willing to talk about it right now? This is just another delaying tactic so you can figure out ways to leave before next GA when you know things are going to change in a way that you don’t like (sorry for that harshness, but I, and many of my friends, really feel this way. For the record, I don’t want anyone to leave our church. I want a wide-range of voices in our congregations to grow together in love and spirit, but these folks that acted this way aren’t willing to do that).

As if this wasn’t enough, when I came back, cmte. 17 – Theological Issues, Institutions, and Christian Education was on the floor. A minority report had taken on the form of a substitute motion that was trying to take our ordination standards back to G.106b! It wasn’t stopping! Thankfully, after everyone started paying attention again, most of us saw what was happening and it was voted down with a 70% majority. That did give me faith in my church again. Thank God that didn’t happen.

Well this is a huge blog post. I’d like to write more, but after all this, I feel like most of my emotions from GA220 are adequately displayed. I do apologize for the length of this one, but I hope you dig it.

Also, the title of this blog series comes from a Black Crowes song, “Seeing Things.” The words “For the First Time” are in the song, but don’t belong in their title. I put those up there because I thought they were adequate for my posts. Thank you for reading and may God bless you all!

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