Saturday, July 10, 2010

The YA(A)D has cried

The 219th General Assembly is now history.  In all, the Assembly was well-run, and the commissioners were civil and deliberate in their work.  There were not many surprises, as the moderatorial election pretty well signalled the assembly's preferences.  However, there were also not many blunders.

Many people might consider the action on the same-sex benefits overture such a blunder.  In that action, the assembly approved extending insurance coverage to same-sex domestic partners of non-ordained plan members.  Voices on the right guarantee me that the move is a deeper offense to them than the proposed change in ordination standards, as there is no vote of the presbyteries required to enact it, and they are mandated to use the plan whether they approve of that provision or not. 

It is, in my opinion, an issue that is the classic choice of competing values.  On the one hand we have made a major priority of our commitment to equal treatment of persons in the civil arena regardless of sexual orientation or marital status.  Through that lens, the benefits issue is one of justice and equitability.  On the other hand we have a long history of freedom of conscience on matters that are theological non-essentials.  And the nature of the plan requires churches to participate for their minister members.  The approved "relief of conscience" clause allowing churches to opt out is of only limited comfort to those who believe that by extending such benefits the church is endorsing sinful behavior.  (Let it be said that while I understand that point of view, I do not share either its premise or its conclusion.)  As we look down the road, if this conflict of values continues to be a serious problem, we may be forced into a two-plan program, and segregate more fully the plan for minister members and their families from "affiliated members."

On the whole the commissioners were more often wise and constructive.  The Middle East Peacemaking Committee proved to be just that as they avoided a major public relations disaster through amending the controversial report "Breaking Down Walls" in committee.  The intervention of losing moderatorial candidate James Belle in the Middle Governing Bodies Committee helped heal a potential fallout among the Puerto Rican delegation over the report of the Special Administrative Committee. 

Personally, I found that the commissioners were less polarized than in years past, and more willing to build community.  Several times during the plenary proceedings, commissioners were encouraged to be in small group prayer with those around them -- which I think helped keep things in perspective.  The refusal of the commissioners to consider amendments regarding the definition of marriage was clearly an attempt at easing the burden of change for those in the minority, even if it did not ease the burden of those desiring the blessing of their pastors, congregations, and denominatin on their legal same-sex marriages.

I have a correction to last night's post:  the YAD (or YAAD) has in fact cried.  It happened Friday night when I was out of the assembly hall, during the Mission Coordination and Budgets report (go figure).  The as-yet-unidentified YAD allegedly wept while bemoaning the lack of a Presbyterian campus ministry on her campus during a discussion of higher education ministry cuts.  I have confirmed this through multiple sources, so I think it is reliable enough to say the saying still holds true:  "The Assembly ain't over until the YAD cries."

Well, the YAD has cried for another Assembly.  I'll post some pictures and more wrap-up perspectives soon.

The End Is Near!

The end of the 219th General Assembly will come sometime tomorrow morning around 11 a.m.  The only "business" left on the docket is the approval of GA per capita assessments (scheduled to rise to $6.50 in 2011 and $6.63 in 2012 from the current $6.15).  Then, it's "thanks for coming," "thanks for hosting," and "see you next time in Pittsburgh."

In all, this has been an extraordinary General Assembly meeting.  Well-moderated, well-considered by the commissioners, and for the most part (tote bags excepted) smoothly functioning.  Even a 5 p.m. Friday "Soulforce" demonstration at the Assembly (Over what? Two of the three major issues on gay rights were approved.) came off with little fanfare.  The anticipated condemnatory headlines about the Presbyterian policy on the Middle East will not materialize, deftly deflected by a smart committee that listened and acted with justice and equanimity to all sides of the issue, and amended the study paper to provide greater balance. 

Perhaps the most controversial news of the last full day of business was in the usually sleep-inducing committee report on the Board of Pensions.  An overture seeking the extension of pension and medical benefits to same-sex partners generated heated and lengthy debate.  In the end, the commissioners approved extending the coverage as a matter of justice and equanimity, despite a possible hike in plan dues of as much as 1% of effective salary, equal to about $500 based on the median pastor's effective salary (although it won't cover ordained persons).  A provision for "relief of conscience" to those who object to supporting persons in same-sex relationships was little consolation to conservatives.  There are some "weasel words" in the overture which could delay or even prevent its implementation; so this may not be a "done deal" yet.

As noted in a previous post, the real news of the last day was probably accorded little significance by most observers and commissioners, namely the Chernobyl-like near-meltdown of our constitutional core in the consideration of item 05-21.  It just goes to show you can't always tell what will be of lasting significance at any Assembly until it happens.

A few highlights, lowlights, and other observations:
  • The tote bags did arrive, finally, on Wednesday.  They are quite nice, although the "free for all" distribution of them seemed a bit unfair to those who paid extra at registration to obtain one.
  • For the first time in memory, there hasn't been a "crying YAD."  Perhaps the shift to the designation of "YAAD" has jinxed it.  Or maybe the mostly excellent moderation and pacing helped.  Or maybe the crying will come with farewell comments tomorrow.
  • Moderator Bolbach distinguished herself as one of the most fair, efficient, and competent moderators in memory.  Not since John Fife in 1992 has a moderator been so impressive.
  • The moderator's witty exchange with ACC member Paul Hooker was a personal favorite.  I hope someone recorded the exchange.  If I can find it, I'll reproduce it. 
  • Wonderful contemporary music that welcomed commissioners after meals and during breaks.
  • The dining options at the Assembly were first-rate, if a bit pricey.
  • Friday night was embarrassing in its low attendance.  Abortion issues, which at one time could pack out an assembly, drew only the most hard-core observers.  (Perhaps the overture under the Pensions report earlier in the day that would have restricted payment for abortions only when the mother's life was in imminent physical danger tipped the Assembly's hand on the evening's debate -- it was overwhelmingly defeated.)
  • The new wireless voting system eventually worked fine, once the technicians and the platform personnel figured out how to instruct the commissioners correctly in their use.
  • Committee leadership was reportedly inconsistent.  Parliamentarians seemed to take the most flak; it was noted by many that a new generation of parliamentarians may need to be groomed.
  • Despite the usual complaints about the ACC "advocating" rather than "advising" committees, committee votes followed ACC advice with rare exception, as did the votes in plenary.
I may have more to share tomorrow.  When I return to Colorado, I'll try to post some pictures, which I couldn't post with my computer problems here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Okay, it's not "WarGames" but a major crisis was still averted

Perhaps you recall the 1983 film "WarGames" in which Matthew Broderick played a teen computer hacker who thinks he is playing an online computer game but actually sets off a failsafe scenario for Global Thermonuclear War.  A parallel event nearly happened in the world of Presbyterian constitutional governance Friday afternoon.  There is a real danger when you get 700 commissioners and 200 advisory delegates together, when many have only a cursory understanding of our polity.  That danger is that they could unwittingly be led into a decision that would have disastrous consequences, not merely for church policies or funding, but for the constitutional foundations of the church itself. 

The Constitution of the PCUSA faced and averted a major crisis late this afternoon when a minority report on Item 05-21 was rejected by the Assembly.  The report would have asked the Assembly to rule by its own Authoritative Interpretation that only its interpretations of the Constitution were, effectively, binding on the Church, in direct violation of G-13.0103r of our Form of Government.  For the "unbaptized" in Presbyterian polity, that is like allowing the Congress to declare that no Supreme Court decision is binding on the nation unless it corresponds to Congress's own interpretation of the Constitution.  That sounds easy enough to refute, except that in PCUSA polity, both "the Congress" and "the Supreme Court" are empowered to interpret the Constitution, and there is no "Marbury v. Madison" decision that allows the latter to review the acts of the former.  The report, if adopted, would have restricted the "Supreme Court" to have the power only to rule on the Constitution in the limited scope of a specific case, but without binding authority on the whole church, if it contradicts an interpretation of "the Congress."

G-13.0103r says the General Assembly has the responsibility and power, "to provide authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order which shall be binding on the governing bodies of the church when rendered in accord with G-13.0112 or through a decision of the Permanent Judicial Commission in a remedial or disciplinary case. The most recent interpretation of a provision of the Book of Order shall be binding...." Two prongs of interpretation -- one from the plenary assembly and one from the Permanent Judicial Commission -- each of which may serve as a check and corrective on the other; each of which draws its authority directly from the Constitution.

Both the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and the GA PJC agreed that the Constitution does not establish a hierarchy between the two prongs.  In fact, the Constitution anticipates that they will at times be at odds as demonstrated in the last sentence which says the most recent interpretation will be binding on the church.

The minority report was an embarrassing effort in short-sighted politics by one wing of the church which is unhappy with a recent PJC decision.  The left wing was upset that just prior to the 2008 Assembly, the GAPJC overturned the authoritative interpretation of the plenary assembly in 2006 that established a loophole to allow persons to be exempted from mandatory provisions of the Constitution such as are found in G-6.0106b (the "fidelity and chastity" clause).  Their answer -- to subordinate the GAPJCs work to that of the currently more liberal Assembly by the Assembly's own action -- not only constitutes an egregious arrogation of power, but is both dangerous for the future of the church and even to their own political ends.

A mere fifteen years ago, a then-very liberal GAPJC threatened to overturn the "definitive guidance" of the church on ordination of "self-affirmed, practicing homosexuals" which had recently been deemed an "authoritative interpretation" through its own authoritative interpretation.  The General Assembly, it was determined DID NOT have the power to restrict the GAPJC from doing so short of an amendment, ratified by the presbyteries, that would write the language of "definitive guidance" into the Constitution.  That amendment became G-6.0106b.  Fifteen years from now, what one side of the church thinks will benefit them now could just as easily turn around and bite them.

The situation was compounded when a commissioner asked directly if such a change would require constitutional amendment of G-13.0103r.  The moderator, in direct violation of G-13.0112 of the Constitution directed the question to the Stated Clerk instead of to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution.  The ACC, anticipating the question, had caucused and voted that an amendment would be required.  Instead of referring to the ACC, the Stated Clerk announced (erroneously) that an amendment would not be required.

That was when my heart started to race.  I was not the appointed ACC person on the floor of the Assembly at the time, and it would have been terrible form to call out the Moderator and Stated Clerk on their error.  Instead, the Assembly moved quickly to a vote after that, and the substitute motion to approve the minority report was soundly defeated by the Assembly anyway 451-173 (72%-28%).  As one of my friends put it, "It's like handing a child a nuclear bomb and hoping he doesn't accidentally push the button."

Were the GA to have adopted such an interpretation, a constitutional crisis would certainly have resulted.  There is no provision for filing a remedial case against the General Assembly itself.  The only remedy would have been a new authoritative interpretation undoing the former (but implicitly acknowledging that the previous action was permissible), or an amendment to the Constitution explicitly to prohibit what should never have been permitted in the first place.

Within the PCUSA, the General Assembly does not control the Constitution.  The Constitution belongs to the whole church (historically called the "General Synod").  Therefore the Assembly's power to interpret the Constitution is a derived power, not an inherent one.  It is derived from the whole church, not from its own authority.  For the Assembly to have arrogated control of the power of interpretation to itself would have been an offense against the whole church.  Thank God, who in Jesus Christ is alone the Head of the Church, that it didn't happen.

Take us back down to Defcon 5.

A Letter to Plains and Peaks Presbyterians

July 8, 2010

Dear Plains and Peaks Presbyterians:

We are writing this to you from the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Undoubtedly, this will be regarded as one of the most significant assemblies in recent history. It has been presented with many challenging issues, and has not backed down from any of them. Our commissioners – Nancy D'Ippolito, Sue Hoenshell-Brown, Bob Powell, and Susie Reed – and our Young Adult Advisory Delegate, Luke Black, have served you, the church, and the Lord faithfully and well.

As with all important issues, those debated here have generated much controversy and anxiety, along with misinformation about the content and meaning of what was adopted. Of particular concern to many in our presbytery was the action of the Assembly to approve by a vote of 373-323 (53%-46%) an overture for consideration by the presbyteries that would alter the standards for ordination found in our Constitution.

The Assembly's action, if ratified by a majority of presbyteries, would replace the current language of G-6.0106b (our “fidelity and chastity” provision) with standards that are drawn from the long history of the Presbyterian Church. The new provision reads,

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

This particular amendment is both distinct from and constitutionally superior to the amendment rejected by presbyteries after the last assembly. Unlike the last proposed amendment, this calls for a rigorous examination and determination by the examining body based on external authorities (Scripture, confessions, constitutional questions of office), while also looking at the personal qualities of the candidate's calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for office.

The amendment seeks to restore the church to the historic Presbyterian model of the Adopting Act of 1729, to which the church has returned time and again when faced with conflicts over ordination standards. Those conflicts were as intensely fought as ours have been, with similar kinds of appeals from both sides – on the one hand, to external authorities like scripture and tradition; but on the other to the undeniable experiences of call, giftedness, and responsible preparation. The amendment approved by the Assembly lifts up both objective and subjective standards, and requires that the examining body apply them to candidates individually.

This was the practice of the church, with rare exception, from 1729 to 1975. In 1975, a liberal GA Permanent Judicial Commission overreached its authority to declare that a single doctrinal standard – the ordination of women – constituted an “essential tenet of the Reformed faith” to which all candidates must subscribe. Three years later, a conservative General Assembly adopted a single behavioral standard – unrepentant, self-affirmed, homosexual behavior – as an absolute bar to ordination, with the force of an essential tenet of the faith. Neither the GAPJC nor the General Assembly had the authority to declare an essential tenet, which is a power reserved to the whole church through the process of adopting confessional statements. While the ordination of women was given confessional status in 1991, the same cannot be said of “fidelity and chastity.”

In other words, the amendment under consideration by the presbyteries is not a departure from historic Presbyterian practices, but rather a return to them.

Would the amendment permit some sessions or presbyteries to ordain self-affirmed, active homosexuals? Probably, and that may very well stop the discussion for many in our presbytery. But any such ordination should happen only when it has been determined by the examining body that the person's theology, character, call, gifts, and suitability for ministry supports it. The same is true when any other part of the candidate's life and character is considered, because “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000).”

On the other hand, the amendment would not prohibit a session or presbytery from applying the behavioral standards of scripture or our confessions in the examination of particular candidates. The same examination requirements for admission to office as an elder or membership in a presbytery would apply as they do now. “Scruples” must still be declared and defended. Examinations would still be subject to review by higher governing bodies on appeal in a remedial case. No session or presbytery would be required to ordain or install persons who did not satisfy their examinations, provided the judgment was based on the areas subject to examination (theology, character, call, gifts, suitability for ministry).

We will surely have a vigorous debate over this proposed amendment as we consider its ratification. It is our hope that this debate would be conducted with the same mutual respect, civility, and care with which our own commissioners, and the whole Assembly, has considered their action today.

In Christ's Service,

Daniel M. Saperstein
Executive Presbyer

Lynn A. Smit
Stated Clerk

The "Stay Together" Assembly

Every General Assembly tends to develop its own identity and temperament. There have been “referring” assemblies; “backlash” assemblies; “confused” assemblies so on. This assembly is developing an identity as the “stay together” assembly. Time and again they have disapproved efforts, both obvious and subtle, to divide the denomination or to separate parties with differences. The report of the Assembly Committee on Middle Governing Bodies is a case in point. Several overtures were referred to this committee for recommendation to the Assembly. Some, like overtures from the Presbyteries of Santa Barbara and Beaver-Butler, sought accommodation for disaffected churches in “theological affinity” presbyteries or synods; others, like the request of the Synod of South Atlantic, or the Special Administrative Review Committee on Puerto Rico, addressed matters of unity and division regarding governing bodies united by language or culture. In each case, the Assembly preferred options that maximized the likelihood of staying together in multi-cultural and theological diversity.

Most surprising was the rejection (for the first time by a GA) of a request for a Korean-language non-geographical presbytery by the Synod of South Atlantic. What was jaw-dropping was that the rejection was by a vote of 80%-19%. Considerable debate focused on the factionalization of multiple language-based presbyteries; the generational differences among Korean-Americans; and the lack of ministry options for Korean-American women clergy within the language-based presbyteries.

Efforts to create theological affinity synods and presbyteries were disapproved by voice vote with little or no debate, after the assembly took the unusual action of approving the formation of an Administrative Commission to address a growing crisis in middle governing bodies. The commission was charged to study, report, and recommend to the 220th GA on matters related to middle governing body issues, as well as to have the authority “to organize new synods and to divide, unite or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods” and “to approve the organization, division, uniting or combining of presbyteries by synods,” when directed by the Assembly or requested by majority votes in the affected bodies. As an effort to protect against a “rogue commission” overreaching its authority, the assembly required a 2/3 vote for the commission to take any action.

By a vote of 373-323, the assembly approved passing along the Western Reserve overture on ordination standards for presbytery votes.  While this may appear to be out of character for a "stay together" presbytery, it is in fact keeping with the theme.  Although debate tended to cover the usual topics (with the twist that YAADS were pushing inclusiveness as an issue for youth evangelism), the amendment is really an effort at reconciliation between warring factions through the Adopting Act compromise rather than a frontal assault on the ordination issue.

Similarly, two of the most controversial topics at the assembly:  the definition of marriage and a hotly debated study paper on Jewish-Christian relations were both met with caution.  In the closest vote of the day, the assembly turned down consideration of a new definition of marriage to accommodate pastoral concerns in jurisidictions that offer same-sex marriages by a vote of 348-324.  Earlier, both the majority and minority reports from the denominational task force were approved for circulation and study.  In the same vein of "not rocking the boat" the study paper on the theological relationship between Christians and Jews was referred back for a rewrite after broader consultation.

An unexpected issue arising at the assembly was a protracted debate on the new Arizona anti-immigration law.  A resolution to refrain from holding national meetings in states where travel by immigrant Presbyterians or Presbyterians of color might subject them to harassment due to legislation passed by a vote of 420-205 after pleas from two former GA moderators to "combat racism with action."

All in all a long day of significant actions, taken in a conciliatory tone.  Tomorrow:  Middle East Peacemaking tops the list of high profile topics.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Western Reserve Overture (06-09)

The Assembly committee on Church Orders and Ministry will report to the Assembly Thursday afternoon.  The committee addresses all overtures having to do with ordination standards, which have divided the church over the last 30-plus years.  The committee received eighteen different overtures (and numerous concurrences) regarding the "fidelity and chastity" provision of the PCUSA Constitution -- G-6.0106b -- and the related section on the freedom and limits of the conscience of church officers (G-6.0108).  The history of G-6.0106b has been fraught with controversy from its inception in 1996 as a minority report adopted by the Assembly following a two year season of study and dialogue over the gay-ordination issue in the church.  G-6.0106b currently says,

"Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament."

The provision, written on short notice and crafted to gain maximum support, is poorly worded from a constitutional point of view.  In particular, the third sentence creates an impossible standard for any candidate or minister to meet.  In practice, however, it is usually applied only to sexual sins (rather than other sins in the confessions such as Sabbath-breaking, "wasteful gaming," or making depictions of Jesus), and then, almost exclusively to the practice of homosexuality.  In its short history, it has become one of the most contested and interpreted provisions of the Book of Order, and, I would add, misinterpreted as well.  It has spawned a virtual cottage industry of "loophole overtures" trying to generate ways to sidestep its draconian terms.  That is why recent attempts to interpret G-6.0108, on the freedom of conscience, have generated such attention. 

The authoritative interpretations of G-6.0108 in the last two assemblies have compounded the constitutional problems.  G-6.0106b requires a literal and absolute interpretation of the Book of Confessions -- which the confessions themselves say is contrary to their intent.  This created the need to resurrect the archaic practice of  "scrupling" (i.e., declaring departures) from the confessions.  The recent authoritative interpretations have sought to apply the provisions regarding freedom of conscience in the examination process to the practice of scrupling both departures of belief AND behavior.  There is an ongoing debate between majorities on the ACC and the GAPJC, who differ on whether it is constitutional to permit scrupling of mandatory provisions of the Book of Order.

The Western Reserve overture (item 06-09) is important for the life and health of the church because it stops this abuse of the Constitution by returning the church to the historic compromise on ordination standards known as the Adopting Act of 1729.  The overture proposes replacing the current G-6.0106b with the following language:

"Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

The overture stikes a balance between objective standards for office (scripture, confessions, constitutional questions) and subjective judgments of individual candidates (calling, gifts, preparation, suitability).  Whenever the church has fought over ordination, it has been between those two poles of confessional subscription (adherence to objective standards) and the candidate's experience of God's call (subjective standards).  These two different kinds of standards go back to the two different streams of Presbyterianism brought to America from the Old World.  Historically, when these two traditions have clashed, they have been resolved only by returning to the balance first set forth by the Adopting Act and reaffirmed again and again, most recently in the Swearingen Commission reports of 1926 and 1927.

If we are ever to move beyond the sex wars of the last 33 years, it will be, as before, by returning to the Adopting Act compromise.  The Western Reserve overture stands alone among the solutions before this assembly in claiming that middle ground.  One well-known conservative journalist is reported to have said of this overture that it would have passed two years ago, were it the amendment sent to the presbyteries, and that it should pass this year as well.  While many in the church who have been wounded on both sides of the issue may find such an outcome untenable, it is the only outcome that makes sense given our denomination's history and polity.

I will let you know what the Assembly says tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Historic Day at G.A.

Wednesday night, the General Assembly voted by a 69%-30% margin to pass on for presbytery approval a major overhaul of the PCUSA Form of Government -- the "nFOG," or new Form of Government proposal.  The margin of the vote was a surprise to veteran observers, since major issues usually pass on a more narrow basis.  The reason for the overwhelming majority can be attributed to a number of factors:  a committee that was solidly behind the proposal 37-5 after some 30 amendments made it more palatable to moderates; an opposition that not only seemed confused, but overplayed their hand by making claims that were clearly unfounded and even characterized as "paranoid"; and a poorly presented substitute motion on the floor that forced the assembly to perfect the main motion prematurely before an up-or-down vote.  In the end, the assembly adopted all 30 amendments in a voice vote, rather than allow any difficulties in the document to be displayed before the assembly.

The nFOG assembly committee did not do the church any service by allowing some of the amendments into the final document, which will be voted on an up-or-down basis in the presbyteries.  Among the most serious flaws in the amended document are provisions that would allow interim or associate pastors to become the next called pastor of a congregation, and the removal of language explicitly permitting a presbytery to remove a pastor "if the ministry of the Word imperatively demands it."  The latter is language that has a long history in the denomination and is central to the presbytery's authority to exercise oversight of the ministry of the Word and sacrament in its churches.  The way the proposed language reads, one could interpret that a congregation must consent for the presbytery to remove a pastor.  That would be an unprecedented move toward congregational polity.

The debate, which was incredibly civil, nevertheless almost generated the Assembly's first "crying YAD" (okay, they are now "YAADs" -- young adult advisory delegates) .  Readers of last assembly's blog know that "the Assembly ain't over until the YAD cries."  Word has it that there were sufficient instances of YADs in committees to ensure a crying YAD during Assembly debate sometime this week.

Earlier today, the Assembly approved two important motions regarding our Book of Confessions.  By an overwhelming vote, the Assembly approved joining a process already underway by the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church to retranslate the Heidelberg Catechism.  By nearly as large a margin (77% - 22%) they voted to approve sending the Belhar Confession to the presbyteries for their votes to include it in our Book of Confessions.  A 3/4 affirmative vote of the presbyteries is required for inclusion, plus an affirmative vote of the next assembly.

Yesterday's blog post was delayed by computer issues -- I received word from tech support at GA that my computer was officially "dead".  I am still in denial about the situation and hope to experience a resurrection when I return to Greeley.  As it is, I am still blogging on "borrowed ROM".  The Assembly Committee on Middle Governing Bodies (which I have been advising) completed its business yesterday afternoon.  The committee seemed to follow closely to the ACC advice.  Of particular concern was the report of the Special Administrative Review Committee on the Synod of Puerto Rico, which has been experiencing "institutional meltdown."  The committee report was riddled with constitutional flaws, which were worked out with a subcommittee of the assembly committee in a late night session Monday.  Expect the commissioners from the Synod to launch to raise a floor fight against the committee recommendation, which is to form an administrative commission to work with the Synod, and at least in a limited way, take original jurisdiction, if necessary.  The committee also approved forming a GA Administrative Commission to address other middle governing body issues in the denomination.  If both actions are approved, only only one commission will be formed to address both issues.  Controversial overtures to form non-geographic theological affinity synods and presbyteries were resoundingly disapproved by the committee.

As indicated in Saturday night's blog, this is giving every indication of being a far more progressive assembly than expected.  After the 2008 assembly, which passed many liberal agenda items, one would have expected this to be a "backlash" assembly (like 1998 after 1997).  Indeed, one left-wing activist admitted that they would have been happy just to hold on to the gains made last assembly.  However, this gives every appearance of being an even more liberal/progressive assembly than 2008.  "Party-line" votes are breaking nearly 70-30 progressive, versus the 54-46 votes two years ago.  If this holds true, I will have some comments on why this might have happened in a future post.

Tomorrow (Thursday) there is a full slate of business, including Middle Governing Bodies in the morning, Church orders (ordination standards) in the afternoon; and gay marriage in the evening.  Hold on tight, the road ahead is going to get rough!