The 223rd General Assembly As We Saw It
by The Fellowship Community Board
The primary focus of the national Fellowship Community is on nurturing a broad network of churches and leaders called together to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ by growing in Christ’s likeness, living by God’s word, and joining in God’s mission in the world. Although our mission does not include advocacy within PCUSA, Fellowship had an official presence at the recent PCUSA General Assembly (GA). We connected with and supported numerous Assembly commissioners and observers through our exhibit hall booth and in nightly debrief and prayer gatherings. We also strengthened relationships with a number of PCUSA leaders and national staff.
This GA acted on hundreds of issues as a response to the biblical mandate to be God’s faithful people in the 21st century: seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. It was noted by our Fellowship GA participants that Christian forbearance and respect marked the spirit of this assembly. It was our experience that persons from a broad range of perspectives repeatedly thanked conservatives for staying in the PCUSA and engaging issues in faithful ways. A Fellowship pastor, Don Meeks, was invited to preach for the Friday worship service and offered a powerful call for unity and love despite disagreement.
We offer here a summary of events and outcomes of significance to our network of churches:
Leadership — GA elected two gifted women, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and Cindy Kohlmann) as Co-Moderators of PCUSA, one of whom is a Latina who once served on the Presbyterians For Renewal (PFR) Wee Kirk Northeast MA/PR team. Diane Moffett was also confirmed as the new Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency in Louisville. This commitment to racial and gender diversity is historic for the PCUSA.
Israel/Palestine & Peacemaking – GA again sought to advocate for peace in the world, the Middle East and particularly in Israel/Palestine. We reaffirmed PCUSA’s support for a two state solution including Jerusalem’s status, grassroots efforts bringing together Israelis and Palestinians, human rights for all Israeli citizens especially minorities, positive investment in the region, concern about violence in Gaza and Israeli land use in occupied areas, reaching out in open dialogue with our Jewish interfaith colleagues, and freedom of speech. GA prayed for, encouraged, and actively supported the ancient Christian communities and our partners especially in the Middle East. It is our perspective that GA sought to moderate a third way when proposals were overly partisan. As always, we urge fact checking media reports with primary sources when reading about actions of the GA. The Assembly also urged peace efforts in Syria, Iran, South Sudan, North Korea, Nicaragua, Central America, Madagascar, and Yemen.
Sexuality Issues – GA approved a resolution affirming several things including the full dignity of transgendered persons and their right to be free from violence and injustice. It also gave thanks for those seeking how best to show hospitality and Christian love to sexual minorities despite theological differences. The General Assembly adopted an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution that protects the conscience of sessions and ministers to adopt policies on weddings. This is important for those in the PC(USA) who continue to hold that marriage is limited to the covenant between a man and a woman.
Stewardship of Creation – GA again reaffirmed our process of corporate engagement through investment. We celebrated some progress with influencing large fossil fuel corporations toward better stewardship of the environment. GA voted against divesting from fossil fuels, preferring to advocate in cooperation with our partners as corporate shareholders.
Other Issues – Among many other actions, GA called for an end to separation of families at the border, strengthened policies against misconduct, harassment and abuse, issued recommendations for drug policy including opioid abuse, and condemned racist nationalism and gender injustice especially for women of color. GA advocated for suicide prevention, prevention of gun violence, and a moratorium on US executions. The General Assembly voted to initiate the process of adopting MLK’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail as a confession of the church. We believe the PCUSA continues to support outstanding mission work around the world.
The Future of PCUSA – GA adjusted its governing structure and initiated a review of its funding model, recognizing that per capita should be increased as little as possible while still allowing for the Church to fulfill its essential mission. Fellowship Community board member Bill Teng was elected to a 4-year term to the only remaining “at-large” seat on the newly reconstituted corporate board of directors of A Corporation of PC(USA).
Statistics – PCUSA has 9300 churches with 1.415M members, a decline of 43% over 20 years. We are 90% white. 72% of churches have under 150 members (66% under 100). 72% of Presbyterians are in 300+ member churches. The recent wave (since 2012) of over 600 church departures has abated, over half to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, the most recently formed Presbyterian denomination. We celebrate the fact that the PCUSA has launched 540 ‘new worshiping communities’ in the last several years.
We believe the presence of The Fellowship Community at GA played a positive and necessary supporting role among evangelical and like-minded commissioners and observers alike as we connected with and supported them in their calling to serve the whole Church. We continue to affirm that at the heart of The Fellowship Community is the desire to reclaim a covenanted biblical community, where we are united by a clearly articulated theology, a shared commitment to disciple-making, and a culture of encouragement and accountability. If we can help interpret any of the actions taken by the 223rd General Assembly, please feel free to contact us.