A Pastoral Letter in Response to Our 222nd General Assembly
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Our 222nd General Assembly recently concluded in Portland. Our Fellowship Community was represented with a booth and volunteer staff, figuratively and literally holding a place at the table for evangelicals. As usual, the Assembly was a full week of worship, prayer, relationship-building, and conversation. Good debate and work was done on a variety of fronts, as well as significant decisions made. For the first time in over thirty years, the Assembly adopted a new confession of faith, adding the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. In addition, the Assembly elected its first Co-Moderators, T. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, and a new Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson. We welcome them to their new offices and join in prayer for them.
Fellowship Community Board Member Jerry Andrews (First Presbyterian Church, San Diego, CA) preached during the Service of Daily Worship on Friday, June 24. Not only did he do a great job, but his being asked to preach was itself an affirmation of our commitment to participate in the denominational conversation and build bridges with people.
Were there disturbing actions that took place from the viewpoint of evangelicals trying to stay in the PC(USA)? Yes. Some people were greatly offended by the prayers to Allah offered by a local Muslim leader during the opening plenary session. In a blog post one of the Assembly’s Co-Moderators proposed that many in our denomination “aren’t too idealistically different from” the gunman in Orlando, Florida. Both of these statements were very concerning to some commissioners, as we know they were to many of you, and both were challenged by these commissioners.
The overture that received the most attention prior to the Assembly was the so-called “apology overture,” a proposal which would require the PC(USA) to apologize to the LGBTQ/Q community for the wrong-doing and harm caused during our theological disagreements related to same-sex lifestyle and marriages. That overture never went to the Assembly’s floor for a vote. Rather, the Social Justice Issues Committee recommended a more moderate, alternative resolution. The change had support from both sides of the theological spectrum, who felt the original overture was unnecessarily divisive on a matter around which many people of good faith disagree. Rather than requiring that we apologize for our interpretation of Scripture, the resolution reads:
Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA). We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7].
Approved by a large majority, the resolution also expresses deep sorrow for those who have felt it necessary to leave the denomination and affirms those remaining in the PC(USA) despite serious disagreement. While for some the resolution does not create the crisis of conscience that the overture would have, still we recognize even this alternative is disconcerting for many.
If there is anything that our General Assembly underscored, it is the ongoing need for a living witness to the love, truth, and hope we have in our Savior Jesus Christ. The Fellowship Community is here to equip you for such a witness. The relationships, missional identity, and theological strength that come from gathering together is imperative in these turbulent times. We invite you to gather with us at our “Deep and Wide: Making Missional Disciples” National Gathering February 21-23, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, FL. We also encourage you to consider making us a part of your congregation’s missional giving, as well as your personal giving. We want to continue to be a strong voice, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and testifying to his transforming love, and we need your presence, prayers and support for this vital work.
As we have said many times before, following Jesus is too important to do alone. Thanks be to God, we are not alone. So let us commit to one another and to the Savior to press on together in our witness to Jesus in our local communities, in our denomination, and to the ends of the earth.
The Fellowship Community Presiding Board