Perhaps the most stunning piece of business coming to the 219th General Assembly is Recommendation 42 proposing to create a commission (the COGA Commission). As I first read it, my jaw dropped, I sat back in my chair and felt all the wind whistle out of me. I did not see it coming.
My hat goes off to the stated clerk for making this General Assembly a lot more interesting. It is unprecedented to see the chief constitutional officer of the denomination being quoted, “The structure coming out of reunion is clearly devolving.” The implication of that sentence is enormous.
If approved, the COGA Commission has the potential to be a game-changer. It may be the most impactful piece of business coming to the General Assembly since the 1983 reunion.
Specifically, the recommendation is for the Assembly to approve a 21-person commission on Middle Governing Bodies with six enumerated powers. It is the fifth power that is extraordinary:
5. In response to actions of the 219th General Assembly (2010), or upon request of the presbytery and synod, the commission is authorized to act as the General Assembly according to
a. G-13.0103m: “to organize new synods and to divide, unite, or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods previously existing;”
b. G-13.0103n: “to approve the organization, division, uniting, or combining of presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods.”
Because it would be a commission, the decisions of a majority of these 21 people would be the same as a decision of the General Assembly.
Thus, if the 219th GA approves the commission, every congregation and every presbytery will have to figure out how they plan to navigate the devolution. It will not be hypothetical as in, What might we have to do at some point in the future? Perhaps the most important question will be, How do we convince 11 of these 21 appointed people that they should grant our request?
There will be no such thing as maintaining status quo; granting one request has consequences of fellowship, finances, mission, and ministry for everyone else.
For example: imagine the COGA Commission is approved, as is. Then by a slight majority (say, 81 yes: 79 no), San Diego Presbytery requests the COGA Commission to:
» Dissolve the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii (our synod);
» Create two new synods: an “emergent” synod and a “traditional” synod;
» Split the assets between the two new synods;
» Create parallel presbyteries in the synods (i.e., San Diego Emergent, San Diego Traditional);
» Require every congregation within old synods to determine — by vote — their affiliation to presbytery and synod.
Now, imagine you are in a congregation in Los Ranchos or Riverside Presbytery (both immediately north of San Diego). You like how things are and do not want this result. What then? You would be required to engage in some sort of campaign to get the COGA Commission to deny the request or to propose an alternative solution.
I am not saying it would happen, I am saying it could happen.
Is there a better option than a commission? If the status quo is not sustainable, if devolution is reaching a critical stage, and if a commission is not the right mechanism for change, what then?
A commission may be the only realistic mechanism for dealing with the question. Not limited by time or other responsibilities, it could delve into the questions, problems, challenges, and opportunities that re-constituting poses. It affords flexibility and opportunity for experiments. Yes, it is fraught with potential problems; but, again, what is a better alternative?
In Southern California, we often hear about “the big one.” In General Assembly terms, this is it.
BOB DAVIS is pastor of the Chula Vista Church in Chula Vista, Calif.