Commissioners’ resolution 11-11 asks that Presbyterians “refrain from holding national meetings at hotels in those states where travel by immigrant Presbyterians or Presbyterians of color or Hispanic ancestry might subject them to harassment.”
Those speaking for the main motion included Trina Zelle, a minister from Grand Canyon Presbytery and author of the original resolution, as well as two former General Assembly moderators — Rick Ufford-Chase and John Fife. Much of the discussion surrounding the resolution concerned those who are most affected by the new laws in Arizona, as well as those who would be affected by these proposed economic measures. Fife assured commissioners that the main motion was brought by the Hispanic congregations, pastors and elders in Arizona and New Mexico. Fife urged its passage saying, “Racism must be confronted with action immediately, not after study and collaboration.”
A substitute motion was offered, which would have removed any mention of the PC(USA) avoiding doing business in states with such laws, but that was defeated by a vote of 390 – 288.
Jon Ashley, from de Cristo presbytery, presented the minority report and suggested that rather than boycott and leave, the appropriate response is engagement in a system that is currently broken, working for its transformation.
Zelle reminded commissioners that for many Presbyterians the immigration crisis is not an option to be studied, but a daily reality to be endured. “What is being communicated when we choose to accommodate injustice rather than confront it?” she asked.
“Our work will always be to stand with those who are most marginalized,” urged Ufford-Chase. He noted the PCUSA’s historic concern for those who stand on the margins of society.
Commissioner Al Sandalow of Central Washington brought up a practical question in the midst of the discussion. “If this passes, and Pennsylvania passes a similar law, will we have to move the next General Assembly?” The next General Assembly, in 2012, is scheduled to be held in Pittsburgh.
In a news conference after the assembly had adjourned for the night, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk, Gradye Parsons, said if Pennsylvania were to pass such a law, “we would look at our contract,” to see if the denomination could get out of it, and would try to follow the assembly’s directive.