In August, the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico voted to end its 139-year partnership in mission with the PC(USA). The Presbyterian Church of Ghana decided at its recent General Assembly “to sever relationship with any partner church that ordained homosexuals as ministers and allowed for same-sex marriages” — although that does not necessarily mean cutting off its relationship with the PC(USA).
These international partners are responding to the PC(USA)’s decision earlier this year to pass Amendment 10-A, which removed from the denomination’s constitution language requiring those being ordained to practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single.
Hunter Farrell, the PC(USA)’s director of World Mission, told a General Assembly Mission Council committee recently that some international partners have felt compelled to act out of their strong belief that homosexuality is inherently sinful. But there also have been nuances worth considering in some of the responses, Farrell said.
The PC(USA) has sent mission co-workers or staff members to talk with church leaders in Ethiopia, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Farrell said there is concern among those leaders in other countries about possible “next steps” by the PC(USA — such as a signal of support for same-gender marriage or a requirement that qualified gay or lesbian candidates be ordained.
In the wake of the Mexican church’s decision to end its mission partnership with the PC(USA, conversations have been ongoing about the impact of that choice on grassroots partnerships and on the 11 PC(USA) mission co-workers who serve in Mexico, many of them along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Leaders of both the PC(USA) and the Mexican church met together on Sept. 8 in El Paso to discuss mission needs and the future. They reached an agreement regarding a transitional period for joint ministry projects along the border.
The Mexican church acted at a specially called General Assembly in August for the purpose of discussing women’s ordination. It voted overwhelmingly to sustain its policy of not ordaining women, and to revoke the ordination of any women who had been ordained.
Immediately after that, the assembly voted to sever relations with the PC(USA), stating that it would not renew that mission relationship until the PC(USA) disavows Amendment 10-A.
Farrell said the Mexican Presbyterians have explained that “it’s not a sin to be a woman, but we don’t believe women are called to ordained ministry.” They do think homosexuality is a sin, and “they felt required by the gospel to break off the relationship,” he said.
Conversations are under way about whether it might be possible for the PC(USA) to continue some ministry work in the border regions, where there are what Farrell described as “massive issues,” particularly involving violence, the root causes of poverty among women and children, and a desire for evangelism.
Here’s more of what came out of the General Assembly Mission Council meeting in Louisville Sept. 21-23.
Name change. The council is preparing to change its name — something it needs to do to comply with the denomination’s new Form of Government, which reserves the use of the word “council” for actual governing bodies.
The council approved a proposal Sept. 23 that the elected council be known as the “Presbyterian Mission Agency Board” and the denomination’s national staff as “Presbyterian Mission Agency.” Any change also would need approval from the 2012 General Assembly.
After some discussion, the council voted down an alternate proposal of “Presbyterian Mission” for the elected board and “Presbyterian Mission Board” for the staff. Some presbytery and synod leaders had worried that language might make it seems as though the denomination does all its mission work at the national level — not through the grassroots church, said the council’s chair, Michael Kruse.
The council also voted to meet jointly with presbytery and synod executives every other year, instead of meeting annually as has been the pattern in recent years.
Internet journal. The council named a new online journal, Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, as the successor to the former print magazine Church & Society, which was discontinued in a cost-cutting move several years ago. The journal is produced by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
Divestment. In February, the council will formally consider a recommendation from the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee regarding the possibility of the PC(USA) divesting from three companies doing business in Palestine-Israel.
MRTI wants the 2012 General Assembly to add to its divestment list Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, all companies that MRTI contends profit from “non-peaceful” use in Israel-Palestine of products they sell.
Speaking to a council committee Sept. 22, Brian Ellison — a pastor from Kansas City who chairs the MRTI Committee — stressed that in making the recommendation the committee is following the lead of the General Assembly. The 2010 General Assembly denounced Caterpillar for profiting from the sale of its bulldozers, which MRTI says the Israelis have used to knock down Palestinian homes. Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions sell communications and cell-phone equipment used in the Palestinian occupation.
The assembly also has urged MRTI to follow a process of corporate engagement with firms prior to recommending divestment.
Ellison told the committee that MRTI, like other faith-based partners in socially responsible investing, has made efforts over an extended period of time to communicate, meet and negotiate with each of the corporations involved, but that the process of corporate engagement has proven ineffective.
“We have tried to give everything we could to dialogue,” without success, Ellison said. “There is not likely to be change.”
Ellison said of the recommendation for divestment: “This is a last resort. You lose your voice in the process when you are no longer a shareholder. This truly is the last resort.”
Ellison and Roger Gench, a council member from Washington, D.C., who is moderator of the Justice Committee, plan to travel in October to Peoria, Ill., where Caterpillar has its corporate headquarters, to meet with the Presbytery of Great Rivers to discuss the divestment proposal.
Liaisons. Some council members feel stretched thin. While the size of the council has dropped dramatically — it now has 40 voting members, down from 72 a few years ago — its members’ obligations to serve as liaisons to other PC(USA) entities (committees, task forces and the like) has not lessened.
As a result, some council members have multiple commitments, and that can cause difficulty. For example, some who have jobs outside the church already must take vacation time to serve, said Matt Schramm, a pastor from Michigan.
To address that problem, the council will initiate conversations with four General Assembly entities about the possibility of having Linda Valentine, the council’s executive director, or a member of the PC(USA)’s national staff attend each entity’s meetings instead of an elected council member. The council also would have conversations with the denomination’s advisory and advocacy committees about “the roles, responsibilities and number of liaisons,” to see what changes might be made.
Season of change. On Sept. 21, several speakers alluded to the recent gathering in Minneapolis of the Fellowship of Presbyterians — and to the sense that the PC(USA) is in a time of significant change. The Fellowship is convening a “constitutional convention” Jan. 12-14 in Orlando, where it says it will create a “new Reformed body” with which congregations may affiliate.
Valentine, who attended the Fellowship meeting, said she hopes the energy from that gathering will go toward building up the church. And she said that Fellowship organizers “are not alone in calling for change and reformation in the church” — that other proposals are coming from groups such as NEXT Church and the Committee on Theological Education.