Some Presbyterians pay no attention at all to General Assembly — “What’s that,” they ask — while others drill all the way down into the footnotes. For those in the middle — who have not totally tuned out but haven’t memorized it all — here’s a summary of some of the business coming before the assembly.
This list doesn’t include the biggest disputed items, such as same-gender marriage or proposed divestment from selected firms doing business in Israel-Palestine.
Ordination standards. In 2010, in an extremely controversial decision, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) changed its ordination standards to allow noncelibate gays and lesbians to be ordained. Now, some overtures have been presented asking the assembly to change the ordination standards again (any change to the PC(USA) constitution also would require approval from a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries to take effect).
Overtures from Central Florida Presbytery and the Presbytery of Washington seek to have the denomination restore to its constitution language similar to that removed in 2011 — to require those being ordained to practice fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. And the Presbytery of Stockton proposes a constitutional amendment to allow for freedom of conscience for governing bodies in making ordination decisions — including the freedom to refuse to ordain a candidate who is “unwilling to lead a chaste or disciplined life.”
Other presbyteries are encouraging Presbyterians to show mutual forbearance.
An overture from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, for example, asks the assembly to acknowledge “that faithful Presbyterians earnestly seeking to follow Jesus Christ hold different views about what the Scriptures teach concerning the morality of committed same-gender relationships. Therefore, while holding persons in ordered ministry to high standards of covenant fidelity in the exercise of their sexuality, as in all aspects of life, we decline to take an action that would have the effect of imposing on the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) one interpretation of Scripture in this matter.”
Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. A special General Assembly committee that has been studying how the assembly itself works is presenting a report with a series of recommendations, many of which would involve constitutional changes. Among those likely to provoke discussion:
» A recommendation that overtures from presbyteries receive concurrence from at least 10 percent of the other presbyteries in order to be considered by the assembly.
» A proposal that the presbyteries within each synod would elect, on a rotation system, a young adult teaching elder commissioner and a young adult ruling elder commissioner — “young” being defined as age 36 or younger.
» A recommendation to extend the committee’s work for another two years. “We believe the church is weary of a win/lose method of dealing with difficult and controversial issues and that the church in our 21st century yearns for a way for those who make decisions on behalf of the church to do so in an environment that enables a greater awareness of the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” the committee wrote.
College ministry. The assembly will receive a report from the Collegiate Ministries Task Force. “For decades there hasn’t been a cohesive vision or identity for PC(USA) collegiate ministry,” that task force reported, in explaining the need for presenting a strategy for mission. Among its recommendations: renew or start 101 worshipping communities in collegiate settings; set up a network of regional coordinators; and initiate a funding campaign to finance the work of collegiate ministries.
Heidelberg Catechism. The assembly will be asked to approve a new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, one produced in an ecumenical collaboration with the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America. The project was undertaken after questions were raised about the accuracy of the current translation, including its language regarding homosexuality. This would involve a constitutional change.
Immigration. One assembly committee will focus specifically and intensively on immigration — with presbyteries asking it to consider many complexities, from how congregations can truly show hospitality to the policies for which Presbyterians should advocate.
An overture from Mid-Kentucky Presbytery encourages people to start close to home — by getting to know immigrants in their communities, by encouraging and financially supporting their education, and by learning their languages and culture. It also calls for immigration reform, including encouraging law enforcement to focus on ending criminal behavior “without creating an environment of harassment for immigrant people.”