I come from an opinionated family. Opinions are great. I am all for opinions. I like stating them, debating them, attacking them and assessing them. However, as many an opinionated family knows, there are certain times that expressing an opinion doesn’t actually help. The trick to surviving in an opinionated family is to learn when to back off and realize it may just be better for you to keep your opinion to yourself. As my dad has asked me – over and over and over again – after numerous family squabbles (all of which I won, of course), “Would you rather be right, or be happy?”
For some reason, General Assembly seems to have become a place for Presbyterians to express their opinions, no matter how unhelpful those opinions are. And, at times, those opinions get voted upon, forcing commissioners at General Assembly to form opinions on peripheral topics, topics on which they haven’t been sufficiently briefed. And, at the end of the day, it’s really not helpful for the church.
An example: at the last GA, I was observing from the stands as the assembly voted upon a non-binding declaration related to spanking children. Let me state, for the record, that I actually agreed with the content of the resolution. I don’t like spanking. I don’t think it is helpful, nor do I condone it.
Despite the fact I agreed with the content of the resolution, however, I couldn’t help but notice how utterly useless and nonsensical the conversation being had was. At the end of the day, the resolution, deploring spanking, was passed, on a close vote.
And here is my question: What good did it do? Did anyone, at all, change his or her views on spanking because one group of a few hundred Presbyterians in 2012 narrowly voted to say that Presbyterians shouldn’t spank? Were any kids spared spankings the past year and a half because of that debate?
My strong hunch is that the debate and the resolution did no good whatsoever. It was just another thing to argue about, another opinion to be debated.
As we are preparing for General Assembly this year, maybe we can all think twice before sending up topics for debate. General Assembly does not have to state an opinion on everything, and the last thing we need is to give General Assembly more divisive topics to argue over. There will be enough actual controversy before GA with concrete consequences, such as divestment and issues of sexuality.
Please, can we not manufacture more, by forcing our commissioners to vote upon non-binding declarations on spanking, private vs. public prisons, and other such topics? I mean, after this GA, do we want to move forward as a united church, or do we want to win narrow votes on non-binding declarations?
Jonathan Saur is a candidate for ministry in Los Ranchos Presbytery. He lives in San Juan Capistrano, California.