In the waning hours of the 217th General Assembly–the last morning, when nothing much of substance is brought to a tired bunch of commissioners ready to put their packed bags onto planes go home after an intense eight days–former moderator Rick Ufford-Chase rose to the microphone for a point of personal privilege. He had lain awake troubled by one statement the Assembly had approved and that concerned a matter close to his heart: borders. Most people know of Ufford-Chase’s heart-felt work in Border Links. We have heard the stories of desperate people risking, and sometimes losing, their lives just for the opportunity to work in the U.S. so their families in impoverished areas of Mexico might live.
Ufford-Chase asked if the Assembly might reconsider its approval of one phrase in a Peacemaking report concerning Israel. (11-01, #4) The first sentence of that statement said, “The 217th General Assembly (2006) does not believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should tell a sovereign nation whether it can protect its borders or handle matters of national defense.”
Ufford –Chase offered this change in wording: “The 217th General Assembly believes that the PC(USA) should use the greatest possible care in speaking to or with a sovereign nation on any matter including how to handle protecting its borders or matters of national defense.”
Could the Church simply vote away its prophetic role in speaking truth to authority? Give up its birthright for a bowl of porridge? Surely not!
Amos and the prophets, Calvin and Niebuhr and Bonhoeffer would cry out from the ground! Surely not! Martin Niemoeller wrote, “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
The Church is compelled to speak truth to power, regardless of which nation or which issue. We cannot claim to have intimate knowledge of the minds of governments, but we can claim to have intimate knowledge of the God of governments.
But the commissioners, tired and ready to go home, perhaps even agreeing with what had been done–voted not to reconsider by 46 percent to 53 percent to 1 percent (for, against, abstain).
Amos, you need to have a word with us.
Bill Lancaster is associate for mission of Foothills Presbytery in Greenville, S.C.