General Assembly backgrounder: theological issues and institutions

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly ― June 14-21 in Detroit ― will once again consider a proposal to include The Belhar Confession in the denomination’s Book of Confessions.

The Belhar Confession was written during the period of South African apartheid in 1982 and was adopted by theDutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africa in 1986. Proponents argue that its sub-themes of unity, justice and reconciliation are just as relevant today in the U.S. as they were at the time of Belhar’s writing.

This will be the second time the General Assembly will consider adding Belhar to the PC(USA)’s collection of doctrinal statements.

The 2010 General Assembly approved Belhar, but it failed to attain the required two-thirds majority of the church’s 173 presbyteries in subsequent ratification voting. The 2012 General Assembly approved appointment of a special committee to begin the process all over again.

That special committee’s report (13-01) ― which will be considered by Assembly Committee 13 ― Theological Issues and Institutions and Christian Education ― again recommends inclusion of Belhar in the Book of Confessions.

Committee 13 will also consider a proposal (13-02), submitted the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB), which recommends that the General Assembly accept a revised Directory for Worship for study and comment in consideration of submitting it to the 222nd General Assembly (2016) for approval.

The revised directory was created by the PMAB’s Office of Theology and Worship. In the spirit of the new Form of Government, the revised directory seeks to foster freedom and flexibility, with openness to a broader range of worship styles and cultural expressions in the church.

Item 13B, submitted by the Committee on Theological Education (COTE), asks the General Assembly to recognize the Rev. Cynthia M. Campbell, president emeritus of McCormick Theological Seminary and pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, and the Rev. Jack Bartlett Rogers, moderator of the 213th General Assembly (2001) and professor emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary, for outstanding lifetime contributions to theological education in and for the PC(USA) with the Award for Excellence in Theological Education.

An overture (13-08) from Eastern Korean Presbytery asks that October 2014 be designated as the John Knox memorial month and to direct the whole church to plan roots-searching events through fasting, prayer, Bible study, and spiritual gathering to realign the church to God’s purpose for the broken world.

Committee 13 will also consider COTE’s requests to confirm the election of the Rev. M Craig Barnes as president of Princeton Theological Seminary (13-03) and the elections of new trustees

elected by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theological institutions in 2012–2013 (13-05); a request from the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to approve the list of 64 colleges and universities and nine secondary schools related to the PC(USA); and a recommendation (13-07) from the Special Committee on Funding Theological Institutions that management, administration, marketing and distribution of The Theological Education Fund ― which comes from PC(USA) congregations who pledge 1 percent of their budgets to the fund ― be transferred from the Presbyterian Mission Agency to the Presbyterian Foundation.

Matters related to the PC(USA)’s theological issues and institutions, as well as Christian education, will be considered by Assembly Committee 13 ― Theological Issues and Institutions and Christian Education. Bob Sloan, who will cover committee 13 for the General Assembly Communication Center, is a Presbyterian ruling elder and editor at The Hartsville (South Carolina) Messenger.

by Bob Sloan, Special to Presbyterian News Service