ST. LOUIS — From transformational churches to churches that model the gospel; from gun violence to capital punishment; from Puerto Rico to prophesy – the 223rd General Assembly approved every item brought to the floor from the Social Justice Committee.
A Gospel from St. Louis. The Social Justice Committee began reporting June 21 with “A Gospel from St. Louis” (item 11-10), lessons from congregations seeking racial and economic justice. Bill Wildhack, committee moderator and a minister commissioner from Tampa Bay Presbytery, invited Robert Dryer, minister commissioner from Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, to present the overture. Dryer said: “As stated in this item, we have beautiful, powerful, and prophetic examples coming out of St. Louis churches like Third Church, Dardenne Prairie, Ferguson, Second Church, Oak Hill, Ladue Chapel, and so many others. These churches have powerful examples of transformative leadership in the face of racial and economic struggles.” Dryer noted that St. Louis’ struggles are not their struggles alone. The commissioners voted in the affirmative to approve.
Henry Highland Garnet. On Recognizing the Reverend Henry Highland Garnet’s Prophetic Voice for Today (11-03), from the Presbytery of San Francisco, was overwhelmingly approved 485-9. Wildhack said: “This item celebrates and lifts up the words of a Presbyterian minister who, in 1865, was the first African-American to speak in the U.S. Capitol.” Not only was Garnett active in Washington, D.C. and New York City, he also helped to found Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, one of the historic African-American churches in Pittsburgh. Commissioners
Black women and girls. This overture, A Resolution to Respond to Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls, seeks to extend to black women and girls efforts similar to those made by the 222nd General Assembly through The Worsening Plight of the African American Male.
Khayla Johnson, Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD) from Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery, spoke in favor of AResolution to Respond to Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls (11-07), which seeks to extend similar to those made by the 222nd General Assembly through The Worsening Plight of the African American Male. She said: “As a black woman in America, I stand in the shadows of so many behind men. Black women and girls have been on the sidelines and lack attention. This is happening every day. My childhood was erased when I was stopped by police after I looked suspicious. Then three times after that. I call us to pay attention to our black women and girls.” The commission approved item 475-14.
Transformative church. The assembly voted in favor of overture 11-11 to Declare an Imperative for the Reformation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in being a Transformative Church in this Intercultural Era. The item seeks to provide strategic steps to move the PC(USA) into a 10-year period of intercultural transformation.
Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Equity and Women’s Intercultural Ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said, “The world has shifted, and this is a different church and society.”
Hunter also addressed how it will help mid councils and presbyteries saying, “The plan is to recommend to promote awareness of resources currently available that deepen the understanding of intersectionality and skills for resistance including those less frequently discussed, such as interfaith competencies so essential in these times.” It was also highlighted that the appointed cross-sectional task force who will develop and publish priorities and guidelines for congregations, mid councils and General Assembly entities for the “Decade of Intercultural Transformation” will be lead by varying ethnicities. All of these efforts will come together so individuals, churches, mid councils and presbyteries can be made aware of the invitations to be more involved in anti-racism training and work. The item was approved 440-59.
Puerto Rico. The commissioner’s resolution (11-22) directs the PC(USA) to take strategic steps in advocating for the rights of U.S. citizen residents of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and includes additional recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
Keila M. Candelario Lugo, Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD) from Presbiterio Del Suroeste, said, “We live in a strong economic crisis right now; many companies, many local industries have closed their doors.” She said over 4,600 people have died as a result of Hurrican Maria, and she thanked the people who have helped in the hurricane’s aftermath, especially the communities, pastors and volunteers from the PC(USA). Lugo said, “Many have risked their lives to reach those who have lost everything.”
Héctor Torres-Betancourt, ruling elder commissioner from the Presbiterio De San Juan, shared that the government of Puerto Rico made huge budget cuts, including cuts to the Department of Education, leaving children and teens without access to education. He said, “We are tired of being treated as second class citizens.”
Assembly co-moderator, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri spoke of September 20, 2017, and Hurricane Maria. She said, “We watched, and prayed, and hoped, and then there was silence.” She said the silence was deafening as the power grid collapsed and there was no communication in or out of the island. She said, “My people are resilient, and we will rise to help,” rise like Presbyterian Disaster Assistance did in responding, because laws limited aid from other parts of the world.
The assembly voted to approve item 11-22, and Cintrón-Olivieri ended the item with prayer.
Gun violence. Item (11-14) On Praying for a Movement of the Spirit to Engage Presbyterian Congregations in Nation-Wide Action to Prevent Gun Violence, asks the denomination and congregations to pray and to take decisive steps in response to the heightened rate of gun violence in the U.S.A. Raymond Roberts, co-chairperson to the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, said the passage of this item will allow the introduction of curriculum for the church that will train people on issues before us, and also encourage them to get involved.
Denise Martin, ruling elder commissioner from Lake Michigan Presbytery, spoke in favor while wearing a “Moms Demand Action” T-shirt. She spoke in favor and shared with the assembly: “Sixteen years ago today, I lost my son to gun violence on the streets of Chicago. Four years ago, I was shot in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We all have to step up and do something about these guns, because it’s not getting any better. I am tired of being afraid; I am tired of hearing a loud noise and being frightened.”
Shannon Simmons, Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD) from John Calvin Presbytery, said, “We have to do something now because our children are paying for our right to bear arms.”
After the commissioners voted to approve the item, the assembly joined together in prayer saying, in part: “Wake us up in our pews and our lives; do not let Christ find us asleep on this watch.”
Capital punishment. The overture On Calling for an Immediate Moratorium on All Executions (11-02), asked the PC(USA) to join several prior assemblies of this and other denominations in continuing to stand against capital punishment.
Rachel Sutphin, who is a YAAD from Presbytery of the Peaks, spoke of her father being murdered. She said, “I have two people to mourn” — her father and the person who killed him. She continued, “God’s love is abounding,”
Quincy Worthington, teaching elder commissioner from Wabash Valley, told the assembly of his uncle’s murder. Worthington said, “Either God’s grace is for everyone or it is not.” Commissioners approved the item 453-43.
Sexual misconduct. A Resolution on Sexual Misconduct in the PC(USA) calls the denomination to transparency and decisive action in regard to pastoral sexual misconduct, and the number of sexual misconduct charges brought by reporting that number annually. The item was approved.