The pressure may be growing for the 2020 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to speak directly about the compelling issues of the day: about the COVID-19 pandemic, about the killings in 2020 of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, about systemic racism and the protests being held across the nation and the role of the police in what’s happening.
Because of COVID-19, this General Assembly is being held virtually and in condensed form – with a recommendation that only “core and critical” business be considered, that no commissioners’ resolutions be considered and that the assembly refer other pending matters to the next assembly in 2022.
There is a mechanism, however, for new business to come to the floor of the virtual General Assembly that will be held later this month.
Once the assembly convenes in plenary on June 19, a commissioner could move to suspend the rules to introduce new business. Such a motion would need a two-thirds vote to prevail — but if enough commissioners feel the PC(USA) needs to speak or act and to do it now, new business could be heard.
There is pressure for the assembly to speak out — with a range of groups sending correspondence in recent weeks to the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) asking for more items to be placed on the docket, many of them raising concerns about social justice. One example: a June 8 letter from the board of directors of the Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association. That letter (Item A – On the Church in This Moment in History_ Item B – Letter from PHEWA) speaks of “the church’s historic calling to interpret and speak to the times in which any Assembly meets.”
And it states:
“We are at a critical crisis point in our nation’s history. We well understand the logistical exigencies that led to the formulation of an assembly dealing with only institutional essentials and postponing everything else for two years. But our world has changed. At this moment there is no more essential business than responding to this national crisis. . How we as a people deal with this moment will have long lasting, perhaps permanent effects on our nation. How we as a church respond to this moment will define us for years to come.
“Our members need to hear from our church. And we have an obligation to add our prophetic voice to the national dialogue. It is unconscionable to think that this Assembly would have no word or that we would seek to delay response for two years. We are well aware that the Stated Clerk can speak on behalf of the church. But the power of the church’s voice, our very identity as Presbyterians has been the collective voice of commissioners elected from Presbyteries across the country. That is who we are.”
COGA is considering adding a new item of business to the docket — a document called “On the Church in This Moment in History,” a new recommendation (Item A – On the Church in This Moment in History_) to the 2020 General Assembly coming from COGA itself.
During its online meeting June 11, COGA is being asked to vote on whether to bring to the 2020 General Assembly a recommendation urging Presbyterians to love God, neighbor and self through:
- Personal and corporate repentance, spiritual renewal and devotion to the Great Ends of the Church;
- “Listening to the voices of people long silenced” through programs including the PC(USA)’s Hands and Feet initiative and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival; and
- Involvement with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 initiative.
The proposed recommendation also would direct the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency to review all items of business being referred to the 2022 General Assembly (instead of being considered this year) “to consider prayerfully whether the recommendations could be enacted under current social witness policy or the authority of agencies and their boards to make programmatic decisions between assemblies.”
And it would encourage congregations, sessions and mid councils to review those same items of business to “prayerfully consider the call of God to work and witness for the goals and values” those business items present.
COGA will consider that recommendation during its online meeting at noon EDT on June 11.