As I left the meeting of the General Assembly today there were many of the beautiful hymns and songs that we sang during Assembly still ringing in my ears and in my heart. But I also found myself singing another song to myself – one from the musical Hamilton:
Now, in the musical, Aaron Burr is not singing about the exact experience that I feel that I had over the last few days. In his song he is actually lamenting the fact that he is shut out of the room where a significant decision was made and also the obscurity of what happened and the mystery of the give-and-take negotiations. That is not what I experienced at assembly. But I think I did experience the power of being part of a significant event where significant decisions are being made.
I have blogged on each of the meeting days when we have discussed matters of human sexuality and would suggest that, if you haven’t read those posts first, you could read my previous posts before this one before reading this one.
Here are my takeaways from three days of discussion.
When given the first real opportunity in a very long time to actually state what they wanted for the church, a significant majority freely stated that they wanted to be inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons. That is very significant. But, if my reading of the room is accurate, I would also say it was the clear desire of the Assembly to be as inclusive as possible in every way possible. The options that we were given to choose from spelled out what the committee of Former Moderators felt were the implications of the inclusion option, but that does not mean that the Assembly wanted to implement it in exactly that way.
The following day of Assembly, the court took the opportunity to listen and empathize with those who felt excluded or hurt by the decision of the previous day. This was an important and necessary thing to happen although it was certainly difficult. As I have said elsewhere, I was a little bit tempted to see some irony in our listening to people who, while they were in the majority, were quite unwilling to allow for any leeway for those in a minority position and who did exclude them and now found themselves in the minority and complaining about feeling excluded when no one had asked them or wanted them to leave. But lament is important and I believe that everyone did very well to listen. I believe that we learned that we did not want to replicate the errors of the past by alienating sisters and brothers who were now in a minority position. I certainly went to sleep that night thinking that I did not want to respond to others as they had responded to LGBTQI+ people but that I wanted to respond to them as I wished they had responded to LGBTQI+ people.
On the final day of Assembly, we only had a morning session and very little time. What happened in that room was nothing short of extraordinary. Late into the night and then again early in the morning, a significant group of people from various backgrounds and positions came together and had the discussion that we should have had a long time ago. They talked about how the church could move together into the future while embracing the decision of the Assembly to opt for inclusion. As a result of their faithful work, the General Assembly was able, with a little bit of tweaking, of course, to prepare a remit to send down to Presbyteries that, I believe was a faithful interpretation of what the Assembly actually desired. I do not think that this act of constructing our own way of implementing the pathway was a case of using procedural maneuvers to circumvent the actual will of the people. (Lord knows that we Presbyterians do that kind of thing all the time, but I don’t think that this was that.) It was a genuine attempt to try and say what we truly wanted for the church.
As a result, these remits that will go down to presbyteries (this may not be the official wording, but it is certainly close):
that the PCC hold two parallel definitions of marriage, one which understands marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult persons; and that congregations, sessions, ruling and teaching elders be granted liberty of conscience and action on marriage.
that congregations and presbyteries can call LGBQTI people (married or single) as a minster and elect as ruling elders, and there is freedom of conscience on this.
I believe that the Holy Spirit was in this work and so I did support the motions with enthusiasm. Part of what the Assembly is saying is just a recognition of reality. We cannot impose upon people particular beliefs about marriage or about ordination. That is something that we have actually proved very clearly over the last several years as we have tried to impose so-called traditional views upon the church and have clearly failed spectacularly. I have recognized for quite some time that good and faithful Christians may have different understandings of marriage for various reasons as have many others. While we should have recognized this a long time ago, it is certainly good to recognize it now. We can’t undo the past but we can certainly do better in the future.
That is what I am taking away from this Assembly, but I also recognize that many others may not be able to understand what I was able to see in that room and how I could sense the movement of the spirit. I was in the room and others weren’t. It was a great privilege to be there and part of it. It is also a great responsibility. Others, who were not in the room, may not understand because what happened wasn’t just about words. I know that it is my job now as a commissioner to tell the story of what it was like to be in the room where it happened. I guess it is every commissioner’s job. I know that not every commissioner experienced it as I did, but I pray that they do tell their story and that we all better understand what happened in the room. I do believe that God was there and that the Holy Spirit was at work. I am very grateful to have been in the room where it happened.