The Presbyterian Church (USA) officially begins its General Assembly 2016 today in Portland, Oregon. During the coming week, representatives from the 1.57-million member denomination will discuss several noteworthy and controversial issues, including anti-Israeli divestment, repentance for contributing to climate change, integrating pacifism into church theology, and taking early steps toward repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
Delegates and church officials “from all 171 PC(USA) presbyteries, along with other participants and observers from around the world,” will gather together at the biannual conference June 18–June 25 to deal with these hot topics, according to the Office of the General Assembly.
Former IRD Vice President Alan Wisdom recently detailed the upcoming “onslaught” of anti-Israel legislation at General Assembly. Indeed, Wisdom notes that only one resolution about the Middle East entails “anything besides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
“Of the six items currently before the assembly’s Middle East Issues Committee, five aim harsh criticisms at Israel,” Wisdom wrote for The Layman. “The other one gently raises concerns about threats to Middle Eastern Christians from unnamed ‘religiously based’ actors in the region.”
Multiple anti-Israel resolutions propose divesting from companies doing business in the Jewish state. One specifically calls the PC(USA) to prayerfully consider “boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel.”
At least five resolutions at General Assembly deal with climate change or fossil fuels. Each advocates for greater church-wide activism to decrease humans’ carbon emissions and thereby alleviate global warming. They each call for some combination of lobbying governmental bodies or substantially decreasing the denomination’s fossil fuel investments.
Four out of these five resolutions explicitly turn the issue of climate change into a spiritual issue. One resolution even calls for repentance and says that climate activism stems from God-given commands:
Proclaim that we are called to repent from our inadequate stewardship of God’s creation; recognize the Gospel’s call and the moral mandate for humanity to shift to a long-term sustainable energy regime in ways that are both just and compassionate; and acknowledge that this mandate compels us to action as a denomination to implement strategies and actions that directly engage climate change and that offer a realistic prospect of changing the behaviors that are at the root of the issue.
Another resolution before the General Assembly is a motion to address the “perceived limits of Just War thinking” by also incorporating “Christian pacifism” and “Just Peacemaking” into church dogma. The resolution calls on Christians to learn from “nonviolent struggles,” to take America back “from the practices of empire,” and to promote a “domination-free order.”
Finally, a resolution calls on the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) to begin the “process of review of the Doctrine of Discovery” and to create a report for General Assembly 2020. The review process will include detailing the actions of other groups which have chosen to “repudiate” the doctrine. This process would also involve “contacting Native American tribes and individuals in order to understand how this doctrine impacts them.”
As IRD contributor Derryck Green described it, “The Doctrine of Discovery is a series of papal decrees that gave Christian explorers the right to lay claim to any land that was ‘discovered’ — land that wasn’t inhabited by Christians — for the purpose of expanding territory controlled by Christian kings.”
A recent champion of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery has been Native-American activist Mark Charles. He has spoken about the issue at Christian colleges, conferences, and church bodies across the country. Earlier this month, Charles gave the opening keynote at the Justice Conference, a major social justice event targeted at young Evangelicals. He alleged that the Declaration of Independence was a “systemically racist” document. He also told his audience: “Everything you own is stolen.”
In addition to political petitions, plenty of other activity will be occurring at General Assembly. “The GA is full of activities: business sessions, committee meetings, an exhibit hall, daily worship services, and mission tours sponsored by the Committee on Local Arrangements,” the PC(USA) stated online.