General Assembly 2016

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Presbyterian Religious Liberty

June 30, 2016

PCUSA General Assembly 2016: Divestment, Pacifism, and Apologies

The Presbyterian Church (USA) wrapped up its biannual General Assembly last Saturday. Liberals largely got their way, passing numerous progressive resolutions. Delegates agreed to explore divestment from Israel, declared that a peaceful two-state Israel/Palestine solution was nearly “impossible,” affirmed Christian pacifism, and issued apologies to Native Americans and the LGBTQ community.

Perhaps the most extreme measures General Assembly adopted involved Israel. Delegates passed a resolution that stated that the PC(USA) should: “Prayerfully study the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel…”

This resolution was intended to discipline Israel for allegedly violating the human rights of Palestinians. It expanded on a resolution passed in 2014 requiring the PC(USA) to divest from companies supposedly profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. These companies included Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola Solutions.

Delegates at General Assembly also affirmed their “preference for a two-state solution,” a position which the denomination has held since 1982, but simultaneously recommended considering alternatives to achieve “a new political arrangement.” The assembly passed a statement that said:

Israel’s policy trajectory of continued settlements and brutal occupation is deeply troubling. Not only does it make a two-state solution increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, but the emerging, de facto single state’s systematic violation of Palestinian rights and democratic values is eroding Israel’s moral legitimacy.

These measures drew criticism from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). While glad that the PC(USA) was “supportive of Israel’s legitimacy,” ADL criticized the denomination’s move toward supporting BDS and for backing away from a diplomatic solution they traditionally supported.

“We are deeply disappointed with the Presbyterian Church’s decision to embrace motions which forward arguments in favor of a bi-national state and of the anti-Israel BDS campaign,” ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs Rabbi David Sandmel said in statement. “Any alternative to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would mean the demise of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a view that is offensive to millions of Israelis and Jews around the world.”

The Israel/Palestine conflict was not the only issue where the PC(USA) reneged on its traditional teachings at General Assembly. Delegates voted to dilute their support for the Christian concept of Just War in a resolution that heavily emphasized nonviolence. The PC(USA) now draws equally upon “the traditions of Just War, Christian pacifism, and Just Peacemaking” in its thinking.

The resolution stated the PC(USA) follows “Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Reconciler, and reclaim the power of nonviolent love evident in his life and teaching, his healings and reversals of evil, his cross and resurrection.” No distinction was made in the resolution itself between the ministry of Christ and the role of governments to promote justice.

The PC(USA) also offered what amounted to apologies at General Assembly to two groups: LGBTQ community and Native Americans. The text of the first resolution was heavily modified in committee. The committee commented that they believed it was “not time for an apology such as the one proposed…” While perhaps not explicitly an apology, it still included language that expressed the PC(USA)’s “deep sorrow” for harms done to LGBTQ members. The resolution included an official statement as follows:

Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA).  We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7]

In a separate resolution, the PC(USA) also apologized to Native Americans for “the pain and suffering that our church’s involvement in the Indian boarding school system has caused.” The resolution stated that Presbyterians imposed Western culture on Native Americans in “our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ,” and that Presbyterians were closed to the “value of your spirituality.”

“We know that many within our church will still not understand why each of us must bear the scar, the blame for this horrendous period in U.S. history,” the resolution also said. “But the truth is, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors, and therefore, we must also bear their burdens.”

Although the official text of the resolution did not include any mention of the Doctrine of Discovery, the rationale for this resolution made this connection: “European American peoples of the United States arrived in North America with an unquenchable thirst for land, claiming the Doctrine of Discovery as justification for the brutal conquest of indigenous lands and the destruction of native peoples.”

The leading proponent of Christians repenting from the Doctrine of Discovery is Native American activist Mark Charles from Washington, D.C. He has spoken recently at major Christian conferences including Urbana and the Justice Conference. Among his assertions is that that the Declaration of Independence is “systemically racist,” and that: “Everything you own is stolen.”

Another resolution at General Assembly originating in the Presbytery of National Capital called for a “comprehensive review of the history of the Doctrine of Discovery,” a process which would include “contacting Native American tribes and individuals” to better understand the doctrine. However, that resolution was superseded by the resolution apologizing to Native Americans.


12 Responses to PCUSA General Assembly 2016: Divestment, Pacifism, and Apologies

  1. Bob Johnson says:

    Year after year this denomination never disappoints in spending more time on fruitless causes of this world.

    Please congregants of faithful churches, vote to save yourself, your church from PC-USA. Move out of this denomination while you are still able!

    Thank you for writing this insightful article Mr. Rossell.

    • Geoff Browning says:

      And by leaving the denomination do you really believe that you will escape the issues of modernity?

      • Margie Balcos says:

        Leaving the denomination does not allow escape from the issues of modernity, but it allows you to follow your Biblical principles as the Word rightly lays it out. Being apart of a denomination that is going against the Word of God, well that is personal conviction question. Do you stay and try to be a voice crying out in the wilderness? or Do you go and “make disciples of all men”? I truly believe if you are prayerful and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, you will know exactly what you are supposed to do.

        • Geoff Browning says:

          But Margie, aren’t there all sorts of things that churches have split over that were later determined to seen in a different light? E.g. the Presbyterians split over slavery because the southern church was sure that having slaves was a biblical principle worth fighting for. And then there are all the issues around interracial marriage, women’s ordination, and divorce just to name a few. Each of these was viewed at the time to be a fundamental principle of the Bible that was worth splitting over. How can you say that this time it’s different? 90% of millennial age young adults think that Christians are arrogant and homophobic. I work with these young adults and they are right to be suspicious of Christians and our arrogance. God help us.

          • Margie Balcos says:

            Geoff,
            The splitting of the church is heartbreaking to God. Paul basically tells us to “major in the majors” and “minor in the minors”. One thing that is a constant force in dividing the church is what Jude said in verse 4 “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ” If you will indulge me a bit more…verse 17 “But you must remember beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these that cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” Geoff, we are a fallen people, we make mistakes. There is no doubt of that, but we have a God who has given us His will for our lives through the Scriptures.

            I believe it all comes back to what Timothy said in 2Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” In my life, when I am confused about what the world is saying, I lean hard into the Scriptures, but as Timothy rightly points out…to study the Word requires work. The greek definition for “rightly divide” is “to hold a straight course; doing right; to teach directly and correctly.” So if we are to rightly divide the Word of Truth, we have to approach it like a workman (i.e. a laborer, someone who labors) and interesting enough, in the original greek definition, the word “study” means to to exert one’s self, to endeavor, to give diligence. In order to do this, we must dig deeper into the Scripture. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance through laboring in the Scriptures and deep prayer, we as a church will be in God’s will and do the loving right thing.

            As for the millennials, I inner act with many of them and do think that your estimate of 90% is completely accurate. I believe there is a large number that distrust the Church, but that is of our own doing. We are saved, and yet we still sin. The youth have gotten away from studying the Word and trust what that read and see online. Or they simply trust the person on the pulpit. Not reading for themselves or taking time to question what they have heard. As for homophobic, I truly am not. I am a Christian and the God I serve calls me to love. It is that love that can open doors for Jesus. While I believe what the Scriptures say in that the lifestyle of homosexuality is sin, I love and have great compassion for those who are struggling in that life, just as I love and have great compassion for those struggling in addictions. I am not perfect by any means and I have struggles in my life that I am asking the Lord to help me overcome. It is my hope to reflect Jesus in each and every situation. And when I fail, His grace is sufficient for me. i think that is what the millennials have a hard time grasping. God’s Grace. This is what should be shared as it is a free gift for all of us.
            I would strongly encourage you to have those millennials that have that view point on Christians, to seek out the Scriptures. Knowing who God is, does not necessarily mean you know God. You get to know God by reading the Scriptures and learning about His character and attributes. Jesus came in the flesh to live as a man, giving us the perfect example of how to live. He went through all the temptations and struggles that we continue to face. Getting to know Jesus’ characteristics and attributes shows us the model of who we are to strive to be and who we should mirror. My purpose is reflect Jesus. I am a work in progress. Thank you for letting me respond in such a lengthly way.

          • Geoff Browning says:

            O my, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Your quoting of Paul and Jude are out of context and relative. By that I mean that every time one of these issues of social concern comes up, we pull out just those passages you refer to as if to say, all the others were less important, this is the real test. I notice that you didn’t address my questions about slavery, interracial marriage, women’s ordination, and let’s not forget divorce. Jesus didn’t say a single thing about homosexuality but he said quite a bit about divorce. Why don’t we split over that? And so it goes, those who have declared themselves pure are separating themselves from those they believe are unclean and splitting the Body of Christ once again. And that arrogance is hurting people. I have a young man in our fellowship who grew up in one of these churches where he was constantly told that his feelings were sinful, as if he decided to become a gay man. It has taken him years to come out and accept himself. And this is exactly why millennials see through the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with it. They aren’t going to read scripture when they see the church hurting people they care about.

          • Margie Balcos says:

            Geoff,
            By the tone of your reply, I feel as if I have offended you. I apologize if that is the case. I truly am just trying to show love and encouragement through my comments. When you asked about slavery, interracial marriages, divorce, and women’s ordination I was not understanding if you are asking what Scriptures say about each of those or why those issues have caused a split in the church. Would you please clarify for me and I will prayerfully respond. My heart does break for the young man in your church. Love comes first, and if he experienced the fullness of God’s love in his church, I believe the outcome would have been drastically better. That is the failure of man, as we are not perfect and are striving to finish the “race” well. My Grandfather was an amazing man that loved Jesus with his whole heart, but he did attend church in his last years because he felt there was not a true “church” out there. While I will concur that the world is suffering from this attitude, I will submit that the Church is not a building, a denomination, or a nation. The “Church” is simply those that have accepted the most amazing free gift of life through the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ and are trying to save the lost. It is my hope and why I encourage the millennials
            and all generations to find out for themselves. Do your own research…Don’t follow the world, follow God. Learn for themselves what God says about the issues and decide is this for them? I pray it is.
            The Scriptures were written for all and should at least be read. A judge does not base his or her judgement hearsay, they look at all the evidence. If I judged all millennials on a few it would not give the whole picture of who they are. I am hopeful that they would extend that logic to the “Church”. In my experience, some have and are blessed by it.
            I will wait for your clarification on the question of issues and respectfully respond. Again, Geoff, if I somehow offended you, my apologies and I hope you will forgive me.

  2. Gary Whiteman says:

    You can take this to the bank: A religion that apologizes for itself is dying, or already dead. When you’re doing the Acts version of Christianity, you talk about expansion, not groveling.

    • Geoff Browning says:

      So by that measure Gary, there would be no need for the Reformation since there was never anything to reform or apologize for, there would be no apology for child abuse in churches (Catholic and Protestant), there would be no acknowledgement of Christians’ role in the Holocaust or the Crusades. Why are you afraid of apologies?

      • Margie Balcos says:

        I think apologizing for what Scripture clearly teaches us is blasphemous, apologizing for hurting someone is not. I think that Gary is referencing the first point. The Bible is the Word of Truth and sometimes we feel that it not politically correct, when it is precisely correct. Granted, God’s Word came to us out of love and is filled with love and by His amazing grace we have the fullness of His Love in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, therefore we should do all things in “love”. Any apologies should be because we failed in that regard, not for the Truth of the Scriptures.

  3. Geoff Browning says:

    Joseph, I’m curious about your saying, “The Israel/Palestine conflict was not the only issue where the PC(USA) reneged on its traditional teachings at General Assembly.” Why do you use the word “reneged”? Are you one of those that believe that the past is always better than the present, that we never make mistakes? What does it mean to be part of the Reformed tradition if we are not willing to reconsider our actions and statements from the past?

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