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Summary of GA activities

July 9, 2014 by  
Filed under PCUSA

The first following article is a press release issued by Ruth Santana-Grace, exective presbyter of Philadelphia Presbytery summarizing some of the controversial events at the recently completed general assembly. The second article is from Presbyterian Mission and addresses additional items covered at GA.

From Ruth Santana-Grace


On Saturday, June 21, 2014 the 221st General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) adjourned in Detroit, Michigan. With its conclusion, this gathering of the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States once again demonstrated its distinct practice of community discernment and decision-making.

The American roots of this practice go back to the first GA held here in Philadelphia in 1789. Presbyterian process became not only a gift to the American Church, but also a model for the governance of the fledgling nation that was simultaneously being forged. Among the literally hundreds of actions taken at this year’s week-long Assembly, two issues have garnered significant media attention beyond the Church: the denomination’s stance on same-gender marriage and its investment practices in three US corporations doing business in the Middle East.

On Same-Gender Marriage

On June 19, 2014, the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA) approved a recommendation from its Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee that allows for pastoral discretion in performing same-gender marriages, where legal by state law. The action (known as an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of the denomination’s constitution, the Book of Order), passed by a vote of 371 to 238 (61%) and went into effect at the close of the Assembly on June 21, 2014. Although the action permits Presbyterian clergy (teaching elders) and congregations to participate in same-gender marriages, it does not require them to do so. A congregation’s governing body (the session) still has the right to decide what happens in their facilities.

In a separate action passed by a vote of 429 to 175 (71%), the General Assembly recommended a change in the language of the Book of Order describing “marriage” to read, in part: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives…” (Proposed amendment to Book of Order, W-4.9000)

In an effort to protect the conscience of all pastors, the Assembly also included in its recommendation that the following clause be added at the end of the appropriate Book of Order section related to marriage: “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”

The proposed changes to the Book of Order need to be ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries by June 21, 2015 in order for them to go into effect. The Assembly also took action intended to foster reconciliation within the Church regardless of the outcome of the ratification process.

The Presbytery of Philadelphia has a wide-range of theological diversity within its 130 congregations and is committed to its long-standing heritage of dialogue that proclaims our unity in Jesus Christ amongst the diversity of theological perspectives. We understand our willingness to speak, and to seek to hear, one another’s sense of God’s truth as a means of gaining a better understanding of God’s Word to us. We see ourselves not just as Reformed, but always being reformed, and our working to reconcile any issues that would jeopardize our unity in Christ is part of our ongoing reformation.

On Middle East Issues

By a narrow margin of 310 to 303, the General Assembly approved an overture calling for divestment from three United States companies some allege are engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in the Middle East: Caterpillar, Inc., Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.

A similar overture failed by an even narrower margin of 333 to 331 at the 220th Assembly in 2012. It is noteworthy that this year’s Assembly in Detroit also affirmed Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, the PC(USA)’s commitment to a two-state solution, and continued interfaith dialogue.

The Presbytery of Philadelphia has had a history of engaging brothers and sisters of all faith traditions and will continue to honor that heritage of dialogue. We are committed to on-going interfaith dialogue with both Jewish and Islamic brothers and sisters in the area. Even as we celebrate our Reformed tradition’s practice of communal discernment, we recognize that God’s revelation continues to be made known to us as we seek to be faithful in engaging one another in our discerning.”


From Presbyterian Mission:


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