|. .Weekly Newsletter. .|
August 31, 2014
Hold that Thought…
I have intentionally waited until now to offer a pastoral response to our recent General Assembly meeting. The Assembly, with some 625 voting commissioners nationally, meets every two years to do business on behalf of our denomination. While this representative process is always fair, we are free to agree or disagree with decisions that are made. Most of what the Assembly does is positive and productive. Occasionally the assembly voices opinions that might not be our own. Much of the time the media misses the main points.
My response comes now for several reasons. First, what I said prior to the convention is still true today—“Nothing the Assembly does this year will prevent us from being faithful to our calling here at First Presbyterian.” Secondly, in no way is it necessary to over-react to items that come from this Assembly. As we continue to process them carefully, it is clear that the sky is not falling. Finally, I share these thoughts only after Gary Pell, an elder from our church and a commissioner to Detroit, has reported his personal experience. We have also had the honor to hear from Dr. Heath Rada, elected as the Moderator of the General Assembly. Heath spoke recently in worship here, expressing gratitude for the ministry of our membership. We are now better able to share a couple of comments.
For the last 10-12 years, many of us have seen a trend that continues. The Assembly in recent meetings has moved more from national to local authority. The obvious example is a proposed change to the Book of Order (our manual of operations) on the definition of marriage. New language, if passed by a majority of presbyteries over the next year, would describe marriage as “a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and to support each other for the rest of their lives.”
Please note that potential same-gender marriages could take place only in states where it is legal (SC is currently not one of the 19), with approval of the local Session, and the consent of the minister. Performing same-gender marriages would be permissible but in no way required. The reality is that we may have less control over how other parts of the country might decide, but we have total control over our own decisions. That, I believe, is a good thing.
Finally, I hope that the Assembly has learned that it is not helpful to make decisions on controversial issues of a political nature. This time the obvious example is the divestment in companies that provide construction materials to Israel. While decided by just a few votes, the intention was to speak a word of social justice (holding all parties accountable for their actions). The result, in my opinion, had a negative effect for our denomination.
Keeping the Assembly in proper perspective is important. As Gary Pell said to the Session, and Heath Rada said to our congregation, our focus should always be on the mission we have been given to serve Christ in this community. Let nothing distract us from this highest calling! Peace,
Dr. John C. Brearley
Dr. John C. BrearleyDr.