Final Blog from GA

I just have to say, the singing is amazing (not mine of course). Over 800 people singing makes a very, very powerful sound!

From the Mid Council Commission II Committee, an overture was passed to “Direct that a new configuration of synod boundaries be established [based on an emerging sense of purpose, partnership, context, and call through a collaborative process between the synods and presbyteries resulting in no more than ten to twelve synods. The synods will report to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).”

The language used in the overture was “To recommend to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) the boundary changes necessary to achieve a total of no more than 10-12 synods, if there remain synods and presbyteries that have been unable or unwilling to engage in a collaborative process of reconfiguration.”

The most anticipated issue for the day was an overture from Middle East Issues calling for the divestment of Presbyterian Foundation and Presbyterian Board of Pension investments to be divested from three corporations (Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, Inc.and Motorola Solutions) “and not to reinvest in these companies until the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) Committee of the PC(USA) is fully satisfied that product sales and services by these companies are no longer in conflict with our church investment policy. This action on divestment does not mean an alignment with the overall strategy of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”

This is a very complex issue! The reference to ‘our church investment policy’ concerns companies that are making a profit in in situations that are non-peaceful, in this case in the midst of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The major controversy surrounds the perception that by divesting from these companies we appear, to some, to be divesting from Israel itself and, therefore, appear to be siding with Palestine in the conflict. That perception is exacerbated by the global BDS movement, which is aimed directly at divesting from companies doing business with Israel.

Divestment from Israel is not the intent of the overture, but sometimes perception prevails. Having heard from many Jewish ecumenical partners, the perception of divestment of Israel seems to be prevailing among them.

The other side of the argument is that more often than not, it is only when economic pressure is applied that progress for peace is made. The Palestinians have made a commitment to non-violent means to accomplish this peace, and what they are asking us to do is hardly heroic – stop supporting companies who are allowing their product to oppress us and destroy our homes.

That’s a simplified summary of the issue, as the debate (including amendments, minority reports, and more amendments) lasted for over three hours in the Plenary session. Many had strong feelings on the issue, and many had conflicted feelings on it. It was closest vote on any overture at GA this year. It passed 310 in favor, 303 against.

This will be my final blog from GA, due to an early morning of meetings, and then I will be traveling home. Yay! This has been an invaluable experience of meeting new friends, seeing how our highest church governing body works, and learning about the things that presbyterians care deeply about. It has been an opportunity to become aware of and informed about the ministries and mission of our denomination. I understand why people who have served as Commissioners to GA continue to attend subsequent GA meetings as observers. You will experience the passion of the church and the Spirit of God here. Passion and Spirit will catch you off guard, overwhelm you and deepen your faith in this divine/human institution called the church. It has been a privilege!

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