Some Perspective on the 220th PCUSA General Assembly

The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is written in the Book of Life. I was present in a far different way than I envisioned, as my husband’s sudden health problems and multiple surgeries meant resignation as a commissioner (he is recovering nicely—THANKS for your prayers!). However, since GA was in my hometown, I was able to attend some committee meetings and the events held by More Light Presbyterians. I also watched the assembly on its live internet streaming, particularly when it took up the recommendations of the Civil Union and Marriage Committee.

The votes on the competing actions over marriage give us considerable food for thought. When the various actions came before a committee of elders–pastors and congregational leaders—these folks voted in favor of expanding our recognition of marriage to include same-sex couples. However, when this measure to expand the church’s recognition of marriage went to the full assembly, it failed by only 30 out of almost 700 votes—48% to 52%. Though disheartening overall, it lifted my spirits to witness the future of our church: The vast majority of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates and Theological Seminary Advisory Delegates voted in favor of the measure.

The debates preceding all these votes were both predictable and amazing. It was the first time that the PCUSA General Assembly discussed the possibility of including same-sex couples within the church’s understanding of marriage. Of course, the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the eyes of God and in the church has been debated for a whole generation. Many of the very familiar arguments against LGBT people, based on reading the Bible in a certain way, were raised again. On the other hand, one commissioner after another spoke in favor of the PCUSA recognizing the fruits of the Holy Spirit manifest in LGBT people, and God’s clear blessing upon LGBT couples and their families that is the heart of marriage. Courageous church leaders came out as gay or shared that they have presided at marriages of two men or two women and will continue to offer that pastoral care to LGBT couples.

A story told by Rev. Katie Ricks, the first out lesbian to be ordained as a minister after the PCUSA began allowing the ordination of LGBT members, in her sermon at the More Light Presbyterians worship service, captured the destination that is now appearing over the horizon for the church and society. She spoke of how the recent practice of the assembly organizers is to place the booths of groups with opposing viewpoints in the same area of the exhibition hall. This year they were put directly facing one another along one row—for instance, the More Light Presbyterians’ booth was facing Presbyterians Pro-Life. Of course, each booth had materials, trinkets and some kind of candy for folks to take and enjoy.

Katie described for us how she and her 5-year-old daughter walked down that aisle, taking a few pieces of candy from the different booths. “You just have to ask my daughter to know that the candy is equally good on both sides,” Katie said to a roomful of smiles and laughter.

My takeaway from Katie’s wonderful story was this: We are catching up with the Truth that God sees all of us as equally sweet children, adopted through the Grace of Jesus Christ. We are grasping that the heart of marriage is the love and commitment between the partners, the covenant made before our loving God and loving witnesses among whom is the church.

Where we are going is as clear as it has ever been, as is, also, how we are going to get there. We are on a rough road. While voting down any action this year, the 220th General Assembly did exactly what the 219th General Assembly did in 2010: It asked the whole church to study the nature of marriage until the next assembly in 2014. Some of the comments condemning LGBT people in the debate give a measure of what will be said by some in this study. And the backlash against Rev. Tara Spuhler McCabe when she was standing for, and then elected as, Vice-Moderator of the assembly, indicate what kinds of things some church people say. Moderator Neal Presa called it “Pernicious poison.”

I got a slight whiff of it the week after the assembly when I received in the mail two plain white letters, both neatly addressed, one hand printed, the other in cursive writing, without return addresses. One was unsigned, but it did say he or she was praying for me…and also condemned me to hell for what I say. The other was signed, “Satin”—I think we can assume the writer meant Satan for it spoke as if it was delivered from hell and that “Satin” anticipated greeting me there.

I so wish the writer had signed a name and given me a way to write back. The assembly asked us in the PCUSA to join in “prayerful and reconnecting ways of listening to one another.” Yes. This is what usually happens in the committees of the General Assembly of the PCUSA every two years. This is why assemblies so often act in such spirit-filled, surprising ways. Statements that are a one-way street like these letters to me can not participate in that kind of prayerful, inspiring interaction.

I hope the writer of these letters sees this and accepts my invitation to actually engage in a conversation. Thousands of earnest conversations have brought the church to this moment and will carry us to the destination of God’s love we can see now down the road. The 220th General Assembly moved us a good way forward.

And forward is the only way to go.

Below is the full video of Katie’s sermon at the More Light Presbyterians worship service.

Rev. Katie Ricks, MLP Worship Service from More Light Presbyterians on Vimeo.

If you would like to watch more videos from the General Assembly, More Light Presbyterians has posted a number of them. You can find links to these videos below:

July 6 Plenary (Civil Unions & Marriage; Church Orders & Ministry):

July 4 Plenary (Confessions):

July 2 & 3 Committees

Rev. Tara Spuhler McCabe resignation

7 Responses
  • Donna on July 23, 2012

    You and I haven’t agreed on a number of things, Janet, but it’s quite a shame that folks who don’t agree with you don’t have the courage to do it directly. Cowardice covers their hate and fear of you. Take them for what they are and trash them.

    Aside from that, there is indeed a pernicious poison in the church, all churches, festering in the people who can’t accept GLBT people, which is one reason why I no longer attend any church.

    I see by your tweet above that you are campaigning for Obama. You know me…Would that Hillary were running…or that there were someone fiscally conservative and socially liberal running…and that the popular vote actually meant something. But I digress.

    Best wishes,


  • Janet Edwards on July 26, 2012

    Dear Donna,

    Oh, Donna, I am very glad you continue to join in the conversation here!

    You are right that there are many things you and disagree on but the reason we stay in faithful friendship is because we both believe that dialogue with those who differ from us is God’s will for us. Perhaps where you and I diverge is that I also choose not to “trash” anyone, though I can’t say I have ever seen you do that either.

    As I have heard from you many times, everyone is a child of God and has a gift to give. If I don’t see clearly what that gift may be or even if the other person has no desire to give me any gift except condemnation, it is still my responsibility to engage with love.

    That’s how I see it. I hope that conforms with what you know of me, though of course, I am far from perfect at this spiritual discipline.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on July 26, 2012

    Hi Janet,

    I’m chuckling because my “them” meant the letters and not the people. Oh boy… my aging eyes…

    One gift I know of that differences allow for is learning experiences…or learning to overcome fear of the unknown.

    It is the fear of the unknown that causes some people to reject GLBT people and those who support them. This is a big presumption to make but I think Non- GLBT people don’t realize that all sexuality/sexual orientations different from our own all require facing the unknown – it is the same for GLBT people as it is for Non-GLBT people. Some people don’t understand celibacy or asexuality, or people who sleep in separate bedrooms! Gay men and women laugh about their differences and when we fall into stereotypes – all appreciatively and I would say lovingly – because the differences are less important than the being.

    Well, there ya go…

    Best wishes, Janet.


  • Donna on July 26, 2012

    Hi Janet,

    Tried to post this before…trying again…

    I chuckled at the thought that my aging mind is presenting a problem…my “them” referred to the letters not the people, and so my meaning was to trash the letters not the people. Sorry about that…

    Differences…living with them means you learn from them, if all are in agreement in the final goal, which in this case is (or should be) unity in Christ and making the church be the best it can be.

    Best wishes,


  • Rev. Dr. Helene Loper on July 31, 2012

    Dear Janet,

    I too was there, and saw your pain as you were torn between the progress of the PC(USA) and your husband’s recovery from his surgeries. I also saw the deep division of the denomination over accepting Truth. My read is that the new strategy for denial or at least delay is to make same gender loving relationships a matter of confessional change, not just a matter of polity inclusion in the Book of Order. The process is much longer, and the voting standards higher, not to mention getting the Church to see that this is a necessary confessional (timely and prophetic) issue.
    It was wonderful to have Bishop Robinson also speak with us at MPL as a sign of hope amid this “holy confusion.” Then the next week the Episcopalians went on to approve transgender ordination and a liturgy for same gender relationship blessings/civil unions. I have read that new liturgy and it has much in it that I would envision for a “Witness to Covenanted Relationships” for Presbyterians and others in the Christian faith. Note consistency with the wording that was introduced back in the ’80s replacing funeral and memorial with “Witness to the Resurrection,” a title I have been pondering for a couple of months now. It is a liturgical option to deal with the dilemma of “marriage is between a man and a woman” as we seek a way to honor love in all relationships leaving people free to choose the liturgy that is appropriate to their vows and character of their relationship.
    Just a dreamer here… but then I never thought that my dream of ordination would be possible before my own retirement. God can and does make prophetic dreams come true. Thank you, Janet, for being a large part of that in your leadership over the years.

    Helene Loper

  • Cynde Delaina on January 10, 2014

    Once I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a remark is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Is there any means you may take away me from that service? Thanks!

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