The Covenant Network of Presbyterians celebrates the accomplishments of the 222nd General Assembly! Over and over, this Assembly advanced the cause of inclusion and unity, affirming LGBTQ people and moving us in concrete ways toward being a church as generous and just as God’s grace.
“This was an historic assembly on many levels, and we are proud to have been a part of making that history through our advocacy and organization,” said the Rev. Brian Ellison, executive director. “As the church finds its voice in a changing culture and society, we are pleased it is taking the lead in modeling justice and reconciliation and promoting those values within and beyond the church’s walls.”
Expressing regret for the past and hope for the future. By a 463-51 vote, the General Assembly voted to express regret for the ways LGBTQ people have been made by past church actions to feel they stand outside the grace of God, and challenged all Presbyterians to reflect upon, and repent of, the ways we have mistreated one another, and to seek reconciliation. The nine-point statement, refined in an Assembly committee and approved by a more than 90% vote in plenary, was supported by a broad cross-section of the Assembly that included openly LGBTQ commissioners and delegates and self-identified evangelicals.
Bearing witness for justice and healing in the world. The Assembly approved with near unanimity a strengthening of the church’s voice for human rights and against violence against sexual minorities, as well as a condemnation of so-called “conversion” or “reparative” therapies designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The Assembly disapproved a series of overtures from Foothills Presbytery that would have compromised the ability of the church to make bold social witness policy statements at future Assemblies. And with the briefest of debates, the Assembly defeated (with a 79% vote) an effort to undo the Book of Order language permitting same-gender marriage.
Becoming a more truly inclusive church. The public faces of the church’s leadership that emerged from this Assembly were the most diverse of the denomination’s history. The first Co-Moderators of the General Assembly are both women; the Rev. Jan Edmiston is white, and the Rev. Denise Anderson is African-American. The newly elected Stated Clerk of the General Assembly is the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, an African-American, and the interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Tony De La Rosa, who began his work in late 2015, is a married gay Latino man. We rejoice in these gifted and called leaders of the church, and at the opportunities their leadership offers for the future.
A new Confession for a new day. The Assembly gave final approval to adding the Confession of Belhar to church’s Constitution, enshrining its themes of unity, justice and reconciliation in the denomination’s central doctrinal affirmations. Emerging from the apartheid-era South African church, Belhar calls on the church to “stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged.” Having received approval of two Assemblies and more than two-thirds of all presbyteries, the addition takes place immediately, and we rejoice in the opportunity to lift up its emphasis on a church that reflects love and equality for all God’s children.
The Covenant Network hosted two of the Assembly’s largest events sponsored by organizations. The Covenant Network luncheon offered a panel of four church leaders of color who challenged and provoked more than 200 guests to consider race, equality and their own privilege, asking how we as a church will be able to model true inclusion in the years to come. And our annual commissioner convocation (this year featuring Portland’s famous Voodoo Doughnuts) gave commissioners a chance to meet one another and hear presentations on the work before the Assembly.
“This Assembly will long be remembered for the ways it moved us forward, while keeping the door open to dialogue and growth among those who may struggle with some of the denomination’s recent decisions,” Ellison said. “Capitalizing on the relationships forged and grown here, I’m excited for the ways the Covenant Network—and the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—will bear witness to love and truth in the years to come.”
The Rev. Randy Bush, Co-Moderator of the Board of Directors; pastor, East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Rev. Marci Auld Glass, Co-Moderator of the Board of Directors; pastor, Southminster Presbyterian Church, Boise, Ida.
The Rev. Brian Ellison, Executive Director
For more information on this Assembly and its actions, or about the work of the Covenant Network, contact Brian Ellison, executive director, at [email protected] or 816-605-1031. For more information online, or to make a donation to support our ongoing ministry, visit www.covnetpres.org.