2020 General Assembly Report: Day Three
A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
Saturday, June 27, 2020
YES to dismantling structural racism. YES to eradicating systemic poverty.
These are two of the three foci of the Matthew 25 Initiative that has been promoted over the past year by the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and was adopted earlier this year by Pittsburgh Presbytery, which urges all of our congregations to adopt it for themselves.
By an 85% majority the 224th General Assembly yesterday voted YES to call the church to undertake specific actions directed toward these priorities.
All deadlines for introducing business to the Assembly were long past when our nation was shocked by video of the agonizing slaying of George Floyd, which unleashed a torrent of protests against systemic racism that continue to roll across our country. (In this vein, please note that a silent interfaith prayer vigil for Black Lives, sponsored in part by our nearby congregations, is scheduled in Oakland for Wednesday July 1, noon through 1 p.m., along Fifth Avenue between Robinson St. and Bellefield Ave. All are invited to participate in this witness for racial justice.)
Even though it was too late for overtures to the GA, the Office of the General Assembly prepared for GA’s consideration a brief resolution in response to this new wave of racial justice advocacy, “On the Church in this Moment in History.” Commissioners worked hard to add specific challenges calling the church to rise up in addressing structural racism and systemic poverty along several fronts:
- Repenting of our complicity in structural racism, praying for spiritual renewal, and devoting fresh commitment to the Great Ends of the Church
- Raising our commitment to existing programs fighting structural racism and systemic poverty, specifically Hands and Feet, Poor People’s Campaign, and Freedom Rising, an initiative born in Pittsburgh Presbytery and adopted nationally by GA in 2016
- Call congregations, presbyteries, and synods to study and respond to proposals for racial justice action that had been prepared for this GA, but were referred to the 2022 GA
- Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force Report
- Special Committee on Racism, Truth, and Reconciliation Progress Report
- Lazarus is Walking in Baltimore
- A Resolution Addressing the Lack of Installed Pastoral Leadership in People of Color Congregations
- Recommendation for all congregations, mid councils, and GA entities to develop an antiracism policy with suggested training
The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak likewise arose after the deadline for GA overtures had passed, yet this GA had to find a way to address it. Our own commissioner Mark Roth brought to the committee on business referral a resolution “On Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” It was adopted yesterday by the Assembly, with expanded references to classes of vulnerable people who have been especially affected and marginalized by the pandemic. The resolution invites us to mourn with those who have suffered loss, shelter the vulnerable among us, thank those who have been on the front lines of fighting this disease, often to their own great peril, and meet the challenges of this season by renewing our commitment to the church’s Great Ends of the Church. It calls the church to set aside Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2020 as a day of prayer for responding to the social justice, economic, and spiritual challenges we are facing due to this pandemic.
Day Three of the 2020 online General Assembly had begun with a worship service prepared and led by the Presbytery of Baltimore, which had been planning to host the assembly before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The first order of business was a motion to reconsider the final action of Day Two, in which the Assembly decided which business originally slated for this Assembly would be referred to the 2022 GA. Several commissioners wanted to advocate for particular items to be removed from the referral list and considered now. The Assembly voted not to reconsider, thereby disappointing those who were passionate over these matters. But in addressing the issues raised by the two resolutions listed above, this Assembly was able to engage some of the most pressing issues being addressed by actions that have been referred to the 2022 GA.
The session was extended well beyond its docketed time, primarily due to the robust conversation around addressing racism and poverty. Parliamentary procedure takes time to negotiate; it can feel unwieldy, but it served its purpose well as it permitted the final action to be shaped by the concerns of those who brought them forward. And our new Co-Moderators did a marvelous job helping the Assembly navigate those tricky waters.
By day’s end, the Assembly had accomplished much for the sake of the Gospel, thanks be to God!