Sunday, July 11, 2010

Welcome to MLP's 219th General Assembly Site

The 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) met from Friday, July 2 to Saturday, July 10 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This site was active during the General Assembly and documents the advocacy work of More Light Presbyterians.

The Plenary. Photo by Danny Bolin at the Presbyterian News Service
Media Coverage
Key Topics

Saturday, July 10, 2010

GLAAD at the 219th General Assembly

More Light Presbyterians (MLP) had the privilege of working with Ann Craig, GLAAD's Director of Religion, Faith and Values during General Assembly. Ann worked with us on messaging, press releases and media contacts. In addition to all Ann's work with MLP, she posted two entries about General Assembly to GLAAD's blog:

Presbyterians Vote for Ordination Equality; Vote to Study Marriage, GLAAD
A demonstration and press conference by leaders from Soulforce, More Light Presbyterians and That All May Freely Serve celebrated the progress made at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and urged commissioners to vote for full equality.
Presbyterians Move Toward LGBT Equality, GLAAD
LGBT leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA) are very hopeful that Presbyterian commissioners to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have set a trend for more inclusion as they worked in committees on the first two full days of a full week of meetings, in Minneapolis that will close on July 10.
To learn more about Ann's work, visit her archive on GLAAD's blog.

Encouraging All Presbyterians to Know their HIV Status

The Presbyterian News Service reports that Overture 19-05, Becoming an HIV and AIDS Competent Church: Prophetic Witness and Compassionate Action, passed late on Friday night. Overture 19-02, On Encouraging all Presbyterians to Know Their HIV Status, was answered by 19-05.
The report of the Assembly Committee on Health Issues closed out a long evening of business on Friday at the 219th General Assembly (2010).

Among the items approved by the Assembly was an overture encouraging all Presbyterians, especially pastors and church leaders, to be tested for HIV to help eliminate the stigma associated with such testing.

A theological student advisory delegate polled the Assembly with a show of hands to see who had been tested at this Assembly. After seeing the lack of raised hands, he said, “I see why this amendment is needed.”

The Assembly approved a floor amendment encouraging the PC(USA) to develop educational materials to discourage discrimination of HIV+ individuals as well as adding “Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C” wherever HIV and AIDS appear in the overture’s text.

Also approved was a second HIV/AIDS-related overture that directs the Stated Clerk to send a letter to the President of the United States and the governors of all 50 states to implement HIV testing and prevention awareness in prisons and correctional facilities.

Post General Assembly Pastoral Letter from the Moderator and Stated Clerk

Elder Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator, 219th General Assembly and The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly have issued the post General Assembly pastoral letter to Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations. Included in the letter are two FAQ documents on civil unions and marriage and on ordination standards:

Extending Benefits to Same-Gender Spouses; Marriage

Here are the Presbyterian News Service articles on the General Assembly votes to direct the Board of Pensions to extend benefits to same-gender spouses and domestic partners and the marriage votes (photo by Danny Bolin).

Assembly approves benefits for same-gender households, Presbyterian News Service
The 219th General Assembly (2010) today urged the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Board of Pensions (BOP) to extend equal spousal and dependent benefits to same-gender domestic partners as it does to married plan members...

Many supporters agreed with Kati Chan, a Young Adult Advisory Delegate from San Francisco Presbytery, that extending benefits to same-gender households “is a matter of social and financial equality. … We have advocated equality for years. Why not practice it with those in our own churches?”

Opponents argued against the proposal on theological and financial grounds.
The Rev. Harry Hughes of New Castle Presbytery said approval of same-gender benefits “would validate same-sex relationships in violation of church policy and Scripture,” adding that the measure would “increase the level of conflict and division” in the PC(USA).

To address concerns that the added benefit would create a moral dilemma for some church employers, the resolution includes a provision urging the BOP to create a “relief of conscience” fund to segregate dues of employers who are conscientiously opposed to same-gender benefits. The board has a similar provision for employers who object to their dues being used to pay for abortion procedures.

Noting that the measure would raise BOP dues to 32.5 percent of effective salary, the Rev. Faith Jongewaard of Mission Presbytery said, “I’m in a church of 725 members and we could probably afford this, but a lot of small churches can’t, so this is also a justice issue for them.”

Commissioners seemed persuaded by arguments like that of the Rev. John Vest of Chicago Presbytery. “This is not about [gay] ordination or marriage,” he said. “It’s about employers who don’t give and employees who don’t get the same benefits.”

By a voice vote, the Assembly rejected a commissioners’ resolution that would have banned abortion as a covered BOP benefit. Andrew Browne, the board’s corporate secretary, said $11,000 out of $106 million in medical benefit payments last year went for abortions.
The 219th General Assembly maintains current definition of marriage, Presbyterian News Service
The 219th General Assembly (2010) voted Thursday night to maintain the current definition of marriage — between a man and a woman — in its Constitution.

Just prior to the Assembly’s action, the body accepted the recommendation of the General Assembly Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee to approve the report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage by a vote of 439-208. The Assembly decided to send both the special committee report and the minority report generated by three members of the special committee to the larger church for study after a motion to replace the final report with the minority report was defeated, 358-311.

Following that action was a parliamentary maneuver that resulted in the Assembly voting to let the approval of the special committee report “answer all pending items” on the remaining Assembly committee’s list of overtures that included changing the definition of marriage to “two people,” giving pastors and sessions discretion in deciding who may marry and whether they may use church property for the ceremony.

The vote was 348-324, with six commissioners abstaining.

Audible gasps were heard on the floor of the Assembly, and many commissioners and observers burst into applause as the result of the close vote (51%-49%) flashed on overhead screens at the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

The overtures, which were never considered by the full Assembly, had passed the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues by approximately 2-to-1 margins.

The Rev. Ryan Balsan of New Brunswick Presbytery, who moved that the study should answer the overtures, said he did not want those overtures to prejudice the study process.

“The church was not yet ready to make a decision,” said 219th General Assembly Moderator Cindy Bolbach during a press conference following adjournment. “This kind of thing happens at every assembly.”

While many people will see the vote simply as winning or losing — “that’s human nature,” the Moderator said — Bolbach said more helpful thinking involves “trying to figure out where God is leading the church. Women’s ordination took us years and years to decide.”

At the same event, the Rev. Rick Nutt, moderator of the Assembly committee, said that “it would have been interesting” to discuss the overtures on the Assembly floor, “but the will of the Assembly is to pursue those issues in conversation,” meaning allowing churches and presbyteries to study the two reports.

Acknowledging the complexity of the decision to send both reports to the church-at-large, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly the Rev. Gradye Parsons said, “We’re going to have to draft a pretty good cover letter.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

MLP General Assembly Legislative Summary, July 9

A motion to reconsider last nights General Assembly marriage vote was defeated by 275 to 407. The General Assembly had voted to make Overture 12-12, The Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage to the 219th General Assembly (2010) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the answer to all marriage overtures from Committee 12. This had ended discussion of all other pro-LGBT overtures.

Watch General Assembly Footage

Overture 18-06 On Directing the Board of Pensions to Extend Benefits to Same-Gender Spouses and Domestic Partners passed by 366 to 287 with 9 abstentions. The minority report failed by 295 to 379 with 9 abstentions.

Watch General Assembly Footage

Overture 19-05, Becoming an HIV and AIDS Competent Church: Prophetic Witness and Compassionate Action, passed by consensus. Overture 19-02, On Encouraging all Presbyterians to Know Their HIV Status, was answered by 19-05.

Watch General Assembly Footage

Marriage Equality at the 219th General Assembly...and what's next?

By Michael Adee

Yesterday was a day of mixed experiences and mixed emotions. We rejoiced with the extraordinary pro-LGBT vote approving by 53 to 46% a "Revise-B" Ordination Overture. This vote advances the moral equality of LGBT persons in both Church and society within the USA and around the world. There are Presbyterians in over 100 countries. So, creating one standard for ordination for all persons regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or any other human condition in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is remarkable statement for justice and equality.

Historic levels of support for Ordination Equality during the 2008-2009 Ordination Amendment 08-B Campaign offer hope and encouragement. We look forward to the life-giving and liberating conversations and work of a national ratification campaign to ensure passage of this overture. Everyone participating in this national grassroots ratification campaign will ensure its passage.

Late in the night after a drawn-out discussion of the Civil Union & Marriage Task Force's report commending the PCUSA to study marriage, the Assembly voted narrowly to have all of the other marriage overtures "answered" by the vote to study. This was a painful moment for those of us at the Assembly and I can only imagine how painful it was to see this happen via live-streaming.

This vote was certainly a disappointing response by not even bringing to the floor for discussion:  (1.)  the reality of faithful, same-gender loving relationships in our Church, (2.) the reality of legal same-sex civil marriages in states where Presbyterian pastors serve and the Authoritative Interpretation offering pastoral discretion to perform civil marriages in states where they are legal, and (3.) widening the Church's understanding of marriage to "two persons" in a faithful, loving relationship rather than the restriction of marriage between "a man and woman."

This morning there is work being done to encourage a reconsideration of last night's vote on marriage to bring to the floor the work of Committee 12. Please join us in praying that this will happen. "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied" signs and "Reconsider 12" were held by Soulforce, TAMFS and MLP supporters around the Assembly Hall.

Last night after the vote, Sylvia Thorson-Smith, Presbyterian Voices for Justice, and Elder, St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, Tucson, AZ, a More Light church, reminded us that:  "It is important to remember that marriage equality, widening the understanding of love and marriage to include same sex couples, and challenging the definition of marriage from "a man and woman" is new to our denomination." 

Marriage equality was introduced to our General Assembly only 2 years ago. At the 218th General Assembly in 2008, there was one marriage equality overture from Baltimore Presbytery with a concurrence from Hudson River Presbytery. In 2010, historic levels of support for marriage equality were achieved with 14 Overtures and concurrences sent to this Assembly.

The Overture Advocates for Marriage Equality offered powerful and inspiring teaching on marriage, testimonies before Committee 12 were remarkable. We know what happens when Presbyterians have a chance to actually meet and hear the faith and love stories from LGBT persons, our families and allies --- a change of hearts, minds and votes happens --- as was the case when Committee 12 approved by a large margin the "Marriage AI" and the "Expand W-4" characterization of marriage to two persons.

So, we hope and pray that the Assembly will reconsider Committee 12 today. No matter what, we have our "marching orders" as Rev. Janet Edwards, Co-Moderator, MLP, reminded the group of activists, Commissioners and delegates last night in the MLP hospitality suite. Those marching orders are to get the conversation moving and educational resources on marriage equality in all 173 presbyteries.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) does not have the final word on the goodness of God's creation including God's LGBT daughters and sons. God does.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) does not have the final word on the goodness of Love and the sacred gift of sexuality and companionship,  God does.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) does not have the final word on Love and marriage, God does.

We have plenty of faith and love stories to celebrate and share with our Church. So, may all of us share those faith and love stories with our families and local congregations. Start now to create opportunities in your presbytery to do what the 219th General Assembly has said -- study marriage. Let all of us be good stewards of this opportunity.

with hope and grace,

PS -- a great 2-page marriage equality educational resource for you right now:  "More Light on Marriage" -