Presbyterian Church in America

Recap: The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 222nd General Assembly

by Alex Patchin McNeill

The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster as tragic news comes in from every corner of our world. We have watched in horror as the European Union has been divided, as bombs have killed hundreds in holy sites, as a man with a gun slaughtered our kinfolk at a gay bar, as Black lives have been killed by those called to serve and protect, as a shooter targeted police during a peaceful protest, and as our election cycle further polarizes our nation.

We have wept, raged, prayed, comforted one another, marched in the streets, and committed to work to dismantle systems of oppression that create the conditions for these acts of violence. Wherever you are, know that we are holding you in our hearts as you grieve and work for justice.

When the world seems lost, all we know to do is work for more light to shine forth in this world. 

Indeed, the past few weeks have also been an incredible witness to More Light Presbyterian (MLP)’s work of abundant inclusion. In late June, we attended an incredibly the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 222nd General Assembly in Portland, Oregon.

In so many ways, this was an incredible convening. The election of Revs. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston to serve for the next two years as the PC(USA)’s first team of co-moderators, the election of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson to serve as the Stated Clerk, and the final passage of the Belhar Confession, are indications of a church body willing to support prophetic leadership and a bold call to serve a God of justice.

For what felt like the first time, the debates at General Assembly were not about whether LGBTQ people could be full members and ministers in the PC(USA).

In many ways the conversation was how to include everyone in the work of being church together. 

I’ll never forget when a commissioner on the Social Justice committee made a motion to “add queer and questioning” to an overture that was being discussed. The motion to add queer and questioning passed nearly unanimously. The other observers of the committee and I looked around at each other with wide eyes as if to say, “Wow did that just happen without any push back?” Yes, yes it did.

Additionally the General Assembly plenary approved overtures calling for an end to conversion therapy, for churches to better equip themselves to serve those living with HIV/AIDS, and an overture directing agencies of the PC(USA) “to identify and oppose legislation that discriminates on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and to identify and encourage legislation to accomplish the above goals in the United States and U.S. territories, giving attention to the strategies enumerated in the report.”

Our hope is that this overture is a significant step forward in giving the Office of Public Witness the ability to advocate for legislation impacting LGBTQ people in the US and internationally.

Though the GA did not elect to issue a formal apology given the language of overture 11-05, we believe the actions of the assembly proved that there is yet more work to be done to further LGBTQ inclusion in the church, and to work for legislative and social change in our wider communities and world. You can read more about our statements on each of these overtures here.

The energy and enthusiasm for inclusion was also palpable on the floor of the exhibit hall. 

More Light’s booth was abuzz with commissioners, advisory delegates, and observers eager to gather resources, engage in conversation, or adorn themselves in More Light gear to demonstrate their welcome.

Our More Light Sunday service at General Assembly this year built on the theme of GA222 “hope in our calling.” We hosted the first ever More Light service in conjunction with a local congregation, and the first service ever to coincide with Pride Sunday.

While we celebrated pride, we also mourned the tragedy in Orlando in a moving vigil at the conclusion of our worship service. More Light board member Ashley Birt, Rev. J.C. Cadwallader, and Rev. Tara Wilkins each preached a brief sermon on where they saw hope in our calling, and MLP Program and Organizing Manager, Joey Lopez and MLP co-moderator Annanda Barclay led us in the vigil for Orlando.

The More Light dinner and first ever screening of the Out of Order documentary was a smash hit. 

The event was attended by a crowd of 150 people. Following the screening, over 40 churches, Universities and seminaries have submitted requests to screen the film from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nashville, to New York City. If you are considering a screening be sure to sign up here. Given the backlash of laws seeking to restrict LGBTQ lives and the continued violence against our communities, the film is a timely and relevant portrayal of faith, courage, and love.

Our More Light Educational Luncheon celebrated the 25th anniversary of the 1991 Sexuality Report “Keeping Body and Soul Together.” Two of the original report authors, Sylvia Thorson-Smith and Marvin Ellison were on hand to discuss the context for the report as well as the swift and immediate backlash.

MLP co-moderator, Annanda Barclay led a discussion on the continued relevance of the report right now as well as areas to further our work on sexuality and justice in the future, particularly in the context of the Orlando shooting and justice for black and brown bodies via Black Lives Matter. It was a powerful conversation that received rave reviews from the Presbyterian Layman, “MLP Says It Has Crumbled the Foundation of the Scriptural Understanding of Sexuality and Marriage.”

Who knew we had such power!

Though GA 222 is officially a wrap, we know that the work for justice and inclusion is far from over. We are so grateful for all of the ways in which our community has supported our ministry and mission in the world!

Photo by Alex Patchin McNeill