Portland is the host for the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Assembly will meet at the Convention Center from June 18-24, 2016. This is a great opportunity to showcase the Pacific Northwest and the ministry of Southminster. It is also an opportunity to participate in and witness the work of the church at the national level.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is bold and intentional about addressing issues of social justice and in promoting the flourishing of humanity and all living things. It is at the level of the General Assembly, in particular, where Presbyterians (with order and ardor) learn, teach, debate, and struggle with the most pressing issues facing our world.
We might ask, “Who decides these issues and why are we meddling in politics anyway?”
To answer the second part of the question first, the reason we “meddle” is because meddlin’ is deeply rooted in our tradition. Amos, the country farmer, packs his bags and goes to the big city, the seat of power, and calls out the one-percenters. Why?
“because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals— they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way;” (Amos 2:6-7)
Jesus channels the spirit of Jeremiah (Jer. 7:11) as he overturns tables in the temple and declares, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’” (Matt. 21:13)
Not because he thinks we shouldn’t sell baked goods in church. This is an action, a demonstration by Jesus. He is calling out those who use the temple as religious sanction. Hiding behind their piety, they seek to excuse and even bless their greed and oppression of the weak.
We meddle because it is in our Judeo-Christian DNA. The Christian faith is an attitude, a posture, a way of being in the world that seeks goodness and resists evil and works for peace through justice.
Lest we fool ourselves into thinking “we” are meddling with “them” the harshest language in the tradition is from the prophets including Jesus to those within the covenant, who have said “Yes” to this way of being. The prophetic challenge faces a mirror as well as a window.
Yet even as we acknowledge our own complicity, that does not excuse us from speaking out. We seek what is just and speak what is just even as we speak to ourselves. But speak we must. The world is literally on fire.
Who decides these issues? Again, we hold up a mirror. Every action that goes to the General Assembly starts with an individual. Resolutions are drafted and go to sessions and presbyteries and to the national gathering after debate and refinement. It is not “pew-sitters” vs. “the bureaucrats in Louisville” or “us” vs. “them.” We are all in this together. Just because I might think something is “the Word of the Lord” that doesn’t make it so. We determine that provisionally, together, with humility, discussion, debate, reflection, ardor and order, in the sometimes quirky, but ultimately thoughtful and intentional “Presbyterian Way.”
There will be plenty of opportunities to volunteer at the General Assembly. More information on that will be forthcoming. We will host worship on June 19 for commissioners with a lunch to follow. I am thrilled to welcome to Southminster, Dr. Patricia Tull, professor emerita of Hebrew Scriptures at Louisville Theological Seminary. She is the author of Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and The Ecological Crisis. She will preach on that Sunday.
I am looking forward to the General Assembly next summer and in working with you to welcome people from around the globe to Portland and to Southminster!