Fighting and Finger-Pointing

What General Assembly is showing young Presbyterians about the Church.

In the 21st century, our world is plagued with all kinds of fighting. Between unrest in the Middle East, international disagreement on action for climate change and racial injustice in countries all over the world, many young people are looking for a place where they can be safe – a place they can feel at peace without worrying about politics and unrest. However, the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is not showing young people that this is what the PCC can offer.

When the GA met last June in Waterloo, Ont., the decision-making body continued to discuss a morally and politically-charged question they have already spent 25 years debating. Many were happy that this year, one recommendation was approved and remitted to presbyteries for further discussion. The recommendation to recognize “…two parallel definitions of marriage and recognize that faithful, Holy Spirit-filled, Christ-centred, God-honouring people can understand marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult persons” should be something I rejoice about as an ally of the LGBTQI+ community, but from what I saw at General Assembly this year, I cannot.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada is supposed to be a church of God. A church whose focus should be feeding the hungry, supporting the distressed, inviting in the marginalized and caring for all of its brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, the 2019 GA focused on continuing a long-standing debate on LGBTQI+ inclusion. This year’s assembly voted to recommend pathway B, explained above, to the rest of the PCC, but it was met with arguing, disregard for the agreed-upon process after the votes were cast and attempts to change the results of the vote (for a summary of these proceedings see CC article, Redefining marriage, July 8). While on the floor of GA, I heard many conversations involving finger-pointing, eye-rolling and disrespect for people sitting on the other side of the debate. It did not make me proud to be a young Presbyterian.

What has been unfolding in the PCC since 1994 is nothing short of disappointing. The time and resources which have been put into forming committees and putting off making a decision about this issue is alarming and wastes what could (and should) have been put into reconciliation efforts, mental health outreach, or community partnerships. As a young person watching how the institutions of our church have discerned this question of the ordination and marriage of same-sex people, I am beginning to wonder how effective these institutions are at doing God’s work and if there are other avenues I can use to serve my community. My church seems preoccupied with matters of the bedroom rather than the love and gifts of LGBTQI+ people. 

The ongoing commitment to block an open idea of marriage and ordination to all has resulted in so many people being hurt, feeling unsafe and leaving the denomination. People then wonder, “why aren’t young people a part of the church like they used to be?” When given no legitimate voice, LGBTQI+ people – of which a large portion are young adults – will find other places that nourish their faith, as will allies of the LGBTQI+ community.

I was also troubled by the limits placed on representation at GA. The assembly consists of ministers and elders from across the country, as well as student representatives and young adult representatives who have seats on the floor, but no voting privileges. Once these recommendations are passed down to presbyteries, there will be very little young adult input during the discernment process, as the requirements for eldership require long-term commitment to a congregation which often do not cater to a young adult’s life stage. If the PCC wants young adults to be happy with what decisions are made surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage, they need to be given legitimate ability to vote and offer ideas, not just acting as the token young people in the room.

If there is one takeaway, it is that the fighting needs to stop. Name-calling, victim-blaming and finger-pointing are neither graceful, nor Christ-like ways to respond to differences of opinion. Young people will not stick around for dysfunction and they will not stick around for fighting. It’s my prayer that our Church continues to respond to this discernment with grace and, most importantly, with love for their Presbyterian and LGBTQI+ brothers and sisters.


  • Sydney O’Brien

    Sydney is a fourth-year student at the University of Waterloo. She grew up in the Presbyterian Church and is now a member at Knox, Waterloo, Ont., currently serving on the Rainbow Communion Special Listening Committee.

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