KINGSTON, Ontario – The 143rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church met in Kingston, Ont., June 4-7. The most anticipated item of business – further discussion and decision-making regarding the LGBTQ community and the church – led to little actual change, with many questions being referred back to various committees for further study.
Still, the Assembly did vote to “apologize and repent for expressions of homophobia and hypocrisy,” and struck a committee that would receive stories of harm done from the LGBTQ community within the church, draft a response, consider and implement new, concrete actions to combat homophobia and report back to General Assembly within three years.
“I think General Assembly was challenged by the call to repentance and that the commissioners rose to that challenge with difficulty,” said Rev. Dr. Blair Bertrand, convener of the Committee on Church Doctrine, which, in conjunction with the Life and Mission Agency Committee, has been working on questions concerning the LGBTQ community for several years. The five recommendations that were deferred would have, according to the PCC’s website, “sent a new definition of marriage and a proposal that being in a same-sex civil marriage would not be a reason to bar any person from candidacy or ordination to congregations for study and report.” Several reports and studies on sexuality, doctrine and what the Bible says about same-sex relationships were sent to congregations and presbyteries for further study. “While tension was evident at points in the meeting,” said the Moderator, Rev. Peter Bush, “for the most part the conversation was respectful even as people expressed their deeply held convictions.”
Time to stand up
The Assembly was diligent in highlighting current issues such as refugees and environmental concerns; it welcomed guests from various cultures and faith traditions and incorporated other languages into each session with prayers spoken in languages other than English.
Healing and reconciliation and justice issues involving Canada’s First Nations were an important conversation. Dr. Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, spoke about discrimination of First Nations children in Canada, saying the government must be held accountable for its failure to provide the same basic rights and services that most other children in Canada receive. She implored the church to speak up and create change, rather than wait for the government to take the lead.
“Let’s show the children that we love them enough to stand up for them,” she said.
Her presentation “was a highlight,” Rev. Peter Bush, moderator of the 143rd Assembly, told Christian Courier. “Her call for Canadians to respond to the needs of Indigenous children moved the Assembly, rooted as it was in the human value that it is the responsibility of adults to care for and advocate for children.”
In response, the Moderator was instructed to write to the Prime Minister of Canada urging the government to comply with the Order of the Canadian Rights Tribunal regarding discrimination against Indigenous children by the government. The moderator was later told to write the Government of Canada to inquire about their plan to provide clean and potable water in Indigenous communities. Sessions and presbyteries were also encouraged to write to their MPs. Currently, 86 Indigenous communities have no access to clean water.
A Native Ministries endowment fund was established and individuals, congregations and presbyteries were encouraged to support it. Ten percent of the assets of dissolved congregations will now go to the Fund (to a maximum of $400,000).
International and ecumenical guests were also present, including Alia Hogben, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. Her focus is empowering Muslim women, and she spoke about what it is like to be a Muslim in Canada. Hogben reminded the Assembly of what it means to be Canadian – upholding a tradition of democracy, equality and religious freedom.
Lastly, the Presbyterian Record – the independent magazine that served Presbyterians in Canada for more than 140 years but closed its doors at the end of 2016 – gave a final report. The Record asked the church to help with potential financial obligations, up to $15,000. There were rumblings among some commissioners that an official Moment of Appreciation should have been given for the Record’s many years of service and commitment to the church. The Communications department encouraged church members to subscribe to the new free newspaper, the Presbyterian Connection.