A Little Open Letter: Moving Forward in Hope and Love after GA221

In three short days that have flown by since my return from the General Assembly in Detroit (PCUSA), I have heard too many painful stories from friends on all sides of every one of the issues our denomination addressed, that I feel I need to write a little open letter.

Dear Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters (and others interested in the work we’re doing):

I want to offer words of hope and encouragement and to challenge us all to seek ways to share the hope we have in Christ so that we can figure out how to live into Paul’s challenge to “glorify God with one voice.”  I know my words may seem suspect, especially since they come from someone who will be perceived to be on “the winning side” of many of the controversial issues that faced GA221.  But for me, discerning God’s call is more about the journey than the finish line and it’s in that journey that I have found the most hope.

To many the decisions to divest from three corporations, to study fossil fuel divestment, and to allow clergy to perform same gender marriages seem extreme and narrow in scope. But as someone who has attended many assemblies and who has served congregations which have supported the bringing of a variety of other kinds of overtures to General Assembly (many of which did NOT pass on the first, second or seventh time), It’s been important for me to remember that no one is intentionally left out of our legislative processes.  Any Presbyterian has the ability to move an overture forward through their Session, their Presbytery and finally to General Assembly. If people are passionate about divesting from corporations doing business in Syria or Sudan or any of the other nation-states I’ve heard mentioned, it is entirely possible to initiate that process and make it happen. If congregations want to make a statement about their understanding of human sexuality or marriage, that, too is possible.  If a church wants to make a difference, the Session can nominate elders to serve on General Assembly and Presbytery committees, including as commissioners to General Assembly.

Withdrawing support and/or departing in place will never help like-minded brothers and sisters achieve their goals. In fact, I believe it does the opposite and has the compounding effect of hurting individuals throughout the church whose livelihood is dependent on our support.  Throughout history, we have seen that the Church moves when there is passion and interest emerging in God’s people.  Likewise, our denomination changes when our joint discernment tells us that Spirit seems to be moving in and through God’s people, calling us toward particular work. Sometimes this feels like a precipitous move, but more often big changes are the result of laboring year after year in what often feels like a time of exile.  Rather than complaining and grieving, I want to encourage people who have deeply held convictions and passionate concerns to begin work now so your interests can be represented at the next assembly.  And the next.  And the next.

I know the counter argument will be something like: “my needs can’t be met now” or “there is no room for the conservative voice in the church.” But as part of a group whose needs were pushed down for a long, long time, I can testify to the reality that staying committed to the cause we cared about and continuing to speak in spite of year after year of resounding defeats has made a difference.  But more importantly, my compassion has deepened as my awareness of the needs of others has come into sharper focus through relationships with colleagues and friends with whom I disagree.  For me, our fundamental starting point is God’s sacrificial and unconditional love for us.  It is my hope that we can keep that at the heart of our work together.

Grace and Peace, Debra



10 thoughts on “A Little Open Letter: Moving Forward in Hope and Love after GA221

  1. I knew the PCUSA was getting increasingly liberal but I am aghast at the current direction it has taken! What fools you liberals are! I’m embarrassed to admit I’m a member of this denomination. Allowing LGBT clergy and elders to be ordained is bad enough but to allow same-sex “marriage” and change the wording in the meaning of marriage is an abomination! You don’t seem to care that churches are leaving. If not for my wife, I would also depart and renounce my ordination as elder but I agreed to stay as long as she wants to.
    Divesting stock in companies that do business with Israel is sheer idiocy and stupidity. You can fix ignorance but you can’t fix stupid. I don’t understand WHY?! I thought the radical Islamists were our enemy – not the Israelis! When have you heard an Israeli say: convert to Judaism or we’ll cut your head off? Get your heads out of the sand and pay attention to what is going on in the Muslim world.
    Regarding gun violence, the cities with the strictest gun laws have the most gun violence. What does that tell you?
    Regarding fossil fuels, the United States has enough fossil fuels to be completely independent and to actually become the leading exporter. If you think reducing use of fossil fuels is going to make a dent in Cyclical global climate change, you’ve been paying too much attention to Al Gore and that hack impersonating a president and drinking their koolade. Bet you were not aware that one volcanic eruption is greater than ALL man-made emissions. Try controlling that! We need to take advantage of what God gave us until solar, wind and battery power become economically feasible.
    Regarding drones, the military is trying to protect us. Let them do their job without busybody interference.

  2. Hi Debra,

    It seems inconsistent that we would consider immediate divestment (whether fossil fuels or Israel) on one hand and discourage it in relation to conservative folks in strong disagreement with the majority position on sexuality. I advocated towards staying engaged in both instances, but wonder if you also see the disconnect?

    Unrelated, your anticipated counter-argument doesn’t resonate with me as the conservative motivation for considering dismissal.

    In God’s grace,


    1. Robert, Thanks for your thoughtful questions and your gracious spirit. I’m not sure what you mean in your second paragraph, but here’s how I would respond to the first:

      If our churches choose to divest from an outside organization because of unfavorable positions related to human sexuality, I think that would be the right thing for them (us) to do. But to me, to “divest” from an organization we are all part of does damage to the body we (some of us, anyway) hope to preserve.

      I don’t have good answers, but know that in the drought years, I’ve worked hard to stay engaged with brothers and sisters who don’t agree with me on this issue and it has born much fruit for us both. That doesn’t mean we have convinced each other. But we can still be in relationship with each other in meaningful ways. Does that make sense?

      1. Debra, thanks for responding. I was wrestling with divesting from Israel (I realize our actual action was not that broad, but that was some of the conversation) when we have a relationship on several levels with the Jewish people and faith… one that has some parallels, I think with our own internal Presbyterian people and faith. So I heard loud and clear (and agree): stay at the table, in relationship, even when in disagreement. And yet we had a significant push (about half the commissioners) for a radical break from relationship with Israel.

        I’m sorry my second comment was unclear. You wrote in your last paragraph: “I know the counter argument will be something like: ‘my needs can’t be met now’ or ‘there is no room for the conservative voice in the church.'” I was trying to say that I don’t think you have that right: I don’t hear folks leaving for EPC and ECO complaining about needs not being met or there being no room for them.

      2. re: #2 Thanks. I see. I have been in those discernment conversations and those exact words have been used. But I also can understand other reasons as well.

        Re: #1 I don’t see this as a disconnect from Israel – simply from these three USA companies. I thought we were pretty clear about NOT boycotting and continuing to reach out through interfaith initiatives. But I can also see how some might feel this differently. My Jewish friends here in Oakland have been very supportive of these decisions but I have heard the other voices. So the best I can do is speak from my experience. And stay open to learning…

        I’m so glad you’re willing to engage like this as well…

        Blessings as you interpret and teach in your own setting.

  3. Fair enough; I’ve heard some pretty strange things in the discernment meetings as well. I was thinking more of private conversations with friends… maybe a different dynamic? At any rate, I appreciate the exchange with you and the chance to (briefly) see you in real life in Detroit. And you helped get through some of the more monotonous committee moments. 🙂

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