General Assembly – Portland 2016 – Tuesday

22 06 2016

Tuesday’s window into the 222nd meeting of the General Assembly shifted from polity, to science: the science of creation, the science of death and dying, and the science of sexuality. The Theological Issues and Institutions Committee dealt with two of these important subjects, first, by wrestling with two overtures acknowledging that “the truths of the Bible and the discoveries of science with regard to creation, may comfortably coexist.” And considering the fact that one of the primary reasons so many people see the church as irrelevant and out of touch today is because of our anti-intellectual approach to life, both motions were enthusiastically approved.

A third overture involved approving a new pastoral guidebook titled “Abiding Presence: Living Faithfully in End-of-Life Decision.” The piece is declared to be a “theologically and ethically grounded resource for pastoral care in light new medical and legal choices involving the prolongation or cessation of life” – something essential for the church, as countless families continues to struggle with ethical decisions surrounding the end of life. Death is just as much a part of living as birth is, and too often, being an advocate for ‘death with dignity’ has been regarded as being anti-life. This document clearly proclaims that “while sharing in the historical Christian opposition to suicide, we do not find it condemned in Scripture nor see ourselves called to judge others, particularly those facing irreversible deterioration of awareness and bodily function.” Medical science is not the only determining factor in the when, where, and how death comes; and the Church must continue to address the ethics involved with both living, and dying.

Science was also on display in another committee, and the only reason I raise it here is because I was confronted with it on Monday morning as I entered the Convention Center. Flyers were being distributed touting what has become known as a ‘reparative therapy’ for gays and lesbians, and I was both saddened and angered! Men who were clearly uninformed with regard to the science of sexuality were seeking to perpetuate what can be described as nothing less than nonsense.

Fortunately, this afternoon, the GA committee on Social Justice Issues approved a motion that “expressed disapproval of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts . . . (and that encourages) congregations to equip themselves to provide accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Yes, the Presbyterian Tent is large. We work hard to be inclusive and are always willing to make room for those with whom we may disagree. We can, and will, debate everything from the theology of the incarnation and the meaning of resurrection, to Biblical interpretation and how to balance the unity and purity of the Church. And we will no doubt deliberate and discuss the implications of the Christian faith upon American politics, and our understanding of justice.

But the world is longing for an intellectually credible faith – one that does not deny the theory of evolution, reject climate change, or claim that the earth is no more than 6000 years old. So if you bring such ideas into the tent, know you’ll be welcomed, but you’ll also be challenged. You’ll be cared for, but you will also be held to a higher standard. You’ll be embraced, but you’ll also be encouraged to experience the transformation that comes with the renewing of your mind. For science is not the enemy of God.

Tonight, committee meetings have ended.  Tomorrow, plenary meetings begin.

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