It was my intention to submit some blog posts during Synod. Alas, I was kept so busy that I found no time to compose. One of those Matthew 26:41 things. So, please accept this report.
Probably the most significant achievement of this General Synod was the adoption of R-39, which places a focus on working against racism and the major themes of the Belhar Confession within the work, description, and stated “dimensions” of “Our Call.”
R-39 reads as follows:
To affirm that, in the spirit and intention of the “Decade Freed from Racism,” the RCA’s racism-free multicultural future is a critical and strategic component of the working out of Our Call;
and further, to direct the GSC, in collaboration with appropriate commissions and agencies of the RCA, to prepare a proposal to integrate, within the framework and language of Our Call, a commitment to the core values of the Belhar Confession: Unity, Reconciliation, and Justice, for eport to the 2009 General Synod;
and further, to instruct the General Synod Council to suitably reflect that affirmation by adding to the five dimensions of Our Call the following as a sixth: “A Multiracial Future Freed from Racism,” and to develop objectives, goals, and strategies for implementation and measuring outcomes.
Chicago Invitation people have characteristically been, um, less than enthusiastic in our embrace of “Our Call.” I expect that we will continue to regard it with theological concern, and to subject all expressions of it (including our own) to theological critique. However, I think that the adoption of R-39 brings into “Our Call” an important and necessary component, one that CI types should consider regarding with theological approval and indeed celebration.
The path to adoption of R-39 provided the delegates with a good lesson in parliamentary procedure. The recommendation came to the floor amended by the advisory committee. At that point, it contained no language about Belhar. In the discussion, which at that point had been running against the inclusion of a sixth dimension, James Brownson wisely proposed the Belhar language, to replace the sixth dimension language. Right away, the assembly heard some eloquent testimony about the importance of adding the anti-racism to “Our Call” as a sixth dimension. It became clear to this delegate that the addition about Belhar need not replace the sixth element language, and that a significant number of members of the assembly wanted to have the opportunity to vote directly on the addition of a sixth element. So I offered an amendment to Dr. Brownson’s amendment, viz., to restore the language about the sixth element.
The president was helpful in guiding the assembly through the votes, and eventually we arrived at the recommendation above.
One concern I carried to Synod concerned proposed bylaws of the General Synod Council. (Jim Reid was helpful in my preparation for this. Thanks, Jim!) In case you’re experiencing some deja vu, let me say: yes, this did come up last year. In part because of an overture from Albany Synod, last year’s General Synod referred the bylaws for review by the Commissions on Church Order and Theology. There were numerous changes made to the proposal, and they were again presented to General Synod.
I was given the privilege of speaking to the Special Advisory Committee on Church Order and Governance, and they adopted (perhaps with minor modifications) three amendments I presented. In summary, they were:
- to delete the passage that would allow a member of GSC to mail or call in her or his vote on an issue prior to or after the meeting, without participating in the meeting in any fashion, even by conference call
- adding a requirement that the minutes be published for general distribution in a timely manner
- explicit mention of the origin of the general secretary’s duties and responsibilities.
I was very pleased that the assembly approved these amendments prior to giving its approval of the bylaws. It makes them considerably more acceptable.
In the early moments of the assembly, delegates were presented with something new and, to this delegate, troubling. We were told that a new classis had been formed and would be seated: Center City Classis. It became clear, however, that they were an affinity classis, a startling departure from our understanding of classis for, literally, centuries. After some delegates expressed concern about the seating of this classis, the matter was referred to the committee of reference, which ruled that the classis would not be seated.
I and another delegate suggested, in different ways, that the Commission on Theology should take a look at the issue of “affinity classes.” In fact, I wrote a motion to that effect. Sadly, I had no opportunity to write and then present the motion while new business could still be presented. It worked out fine, though, as Jim Brownson, newly appointed as chair of the Commission on Theology, gladly accepted my draft motion as a piece of friendly correspondence to the Commission. I hope to include it in a subsequent post.
Clearly, I could go on, but I won’t, at least not in this post. Perhaps I could answer some questions.