Was there a defining moment from General Assembly 2021?
Often with a major story we’re able to point to an image or remark which sums it up or at least puts it into perspective.
Sometimes, it’s an iconic photo – an exhausted, soot-covered first responder. Or a pithy quote – “Say it ain’t so!” or “You had an option, sir.”
Being online this year for the first (and perhaps the final) time, images are limited to screen shots or commissioners in front of multiple screens. But GA isn’t really a visual experience. It’s more about words and opinions, propositions and theology, decisions and implications, fears and joys.
Here’s a sampling of notable quotes from GA 2021. They appear in chronological order. Unless otherwise noted, they are quotes from commissioners.
As a package, they hint at the big story. You are invited to read each one as a teaser to a much greater story which lies behind it. Those stories may come in the weeks and months to come.
Take it in, pray. Enjoy.
“Our hearts also call us to acknowledge that we are in the midst of a time of terrible grief, pain and anger prompted by the discovery of the unidentified graves of approximately 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian residential school … I am wearing an orange stole today in remembrance of the children.” – Rev. Amanda Currie, 2019-2020 Moderator, Sederunt 1 opening worship.
“We are facing a time crunch … According to my count we have 193 items of business to deal with during this GA. After one sederunt out of seven we have only dealt with five. If we continue at this rate it will require 35 sederunts or approximately five consecutive planned General Assemblies to conclude all of the business …” – David Robinson, Presbytery of Prince Edward Island, Sederunt 2.
“To cram into three days all the business that would have been ordinarily done by two Assemblies is unreasonable. The overtures that are asking for a limiting of the business … the need for careful, thoughtful consideration of major items. … I would suggest that we need time. And If we can’t take the time to do the business properly we should not be doing the business.” – Rev. James Hurd, commission from Presbytery of Ottawa, Sederunt 2.
“This GA is extremely important for the many minority ethnic congregations of this denomination because of the potential changes which may alter our church laws as well as our doctrine. … The petition that both Han-Ca presbyteries brought to this Assembly and written on behalf of the many ethnic minority congregations … ask that this GA would give ear to the minority ethnic voice in this crucial point in time. But once again we have been silenced. We ask that this General Assembly allow discussion to take place concerning our petition so that our voice can be heard.” – Rev. Jonathan Hong, Presbytery of Eastern Han-Ca, Sederunt 2.
“I’ve lost count of how many General Assemblies I’ve attended. I think I’ve heard more immediate votes called than any assembly I’ve been at before. My understanding is that immediate votes are called when arguments are exhausted and nothing new is being said. With respect, moderator, I don’t hear you giving opportunity to discern that voices have been heard. … I’m in favour of the remits, but I don’t want to see our heritage of listening with grace to minority voices swept aside for an expediency of a quick result. … I’m as Presbyterian as they come and I am deeply concerned that we are throwing too much of our heritage away and that all the time we’ve spent trying to stop each other speak is taking up more time than it would have taken us to listen.” – Rev. Thomas Kay, Presbytery of PEI, Sederunt 3.
“I was part of the breakfast club that wrote the remits that I sure hope get voted on at this General Assembly but that does not appear will be the case today. I’m disappointed by some of the tactics I’ve seen today … tactics to obscure and obfuscate and remove trust in our denomination and in our process and our ability to trust one another.” – Rev. Roberto DeSandoli, Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan, Sederunt 3
“I speak as one of the Rainbow Communion’s storytellers. I joined the Canadian Navy in 1980 at a time in which it was still prohibited if you were gay. I was also a very creative youth, so I was often labelled as gay, even though I was not. I was repeatedly harassed, bullied, threatened with being investigated for being gay and being kicked out of the Forces. … I know something of the stress that my LGBTQi siblings have endured.” – David Robinson, Presbytery of PEI, Sederunt 3.
“I hope that in these days together, we hear a call or perhaps a recall of angels I think are still afoot. Opportunities come up right here in meetings taking place – God is in those opportunities, those problems, those impossibilities, calling you – even if it scares you. Maybe, just maybe, the things that make your heart pound and your palms sweat are God calling you into God’s movement in the world in Jesus Christ the Risen One.” – Rev. Dr. Richard Topping, opening worship message, Sederunt 4
“This is a significant moment, so we want to seek the mind of Christ. … It is in Christ that the treasures of wisdom are hidden. So we lack wisdom and You promised that if we lack wisdom, so if we asked, You would give it to us, generously, without finding fault …” – Rev. Dr. Dan Scott, moderator, Sederunt 4 prayer prior to consideration of the remits.
“I speak in favour of the remits. As a gay man, I would like to invite my fellow commissioners to think about being blessed by God in that you would be gifted with that special person in your life, that is exclusively your person. Think about what it’s like to have found someone you love and wish to cherish every day. … This is one of the greatest graces a human being can receive from God. … But sadly, the church did not recognize these gifts. …The remits correct this.” – Rev. Dr. Charles Fensham, Presbytery of East Toronto, Sederunt 4.
“I speak against this remit. … This is a choice, despite the heartbreaking stories of so many of the LGBTQi people. This is a choice between truth and our culture, because they’re very much opposed to each other. … it is an attempt to twist God’s Word and change what is very clear truth – and the truth has made me free and I will not give it up.” – Ross Bassingthwaighte, Presbytery of Kelowna, Sederunt 4.
“Our General Synod was supposed to have happened a couple of times already but was postponed a couple times because of COVID and is now scheduled for a special in time in October, where many of the same discussions [as in the PCC] will be taking place there and voting on some major decisions, so we do ask that you keep us in prayer as well.” – Rev. Marijke Strong, Reformed Church in America ecumenical visitor, Sederunt 4.
“I speak against Remit ‘B’ because it would mean than that many of the Rainbow Communion recommendations that the court approved yesterday would no longer be valid because they are not in line with the remits. … using fully inclusive language regarding sexuality is in contrast to our [proposed] definition of marriage. …” Rev. Jinsook Khang, Presbytery of Eastern Han-Ca, Sederunt 4
“Speaking in favour of [Remit ‘B’], God gives us the gifts of love, marriage and sexuality. He gives these to all of his children, to all of his people alike so that we all may grow with a beloved partner within the deep joy of Christlike love.” – Beth Carey, Presbytery of Hamilton, Sederunt 4.
“I would suggest that each of us, in our own ways, reach out to our Muslim friends and neighbours. If you are in London, and are a minister or elder there, visit the mosque and show your concern on behalf of our church. … It’s that kind of thing the church can do so well.” – Rev. Dr. Dan Scott, Moderator, Sederunt 5
“I would like to speak against Remit ‘C’. Without repeating other justifications regarding the uncontestable will of God pertaining to creation of humanity and marriage, I have only this to say: I do not fear homosexuality – I fear the Lord,” Lydia Su, Young Adult Representative, Presbytery of Montreal, Sederunt 5.
“As a gay man it took me some time to come to be in favour of this remit. The General Assembly in 2019 approved the full inclusion of people who identified as LGBTQi. But in the remits, the Assembly agreed to a compromise that would allow for discrimination against LGBTQi people to continue. … Nevertheless, I recognize that this is a significant step forward …” Rev. Bob Faris, Presbytery of East Toronto, Sederunt 5.
“I’ve been a lawyer for over 30 years. I’ve been involved in Canadian charities that address constitutional and religious freedom cases … In 2019 I retained two constitutional law experts to provide legal opinions about the remits that have been distributed widely … This past week a new 57-page legion opinion was posted to PC-Biz … It, along with the opinions I received in 2019, describe many serious risks to the denomination if anyone actually uses the liberty of conscience and action.” – David Jennings, Presbytery of Westminster, Sederunt 5
“People who define as LGBTQi+ have a unique and beautiful lens that I need and that is so much needed by the PCC. They have a voice I don’t have, nor do any of my fellow white, cisgendered males. They understand the crucified Christ in a way that I never can. They understand the pain and the suffering that Christ endured in a way that I never I can. They give insights into the complexity of what it is to be human in ways that I can never imagine without their help. They are a beautiful gift to the PCC.” – Rev. Marty Molengraaf, Presbytery of Oak Ridges, Sederunt 5
“Our synods struggle to pay their portion of the administrative costs for the college. Lecturers and staff can sometimes go months without a paycheque. The PCC provides consistent grants that allow those who work at the college to pay their bills. For this quiet work we are deeply grateful.” – International partner, Rev. Dr. Takuze Chitsulo, principal of Zomna Theological College in Malawi, Sederunt 5
“We are not truly capable of truly living out the ideals of these remits. They do not satisfy anyone. Reading the report of Rainbow Communion is heartbreaking, recognizing the harm done to LGBTQi people. However, it is clear from the report and the comments of a commissioner this week that the very presence of people with traditional view of marriage within the PCC causes harm. How can we allow harm to continue happening?” – Rev. Shannon Bell, Presbytery of Kamloops, Sederunt 5.
“I respect those who do feel they cannot call or affirm a minister or conduct a same-sex marriage. I understand that; I respect that. In fact, I will speak that you will be accorded the protection and respect that was not accorded to most of us.” – Sue Senior, Presbytery of Waterloo, Sederunt 5.
“So far in this Assembly we’ve passed a bunch of omnibus motions. Several times commissioners have tried to ask for a motion to remove. Every single time, discussion has been stifled … Is this the way we discern together? Do we discern by just passing dozens of motions with no discussion or clarifications? … At least once in a while allow people to ask questions, to discuss items to get to the business of discerning.” – Rev. Mikal Schomburg, Presbytery of Paris, Sederunt 6.
“Commissioners, I’m going to suggest we go into double overtime.” – Moderator Rev. Dan Scott, Sederunt 6
“There is a profound lack of, I’d hate to use the word ‘trust’, but that’s kind of what we’re dealing with. These things going to Assembly Council and clerks and being put off … The Han-Ca petitions have asked for something at this Assembly. We haven’t even heard it. It’s going to wait until next Assembly.” – Rev. Dr. Christine O’Reilly, Presbytery of Lambton West Middlesex, Sederunt 6.
“I’m speaking against this omnibus motion. If we look at the poll that was distributed to us … number 006 had 61 people who wanted to discuss it, number 007 that dealt with an $8 million budget had 62 people wanting to discuss it … As a General Assembly, we’ve come to discuss and debate. By having this omnibus motion we don’t get that chance. I don’t know what I’m doing here.” – Rev. Linda Park, Presbytery of Lindsay-Peterborough, Sederunt 7.
“We have had difficulty. But next year, we pray, we will be out of this and we’ll be able to resume the life of the church together.” – Rev. Dr. Dan Scott, moderator, Sederunt 7.
“We can’t handle the additional motions. We did indicate they could be sent by overtures. We have a list of all of them. If there’s a letter to be written, if it’s a time sensitive thing … we can look at possibly sending it off. … We will not ignore them. But there’s always the option of overtures.” – Rev. Stephen Kendall, principal clerk, Sederunt 7.
NOTE: Renewal Fellowship will continue to provide a place where stories can unfold and be told in light of our mission: “To lead each other and The Presbyterian Church in Canada to authentic Biblical thinking, powerful, Spirit-led prayer and effective Gospel witness.”
In reflecting on the implications of what happened at General Assembly I cannot but grieve the deep division caused by the liberal insistence on ignoring the Lordship and clear teaching of Jesus in the area of human sexuality. The same tactics were used in the UCC decades ago. The authority of peoples “stories” trumped the authority of Scripture. The authority of Jesus is trumped by “how you feel”. Just as the UCC apostasy led to division and decline so now the PCC will unquestionably suffer the same fate.
In this context I must disagree with the historical analysis offered by the UCC’s Rev. Dr. Greg Brown. He quite correctly asserted that the liberal takeover of that denomination began in the 1950’s. But he declares that in the past ten years there was “a swing back to Christology, Trinitarians and TO SOME EXTENT,BIBLICAL AUTHORITY .” How can he say this when just three years ago the self-declared atheist Gretta Vosper was declared to be a minister in good standing in the UCC! Once you embrace the ideology of inclusivity for sexual practices it is not surprising that it applies to every other area of faith and practice. His advice is to attend Presbytery, pay your Presbytery assessments and don’t be a disruptor! Jesus command was to deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow him…and he disrupted the whole world!
As a former missionary I have great respect for Global Christianity. Arab, African, Korean, and Chinese Presbyterians will feel they have not been listened to…the surrender of the Western Mainline denominations to the inclusive sexual liberation ideology of the surrounding Western culture is not biblical, ecumenical or apostolic. As Wolfhart Pannenberg wrote,
“If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Amen.
I’d like to add one more comment from the GA that I thought was exceptionally noteworthy. The speaker was Duncan Cameron from Pickering Presbytery. A paraphrase of what he said is as follows…..
The Bible might agree that agapé is agapé, but it doesn’t agree that all eros is the same.
Our world says eros is something to be enjoyed almost without restriction. The general attitude is, ‘I want it all.’ But Jesus doesn’t promise it all. He calls us to deny ourselves. But he also says that in him we can experience true fullness of life.
In Scripture we’re told to love our neighbour, but the same passage also tells us to reprove our neighbour, that is, to point out where their lives are out of synch with what God’s word says. If we don’t also try to reprove our neighbours, we don’t really love them.
Jesus taught that none of God’s instruction to us would pass away and that anyone who ignored his instruction and taught others to ignore it would be least in the kingdom of Heaven.
By adopting these remits, we are choosing to ignore God’s instruction, and we’re teaching others to do likewise.
I watched most of the GM. I noticed a lot of decisions were made on appeals to feelings and not biblical principles. Feelings are not thoughts. We should have some feelings about some of our thoughts, otherwise we’d be psychotic.
While watching I often had “feelings” of disgust and witnessed how intelligent Christians (?) can be so stupid by not making decisions, from depth perception of biblical insight instead of psychology. I got the impression many of those leaders know about God and not much else since their learning got in the way; such as a relationship with God, not because of feel-good ideas, but rather because of Jesus. The spiritually renewed, born the second time, intimates that such a Believer has a new self and as a new creation, thinking is therefore wanting to please God and sexual interest too, regardless of sexual persuasion. Just Because something is natural does not cause it to be normal. Why? Because it is or could be a sin.
The Presbyterian Church has lost its understanding of sin. This not only is contrary to what the Bible instructs and therefore what God thinks about sin, but it is contrary to universal values and standards that have past the test of time since such ideals hold society together. Right now, I think I am associated with a bunch of losers who cannot think.
David’s concern (as a lawyer with some experience in these matters) was that we not being made aware by denominational powers of the risks involved. The legal opinion obtained by head office and shared do not address all the potential risks. Pray that Assembly Council, meeting June 29, will be agreeable to exploring all of the risks.
I do not easily grasp legalities – am wondering about the comment from David Jennings of Westminster- that the legal opinions he received expressed “many serious risks to the denomination if anyone actually uses the liberty of conscience and action”. Does Mr Jennings mean that if a congregation chooses to adhere to the traditional view of marriage and ordination that THAT choice would put a serious risk to the denomination?
If that is what he means, then there really is no choice at the congregational level in the end. Please advise. jane