When it comes to General Assembly meetings of the Presbyterian Church (USA) its informative to be “in the room” but it can be more informative to be outside the room, or in a back room, hallway or following threads on social media.
On Saturday morning there was a city-wide water outage caused by a drop in water pressure after the fire department responded to a downtown fire on Friday night. On Saturday night the People Mover, which many GA commissioners must rely on to get to the Convention Center (COBO) from their hotels, was out of service due to a reported power outage. Then, inside COBO the internal internet service (FreeCOBO) failed to be adequate to the task of handling the online voting meeting organizers had planned to use. The back up plan, to use the handheld electronic voting “clickers” the GA has been using for several years, also failed. So the assembly went old school and elected its moderator using paper ballots.
If you followed the #ga221 Twitter feed you were privy to the relative discomfort of those on the floor who complained frequently about the frigid temperature and the insufficiency of food they had been served at both lunch and dinner. Granted, these are first world problems, but the work of a commissioner is difficult enough without adding layers of stress.
But those are logistics; what about the politics? Yes, there’s plenty of politicking going on behind the scenes.
Commissioners do not meet in their committees for the first time until this evening (Sunday), but there are efforts to “move” the marriage committee (www.pc-biz.org, click on “Committees” and then scroll down and click “10 Civil Union and Marriage Issues”) toward a non-docketed proposal that would create a theological task force (much like the Theological Task on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church from a decade ago) with the goal of bringing a unified recommendation on marriage to the 222nd General Assembly in 2016 in Portland. Who is behind such an idea? People who are disconnected from the fatigue of the local church on this matter. People who like to meet and discuss theology behind closed doors with selected individuals and people who do not trust the body politic to make the decision they hope for at this assembly. In short, people who think they know better than the commissioners the church elected to send. They would appreciate if no one would pay attention to their attempts to orchestrate behind the curtain, but pay attention we will.
There is also some very public politicking going on in relationship to the business before the assembly on Israel and the Palestinians. Again, if you follow #ga221 on Twitter you will see that it is getting bombed with both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian propaganda from folks who are not Presbyterian but who are seeking to influence commissioners. Some of these outside groups have been calling commissioners on the phone, sending them emails and bombarding them with advocacy material through the regular mail. Their online posts indicate that beginning tomorrow they will also be here in Detroit picketing and demonstrating at the entrance to the Convention Center. More than 120 people signed up to address Committee 4: Middle East Issues during the limited time they have scheduled for “open hearings” on Monday and Tuesday.
You can follow the actual business of the General Assembly on www.pc-biz.org but if you want to know what’s going on behind the scenes, stay tuned here.