What happened at General Assembly?

My last newsletter article was a preview of what was scheduled to happen at General Assembly. Since our denomination gathered in Columbus, and the business items of the session were presented and voted upon, I thought it might be helpful to give you a recap of a few of the items that piqued my interest, and show how important it is for us to be a welcoming people. In addition to the resolutions I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there were three emergency resolutions that came before the assembly. Emergency resolutions are intended to deal with issues that have come to light within the last few months.

One of those resolutions, in response to the church shooting in Charleston and the burning of black churches, garnered quite a bit of debate. The resolution was co-authored by a friend and seminary classmate of mine from Oklahoma, Rev. Jesse Jackson. (No, not the more notable one…) As the assembly began, I had several opportunities to communicate with Jesse about this resolution which calls for us to continue the work of racial and ethnic reconciliation and to denounce the killing and intimidation of our brothers and sisters.

The resolution was sent to a committee, called Reference and Council, for some changes and adaptations during the first business session, when it came to the floor. Some asked for the inclusion of the names of the nine members of Emanuel AME in Charleston, while others asked for some changes in the wording to give tangible responses to the resolution. I had a moment to talk with Jesse after the changes had been made, and he said that although he was initially hurt by referring the resolution, that it was a stronger statement as it came back to the assembly for a vote. In the end, the revised version of the resolution was passed. The whole text can be found at the denomination’s website, or I will gladly print you a copy!

I have been thinking, for some time, about what kind of response to racism we can make at Marshfield Christian Church. It is my prayer that this resolution, and my renewed and deepened friendship with Jesse will open the door for some exciting and meaningful dialog and action here at the church. I hope that someday soon, we can invite Jesse to join us to talk about issues of racism. And that I can introduce you all to my friend!

The other issue that garnered a lot of attention was the resolution on Gun violence. There were actually two resolutions submitted on the topic and the General Board synthesized them into one “substitute” resolution. This also went to the Committee on Reference and Council. The major issues had to do, again, with a lack of actionable items in the resolution. There was also a call for language about the use of firearms in suicides.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, the resolution that came back to the assembly wasn’t something I could support. Specifically, there was language with which I am uncomfortable. The revised resolution calls on Disciples to “demand” the enactment of gun safety laws from their elected officials. It also included suggestions of “an assault weapon ban,” “a ban on high capacity magazines, and requiring federally enforced safe firearm storage.”

First off, I am certainly in favor of finding ways to eliminate the use of firearms in committing crimes. I am in favor of gun safety, and could have supported the original resolution. However, this new wording made me cringe, for several reasons. First, the definition of an “assault weapon” is ever-changing and vague. Second, I understand that the more ammunition that can be stored in a firearm means more potential death and destruction. However, I am also convinced that a single shot firearm could be used to deal quite a lot of damage. And, I’m not sure I really want federal guidelines on what constitutes “safe firearm storage.” Early on in the debate, it was apparent that the revisions would be accepted, and the resolution passed. However, at least the dissenting opinions were voiced. And I like to believe that they were heard by a few in the assembly.

This is one of those instances where I am glad that the General Assembly speaks TO not FOR the local congregation. There is nothing that REQUIRES us to act on this resolution. However, with the surge in mass shootings, it is important that we advocate for safe and responsible firearm ownership. The church does have to respond to what seems like the ever-increasing cycle of violence. However, I feel this resolution missed the mark. Especially for those of us in rural America, where owning firearms is commonplace.

As much as I may disagree with some of the decisions made during the assembly, and as much as I applaud others, I come away with a deep appreciation for what we strive to be as a larger community of faith. Our ideals of welcome and diversity are woven into the very DNA of our denomination. That gives me hope. Hope for our denomination, and hope for the world.

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