One barometer of the pressure points within the Presbyterian family in past years has been “commissioners’ resolutions,” which enable delegates to General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to submit items of business on the spot. Historically, resolutions have addressed recent developments in the life of the church or the world that have arisen after the deadlines for submission of traditional items of business such as overtures from presbyteries and synods. Resolutions are, in effect, the “rapid-response” vehicles for the assemblies.
However, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) was presented with just 12 such resolutions, 10 of which were accepted – by far the fewest the assembly’s Tracking Office can remember.
“We’ve never had so few CRs,” said Jim Collie, who has been a “tracker” since the 201st General Assembly (1989) in Philadelphia.
Even after the recent massacre in Orlando, Collie said: “We didn’t see CRs on gun control or assault weapons. We didn’t see anything on hate speech, on health care, on access to water [or water-quality issues in] Flint (Michigan). Ordinarily, we’d kind of expect CRs on all of those.”
Why so few CRs this time?
Tracker Kathy Lueckert of Prairie Village (Kansas) Presbyterian Church believes the move to biennial Assemblies in 2004 is a contributing factor, noting that the number of CRs has been slowly declining since then. “I think when we went to biennial General Assemblies, it gave presbyteries more time to develop overtures and move them forward,” she said. “That makes some CRs unnecessary.”
Tracker Kerry Clements of Louisville said that, with denominational battles over gay ordination and gay marriage essentially settled, “a general cooling of tensions” has taken place in the PC(USA).
“There are fewer organized advocacy groups at this Assembly,” he says. With a couple of exceptions – the Middle East, fossil fuel divestment – “the heat and fervor is down,” Clements says.
“There is a very different atmosphere at this assembly,” said longtime assembly-goer Vernon Broyles, who advises the Stated Clerk on social-witness statements.
Broyles, who attended his first assembly (of the pre-unification Presbyterian Church in the United States) in 1965, attributes the change in part to the rapid responses of retiring Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons to current events, which have diminished the perceived need for CRs.
“The clerk has done a good job of speaking in a timely way to public issues and crises,” Broyles said, “so maybe more folk don’t feel the need to submit CRs – they feel our response mechanisms are adequate.”
But the trackers aren’t quite sure.
“Have we come to a place where people feel they can’t or don’t feel the need to impact the system?” Collie asked. “I don’t know.”
“We’ll see when GA223 comes around,” Leuckert said.