— In an overwhelming vote, the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a motion presented by its Assembly Committee on Social Justice Issues to recognize the prophetic witness of the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, pastor of 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and Shiloh Presbyterian Church in New York City, and founding pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Garnet gave what is considered the most important speech in African American history as the first African American to address Congress on February 12, 1865.
This was one of many items brought to the Assembly by Committee 11. Committee moderator Bill Wildhack noted that his committee had addressed many difficult and challenging subjects.
A recommendation to reconstitute the Racism Truth and Reconciliation Commission, presented by T. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly (2016), and Byron Wade, vice-moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008), was unanimously approved in committee. The recommendation was approved by the Assembly as well.
In an effort to raise awareness of issues adversely affecting black girls and/or women, the Assembly voted to direct the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) to form a five-member task group of majority black women with a passion and experience of advocating for black girls and/or women. The task group is to propose an action plan that acknowledges and makes visible the predicament of black girls and women, recognizing the humanity of black girls and women so that the PC(USA) might take the disparities seriously and develop programming and resources to address these disparities.
By a 440–59 vote, the Assembly approved an overture to declare the period from 2020 to 2030 as the “Decade of Intercultural Transformation” by focusing on transformative priorities and initiatives across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and providing strategic steps to move the PC(USA) into being a transformative church in this intercultural era.
Felix Robles, a TSAD from the Presbiterio Del Noroeste, spoke in his native Spanish language in support of a commissioners’ resolution advocating for the citizens of Puerto Rico. One portion of the resolution called for the establishment a zero-tolerance policy toward colonialism and the double-standard treatment of U.S. citizens who are residents of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Perhaps one of the most debated items submitted by Committee 11 was an overture calling for the General Assembly to strongly condemn the unjust, racist disparagement of people and entire nations, promoted by politicians and government officials at all levels, in the mistaken effort to place “America First.” The most discussed issue was an amendment to include “the current presidential administration” in the effort to place “America First.” After the amendment was defeated and the language was removed from the resolution, the Assembly approved the item by a vote of 448–54.
Following an emotional presentation from a father who lost his son to an accidental shooting two weeks prior to the start of GA, the committee and the Assembly approved a resolution calling for the PC(USA) to pray for a movement of the Spirit to engage Presbyterian congregations in a nationwide action to prevent gun violence.
The Assembly also approved an overture that calls for an immediate moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty in all jurisdictions that impose capital punishment and for the commutation of all death sentences to sentences of life imprisonment.
A resolution addressing sexual misconduct within the PC(USA) was also approved by the Assembly.
The final item of business from Committee 11 was a commissioners’ resolution asking the Assembly to direct the appointing of a commission to consider the social impact of automation. The resolution was disapproved.