Equity primes have taken their place at the 225th General Assembly along with substantial technological advances and the widespread use of masks and social distancing.
On Saturday, Fred Tangeman, the host of GA Live, aired a previously recorded conversation with the Rev. Jihyun Oh, director of Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly. Watch their exchange here.
Oh and other OGA staff are using equity primes and other innovative tools in an effort to bring more and varied voices to the microphones during the first two rounds of committee meetings, which concluded Saturday. Round three begins Monday, with the concluding batch of committees set to begin their work on Thursday. Those tools will also be in commissioners’ hands when plenaries begin online on July 5.
“Sometimes they are reminder cards of our breadth of choices,” Oh told Tangeman for a previously published article. “Sometimes they are reminders in our script or process to pause for a full minute so that those who need to think a minute and those who need interpretation can participate fully.”
The primes in use at GA225 are designed to encourage committee members to consider individual and group factors such as implicit bias, who has spoken and for how long, and the far-reaching impacts decisions have on different communities — including those beyond the church.
“It’s that simple moment to pause and not fill up the space with words,” Tangeman told Oh, speaking about the experience he’s had covering committees for the GA news service. “I’ve found in the committees I’ve watched people really taking that to heart. It’s been really cool to see.”
Oh said that the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly tested the cards this spring. Some had experience using equity prime cards as well as other tools for increasing inclusion.
“There’s been interest among mid council leaders … who wonder if they can use these during presbytery meetings or committee meetings,” Oh said. “[GA] commissioners have mentioned that as well.”
The use of equity prime cards was in part a response to the 224th General Assembly, which was held entirely online and included no committee work. Most items of business were referred from that assembly to the current one. One group several commissioners wanted to hear from but didn’t was the Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force.
“The voices of those folks were not heard or centered,” Oh told Tangeman, “even though that issue was really rising in critical nature at that time.”
Equity primes and another tool, choice points, “are a growing edge,” Oh said. “These are new muscles we are using. We will have to use them for a while before we feel like we’re really asking the questions and centering the voices and thinking of those who really need to be heard. I think we’re doing better sometimes and then not at other times.”
“I don’t want to paint a rosy picture that because we instituted these equity primes, all of a sudden our problems are going away,” Oh added. “As they become more familiar to us, we can use them along with the other tools we have to really do the deliberation and discernment we need to do.”
At Tangeman’s request, Oh recalled serving as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate at GA216 in Richmond, Virginia, in 2004. A seminary professor had told her, “I hope you’ll still be a Presbyterian when you come back,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s a surprising statement. I don’t know what you mean.’ I remember coming back and thinking, oh, I now know what he meant by that. There were some particularly rancorous discussions there.”
Later, she was a commissioner to GA 221 (2014) in Detroit. There, “I was really proud of the ways we got to discern and deliberate and seek the mind of Christ together,” Oh said. “When it’s working, it’s really beautiful.”
“I think we can always be improving on that process,” Oh said, “and I think we’re on our way to doing that.”