The General Assembly Tries to Make Good Decisions, But…

The GA Tries to Make Good Decisions But…

The General Assembly tries to make good decisions.  Honest.  They really do.  We send some really good people.  And most of them have good motives.  Unfortunately, good decisions don’t always happen.  It is usually a struggle to get there.  The reality is that many factors work against making good decisions at GA.  God can bring good decisions out of the GA.  But, it’s usually in spite of our process, not because of it.  How does this happen?

One thing that hinders good decisions is that we try to do too much.  We attempt to tackle too much business, solve too many problems, and answer too many questions.  We ask people to make too many decisions in one week.  The Assembly will take action on about 750 pieces of business.  When the plenary is asked to vote on 750 issues in three days, how well do you think commissioners know all the ins and outs and reasons and ramifications of their decisions?  It is not physically and mentally possible to know everything you need to know about every issue.  So, you skim the reading.  You rely on other people’s opinions.  You trust what other people say.  And you pray that your vote does no harm.  But, there’s too much business and not enough time.  So, the GA tries to make good decisions, but it is really hard.

One thing that hinders good decisions is that we have too many commissioners.  Have you ever tried to have a deep, thoughtful discussion with about 750 people?  It’s pretty hard to do.  And what if you walked into the room only knowing 5-10 of those people?  How easy is it to make decisions on seemingly important issues with over 700 strangers that you just met in the last few days?  When we make decisions at the session level, we usually have some relationship with each other.  We know something about each other and where we’re coming from.  Even at a presbytery level, if you are a regular attender, you can get to know people, build some level of relationships, and know who you are talking with.  But, at the GA, you are not in relationship with all of these other strangers.  It’s hard in that environment to ask the probing questions and really gather all the information necessary to make the right choices.  Having too many commissioners means that extroverts and strong personalities dominate the conversations.  Most introverts and those who are afraid of public speaking (the #1 fear in America) keep silent, don’t participate, and don’t make their views known.  So, we don’t really know what most commissioners think, only how most commissioners vote.  The Presbytery of San Diego is sending an overture asking that the number of commissioners be reduced to the levels that we had some years ago.  Approving this would not only save us a lot of money, but would help alleviate some of this problem.  So, the GA tries to make good decisions, but it is really hard.

One thing that hinders good decisions is that we ask people to function in a different culture that they are not used to.  Over 70% of commissioners are generally attending their first GA.  Experience on a session usually does not prepare people for the culture of the GA.  Experience in a presbytery often does not prepare people for the culture of the GA either.  It is a foreign environment for most people.  It is run by parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order that people are not familiar with or confident in.  It uses a lot of language and jargon that people don’t understand, but it’s embarrassing to keep interrupting to ask what the words and acronyms mean.  Commissioners often feel like they have to make a decision before they leave to go home, when in reality, many decisions should probably be delayed until the next Assembly when more questions can be answered, more information can be shared, and more ramifications can be thought through.  So, the GA tries to make good decisions, but it is really hard.

One thing that hinders good decisions is that most people argue from experience, feelings, and opinions, rather than seeking guidance from the scriptures and prayer.  Sure, we always open and close with the perfunctory prayer.  Sure, there is a worship service scheduled every day of the week.  But, in committees and in the plenary sessions, when the most controversial issues are being debated, you don’t hear many people pointing us back to the scriptures, our confessions, and our theology.  You hear tear-jerking stories that tug on our heart strings.  You hear American cultural values.  You hear people go off on tangents that are not related to the issue at hand.  So, the GA tries to make good decisions, but it is really hard.

And finally, one thing that hinders good decisions is that many of the people with the most knowledge do not have a vote, and many people with very little knowledge do get to vote.  There are staff and committee people at the national and local level, who live with these issues every day, have been wrestling with them for a long time, and know the consequences of approving and not approving them.  Yet, they do hot have voice or vote. On the flip side, you have well-meaning, hard-working people, who have never thought through some of these issues prior to a month or two before the GA begins, who do have voice and vote.  So, we put seemingly important decisions in the hands of people who are still trying to get up to speed on what these decisions will mean, while people who have thought these issues through for years, are not asked and are not allowed to vote.  So, the GA tries to make good decisions, but it is really hard.

There is a good overture coming from the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy (St. Louis area) that is asking to re-look at how the General Assembly meetings function.  There are a few others asking to change how the GA week operates.  It would be a step in the right direction if these overtures would pass.  Our General Assembly operates in a system that probably served us well at one point in our history, but not anymore.  Sure, God can use anything, but we’re really not giving God much to work with.  It is not a surprise when the GA does not make good choices.  The GA really does try to make good decisions, but it’s really hard.


One Response to “The General Assembly Tries to Make Good Decisions, But…”

  1. Reformed Catholic Says:

    One of my major pet peeves is the vote that the YAADs get to do before the actual vote.

    Sure they are supposed to be ‘Advisory Delegates’, but they should only advise at the committees, not give a voice to sway delegates in the plenary sessions.

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