The General Assembly – Don’t Believe Everything You Read

The General Assembly – Don’t Believe Everything You Read

This weekend begins our big, national, biennial General Assembly meeting. There are a huge number of issues that commissioners are asked to vote on and make decisions about. People will sometimes look in newspapers or on the web to learn what kind of decisions have been made. The most important thing to keep in mind when reading reports about what the Assembly did is not to believe everything you read. You have to read everything with a grain of salt. Why? Because what is reported is not always true. Here are some examples:

One year, a news report came out on a Wednesday morning that the denomination had voted to change its behavioral sexuality requirements for ordained elders, deacons, and pastors. This was not true. What had happened was that the Assembly committee that was reviewing the requested overtures on Monday and Tuesday had recommended a change in the requirements. They were passing on their recommendation to the full plenary of the whole Assembly, but the denomination had not changed its ordination requirements.

On another occasion, a news report came out on Friday night, that the denomination had voted to change its behavioral sexuality requirements for ordained elders, deacons, and pastors. This was not true. The Assembly had voted to recommend to its local presbyteries that the ordination requirements be changed. What many press people do not understand is that the General Assembly does not have the authority to change our Book of Order. They can only recommend that the presbyteries change the Book of Order. And any recommendation will take another nine months before we know how all of the local presbyteries will vote and whether a change will be made or not. So, even though the press reported that our ordination sexuality standards had changed, nine months later, a majority of the presbyteries had voted not to change them, so no change was made.

On previous occasions, a lot of press has been given to decisions that the General Assembly made on volatile issues such as Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East. Sometimes, they have reported only on certain phrases or sections of a report, rather than on the complexity of the full report. Some of our reports are complicated and multi-faceted, and don’t fit nicely and neatly into a little box. By ignoring parts of the statements that the GA has passed, they can make it sound like the GA took a very narrow, one sided position, when if you had read the full report, you would see the GA adopted a paper that was much broader, with great appreciation for the complexity of the issues.

So, when you read about the decisions of this week’s GA in the press or on the web, and if you are tempted to get frustrated and angry, remember, don’t believe everything you read. If you take some time, and wait for more information to come out, you will sometimes discover that the initial reporting was not accurate, and perhaps even wrong. Please be in prayer for our GA commissioners this week.

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