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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

General Assembly
Friday, July 6, 2012

Yesterday at General Assembly a pattern again surfaced that I reported earlier this week – some critical votes at this assembly are passing by razor-thin margins. Even after lengthy, respectful debate and heartfelt prayer, commissioners sometimes remain very evenly divided over significant issues.

Case in point: Last night the assembly voted by a margin of 333-331 in favor of investing in Palestinian business rather than divesting from companies that provide assistance to Israel’s military initiatives vis-à-vis Palestine. This vote rejected the recommendation that had been made by the committee on Middle East Peacemaking.

Such close votes reveal what we already knew, that Presbyterians are independent thinkers. These votes follow no ordinary party lines – our variances are much more complicated than simple “liberal/conservative” or “progressive/reactionary” divides. The Presbyterian house isn’t composed simply of “red” and “blue” rooms. Chances are good that those who vote with me on one issue could well vote differently from me on another.

One might argue that a house so evenly divided cannot possibly stand. But one might also see it as a demonstration of genuine vitality. What does it say about the fiber of our fellowship that we have been able to stick together amid such differences? Even though the particular issues we face and vote upon may be different from those confronting earlier generations, having a broad spread of opinions within our fellowship has been a hallmark of Presbyterianism for generations. Perhaps what is more remarkable than our history of splitting is that we stick together at all!

Paul’s exhortation to keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) affords no expectation that we will always achieve consensus on the voting floor. Indeed, it presupposes that we have abiding differences in conviction and function, otherwise why would we need the exhortation? Our being one body is predicated not on our uniformity, but on the fact that by one Spirit we are joined to one Lord and proclaim one faith that we inherited in one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-5). We long for the day when our God-given unity will be transparent, when Jesus’ prayer that we be one as he and the Father are one will be fully answered – and we know that only the Spirit can make that happen. Our struggle over split votes is part of a deep and abiding yearning to be true to what God has called and created us to be as a holy people.

As you pray for GA today, I invite you to pray for the Lord’s help to commissioners as they grapple further with issues over which there remains a wide span of conviction in the church. May the commissioners and delegates be led “not by might (of reasoning) nor by power (of persuasion) but by the Spirit.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Yours in the unity of the Spirit,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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