From Theresa Latini
The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly is soon upon us. This biennial gathering of commissioners, special interest groups, GA staff members, reporters, and other church leaders will commence on June 30 in Pittsburgh and respond to proposed overtures and reports sent from presbyteries around the country. Those near and far will be watching closely for the voting results on this year’s most contentious and fiercely debated pieces of legislation—e.g., gay marriage and civil unions, property rights for congregations seeking to leave the denomination, and the restructuring of presbyteries to allow like-minded congregations to affiliate with one another outside of normal geographical boundaries.
GA is really like a well-oiled machine. I walked around slack-jawed at my first one many years ago. It’s impressive on many levels. Robert's Rules of Order work, and Presbyterians know how to do RRO. (It’s that whole “decently and in good order” thing.) To be more precise, GA works when it comes to making large-scale decisions in a fairly democratic manner. But it doesn’t work so well when it comes to the kind of adaptive changes needed to fulfill the church’s mission in an era of conflict, crisis, and change. Rarely is the conflict that exists in and between PCUSA congregations and their leaders transformed at GA. I suspect that the current structure simply cannot support that kind of work.
Nevertheless, I do think that participants at GA could commit to empathetic leadership, a way of being in relationship to self and others that contributes to the transformation of conflict into communal connection. At the very least, empathetic leadership involves both a willingness to enter the heart of the conflict that exists in ourselves and in others and the knowledge and skill to address that conflict in such a way that, by God’s grace, it is transformed into compassion, care, and renewed ministry in the world.