It’s that time of the biennium again: Lord willing, the Church of God will gather in Orlando towards the end of next month to consider the business of the church. One think that makes this Assembly different is that there are no Executive Committee members to be elected, although the state Administrative Bishops will go through their usual “musical chairs” rotation.
Nevertheless there are some interesting items on the agenda, along with stuff that’s best described as “housekeeping”. (And, yes, we have an item of same-sex relationships, for my Anglican fans). You can download the agenda here and more information on the General Assembly is here. (Note: it’s described as the “General Council Agenda” because that body of our ordained bishops must deliberate and pass on the items before they get to the General Assembly of the church). The following comments are mostly listed by agenda item:
NAME OF CHURCH (p.15)
This reflects an interesting trend in our churches. In the past, Church of God were designated by their geographical location and the denomination name. Today people are supposed to be allergic to denominations (even when they have no idea of what the Church of God is) so we have inventive names such as “Cathedral of Praise” and “Ministry Centre”. I also suspect that the geographical name gave too much away the part of town we were in, but I’ll bet they’d have thought twice about changing the name of a “Worth Avenue Church of God” had it been organised.
CHURCH AND STATE (p. 17)
This isn’t the usual stuff on this subject, but a deletion of our preference for a democratic form of secular government. This may seem odd, but I suspect we’re taking it out for the benefit of our bretheren in countries where it makes the government angry. It can also be interpreted as a backhanded acknowledgement of the fact that, for all the money and time we throw at our electoral process, our status as a functioning representative government is deficient to say the least.
INTERNSHIP REQUIREMENTS (p. 47)
In the process of credentialing ministers, this would allow them to get their experience requirements as a chaplain in addition to ministry in a local church. This is long overdue; chaplaincy is too important to leave those called to it “outside the gates” of ordination.
GENERAL REQUIREMENTS OF APPLICANTS FOR MINISTRY (p. 49)
This requires that our ministers, in the process of their credentialing, actually “agree with and adhere to the Teachings and Doctrines as set forth by the International General Assembly of the Church of God” rather than just “inform themselves in the Teachings and Doctrines…” Refugees from the Episcopal Church and other Main Line churches will get a chuckle out of this. The revisionists who took over these institutions certainly informed themselves of the teachings of their churches, they just didn’t believe them!
MARRIAGE AND SAME-GENDER RELATIONSHIPS (p. 67)
Here’s where the fun part starts.
- This prohibits our ministers from performing either same-sex civil marriages or same-sex blessings, with loss of credentials following if they do. Evidently the hard lessons of our Main Line counterparts aren’t lost on our leadership. It’s interesting to note, however, that there is no explicit prohibition on opposite-sex blessings such as Bishop Leo Frade did for South Florida Episcopalians.
- This doesn’t address the issue of ministers being forced to perform same-sex civil marriages because they are agents of the state. The church needs to get out of the civil marriage business whether the state does or not. That reality is more apparent in places such as the UK, where the Sikhs already are de-registering their churches from performing civil marriages. Our church in the UK (which is considerable) should follow suit immediately on that.
- I’m not convinced that part (C) will prevent an attack based on the “public accommodation” argument re use of facilities. A stronger stance would include the requirement that Church of God ministers would only perform marriages if and only if at least one of the couple be a member of the Church of God.
- The Church of God needs to begin advocating for the abolition of civil marriage. I’ve discussed this elsewhere.
In short, this resolution is good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough to defend the integrity of the church.
INTERNATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY (p. 83)
We need to step up to the plate and go to a full quadrennial (four-year) cycle of elections, appointments and General Assemblies. Having cut the mandatory allocation to the State and International Offices by a third, and given the cost of the General Assembly, we’re doing the fiscally irresponsible by continuing the biennium. Moreover, having worked at the International Offices, I can assure you that the biennial cycle guarantees that half of our time is either spent recovering/reorganising from the previous General Assembly or preparing for the next one. Having a quadrennium would make for more productive time at the State and International levels.
I’m sure we could come up with meetings that would fill the void without having to mandate them in the Minutes.
THE MISSING ITEM FROM THE AGENDA
The one item that I would like to see on the agenda–and many others I’ve talked to agree with this–is the reduction in the number of members of the Executive Committee from five to three. Grandfathering current members is fine. The reduction in cost would go a long way to offset the reductions in the tithe on tithe that has caused such dislocation of late.