I watched every second of the business of the Church of the Nazarene 29th General Assembly. This is not something I’m proud of, and it was mostly an accident.
When the resolutions were first published back in May, I found their presentation on the GA website to be a nightmare to navigate. Long lists of links to individual PDFs, only labeled by number. I wanted a better, more descriptive way to present this information.
Before I knew it, a bunch of other people were referencing the spreadsheet (turns out I wasn’t the only one who found the GA website cumbersome), and hoping it would be updated with the voting results for each resolution.
So I watched the livestream.
Here's my commentary on what seemed to be the 10 major-drama resolutions.
This resolution was a complete rewrite of the CotN’s statement on sexuality. There’s a lot of good stuff here—assertions of the inherent goodness of the human body, condemnation of sexual violence of every kind, affirmation of singleness as a valid and holy mode of being. There’s some not-great stuff as well, primarily regarding homosexual intimacy as an example of sinful “brokenness,” but at least we’re no longer talking about the “depth of perversion” that leads to homosexuality. The really remarkable thing about the passage of this resolution is that 97% of delegates were in favor of it. That kind of consensus about anything, much less a statement on sexuality, is practically unheard of—in the CotN, or anywhere, really. While not perfect, this statement had something for everybody, such that we could all get on board and say “OK. I can work with this.”
This was an extension of the existing statement on discrimination (which the Assembly voted to keep), renouncing “any form of racial and ethnic indifference, exclusion, subjugation, or oppression,” and sought “to repent of every behavior in which we have been overtly or covertly complicit with the sin of racism.” It also called “upon Nazarenes everywhere to identify and seek to remove acts and structures of prejudice, to facilitate occasions for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, and to take action toward empowering those who have been marginalized.” It’s really a beautiful statement, and one that I am so proud to see go in the Manual. However, something I can’t get out of my mind is that during the debate on the floor, someone got up to speak against its adoption, saying that it would be “co-opted in support of tolerating the LGBT community,” which was, of course, unacceptable. And while the intent of his statement was malicious, I think he’s right, and I look forward to doing just that.
This was a weird and completely unnecessary resolution that I was surprised to see pass. While I certainly believe people should be decent to each other on social media, I also think people should be decent to each other in all areas of life, and that should go without saying. To codify proper behavior for this specific mode of communication without mentioning any other seems very strange. Further, I am certain that this statement in the Manual will be weaponized and used to police the speech of pastors and laypeople—evidenced by one church leader who IMMEDIATELY took to Facebook after the resolution’s passage to call for the “accountability” of Nazarenes in certain online spaces. I have a feeling this resolution will cause far more problems than it will solve.
CA-710—Use of Intoxicants (JUD-833 Task Force on the Use of Alcohol)
It seemed that the main thrust and intention of this resolution was completely lost on most people. The debate devolved into a discussion of why the CotN would “soften” its position on alcohol, when it did nothing close to that. It still called Nazarenes to abstinence, however it recognized that abstinence is not a Christian imperative and that consumption of alcohol should not be a barrier to fellowship with other Christians. More than anything I think the discussion revealed how deeply ingrained abstinence as a matter of personal, legalistic morality is in the denomination. As one speech against the resolution said, “Good Wesleyans don’t drink.” It ended up being referred for study by the Task Force formed by the passage of JUD-833.
This resolution was, strangely, killed in committee and didn’t even make it to the floor. It asserts baptism as a prerequisite for membership, and apparently there are a lot of people against this? I personally don’t understand why or how someone would be willing to commit to membership in a church but not willing to be initiated into The Church. But it didn’t even make it to the floor for debate so maybe I’ll never know.
This was an absolute shitshow. To begin with, the resolution was not good. In asserting that “a person’s birth gender is primary and formative,” the resolution sought to quash any legitimacy of transgender experience under the guise of “divine sovereignty.” The resolution became even worse after an amendment changing it to “birth sex is primary and formative,” which I interpreted as “birth sex” being formative of gender, which was the subject of the previous clause. And then it got even WORSE with an amendment that changed “the vast majority of people are born male or female” to “all people are born male or female,” which is completely contrary to scientific observation and entirely erased intersex people from existence. Jeremy Scott gave an excellent speech against it, but even a doctor, getting up to state that such an amendment made the statement demonstrably false, could not keep the resolution from being adopted. It was as if we had passed a resolution that said the earth was flat, or the sky was green. After the lunch break, however, the BGS explained that the latter amendment had made the resolution contradictory to itself, for it states that there are people “born with ambiguous genital formation,” but then also states “all people are born male or female.” Therefore given this contradiction, they moved to have the resolution reconsidered. The motion passed, and the resolution was referred for further study after several doctors spoke to the importance of not having a scientifically inaccurate statement in the Manual. I hope the study yields a better, more graceful statement that actually takes into account the experiences of our transgender, genderqueer, and intersex friends.
There was a lot of debate over this from—shockingly—District Superintendents. The resolution was to remove the DS age limit of 70 years. It was adopted in committee, and initially adopted by the assembly, but then reconsidered and ultimately rejected.
This was a surprisingly contentious resolution. It was ultimately referred to the BGS for further study and a decision. I can’t even pretend to understand why there was so much debate about allowing phone/Skype discussion and voting for local church boards, especially after DA-214, which was basically the same resolution but for District meetings, passed easily. There was even a motion the next day to reconsider the referral, though that motion did not pass.
This was another hotly debated resolution, seeking to change the time between General Assemblies from 4 years to 5. Most of the arguments for this change were from delegates outside the United States, expressing the challenges of coordinating delegates, preparing for travel, and especially raising money. Most of the arguments against changing were about “this is the way we’ve always done it” with a side of “5 years is too long and things go slow enough as it is.” The encouraging thing was that most of the 4-year-ers seemed committed to answering the 5-year-ers’ concerns about money in order to make 4 years more doable. One possible solution was to have US delegations raise money to send more delegates than they had, thereby paying the way for outside-the-US delegates. I sure hope they will put that money where their votes were, as the resolution did not pass—next GA will be in 2021.
This resolution was referred after a debate that basically came down to “crisis vs. process,” which I guess I should have predicted, but which I did not expect people to get so heated over. It initially was rejected (I’m not exactly sure why), but there was a motion to reconsider it that passed, perhaps because it’s such an important and distinctive doctrine, and subsequently referred to the BGS.
Between the outcomes of these resolutions and the election of Filimao Chambo and Carla Sunberg as our new General Superintendents, I was surprisingly quite pleased with the way GA turned out. Along with others, I actually feel optimistic about the future of the Church of the Nazarene, and I feel a deep and abiding love for these people whom I’m glad to call family. We’ve a long way to go, but we’re going. If only a baby step at a time.