Personnel overshadowed policy at last month’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA). Though commissioners dealt with major issues such as abortion and homosexuality, it was the assembly’s selection of a new moderator and—for a time—a new stated clerk 1o that generated the biggest surprises during the nine-day meeting.
On the second day of the annual meeting, held June 2–10 in Milwaukee, delegates selected John Fife of Tucson as moderator, the presiding officer of the 2.8 million-member denomination. Fife, a founder of the Sanctuary Movement, was convicted in 1986 of harboring undocumented Central American refugees and sentenced to five years’ probation. Fife said he saw his election as an indication that the PCUSA was not ready to abandon its support for liberal social action, in spite of declining membership and a trend toward conservatism.
The most unexpected events of the general assembly came during its final two days. Incumbent stated clerk James Andrews was upset by Clark Chamberlain in a three-way race for the denomination’s top executive office. Many observers saw the selection of the little-known minister and lawyer from Houston as a vote against Andrews, whose outspoken style and actions have angered some church members.
Chamberlain admitted he was “somewhat overwhelmed” by his victory, which he said was “totally unexpected.” He attributed the outcome to a desire in the assembly for change.
Less than 24 hours later, however, Chamberlain shocked the commissioners by announcing that he would not serve. “I am convinced for reasons that are weighty and personal to me, and I think redound to the honor and glory of the church, I am not able to go forward and accept your election to the office of stated ...1
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