The General Council voted unanimously by voice vote Friday afternoon to approve the creation of a designated African-American executive presbyter, similar to representative slots added in 2007 for an ordained female minister plus a minister under the age of 40.
The action brings the number of executive presbyters to 21.
Although a Pew Research Center report last week cited the Assemblies of God as the most diverse evangelical denomination in the U.S., that isn't reflected on the Fellowship's overwhelmingly white top legislative body.
The number of blacks in the U.S. Assemblies of God has increased significantly this century. There were 164,071 African-American adherents in the AG in 2001, or 6.2 percent of all adherents. This number has now risen to 10 percent. Currently, only one African-American is on the 20-member Executive Presbytery, U.S. Missions Executive Director Zollie L. Smith Jr.
The adopted resolution calls for the addition of one ordained African-American minister to be elected to the Executive Presbytery. Members of the executive board of the National Black Fellowship (NBF) shall be considered among the nominees. The General Presbytery will submit the names of four ordained African-American minister nominees for consideration.
NBF Vice President Walter Harvey spoke in favor of the resolution. He said it isn't a form of affirmative action or tokenism, but rather an attempt to duly include a voice from a growing part of the constituency.
Telvin Howe of Hampton, Virginia, said he became an AG minister 16 years ago against the advice of family and friends who told him he should choose an all-black denomination instead. Yet, he said he chose to believe the best about the AG. Although there have been challenges and inequities, Howe said the resolution will help the Fellowship fulfill Galatians 3:28.
"We're better than the sum of our history," Howe said.
After the vote, delegates rose to applaud. The General Council also recognized General Superintendent George O. Wood for his ongoing efforts toward racial reconciliation with a standing ovation.
A motion dealing with sexual practices that failed to make it out of the Resolutions Committee came up in brief discussion. Committee Chairman Donald H. Detrick explained that the proposition contained ambiguous language and terminology that could lead to the termination of ministers without due process.
The rejected resolution stated that any AG minister or church "that promotes, participates, or partners with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) or any other organization, campaign, or political initiative that would condone or accommodate homosexuality or any other sexual expression condemned by the Scriptures shall be dismissed from the Fellowship."
Wood said the AG constitution and bylaws already allow for the removal of ministers who advocate for LGBT rights and district councils have taken action against a handful of ministers because of such involvement.
"The Assemblies of God position on same-sex relationships is very clear," Wood said. "We do not permit same-sex relationships. There is no equivocation on the part of the General Council."
Wood noted that he took a public stand against a LGBT ordinance in Springfield, Missouri, where the AG's national offices are located, because it didn't contain sufficient religious freedom protections.
In other business, the General Council adopted a resolution that amends district representation on the General Presbytery. Before, district representatives besides the superintendent needed to be two ordained AG ministers, one of whom needed to be pastor of a church. The adopted motion changes the qualified representative besides the superintendent to be two ordained AG ministers, one of whom is a pastor or one who is involved in other ministry. Eric A. Treuil of Lafayette, Louisiana, sponsored the resolution.
Delegates also approved a change in ministerial credentials validation for missionaries or ministers outside the U.S. but not under the auspices of AG World Missions. The new policy requires such personnel to contact the appropriate AGWM regional director for the purpose of credential renewal. AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis said the revised policy was needed for continuity, accountability, and integrity.