General Assembly Policy Relevant to the Government Shutdown

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The following is a supplement to an editorial by Chris Iosso regarding the October 2013 government shutdown. It is meant to be a thorough and representative (but by no means comprehensive!) compilation of PC(USA) social witness policy relevant to the issues raised by the shutdown.

World of Hurt, Word of Life: Renewing God’s Communion in the Work of Economic Reconstruction (2012):
Adopted by the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

[As part of the “Call to Renewal,” the policy states:]

[…] Guided by the Christian tradition, we seek a sustainable stewardship society shaped for the common good, contrasted with a short-sighted consumer society ruled by economic assumptions too often accepted as unalterable truths. Guided as well by our Reformed tradition, we specifically lift up the role of government, which is ordained by God to restrain the power of sin, to correct the injustice of sinful systems, and, in wise governance, to help build a just economy. We value the market and individual initiative within a framework of democratic governance, shared prosperity, and sufficient public investment for common need. And we believe that the church can, and should, use its voice responsibly on complex matters of public importance. […]

[Among other “Communion Principles” that the report offers for ethical guidance is…]

3.) Governance for the Common Good

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and thoseauthorities that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom.13:1).

  • We affirm that government is good, ordained by God for the maintenance of God’s commonwealth, accountable to God in drawing fairly on the capacities and resources of its members and protecting their dignity and safety.
  • We affirm that government has as its trust the furthering of the common good, in concert with the activities of private citizens and organizations. The freedom of personal creativity benefits from the social creativity enabled by wise governance, which includes independent judicial review of government itself.
  • We affirm that all citizens have the right to basic economic goods and to meaningful work, and that government, representing the whole community, is ultimately responsible for seeing to the provision and protection of these rights from unjust concentrations of market or political power.
  • We reject, as incompatible with God’s gift of government, any construal of individual liberty that denies our corporate responsibilities to neighbors near and far, for the protection of their equal liberty and opportunity to flourish.

Click here for full policy statement.

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Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform (2008):
Adopted by the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)

[The “Theological and Ethical Foundations” of these recommendations state:]

[…] Accountability is demanded of every political figure in the Bible story. Because of sin in human personal and social life, transparency and the enforcement of principles of equality and liberty are required as a condition of a fair common life. Both citizens and officials are accountable for their custody of the democratic-representative process… Reinhold Niebuhr’s aphorism that “[human] capacity for justice makes democracy possible but [human] capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary” is a fair summary of the possibilities of our political life as we strive to make it as participatory, just and accountable as possible.

We believe our democracy can evolve to greater equity and liberty for us all because, as Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail in April 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Christian philosopher and social critic Cornel West updates this truth for us when he reminds: “Every historic effort to forge a democratic project has been undermined by two fundamental [shared] realities: poverty and paranoia. The persistence of poverty generates levels of despair that deepen social conflict and the escalation of paranoia produces levels of distrust that reinforce cultural divisions.”… We do not need to let poverty and fear-based thinking paralyze our democracy any further.

[The “Conclusion” to these recommendations states:]

[…]The members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are among the most politically active of U.S. citizens, partly because many of us know how the system works (or doesn’t). We vote at a higher percentage than other Americans, and give significant amounts of money to political campaigns, and that translates into economic and generally racial advantage. We embody a mixture of self-interested savvy and high-minded idealism that helps us recognize how checks and balances begin on the inside. And that awareness makes us cautious in claiming “civic virtue,” but convinced that politics is about more than interests grappling for advantage. Politics is not simply a marketplace. It is about power and subsidies and resentments and fears of loss, but it is also about enduring loyalties and hopes, expanded identities, and generosity of spirit.

Reports like this produce recommendations because “truth is in order to goodness,” as the Book of Order says, and because even the elect benefit from guidance, as Calvin taught in the “third use of the law.” Democracy itself can be mean, if the voters and the choices before them are mean, although we suspect that such a democracy would soon leave too many people out. Popular leaders and parties can promote irresponsible ideas, ignore dangers, burden future generations. Good laws are essential but not sufficient; enforcement requires a belief that government itself should serve “the people.” […]

Click here for full policy statement.

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Reformed Faith and Politics (1983):
Adopted by the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

[Under the section entitled “The Political Vocation of Presbyterians”, the report says (p. 15):]

[…] Discipleship is not only a personal, individual calling. The Sovereign Lord works not only in the depths of individual souls but also in the organizations, the institutions, and the movements of human history…. All Presbyterians, therefore, have a political vocation. Beyond the general political vocation of citizenship there is the special political vocation of public office. Public officials are not to be despised but to be honored and to be challenged when they do wrong. We must be sure that the worthy calling of public service is not ignored or demeaned. To be realistic about politics is not to despise it but to learn how to use it as an instrument of justice. […]

Click here for full policy statement.

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Principles for Social Guidance and Objectives for Christian Practice (1936):

In this Gospel we find certain great principles for social guidance, which the Church must steadily assert and reaffirm:

  • […] Declarations of human rights must go hand in hand with declarations of human responsibilities. The Gospel asserts the stewardship of wealth, but asserts not less the stewardship of position, special ability, education, opportunity, health and life itself. We are debtors.
  • The Gospel knows no laws, whether economic, social, or political, which are not subordinate to moral and spiritual laws and principles. To proclaim and explicitly to teach these principles and laws is the obligation of the Church. Her interest is not primarily in economic, political, or social systems, save as these contravene or support the primary principles revealed in the Word of God. Although this revelation came out of the omniscience of God, it confers on neither [laity] nor clergy nor even on Church councils or assemblies, scientific infallibility to set up forthwith an ideal social order…But the Church must constantly reiterate its conviction that Christian moral and religious principles will “in the long run and in the big scale prove sound economics” and wholesome social relations. […]

In the light of such principles inherent in our one Gospel, we may set up the following objectives:

  • That there is nothing wrong with America which cannot be made right by the Spirit of Christ and the orderly processes of constitutional democracy. […]
  • That the Christian Church cannot abdicate its function to assert the sovereignty of Christ’s spirit and truth in every sphere of human life.  It is concerned with the quality of human conduct in every realm of human interest and activity.
  • That while there are details of practice in business and industry with which the Church has no immediate concern, and certainly no adequate competency to deal, yet practice involves principles on the moral value of which the Christian Church has not only a right but a duty to insist and act accordingly. […]

Read Chris Iosso’s editorial on the shutdown.

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