The Social Justice Issues Committee considers matters related to: concerns of the church in national affairs, righteousness and justice of persons/organizations, global evangelism and education, the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, and the self-review report of ACSWP. (Source: pc-biz.org.)
Below are descriptions of each piece of business, divided into categories by topic. Each item number links to the full text of the resolution on pc-biz.org, along with all official comments that have been submitted.
Commissioner’s Resolution on Suicide Prevention
[11-20]: On Church Response in Support of Suicide Prevention Efforts.
This resolution encourages congregations to take actions to engage in conversations around suicide, provide support for those who are/have been suicidal, and interface with suicide prevention and awareness groups.
ACSWP recommends approval, noting an intersection with the proposed update to Comfort my People in [10-11] and that suicide rates have dramatically increased.
Boundaries of Religious Liberty
[11-04]: The Appropriate Boundaries of Religious Liberty
[11-15]: Religious Freedom Without Discrimination
These two items, [11-04] from the Presbytery of Boise and [11-15] from ACSWP, are similar in scope and aim: each opposes efforts to frame discrimination as “religious freedom” and thus enshrine discriminatory practices as protected by law. Each item makes reference to past PC(USA) policy in support of its argument.
ACREC and ACWC write in support of both resolutions, noting the historical and ongoing intersections of such false claims of religious freedom against people of color and against women, respectively.
ACSWP offers slight language change recommendations for [11-04] and comments: “ACSWP has submitted a related item for approval by the assembly, Item 11-15, “A Resolution on Religious Freedom Without Discrimination.” The committee regards Items 11-04 and 11-15 as supportive of each other and advises approval of both. However, Item 11-15 specifically addresses religiously motivated discrimination against women in their reproductive capacities, among other differences between the two statements.”
Racial Justice and Awareness
[11-02]: Calling for an Immediate Moratorium on All Executions
This overture joins past assemblies of the UPC, PCUS, and PC(USA) in opposing capital punishment, writing:
“As Christians, we recognize God as sovereign in all spheres of human life, including the political sphere. We declare that God’s commandment against killing is still good law. We follow a Lord who taught us to go beyond ‘an eye for an eye.’ We believe that human individuals and institutions are sinful and make mistakes. And, as humans, we lack any power to correct our errors if we wrongly execute another human being.”
The overture rationale especially notes the racially discriminatory application of the death penalty in the United Stes.
ACSWP, ACREC, and ACWC support approval of the overture, with ACSWP proposing an additional instruction to the PMA to “post and publicize an updating of its resources on criminal justice and capital punishment”.
[11-03] Recognizing the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet’s Prophetic Voice for Today
This overture recognizes the prophetic witness of Rev. Henry High Garnet, and authorizes an anniversary publishing of his speech, “A Memorial Discourse,” from the first time an African American addressed Congress (Feb. 12, 1865).
The overture writers include in the rationale:
“Senator Charles Sumner, the architect of Congressional Reconstruction, gave his copy of “A Memorial Discourse” to the Harvard University library where the heavily annotated passages show how Garnet guided Sumner’s subsequent passage of the 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment.”
PPC estimates that the cost would be $4,825 for a 1000-copy reprinting of a Westminster John Knox Press booklet including the speech, a new introduction, a bio of Garnet, and responses to the speech. (It would be $2,335 for an e-book version).
ACREC and ACSWP advise approval of the recommendation.
[11-05] Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns Name Change
ACREC proposes to retire the terminology of “racial ethnic people,” replacing such language with “people of color” and phasing this language in as documents are printed/re-printed. It also emphasizes equity instead of equality in proposing its own new name: Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC).
[11-07] Responding to Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls
ACWC recommends that it be directed to form a 5-person task force to study the research on disparities faced by black women & girls, “with the intention of intersecting and expanding the work that is already being done around the national church in the area of racial justice to include the particular lived experiences of black women and girls.”
ACREC supports the recommendation, quoting Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community Churchwide Antiracism Policy and Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood.
[11-08] A Report with Recommendations on Drug Policy: Putting Healing Before Punishment
ACSWP delivers the report of its study on drug policy, identifying the failure of the “war on drugs” and recommending that the church advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana and an emphasis on harm reduction programs. It also notes the racially biased application of drug control laws in conviction and sentencing.
The report stops short from advocating marijuana legalization, and centers the stakes of the church’s involvement:
“This report invites the church to recognize that the scale and scope of compulsively consumed drugs, including alcohol, reveals a culture-wide, spiritual problem. It calls the church to respond to the deeper issues that drive people, even non-addicts, to escape reality and numb pain.”
ACREC and ACWC write in support of the recommendation.
[11-10] A Gospel from St Louis: Lessons from Congregations Seeking Racial and Economic Justice—From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
ACSWP presents affirmations and actions relating to the racial injustice experiences of St Louis and Ferguson, based on the testimonies of different St. Louis people of faith.
PMA “respectfully suggests that the policy recommendations be expanded to include a ban on the distribution of surplus military weapons and equipment to local police departments, enhanced data collection on use of force, and violence intervention programs in local municipalities.”
ACREC writes that the recommendations “support the core values of ACREC as it seeks racial and economic justice and equity, thus enabling the realization of God’s beloved community.”
ACWC also supports the overture, noting that “in particular, black women and children in St. Louis suffer more significant health disparities (including infant mortality and breast cancer) and are disproportionately affected by the overall economic conditions” (citing http://www.flourishstlouis.org/flourish-commits-to-zero-racial-disparities-in-infant-mortality/).
[11-18] Responding to Racist Nationalism
This resolution rejects “the unjust, racist disparagement of people and entire nations […] in the mistaken effort to place ‘America First,’ ” writing that Christians are instead called “to bring to “all nations” (Mt. 28:19) the good news that God loves all people equally.”
ACREC supports the resolution, stating: “valued members of PC(USA) congregations and mission partners abroad are from countries that have been disparaged in the recent debate over immigration. Our friends deserve to hear from us a renewed commitment to stand with them in a relationship of equality and genuine Christian love.”
[11-09] A Resolution on Sexual Misconduct in the PC(USA)
In this ACWC-recommended resolution, the PC(USA) “confesses its failure to listen to the long-silenced voices of victims of clergy sexual misconduct, repents its institutional sins of ineffective sexual misconduct policy, and commits to the deep systemic changes needed to create just systems.”
The recommendations also include actions to provide Trauma-Informed Clinical Care (TIC) and annual sexual misconduct training, as well as to create a “five-member task force composed of victims and advocates for victims of sexual misconduct” to oversee the implementation.
OGA recommends that recommendations 3 and 5 (TIC and the 5-member task force) be referred to the Safe and Sacred Space Task Force created in 2016, which will report to the 224th GA (2020)
COGA and ACREC advise approval of [11-09], with ACREC emphasizing the importance of ACWC’s included direction to provide “culturally appropriate resources for the full diversity of PC(USA) congregations” and COGA the recommendation’s call for a “trauma-informed response”.
Celebration of people with LGBTQ+ gender identities and/or sexual orientations.
[11-12]: Affirming and Celebrating the Full Dignity and Humanity of People of All Gender Identities
[11-13]: Celebrating the Gifts of People of Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities in the Life of the Church
These two overtures overlap in sentiment, with each affirming the dignity of LGBTQ+ individuals as “children of God”/included among “all God’s people.”
ACSWP, ACREC, and ACWC all support both overtures.
ACSWP on 11-12: “As the rationale for 11-12 reminds us: the church has declared a commitment to using language in such a way that “all members of the community of faith [may] recognize themselves as equally included, addressed, and cherished by God.” Approval of this item will give evidence of that commitment.”
ACWC on 11-13: “The best kind of church is a spiritual community that not only allows people to be the people God created us to be, but encourages people to be the people God created us to be.”
ACREC on both 11-12 and 11-13: “ACREC’s work and advocacy is for the full recognition of all people of color regardless of gender identity. Therefore, ACREC echoes the need for us as the PC(USA) to affirm and celebrate people of all gender identities.”
[11-14]: Engaging congregations in nation-wide action to prevent gun violence
This overture cites the “more than 1,600,000 Americans dying from guns since 1968” (and many more wounded, orphaned, or otherwise devastated). It commends past social witness policy actions from prior General Assemblies and specifically names the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance work in creating the video Trigger, as well as the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s Gun Violence Prevention Congregational Toolkit and signs similar to the “No Guns in God’s House” signs created in called for in 2014 (221st GA). The overture also includes a prayer for God to “Wake us up in our pews and our lives; do not let Christ find us asleep on this watch.”
ACSWP recommends approval and the addition of specific language encouraging congregational and presbytery leaders to “work with high school students especially in proposing local and state legislation prior to the 2018 and 2020 elections, to hold elected officials accountable, and to ensure accurate historical treatments of gun violence are included in high school curricula” and, referencing Gun Violence, Gospel Values (2010), to work ecumenically as well. ACSWP ends its Advice & Counsel by addressing YADs directly:
“Youth advisory delegates: does this sound right to you?”
ACREC supports approval, writing: “No longer will Presbyterian congregations be paralyzed and threatened by gun and ammunition lobbies.”
ACWC supports approval but also urges Committee 11 to bring additional recommendations for actions to engage in these conversations at all levels of the church. They list work by the American Psychological Association and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, as well as a webinar done by Presbyterian Outlook.
This is the PMA’s comment, verbatim:
This overture commends those engaged in the development of liturgical resources around the reduction of gun violence. The Presbyterian Mission Agency notes that the latest edition of the Book of Common Worship (WJKP, 2018) affirms and shares this concern, as it includes “Prayers After a Violent Event” (BCW 593–4), a “Service After a Violent Event” (BCW 595–8), a “Service for Justice and Peace” (BCW 599–601), suggested biblical readings and hymns for communities affected by violence (BCW 602–3), and guidelines for interreligious gatherings in times of conflict and crisis (BCW 639), as well as numerous specific intercessions for “an end to violence in our neighborhood and in our world” (BCW 106).
See the Book of Common Worship (pdf).
Honest Patriotism & Prophetic Witness
[11-11]: Being a transformative church in this intercultural era
ACREC adds a Recommendation 12, declaring PC(USA) to be an intercultural church.
[11-16]: A resolution on honest patriotism (ACSWP)
This ACSWP resolution seeks to “lift up our church’s long commitments to active civic engagement, responsible citizenship, and prophetic witness; believing these commitments to be rooted in our faithful response to God’s call for Christians to be stewards of creation; and witnessing the corrosion of democratic institutions.”
ACREC writes in support: “This is a timely and well-written resolution. It reminds Presbyterians of their call to speak truth when speaking truth may be costly. It also reminds us to be humble in recognizing that while at times when we feel we are speaking truth, we may be in error. As noted within the report, such a time is:
‘We have been a country, and we have been a church, which has paid scant attention to the voices of people of color. We have been a country, and we have been a church, which has paid scant attention to the voices of women. We have been a country, and we have been a church, which has paid scant attention to the voices of LGBTQ persons.’ ”
[11-17]: Declaration on concerns about moving toward autocracy in the USA
This theologically-framed declaration from the Presbytery of Hudson “says yes” to democracy, universal healthcare, justice, and “core human values,” juxtaposed against corrupted elections, civilian access to assault weapons, and division by ideology and partisanship (among others), to which it “says no”. The declaration ends by re-affirming, in life and in death, we belong to God.
The rationale for the overture cites John Calvin (obedience to rulers must not be allowed to conflict with obedience to God), Karl Barth–“[the State] cannot be honoured better than by this criticism which is due to it in all circumstances”, and the Book of Confessions–though “emissaries of peace,” members of the church “have to fight against pretensions and injustices when these same powers endanger human welfare”.
ACSWP Administrative Reports
[11-19]: Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy Self-Study
ACSWP’s self-study reviews its mandated functions to advise the General Assembly and PC(USA agencies, work cooperatively with all councils of the church, and “maintain and advance a prophetic witness of the church.”
Proposed recommendations include direction to work with various bodies of the church, an emphasis on finding “ways to communicate with young adults on emerging challenges to Christian conscience and new social movements,” and to increase circulation of Unbound (which reports to ACSWP).
[11-A]: Minutes, Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
These are the minutes of ACSWP since the 222nd General Assembly, which include notes on meeting process and content while studying and writing proposed social witness policy and interfacing with other parts of the church.
Moved to Other Committees
[11-06]: Requiring race audits of the six PC(USA) agencies
This was moved to [04-07]. (See our notes on the “The Way Forward” Committee)
[11-01]: Establishing a grant to educate about serious mental illness
This was moved to [10-11] (See our notes on the Mission Coordination Committee)
This outline was compiled by Henry Koenig Stone, who serves in Louisville, KY as current Managing Editor of Unbound and as Associate for Young Adult Social Witness (staff to ACSWP). Henry holds a B.A. in Economics (2015) from the University of Chicago and an MPP (2017) from UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. His past work has focused on policy analyses of healthcare pilot programs and public health systems.