Assembly acts decisively on gun violence, abortion, tax reform

June 19, 2014

Dan Ponder, moderator of Committee 9, Social justice Issues, addressed plenary VII during the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the PC(USA) in Detroit, MI on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Dan Ponder, moderator of Committee 9, Social justice Issues, addressed plenary VII during the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the PC(USA) in Detroit, MI on Thursday, June 19, 2014. —Danny Bolin

Recommendations that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) advocate measures to prevent gun violence won resounding approval Thursday from the 221st General Assembly (2014).

“Gun violence is a public health crisis in the United States that is not being adequately addressed,” said Teaching Elder Commissioner Wallace Fletcher of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, adding, “30,000 people a year are killed by guns in the United States.”

Among other things, the Assembly’s action calls for

  • formation of support, healing and advocacy groups for those who have experienced gun violence in their families;
  • opposition to legislation that exempts gun manufacturers and marketers from legal liability and/or financial accountability for the medical and security costs of predictable gun misuse and availability to criminals, the unstable, and the self-destructive;
  • opposition to “stand your ground” and other legislation that may entitle gun owners to shoot before taking alternative measures (such as relying on law enforcement and/or other de-escalation techniques) in perceived defense of persons or property;
  • encouraging church sessions and PC(USA) entities that own property to declare their particular premises and gatherings to be gun-free zones;
  • raising the age for handgun ownership to 21;
  • supporting legislation to ban semiautomatic assault weapons, armor-piercing handgun ammunition and .50-caliber rifles; and
  • advocacy in support of state and federal legislation to regulate ammunition.

Commissioners voted 465-133 to disapprove an overture from the Presbytery of South Alabama calling for appointment of a special committee to review PC(USA) policies on abortion and propose new policies if needed. The overture also urged a two-year churchwide “season of reflection” on the plight of unwanted children, “both born and not-yet-born.”

A substitute motion proposed by Teaching Elder Commissioner Jim Houston-Hencken of the Presbytery of Nevada eliminated the original overture’s call for a new study of abortion and simply urged “a two-year season of prayer and reflection on ‘the least of these’ children, both born and not yet born, who are unwanted by human society.” This motion also was voted down.

After rejecting an attempt to refer, the Assembly voted 425-170 to approve a lengthy paper from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy titled “Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age,” offering recommendations seeking a fairer tax system in the United States.

Ruling Elder Commissioner Dan Ponder, moderator of the Assembly Committee on Social Justice Issues, said the aim of the document is to “start discussion of a Christian framework for tax reform.” Ruling Elder Commissioner Debra Davies, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Maumee Valley, praised the paper. “In my experience as an accounting and business professional, this is the most thorough and in-depth analysis of the tax structure I’ve seen,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to be a prophetic witness for economic justice in our country.”

However, Steve Watkins, a Teaching Elder Commissioner from the Presbytery of New Harmony, contended that the paper is based on false assumptions and “does not reflect the wider diversity and perspectives of our denomination.”

Several commissioners said they needed more time to read and digest the lengthy document, but a motion to refer it to ACSWP to bring back to the 222nd General Assembly (2016) was defeated.

An overture from the Presbytery of San Francisco calling for a two-year churchwide study to discern how to advocate for more effective drug policies in the United States, approved unanimously by the Social Justice Issues Committee, was pulled from the consent agenda for a vote by the full Assembly. When it came to the floor, two commissioners raised questions about the two-year duration and the $50,000 financial implication of the study. However, the measure ultimately was approved by a vote of 317- 260.

Most of the business items dealt with by the Assembly Committee on Social Justice Issues were placed on the consent agenda approved by commissioners on Wednesday. Among the items approved:

  • an overture from the Presbytery of Nevada that seeks training in trauma crisis counseling for pastors and other caregivers so that they can respond more effectively to the needs of survivors following a homicide or mass shooting;
  • an overture from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta calling for measures to promote food sovereignty, which includes the right of all people to “safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and food-producing resources”;
  • an overture from the Presbytery of National Capital affirming the importance of maternal and child nutrition in the 1,000 days between the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday;
  • an amended overture from the Synod of the Covenant calling for a study of end-of-life issues;
  • an overture from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta calling for a national moratorium on the death penalty;
  • an amended overture from the Presbytery of Santa Fe urging the church to support financial and political reforms of the U.S. political and financial sector, including campaign finance reform;
  • a commissioners’ resolution encouraging presbyteries and denominational agencies to adopt parental leave policies with minimum terms of six weeks at 100 percent of prorated annual salary and full housing allowance;
  • a commissioners’ resolution seeking support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in 81 countries where homosexuality is illegal; and
  • a resolution from the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns proposing actions to counter a “new wave of voter suppression” it says is disproportionately affecting racial ethnic communities following the June 2013 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court nullifying a core provision of the Voting Rights Act.
  1. My husband, a gun owner who supports gun control, read the "Assembly in Brief" in disbelief that the GA had voted to support legislation to ban semiautomatic weapons. He told me that such legislation would make about half the guns he owns, which he used to use to hunt but now uses only to shoot clay targets illegal. He could not believe that the GA had taken such action. As it turn out they did NOT. The newstory on the PCUSA website that reporting the gun control action states that it is semi-automatic ASSULT weapons that should become illegal. When I told him, he still wondered why GA did not simply use the language of the New York State Safe act. He is also disappointed that the gun control actions make no mention of the need for better background checks, to combat our culture of violence and to deal more effectively with the whole issue of mental health.

    by Ann Eisenlord

    July 8, 2014

  2. Dear Colleagues: As a urban pastor, I have provided pastoral care and counseling for 60 families after homicide. We are facing a public health epidemic and we as the church need to be responsive to the call to promote social righteousness. This is more than politics, its about shining the light of Christ in these dark valleys that violence brings into our communities. At our vigils I read the passage from Luke where Jesus heals the temple guards ear after he struck by Peter. For two thousand years, Jesus continues to tell his disciples, "No more of this." In Matthew Jesus says, "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword." We hear the voice of the Prophet Isaiah and look to God's Holy Mountain and pray for the day when these swords will become ploughshares, and the spears turn into pruning hooks.

    by Howard Dotson

    June 26, 2014

  3. There is a reference to this years Assembly going around Facebook that says the PCUSA has voted to NOT to intervene to save a child of a botched abortion. What exactly are the PCUSA official statement on the topic of abortion etc. We recently joined the PCUSA and are concerned that they are changing their official doctrine about abortion.

    by Penny Knox

    June 25, 2014

  4. Britt Johnson rightly suggests that a Christian should not stand idly by and watch a child get beaten. But what if that same Christian witnesses his neighbor being accosted by a thug with a gun? (911 responses usually are 5-10 minutes at best, often more in rural counties like mine.) If you are unarmed that's likely what you'll do - stand idly by and perhaps witness a terrible tragedy that might have been averted. If the neighbor example is too abstract, imagine the armed thug threatening your child or your wife.

    by Roger

    June 25, 2014

  5. Political statements by the church are faithful to the gospel. Loving one's neighbor means not standing idly by while they suffer. Calling the nation to use its institutional power to help our neighbor is a logical extension of obedience to Christ. Ethically speaking, the demand that the church "stay out of politics" is the logical equivalent of saying that a Christian, seeing a child being attacked by a bully, should stand idly by while the child is beaten.

    by Britt Johnston

    June 24, 2014

  6. 1. federal law states that the legal age to purchase a pistol is 21. (please read the law before making comments about it, please) 2. "Armor-piercing handgun ammunition is illegal under federal law. (again, read the law before making comments, please) 3. only two gun crimes involving 50 caliber rifles since 1992 (since then, over 2 million people killed with automobiles) (do some research instead of knee jerk reactions based on misinformation) 4. depending on law enforcement to protect you. (The trial judges held that the police were under no specific legal duty to provide protection to the individual plaintiffs) (united states supreme court of appeals) "when seconds count, the police are only minutes away" 5. support legislation to remove tax exempt status to churches who attempt to use politics to further their personal agenda in violation of Church and State laws. also support legislation to hold churches legally responsible (including criminal charges) when said churches support violence against non-christian entities and citizens. 6. and finally, convince the "church elders" to tend to their flock and stay the heck out of politics where they do not belong.

    by eric

    June 23, 2014

  7. I do hope the Assembly considered the possible loss of tax exempt status as well as personal legal liability under 18 USC 241 and/or 18 USC 242

    by Adam Piersen

    June 23, 2014

  8. As a recent convert after years adrift, I thought my family and I had finally landed in a place where we belong. One news story in the paper, and I was compelled to look further. On nearly a dozen matters where a religious institution ought not tread, i find PCUSA creating a pattern of national political partisanship that unsettles me quite a bit. I frankly don't know where we belong anymore.

    by b samuels

    June 23, 2014

  9. Reading these decisions saddens my trust at a ruling elder in what the Presbyterian Church professed from it's beginning. The church has turned it's eyes from scripture and become a follower of what is politically correct for the present moment. Scripture is based on spiritual eternity, not what fits the moment that seems convenient.

    by Priscilla Armstrong

    June 22, 2014

  10. As a Presbyterian Elder, I am so disappoint with my denomination over various overtures passed this week. It seems there is no longer room in "The Big Tent" for conservative Presbyterians. So sad we can't focus on missional and spiritual issues verses becoming a PAC for liberal wish lists. My heart hurts for my lifelong denomination.

    by Mark Brooks

    June 21, 2014

  11. As a Christian supporter of Israel who has served twice as a volunteer for Sar-El and the IDF, I find the Presbyterian support for BDS disappointing. The God of Israel said, "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you."

    by David M

    June 21, 2014

  12. isn't ownership for handguns already 21 in most states?

    by M Luu

    June 20, 2014

  13. Linda Morningstar I totally agree with your comments! Yes Nathan Brandon we need to discuss our souls, but it's not just what we believe as Christians but about what er DO. Faith without works... Remember? And what we do for the least of these. We need to be active in our faith and that means we have to deal with humans and their issues!

    by Cyndi Barski

    June 20, 2014

  14. "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." Matthew 26:52 To me, it's pretty clear, whether it's the sword or the gun, the church has a pretty strong Biblical foundation for taking stances against weapons and violence.

    by Bert

    June 20, 2014

  15. Well stated, Mr. Brandon. While I understand the Church's commitment to the "promotion of social righteousness" I think most of this is WAY over the top. Support in countries where homosexuality is illegal? How about support where Christianity is illegal? Six weeks parental leave with full salary? Doubt people who get far less in their private sector jobs will want to fund this. Voter suppression? Come on--this is not the 60's. Support for gun control? How about an effort to reduce violence? Yes, this is not only sad, but appalling and to be honest, makes me question a lot of things about PCUSA.

    by Marty Taylor

    June 20, 2014

  16. We don't shy away from the difficult issues, we acknowledge their complexity, we dig deep, we respect each others' conflicting views - thank you, General Assembly participants, for affirming my long-ago decision to become a Presbyterian (in my heart of hearts, I think I was born to be one). Grace, grace, grace.

    by Linda Morningstar

    June 20, 2014

  17. As a Presbyterian and a Deacon, I can only agree with Nathan Brandon.

    by Robin D Hood

    June 20, 2014

  18. As a Presbyterian and a Deacon, I find the actions of this General Assembly to be somewhat bewildering and sad. We should be discussing the crisis in peoples souls instead of man made issues. I read this list of what is being voted on and ask myself, " is this really what our denomination has come too?" Sadly, it has.

    by Nathan Brandon

    June 19, 2014

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