How the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) relates to public policy was the theme of the March 23-24 meeting here of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns as the group came to the nation’s capital.  

That subject was especially timely for this meeting, which took place just before Ecumenical Advocacy Days, an annual Christian education and lobbying event March 25-28. This year’s EAD theme is Development, Security and Economic Justice: What’s Gender Got to Do with It? Many ACWC members will stay in the area and attend EAD after their meeting.

The committee heard from a number of public policy advocacy leaders, starting with the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness (OPW).

Nelson, who came to the office last May, described the past year as a “coming-out party” for the OPW, which was without a leader for about two years and recently underwent an evaluation by a General Assembly Mission Council task force.

The office can’t afford to hire more staffers, but is working to expand its network of experts on the ground, Nelson said. OPW’s small staff doesn’t have the capacity to work on all the public policy concerns of the church but is working with Presbyterians and ecumenical partners who have professional skills and experience useful to the office.

The office is also working to involve young people through social media and a revamped internship program. The office has two interns now and will have four this summer. Young adults have often progressed beyond issues that older generations remain stuck on, and many Young Adult Volunteers in the DC area don’t have a strong tie to a Presbyterian church. The office hopes to connect with young people in order to not only train them, but to really hear them, Nelson said.

The OPW also hopes to expand its ecumenical work and broaden relationships with seminaries.

It’s also important to reclaim theology and the Bible as a cornerstone for public policy advocacy and not be afraid to speak the name of Jesus, Nelson said.

On March 24, ACWC heard from two experts on reproductive rights and legislation in the United States. Glenn Northern, constituency outreach manager for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Nicolette Paterson, director of public policy for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, met with the group to talk about recent proposed changes to federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

In February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the spending bill proposed by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) that would ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds. Planned Parenthood provides reproductive and complementary health care services. The organization does provide abortions, but those are not federally funded.

The amendment is “essentially an assault on women’s health,” Northern said, adding that it is unprecedented for Congress to single out one health care provider for the services it provides — services that are legal, safe and preventative. Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood “would have a devastating impact on communities across the country,” he said.

The 217th General Assembly (2006), reaffirmed its position that the decision of whether to end a pregnancy is a personal one, though abortion is of “grave moral concern” to the church and should be the choice of last resort for women with problem pregnancies.

“Humans are empowered by the spirit prayerfully to make significant moral choices, including the choice to continue or end a pregnancy,” GA policy states. “Human choices should not be made in a moral vacuum, but must be based on Scripture, faith, and Christian ethics.”

Later that day, ACWC met with Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council.

Among the topics discussed was the search for a new director for the office of Theology, Worship and Education. Former director the Rev. Joe Small recently retired, and ACWC asked about the search and recruitment process for his successor.

ACWC hopes the new director has “a concern for theologies that emerge from women’s experiences or that emerge from people that have been marginalized,” said ACWC member Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty.

Valentine encouraged the committee to submit candidate names and interview questions.