At its June 6-8 meeting in Albany and Schenectady, N.Y., the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy heard from its study teams, discussed General Assembly referrals and met with local Presbyterians engaged in outreach in Albany Presbytery.

The 12-member committee is elected by the General Assembly to help the whole church address matters of Christian conscience in an informed way.

ACSWP voted to work with the Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns on ways to address sexual abuse in the military and to continue its work on issues of compensation for lower-paid ministers and employees of the denomination. This last concern comes from two referrals from the 220th General Assembly (2012) report on the Church in the 21st Century.

ACSWP discussed authority and incentive structures for pastors and the challenges of generational justice for incoming pastors. Noting the Board of Pensions’ challenge in providing medical insurance for ministers’ dependents in coming years, which largely impacts young families, ACSWP discussed ways to “make room” for new pastors, including ways to help ministers who want to retire early.

The committee is also preparing a statement on urban concerns. Committee member the Rev. Kevin Johnson, pastor of Detroit’s Calvary Presbyterian Church, described his shared ministry of walking the neighborhood to help prevent gun violence. Johnson has called on his congregation to give up their guns. At its fall 2012 meeting in Kansas City, Johnson and committee member Gloria Albrecht began to develop a virtual tour to help commissioners to the 2014 General Assembly understand the social and economic challenges facing Detroit.

The policy development process is at various stages on the other reports and resolutions:

  • Tax reform study: The Rev. Ray Roberts, ACSWP member and pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Westfield (N.J.), reported on a recent meeting in Washington, DC, with tax experts and representatives of the Obama administration, House Republicans and Senate Democrats. The study team is working with an expert consultant from the Tax Justice network and an international tax lawyer/minister in the United Church of Christ. The study team is chaired by a fund manager and includes two accountants, an ethicist, an economist, a state level policy advocate and a pastor.
  • The Peace Discernment process is a six-year process of updating the church’s commitment to peacemaking, with new reflection on the place of nonviolence in Jesus’ life and in social movements since the end of the Cold War. The 2010 General Assembly combined eight overtures into a two-stage process of discernment, first inviting congregations and colleges to respond to questions in a short study and then asking presbyteries to consider a set of affirmations to guide final General Assembly action. The Peace Discernment steering team is digesting the responses from a wide range of discernment groups and will be bringing a proposal to the 2014 Assembly. Congregations and individuals may continue to respond to the study material through December of this year, but the deadline for primary input into the drafting process is the end of June. While the initial impetus came from the Afghan and Iraq wars, the steering team is taking into account the war in Syria and violence elsewhere.

ACSWP is also working on a report on Western Sahara requested by the 2012 General Assembly, a resolution authorized on drone warfare (including robotic warfare) and a joint resolution with Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns dealing with the protection of soldiers from sexual abuse.