What does the Lord require of you? This will be the question before Assembly Committee 11 when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 223rd General Assembly meets June 16–23 in St. Louis. The committee will consider issues ranging from “racist nationalism” and the “unjust, racist disparagement of people and entire nations” by politicians and government officials to effective drug policies that put healing before punishment.
Committee 11 – Social Justice Issues – will address issues that many would consider hot topics, including sexual misconduct in the PC(USA) and an overture from the Presbytery of Boise asking the Assembly to affirm and clarify the PC(USA)’s position regarding the appropriate boundaries of religious liberty. The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy is recommending that the Assembly approve resolutions on “religious freedom without discrimination” and “honest patriotism.”
The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta has submitted an overture asking the Assembly to join Assemblies as far back as 1959 and as recent as 2014 indeclaring the church’s continued opposition to capital punishment. The overture calls for an immediate moratorium on all executions in all jurisdictions that impose capital punishment.
The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) is recommending that the Assembly change the terminology used when referring to different ethnicities. ACREC is asking the Assembly to direct all six agencies of the PC(USA) to move toward changing from the term “racial ethnic people” to “people of color.” The requested action also includes ACREC updating its own name to Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC). The committee maintains that the term “racial equity” more accurately represents its work and ministry. These recommendations are a final response to a referral from the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
In a matter directly related to the nation’s current political climate, an overture from the Presbytery of Hudson River asks the Assembly to affirm a declaration expressing “concerns about the direction towards autocracy that our country is taking.” The rationale for the overture states, “Our theology calls us, as Presbyterians, to be active participants in the political life of the world and to speak when fundamental tenets of our faith are being violated.”
An overture from the Presbytery of New Castle calls for the Assembly to pray for a movement of the Spirit to engage the PC(USA) and its more than 9,300 congregations in nationwide action to prevent gun violence. In its comments on the overture, ACREC says, “No longer will Presbyterian congregations be paralyzed and threatened by gun and ammunition lobbies.” ACREC says it believes the overture “will save lives by creating a safe community and restoring peace.”
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) is asking the Assembly to direct it to form a five-member task group comprised mostly of black women “with a passion and experience of advocating for black girls and/or women.” ACWC recommends that the task group study the research on disparities of black girls and women, including the results of the report “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” with the intention of “intersecting and expanding the work that is already being done around the national church in racial justice.”
Committee 11 will act on two overtures related to gender identity, both sponsored by New Castle Presbytery. One calls for the affirmation and celebration of the full dignity and humanity of people of all gender identities. The other calls for the celebration of the gifts of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the church.
Acting on a recommendation from the Presbyterian Intercultural Network (PIN), the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is asking the Assembly to declare that the PC(USA) must become a “Church of Intercultural Transformation.” It also asks the Assembly to designate 2020–2030 as the “Decade of Intercultural Transformation” and to denounce “the persistent and demonic presence of racism and the misuse of power and privilege in our individual and institutional lives.”
An overture from San Francisco Presbytery asks the Assembly to recognize the prophetic voice of Presbyterian pastor Henry Highland Garnet’s for today’s time. The first African American to address Congress – on February 12, 1865 – Garnet gave what the overture says is considered the most important speech in African American history.
The Assembly is also being asked to commend the congregations and pastors of greater St. Louis for “the Christian witness in their community ministries of justice and service” and to commend “all those who have engaged in conversations and education about the tensions of race and class.”
Gail Strange is director of church and mid council communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. She is covering Assembly Committee 11 for the General Assembly News.