After some early hiccups with voting logistics, the Addressing Violence in the USA Committee kicked off its meeting Thursday morning at the 225th General Assembly. The committee considered three overtures: VIOL-02: A Resolution on Preventing, Reporting, and Responding to Bullying, Harassment, and Assault—From the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns; VIOL-04: On Encouraging Our Churches to Counter Polarization in Our Society; and VIOL-06: Resolution on “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform”—From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
Using a crystallization process that allows discussion in small groups, the Addressing Violence participants broke into groups of three and four and provided feedback on VIOL-04: On Encouraging Our Churches to Counter Polarization in Our Society, which was submitted by the Chicago Presbytery. The overture did not require any direct action, but challenges Presbyterians to live out a better way together. An amendment to the resolution called on the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to “offer a list of resources for churches and other entities and to serve as a clearinghouse for additional resources as they become available.” That amendment passed unanimously.
Mary Hays, a commissioner and teaching elder from Cincinnati Presbytery, spoke in favor.
“This shows that we are people that all make mistakes when we’re trying to have these conversations, and shows we are all in need of education. It helps us truly be the body of Christ.”
An amendment to replace the word “encourage” in the original overture with “urge” — to better reflect the importance of the work — also passed easily.
JoAnne Sharp, overture advocate for VIOL-02: A Resolution on Preventing, Reporting, and Responding to Bullying, Harassment, and Assault—From the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, noted that there is already a similar policy in place for sexual assault and listed examples of the types of harassment the proposed policy would cover.
“Mansplaining, a more mature voice speaking over that of a younger voice, the tone of one’s response to someone else’s comment, aggressive body language and getting into one’s personal space,” she said.
Sharp, who is co-moderator of the Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns (ACWC), the overture sponsor, said all these examples happen in committee sessions and beyond.
“ACWC’s opinion is that all opinions matter. All thoughts are just as valuable as anyone else’s; all voices must be heard equally for the work the PC(USA) to be done in God's eyes,” she said.
The committee passed the resolution overwhelmingly and with little discussion. Only one change was offered by ACSWP; it requires that elected and appointed board members participate in boundaries training in the first year of their term of service.
Conversely, VIOL-06: Resolution on “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform”—From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy went through multiple discussion, variation and language iterations. Commissioner Alex Becker, Donegal Presbytery, urged that in the spirit of the committee’s first order of the day — encouraging churches to be less polarizing — the resolution’s language should not include references to specific events, elections or court cases. The original resolution and an early amendment were voted down. Richard Poole, San Fernando Presbytery, summarized the internal conflict many in the room faced.
“This is tough. I’m actually in favor of the original amendment. However, if this amendment will help more people and if it’s done in the spirit of being not divisive as the spirit suggested, and if being briefer means less of a chance of being ignored, I’m in favor of this amendment despite the fact I am in favor of the original.”
Eventually a compromise was reached that retained language denouncing voter suppression, white supremacy and white Christian nationalism and the motion passed nearly unanimously. The final approved motion can be read here.
Friday’s committee business will include discussion on overtures VIOL-01, VIOL-05 and VIOL-07. The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the PMA's director of advocacy, provided the committee context around gun violence terms, such as bump stocks, use of force training and assault weapons in preparation for Friday’s discussions.