Why and how
Five Types of Documents
- Policy Statements: A “policy statement” establishes the fundamental principles that guide the denomination’s social witness. From this policy base a strategy is developed, a program is defined, and personal social witness is empowered. The most current policy document produced in conformance to the requirements of 2.a-g. of this document and adopted by a General Assembly shall be the policy in force. Any previous policies and statements, having been examined and considered by the group producing the new policy, shall be superceded by the adoption of the most current policy. When requests for policy statements are made, the most recent policy statement shall be given; however, past statements shall be included in full response to requests for information.
- Resolution: A “resolution” applies existing policy statements to new circumstances.
- Study Documents: A “study paper” is designed to stimulate churchwide study of a social concern, social witness policy, or social witness. It does not need to be an elaboration of existing policy statements.
- Social Involvement Reports (also called Monitoring Reports): A “social involvement report” evaluates Presbyterian social witness in light of particular social concerns and existing policy statements.
- Advice and Counsel Memorandums: An “Advice and Counsel Memorandum” (also known as an “A&C”) provide relevant background, context, and possible consequences of General Assembly action on overtures, reports, and actions that recommend policy direction or action on social witness. An A&C may also be addressed to the General Assembly Mission Council members as the Council deliberates, prepares recommendations for, or implements policies of the General Assembly.
The process of developing social witness policy is one of discernment— discerning the mind of Jesus Christ for the church and the world. The discernment process must be lived out and involve the whole church.
There is, first of all, a need; The church needs policy on a new issue. Often that need arises in a session or presbytery through an overture or a Commissioners’ Resolution to the General Assembly. Either there is no existing policy or current policy has become dated and no longer useful.
The ACSWP receives a request from the General Assembly or the General Assembly Mission Council (or from its own study and initiative decides) to develop new policy or revise current policy in need of updating. A prospectus is prepared, describing the proposed new policy work to be undertaken.
A one-page summary of the prospectus is sent to all congregations and presbyteries with an invitation to send feedback as well as nominations of people to serve on a task force to develop the policy.
The ACSWP receives all the nominations and the feedback and selects a task force charged with developing its process to draft a policy statement. The task force begins its work drawing on a number of resources, including the following:
- The voices of the biblical text;
- The wisdom of theological discourse;
- The guidance of the Reformed confessions;
- The tradition of past policy statements;
- The insights of sociopolitical disciplines;
- The advice of members and all governing bodies of the Church;
- The insights of people who are poor, victims of existing policies and those who have the counsel of ecumenical partners.
Generally, one of the task force’s first tasks is to engage the church in a study process on the issue at hand. A study paper is developed to stimulate study and discussion in the congregations and presbyteries about the issues to be addressed by the task force. Made available with a “user-friendly” feedback form, the task force allows at least twelve months for the churchwide study period and will not report to an Assembly until six months have elapsed after the official study period.
Meanwhile during the study, the task force itself continues its own research and reflection on the issues, adding to and shaping its reflection by feedback received from the congregations. The task force completes its study and presents a proposed policy statement to the ACSWP.
Now the ACSWP must take ‘ownership’ of the policy statement through discussion and debate — first with the task force representatives and then among themselves. They revise or rewrite, clarify or delete, portions of the paper until they ‘own’ it and are willing to send it to a Synod Consultation for further churchwide feedback.
The General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) and the ACSWP call a Synod Consultation. Each synod is invited to send a representative and a written report from the consultation members is sent to the GAMC and the ACSWP.
The Synod Consultation Report is considered by the ACSWP in consultation with the GAMC and — as history has shown — much of the report is incorporated into the ACSWP’s proposed policy statement. After further discussion and assuming no further revisions are necessary, the ACSWP submits the proposed policy statement to the General Assembly.
This ‘final draft’ of the ACSWP now becomes the ‘working draft’ of the General Assembly and the Assembly commissioners — first in committee and then as a whole in plenary — must now ‘own’ the document. The ACSWP is there to resource the commissioners, but the Assembly must decide to approve the document, make changes, refer it back for further work, or disapprove it.
Once approved, the policy statement becomes the policy of the General Assembly, guiding and empowering its mission and work, advocacy and witness. The church’s social witness is multidirectional and multilateral; however, no social witness policy may purport to bind the conscience of individual members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The ACSWP is responsible for the process of developing and recommending social witness policy to the General Assembly. If any other entity is involved in processes of developing and recommending social witness policy, then appropriate consultation and linkage with the ACSWP shall be undertaken.
The ACSWP meets three times a year. The meeting cycle begins following a General Assembly. Generally speaking, at this summer meeting (July or August), the ACSWP receives new referrals from the General Assembly, reflects on emerging issues, and hears updates on work in progress. The fall meeting (October) offers the ACSWP an opportunity to receive reports on work in progress, evaluate projects in process, write and edit drafts, and deepen its knowledge of specific work and the church. At its winter meeting (January), the ACSWP approves for submission to the Assembly policy statements, resolutions, and recommendations to the next General Assembly.
Respect for Documents and Stated Clerk Opinion
Along with the updated note from the Coordinator (below), we upload two related papers discussed since the late January ACSWP meeting (Louisville, KY). These papers are a statement of the ACSWP's concerns about the use of draft or in-process documents and an opinion by the Stated Clerk on the relationship of the Open Meeting Policy and the distribution of documents. The ACSWP will be considering these matters again at its July 2006 meeting at Fuller Seminary." [Read more]