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Endorsing a statement of conscience against torture

Outlined below is the process used at a Presbyterian church to pass a motion in favor of the Statement of Conscience of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).


The Process

Several things contributed to the passage of this motion at our church.

  1. The motion that we endorse the Statement of Conscience regarding torture and become an endorsing member of NRCAT was brought to the Session by one Elder. The initial conversations about this motion were not positive. Most elders knew little or nothing about the organization or its importance.
  2. The motion was tabled until the next Session meeting so that Elders could study and learn about this issue.
  3. Meanwhile, more information was sent out to Session members. Checking Web sites with access to further insights on this topic were encouraged.
    1. Propitiously, our church’s minister the following week received an article, “Torture Then and Now,”  written by Martin Marty. He sent this out to Session members.
    2. That same week (and then again just before the second Session meeting), more information was sent to Session members. This included the NRCAT Web site showing that PC(USA) was a participating member. It also gave the text of an article by Senator John McCain, "Torture’s Terrible Toll."
  4. When the motion was brought up again, objections were more muted, but it still appeared it would be defeated. However, one member of the church was aware from his wife, a Session member, of the motion. At what seemed the perfect moment, he spoke up quietly but passionately in favor of the motion. His carefully reasoned support appeared to make a real difference. The motion was called after his statement and, although support was not unanimous, it passed.

Conclusion

The occurrences leading to the passage of the motion were not thought out in advance, so I hesitate to call it a “model.” However, three things made a difference:

  1. At a contentious moment, tabling the motion until a later meeting of the Session gave members time for more learning and for reflection.
  2. The information sent out between Session meetings was more complete than that provided at the first Session meeting. It also included two persuasive articles, the Martin Marty article and the John McCain article.
  3. The carefully thought through presentation by a person who was not a member of the Session, our parish associate, seemed important.

Message sent to Session members between meetings

Dear Session members,

On February 17, I will again bring up the motion (previously tabled) that we endorse the Statement of Conscience Against Torture (given below) and become an endorsing member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). Also below is background information on NRCAT and where to see what PC(USA)’s membership in NRCAT entails. Finally, there is an article by Senator John McCain.

A Statement of Conscience of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved — policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now — without exceptions.

Background Information on NRCAT

To see all the participating member organizations visit NRCAT’s Web site. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a participating member of NRCAT. So is the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. So is No2Torture, a Presbyterian organization formed in response to the torture issue.

As a participating member of NRCAT, the PC(USA) endorses the Statement of Conscience, gives a yearly financial contribution (in an amount of its own choosing), and has a designated representative to interact with NRCAT. It also has voting rights.

My motion is that our be an endorsing member of NRCAT. That means only that we endorse the statement of conscience against torture, and will receive literature from NRCAT.

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