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Coordinating Committee gives mostly thumbs-up to the PMA’s 2023-24 Mission Work Plan

Some members would like to flesh out what’s meant by ‘militarism’ as it relates to Matthew 25 work

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Filip Andrejovic via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — With the exception of how the term “militarism” is understood, the proposed 2023-2024 Mission Work Plan received a warm reception Thursday by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s Coordinating Committee.

The committee, which consists of the Board’s chair and chair-elect as well as committee leaders, plans to meet Jan. 28 ahead of the meeting of the full Board, set for Feb. 9-11, to study the work plan a bit more and take care of a pair of business items the committee didn’t address Thursday.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

The work plan, presented by the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA, “begins by giving thanks to God for the faithful discipleship of Presbyterians, lived out in a commitment to mission — the time and energy shared with congregations, mid councils, in the General Assembly and in communities across the street and around he world, which is making a difference in the lives of so many.”

The work plan incorporates the identity, vision, mission and values approved by the Board last fall as part of the PMA’s Vision Implementation Plan. The values portion was whittled from the 10 originally proposed to six: justice, love, creativity/imagination, humility, Spirit-led, and mutuality. Those six values surfaced after hearing from more than 80 PMA employees, said the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, director of Theology, Formation & Evangelism, adding that the term “Ubuntu” is included in the mutuality value.

The Mission Work Plan calls for two more years of continued work on the three foci of the PC(USA)’s  Matthew 25 invitation: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

The work plan includes statistics in all three categories. For building congregational vitality, 2021 saw 45 new worshiping communities formed. COVID-19 grants for technology assistance were awarded to “vulnerable congregations.” Under dismantling structural racism, PMA employees received monthly diversity, equity and inclusion training. Grants and scholarships were given to strengthen Presbyterian witness among Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. To help eradicate systemic poverty, 71 Young Adult Volunteers were commissioned to work in advocacy and community organizing. More than 4 in 10 of the new worshiping communities were planted in communities experiencing poverty, and almost $5 million in grants to eradicate poverty and create sustainable communities were made in mernore than 60 countries.

Following “the careful discernment” of the 18-months-long strategic planning process, the work plan calls for taking on two new functions: a Center for the Repair of Historical Harms and an Office of Innovation, Futuring and Discernment

The work plan envisions the Center for Repair as “a denomination-wide effort to inspire repair both within and beyond the PC(USA).”

“Already many churches, mid councils and agencies are discovering new ways to repair the damage done by structural racism and white supremacy in the nation and throughout the world,” the work plan states. “The Center for Repair will construct teams tasked with partnering with churches, mid councils or other entities who are doing the work or interested in doing the work of repair. The teams will listen and work with our partners to determine innovative and meaningful approaches to deal with repair that are already in place and other approaches that may need to be developed.”

The Office of Innovation, Futuring and Discernment is a proposal that follows the work done by the past few General Assemblies and review committees who have “consistently urged a focus on innovation, futuring and discernment as an ongoing function in the life of the denomination,” the work plan states.

That office “will be responsible for learning about future trends and value shifts that will impact churches, mid councils and international partners” with the hope of helping the PC(USA) “to prepare for such shifts, rather than simply react to them after the fact.”

It’ll also be responsible for “discerning, searching out and being continuously aware of God’s activity in new and exciting ideas that originate from the Church at large and PMA employees. Discovering models of community engagement and structural transformation that can help prepare the Church to deal with shifting realities will also be part of the scope of work in this office … Initial implementation will include locally situated action teams and advisory groups comprised of leaders adept and listening to voices from the margins of the Church’s work.”

In a section labeled “Intersection,” the work plan identifies “persistent and serious threats to the well-being of communities thrust to the margins. However, simply identifying them is not enough. Working with our ecumenical partners, we are committed to preserving and enhancing the future of humanity and indeed all Creation.”

The inclusion of climate change and gender discrimination/heteropatriarchy in the “Intersections” section created little discussion, although a definition of “heteropatriarchy” will be added to the document. But including “militarism,” a term that several recent General Assemblies have weighed in on, created some concern among committee members.

The term “militarism,” as explained in the work plan, “includes the activities of corporations that produce and sell weapons, and the role of state militaries — including state-sanctioned violence, martial law, repression, extra-judicial killings, military coups and military dominance within governments — as well as non-state militias,” a definition taken from the International Women’s Network Against Militarism’s “A Feminist Vision of Genuine Security and Creating a Culture of Life.”

“The domestic impacts of militarism are often overlooked,” the work plan states, “but can be seen in militarized police forces in underserved communities and outsized defense budgets that mostly benefit contractors and weapons manufacturers. Meanwhile, wages for enlisted personnel, many of whom come from low-income communities, are stagnant as veterans remain underserved by the system charged with their care.”

Given that broad scope, the PMA’s work in 2023-2024 will, according to the work plan, “examine and confront militarism through the lens of the Christian faith from a variety of intersectional perspectives, including racism, poverty, climate change and gender oppression.” The PMA “will engage in education, advocacy and partnership within and beyond the PC(USA) to address such issues as police brutality, mass incarceration, migration, moral injury, drone warfare, violence against women and children, and healing historical harms.”

The Rev. Ken Godshall

Coordinating Committee members including the Rev. Ken Godshall urged further discussion on the topic.

“When we ask the president of the United States to take the oath of office, it sometimes includes the use of military force,” Godshall said. “I wonder if this focus on militarism remembers that the country has the right and the responsibility to protect itself. I wonder if the [PMA] is comfortable with the use of military force by our government.”

“I’m right there with you,” PMA Board Chair the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr., who served for 28 years as a U.S. Air Force chaplain, told Godshall.

“I think the Mission Work Plan is a wonderful piece of work,” Godshall said. The portion on militarism “could use a little more time,” Godshall said.

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