Our colleagues in the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy will bring the following items to the 221st General Assembly (2014).
Risking Peace in a Violent World: This is a set of 5 affirmations for debate and voting in presbyteries, the second stage of a six year discernment process initiated by the General Assembly in 2010. Seventy-three focus groups responded to study material. A Steering Team boiled it down to 5 affirmations. The GA is asked to send these onto the presbyteries to test them over the next 2 years, with a final policy proposal to come to the 2016 Assembly. This year’s recommendations also thank the congregations committed to peacemaking that have sustained the Peacemaking Offering for over 30 years. The Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, from different angles of vision, would both be asked to help the presbyteries engage with these affirmations.
Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age: This is a theologically-based, straight-on proposal to make our tax system more progressive so that government can do what it is supposed to do. The US has more poverty (more than 20% of our children) and more inequality than most developed nations, and our tax system mirrors and reinforces that inequality. Earned income is taxed far higher than capital gains, “carried interest” lets hedge fund managers pay at lower rates than most payroll taxes, and international corporation “transfer pricing” lets them use tax havens to reduce their payment, shifting more to the individual taxpayer. Taxes are part of a social covenant that has been broken; our Reformed faith puts a just social order ahead of anti-tax ideologies.
The Gospel from Detroit: Renewing the Church’s Urban Vision: The General Assembly meets in Detroit this June, and, like every host city, Detroit will extend a hand of friendship and welcome. Yet we know, more than most cities, that Detroit’s grip has been weakened by decades of deindustrialization and population flight, starting well before the civil unrest that is disproportionately blamed for city problems. This resolution, written primarily by two Detroit residents, does not sugarcoat. Yet it has hope and it presents strategic and practical actions for the church that would help their city and many others. And it explores the roles of community organizing, intentional communities, and other strategies for renewing Presbyterian presence in our cities.
Drones, War and Surveillance: Already partly tested as a study in The Thoughtful Christian, this resolution looks at the new face of war and the inextricable link between the drones and the larger surveillance state. Because it is unlikely this growing and now international technology can be put back in the bottle, drones need national and international controls to keep them from extending rather than decreasing the battlefield. Already the hum of aerial surveillance is heard on our own Southern border, and the dangers to privacy and civil liberties are evident—though not restricted to eyes in the sky. This resolution advances some principles and calls for much greater oversight and judicial review for the use of drone and other forms of surveillance. Not all uses are bad, and there are terrorists; the trick is not to make more of them, or treat citizens like them.
Sexual Violence within the U.S. Military Services: A 2014 Human Rights Update: This is not a pleasant topic, but one that persists despite initial efforts to address it. In a joint resolution with the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy looks at the changes in military justice and regulation so far and calls for further measures, and not simply the removal of prosecution from the chain of command. Having victims of sexual abuse vulnerable to decisions by their commanding officers on matters of legal protection is part of a larger system or culture, yet there are measures that can move us closer to the more disciplined both-gender militaries of other nations.
Fairness in Ministerial Compensation: Solidarity and Incentives: This report is a response to two referrals from the 2012 Special Committee on the Church for the 21st Century. How can we raise the salaries of ministers in churches barely able to pay Board of Pensions’ dues, including disproportionate numbers of women and racial ethnic pastors, and what relevance is our theology of compensation to our modified market system, both in the parishes and in our national agencies? Fact is, we are in the world and too much of it, with great inequality among us; yet the problem cannot simply be addressed by more solidarity without some measures of accountability on the presbytery and General Assembly levels. At root, Christian incentives are not financial. This report looks at an enduring problem for which the salary data printed in Minutes, Vol. II, remains one element of mutual accountability in the one church in which we pledge to serve Christ.
Western Sahara: Occupied, Non-Self-Governing Territory, and Test Case for International Law: Another response to the request of the 2012 General Assembly, the concern was whether the territory of Western Sahara, South of Morocco and largely controlled by that larger nation, could be given more attention by the church. There was also the question of whether it was an occupied territory similar in some respects to Palestine, and if so, whether it should be a focus of similar witness and advocacy. Short answers: yes, and not exactly. With analysis from the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), this resolution proposes certain actions that recognize the roles of the United Nations and primarily Muslim Arab states in the region. This territory remains a test case for international law in which all religious bodies have a basic justice interest.
Resolution on Equal Rights for All Inhabitants of Israel and Palestine, and for Conversations with Prophetic Voices: Whatever happens to the current “peace process” sponsored by the Obama Administration, most of the Palestinians living under the control of Israel will not have equal rights, including the right to vote. This resolution proposes a basic benchmark of equality to support the human rights of all inhabitants, many of whom do not have citizenship rights in the absence of a Palestinian state or a bi-national state. Further, given the debate particularly within US Christian and Jewish communities about how to support Israelis and Palestinians in a nonviolent transition to greater equality for all, this resolution recommends that congregations be communities of moral discourse using shared prophetic texts and making space for diverse and sometimes minority voices committed to justice and peace.
Follow these and all the actions of the 221st General Assembly (2014).