On May 7 and 8, the council’s executive committee is expected to come back and consider the actual budget cuts.
Meanwhile, the work of the church moves on. Here’s some of what the council’s executive committee talked about Tuesday.
Although overtures were sent to last year’s General Assembly recommending that a new special offering be created to support international mission personnel and new church development, the Special Offerings Review Task Force is not recommending that that be done. In fact, the task force determined that there isn’t sufficient support for adding any new offerings — there already are four — and that doing so could hurt support for the Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts and Hands, the denomination’s campaign to raise $40 million over five years for new church development and redevelopment in the U.S., particularly among racial-ethnic and immigrant churches, and for overseas mission.
According to Karl Travis, a pastor from Michigan and a task force member, the task force conducted focus groups in six cities, received 1,776 responses through a Presbyterian Panel survey, and met with national staff members and representatives of the Mission Initiative.
The conclusion: don’t try to add any new offerings. Some folks would prefer three instead of the four special offerings the denomination has now — the One Great Hour of Sharing, Christmas Joy, Peacemaking and Pentecost offerings. They definitely don’t want five special offerings. And there was “great consensus” that adding another offering would hurt the Mission Initiative, Travis said.
Travis also said that the task force is not offering a formal comment now on an overture from Newcastle Presbytery to this year’s General Assembly in Richmond, and which would designate a fourth of the proceeds from One Great Hour of Sharing for five years to respond to the AIDS crisis in Africa. But if asked to comment on it at General Assembly, Travis said, the task force would recommend against approving the overture, because special offerings traditionally have not been designated on a temporary basis. And if a quarter of the One Great Hour offering went to AIDS work, Travis said, something else that now receives the money would have to get less.
The task force is recommending some changes in the special offerings. Among them: give the Board of Pensions more flexibility in allocating its half of the Christmas Joy offering, and consider using Christmas Joy funds to support racial ethnic education and leadership training in places other than the historically racial-ethnic schools and colleges.
The executive committee also received a report from the Stewardship Project Team, which has been looking at big-picture ideas for improving the PC(USA)’s approach to stewardship. Among the ideas that group presented:
• The denomination needs to “nurture a substantive theology of stewardship,” said Helen Morrison, a member of the project team, to stress the idea that financial giving is a Christian response to the gift of God’s grace and goodness.
• The patterns of giving aren’t the same from generation to generation. “Sometimes the old folks are sitting around telling the young folks what they’re going to do,” Morrison said, but the church needs both the perspective of the old and the opinions of the young.
• People sometimes ask why “particular individuals are so generous to causes outside the church and so seldom make gifts to causes related to the church. The most frequent response of those donors is, ‘No one in the church ever asked me,’ ” the Stewardship Project Team reported.
SEXUAL ABUSE INQUIRIES
Last year, an independent committee investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving the children of missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found there was “overwhelming” evidence that a well-respected Presbyterian missionary, who now is dead, sexually abused at least 22 girls and women over nearly a 40-year period, both in Africa and in the United States, from 1946 through 1985.
Now, in response, the PC(USA) is considering making changes in its own procedures to provide a better way of responding to allegations of sexual abuse in the future.
The council’s executive committee gave its approval to a new investigation of possible abuse at the American Presbyterian Mission, Schutz School, in Alexandria, Egypt, from 1950 to 1970 and at Hope School in Cameroon in the 1970s.
And it gave its approval to a series of proposed Book of Order changes involving the handling of sexual abuse cases. Among them: when a person accused of sexual abuse is found guilty in the Presbyterian judicial system, any victims of that person’s action would be allowed to submit victim impact statements describing the harm they suffered before a decision is reached about how the perpetrator should be censured. The person making an accusation of sexual abuse in the Presbyterian judicial system (in some cases that would be a minor) would be allowed to have an advocate as the case progressed — just as the person being accused has the right to a lawyer during the process.
When the person accused of abuse has died or renounced jurisdiction, a pastoral inquiry — outside the denomination’s judicial system — could be initiated to make a determination regarding the truth of the accusations if a judicial case cannot proceed.
The report states that because the man accused in the Congo case had died, he was neither exonerated nor found guilty, “but more importantly, the truth had neither been discovered nor told” until the investigating committee announced its findings.
And “there have been other cases in our church in which renunciation of jurisdiction by an accused person was exercised deliberately to thwart proceedings in matters of clergy sexual exploitation,” the report states. “There is evidence that renunciation of jurisdiction has been suggested to accused persons as an option of avoiding trial and a finding of guilt.”
To take effect, the recommended Book of Order changes still must be approved by the General Assembly Council and the General Assembly and be ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries.