(PNS) The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) got updates on several proposed policy documents, including four to be presented to next year’s General Assembly, during a recent meeting here.
ACSWP, which develops social witness polices for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), heard presentations on three papers, on energy, economic security for older Americans and lending laws. The documents and recommendations are subject to ACSWP review and revision before they go to next summer’s 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala.
During the Oct. 20-22 meeting, the committee discussed a proposed policy statement on ministry to people with disabilities and a referral concerning a study paper on the value of human life.
ACSWP also welcomed its new coordinator, Christian “Chris” Iosso, and honored Gwen Crawley for her work as interim coordinator of ACSWP
Pamela P. McVety, a retired environmental administrator from the Presbytery of Florida, conducted the briefing on a 39-page energy document titled “A Christian Witness on Energy.” She helped develop the paper as moderator of ACSWP’s Resolution Team on Energy.
The document is the first to address the PC(USA)’s energy policy since 1981, when a paper titled “The Power to Speak Truth to Power” was approved jointly by the former Presbyterian Church in the United States and United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
The 2002 Assembly ordered an update, calling on the church to address energy issues in light of current national and international concerns about production, consumption, cost, patterns of distribution and energy security.
The draft says Americans are consuming energy at “grossly unsustainable levels;” distribution is “dramatically inequitable;” and current policies cause environmental damage. According to the document, more than half of Presbyterians surveyed in August 2004 had not taken even the “simplest steps to decrease their energy usage,” and the vast majority of congregations hadn’t implemented conservation programs.
Pointing out that Christians are called to care for God’s creation, the paper calls on Presbyterians to conserve energy and try to reduce their contributions to emissions of harmful pollutants.
The draft document calls on Presbyterian families, congregations and governing bodies to become “carbon neutral” by reducing the use of energy, especially fossil fuels.
To help guide this process, the draft resolution recommends the appointment of a project team to devise a church-wide plan to improve energy efficiency.
The 17-page draft ACSWP document on policies affecting seniors and older adults was written in response to an overture from last year’s Assembly reaffirming the importance of the nation’s social insurance systems, specifically Social Security and Medicare.
The committee and the PC(USA)’s Office of Health Ministries were asked to review and update a 22-year-old church position paper titled “Economic Security for Older Persons” in light of changes relating to mandatory retirement and pension policies.
Lou Glasse, an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Poughkeepsie, NY, and a former director of the New York State Office for the Aging, served as a consultant to the writing team and made the presentation.
Last year’s Assembly, noting the imminent retirement of millions of “baby boomers,” warned that “radical ideas” were being promoted that would severely damage Social Security, arguably the most successful government benefit program in U.S. history.
Social Security needs adjustments to accommodate the boomers, the largest generation in American history, the draft says, noting that the ranks of Americans older than 65 will swell to 75 million, from the current 35 million, by the year 2030.
The proposed diversion of Social Security taxes to personal investment accounts would weaken the system, the paper contends.
Among its key recommendations: reaffirming the importance of Social Security and Medicare and assuring a guaranteed income and health care for American retirees.
The presentation of a draft document on state and federal lending laws advocates stricter interest limits; enforcement of laws protecting borrowers from excessive credit costs; and efforts to improve the financial knowledge of PC(USA) members and others.
It proposes ethical criteria for evaluating usury laws and other lending-related legislation concerning payday loans, sub-prime loans, predatory lending practices and cash-back tax preparation arrangements.
The presentation was made by D. Cameron Murchison Jr., the dean of faculty and executive vice president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. He served as a consultant to the advisory committee that drafted the proposed resolution.
ACSWP also discussed a proposed policy on the PC(USA)’s treatment of people with disabilities, “Living Into the Body of Christ: Toward Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities.”
The paper challenges the church to prophetic witness on issues relating to disabled people, recognizing that some disability concerns are matters of social justice; and urges advocacy at all levels of church and society on behalf of people with disabilities.
The report and recommendations are being prepared in response to a referral from the 211th General Assembly in 1999.
Committee members discussed a GA referral directing ACSWP and the Office of the General Assembly to initiate ecumenical conversations to prepare for the centennial of the 1908 Social Creed of the Federal Council of Churches, now called the National Council of Churches (NCC).
The 1908 “social creed” is a statement of principles created by a number of Protestant denominations that helped end child labor and incorporate Christian values in workplaces. Over the years, churches acting on its 14 principles have worked for improved wages, regulation of sweatshops, Sabbath rest, abatement of poverty, and old-age pensions.
The GA asked ACSWP to survey key Christian principles to guide 21st-century Presbyterians and others in addressing major social-justice concerns, such as lack of health care coverage, outsourcing of jobs to countries without human rights or environmental safeguards, and growing economic inequities.
The committee is also proposing ways to commemorate the original social creed and preparing to recommend to the 2008 Assembly a social creed for the current century.
Serious mental illness
The committee received an update from its Task Force on Comprehensive Serious Mental Illness, which is developing a policy for church ministry to people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The 12-member task force held its first meeting last spring. Its report is to be presented to the 2008 Assembly.
The 211th General Assembly (1999) directed ACSWP to develop a serious-mental-illness policy. In November 2003, an ACSWP-approved prospectus guiding the work of the task force was sent to every PC(USA) presbytery and synod, and to the libraries of PC(USA)-related seminaries.
The prospectus says people with serious mental illnesses are often oppressed in American society — denied jobs, housing and access to quality treatment, while bearing the burden of a “stigmatized illness.” As church members they often are denied access to decision-making bodies and unable to find pastors and caregivers qualified to minister to them.
One subject the new policy is to address is full participation by mentally ill people in the life of the church and in society.
The value of human life
The committee discussed a referral from the 212th General Assembly (2000) calling for an update of a paper on “The Nature and Value of Human Life” adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1981. It says human life is a value of the first order and human beings are God’s representatives in the care of creation.