Keep the peacemaking offering

On February 16, 2012 the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) announced that it has approved the recommendations of a Special Advisory Task Force, led by the Rev. Karl Travis, to eliminate the Peacemaking Offering and restructure the other three seasonal offerings. Peacemaking will be assumed under One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) and will be replaced in October by a new World Communion Sunday Offering. Congregations and presbyteries will continue to retain 25% each of the new offering, the remaining 50% being allocated to the GAMC. The changes will require the approval of the General Assembly to take effect.

According to Travis these and other recommendations were made because of a 25% decline of giving to Peacemaking and the Christmas Joy Offering over the years, a lack of understanding of the purpose of the offerings by Presbyterians, inadequate interpretation to members, and declining attendance and giving in many congregations.

Although it can be assumed that the three year study was undertaken diligently and prayerfully, there are historical, theological, biblical, and practical reasons why the elimination of the Peacemaking Offering should be rejected by the General Assembly.

First of all, we need to be reminded that since the early 1960s peacemaking has been an integral part of our identification as Presbyterians and followers of Jesus Christ. In the Confession of 1967, for example, the Vietnam War caused Presbyterians to oppose war and violence as a way to settle conflicts (C-9.45). “The church in its own life is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security.”

In 1969 the UPCUSA GA supported the right of believers to object to war on pacifist grounds, and in 1976 the PCUS called on the president to pardon those who refused military service. In 1975 a special task force was appointed and its remarkable report “Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling” was approved by both assemblies in 1980 and 1981. It has served since as a primary definition of Presbyterian determination to work for peace and justice in all spheres of life. Its theological and biblical studies also remind us today that in a century racked with violence almost everywhere we turn we dare not neutralize or weaken our commitment to peacemaking.

Some people will ask, of course, what our offerings have accomplished in the past. A few specific examples will provide samples of the Peacemaking Offering’s value. In the church I served in Johnstown, NY, the congregation gave its share for more than 20 years to the local Domestic Abuse program. Members know that their gifts have literally saved the lives of women (and men) all around our community. In the Presbytery of Albany, furthermore, its 25% has been used since 2005 for many vital peacemaking activities including mission trips to Nicaragua, Mexico, the New Orleans area, and programs in the United Nations. Grants were given to local churches for attendance at local Peace Colloquies, a Peace and Justice Fair, and a congregation’s summer program for students from violent and troubled neighborhoods. No doubt similar examples can be cited from other congregations and presbyteries around the nation.

In regard to use by the General Assembly it is possible to examine the annual reports issued by the GAMC ( offerings). It is proposed that the 2011 offering be used in primary areas of Evangelism, Discipleship, Servanthood, and Diversity (nearly $2 million was received in 2010). Specifically, it calls for funds to facilitate the International Peacemaking Program, to provide a day-long intensive training on Gun Violence and Gospel Values, to create a web-based resource with prayers on peace and justice concerns, and to send election observers to the Philippines, mentioning just a few.

Ephesians 2:13-22 powerfully proclaims that Jesus Christ himself is our peace (v.14). As he breaks down dividing walls of hostility and works to create “a new humanity” we are reminded that a continuing Peacemaking Offering is a clear sign of who we really are as Christians and Presbyterians.

Earl S. Johnson Jr. is a retired pastor living in Johnstown, N.Y., and adjunct professor of religious studies at Siena College. See his more detailed background study Witness Without Parallel, Eight Biblical Texts That Make Us Presbyterian (Geneva Press, 2003) 107-115.