PORTLAND, Ore. – The General Assembly Committee on Social Justice (Committee 11) quickly dug into a few of its 26 docketed items of business on the morning of June 20, by tackling matters of HIV/AIDS, voting rights and integrity, and the economic crisis in Puerto Rico.
The committee voted to approve an overture submitted by National Capital Presbytery that the church take more proactive steps to “equip and mobilize its member congregations to better serve those living among us with HIV-AIDS.” In open hearings prior to the committee’s discussions, Larry Jackson, stated clerk of Ohio Valley Presbytery, told the committee that “HIV-AIDS is at risk of becoming an orphan issue. It’s been a lot of time since [the 1990’s] and a lot of bodies. Don’t let the issue become an orphan, and help us fund our presbyteries and congregations as they seek to become competent in this ministry.”
The overture directs the Presbyterian Mission Agency to help the Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN) to “coordinate a development strategy and activities” to raise “$150,000 over a three-year period to operationalize” the initiatives. The committee did amend the proposal, changing a plan to organize an annual conference on the subject to instead send delegates annually to conferences organized by other groups. Also, the committee followed the counsel of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) that references to Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C be deleted in order to keep the intention of the measure clear and focused.
Committee 11 also took up the matter of voting rights. On the recommendation of ACSWP, the committee recommended approval of a paper “Election Protection and Integrity in Campaign Finance” to address concerns on voter suppression and campaign finance reform. The report updates the 2008 paper, “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform.”
J. Herbert Nelson, the director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, told the committee that “our denomination has always made the claim that democracy should mean something in this country.” Recent trends point in the wrong direction, he said. “When you see what is taking place in the voting process today, the right to vote, we’re moving back to the era of the poll tax.”
The committee took up an overture from Presbiterio Del Noroeste to address major hardships being suffered in Puerto Rico. It calls upon Presbyterians to demonstrate “solidarity and support in favor of a fair and humanitarian resolution of the economic crisis of the people of Puerto Rico, which is the result of an unpayable debt that, if executed, would affect the basic services of health, security, education, among other main services, for the next four generations.”
In particular it directs the PC(USA) stated clerk to send a letter to Congress and asks Presbyterians nationwide to urge Congress to grant the island territory the same kinds of discretion and access to bankruptcy laws that the 50 states enjoy.