PORTLAND, Ore. – The Social Justice committee of the 222nd General Assembly meeting here has approved unanimously an overture reaffirming the denomination’s commitment to promote and practice social justice, rejecting a pair of overtures that would have slowed such efforts.
The committee approved an overture from Cascades Presbytery in Oregon that urges the assembly to “recommit ourselves at the congregational level, the mid council level, and the national levels of our church to locate ourselves with the poor, to advocate with all of our voice for the poor, and to seek opportunities to take risks for and with the poor (in the soup kitchens and catholic worker houses, among the immigrants, with those working to end mass incarceration, and with those who seek to protect all of us, especially the poorest of the poor around the world, from the vagaries of climate change).”
It also calls on the denomination to “facilitate the processes by which these concerns can be brought before us as a national body by resisting new barriers to overture submissions such as additional concurrences, tighter deadlines, or new overture topic restrictions at any General Assembly.”
At the same time, the committee members voted to let that action respond to two overtures from Foothills Presbytery in South Carolina that affirmed the social witness of the church, but the first of which would have required that “Any social witness policy statement or resolution to be proposed at the General Assembly shall first have the concurrence of one-third of the presbyteries.” The second Foothills overture would have established a six-year moratorium upon the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy proposing or facilitating the development of any new social witness policies
J. Herbert Nelson, the director of PC(USA) Office of Public Witness and nominee to be the next stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) urged the committee members to continue to speak out on matters of public policy that date back to John Calvin’s practice of holding civil magistrates accountable to principles of Christian ethics and community.
Looking ahead, Nelson exhorted the commissioners, “If we are going to catch the wind of this younger generation, we have got to get engaged. … Young members are getting out of their parents’ houses, pitching their tents and declaring that democracy has run amuck. Jesus has witnesses all over the world because he stood for something that mattered, the transformation of lives. He did it for the sake of those who could not stand for themselves. I am convinced that there is a standard for what it means to be Presbyterian. So today your vote and your recommendation is whether we will carry out the mission of the church or whether or not we will move to another space.”