LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Sept. 29 to endorse a set of social responsibility principles that can be used to work for human rights in global supply chains.
That vote makes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the first Christian denomination to formally endorse the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility (WSR) Principles, said Shannan Vance-Ocampo, a mid council executive who serves as chair of the board’s Outreach to the World program committee.
Vance-Ocampo described it as a “historic vote” for the board.
The decision to support the WSR principles (G.102 Endorsement of Worker-driven Social Responsibility Principles) is “a big deal for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” she said, “but most importantly, this vote is extremely important for our partners … who depend on our advocacy and our appropriate use of our power and privilege as a denomination.”
The action was taken at the encouragement of leaders from the Coalition for Immokalee Workers and the Campaign for Fair Food – longtime partners in PC(USA) advocacy work for fair treatment of workers, she said. The WSR principles are intended to protect the rights of workers in contracted supply chains of global corporations, stating, for example:
- “Respect for human rights in corporate supply chains cannot be optional or voluntary” – the corporations’ obligations must be binding and enforceable.
- Consequences must be mandatory, with “swift and certain economic consequences” for suppliers that violate workers’ human rights.
A report presented to the board states that endorsing the principles does not imply “the endorsement of any particular campaign, strategy, or tactic.”
The board’s Sept. 27-29 meeting in Louisville concluded with a vote taken Sept. 28 regarding the financial future of Stony Point Center and a series of actions taken in the closing plenary. Here are some of the highlights.
Finding our “why.” The board spent time in small-group conversations about the idea of “Finding Our Why,” based on the “Find Your Why” book by Simon Sinek.
Board chair Joseph Morrow, a pastor from Chicago, said the board’s conversation on this – part of an intentional effort to focus not just on business items to be voted up or down but also to engage more deeply with generative issues – is an effort to look at the board’s culture. “Why do we engage in this work?” Morrow asked.
What does the board do when it’s at its best? What are its unique gifts?
And he asked board members to consider three questions – the answers to which will help guide its work going forward:
- What do we leave behind?
- What do we keep from the past?
- What do we take up for the future?
Some answers that emerged were:
- The board supports the work of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) staff and its executive director.
- The board is thinking long-term, and concentrating on mission and discernment.
- The board can leave behind “controlling the staff,” Kathy Maurer said, representing the table discussion in her small group. Leave behind “not trusting the executive director and second-guessing. Not trusting other groups we deal with. Some of the old structures. The scarcity narrative. Small group gossip. Secrets and pockets of secrets.”
- The board can take up relationship building, living in grace and humility, hope, connections with mid councils and congregations. “The work ahead includes “speaking up and loving one another,” as board member Patsy Smith put it.
Real estate policy. With no discussion, the board voted to update its real estate policy, which Melinda Sanders, chair of the board’s Property/Legal Committee, described as “woefully out of date.” The cover date on the old policy was 2007.
The revised policy (C.102 Revision of PCUSA A Corp. Real Estate Policy) includes a pathway to take real estate matters to the reconfigured Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation board, Sanders said – one of a series of realignments being sorted out as the new A Corporation board, with broader representation, takes over responsibilities that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, acting as the A Corporation board, used to handle.
The revised policy repeatedly adds language referring to decisions that would need approval from both the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the A Corporation board
For example, it states that the PC(USA) can act to “sell or lease property not needed for mission use and for which exchange or transfer is neither required nor feasible, upon recommendation from the appropriate staff unit and approval by the PMA board and the PC(USA) board.” Previously, the policy only required approval from the A Corporation board.
The revised policy also states that proceeds from sale of domestic property will, “unless otherwise approved, be considered unrestricted, expendable resources of the Presbyterian Mission Program Fund and reserved for use as approved by the PMA Board.” The policy previously stated that the funds would be reserved for use as approved by the A Corporation board.
The sorting out of responsibilities, budgets and authority between the PMA board and the A Corporation board is just beginning, as the reconfigured A Corporation board, with representatives from five of the six PC(USA) agencies, held its first meeting earlier this month.
The PMA Board opposed the reconfiguration of the A Corporation board, which the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee proposed and the General Assembly ultimately granted. The disagreement leading into the assembly was fierce. And the question of how power, money and resources will shake out in the new alignment is just beginning to emerge.
Meeting dates. The board voted to adjust its meeting schedule – with its next in-person meeting scheduled for March 27-29, at a place yet to be determined.
Chaplains. The board’s Nurturing the Body program committee, which Patsy Smith chairs, celebrated PMA’s mission partnership with the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel. Lyman Smith, the organization’s director and a PC(USA) minister, said the organization supports 153 actively-serving chaplains from a range of branches of the military and government agencies, including one who will soon become a chaplain for the Secret Service. Federal departments are expanding their chaplaincy services as they find “chaplains are absolutely necessary,” Lyman Smith said.
He spoke, for example, of the work of Rear Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben, a PC(USA) minister whom the 2018 General Assembly honored for her 35 years of service as a Navy chaplain, and who has worked to provide support for survivors of sexual abuse in the military.
Special Offerings Review Task Force. The board named five people to serve on this task force, which is created every four years and will begin its work in 2019. The task force will make an interim report to the board in September 2019 and a final report in February 2020.
Those appointed to the task force are:
- Steve Marsh, a minister from California.
- Linda Badger-Becker, a ruling elder from New York.
- Vince Patton, a ruling elder from Kentucky.
- Sallie Watson, a minister from Texas.
- Tamara Williams, a ruling elder from North Carolina.
Closed session. The board met in closed session to discuss litigation with one of its outside lawyers, Louisville attorney John Sheller. According to Morrow, the board took no action during the closed session.