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Presbyterian Mission Agency board will consider new statements on militarism, anti-racism

PMA Coordinating Committee meeting on Jan. 28. Screenshot Leslie Scanlon.

The Coordinating Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has approved revised language on the subject of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and militarism that it wants to send to the 2022 General Assembly in June.

The proposed language is part of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA)’s Mission Work Plan for 2023-2024 that the full board will consider during its Feb. 9-11 meeting and which it will then send to the 2022 General Assembly for its consideration.

That Mission Work Plan describes in broad language what PMA sees as the emphasis of its work for the next two years. If the General Assembly approves it, PMA then will use that language as the foundation and as permission for developing more specific plans for work in each area.

Some Coordinating Committee members had raised concerns during a Jan. 13 Zoom meeting about the proposed language regarding militarism — so more work was done and revised language presented. Board member Ken Godshall, who had raised some of the original concerns, said that work included consultation with Lyman Smith, a retired Navy chaplain and PC(USA) minister who serves as executive director of Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincies.

The new language, which the Coordinating Committee approved during a Jan. 28 Zoom meeting, states that:

Militarism:  The General Assembly has offered much language related to militarism over the years. In 2010, it initiated the Peace Discernment Process which produced a number of papers, studies, and resources for congregations throughout the PC(USA). Other General Assemblies in 1980, 1982, 1998, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012 & 2014 weighed in on issues around militarism in the areas of peacemaking, human rights, drone warfare, divestment related to war and militarism, and ways to support our international partners in the disproportionate ill-effects of militarism on their local communities. In 2010, the major PC(USA) policy paper on Gun Violence was passed which forms the foundation for our concerns around policing and militarism in the United States.

Samuel Son, PMA’s manager of diversity and reconciliation worked on drafting the Antiracism statement, and said: “Getting to this place was not easy.” Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

Militarism is a term that is misunderstood by many, but refers to a “system of beliefs, political priorities, and economic investments.” Militarism is often correlated with inordinate expenditures on weapons, undue influence by the defense establishment on setting national priorities, and the suppression of human needs, and legitimate protests of evils committed against underserved communities. The domestic impacts of militarism are often overlooked but can be seen in militarized police forces and the demonization of the “other” to justify denial of human rights to repressed peoples and inequality of treatment for marginalized populations.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s work in 2023–2024 will examine and confront militarism through the lens of the Christian faith from a variety of intersectional perspectives, including racism, poverty, climate change and gender oppression. Recognizing the unique resource of specialized ministers serving and having served as chaplains in the uniformed services, the Presbyterian Mission Agency will invite their expertise alongside longtime international and domestic partners to engage in education, advocacy, and partnership within and beyond the PC(USA) to address the dangers and impacts of a militaristic mindset from a Christological perspective.

The previous language which that revision replaces stated that:

Militarism is a term that is misunderstood by many, but refers to a “system of beliefs, political priorities, and economic investments. Militarism includes the activities of corporations that produce and sell weapons, and the role of state militaries — including state-sanctioned violence, martial law, repression, extra-judicial killings, military coups, and military dominance within governments — as well as non-state militias.”[2] The domestic impacts of militarism are often overlooked, but can be seen in militarized police forces in underserved communities and outsized defense budgets that mostly benefit contractors and weapons manufacturers. Meanwhile, wages for enlisted personnel, many of whom come from low-income communities, are stagnant and veterans remain underserved by the system charged with their care.

Given the broad scope of this area, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s work in 2023–2024 will examine and confront militarism through the lens of the Christian faith from a variety of intersectional perspectives, including racism, poverty, climate change and gender oppression. The Presbyterian Mission Agency will engage in education, advocacy, and partnership within and beyond the PC(USA) to address such issues as police brutality, mass incarceration, migration, moral injury, drone warfare, violence against women and children, and healing historical harms.

Godshall said he thinks the revised wording “is very faithful.” And Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board’s chair-elect, said that in addressing militarism the PC(USA) needs to consider both the role of military service in the United States and the influence of militarism internationally. With this wording, “we’ve gotten to a responsible middle ground,” she said.

Denise Anderson. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

Anti-racism statement.  The Coordinating Committee also approved language for a new anti-racism statement that has been developed by a writing team of the PC(USA)’s Diverse Voices Table, in response to an action of the 2020 General Assembly. Denise Anderson, PMA’s coordinator of racial and intercultural justice, said the statement was developed in consultation with leaders of PC(USA) agencies and entities, and the board of each agency or entity is being asked to formally vote to adopt that statement.

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