Polarization, bullying, harassment and free and fair elections occupy the work of the Addressing Violence in the USA Committee

On its first day, the committee named the relevance and importance of their work, passing three resolutions: one on polarization; another on bullying, harassment, and assault; and a third on democracy, voting rights, and electoral reform.

Erika Rembert Smith, moderator of the Addressing Violence in the USA Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky — On June 23 the Addressing Violence in the USA Committee convened in the second round of committee meetings at the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) The agenda has nine resolutions to consider including VIOL-11, a commissioner’s resolution added this week that seeks to direct Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to place gun-related companies on the denomination’s divestment list.

The committee meeting started in an executive session with a welcome where committee moderator Erika Rembert Smith stated the work of this committee is incredibly relevant today. Last week, the Presbyterian Center held an active shooter drill and this week there is a noticeable presence of guards at every entrance to the building and a guard stationed outside the committee, which brings the urgency of the work of this committee into sharp focus.

Following the welcome, the committee took time to make covenants for how they will interact together. Prior to their meeting, the committee’s leadership solicited ideas for the covenant. They agreed in their executive session that their covenant could be summarized by Micah 6:8 — the call to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. They also included the choice points and equity prime card that each committee is using. They closed the executive session with introductions and an invitation for commissioners to come to the microphone and share a word about how they were feeling.

The executive session ended and the open session commenced with worship. The committee recited a litany that related directly to the work of the committee stating, “Violence is everywhere; we see it in our schools, our gravesides, our stores and our houses of worship. Our cities are afflicted. We are lashed by the storm of violence. We find no comfort.”

Overture advocate for VIOL-04 Chip Hardwick from Synod of the Covenant speaks via Zoom.

The committee oriented themselves to the electronic technology for voting and then took up the first item of business, VIOL-04: On Encouraging Our Churches to Counter Polarization in Our Society. They started with a presentation from overture advocate Chip Hardwick from Synod of the Covenant that included a video.

The moderator then broke the committee into groups of three to have a small group discussion. They returned and asked questions of the overture advocate and then shared feedback from their small groups. The general consensus was unanimous support for the overture and a sense that it needed stronger language. The overture was amended to call for “urging,” it moved a list of resources from the rationale into the body of the overture, and it asked the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to help with the efforts outlined in the overture. With these amendments, the overture passed.

JoAnne Sharp
Overture VIOL-02 was introduced by overture advocate JoAnne Sharp who is the co-moderator of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC).

After lunch, the committee considered VIOL-02: A Resolution on Preventing, Reporting, and Responding to Bullying, Harassment, and Assault—From the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns. The overture was introduced by overture advocate JoAnne Sharp, who is the co-moderator of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC). She explained the importance of this overture, particularly for women who are disproportionately victims of bullying, harassment and assault. The overture was approved.

The committee took up VIOL-06: Resolution on “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform” — From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness. It seeks to reaffirm the “Lift Every Voice” document that focuses on voting rights and was passed at the 218th General Assembly in 2008 and updated at the 222nd General Assembly in 2016. After a great deal of robust discussion, and amending, VIOL-06 was approved. The principal effect of the amendments was to take out references to specific elections and protests and make it applicable to all. One commissioner expressed that he was disappointed by the removal of the original language, but he was still voting for it in the hope that the removal of that language would allow a broader audience would be able to hear it. Embracing the spirit of VIOL-04, the amendments were perceived to reduce the possibility of polarization. Commissioners expressed the hope that this resolution would cause people from across the political and theological spectrum to connect their faith with free and fair elections.

The committee finished three items of business before the end of their allotted time and took the rest of the afternoon to look ahead in their docket. Several upcoming resolutions address firearms and gun violence. So the committee scanned through those to look at terms that may be unfamiliar or confusing. Staff resource person Jimmie Hawkins reviewed those terms with the commissioners and invited them to learn about what they meant like the definition of a bump stock and what constitutes an assault weapon so that commissioners can use terms in a similar way and have a common framework for the work they will do in the coming days.

The committee closed the day with worship and committed to come back ready to continue the important business of the church as it relates to violence in the United States.