Race, reparations and reproductive justice fill the docket for the Race and Gender Justice Committee of GA225

A preview of the Race and Gender Justice Committee for the 225th General Assembly.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

“We, as a people of faith, recognize that the only appropriate path to healing and reconciliation is to acknowledge the wrongs that we, the Presbyterian Church, as part of the institutional church structure, were and are complicit in perpetuating … We apologize for this transgression.”

This call for recognition and confession – explicitly stated in RGJ-08, a resolution “on offering an apology to African Americans for the sin of slavery and its legacy” – undergirds all of the resolutions being considered by the Race and Gender Justice committee of the 225th General Assembly. When the committee structures were announced by The Office of General Assembly on December 21, 2021, “RGJ” was tasked with reviewingitems related to justice issues associated with racism, gender identity, and their intersection.”

Its commissioners will meet in person in Louisville from June 23-26, 2022, with virtual access also available. Of the ten resolutions being considered, four items are referrals from the 2020 General Assembly. Three others are reports from special committees and task forces constituted in earlier assemblies.

On Thursday, June 23, the committee will consider resolutions related to acts of violence, oppression and health crises experienced by women and transwomen of color and two items of business related to specific cases of past and present racism within congregations of the PC(USA).

RGJ-03: A Resolution on Reproductive Justice: Black/Birthing People and Infant Mortality

RGJ-02: A Resolution on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit Peoples.

RGJ-04: A Resolution for Transwomen of Color

These resolutions co-sponsored by the Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns (ACWC) and the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC) call on the Presbyterian Mission Agency, through the Office of Public Witness to advocate on behalf of black and Indigenous women and transgender persons in public policy and through the Presbyterian Planning Calendar to raise awareness through designated days to honor and remember the victims of silence, violence and racism.

The remaining agenda items concern possibilities for reparations to better fund congregations of color.

RGJ-07: A Resolution Addressing the Lack of Installed Pastors in People of Color Congregations in the PC(USA)

RGJ-09: On Directing the Office of the General Assembly to Issue Apologies and Reparations for the Racist Closure of Memorial Presbyterian Church, Juneau, Alaska.

”Currently 80 percent of the PC(USA)’s predominantly Black congregations are without installed pastoral leadership. At least 40 percent of Hispanic/Latino congregations do not have installed pastors” explains the rationale included in RGJ-07, which proposes “forgiving the indebtedness of congregations without installed pastoral leadership for loans, per capita and Board of Pensions (BOP) dues until parity is established.” RGJ-09 sponsored by Northwest Coast Presbytery addresses a case for reparations regarding Memorial Presbyterian Church, “a thriving, multiethnic, intercultural church in Alaska” whose “unwarranted 1963 closure” by the Presbytery of Alaska was intended to halt segregation but “merely substituted assimilationist racism for the previous practice of segregationist racism.” RGJ-09 calls for $300,000 of reparations paid by the Presbyterian Mission Agency towards Indigenous language preservation and Native American church property funds.

On Friday, June 24, the committee’s agenda considers declarations broader in scope.

RGJ-08: On Offering an Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and its Legacy 

RGJ-10: Resolution on Race, Reparative Justice, and the PCUSA

RGJ-12: Report on the Special Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation

The apology for the sin of slavery and its legacy and the related resolution on race and reparative justice carry financial implications totaling $63,890 for this GA committee to consider. Many of the points of these resolutions are supported by the Report of the Special Committee on Racism and Reconciliation (RGJ-12) which go before the committee Friday, June 25, at a midpoint in their proceedings.

The Special Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation was constituted in 2016 at the 223rd General Assembly and reconstituted in 2018 at the 224th. In addition to its 11 recommendations that span further action by the Office of the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Presbyterian Historical Society, the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation and the Mid Council Ministries office, the special committee’s report offers a glossary of terms and a litany of past and present defensive responses to anti-racist work that serve as touchstones for the General Assembly as it considers the other resolutions of this committee. In a section called “Limitations of our Work” the report acknowledges the structural changes anticipated across the PC(USA) which make “naming all of the necessary changes on every level of the denomination, though our desire, is beyond the scope of the labor of this particular Special Committee.”

On Saturday, June 26, the Race and Gender Justice committee will consider its final resolutions focused on understanding the role of systemic racism as it constitutes a public health crisis affecting people of color and compounds violence and discrimination towards women, girls and transgender persons.

RGJ-11 – A Resolution on Racism as a Public Health Crisis

RGJ-13 – Report from the Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force

These items of business brought forth from REAC and the Black Women and Girls Task Force, respectively, seek to raise consciousness across the denomination. Additionally, RGJ-11 calls the PC(USA) to use the power of its advocacy towards public policies as well as with the insurance providers with which the Board of Pensions contracts “to mitigate disparities in health care received by people of color.” RGJ-12 focuses on the need for greater financial resources to support the scholarship funds and legal defense funds for Black women and “to increase budget support and equity for the Racial Equity and Women’s Ministries area in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.”

Prior to presenting their resolution to the 225th GA, the Black Women and Girls Task Force identified five specific areas following an equity audit in 2020 following the organization of the task force by Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (RE&WIM). The third area was related to reproductive justice which is also the focus of RGJ-03, the first item of business that this committee will consider in June. The work of the Racial and Gender Justice committee and its resolutions regarding the intersection of race and gender justice issues may precede or follow a historic decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“The entire Presbyterian community would benefit in knowing the history of and evolving advocacy on reproductive rights and sexual health and well-being, and to become better informed about agencies and other resources providing programming on this topic,” stated the Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force report.