"Transforming Families" report moves
The Transforming Families paper
by the Rev. Dr. Barbara Gaddis
and policy document will be an important item of business for the 216th
General Assembly. An earlier draft was substantially rewritten in
response to criticisms at last year's General Assembly, orchestrated by
the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy.
The Rev. Dr.
Barbara Gaddis, a family therapist, served on the Task Force that
drafted the original document, and we have asked her to comment on this
Below you'll find a link to the full
text of the "Transforming Families" paper, and one to a
background news story.
And click here for other
reports and opinions on same-sex marriage and such.
daunting task, to examine the issues facing families and the church's
response to family life in our current context. It has taken the ACSWP
over 8 years, a Task Force, a Synod Consultation, a Panel, several editing
teams, dozens of people, several editors and countless hours to produce
the current document, and whether it was time well spent remains elusive.
Transforming Families paper is a mixed bag.
paper like most papers from ACSWP consists of two basic parts: the
recommendations to be adopted by the GA, and the rationale for those
recommendations. In this case the recommendations comprise 17 pages, the
rationale runs some 23 pages, with fully 9 pages of endnotes. A listing of
resources for families and for ministry with families, along with a
comprehensive bibliography, round out the 56 page document.
is being asked to include the entire document - both recommendations and
rationale - in its minutes, an unusual request, but in this case a good
request. The rationale contains very well written and informative
sociological and economic data, concisely presented to paint an accurate
picture of the issues facing the modern family. The rationale will be an
excellent study document for the entire church, worth the paper the GA
will use to print it.
recommendations section contains some intriguing ways to look at the
family in the larger Christian context of baptism, weaving through the
theological propositions references to the Confessions and Bible. It
continues by making a case for such noble (if not novel) propositions as
universal health insurance, flexible work hours, paid leave for care of
dependent persons, abolishing "marriage penalties" in the tax code, safe,
secure and affordable dependent care services to list but a few of its
recommendations. The paper lays out a vision of family life that upholds
values such as respect and honor for those married and those who are
single, doing well by all children, providing more time for families to be
together, and condemning the rampant "isms" of our day.
As I read
these recommendations though, I cannot help wondering if it is already a
dated document. I found myself agreeing with a colleague of mine who
remarked, "I guess these things need to be stated somewhere, but there's a
kind of 'duh' quality to them. It's not exactly a cutting-edge document."
While I am
generally supportive of the paper, I wish it had gone further. For
instance, the paper offers no help in our current national discussion
about same-sex marriage. The rationale lays out some information about
same sex couples and their children, arguing that regardless of our
beliefs, the children of such unions should not bear the brunt of our
disagreements. The recommendations quote from the marriage ceremony in the
Book of Worship regarding marriage being between a man and a woman. But
these are minimal responses to what might be said in the face of what
looks to be a train that has already left the station, with us on the
platform wondering what just happened.
beginning this paper had the potential to be a lightning rod for the
culture wars alive in our denomination. To be sure, the authors have
carefully nuanced many an issue to prevent that from happening. In so
doing, what they may have accomplished is not so much a forward thinking
document, as a rationale for doing what we've always done.
down a bit for a light-hearted and slightly skeptical view of the
problem of defining marriage.]
So what’s in a family?
As the debate heated
up over a constitutional amendment to define marriage, someone offered
these Biblical definitions of marriage, in the form of a "Draft of a
Constitutional Amendment to Defend Biblical Marriage":
• Marriage in the United States of America
shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen
29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5.)
• Marriage shall not impede a man’s right
to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings
11:3; II Chron 11:21)
• A marriage shall be considered valid only
if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be
executed. (Deut 22:13-21)
• Marriage of a believer and a non-believer
shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30, 2Cor
• Since marriage is for life, neither the
US Constitution nor any state law shall permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark
• If a married man dies without children,
his brother must marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the
widow, or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of
one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law.
(Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)
Transforming Families report is available online
The much-debated report on changing
American families has been posted on the PC(USA) website as a 50-page
document in pdf format.
You may want to look at
our earlier discussions of the report,
and we promise further comments before it comes to the 2004 General
Assembly for further debate and action.
|Families paper makes GA deadline
ACSWP approves new theological section and recommendations
by Evan Silverstein,
Click here for a comment
from Witherspoon president Kent Winters-Hazelton.
LOUISVILLE -- February 26, 2004 -- With hours to spare, a
controversial paper on changing families was finished Wednesday, on time for
submission to this summer's General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church
Facing a Feb. 27 deadline, the committee writing the
"Transforming Families" paper for the denomination approved the document's
highly debated, and often-revised theological section during a conference
call on Feb. 25.
Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) also approved changes to the
paper's recommendations section, completing the revisions. The document will
be submitted to the Assembly, which will begin on June 26 in Richmond, VA.
"The long, slow process of crafting a policy statement on
families now moves to the General Assembly," the Rev. Peter Sulyok, the
ACSWP coordinator, said after the committee met by telephone. "Today's vote
demonstrated the ACSWP's ability to grapple with complex issues involving
justice concerns and model for the church new ways of listening and dealing
with potentially divisive issues."
The meeting was a continuation of a Feb. 18 conference
call in which the committee members wrestled with nuances of language and
ordered more revisions to the theological section and the report's
Committee members had referred the theology section and
recommendations to a writing team to develop a transitional section between
the two. The revisions centered on a collection of "affirmations and
recommendations" introduced by a committee task group in January.
Alan Wisdom, a representative of Presbyterians in Faith
and Action, a "think tank" and advocacy group that is part of the Institute
on Religion and Democracy in Washington, DC, was a principal author of the
affirmations and recommendations section.
ACSWP members made minor changes to the new transitional
section before approving it along with the theological section and the
recommendations. Portions of the paper were revised 19 times, mostly the
The paper sparked controversy at last year's Assembly when
critics claimed it was flawed theologically and placed families headed by
same-sex couples on the same moral plane with those headed by married
heterosexual couples, in violation of scripture and Christian morality.
Sulyok said he believes the retooled paper will have broad
support at the Assembly and in the PC(USA).
He said the finished document is "broad enough to include
all the families in the church, and wide enough to create the space for the
church to reach out, both within its own walls and beyond its walls into
society, to seek opportunities for ministries with families."
The 209th Assembly in 1997 asked ACSWP to conduct "an
examination of changing families and social structures that support
families," focusing especially on their impact on children, "to strengthen
the church's ministry to contemporary families."
"I think this is a significant moment for all of us," said
the ACSWP chair, the Rev. Nile Harper, a retired minister from Ann Arbor,
MI. "We are some six and a half years into the thoughtful and prayerful and
serious consideration and work on this document. So many people have
contributed to this over a period of more than six years that we lift them
all up with our sense of thanksgiving and gratitude."
ratified (or not) by the presbyteries
A number of the most important actions of the 219th
General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their
action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book
We're providing resources to help inform the
reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.
Our three areas of primary interest are:
which would remove the current ban on
lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as
possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.|
which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of
10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government
that was approved by the Assembly. |
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