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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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"Transforming Families" report moves ahead

The Transforming Families paper

A comment by the Rev. Dr. Barbara Gaddis      [5-27-04]

This study 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 revised version.

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.

What a 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.

The Transforming Families paper is a mixed bag.

The family 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.

The Assembly 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.

The 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.

From the 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.

[Scroll down a bit for a light-hearted and slightly skeptical view of the problem of defining marriage.]

So what’s in a family?    [5-27-04]

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 6:14)

Since marriage is for life, neither the US Constitution nor any state law shall permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9-12)

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   [5-7-04]

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, Presbyterian News Service

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 (USA).

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.

The Advisory 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 recommendations.

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 theological section.

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."



GA actions 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 of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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