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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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219th General Assembly

Click here for our index page on GA 2010

Committee 13: Peacemaking and International Issues

If you have comments on these issues, or material you would like us to post here, please send a note, and if possible we will add it to this page.

Friday evening:  Big steps forward on peacemaking issues

Jan Orr-Harter of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has provided an in-depth report on this important area of Presbyterian concern and action.  She begins:

The long-awaited GA plenary session on Peacemaking and International Issues came and went, with excellent results, but not quite as we expected the process to go. We'll take the results.

On the war in Afghanistan, amendments were added to remember the 9-11 victims and their families and the US troops and their families. Personally, I think there should have been something already in the overture addressing these concerns. Even though the US was involved in Afghanistan long before 9-11, this wound pains us and needs focus from a peacemaking perspective. The overture passed overwhelmingly, stating clearly that the PC(USA) opposes the war in Afghanistan and calls for only non-military actions and a withdrawal of troops....

She also deals with the Assembly's actions on Colombia, strengthening the Peacemaking Program and discerning the Christian call to nonviolence, and much more.   Click here to read the full report >>

An introductory look at some issues coming to this committee


Click on any Item number to jump to the full text on the PC-BIZ website.

Items 13-01, 13-02, 13-03,13-09 On the War in Afghanistan.

Six presbyteries have submitted or concurred with similar overtures calling upon the United States to replace military operations in Afghanistan with nonviolent approaches including diplomacy and material aid and to mitigate the war’s impact through restitution and reconstruction. We also need to evaluate the cost of the war to ourselves – in financial, moral, and human terms – in the hope that we can learn to engage in international affairs in ways that nourish peace, prosperity, and stability.

The rationale points out that no General Assembly has yet addressed the eight-year war in Afghanistan. So there has been no directive to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to develop informational and study materials regarding the conflict, and the voice of the church has been silent in a world anticipating its religious bodies to speak out. It is time for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be heard.

Item 13-04 On Partnering for Peace in Sudan.

This overture from the Presbytery of Trinity calls upon the Assembly to support “working toward a just and lasting peace for all of Sudan” by advocating for a renewed international commitment to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, increased private investment for the economic development of Southern Sudan, increased development assistance by the US government, and “renewed efforts by all parties to end hostilities in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan ...” These appear to be genuine steps toward peace in a nation that has certainly known more than its share of suffering.

13-05 On Protecting Christians in the Muslim World.

Growing out of a presbytery relationship, this overture is based on a particular situation in Pakistan, but uses general language to appeal to the United Nations to “exhort the religious and political leaders of Muslim nations to moderate extreme behavior and protect (their) religious minorities from ... harm, and encourage brotherly harmony ...” While the concern merits the GA’s attention, there are several problems with the overture. Most importantly, it fails to set a comprehensive context that includes U.S. military operations in the region and the injustices or resentments that may have motivated attacks on perceived allies of the U.S. It also asks the UN to send a message to all Muslim nations, without documenting that the problem exists in more than a few.

There are several ways that the committee could respond responsibly to the overture. They could issue a statement dealing specifically with the incident documented in the rationale. They could request assistance from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy in drafting a broader statement on the situation in Pakistan, including this concern. Or they might consider requesting a report to the next General Assembly on the complex situation in Pakistan.

13-06 On Entering a Six-Year Term of Discernment to Seek Clarity on Whether God Is Calling the Church to Embrace Nonviolence as Its Response to War and Terror.

This overture proposes a study that could lead to profound changes in the church’s thinking on war and violence. It challenges us to consider reaffirming the early church’s commitment to nonviolence and to reevaluate our reliance on just war doctrines. While Presbyterian polity will always permit a General Assembly to endorse a particular military option, shouldn’t the presumptive position of the church be in opposition to war? The overture is not about the unrealistic hope of the United States becoming a pacifist nation. Instead, it asks questions about the role of the Christian perspective in national debates on war and peace. The rationale points out that modern weapons and military strategies have made traditional Just War theory obsolete. Nevertheless, the burden has generally been on war opponents to demonstrate that a particular conflict is unjust, rather than to its supporters to demonstrate that military action is the only realistic and just option. The decision does not need to be a rushed one, but shouldn’t we start thinking about reversing that dynamic?

13-07 Twenty-first Century Peacemaking and Seminaries, Colleges, and Congregations.

This overture calls for several GAMC entities and church-related seminaries and colleges to investigate the possibility of pooling their resources to help Presbyterians deal with challenges in the 21st century, such as wars with no end (on terror or drugs), or those that rage in the Middle East, globalization and pluralism, U.S. foreign policy and developing nations, or climate change and the competition for natural resources. The foundational PC(USA) peacemaking document, “Peacemaking: the Believers’ Calling” (1980) still calls us to the privilege and challenge of taking part in God’s peacemaking in this century by assembling all the resources that God has given us. The hope is that a very intentional plan may emerge from an exploration of how our agencies and educational institutions and congregations can comprehensively cooperate together.

13-08 On Assisting with a Process for Negotiation of a Peace Accord in Colombia.

The 2008 General Assembly called for a suspension of military aid to Colombia, which would preclude the expanded U.S. military presence which is the concern of this overture. However, it was the hope of our partner, The Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC), that the election of President Barack Obama would strengthen the search for peace and respect for human rights. This has not been the case. In September 2009, the government of the United States certified the Colombian government in human rights, even with the revelation of a high number of extrajudicial killings of youth by the army. It was also made public that the Colombian intelligence agency conducted illegal surveillance on leaders of the opposition, human rights defenders, and church leaders, threatening them because of their work for peace. And now our government has made an accord with the Colombian government for the U.S. military to use seven military bases within Colombia. In February 2010, the General Assembly of the IPC expressed its concern: “… that the democratic security promoted by the [Colombian] government, the increased military costs, and the growth of the army have not shown us the prospect of peace even though they have reduced the actions of illegal armed groups. It is evident that there is a resurgence or strengthening of former armed groups. Furthermore, there are tensions with Columbia’s neighbors – Ecuador, Venezuela, and throughout the region because of the announcement of the U.S. Army’s use of Colombian military bases.”

For this reason the IPC has called on the PC(USA) to join them in making stronger efforts (initiatives) toward peace in Colombia. In light of these new developments and this urgent request from our partner church, it is appropriate for the General Assembly to direct the stated clerk to ask President Obama to suspend U.S. use of Colombian military bases and to instead promote a peace process to resolve the conflict.

Item 13-11 which has been moved here from Committee 9, reflects an overture from Pittsburgh Presbytery entitled “On Strengthening the Peacemaking Program.” This is set forth as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the important document, “Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling,” and the establishment of the Peacemaking Program. It would “celebrate” by creating a nine-member task force to present suggestions to the 220th GA for updating the church’s peacemaking efforts in light of more recent developments such as the emergence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); the recovery by the U.S., after Viet Nam, of its status as a respected “superpower”; the end of the “cold war”; new wars; globalization and the current global financial crisis; the role of religions in wars and in peacemaking; and “the rise of Muslim influence and militancy.”   [NOTE: This item has now been moved to Committee 13, and is numbered 13-11]

The proposal focuses much concern on “weapons of mass destruction,” which is a term used largely in accusations against those accused of terrorism, without any reference to the nuclear arsenal and other forms of warfare such as drone aircraft, which are primarily a part of the arsenals of U.S. and other “Western” nations. There seems to be a certain one-sidedness about the “updating” that is being envisioned.

The proposal calls for the creation of “an advisory committee of six expert persons to meet quarterly to counsel the Peacemaking Program on issues regarding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and other emerging issues.” It is unclear why the standing committee for the Peacemaking Program would need to be supplemented with such an “advisory” body. It’s worth noting that an earlier advisory committee voted to disband, so that revenue from the Peacemaking Offering could be devoted to staff, programs, and resources, and not spent on their meetings. 

The proposal also includes a very interesting call for “a seminary and college-wide review of peace studies and peacemaking opportunities appropriate to the major shifts in the approach of the United States international relations ...” Its goal would be to “engage students in active peacemaking and to share the wisdom of faculty among our church-related educational institutions.” (Item 13-07 deals with similar possibilities for supporting peace studies and action in the arena of higher education.)



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

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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

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