Faced with a request that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) apologize for past harms to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer and questioning community, a committee at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) instead is recommending adoption of a statement expressing “deep sorrow” for past actions and to “continue the journey as a denomination to become more open, understand and accepting.”
Over several hours of debate, the committee considered the original overture, an alternate resolution proposed by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, amendments to the ACSWP proposal and an alternate motion crafted by members of the committee.
The committee ultimately approved, by a 56-1 vote the motion developed by the committee which expresses regret for ways that LGBTQ/Q persons have been made to feel over the years that they “stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA).” The policy calls upon presbyteries and congregations to engage in many ways of reconciliation and ends with a prayer for all Presbyterians to work together in a spirit of renewed partnership.
David Parker, primary author of the version that will come to the assembly floor, said he was proposing it because “it is gentler. The goal is to move with the Spirit to the place where we can be reconciled.”
The committee also approved an overture from the Presbytery of the Cascades called “On Choosing to Be a Church Committed to the Gospel of Matthew 25,” which calls the church to renewed commitment with the least, the last and the lost. As part of the approval, the committee asked for a way to restore funding for Justice Unbound, a social media website that is heavily frequented by younger adults interested in connecting on social witness.
One of the co-authors, Aric Clark, who is a pastor in the Portland area, said, “I began to see something in the gospel, that stirred me to awe. And fear for myself. There are people who are hungry. There are 4000 people who are sleeping on the streets every night in Portland, and every one of those is Christ.”
In approving the Matthew 25 overture, the committee also declared that this approval answered two overtures from Foothills Presbytery that would have re-set the way that social witness policy is formulated in the PC(USA).
The advocate for the Foothills overtures, Gordon Raynal, said, “When you are in a deep hole and want to get out, the first thing you do is to stop digging. The PCUSA has been and continues to be in a deepening hole.” Citing declining statistics, he called upon the committee to consider a more localized model of engagement in social justice work.
The committee easily approved an overture to equip congregations to develop practical ways to better serve people living with HIV/AIDs. Ann Conklin, a teaching elder commissioner from Lake Michigan Presbytery summed up many comments when she said, “It’s important that we partner with other organizations and it’s important for the church to speak on this issue. I have lost three friends to AIDS.”
In other actions, the committee approved:
- A motion offering apology to Native Americans, Alaskan natives and native Hawaiians.
- Recommendations to improve cultural proficiency among the six agencies of the PC(USA).
- A response titled “Election Protection and Integrity in Campaign Finance.”
- An initiative on urban ministry called “Gospel from Detroit: Renewing the Church’s Urban Vision.”
- A statement of concern on human trafficking.
- Recommendations to address the economic crisis in Puerto Rico.
- A cluster of recommendations to address racism and ethnocentricity.
- Condemnation of therapies purported to change sexual identity.
- A policy called “Healing Before Punishment: Why Presbyterians Seek to End the War on Drugs.”