Life at beginning and end—a topic in Detroit PDF Print E-mail

ga221-web-bannerHuman life is shaping up to be the dominant topic in the Social Justice Issues Committee of the coming General Assembly of the PCUSA(Presbyterian Church USA) to be held June 14-21, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The overtures coming from presbyteries are thoughtful and fresh with only a few echoing stale debates from political positions.

Several items of business at the upcoming GA have potential for sparking meaningful discussion about the role of the church in both the physical protection of human life and the preservation of the dignity and sacred worth of each individual human being across the vast spectrum of humanity. Below are brief descriptions of the recommendations in these overtures. Full text is available online at PC-Biz,the electronic repository of all the General Assembly business.

Two overtures consider lives yet in a mother's womb

Item 09-02 (Ovt 15) On Entering a Two-Year Season of Reflection on the Plight of Unwanted Children, and Appointing a Special Committee on Abortion Review—From the Presbytery of South Alabama

The recommendations in this item offer substantial opportunity to commissioners to improve the way the PCUSA thinks about and values children before and after birth. It calls the Presbyterian Mission Agency and PCUSA congregations to "enter a two-year season of reflection" on the plight of children unwanted by society, born and unborn. In the spirit of James 1:27 the overture asks the assembly to call the church to "enter the pure worship of God by offering aid, comfort and the Gospel" to orphans (including those who survive abortion procedures) and their families, communities, and medical providers.

The South Alabama Presbytery asks the GA to direct its Moderator and Stated Clerk to issue statements denouncing the killing of babies born alive following an abortion procedure, referencing the Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia as an example. It also calls for an assessment of every kind of PCUSA support given to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. A similar review of support given to pro-life organizations and crisis pregnancy support centers is requested.

If the overture is approved, a review would be conducted examining existing policies on abortion with possible proposals for new policies that represent the breadth of conviction about abortion in the light of James 1:27. The overture specifically asks that the voices of pro-life Presbyterians be incorporated more fully in any new policies and that meetings of committees formed for the above purposes be conducted in virtual conferences.

Item 09-11 (Ovt 65) On Endorsing the Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement—From the Presbytery of National Capital

Still needing a concurrence from another presbytery to make it to the General Assembly, this overture calls commissioners to affirm and recognize the importance of good nutrition for mother and child beginning with the woman's pregnancy and extending for 1,000 days until the child is age 2. The overture encourages relationship between the PCUSA Hunger Program and Bread for the World. It urges advocacy by the Office of Public Witness and communications from the Stated Clerk to the United Nations, Congress, and the President of the United States to draw attention to the impact of nutrition in reducing stunting of children. It calls on all Presbyterians to pray for and minister to women and children around the world in the 1,000 day window and to learn more about the importance of nutrition during these critical days before and after birth.

One overture calls for a study of End-of-Life Issues

Item 09-10 (Ovt 60) On a Study of End-of-Life Issues—Synod of the Covenant

Approval of this overture would direct ACSWP (Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy) to "convene a 7-8 person team of Presbyterian ethicists and physicians" to draft a "pastoral and educational booklet" with advice on Physician-assisted Suicide, palliative and terminal sedation, pastoral support of dying persons and their families, the special circumstances of dying children and the dying pregnant woman, organ donation and other end-of-life concerns. Meetings are to be by video and phone with one in-person meeting. The team is to consult with the Theology and Worship Office. The resulting booklet is to be tested by pastors, chaplains, and hospice personnel with a report to the 222nd GA. It is recommended that the booklet be printed for purchase, posted on-line, and contain updated templates of living wills, power of attorney forms and other resources for pastoral care and that it be sent to regulatory and certifying bodies, seminaries, colleges and universities.

Several other overtures deal with human life

Item 09-09 On Food Sovereignty for All deals with meeting basic food needs that sustain human life.

Several overtures address violent threats to human life and safety:

09-01 and 09-07 address gun violence, while

11-04 in another committee tackles the problem of Drones used as weapons of war.

Item 09-04, calls for a National Moratorium on the Death Penalty.

Overtures address a variety of attacks on human dignity:

09-03 On Encouraging Use of the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation

09-05 On a Two-Year Study to Discern How to Advocate for Effective Drug Policies

09-12 On Providing a Trauma Crisis Counseling Consultation to Train in Best Practices in Caring for Survivors of Homicide Victims

ROC is on PPL's watch list

Item 12-03 On Publishing the Current List of Churches Certified as Relief of Conscience Churches—From the Presbytery of National Capital.

PPL supports this overture as a transparent way to ensure churches who have requested ROC status from their presbyteries actually have that status with the Board of Pensions. The ROC program separates BOP dues from funding streams that fund abortions in the Medical Benefits Plan of the PCUSA. The purpose of ROC is to protect the conscience of pastors and members who believe abortion is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Several churches believed they were part of the ROC program but discovered later that they were not on the list. Learning that their pastor's BOP dues had been flowing into the stream that paid abortion claims left them feeling betrayed by presbytery and denomination. Publishing the list on the BOP website would make it easy for sessions and members to check their status.

Precautionary Principle could impact abortion policy

Item 15-02 in the Committee on Immigration and Environmental Issues holds interesting implications for the PCUSA position on abortion. The current policy says, "because we do not know when life begins" we should allow freedom of choice. This item "Affirming the Importance of Sustainable Development and the Precautionary Principle" if approved, would imply instead that an action that may harm human lives should not be taken. Medical science leaves no doubt that in abortion, a human being dies. If the Precautionary Principle were applied across PCUSA policies it might reveal a need for change in the current abortion policy.



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