Sunday, June 29, 2014

Abortion and the Presbyterian church (USA) posted a headline which focused on one aspect of a resolution recently rejected by the Presbyterian church (little c) USA, now to be referred to as the Presbypalian church after their trying to one up the Episcopalians by passing a resolution approving of same sex marriage. The alarming headline read, "Presbyterian Church USA Defeats Motion to Care for Babies Born Alive After Abortion." There is more to this failed resolution than that, and in particular I would like to point out that the call for "a two-year season of reflection" is the same method used by progressives in the Episcopal church when attempting to advance their agenda. Progressives must have recognized this tactic, and therefore were quick to shoot it down when used by their opponents.

Here is the vote,

09-02 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.
Source: Presbytery Event: 221st General Assembly (2014)
Committee: [09-02] Social Justice Issues
Sponsor: South Alabama Presbytery
Assembly Action
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows: DisapproveElectronic Vote - Plenary
Affirmative: 465
Negative: 133
Abstaining: 0
Committee Recommendation
On this Item, the Social Justice Issues Committee, acted as follows: Disapprove[Counted Vote - Committee]
Affirmative: 50 Negative: 17
Abstaining: 0

Here is the full text of the resolution,
The Presbytery of South Alabama overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to do the following:
1.    Call for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and member congregations to enter a two-year season of reflection upon the plight of children unwanted by human society, both born and not-yet born, and to purposefully seek to enter the pure worship of God by offering aid, comfort, and the Gospel to those responsible for the care of our most desperate orphans (including those who survive abortion procedures): parents, siblings, church and community leaders, and the medical profession.
2.    Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk to issue statements that denounce the practice of killing babies born live following an abortion procedure, such as was revealed in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia.
3.    Direct the Moderator to appoint a Special Committee on Abortion Review, carefully balanced with members representing both pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints, to
      a. Conduct a thorough assessment of the financial, in-kind, lodgment, publicity, and staff support that the PC(USA) provides to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and other abortion providers or pro-choice organizations. A similar review should be made of denominational support provided for pro-life organizations and pro-life crisis-pregnancy support centers.
       b. Review existing policies and, if needed, propose new policies that will more accurately represent the PC(USA) in its breadth of conviction about abortion, taking into account our churches’ desire to worship God in purest form (Jas. 1:27). Any new policies shall incorporate more fully the voices of pro-life Presbyterians, who have to this point largely been kept silent in denominational advocacy.
Most, if not all, of the special committee meetings should be conducted in virtual conferences using appropriate audio-visual technology. The Special Committee on Abortion Review shall report its findings and recommendations to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
The blood of little children cries out to God and to Christ’s Church for protection and justice.
The 2013 trial and conviction of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has placed Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and similar organizations under suspicion for tolerating medical abuse of both mothers and infants (see
Neither the PC(USA) Stated Clerk in Louisville nor the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office have called for corrective medical regulations (federal or state) for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, nor have our denominational representatives offered a single word of protest against the taking of innocent life at Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.
The clear teaching of Scriptures reveals that human life is sacred to God primarily because human life is created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Ancient Israel was taught to value life while it was still in the womb (Ex. 21: 22–23); the glory of the Creator’s handiwork in the womb is profoundly revealed by the Psalmist (Psalm 139); Jesus taught God’s especially tender love for innocent and defenseless children (Mk. 10:14–16; Mt. 19:13–15; Lk. 18: 15–17). Numerous Old Testament passages (Lev. 18:21; Jer. 19:4 and 32:35; Ps, 106: 37–39) clearly warn against offering children as sacrifices to please the god(s) of pagan culture (today, the gods of convenience and pleasure).
The New Testament scriptures clearly teach that the purest expression of religion in the sight of our God and heavenly Father is to care particularly for orphans and widows during their times of distress, and to keep ourselves unstained by the world (Jas. 1:27).
The Presbytery of South Alabama recognizes the spiritual duty of church councils to be faithful in carrying out their constitutional responsibility of being proactive, “warning and bearing witness against error in doctrine and immorality in practice within the congregation and community” (Book of Order, G-3.0201c)
Financial Implication
Per Capita - $580 (2014)  $42,740 (2015)  $32,110 (2016)
Per Capita - $0 (2014)  $0 (2015)  $0 (2016) - Revised
Following is the rationale used to justify the rejection of the resolution. It is quite lengthy, and to summarize it says, "Been there, done what we should, don't rock the boat, and we ain't going to go there again." I am always amazed at how many words it takes to justify rejecting the right thing to do. See if you agree.
ACSWP Advice and Counsel
The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) advises that the 221st General Assembly (2014) disapprove Item 09-02.
The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy advises that the grave moral issues raised by Item 09-02 have received, and continue to receive, significant attention, concern, and action by the church. With brevity, we describe some of these actions.
In response to (1) in Item 09-02, ACSWP advises that the concern expressed for the well-being of born children, as well as for the unborn, reflects longstanding church policies that call Presbyterians to reflection and action. In 1950 the PCUSA assembly declared the church’s responsibility for the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of children. Throughout subsequent decades, assemblies have adopted innumerable policies, resulting in programs and advocacy, directed to the multitude of conditions that compromise and threaten the well-being of children: inadequate healthcare, including prenatal care; inadequate nutrition; unsafe housing; and lack of good, affordable childcare, among others. With 22 percent of U.S. children living in poverty today, these issues remain critical.1 Recent Federal legislation cutting food stamps to low-income families reminds us of the need for constant vigilance on behalf of children and their mothers. The PC(USA) has also consistently encouraged Presbyterians to become involved in adoption and foster parenting, especially for children with special needs. (See “Adoption of Children with Special Needs,” 211th General Assembly (1999).)
While acknowledging that “we do not have substantial agreement on when human life begins,” (Minutes, 1992, Part I, paragraph 27.102) the church’s concern for the unborn is clearly stated in its current policy on problem pregnancies and abortion, “Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly,” (204th General Assembly, 1992). Here the church calls upon Presbyterians to address the concerns that bring women to contemplate abortion: “poverty, unjust social realities, sexism, racism, and inadequate supportive relationships” (Ibid. 27.101). In addition, this policy urges churches to support women by providing various alternatives to abortion:
Presbyterian churches are urged to consider expanding or offering such resources as adoptive services, homes for pregnant women who lack the necessary financial and emotional support for childbirth and child rearing, and pregnancy counseling. In 1986, the General Assembly of the PC(USA) took a step in this direction in recommending that resource centers be set up for alternatives to abortion within each presbytery (Minutes, 1992, Part I, p. 372).
In response to (2), the ACSWP advises that as recently as 2006, the 217th General Assembly clarified the churches policy on late-term abortions or miscarriages:
We affirm that the lives of viable unborn babies—those well-developed enough to survive outside the womb if delivered—ought to be preserved and cared for and not aborted. In cases where problems of life or health of the mother arise in a pregnancy, the church supports efforts to protect the life and health of both the mother and the baby. When late-term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive.2
Regardless of one’s support or opposition to legal abortion, the case of Dr. Gosnell is abhorrent to all. While statements in opposition to Dr. Gosnell’s actions would accurately reflect church policy, as well as the standards of our society and the practices of the medical community, the Moderator and Stated Clerk do not typically comment on criminal cases.
In response to (3.b), the ACSWP advises that Item 09-02 contains basic misunderstandings of the church’s policies and actions related to problem pregnancies and abortion. At its core, the church’s policy affirms that, in face of the “complicated and insolvable circumstances” surrounding problem pregnancies, it has “neither the wisdom nor the authority to address or decide each situation” for women (Ibid. 27.090). Therefore, it affirms “. . . the ability and responsibility of women, guided by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies” (Ibid. 27.091). The position of the church is not pro-abortion. However, the PC(USA) recognizes that there are circumstances when abortion may be a responsible choice within a Christian ethical framework. Thus, to support women’s reproductive choices, the church advocates for women’s access to family planning services, including fertility aid, contraception and, as a last resort, abortion. This position is consistent with longstanding Presbyterian affirmations of freedom of conscience informed by the Holy Spirit.
The positions expressed in the Rationale to Item 09-02 would, in fact, require a radically different policy on problem pregnancies and abortion. Perhaps for this reason, Item 09-02 calls for the appointment of a Special Committee on Abortion Review. However, the development of social witness policy for the denomination cannot be accomplished with a simple for or against discussion. Any study to reconsider the social witness policy of the PC(USA) would need to conform to the standards and procedures established for making social witness policy by the 205th General Assembly (1993). These require that the task force assigned this responsibility develop a plan for the involvement of the whole church. It must also listen to the biblical text, theological views, Reformed Confessions, sociopolitical disciplines, past policy statements, the advice of members and governing bodies, the counsel of ecumenical partners, and the insights of those who are poor or victims of existing policies. (See “Why and How the Church Makes a Social Policy Witness,” 205th General Assembly (1993)). Appropriately, this is an extensive process over several years, which in this case, would involve serious medical and theological/ethical expertise. The current 1992 policy involved a committee of fourteen working for three years. It also seems inappropriate to the subject matter and depth of concern to consider doing such a study by “audio-visual technology,” though the desire to save money can be appreciated. In fact, if the General Assembly were to approve the development of a new policy according to its current standards, which include circulating a church-wide study document and holding a consultation with representatives of all synods, the financial implications would be quite a bit higher than those attached to this Item.
We note that a similar proposal for a new study was brought to the 220th General Assembly (2012). The committee considering the proposal made the following comment describing the church’s current (1992) policy:
This noteworthy study brought twenty years of relative peace on a matter that has been a source of intense conflict in the PC(USA) for many years prior to the study. The study accomplished no mean feat in setting forth common ground that Presbyterian can gather around; common ground that eschews partisanship on either side of the cultural divide. We found insight and guidance in this document that was both eloquent and relevant to our work; therefore we do not see the need for a new study but rather commend the existing study to our church.3
The 220th General Assembly (2012) followed the committee’s advice and did not approve a new study.
Item 09-02 itself does not seem convinced that a new study would be needed. In section (3.b.), it states “Review existing policies and, if needed, propose new policies” [italics added]. While repeated General Assemblies have supported full reproductive rights for four decades, any review and proposed changes in church policy would need to be based on the well-grounded theological and bioethical discernment as noted above.
In response to (3.a), the ACSWP advises that this information is readily available. Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO) is one of the ten networks of the Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association (PHEWA), a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency established by the General Assembly in 1956 (168th General Assembly, United Presbyterian Church (USA)). One staff position in the PMA supports the work of PHEWA’s ten networks. As a PHEWA network, PARO is composed of volunteers committed to promoting, explaining, and defending the problem pregnancies and abortion policies of the PC(USA). As of the 2014 budget of the PMA, PHEWA networks no longer receive the small grants ($2,500 each in 2013) that were made available by dedicated funds which have now been depleted.
As with other social justice policies, General Assembly entities, such as the Office for Social Witness, may join in partnership with other religious and secular groups that have mutual concerns. Thus, both the PMA and PARO are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an organization of almost thirty member religious organizations whose denominational policies support women’s access to reproductive choices. The PC(USA) provides no financial support to RCRC. The PC(USA) has no connection to Planned Parenthood and makes no financial contributions.

ACWC Advice and Counsel
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns advises the 221st General Assembly (2014) to disapprove Item 09-02.
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns concurs with the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s (ACSWP) Advice and Counsel Item 09-02.
Assembly Committee on Bills and Overtures Comment
“Due to the financial and staffing implications, before authorizing the establishment of a special committee, the assembly shall hear a report from the Assembly Committee on Bills and Overtures, which shall have consulted with the most closely related entity and a member designated from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, as to whether the work to be assigned to the special committee could more effectively and economically be assigned to that entity” (from Standing Rules K.1.a.).

The Bills and Overtures Committee has consulted with staff from the Presbyterian Mission Agency and a representative from the Committee on the Office of General Assembly and finds that the work assigned to this special committee could not be done within the existing structures.

OGA Comment
The Office of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly requests that commissioners and advisory delegates carefully consider any items of business that would raise the per capita rate. The COGA made a commitment to bring no increase to the per capita rate to the 221st General Assembly (2014) by making significant reductions in the per capita budgets, which included reductions in staff. We would ask that other means be found within existing committee structures to accomplish the same task.
PMA Comment
The 217th General Assembly (2006) affirmed the monitoring report from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which reviews the implementation of problem pregnancies and abortion policies. Presbyterian Mission Agency ministries preparing resources on problem pregnancies and abortion strive to reflect a diversity of opinion in the resources that are produced. Resources revised in 2010 prepared by Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries cover the range of faithful responses in these difficult situations, and they include: Problem Pregnancy: When No Choice Is Easy—For the Pregnant Woman; There’s Always A Father—Does the Father Have a Problem, Too?; When Pregnancy Involves Loss—Helping Others Face Pregnancy Loss; When You Need Wisdom—Helping Others Face Problem Pregnancy.
The 217th General Assembly (2006) reiterated the role of the church in individual and families’ lives as they face problem pregnancy issues:
The church has a responsibility to provide public witness and to offer guidance, counsel, and support to those who make or interpret laws and public policies about abortion and problem pregnancies. Pastors have a duty to counsel with and pray for those who face decisions about problem pregnancies. Congregations have a duty to pray for and support those who face these choices, to offer support for women and families to help make unwanted pregnancies less likely to occur, and to provide practical support for those facing the birth of a child with medical anomalies, birth after rape or incest, or those who face health, economic, or other stresses. (Minutes, 2006, Part I, p. 905)
The 1992 policy states,
Problem pregnancies are the result of, and influenced by, so many complicated and insolvable circumstances that we have neither the wisdom nor the authority to address or decide each situation. Christians seek the guidance of Scripture in the midst of relationships and circumstances of awesome proportions that affect their interpretation and decision making.
We affirm the ability and responsibility of women, guided by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, in the context of their communities of faith, to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies.
We call upon Presbyterians to work for a decrease in the number of problem pregnancies, thereby decreasing the number of abortions.
The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision. Possible justifying circumstances would include medical indications of severe physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, or conditions under which the physical or mental health of either woman or child would be gravely threatened.
The Christian community must be concerned about and address the circumstances that bring a woman to consider abortion as the best available option. Poverty, unjust societal realities, sexism, racism, and inadequate supportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely. (Minutes, 1992, Part I, p. 368)
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) continues to be guided by the 204th General Assembly (1992) policy on abortion and problem pregnancies and encourages the church to continue to approach this challenging issue with the atmosphere of “open debate and mutual respect” for a variety of opinions (Minutes, 1992, Part I, p. 374).
In 2014, there were no funds budgeted in the form of grants from the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) to any of the ten networks of Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association, including Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO). No funds from the PMA were given to Planned Parenthood or the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).

1 comment:

  1. Pewster,
    It seems like the recent SCOTUS decision may be protecting religious beliefs that are not there any longer among progressives. It seems like the mainline denominations would no longer challenge but would advocate for government policy.