From the Worldwide Faith News archives

GAC Leaves Affirmative Action Overture Intact

Date 04 May 1996 15:23:16


96083     GAC Leaves Affirmative Action Overture Intact 
                         by Julian Shipp 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Accepting the decision of its Congregational Ministries 
Division (CMD) Committee, the General Assembly Council (GAC) has chosen to 
take no action to rescind any portion of Overture 95-55 on affirmative 
action, which was approved by the 207th General Assembly (1995) in 
     Overture 95-55 reaffirms the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s commitment 
to affirmative action and specifically calls on the CMD to "include issues 
of equal opportunity through affirmative action in its curriculum 
development as appropriate." It also directs the Advocacy Committee on 
Women's Concerns and the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns "to 
monitor the fulfillment of these recommendations in cooperation with the 
Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action." 
     Leaders in the CMD and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) said 
that while they are supportive of affirmative action, they are concerned 
over the "precedence-setting implications" of action whereby an Assembly 
directly intervenes in curriculum development. PPC officials urged the 
Council to find a way to rescind the overture at the 1996 Assembly. 
     Price H. Gwynn III of Charlotte, N.C., PPC board chair, told the 
Presbyterian News Service he believes the denomination has "started down 
the slippery slope of direct Assembly intervention in the teaching 
materials and the final result is unknown." 
     In an attempt to address this concern, three members of the CMD 
Committee -- Wilbur (Wil) F. Chinery of Columbia, S.C.; Lynda C. Ardan of 
Clarks Summit, Pa.; and Freda A. Gardner of Princeton, N.J. -- were 
appointed last September by CMD Committee chair the Rev. Blair R. Monie of 
Dallas to examine the issue and draft a response to Overture 95-55. 
     An initial response was drafted and presented during the division 
committee's December meeting, but additional perspectives and questions 
were raised and the authors of the response were sent back to the drawing 
board to rethink the issue and present their recommendations during the 
Feb. 22-23 division committee meetings here. 
     "We took a great deal of information and received a number of letters 
over this issue," Chinery said. "But we did not want to ignore what the 
General Assembly told us." 
     In examining the issue, the overture response team sought guidance 
from the Rev. Lillian D.  Anthony, associate for affirmative action and 
equal employment opportunity in Corporate and Administrative Services, and 
the Rev. Fred C. Jenkins, associate stated clerk of the Office of the 
General Assembly.  They were also offered assistance by the Advocacy 
Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns and the Advisory Committee for Social 
Witness Policy.  
     The Rev. Joanne R. Hull, a GAC and CMD Committee member from 
Greensboro, N.C., whose presbytery (New Salem) introduced Overture 95-55, 
said the overture's theological and denominational implications are 
"extremely important to my African-American brothers and sisters."   
     How critics of  Overture 95-55 came to associate it with government 
affirmative action is somewhat amorphous, since no one openly objected to 
the overture when it appeared before the 207th General Assembly for action. 
However, it is most likely due to the fact that U.S. president Bill Clinton 
openly voiced his support for government affirmative action that same week. 
At the same time, braced by two recent Supreme Court rulings, a move to 
roll back affirmative action programs is gaining momentum in Congress. 
     Even so, the PC(USA)'s definition of affirmative action, as outlined 
in the theological statement from "A Churchwide Plan for Equal Employment 
Opportunity and Affirmative Action," adopted by the 197th General Assembly 
(1985), transcends race/ethnicity by also prohibiting discrimination on the 
basis of gender, nationality, origin or disability. Moreover, it 
distinguishes government affirmative action from the denomination's 
definition of it. The statement reads: 
     "The church's involvement in equal employment opportunity/affirmative 
action is central to the gospel's incarnation in the community of faith. 
While governmental units may approach their responsibilities in this area 
from legalistic interpretations of what the Constitution of the United 
States of America requires, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approaches the 
subject in gratitude for Jesus' compelling vision for the inclusiveness of 
God's love. That love allows us to cross existing sociological and 
psychological barriers so as to order our life together in the church in a 
way that contains no barriers of our own making." 
     Jenkins said the General Assembly has the authority to direct the CMD 
to include issues of equal employment opportunity through affirmative 
action in its curriculum development, but believes that this dispute 
centered around the wisdom of this particular action and not the question 
of the Assembly's jurisdiction. 
     Moreover, Jenkins said, the Assembly didn't require the CMD to address 
a specific federal program in its curriculum material, since the overture 
urges legislators to "support affirmative action policies in the public and 
private sectors." Jenkins said he interprets this to mean that there is 
more than one particular policy to implement the principle of affirmative 
     "Since government action is not explicitly adopted in this action, we 
are to understand that the CMD is called upon to include in its curriculum 
development equal employment opportunity and affirmative action as a 
general issue and as applied in PC(USA) [policy]," Jenkins said. 
     The CMD Committee also decided to meet this fall with curriculum 
development staff for a broader discussion of the implementation of PC(USA) 
policy development in the writing of curriculum. 
     "There are issues that put pressure on various [denomination] groups 
and we would like to have a chance to meet with the boards or 
representatives of both groups," said Ardan. 
     Gwynn acknowledged that the language in the overture allows the GAC to 
"dodge the issue" of the appropriateness of Assembly-mandated teaching 
materials, but said doing so only paves the way for potential problems. 
     "By doing that you're begging the issue, you're dodging the essential 
ethic that this overture is violating in my opinion," Gwynn said. "You're 
trying to say we can escape this dart, but once this process is embedded in 
the system ... without any protest ... then I don't think you've got any 
defense when somebody says, for example, we're going to make you teach one 
side of abortion or the other." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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