From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
GAC Leaves Affirmative Action Overture Intact
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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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