From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns

Date 04 May 1996 15:25:15


96056      Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns 
              Speaks to Affirmative Action Overture 
                         by Julian Shipp 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Believing that failure to take immediate action could have 
detrimental effects on denominational policy and theology, the Advocacy 
Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) has lent its support to those 
drafting the response of the Congregational Ministries Division (CMD) 
Committee to Overture 95-55.  
     Overture 95-55, which was approved by the 207th General Assembly 
(1995) in Cincinnati, reaffirms the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s 
commitment to affirmative action.   
     At its meeting here January 26-28, ACREC authorized its chair, Elona 
Street-Stewart of St. Paul, Minn., and committee member the Rev. Frank 
Jackson of Oakland, Calif., to work with the Advocacy Committee on Women's 
Concerns (ACWC) and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) 
to assist the CMD Committee as it finalizes its response. 
     Overture 95-55 specifically calls on CMD to "include issues of equal 
opportunity through affirmative action in its curriculum development as 
appropriate" and 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."   
     Church leaders interviewed by the Presbyterian News Service said they 
support affirmative action.  For example, Price H. Gwynn III of Charlotte, 
N.C., chair of the board of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, has 
publicly endorsed affirmative action on several occasions, including the 
Women's Conference last July at Montreat Conference Center. 
     However, Gwynn said, he is concerned over the "precedence-setting 
implications" of an action "whereby an Assembly directs the CMD to bias, 
color or slant its curriculum materials in support of a current social 
position, no matter how popular or desirable that position may be. 
     "In my opinion, this is a very dangerous directive -- instructing us 
to put into our curriculum materials a current social action, which by the 
time our materials get published three, four or five years from now may or 
may not be appropriate," Gwynn said, adding that he has urged CMD and the 
General Assembly Council (GAC) leaders to plan ways to rescind the overture 
at the 1996 General Assembly in Albuquerque. 
     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 draft a response to the overture. 
     The CMD response will be presented to the CMD Committee meeting, Feb. 
22-23, and if it is appoved will be considered by the GAC at its Feb. 24-25 
                 ACREC and Others Have Their Say 
     During the ACREC meeting,  the Rev. Lillian D. Anthony, associate for 
affirmative action and equal employment opportunity in Corporate and 
Adminstrative Services, provided copies of a report titled "A Review of 
Equal Employment Opportunity within the United Presbyterian Church in the 
United States of America," which was approved by the 195th General Assembly 
(1983) in Atlanta. 
     "The bottom line from a 10-year study that focuses on [equal 
employment opportunities] is that it does not deal with governmental policy 
issues," Anthony said. "You'll find nothing in [the report] about 
government affirmative action or any other such related issues." 
     She also read aloud a theological statement from "A Churchwide Plan 
for Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action," adopted by the 
197th General Assembly (1985).  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."  
     "I don't know how [critics of Overture 95-55] connected government 
affirmative action with the church's definition of it," Anthony said. "But 
the distinction is clearly spelled out in our official denomination 
     "I have a real problem with attempts of a General Assembly to cancel 
out the actions of  a former one," said Leon J. Calhoun Sr., an ACREC 
member from Hampton, Va.  "The political and social environments of our 
nation change and this church could be running up and down hills from past 
and present [Assembly] actions for years to come." 
     The Rev. Otis Turner, associate for racial justice policy development 
in the National Ministries Division and an ACREC staff member, said he 
believes the issue has  two dimensions: one, whether or not the General 
Assembly has the authority to give curriculum writers direction for 
developing resources, and two, whether or not the denomination is willing 
to uphold justice issues he said are representative of the teachings of 
Jesus Christ in its curriculum material. 
     Citing the theological statement section of  "God's Work in Our 
Hands," a PC(USA) policy document approved by the 207th General Assembly 
(1995), Turner said, "In reading the scriptures we are reminded that 
equality and liberty are rooted in creation. When race, gender, national 
origin, disability or any other basis for discrimination becomes 
detrimental to equality and liberty, the imperative of creation is denied. 
      "Justice demands affirmative action, the act of reclaiming for others 
and ourselves all that God created us to be," Turner said. "Restorative 
justice is the paradigm for affirmative action. It was God's way of 
restoring the Hebrews and we have been restored in Christ." 
      The Rev. C. Fred Jenkins, associate stated clerk of the Office of the 
General Assembly, 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 issue centers 
around the wisdom of this particular action and not the Assembly's 
     "[PPC] and [CMD] are both entities of the General Assembly," Jenkins 
said. "And if the General Assembly wants to tell them to teach Trinitarian 
theology, it can do that.  If it wants them to include references to the 
Incarnation and the Resurrection, it can do that. And if it wants us to 
talk about justice issues, it can do that." 
     However, Jenkins said, the General Assembly is not requiring the CMD 
to address a specific federal progam  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 action. 
     "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.   
     "But I'm not taking a position on whether or not [the General 
Assembly] should micromanage the business," Jenkins said. "As a matter of 
fact, I think it would be rather stupid to do so." 
                         A Matter of Time 
     Time is a factor for those drafting the overture response, since 
February's GAC meeting is imminent. 
      Chinery said he and the other CMD Committee members are still working 
on their statement, but he does not anticipate the issue being debated on 
the floor of the General Assembly at this time. 
     "We may carry [our statement] to the floor for information during the 
GAC meeting," Chinery said, acknowledging that GAC members may or may not 
want to debate the issue. "I don't think this [issue] will make it to 
Albuquerque, but that has yet to be determined. " 
     The Rev. Catherine Borchert, ACSWP coordinator, said she believes that 
an acceptable response to the overture can be drafted and approved by the 
CMD Committee. 
     "This is not a time for three bodies to be actually fighting another 
body of the church," Borchert said. "We therefore would like to start first 
with the CMD drafting committee in order to be able to help bring 
     "We believe that there is misunderstanding here that we can jointly 
clean up," Borchert said.  "This is not a governmental policy we are 
talking about. It's the theological basis and principles that we are 
concerned with." 
     ACREC provides advice and counsel on matters coming before General 
Assemblies and the GAC. Advice-and-counsel memoranda are prepared in 
consultation with ACSWP and the Advocacy Committee on Women's Concerns. 
ACREC also works in consultation with the Office for Racial Justice Policy 
Development in providing an orientation and briefing for racial-ethnic 
commissioners to General Assemblies. 
     Other ACREC members are Robert Bidwell of Palmyra, Mich.; Sally 
Cauresma of Gardena, Calif.; the Rev. Joseph Doh of  Fort Wayne, Ind.; the 
Rev. Frank Jackson of Oakland, Calif.; the Rev.  Carmen Rosario-Reyes of 
Bradley Beach, N.J.; Jesse Swanigan of University City, Mo. the Rev. Jose 
Luis Torres of Gardena, Calif.; Donna Winn of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and Janet 
Ying of Selma, Calif. 

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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