From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns
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
"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
"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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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