From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Components of Affirmative Action Overture

Date 04 May 1996 21:50:34


96015       Components of Affirmative Action  Overture 
                       Dismay Church Leaders 
                         by Julian Shipp 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Two components of an overture on affirmative action 
approved by the 207th General Assembly (1995) in Cincinnati are being 
regarded as "potentially dangerous" pieces of legislation by church leaders 
in the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) and the Congregational 
Ministries Division (CMD). 
     Overture 95-55 (from the Presbytery of Salem) calls upon CMD to 
"include issues of equal opportunity through affirmative action in its 
curriculum development as appropriate." 
     The overture also directs "the Advocacy Committee for Women's Concerns 
and the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns to monitor the 
fulfillment of these recommendations in cooperation with the Office of 
Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action." 
     "Affirmative action" is a term that broadly includes any measure, 
beyond simple termination of a discriminatory practice, that is adopted to 
correct or compensate for past and present discrimination and to prevent 
discrimination from occurring in the future.  
     In practice, affirmative action programs give various types of 
preferences in employment and other areas to members of historically 
excluded groups -- women of all ages and ethnicities and men who are 
members of racial-ethnic minorities. 
     Charged with the task of educational and spiritual growth of the 
denomination's members,  CMD produces, through its Resource Development 
Program Team, the curriculum resources "Bible Discovery" and "Celebrate." 
Select curriculum sales are conducted through PPC. 
     Price H. Gwynn III of Charlotte, N.C., PPC board chair, told the 
Presbyterian News Service he has "no problem with affirmative action" and 
publicly endorsed affirmative action  during a Women's Conference at 
Montreat Conference Center last July. 
     However, Gwynn said, he is disconcerted 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 other words, we want to teach social justice, we want to teach 
racial equality," Gwynn said.  "We don't want to be told that we've got to 
be in favor of the legalization of marijuana or abortion.  These may be 
improbable examples, but ... we've started down the slippery slope of 
direct Assembly intervention in the teaching materials and the final result 
is unknown. 
     "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 he has urged CMD and General 
Assembly Council (GAC) leaders to plan ways to rescind the overture at the 
1996 Assembly.  
     In a July 31, 1995, letter, Gwynn expressed his concern to the Rev. 
Blair R. Monie, CMD Committee chair from Dallas. During last September's 
GAC meeting in Louisville, Ky., Monie appointed three CMD Committee members 
to study the matter and report their findings back to the committee. 
      A proposed response was drafted by Wilbur (Wil) F. Chinery of 
Columbia, S.C., a CMD Committee member and GAC liaison to PPC; Lynda C. 
Ardan of Clarks Summit, Pa., a CMD Committee and GAC Executive Committee 
member; and Freda A. Gardner of Princeton, N.J., a GAC and CMD Committee 
member. The response, which  follows, was discussed during the CMD 
Committee meeting Dec. 7-9 in Louisville, Ky: 
     "While the Congregational Ministries Division Committee and the 
Presbyterian Publishing Corporation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 
support our nation's policy of affirmative action and see it as an 
instrument of God's will for justice in the world, we believe that the 
action of the 207th General Assembly (1995) mandating inclusion of 
references to affirmative action in denominational curriculum resources 
establishes a precedent that may introduce difficulties in the future. 
     "Rather than supporting any political agenda program of the United 
States government, we affirm the importance of maintaining the freedom of 
curriculum developers to focus on the teachings of Jesus as love and 
justice as a means for transformation of both individuals and societies. 
     "Therefore, we petition the 208th General Assembly (1996) to rescind 
the action of the 207th General Assembly (1995) in its mandate "to call on 
the Congregational Ministries Division to include issues of equal 
opportunity through affirmative action in its curriculum development as 
     Following the meeting, additional perspectives and questions were 
raised and the response was referred back to its authors, who agreed to 
rethink the issue and present a new statement during the Feb.  22-23 
Divisions/CAS/Audit meetings in Louisville, Ky. 
     "This is an issue that has some serious ramifications and is one that 
needs to be thought through very carefully," said the Rev. Eunice B. 
Poethig, CMD director.   
     "We need to make sure that we have really, as a denomination, 
considered all the issues inherent in this overture," said Monie. 
               The Authors of the Response Respond           
     Chinery said he, too, supports affirmative action but doesn't believe 
the writers of the denomination's curriculum materials should be mandated 
to approve a policy of any government program. 
     He said the issue is a matter of principle and not a question of the 
appropriateness of affirmative action in the denomination, since the "Book 
of Order" includes several statements endorsing affirmative action, but not 
government affirmative action. 
     "I just don't want people to get the misinterpretation that we're 
against affirmative action," Chinery said. "It's too bad it wasn't some 
other government program that came up with this, but it's the principal of 
saying that you as a church and curriculum writers should follow the 
mandate of a government program that concerns us." 
     The Rev. Warren Barnes of Sacramento, Calif., a CMD Committee and GAC 
member, said he is concerned that the denomination's racial-ethnic 
constituents have not had sufficient opportunity to offer their input into 
drafting the overture response. Although two of the authors of the response 
are women,  all three are white. 
     "I do believe that we have a duty to represent the policy of the 
church whether we like it or not," Barnes said. "But my personal preference 
would be that PPC and CMD work with the ethnic constituency of the church 
in this matter." 
     Leon J. Calhoun Sr. of Hampton, Va., a GAC member and an African 
American, whom Chinery said he contacted during the early stages of 
developing the response, said he disagrees with part of the overture but 
agrees with other sections. 
     "I think it would be a dangerous precedent for the General Assembly to 
start to dictate the content of curriculum and other educational items," 
Calhoun said. "However, I think [Item B-6 of the overture] is a reasonable 
and acceptable mission for the [Advocacy Committee for Women's Concerns and 
the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns] since that's part of 
their mission."  
     Ardan said she, Chinery and Gardner are aware of the need for more 
racial-ethnic input and have contacted the Rev. Lillian Anthony, associate 
for affirmative action and equal employment opportunity in Corporate and 
Administrative Services, for guidance in reworking their response. 
     Gardner said the group also needs more information from the GAC and 
the Office of the General Assembly in reworking their response, 
particularly their interpretation of Overture 95-55 and its implications 
for national staff and middle governing body leaders. 
     "We don't in any way want it to seem like we're not for affirmative 
action in the way that it's written in our  Book of Order,'" Ardan said, 
"because each one of us on this committee favors affirmative action and is 
fully supportive of it, in my opinion. We hope that by the February meeting 
that we'll have something that will be acceptable."  
                          The Next Step 
     Among its options, Chinery said, the CMD Committee can conclude that 
it is not appropriate for the PC(USA) to implement government affirmative 
action as it pertains to curriculum development and state that in the form 
of a petition to the GAC. If approved by the GAC, it would then be 
submitted to the 1996 Assembly for action. 
     However, Chinery said, doing that would only illustrate one of the 
problems he believes the GAC has -- an inconsistency in carrying out 
General Assembly mandates. 
     "We could walk away from this issue on that standpoint," Chinery said. 
"But it's like telling the General Assembly to go take care of its own 
problems and don't give them to us. I don't think we should be in that 
     "I would prefer the more direct approach by saying we should not be 
mandating our professionals to do anything but follow the word of Jesus 
Christ and teach his justice and his affirmative action and let us go that 
way," Chinery said. 
     Gwynn acknowledged that the current language in the overture allows 
the GAC to "dodge the issue," 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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