From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Interest Groups Vie for Support of Youth Delegates
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
24 Apr 2000 08:24:25
Note #5867 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Interest Groups Vie for Support of Youth Delegates
Some believe General Assembly lobbying practices are over-aggressive,
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly
(COGA) is proposing that time allotted for special interest groups to meet
with Youth Advisory Delegates (YADs) to the 212th General Assembly be
dropped from the YAD Caucus' typically late-night docket.
It is one of two efforts, according the COGA, to cut back on formal time
that ideologues from the denomination's left and right extremes wings spend
with youth delegates -- who have complained to the committee for years that
they are pursued too aggressively by lobbyists hoping to win the
increasingly important YAD vote on controversial issues.
Some YADs -- who are young, first-time Assembly-goers with virtually no
exposure to the sophisticated manuevering of national-level church politics
-- go so far as to describe themselves as "harassed" by the politickers.
So, COGA is planning to restrict lobbyists' access to the YAD caucus,
although they are not barred from observing the caucus' work, and to
increase the number of adult YAD supervisors by two this year, to a total of
six for about 173 YADs. COGA also is urging presbytery executives and
commissioners to spend more time with YADs, who often are relegated to the
youth caucus only.
Of course, the caucus may admit any speakers or groups it likes -- and
inviting representatives of special-interest groups has become a frequent
practice in the past few years. Protocols endorsed by COGA urge the YADs to
use the time for "idea-sharing, opinion-giving, daily debriefing of
committee highlights, and worship."
"We can't put a glass wall around them," Gina Yeager, the denomination's
associate for youth ministry, told the Presbyterian News Service. "We don't
have that kind of power, and we've done what we can do.
"Now it is up to the church," Yeager observed, suggesting that adult
Assembly commissioners help defend the YADS against pressure from
special-interest groups, or propose legislation to do so. "We can't protect
them to the full extent I'd like to," she said "... I just hope these groups
calm down some."
"These groups" are lobbying organizations whose leaders admit that they've
focused much more attention on YADs in the past seven years than ever
before. Most groups are invited to speak about their platforms at the YAD
Caucus, which meets after the plenary ends -- no matter how late -- for
discussion and review of the highlights of the day. Observers say these
presentations have grown increasingly contentious, and are running later
into the night -- something Yeager wants to curtail, lest the YADs become
YADs also are invited by special-interest groups to pizza parties and
prayer sessions; most even send out young people to socialize with YADs and
lobby them -- they would say "educate" them -- in advance of important
votes. "They approach you and start a conversation," said Andrew Buckley, a
former YAD who now serves as a co-moderator of the National Presbyterian
Youth Council. "If there's agreement, you're their best friend. If not, you
never hear from them again."
The Presbyterian Coalition, which opposes the ordination of homosexuals,
sends one former YAD each year to mingle with newcomers. Gay activists from
the More Light Network send twentysomethings to the Caucus; and the Renewal
Network -- a coalition of conservatives and evangelicals -- also sends
age-appropriate representatives. The newer Covenant Network, which says it
represents PC(USA) moderates, plans this year for the first time to send
"interpreters" to visit with YADs during GA.
Why is so much energy spent courting young people whose votes in plenary
sessions are merely "advisory"?
Activists in the church say that votes in committee on controversial issues
-- such as the ordination of homosexuals or the legitimacy of same-sex
unions -- often are close, and in a nip-and-tuck ballot, a YAD could make
the difference in getting a measure on the GA docket.
And while YADs have no official vote in plenary sessions, they do have
voice -- plenty of voice, some would say, noting that microphones on the
Assembly floor are often surrounded by YADs, who often speak passionately on
issues before commissioners vote on them. Further, the YAD vote, which is
purely advisory, comes just before commissioners cast their official
ballots, which suggests that the YAD vote can be influential.
Twenty-one-year-old Kelli Rudolph, of Hazelton, Idaho, a co-moderator of
the National Presbyterian Youth Council, has seen the pressure, although she
says she didn't experience it first-hand when she was a YAD in 1997.
"I definitely saw people this past year who were [pressured]," she told the
Presbyterian News Service, referring to the 1999 General Assembly in Fort
Worth, Texas. "Some felt followed. Some said people continued to approach
them after they'd said, ‘No.'"
Rudolph said she also observed "outright attacks" by some lobbyists who
sought time in the Youth Caucus, not to speak about their own groups, but to
slam opposing groups. "I think limiting those voices ... will make an
impact," Rudolph said.
"YADS will still be accessible," she said, noting that lobbyists will be
able to observe the YAD caucus and to approach anyone they choose, on their
own time -- and that YADs and lobbyists will be able to match up their
ideological views by observing the Caucus' work.
"Hopefully, too, it will decrease outright attacks within the meeting
itself," Rudolph said.
The Rev. Richard Ferguson, interim director of Assembly services, will
speak with the six youth advisors in a telephone conference call this week
to help establish protocols for dealing with pushy lobbyists and shielding
youth who feel harassed. That's not all Ferguson's job entails by any means,
but establishing policy guidelines is one of the goals this year. "We've had
folks calling YADs at their hotels. Putting materials under their doors that
say, ‘You're not Christian if you do not do this ...'
"We're in an open community," Ferguson said, but some practices are beyond
the pale -- for example, the reported, but unconfirmed, use of cell phones
by some special-interest groups to tell YADs how to vote on the plenary
floor. "(We need to be able to say), ‘Hey, friends, you're really out of
line, and we've got this operational protocol.'"
This year, the youth advisors -- appointed by the Congregational Ministries
Division -- are the Rev. Mienda Uriarte, of Los Angeles, coordinator; Lisa
Eye, of Decatur, Ga.; the Rev. Kirk Miller, of Allen Park, Mich.; the Rev.
Lal Haimg Liani, of Louisville, Ky.; the Rev. Gary Lyon, of Leechburg, Pa.;
and the Rev. Bill Smutz, of Racine, Wis.
"This is a delicate thing," Ferguson told COGA during its Louisville
meeting. "A lot of these youth are mature, responsible selves. But they do
need to be coordinated, overseen and nudged strongly."
The term "YAD" was coined in 1969 by the United Presbyterian Church in the
United States for its youth advisory delegates. Some special-interest groups
argue that the label makes them fair game for lobbying, because the term
"advisory" suggests that YADs are lobbyists to commissioners. The Rev. Harry
Hassell, of Brentwood, Tenn., who long planned strategies for conservative
causes from his pastorate at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church in
Dallas, Texas, makes no bones about it: YADs come to GA as lobbyists, he
told the Presbyterian News Service, and politically savvy groups see that
young people who share their views get elected in presbyteries.
Some YADs, like other Presbyterians, arrive at the Assembly already
affiliated with a particular special-interest group, Butler pointed out.
The Rev. Joe Rightmyer, director of Presbyterians for Renewal, an
evangelical advocacy group, and a longtime Assembly-goer, said the
inordinate focus on YADs may have to do with the YADs' "inordinate
influence during floor debates" because of their access to the microphones.
"I think the whole thing is off balance," Rightmyer said -- while asserting
that "harassment is too strong a term to describe special-interest groups'
approaches to YADs.
He thinks there ought to be a better way to get thoughtful, well-reasoned
opinions from the YAD Caucus as a whole -- perhaps an opinion that
commissioners would request in a corporate way.
As it stands now, according to Yeager, YADs will still have access to
whatever groups they'd like to learn about -- but it will come in the
exhibit halls, where everyone, young and old, have equal access.
"They're just going to have to work harder at getting at the YADs," she
said. "The meeting is still an open meeting. They can come as observers and
watch ... But the time is reserved for YADs to report back on committee
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