From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] ACSWP scrambles to get ready for GA

Date 16 Jan 2003 15:55:10 -0500

Note #7568 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

ACSWP scrambles to get ready for GA
January 13, 2003

ACSWP scrambles to get ready for GA

Panel sets issues aside for a moment to talk about fund-raising

by John Filiatreau

PLANTATION, FL - When the General Assembly decides that the Presbyterian
Church (USA) may want to speak out on an issue relating to social justice, it
puts the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to work.

ACSWP puts together a task force, reviews existing PC(USA) policies and past
actions on the subject, has experts survey related scriptures and explore the
theological implications, and eventually adopts a report in which it
recommends a course of action. This process can take years.

At any given time, ACSWP has several task forces and work groups examining a
range of issues, including many that Presbyterians find divisive, ranging
from late-term abortion to gender equity and fair trade. It plays a crucial a
role in steering the church toward policies that put Presbyterians' faith
into action. Yet it's an obscure group. 

Many Presbyterians are unaware of its work. Many are also unaware of its
existence. That's a problem, because one of ACSWP's chief aims is to see that
Presbyterians of all stripes are given a chance to weigh in on important

When the dozen members of ACSWP gathered here last week to work on business
for the upcoming 215th General Assembly (with time at a premium because of
the unusually early starting date - May 24), they invited officials and
members of the host presbytery, Tropical Florida, to join them for a meal and
dialogue. They were confounded, if not surprised, to learn that Moderator
Polly Shafer had never heard of ACSWP.

That might explain why they were willing to devote an entire morning to a
lecture on "Fund-Raising 101" from Alan J. Stone, of Scottsdale, AZ, a
retired fund-raiser whose brother happens to be an ASCWP member. Stone, a
former president of the national Alzheimer's Association, advised them on how
they might raise some extra money - a tentative goal of $125,000 a year has
been discussed - to support the committee's work and make it better known.

It's a sign of the times. Money is short everywhere in the church. To cut its
expenses, ACSWP decided during the Florida meeting to reduce the size of its
task forces from the usual 12 to just 10.

Kathy Leuckert, deputy executive director of the General Assembly Council
(GAC), painted a bleak financial picture. "We are all being affected by the
iffy economy," she said. "There is no good news on that front. And we don't
anticipate that this is a short-term, one-year problem." 

ACSWP is funded predominantly by unrestricted funds, the most hard-pressed
sector of the PC(USA) mission budget.

Committee member Jananne Sharpless, of Sacramento, CA, advised her
colleagues: "Be mindful that it's OK to say no, that you don't have to do

"Everything" seems an apt description of what's on ACSWP's plate.

Peter Sulyok, coordinator for social witness policy, said the crush of
business is particularly severe this year. "I feel like I'm
less-well-prepared for this meeting than I've ever been," he said. "We've
only got about three weeks to finish everything we're planning to take to the
General Assembly. Our workload always seems overwhelming, but it's worse this
year than ever."

What Stone prescribed, essentially, was a smaller version of the PC(USA)'s
current Mission Initiative - a campaign to raise $40 million over five years
for international mission and racial/ethnic-church development, with most of
the money to come from Presbyterian "heavy hitters" - people well-off enough
to make "substantial" contributions.

ACSWP, which has never before tried to raise money on its own, has no
immediate plan to launch such a campaign. The members were just doing some
"blue-sky" thinking about it. If it did put together such a drive, it might
use some of the extra money to create a new publication and new Internet
resources, to raise its public profile.

"I think it's just good stewardship, with the economy the way it is right
now, to think about how we can make sure we have enough resources to do
everything the General Assembly has asked us to do," Sulyok said. "We think
everything we're doing is important, so we'd have a hard time finding
something to eliminate for financial reasons."	  

Stone said the committee would need a "theme" for such a campaign, a vivid,
sharply focused message that would motivate someone to write a check for,
say, $10,000. That might be a tall order for a	group that is only
"advisory," and says in a new mission statement approved in October that it
"develops, interprets and monitors policies that encourage and challenge the
Church and society to reflect and act in faithful response to God's call to
do justice."

That's accurate, but it's not exactly catchy. As member Margaret Elliott
observed, "What we are is a little problematic."

A proposed new study "of how younger adults (15-35) are attracted to the
social witness of the Presbyterian Church" was tabled, reluctantly, because
no money is available to pay for it, although ACSWP's coordinating committee,
in a meeting last month, said it is a "significant priority." Committee
member Nile Harper, of Ann Arbor, MI, wrote that "research and common-sense
observation tell us that most young adult Presbyterians are neither aware of
nor engaged in meaningful witness for justice in and through the church."
Early in the discussion, Leuckert had interjected, "I have to ask my
question, about cost."

ACSWP is planning to present five documents to this year's GA:

* The committee's Policy Statement on Living Faithfully with Families in 
Transition, ordered up by assemblies in 1997 and '98, will ask the church to
commit itself "to being an inclusive and caring community of faith in which
many forms of family are valued," including "families with members of
homosexual orientation." It says families of all kinds can do a good job of
raising children, and urges the PC(USA) to oppose "principles or policies
that would stigmatize any persons ... based on family form."

*  ACSWP's Resolution on Africa, developed in partnership with the Africa
offices of the Worldwide Ministries Division, supports human rights and fair
trade in Africa and urges the PC(USA) to support "self-help, development and
micro-enterprise projects and programs," while stepping up efforts to address
the AIDS crisis. It also calls for the development of new study resources for
Presbyterian congregations and individuals. This paper was supposed to go to
last year's assembly for adoption, but was held back because many of its
recommendations had untimely "financial implications." Now it recommends a
half-dozen times that various parties should "seek funds" for a host of
provident purposes. 

* A Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Private Prisons,
produced on a 
referral from 1999, says privately run, for-profit prisons "in theory and in
practice embody conditions that do grave harm to those in their keeping."
Pointing out that the federal government spends six times as much on prisons
as on child care, it contends that the institutions in what it calls the
"private prison industrial complex" use imprisonment "as a first, not last,
resort," and "exploit the most vulnerable members of society and isolate and
'invisibilize' the people they lock up." 

* A new Resolution on Israel and Palestine calls on the United Nations to 
deploy an international peacekeeping force to "restore calm" in the occupied
territories; calls on the Israeli government to end its occupation; calls on
the U.S. government to redouble its efforts to "broker a just, secure and
enduring peace," and to give Palestine "economic aid equivalent in amount to
that given to Israel"; and calls on Presbyterians to engage more actively in
prayer for peace. It says leaders on both sides of the dispute should "be
active and diligent about seeking peace ... or, if they are unwilling or
unable, to step down and make room for others who will and can."

l ACSWP's annual Human Rights Update for 2002-2003, a document it calls 
"more descriptive than prescriptive," is a cryptic survey of human-rights
conditions in nations around the globe. Israel is prominent in this year's
update as a civil-rights violator. Ronald Stone, of Pittsburgh, PA, said he
thought a recent draft was "badly skewed" in favor of the Palestinians, and
warned against "falling into the trap of using human rights as a political
tool." The document was amended after Stone and other members asked for a
"more balanced" view of the chronic Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Among the other issues now in ACSWP's grist mill:

Terrorism (1995 overture, 2004 GA report-back); world trade (1996, 2004);
disabilities (1999, 2006); serious mental illness (1999, 2006), problem
pregnancies (2000, 2006); domestic violence (2001, 2008); "takings" of
resources (2002, 2004); energy policy (2002, 2004); the relationship between
religion and violence (2002, 2004); and immigration (2001, 2004).

Immigration came in for special attention during ACSWP's visit to south
Florida, an area of tremendous ethnic diversity that includes huge
communities of people from all over the Caribbean. The meeting host was the
Rev. Ray Anglin, the honey-voiced pastor of Plantation's Ascension Peace
Presbyterian Church, a native of Jamaica whose congregation has a distinctly
Caribbean flavor. (By tradition, the committee meets in the hometown of a
member whose term is ending; Anglin, a member of the GAC for the past six
years and of ACSWP for two years, is rotating off both this year.) 

His congregation welcomed the committee members with a couple of buffet-style
Caribbean feasts where the fare included the likes of spicy jerk chicken and
sweet potato pie; a toothsome taste of Jamaican storytelling; recorded reggae
music and line-dancing lessons; and a New Year's worship service on Sunday
featuring a truly angelic choir.

"If you look at the way we've been treated here this week, you can see why
we're going to miss Ray (Anglin) so much," Sulyok said. "We've appreciated
his warmth and good humor and faithfulness in doing God's work in the world."

Several local pastors called the committee's attention to the plight of
Caribbean immigrants, many of whom are vulnerable to exploitation as
dirt-cheap labor because they are in the country illegally and have families
back in Antigua or Jamaica or Haiti that depend on them. The ministers spoke
about facing a painful professional risk: that by trying to help such people,
they might do them harm, causing them to lose their jobs or even getting them
deported. "Working with illegals also raised a moral question," said one, the
Rev. Jonas Georges of the well-named All Nations Presbyterian Church in North
Miami Beach.

Several called the committee members' attention particularly to the woes of
Haitians, who are routinely jailed without bond and deprived of due process,
then sent back to Haiti, where unemployment runs about 80 percent. While
Cubans are welcomed as political refugees, Haitians are turned away as mere
"economic" refugees.

At the moment, more than 200 Haitian asylum seekers who ran aground off Key
Biscayne in October, many of them women and children, many with family in the
United States, are being held at the notorious Krome Detention Facility and
at a local hotel used as a detention facility by the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS). They joined more than 50 other Haitians that
are to be jailed for the duration of the asylum-review process, which
typically ends in deportation.

Carolynn Race of the Presbyterian Washington Office told the committee that
the new U.S. Congress includes 13 Presbyterians in the Senate (13 percent)
and 34 in the House (8 percent). Some were elated to learn that Sen. Bill
Frist of Tennessee, the new Senate majority leader, is a Presbyterian,
although their joy was moderated somewhat when they learned that, although he
is personable and well-spoken and a member of the denomination, he has almost
invariably voted against the positions advocated by the PC(USA).

The committee bade fond farewells to Anglin and the other member cycling off
ACSWP, Ruy O. Costa of Billerica, MA, the committee chair for the past year.
Elliott was elected as the new chair, and Harper as vice chair.

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