Nary An Unpublished Thought







April 15, 2008: If a General Assembly shouts in the woods...

First, let me make this clear: I know very little about Human Rights in Colombia. I know Colombia has been in the news recently regarding a trade agreement. I could probably point it out on a map. Knowing those two things does not make me an expert in international diplomacy or foreign policy.

Second, I have no reason to doubt, as reported in Recommendation #38 (yet another ACSWP paper), human rights abuses are occuring in Colombia. I am against human rights abuses.

However, I do have a few questions about blithely approving these ACSWP recommendations:

a. The supporting material lists three separate General Assembly actions regarding human rights in Colombia. The 210th (1998); 213th (2001); and the 216th (2004) all made statements about Colombia. How much did those statements cost to produce and publish? Did anyone read them? Was anyone persuaded? What makes us think that this one will be more persuasive or even more widely read?

b. What specific "reorientation of U.S. policies towards Colombia" would actually encourage "a more equitable distribution of that country's immense wealth"? This is a rather high-minded suggestion that gets bogged down when we start thinking about the details. And, if we are unwilling or unable to be specific about the details, what is the real value of making the high-minded suggestion?

c. The standard two advocacy recommendations are included: directing the Washington Office and the U.N. office "to continue" doing things in the name of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Not included in this material is any indication of what work is being "continued" -- e.g., how much it cost, how persuasive or effective it has been or what are the measuring tools for evaluation. Why not?

d. What are commissioners supposed to do with the "while-we're-at-it" recommendation about the Phillipines in this item entitled "Human Rights in Colombia"?

My sense is that there may be more to the United States' policy regarding Colombia than is detailed in the information here. I also suspect that diplomacy and international relations are a little more complex than has been contemplated by this recommendation.

Again, I do not doubt that there are problems and human rights abuses going on in Colombia. I am not arguing in favor of overlooking or denying a problem. I am raising the question about whether this is the right media, the right venue, the right way to address the situation.

How many commissioners of the 210th, 213th, and/or 216th General Assemblies reported back to their presbyteries that they approved a statement regarding Colombia? How many would even remember they had approved a statement? I was at all three of those Assemblies and I do not remember the issue coming up. I listened to reports of commissioners and it never heard anyone talk about it. I have been involved in a lot of meetings about General Assembly activities and have never once had a question about it. Even as I look forward, I would be surprised if it is in my report back to San Diego Presbytery after this Assembly.

Thus, my question: Is it good stewardship to approve a statement that few have read and few will ever read? Polity-wise, I understand the argument that the GA is the venue where the church can make statements. However, I confess that I do not see much value in making statements that the people of the church do not truly stand behind. Yes, ACSWP and the advocacy programs stand behind it, but that is not the same thing as the church standing behind it. If it is worth saying, it is worth having the presbyteries vote to approve. At least that would raise awareness and would actually represent something the church has prayerfully considered.