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May 29, 2008:

DAY 11 ON nFoG WATCH: The challenge stands to show how the nFoG would better handle the divisive issues faced under the current Form of Government. The question is not "Did the nFoG Task Force do a good job?" Nor is the question, "Could it work if everything went well?" The question is, "Is this a better option given who we are?" If we move into this house, will things be better or worse?

Committee Survey: Committee 10, Health Issues

There are six items of business listed for the Health Issues Committee.

1. The first two are virtually identical requests for ACSWP to produce a "new comprehensive HIV and AIDS policy for the church." (Price tag: $36,000.)

The rationale is significant: "For more than twenty years the Presbyterian General Assembly has spoken on issues regarding HIV and AIDS. Our resolutions, however, have not been matched with a denominational resolve to commit significant finances and programmatic resources for education, advocacy, prevention, treatment, and cure in the global struggle against HIV and AIDS." (emphasis mine). Would supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS be a good thing? Sure. Is "commit[ting] significant finances and programmatic resources for education, advocacy, prevention, treatment, and cure in the global struggle against HIV and AIDs" the best stewardship of the national denomination's resources for the proclamation of the gospel?

To some extent, yes ("When did we see you, Lord...?"). The question is how much and how. If approved, part of the study should include a survey of congregations and presbyteries to see what is already being done at the local level, and how congregations have already responded to the General Assembly's call to participate in the global fight.

2. There is an ACSWP paper coming to this committee, Item 10-05, "Comfort My People: A Policy Statement on Serious Mental Illness" which I reviewed here.

3. Abortion. This year is kind of interesting: the debate will center on how the PC(USA) uses resources to address abortion issues -- as contrasted with debating the specifics of abortion.

Two overtures, Item 10-03 and Item 10-04 request the General Assembly to "Direct all PC(USA) entities, in both funding and in publications, to reflect balance and equality in advocating both sides of the abortion issue so that any advocacy is in full compliance with our 1992 abortion policy." I can already hear that the debate in committee will center around how and to what extent advocacy has been in compliance with the 1992 abortion policy. Good luck trying to sort through that.

The comments certainly give a preview of the debate. ACSWP recommends the overtures be disapproved. From ACSWP's comment:

this emphasis on the diversity of views within the PC(USA) is only one of many other “areas of substantial agreement” (Ibid, p. 367-68, Paragraph 27.087, #1) reached by a “sizable majority of the special committee”—14 of 17 members—and approved by the 204th General Assembly (1992). The offices of the General Assembly must be faithful to these recommendations, many of which describe the social witness of the PC(USA) with regard to public policy on abortion. These offices include the Washington Office, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), Women’s Ministries, and Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO), which is a ministry of PHEWA and an entity of the Compassion, Peace, and Justice ministry area. Presbyterian Panel surveys of member opinion have shown that varying majorities of Presbyterians support abortion depending on the situation.

With regard to the decision to terminate a pregnancy, the 1992 policy includes the following affirmations that protect the decision-making responsibility of women and their families in both pastoral care and public policy. These particular points are selected to illustrate the public policy position taken by the General Assembly:

a. “Problem pregnancies are the result of, and influenced by, so many complicated and insolvable circumstances that we have neither the wisdom nor the authority to … decide each situation” (Ibid, p. 368, Paragraph 27.090).

b. “We affirm the ability and responsibility of women, guided by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, … to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies” (Ibid, Paragraph 27.091)

c. “We do not wish to see laws enacted that would attach criminal penalties to those who seek abortions or to appropriately qualified and licensed persons who perform abortions in medically approved facilities” (Ibid, Paragraph 27.097).

d. “… no law should deny access to safe and affordable services for the persons seeking to terminate a problem pregnancy” (Ibid, p. 372, Paragraph 27.129).

e. “No law or administrative decision should (1) limit access to abortions; (2) limit information and counseling concerning abortions; or (3) limit or prohibit public funding for necessary abortions for the socially and economically disadvantaged” (Ibid, Paragraph 27.131).

3. Therefore, the Washington Office, and the other offices of the General Assembly, are mandated to represent these policies of the PC(USA) in their work and communications. There is no “other side” to these policy statements.

No "other side"? Really? Perhaps that's what the overtures are about -- "the particular points selected to illustrate the public policy position taken by the General Assembly." Let's go back to the 1992 policy in the Minutes and see if there might be some additional "particular points" that give rise to a perception there is an "other side":

These sections read like there is an "other side." If it is agreed that abortion is a "last resort" and a cause of "grave concern," and if it is conceded that the state has a legitimate interest in restricting abortions (no matter how limited), the issue for commissioners will be "balance." What is necessary to have "balance" on abortion?

Can you feel the collective blood pressure rising?