Family report returned for further study
Assembly wants ACSWP, Theology and Worship to rethink family policies
by Evan Silverstein
DENVER, May 30 A controversial policy paper on the changing
nature of American families and an alternate draft proposed by
members of the General Assembly Committee on National Issues are
both being returned to the group that produced the original, "Living
Faithfully with Families in Transition."
Commissioners to the 215th Assembly voted Friday to return the
original 47-page report and the two-page substitute proposed during
committee debate, to the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
The advisory group, which develops social policies for GA
consideration, is to work in consultation with the PC(USA) Office of
Theology and Worship to "strengthen" the denomination's report on
families and report back to next year's General Assembly in Richmond,
The brief substitute statement, proposed by a handful of National
Issues Committee members working with the leader of a conservative
Presbyterian think tank, had won the support of the committee, but
the full Assembly voted 279-232 to order further study of both
documents and the issues that gave rise to them.
During a substantial and fairly contentious debate, a number of
amendments and a motion to reconsider the Assembly's action failed.
The cost of returning the papers for further study, according to the
Rev. Keith Paige, moderator of the National Issues Committee, will be
$12,500 this year and $29,370 in 2004.
The Assembly action closed a debate that got under way when the
national-issues committee began its deliberations on Monday. A number
of amended versions of the ACSWP document were voted down; motions to
flatly reject it were defeated; and, ironically, motions to return it
to ACSWP for further study or to send it to Theology and Worship
officials also were defeated.
The substitute paper was introduced by the Rev. Marjorie Working, a
committee member who serves as associate pastor of El Montecito
Presbyterian Church, of Santa Barbara, CA.
The substitute report was written in part a few weeks before the
Assembly, according to Working, and on "Monday morning (of the
Assembly), we kind of agreed on what we would put" in it.
She said the idea for the substitute report emerged through a process
of "email networking" that identified significant opposition to the
Working said she and other contributors to the alternate paper
believed the sociology and theology of the ACSWP version was flawed
and undependable, and in working on their rewrite were "determined to
take the best ideas of that lengthy report and condense them into a
two-page report that affirmed our Biblical standards, our Book of
Confessions. That's what we tried to do."
The Rev. Eric Mount, a National Issues Committee member from
Transylvania Presbytery, who favored ACSWP's version, was one of 16
commissioners who signed a minority report that would have proposed
resurrecting the original.
"I believe, at the end of the day, next year at the General Assembly,
there will be something better coming out of this than would have
come out of it had we adopted either of the reports," Mount said.
Working responded: "That's my hope, that's my hope. Although I would
have preferred the majority report (in support of the two-page
Critics of "Living Faithfully with Families in Transition" contended
during open committee hearings that it diminishes the importance of
traditional two-parent families and elevates non-traditional
families, including those involving unmarried and same-sex
relationships, to moral equivalence, in violation of scripture and of
The briefer substitute defines marriage much more narrowly than the
ACSWP's policy statement, specifying that marriage is a "civil
contract between a woman and a man," and that, "for Christians,
marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to
live out together before God their lives of discipleship."
The longer paper documents the changing structure of family life in
the United States which now includes, for example, single-parent
households, families in which children are raised by grandparents or
other non-parent relatives, and domestic partnerships other than
marriage. It discusses how families of a wide diversity of forms can
raise children faithfully and responsibly.
The ACSWP report, compiled in response to directives from General
Assemblies in 1997 and 1998, asks 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
"I think the point was to describe all the various family forms that
we have," said Mount, "and then to say, 'What makes one of these good
or bad is the quality of the love, of the care and the mutuality and
the nurturing and so on that occurs there.'"
Those who joined Working in claiming authorship of the briefer paper
were Alan Wisdom, director of Presbyterian Action (previously named
the Institute on Religion and Democracy), a conservative think tank
in Washington, DC; Elder Janet Nickels, of Shenandoah Presbytery;
Elder Mary Alice Pugh, of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida; Elder
Barbara Harris, of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley; Elder
Richard Walker, of the Presbytery of San Diego; and the Rev. Lynell
Caudillo, of the Presbytery of Seattle.
In other actions on matters arising from the National Issues
Committee, the Assembly:
l Rejected, with comment, a resolution expressing concern to the
Chevrolet division of the General Motors Corporation for a marketing
strategy that seeks to exploit religion for economic gain. The
comment appended by the commissioners notes that the Chevrolet
Division of GM has discontinued its marketing relationship with
the "Come Together and Worship" tour.
l Approved, with comment, an ACSWP recommendation that the 215th
Assembly commend to individuals, congregations and presbyteries for
study and advocacy "When Hate Comes To Town: A Handbook of Effective
Community Responses." The publication explores the meaning of hate
crimes, with a particular attention to racism and white supremacy,
anti-Semitism, homophobia and violence against women. It also urges
the General Assembly Council through its ministry divisions and
program areas to continue working on these issues and to promote the
document for church-wide study and use. The comment changes the title
of the publication, which had been "When Hate Groups Come to Town."