GA Report by Marie Bowen with material from the Rev. David Mauldin, and Patricia Lee June, M.D.
DETROIT, Mich. – Commissioners to the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected an opportunity spend two years reflecting on “the plight of unwanted children, born and unborn,” by a vote of 465 to 133.
The original overture from South Alabama Presbytery with a concurrence from Pittsburgh Presbytery never made it to the plenary floor.
Silence stifles ministry
David Mauldin, GA commissioner and overture advocate introduced the overture as a three-part plan “to move our denomination from an uncomfortable silence on abortion to compassionate, grace-filled ministry to women and children.”
Part one is a two-year reflection on the plight of children, born and unborn.
“Silence stifles ministry,” Mauldin said. “Abortion is controversial. We are afraid to discuss it, and because of that, we miss ministry opportunities.”
‘We should speak against this’
The second part of the plan, Mauldin explained, is “to denounce the most egregious abuses by abortion providers.” The overture mentioned Kermit Gosnell by name, but there are other examples of abortion providers engaged in illegal and unsafe abortion practices and infanticide.
“The church is not of one mind on abortion, but surely we can agree that it is wrong to kill a newborn with scissors, or to leave one in a metal tray to die, or to leave a woman bleeding. The church speaks out against all manner of evil. We should speak against this,” Mauldin stated.
Mauldin gave several reasons his presbytery adopted the third part of the overture asking for a special committee on abortion review. “Why do we need that?” Mauldin noted that “22 years is a long time ago, … young people today are increasingly pro-life … and Pro-life Presbyterians feel disenfranchised.”
“I believe the current policy is good at doing what it was designed to do,” Mauldin continued, “keep us from arguing about abortion. What it does not do well is motivate presbyteries and churches to provide practical, compassionate ministry to women and children.”
Opportunity to move from political position to ‘pure gospel’ ignored
Most of the commissioners to the General Assembly never had an opportunity to vote on the three-part plan that flowed out of a James 1:27 call to the “pure gospel.”
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)
Who is more an orphan than the child in the womb who is so unwanted by his own mother and father that his or her death is purchased from an abortion provider? Who is more a widow than the pregnant woman—whatever her age or circumstance—who is so unsupported in the pregnancy that she believes abortion is her only choice?
But unwanted children and unsupported women in pregnancy were not given place on the plenary agenda. The 52 commissioners and 15 advisory delegates on the Social Justice Committee had no substantial debate on the opportunity afforded by this overture for reframing our response as a denomination to the 56 million abortions in our nation since 1973. We could, if we were willing, move beyond a political position (i.e. 1992 support for legal abortion) to a James 1:27 framework of compassionate care for the widows and orphans of our time. Compassionate care and tangible and practical support encourages women to choose life for their babies and find hope for their own futures.
Stubborn refusal to budge from entrenched ‘pro-choice’ position
A motion to disapprove came to the committee immediately after Mauldin’s introduction of the overture giving commissioners no opportunity to make amendments. Objections to the overture focused on the abortion review of current policy. Many commissioners misinterpreted the recommendation as a call for a full abortion policy study with a hugely inflated ($75,000) price tag. Others who objected are simply content with the current “pro-choice” abortion policy and the four brochures created a few years ago at a cost of $140,000. The four brochures — seen only by the committee and not by commissioners in plenary — focus entirely on the woman as decision-maker and delineate three choices a pregnant woman may make: give birth and parent the child; give birth and make an adoption plan, or abort the baby. Little consideration is given to the life of the baby in the brochures or to God’s ownership of human life, God’s interaction with babies in the womb, or the work of Christ in coming into the womb of Mary.
Commissioner Jim Houston-Hencken from Nevada Presbytery moved a substitute motion in plenary that offered the GA opportunity to prayerfully reflect on the most vulnerable children:
The 221st GA respectfully encourages the PMA (Presbyterian Mission Agency) and PCUSA congregations to enter a 2-year season of prayer and reflection on the “least of these” children, both born and not yet born, who are unwanted by human society. This season may assist members in exploring the evolving issues of problem pregnancies, children born into cycles of poverty and abandoned or orphaned children, as well as ways the church may respond with compassion and sensitivity.
Commissioners stuck on the idea of a new study could not switch focus to vulnerable children
Commissioners speaking against the substitute motion repeatedly referenced the idea of a new abortion study (never a part of the original overture which called simply for a review and assessment of current policy). We have all the resources we need. Our minds are made up. We’ve spent enough time judging women’s decisions. Another heard only “unborn” and asked, “What about street children, not just babies?” Others complained, ‘”We’ve done this over and over—some folks don’t feel like their perspective is there, but restudy won’t change that.” One female Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD) complained, “We’ve fought again and again … I’m tired of women’s rights … it is important to keep out of our medical records.”
Among those supporting the motion, one YAAD liked that it “does not mention abortion but all unwanted children … pro-life and pro-choice can both like this.” A Korean-American who was adopted believed the motion offered a “greater exploration for people and congregations into greater gifts.” Another commissioner pointed out that the motion involved no cost to the denomination. Just before the vote a female YAAD brought up the number of changes since 1992—22 years ago—and the need for reconsideration of the PCUSA policy on abortion.
Commissioners voted down the proposed substitute and affirmed the committee’s recommendation to disapprove with, according to one observer, “no substantive discussion on the issue, and no Scripture.”
Lives less vulnerable than the unborn fared somewhat better in assembly actions
The assembly approved a lengthy response to gun violence consuming a great deal of time in the Social Justice Issues Committee, amending three overtures into one advocacy platform. While the goal of reducing gun violence and its threat to human life is admirable, the level of restrictive legislation advocated by the General Assembly is likely to bring further division among Presbyterians. The assembly also spoke out against the use of drones in targeted killings and assassinations as well as the use of weaponized domestic drones.
The June 18 Consent Agenda approved by commissioners included a moratorium on the death penalty in all jurisdictions. While every human life is valuable to God it is disturbing that the assembly spoke to protect the lives of those convicted of the most serious crimes against humanity while the innocent lives of unborn children and children unwanted by society were so devalued that even babies born alive in a botched abortion remain unprotected by the church.
Commissioners approved the production of a pastoral and educational booklet giving guidance on end of life issues, amending the make-up of the drafting team by adding theologians and pastors to the proposed team of ethicists and physicians. The booklet is to be tested with experienced pastors and chaplains, hospital and hospice physicians and nurses with a report back to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
Also approved was the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide including a request to President Obama and Congress to declare the “deaths and expulsion of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire during the period from 1915–1923, as a genocide.” The Presbyterian Mission Agency is directed to designate Sunday, April 26, 2015, as the 100-year anniversary commemoration day in Presbyterian churches and to prepare educational and liturgical resources for that event. Presbyterians Pro-Life supports this commemoration as a way to value lives lost in this mass killing. At the assembly PPL held a Service of Witness to the Resurrection to celebrate, remember,and mourn children who have died, including the 56 million babies lost to abortion in America since abortion became legal in 1973.
Does a tiny flame of awareness of the value of children flicker yet in the PCUSA?
A Commissioners Resolution was approved directing the Office of the General Assembly to provide childcare at Portland (222nd GA in 2016) and all GAs thereafter. Another Commissioners Resolution adopted encourages presbyteries and denomination agencies to provide maternity and parental leave of at least six weeks with full pay for parents of newborns.
In a schizophrenic move the same assembly that refused to pray and reflect on children born and unborn affirmed the importance of maternal and child nutrition over the first 1,000 days of life (yes, including before birth until 2 years of age). The measure calls on Presbyterians to pray for and minister to women and children in the United States and around the world who are in the 1,000-day window.
No, Presbyterians are not OK with killing born babies … just silent … but Bonhoeffer …
In a recent National Review Online article, Wesley J. Smith lumped Presbyterians with Peter Singer, who believes that unwanted infants can be killed in the same manner as they can be aborted.
“Apparently, so does the Presbyterian Church, USA,” Smith stated.
Certainly pro-life Presbyterians are not OK with it—neither are we OK with abortion at any point during a pregnancy. For that reason Presbyterians Pro-Life continues to witness, work and worship at every General Assembly of the PCUSA. We speak for the unborn (see some of the testimonies posted on our web site), and we confront the denomination with the truth of what abortion is—the death of a baby created, loved, and called by God—in our booth, with newsletters distributed on the street, in our work with commissioners, and by a worship service celebrating and remembering the lives of children who have died, born and unborn. The decisions of the General Assembly do not reflect the values of Presbyterians Pro-Life nor of thousands of Presbyterians in the pews of the PCUSA! There is no excuse for the silence of the denomination in the face of the evil of abortion or the evil acts of abortion providers who kill babies born alive.
Mauldin closed his speech to the Social Justice Committee with a quote from Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”