McCormick brings justice concerns to Presbyterian General Assembly

07-28-2010 by

Geoff Ashmun
In addition to many who worked behind the scenes at the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), several members of the McCormick community played visible roles in bringing denomination-wide justice issues to the GA floor for vote.

This is only a summary of that good work.

Dr. Jennifer Ayres, Committee of 15 recommend adoption of Belhar Confession
McCormick Ethics Professor Dr. Jennifer Ayres served on the Special Committee of Fifteen that unanimously recommended the adoption of the Belhar Confession into the PCUSA Book of Confessions. Originally authored and adopted in the early to mid-1980s by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, the “coloured division” of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, the Belhar Confession was the church’s most public stand against the system of apartheid.

This is the first confession to come before the General Assembly from the Global South and, in Jennifer’s own words, “gets at the theological underpinnings of what it means to be a multiracial society and what it means to be a cross-cultural church.” The confession is now sent to presbyteries for ratification by July 2011.

Jennifer is joined in this work by colleague Rev. Dr. Jeff Japinga, Associate Dean of McCormick’s Doctor of Ministry Program, who played a major role in the Reformed Church of America’s adoption of the Belhar Confession earlier this summer.

Dr. Robert Cathey counsels Middle East Study Committee, amended report passes
The Rev. Dr. Robert Cathey, Professor of Theology at McCormick, attended General Assembly under the auspices of the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Workgroup of the Presbytery of Chicago, serving as an observer of Committee 14’s discussion of the Middle East Study Committee (MESC) Report. Instrumental in building and maintaining strong ties with Chicago-area Jewish communities and organizations, Bob convened several discussions of the report prior to GA, most notably with the Board of the American Jewish Committee of Chicago and with the Board of the Jewish Federation of Chicago.

Out of 160 attendees who cast their names into a lottery, Bob was among the relatively few to speak before the Assembly on the MESC Report, and he reiterated the counsel he had given to Committee 14. “My basic argument,” Bob said, “was that the report asks Presbyterians to play a 'third-party' role between the Israelis and Palestinians locked in conflict. However, the report itself is tilted toward the Palestinian cause and thus its adoption would put the church in a much more partisan role rather than a 'third-party' agent.” In order to engage those American Jewish organizations who have helped shape U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Bob argued, nothing less than a neutral, third-party position will work.

Ultimately, a significantly amended report was passed by the Assembly, which called for new historical narratives from four Israelis and four Palestinians and the formation of a group consisting of Presbyterians with long-term knowledge of the Middle East to monitor the reception of the MESC Report. Sharp criticism of settlement expansion and occupation in the West Bank as well as the blockade of Gaza remained in the report, as well as stipulations about the nature of Israel’s use of U.S. military aid.

Student Amber Ellington helps approve Gulf Oil Spill recommendation
McCormick middler Amber Ellington brought an item of new business, “Proposed Actions Regarding Deep Water Horizon Oil Disaster,” to General Assembly Committee 11: Social Justice Issues B: The Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World.

Approved by the Assembly, the oil disaster recommendation directs the moderator of the 219th General Assembly to send condolences to each of the families of the workers who lost their lives in the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig, directs the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) to make a one-time special fundraising appeal to support long-term recovery efforts, directs the stated clerk to write a letter to the CEO of British Petroleum urging BP to ensure the safety of all workers, directs the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to communicate with oil and gas companies urging them to conduct a thorough review of operations, and seeks to work in partnership with local impacted communities.

Alumna Elizabeth Knott named one of four Women of Faith
Elizabeth Knott (Class of 1963) was presented the Women of Faith Award at General Assembly for her justice work in the Middle East since the early 1990s. Liz has made more than 30 trips to Palestine as founder of Pal CraftAid, a non-profit organization that imports embroidery and olive wood products from Palestine to the United States. Proceeds support ministries serving needy women, children and families from all faith backgrounds in the region.

Other GA Participants from McCormick
- McCormick Professor of Theology Dr. Anna Case Winters, Co-Chair of the International Commission for Lutheran-Reformed Relations, was present as a resource for the Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.
- McCormick President Dr. Cynthia Campbell was present for the approval of the Committee on Theological Education’s Self-Study Review and introduced former Auburn Seminary President Barbara Wheeler to receive the Distinguished Service Award in Theology.
- McCormick Trustee Deborah Block (D.Min., Class of 1989) was elected President of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation Board. Other board members include Dr. Lib Caldwell and Dr. John Buchanan. Deborah and her congregation, Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee, were also honored by The Covenant Network and the Theological Education Fund for outstanding financial support. Immanuel was the top giving church to TEF in the PCUSA.
- McCormick Dean of Faculty Dr. Luis Rivera delivered an address at McCormick’s alumni/ae and friends luncheon on intercultural theological education.