Presbyterians to Tackle Social Security, Debt, Energy Consumption

Social witness has played a large role in America’s historic mainline Protestant churches, and many denominations continue to place a special emphasis on witnessing through public policy and social service measures.

The Social Witness Policy division of one such denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), gave draft presentations of the issues that will be likely be on the radar in the coming year, during an Oct 20-22 meeting in Louisville, Ky. Topics of concern for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) include: energy, social insurance, usury, disabilities, serious mental illness, social creed, and the value of human life.

At the meeting, the committee heard presentations on energy, economic security for older Americans and lending laws, and discussed proposed policy statements on the other topics.

“All of those papers are still in draft form,” said Gwen Crawley, interim coordinator of ACSWP. “There is still some work that the committee is doing on all of them before they go to GA.”

The documents and recommendations are subject to review and revision before they go to the denomination’s General Assembly next year. Should the Assembly adopt the proposed bills, the ACSWP policies will represent the voice of the 2-million-member denomination.

In regards to energy, the ACSWP presented a 39-page document titled “A Christian Witness to Energy,” which addressed the denomination’s energy policy. The current denominational energy policy has not been revised since it was adopted in 1981 by the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church– the PC(USA) in its present form did not appear until 1983.

The new policy has been in the making since 2002 in light of the “current national and international concerns about production, consumption, cost, patterns of distribution and energy security,” according to the Presbyterian News Service.

“It’s more of a lifestyle issue, and not as much a social policy,” said the Rev. Gary Cook, the PC(USA)’s associate director for Global Service and Witness.

Part of this lifestyle is the consumption of energy a “grossly unsustainable levels” and distributing energy in “dramatically inequitable” ways. While the paper shoots at what it calls views as government-led policies that cause environmental damage, it also touches on the unfriendly acts within the Presbyterian family.

According to the document, more than half of Presbyterians surveyed in August 2004 had not taken even the “simplest steps to decrease their energy usage,” and the vast majority of congregations hadn’t implemented conservation programs.

“We want all members, from the pew to the pulpit, to use less energy,” said McVety, an elder who is also a stewardship of creation enabler for Florida Presbytery. “The severity of this problem requires a bold response.”

Meanwhile, on the issue of social security, the ACSWP drafted a 17-page document on policies affecting seniors and older adults. The document specifically addresses the importance of the nation’s social insurance systems, specifically Social Security and Medicare.

This paper, like the energy draft, would be an update to old policy measure adopted decades ago. The current policy on social insurance is entitled “Economic Security for Older Persons” and was adopted 22 years ago.

The main point of the new policy centers on the imminent retirement of millions of baby boomers and the “radical ideas” to cut their benefits. Social Security needs adjustments to accommodate the boomers, the largest generation in American history, the draft says, noting that the ranks of Americans older than 65 will swell to 75 million, from the current 35 million, by the year 2030, according to PNS.

The last draft document presented by the ACSWP was in regards to state and federal lending laws. The policy statement proposes an “ethical criteria for evaluating usury laws and other lending-related legislation concerning payday loans, sub-prime loans, predatory lending practices and cash-back tax preparation arrangements.” Presenters said they hoped Presbyterians will be more informed about finances and legislations through the document.

For the topics of disabilities, social creed, serious mental illness, and the value of human life, the ACSWP either selected or proposed task force members to begin drawing reports for future General Assemblies.

For more information visit: www.pcusa.org/acswp.