Shall the Presbyterian Church (USA) continue its membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice? That was the question and it came to the 222nd General Assembly meeting in Portland, Ore., in the form of a Commissioner’s Resolution (CR).
The CR on the proposed withdrawal of the PCUSA from the RCRC came to committee #10 as business item 10-16. The commissioner who submitted the resolution, Justin Marple, was serving on another committee and the timing of item 10-16 was moved around the docket several times which ultimately prevented him from being able to speak to his own CR until after debate had already taken place.
In committee open hearing, arguments in favor of ending the denomination’s relationship with the RCRC included that of the Rev. Tara Thompson, teaching elder from Tampa Bay Presbytery:
I want to tell you a story of a young woman who wasn’t ready to be a parent, a mother who abandoned her child more than once. But it’s also a story of two lives deeply intertwined; it’s MY story.
As a child I didn’t understand and pleaded with my mom to stay. For years I was angry, but later felt compelled to track her down. To honor her not because she was a great mother, but simply because she was MY mother. I wish I could tell you we lived happily ever after, but even in adulthood, we had seasons of difficulty.
But at the end of her life, she asked for my forgiveness. Weeping she told me she almost had an abortion, but the thing she was most proud of in her life was me, that she knew she’d done something right. TWO lives which testify to the good news of God’s redeeming grace.
I ask you to approve CR10-16 because it underscores the PCUSA’s commitment to affirming the nuances involved in abortion decisions. RCRC policies don’t.
Others offered equally powerful witness on behalf of life.
Jack Sharpe, a well known Presbyterian Pro Life advocate, reminded the committee of the words of Jesus in John 10:10, “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” He then said that he favors withdrawal from the “RCRC because it stands against life. It always takes a position in favor of abortion. Walk in my shoes. How would those of you who support abortion think if the PCUSA were part of the National Pro-Life Alliance?”
Others reminded the commissioners of the denomination’s own policy statements like the “Problem Pregnancies and Abortion 1992 Social Witness Policy.” That document says Presbyterians substantially agree that:
“a. Church ought to be able to maintain within its fellowship . . . those who come to diverse conclusions and actions.” Continued participation in RCRC effectively aligns the denomination with a pro-abortion access position.
Dr. Patty June also testified, saying, “RCRC advocacy and PCUSA policy are different. We say the lives of viable unborn babies who could survive outside the womb if delivered — ought to be preserved, cared for and not aborted Conversely, RCRC opposes both bans on abortions after fetal viability and even laws requiring care for babies born alive after abortion procedures. Our policy says abortion should be the choice of last resort — after consultation between a woman and her physician and prayerful consideration but RCRC opposes letting women see an ultrasound and getting full information. RCRC opposes even a 1-2 day waiting period that allows a woman time to prayerfully consider the information she’s read.”
The arguments made in favor of RCRC — and therefore against the CR — centered on the service RCRC provides to pastors through its “all options clergy counseling training” and it was argued that the CR mischaracterized the RCRC’s policies.
One of the reasons the CR arose was that the United Methodist Church recently withdrew from the RCRC because they no longer experienced it as a place where a pro-life voice was effectively heard. Those arguing for the RCRC vehemently argued against the PCUSA’s alignment with the UMC.
One commissioner argued that to compare the PCUSA and the UMC was to “compare apples to oranges.” He said, “we do not look to organizations that are culturally or structurally not the same as us. The UMC is a global church,” noting that their cultural diversity “encumbers their decisions” related to women’s reproductive rights. He concluded that the “the PCUSA is a national church with global partners and serves the reality of the culture of women in the US.”
That argument was echoed by Noelle from Seattle who said, “We do not need to follow in the path of the UMC.” Concluding that “choice” is “one of the reasons I’m Presbyterian and proud to be Presbyterian.”
Mike Smith of Tucson, Arizona heralded PARO, Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, a part of the denomination’s Health, Education and Welfare ministry. “We’ve been a pro-choice church for over 40 years. It makes sense for us to join with other churches and faith groups through RCRC because RCRC is an ally with the same mission: pro-choice and wants to strengthen a woman’s right to choose.”
Donna Riley also said the PCUSA takes a “pro-choice position that trusts women to discern God’s will.” She noted that being in the RCRC is an “efficient and wise use of our limited resources.” She concluded that “as a woman of reproductive age in SW Virginia, my healthcare options are limited, I’m glad my church has my back on this.”
The notion of withdrawing from the RCRC was characterized as “a regressive step in terms of respect for women” and a “stigmatization of access to reproductive resources.”
In the end the CR was voted down in committee by a vote of 65-5. It failed as well on the floor of the Assembly 431-132. Such is the status of life in the PCUSA.