Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Bakerstown: 6. Torture resolution not adopted

When ministers and elders arrived at the December 1, 2005 meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown, we received copies of new business to be presented by the Peacemaking Ministry Team of the Presbytery. The new business was a resolution "Concerning the matter of the Presbyterian Church's Opposition to Torture and the Abuse of Prisoners." Moderator David Carver deemed that time was of the essence concerning this resolution and without objection it was docketed for 5:00 PM.

As the order of the day approached, the Presbytery extended time for the business it was already handling and then allowed other business to proceed, intending to handle this new business at the end of the meeting.

The proposed resolution called for five actions, made reference to two attachments (a sample petition and a statement by Rick Ufford-Chase and Ed Brogan), and lacked a preamble. The proposed resolution itself read as follows:

RESOLVED: The Presbytery of Pittsburgh, meeting at the First Presbyterian Church Bakerstown,
1. REMINDS the constituency of the churches of this Presbytery of the action of the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (2004) opposing the use of torture and the abuse of prisoners;
2. REQUESTS all Sessions of the Presbytery to set aside time to review the letter "A Call to Say No to Torture", from the current moderator of the General Assembly, Richard Ufford-Chase (attached);
3. URGES each session to consider prayerfully action in support of this resolution, such as the collection of signatures on a petition. (See reverse side for a petition based on "A Call to Say No to Torture". It may be freely copied and used to collect signatures. South Side Presbyterian Church is willing to collect the petitions and use them to inform elected officials of the opinions of the signatories).
4. INSTRUCTS Presbytery's Stated Clerk to inform our State's regional Congressional representatives and U.S. Senators as well as the President and Vice President of the United States, the U.S. Attorney General, the Secretary State (sic) and the Secretary of Defense, indicating the opposition of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to the use of torture and abuse of prisoners;
5. REQUESTS the Stated Clerk and the Pastor to Presbytery to inform local media, particularly the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and City Paper, of this action by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh.

When the Presbytery debated this resolution there was no one who spoke in favor of torture or the abuse of prisoners, but there were strongly voiced concerns about the attached documents that would receive some form of endorsement by the adoption of the resolution.

There were concerns about the second paragraph in the "Call to Say No to Torture" and the sample petition:
Due process has given way to secret detentions, justice has given way to expediency, and humane treatment of prisoners has given way to torture. We are told that our country does not torture prisoners, but our heads and our hearts tell us differently. Hidden, institutionalized torture has become routine. Doing things beyond our borders, or having others do them for us, does nothing to lessen our responsibility.
There were serious concerns that we should not be making statements accusing others of wrongdoing when we were not in a position to evaluate the facts. One of the suggestions made in the debate was to include some statement making it clear that we were not endorsing the conclusions stated in that paragraph.

The Presbytery's vote on the resolution resulted in a tie. Requests were made of the senior vice moderator Carol Divens Roth, presiding at the time, to cast a deciding vote, which she never did. When a commissioner asked if we had a quorum it was discovered that there was no longer a quorum present. It was ruled that the vote on this resolution was invalid because of the lack of a quorum, but that actions taken previously were not invalidated. The meeting rapidly moved to its (long-awaited) conclusion.

My other articles on this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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