The PCANZ report that they will leave The Churches’ Agency on Social Issues. I hope the motivation isn’t money savings alone. Having worked for CASI and its predecessor (the Joint Methodist Presbyterian Public Questions Committee) for several years (1996 to 2001) I have plenty of thoughts and feelings about the move of my Church. It’s tough being involved and caring about the Church’s witness while being a former employee, since one is inevitably viewed with suspicion – something that I doubt applies to those truly committed (i.e. ordained). This is what their newsletter said on the issue:

The withdrawal of the Presbyterian Church from the Churches Agency on Social Issues (CASI)
Towards the end of last year, the Council of Assembly was made aware of issues relating to CASI’s ongoing planning and organisation. These issues included: the difficulty in long-term planning when funding for CASI was determined on a year to year basis by the Presbyterian Church; (which funds around $35,000 of CASI activity, representing about three quarters of CASI’s budget) the difficulty of recruiting Presbyterian members to the CASI executive, and communications and functional difficulties associated with a shift of the Presbyterian Church Assembly Office into smaller offices which could not accommodate CASI staff.

The review process that followed led the Council to conclude that there were more effective ways for the Presbyterian Church to engage with the social issues impacting on the lives of church members and the people of the communities they serve.

The Presbyterian Church has now notified CASI member churches (Methodists, Associated Churches of Christ and the Society of Friends (Quakers)) of their intention to withdrawal from CASI at the end of the current financial year.

The change represents a recommitment by the Presbyterian Church to actively engage with the Biblical mandate for justice and peace by:

  • Enhancing communication with ecumenical and church social service agencies and with others who are active in providing an ethical, social and economic critique on social trends from a Christian perspective.
  • Working with parishes to develop skills that will allow them to better communicate their work and life to their communities.
  • Developing Biblically and theologically based resources from a breadth of theological perspectives that will enable parishes to reflect, pray and act in response to social issues. These will be resources that we hope will have a mission focus – supporting an engagement with people who may be seeking to know more about the particular ways faith leads us to engage with issues of social concern.

Working to support the Moderator’s response on behalf of the Church to matters of general social concern.

Some of this initiative will centre upon the church’s communication team – but already we are working to establish a network of people with the skills and interest who may be willing to help contribute to these processes.

The Council has not taken this action lightly nor without a significant acknowledgement of the great contribution made by people from both the Presbyterian Church and other member Churches to this work of social engagement on our behalf. We will continue to look for ways to enhance our ecumenical relationships and, of course, with well over 100 parishes working as Uniting congregations, an ecumenical commitment is an everyday reality for many with a Presbyterian heritage.

If you have questions or concerns about this decision to withdraw from CASI, or have suggestions or offers of help in relation to the Presbyterian Church’s engagement with social issues, then please contact me.

Unfortunately I think this is a backward step for the Church and will lead to its further marginalisation in society. Some things we did that required major time commitments were:

Things like this will not happen without serious time involvement and administration. While communications is important, training in communications is no substitute for theological reflection on social issues and the distillation of all the Church has to offer in public debate and service. In a time when there needs to be serious theological input to counter the sound bites of the Christian Right, the PCANZ seems to want to join with them in a public relations focussed witness.