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Presbyterians Begin Discussions On Christian Response To Nuclear Arms

June 10, 1988

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A Presbyterian statement that would declare nuclear war immoral went before a church panel Thursday, after foes of the controversial paper sought a one- year delay for the 3-million-member denomination to discuss it.

The paper, ″Christian Obedience in a Nuclear Age,″ is the result of a five-year process in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and has drawn the most interest among issues before the church’s 200th General Assembly in St. Louis.

Other issues include health care, pornography, AIDS, religious freedom, Central America and concerns including the election next week of one of the top denominational staff officers.

The ″Christian Obedience″ paper’s recommendations include declarations that both nuclear war and the theory of nuclear deterrence are immoral.

It also discusses tax resisters, saying the church should not adopt a policy of resistance, but be willing to support its members who feel called upon to resist.

The paper also says the decision to go along with government policy should be as painstakingly taken as the decision to resist.

Presbyterians for Democracy and Religious Freedom, a sanctioned group in the denomination, say the paper encourages tax resistance and does not reflect the majority viewpoint of the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination.

The paper is a ″partisan document,″ that gives short shrift to opposing views, the Rev. Paul Scotchmer, PDRF executive director, told the assembly Committee on Peacemaking and International Relations at a hearing Wednesday.

PDRF President John Boone, a layman from Tennessee, said if the paper is as solid as its supporters believe, ″it can stand the test of one year.″ Also opposing the paper is The Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel, whose director Charles E. McMillan told the committee the paper glorifies conscientious objection while denigrating military service.

The Rev. Harry Hassell of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, the largest church in the denomination, urged the committee to replace references to tax resistance with discussions on a Christian’s responsibility to pay taxes while working within the system for change.

The committee of 58 clergy, laity, seminary and youth delegates split up into subcommittees later Thursday, with a 16-member group assigned to deal with the ″Christian Obedience″ document.

That group, chaired by the Rev. Thomas J. Heger, a campus minister from Eugene, Ore., can recommend revisions, withdrawal or acceptance of the document.

It will report to the full committee Saturday with the full assembly scheduled to take up the paper Tuesday night, the next to last day of the convention.

Heger said he could not predict how his subcommittee might handle the report, but in discussions Thursday night, the panel removed some language and changed other wording in the 5 1/2 pages of recommendations.

Panel members felt some language placed resistance to government policy on the same level as cooperation, and changed language which they felt could be interpreted as routinely offering financial support to government resisters.

Other recommendations which have not been dealt with include suggestions the church offer legal aid for conscientious objectors and financial aid for their families.

A separate recommendation is the creation of a voluntary Fund for Obedience to Higher Authority ″for those who suffer financial loss or difficulty as a result of acts of conscience.″

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