Archives: June 2006
This page lists reports and commentary from all of
All postings from
Our coverage of the 2006 General
Assembly is indexed on a special page.
For links to earlier archive pages,
A conversation with the New Wineskins movement:
"Why a New
In the Spring 2006 issue of Network News, which was
sent to all GA commissioners and advisory delegates, Witherspoon Issues
Analyst Gene TeSelle in his survey of issues coming to the 217th
General Assembly, listed some possible responses of the Assembly to the
report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the
The first response he mentioned was that some groups would
likely oppose the report. And by way of example, he wrote:
The New Wineskins movement promises that, if this part
of the Task Force report is approved, it will start a campaign to get
congregations to sign a formal threat to withdraw from the church. The
hope is to drive a hard bargain with the General Assembly, letting them
leave with their property and continue to draw pensions. (This hardball
strategy has been compared, not surprisingly, to that of Karl Rove and Tom
DeLay in national politics.)
That characterization of New Wineskins elicited an
objection from Renee Guth, a member of the Board of the New Wineskins
Initiative. And that sparked an exchange of views between TeSelle and Guth,
leading Ms. Guth eventually to write a longer statement of the significance
of purpose of New Wineskins.
Ms. Guth prepared this essay in May, and we had intended
to post it before the Assembly in June. But things piled up as they seem to
do around GA time, and your WebWeaver just lost it in the pile. As last it’s
come to the surface again, and we’re happy to share it -- with our thanks to
The following items were posted on the
JustPresbys site on 6-28-06.
Stated Clerk issue
on General Assembly
'God's spirit was with us,' Gray, Kirkpatrick say
GA action on
divestment is a reaffirmation, not a repudiation
Former Moderator Susan Andrews interprets the GA action on
divestment for a Jewish audience – without making it into a mere apology.
She says that "the statement passed by this year’s Assembly refocuses,
rephrases, and reinterprets the actions we made in 2004. But it does not
repudiate those actions."
More than Hot Air
The General Assembly used lots of
energy in the Convention Center and the Assembly hotels. But working with
the Presbyterian Hunger, Peacemaking and Environmental Justice programs and
Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, this meeting was also powered by the
purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs). The GA purchased enough
RECs to "offset" the 168 tons of carbon dioxide being produced by the
Convention Center and our hotels. This investment in renewable energy will
help to build a wind farm on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota
and the Dovan family dairy farm’s methane project in Pennsylvania.
The rest of
the story >>
inclusive church? GA offered a mixed picture
A new observer reviews the Assembly through the lenses of
an inclusive-church activist, and finds a mixed picture, with more to be
done – especially dealing with the issue of power
Sonnie Swenson wrote these comments
soon after the Assembly. She introduces herself thus: "I attended GA as one
under the umbrella of (but still brand new to) TAMFS. In addition to that
affiliation, I have been involved with MLP nationally and locally,
individually and congregationally, for years and years; and with CovNet as a
local chapter leader (of a chapter that has chastised the national CovNet
leadership for not being strong enough). I have also been active in the
inclusive church movement through the Lazarus Project in Southern
California. I consider my own best work to be at the grassroots level, and
the bigger and wider the scope gets, the more painful it all gets for me."
observations on the Assembly >>
"Letters from a Birmingham Assembly" highlights MLP
Michael Adee gave the keynote talk at the More Light Presbyterians
Celebration Dinner on June 15, the opening evening of the 217th
General Assembly. He told his own story and many others about living
into the questions of life, and into answers, as he learned to affirm
his own identity as God’s gift.
Adee's talk >>
Witherspoon's report on the 217th
Doug King and Gene TeSelle offer a summary
report and commentary on the recent General Assembly. It begins:
The 217th General Assembly was a "down the
middle" Assembly. It elected a Moderator who seemed moderate and
open-minded. It approved the report of the Theological Task Force (TTF) on
the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (for short, "PUP Report"),
which most regard as offering more leeway for the ordination of gay and
lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) church members. But it resolutely
refused to consider amending the Book of Order to delete the prohibition
This may be a typical "approach/avoidance"
pattern. The closer you come to doing something new, the more you
hesitate. Then it seems more comfortable to make one change at a time,
putting other issues on hold for the time being.
The full report >>
We'd appreciate your comments, additions
send a note, to be shared here!
Update for June 29 includes information on the Gaza
crisis, the availability of International Peacemakers for local visits,
immigration legislation, coming events, and much more.
GA action on social justice issues touched many concerns
The General Assembly acted on a report from the Social
Justice Issues committee which covered many issues, and generally approved
the committee’s recommendations.
Presbyteries and congregations were encouraged to work to
The "no2torture" initiative was adopted handedly
After adding some language to include "all foreign
government and/or combatants" to the U.S. government as those to be held
accountable for human rights, commissioners approved (by 402-55-3) a paper
focused on the issue of human rights in a time of terrorism and torture.
Perhaps one of the most far-reaching actions was the
commissioners’ vote to receive from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness
Polity (ACSWP) a major study paper and recommendations called "Just
Globalization: Justice, Ownership, and accountability." The aim of the
report is to educate Presbyterians on the sweeping influence and
implications of globalization on a number of levels — individual
discipleship, implications for congregational and presbytery mission,
international governance, trade practices and issues for development
assistance. In taking this action, however, the commissioners added a
requirement that the proposed study guide should include responses from
Another proposal condemning labor practices and accusing
Smithfield Packing Inc. of using "threats, intimidation, and violence
against workers" engendered the most passionate deliberation and most
divided vote in committee. On the floor of the Assembly, commissioners chose
overwhelmingly (323-150-7) to refer this item to ACSWP.
The highlight of the evening came after commissioners
approved a proposal in support of ongoing partnership with the Coalition of
Immokalee Workers and the campaign for fair food. Lucas Benitez, director of
the Coalition, thanked the PC(USA) for its solidarity and willingness to
walk with the Imokalee workers toward a strong resolution of their
relationship with Taco Bell.
Benitez closed with the words, "We will not rest and we
will not stop until justice comes to all of us." Not a bad line for the rest
report from Presbyterian News Service >>
Dealing with late-term pregnancies – again
On Wednesday evening, June 21, the General
Assembly approved an overture from the Health Issues committee dealing with
late-term pregnancies that, in the words of Presbyterian News Service,
"affirms the lives of viable unborn babies."
You can read the report on JustPresbys >>
or on the
PC(USA) website >>
Ann Hayman, a member of the
PARO Leadership Team,
offers this comment on the GA action:
Well, folks -- this has only served to convince me that Presbyterians
should not be allowed to practice medicine in groups larger than two. The
debates concerning our abortion policies in both the Health Committee and
on the floor of GA were confused and confusing. We had several
commissioners who fought a brave battle. It is too soon to assess how much
damage was done to our Late-Term, Post-Viability Abortion Policy .
I assume that the Stated Clerk’s office will have to cull through this and
make some kind of a determination. I fear that we've lost the edge and it
will become difficult to do much with this in the realm of amicus briefs.
The new policy certainly does not speak to
much of any kind of reality I've ever encountered. Post-viability
abortions only involve compromised fetuses -- the unborn that have been
medically determined to be incompatible with life. We Presbyterians have
come out squarely for viable fetuses and healthy babies, so I'm not sure
what we have. The prevailing myth of the Assembly was that 8-month
pregnant woman who wakes up one morning and decides she's tired of being
pregnant and on impulse (whim) seeks an abortion. It just doesn't happen.
I will continue to be dismayed at the abominable and undeserved lack of
trust we manifest for both women and physicians, most of whom put their
life on the line to do this work.
Upward and onward to San Jose in 2008.
The following two items were added on June 22 to the
More on the approval of the Peace, Unity and Purity report
News conference offers reflections on the passage of
Recommendation 5 of TTF report
Controversial measure does not change
standards; places responsibility for discernment on presbyteries
and sessions [posted here 6-22-06]
Presbyterian News Service reports on a news
conference in which Moderator Joan Gray expressed satisfaction at
the way commissioners and advisory delegates handled Tuesday's
voting on Recommendation 5, the most controversial of the
recommendations of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and
Purity of the Church report. Recommendations 5 through 7 were
approved by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.
Joining the moderator at the press conference
was the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General
Assembly; the Rev. Blair Monie, moderator of the GA Committee on
Ecclesiology, which dealt with the report; the Rev. Catherine
Kotfiela, vice moderator of the committee; and three members of
the Theological Task Force: the Rev. Mark Achtemeier, elder
Barbara Wheeler, and the Rev. John Wilkinson.
Visitors offer their thoughts -- and you're invited to join in
GA overwhelmingly approves Israel/Palestine recommendation
The 217th General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the
recommendation of the Peacemaking and International Issues committee
regarding Middle East issues.
By a vote of 483 in favor, 28 opposed and 1 abstention
today, the Assembly set as church policy that "financial investments of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East
Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits." The
recommendation was an alternate resolution to an overture that sought to
repeal and rescind the actions of the 2004 General Assembly relating to
"phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in
The full story >>
are commenting on the divestment action. See what's being said, and add
your own thoughts.
Assembly apologizes for divestment action
This afternoon (Wednesday, June 21) the Assembly received
the report from the Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues, with
the issue of divestment as the star attraction.
Jewish organizations respond to the divestment action
Clearly a variety of Jewish groups have been
watching the Assembly with great interest. You may be interested to glimpse
their "take" on the action of this afternoon’s session.
For a general report on the debate and the
Presbyterian News Service report >>
GA acts on ecumenical and interfaith relations
Assembly refers proposals to curb U.S. support for Colombian government,
On Monday, June 19, the General Assembly acted on a number
of recommendations from the Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations
The actions included support for human rights work of the
Presbyterian Church in Colombia , but a number of specific requests for more
overt action directed at the U.S. government's support of the Colombian
government and military were referred to the Advisory Committee on Social
Witness Policy and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program for study. This was
done in spite of urgings from PCC Executive Secretary David Illigge Quiroz,
who said "The church in Colombia can't wait for more study."
The Assembly made the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a
provisional member of Christian Churches Together (CCT), a new ecumenical
organization more broadly based than the National Council of Churches and
the National Association of Evangelicals.
Other issues considered included globalization, and
relations among the three "Abrahamic traditions" of Judaism, Christianity,
Southern Faith, Labor And Community Alliance
This message comes from J. Herbert Nelson, II, who is a
member of the Covenant Network Board and was a preacher in the recent
Southeast Conference in which Jack Rogers was the featured presenter.
Nelson is with the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the
University of Memphis. Witherspooner Janet Arbesman has shared his
message with us.
We are excited about the upcoming Word and World School/Faith Labor,
and Community Alliance Conference. At the center of our work is the
question, "Does faith have a role to play in forging a relationship with
organized labor to rebuild communities and advocate for economic justice?"
We hope you will join us in this historic gathering that recaptures the
vision of Dr. King, who gave his life in a labor struggle 38 years ago in
this same city. We (faith, labor and community alliances) are building a
new strategy throughout the country, with a particular emphasis on
southern states. Our work encourages faith communities, labor and
community activist and organizers, to assist in rebuilding a movement for
$150,000,000 gift may not be there
According to an
article in this morning’s Denver Post, Colorado business man Stanley
W. Anderson, whose record gift to the PC(USA) was greeted with great
enthusiasm by the Assembly just a few days ago, is in deep financial
He has failed to pay his homeowners association fees,
dental bills and mortgage payments, and he owes hundreds of thousands of
dollars to jilted creditors he persuaded to help keep his business afloat,
according to public records.
Anderson said Tuesday that he is working to pay off his
debts and is confident he will be able to deliver on his pledge. An official
with the 2.3 million member denomination in Louisville, Ky., also expressed
confidence in Anderson, a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Denver
and active in the local and national church.
At the beginning of the Wednesday morning business
session, GAC Executive Director John Detterick announced this development to
the Assembly. He quoted Mr. Anderson as reassuring him that "I would
not make a promise to my church that I am not able to fulfill."
Detterick affirmed his own confidence that "by November there will be money
in the account," as Anderson had promised.
Detterick closed by saying "I pray that we will continue
to accept Stan's promise with gratitude and grace."
news story >>
6/20/06 (4:24 pm CDT; updated
listened to some 2 and a half hours of debate this afternoon on the report
of Committee 6, on Ecclesiology, with its recommendation that the report of
the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church.
A minority report from the committee called for the
acceptance of the first 4 sections of the report – the theological
background, and the rejection of recommendations 5 (offering a new
"Authoritative Interpretation"), 6 (calling for a moratorium on further
actions on the issue of ordination until the next Assembly), and 7. That was
defeated after lengthy debate by a vote of 283 to 234.
That was followed by a motion to refer recommendations 5
and 6 to the presbyteries before final action. The plea was that the process
of discernment valued so highly by the task force be allowed to be followed
in the presbyteries as well.
Finally at about 4:18 PM, the committee’s recommendation
to approve the Task Force report was approved by the full Assembly, by a
vote of 298 to 221.
The commissioners are now standing, holding hands in small
groups, praying. And now one commissioner is encouraging commissioners
to register their dissent.
Moments after the Assembly approved the Task Force's
proposed authoritative interpretation — of G-6.0108 of the Book of Order —
the Assembly voted to disapprove more than 20 proposals also pending before
the Assembly to delete G-6.0106b of the church's Book of Order. It
seemed clear that many commissioners felt they had gone as far as they could
comfortably go, and by a vote of 405 to 92 they refused to support that more
concrete step toward justice and inclusion for lgbt Presbyterians.
<< The report
from Presbyterian News Service >>
For more reports and comments on the passage of the PUP
and other GA actions,
please go to the JustPresbys website,
and scroll down a bit on the home page.
... and just for fun:
Replying to the Scientists’ Ball invitation
Pierre and Marie Curie were radiating enthusiasm.
Einstein thought it would be relatively easy to attend.
Volta was electrified at the thought.
Ampere was worried he wasn’t up on current research.
Ohm resisted the idea at first.
Edison thought it would be an illuminating experience.
Watt reckoned it would be a good way to let off steam.
Wilbur Wright accepted, provided he and Orville could get a flight.
Dr. Jekyll declined – he hadn’t been feeling himself lately.
Morse’s reply: "I’ll be there on the dot. Can’t stop now must dash."
Audubon said he’d have to wing it.
Darwin said he’d have to see what evolved.
Descartes said he’d think about it.
Pavlov was drooling at the thought.
Thanks to Witherspooner John Simpson,
who is also active in the Presbyterian Association of Science, Technology
and the Christian Faith.
For more news from GA, please go to
The Witherspoon Luncheon
Eugenia Gamble speaks of "embodying love"
The Witherspoon Society’s Award Luncheon, held on Sunday
June 18, drew about 170 people – some drifting in a bit late as they
returned from worship services at churches around the Birmingham area.
The keynote speaker for the luncheon, the Rev. Eugenia
Gamble, told the story of a congregation she called "extraordinary" – First
Presbyterian Church of Birmingham. This congregation, she said, has been
showing deep compassion to its community by providing hospitality and a safe
place to the people in its downtown neighborhood, just a few blocks from the
Convention Center where the General Assembly is meeting this week.
The rest of her talk >>
She offered a closing blessing which many people wanted to
have in writing --
it is >>
Witherspoon's Whole Gospel Congregation Award was
presented to First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham.
Joan Witherspoon Norris (yes, really!), a member
of the Church, accepted the award with another glimpse into the depth and
breadth of this congregation.
Her comments >>
GA acts on Trinity paper
Assembly votes to 'receive' and commend to the church
BIRMINGHAM, June 19
-- Presbyterian News Service -- The 217th General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a recommendation today to receive and
commend to the church for study the paper, "The Trinity: God's Love
Overflowing." The vote was 282 to 212, with 7 abstentions.
The original recommendation from the General Assembly Council called for
the Assembly to approve the paper. An amendment during the debate changed
the word to "receive" when some commissioners expressed concern that the
word approve meant endorsement. While a majority of the commissioners were
uncertain about endorsing it, they were ready to commend it to congregations
Committee questioning unintentionally shows how G-6.0106b
is a tool for prejudice
As overture advocates for the Heartland overtures and
others aimed at removing G-6.01016b and the related authoritative
interpretations from the Presbyterian constitution, two people presenting
testimony were two ministers, Kim Smith King and Ray Bagnuolo.
Heather Reichgott reports on the MLP website an
interesting exchange they had with a commissioner who questioned them about
their "compliance" with Presbyterian law, since one of the speakers
acknowledged that he is gay.
And your WebWeaver acknowledges with pride that he appears
in this story, too.
Things could be worse!
Southern Baptists reaffirm
prohibition against alcohol
The Southern Baptist Convention, the biggest Protestant
denomination in the United States, has said no one who drinks "alcoholic
beverages" should belong to any denominational trustee board. "The use of
alcohol as a beverage can and does impede our testimony for the Lord Jesus
Christ," said Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of
Texas Convention, at the denomination's annual meeting in Greensboro, North
from Ecumenical News International -- Geneva,
At about 3:00
this afternoon Committee 4, on Church Orders, in effect rejected the
Heartland Overture and the concurring overtures that called for the removal
of G-6.0106b from the Presbyterian Book of Order, along with the related
The vote was on a motion to disapprove the overture,
and that motion was approved by a vote of 30 to 28.
Committee 6, which is dealing with the Theological Task
Force Report on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, is still debating
-- currently dealing with a motion to strike Recommendation 5 (which would
give authority to sessions and presbyteries to discern the qualifications of
a candidate for ordination within their own understanding of the Book of
Well anyway, tonight's the Witherspoon Party. And
much can change between now and final actions on these matters.
Details and comment from MLP >>
Peace Fellowship names Rick Ufford-Chase as its first
full-time Executive Director
The news release from PPF begins:
What do you do with a former moderator? Rick Ufford-Chase,
the first moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to serve a 2 year term,
will return to his activist and spiritual home, the Presbyterian Peace
Fellowship. The 62 year old organization announced at its June 17 General
Assembly Peace Breakfast that Ufford-Chase will become the first full-time
Executive Director of PPF, starting August 1, 2006.
We'll add more of this announcement as soon as
From Friday morning:
hearing on the Peace, Unity and Purity report
Ecclesiology committee hears conflicting
views on PUP report
Presbyterian Outlook reports on the differing views expressed some 60
people in their testimony to Committee 6, on ecclesiology, on Friday
morning, June 16.
The report >>
NOTE: You have to register to access the full article on
the Outlook website, but it doesn’t cost anything, and doesn’t
really hurt too much.
A new way to be church
As Committee 6 – Ecclesiology – heard testimony from many witnesses on
Friday morning, some of the words began to sound pretty familiar after a
while. But one short statement struck me as different. Camille Cook, a
candidate for ordination in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, who is
working this summer at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, said this:
My name is Camille Cook and I am a candidate for ordination in the Twin
Cities Presbytery. I speak in favor of the task force report.
Last night as I listened to the four moderator candidates speak, I
started a list of all of the negative and disheartening words I heard.
Conflict, dissent, unrest, tumult, tension, difference, division,
anxiety, decline, distance, season of depression, turbulence, lack of trust,
lack of faith, absent, pain, dying, hurting, distress, hopelessness,
As a recent seminary graduate and a young Presbyterian excited about
entering full-time ministry in the church, these are not the words I want to
be hearing. This is not the gospel I want to preach, this is not the church
I want to practice.
The task force report has the potential to shift the focus of our
denomination to new words of hope, peace, and community. We need a new way
to be the church and the task force report gives us such a possibility.
This report allows us to live together in community. This is the kind of
community the task force committee experienced after being together for four
and a half years.
We must honor their work, support their witness, and believe in their
unanimous vote. The committee came from differing backgrounds but they found
commonality in this report. The task force report gives the church a fresh
hope for unity and mutual forbearance.
The church I know and love and am excited to serve deserves this report
and not the laundry list I read before. Thank you.
Witherspoon luncheon – we’ve
added more tickets, so just come to the door on Sunday!
The GA ticket office was telling people yesterday that
tickets were sold out for the Witherspoon Awards Luncheon, which will be
Sunday, June 18, at 12:30 in Sheraton Ballroom V and IX (does it sound we’re
Well, in the great Christian of hospitality, we’ve ordered
more places, so we will have more tickets available at the door on Sunday.
We hope you’ll come and find a place at the table!
the Witherspoon luncheon >>
Commissioner's Resolution submitted in support of Colombia accompaniment
The General Assembly will be receiving a
Commissioners' Resolution which praises efforts by the PC(USA), the
Presbyterian Church of Colombia and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to
provide volunteers to accompany church workers who are in danger because of
their work for human rights in Colombia.
The resolution also calls for continued support for the
accompaniment program, and urges changes in US policies and actions in
The text of the Resolution >>
For more news from GA, please go to
Joan Gray elected as moderator
Joan Gray after election
Photo by Dwight Blackstock
Wednesday evening from the four candidates for moderator of the PC(USA),
followed by an hour of their responding to questions from commissioners and
Youth Advisory Delegates, the General Assembly has just elected the Rev.
Joan Gray as its new Moderator.
She was elected on the third ballot, by a vote of 307 to
152 for the Rev. Deborah Block, 20 for the Rev. Tim Halverson, and 19 for
the Rev. Kerry Carson.
The first round of votes was remarkably close: Block
received 143, Gray 139, Halverson 113, and Carson 109.
More about Joan Grey: a "polity wonk" who sees hope for
the church in "a burning passion for God"
For some background on Joan Grey, you might look at
her responses to
the questions submitted by the Witherspoon Society to her and the
other three moderatorial candidates.
Gray has served seven churches in the Atlanta area, most
recently as interim pastor of College Park Presbyterian Church.
She has filled leadership positions at the presbytery and
General Assembly levels of the PC(USA). She was moderator of Greater Atlanta
presbytery for one term, and has served on numerous presbytery committees.
She has co-authored Presbyterian Polity for Church
Officers, and is known as an expert on church polity, having served on
the GA Advisory Committee on the Constitution, Moderator of the Permanent
Judicial Commission, Presbytery Council, and much more. She has held
teaching positions as adjunct faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary and
Johnson C. Smith Seminary, as well as teaching in the Princeton Theological
Seminary Continuing Education program. She has also served in pastoral
ministry in seven different congregations.
Nevertheless, in her opening statement to the General
Assembly, she made clear that "polity is not going to save us." She told of
her own experiences in working for the healing of "some congregations so
broken I almost despaired. But when we broadened our focus and threw
ourselves on the mercy of God, we began to move forward."
full story >>
See also the
News Service report on the election of Joan Gray >>
Surprise announcement electrifies Assembly
receives historic $150 million gift for church growth
Report from Presbyterian News Service
A Colorado businessman and elder has contributed a
historic $150 million gift to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) aimed at
helping presbyteries start new churches, transform struggling congregations
and develop new racial-ethic congregations.
The money from Stanley W. Anderson of Denver, CO, for the
new Loaves and Fishes Church Growth Fund will be distributed to presbyteries
through grants ranging from $250,000 to $1 million each. Presbyteries will
be required to apply for the grants and will have to match a portion of it.
Word of the money came through a surprise announcement Thursday that
electrified those attending the opening of the PC(USA)’s 217th General
Assembly here, prompting commissioners to stand and cheer.
Presbytery mission causes and Presbyterian seminaries will
also benefit from the money.
The rest of
the story >>
6/15/06 (2:00 am)
Witherspoon/Semper Reformanda pre-GA conversation
tackles a big question: What’s going on in the USA?
Prof. Mark Lewis Taylor of Princeton
Seminary answers with analysis of the "rise of an imperial triumvirate."
One of the first events of the
Presbyterian General Assembly on Wednesday, June14, was the gathering of
Witherspooners and many others at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham,
to hear Dr. Mark Taylor discuss the trends and troubles that are shaping
Americans’ lives today.
He explored what he sees as the three major
elements controlling America today: the radical Christian Right,
particularly the "theo-cons" who want to create a theocracy (or even a "Christocracy")
in the US; the "neo-cons" who have been dominant in the development of
American foreign policy during the Bush administration; and the high echelon
of corporate power. These three, the "triumvirate," interact and cooperate
with each other, especially since 9/11 shattered the "myth of American
safety," and drove people to search for new narratives to restore their
confidence and self-esteem as a nation. The triumvirate has met that need by
romanticising the American past and the present American State, and thus
harnessing "our peoples’ desire for belonging."
Taylor urged that progressives, if they are
to have any influence at all in the US, must offer a similar narrative. And
we must be aware of the danger of such narratives, blending religious and
political nationalism, can only lead farther to the right – as we have seen
in the rise of National Socialism in Germany, and more recently fascism in
See the full text of
Taylor’s talk in PDF format >>
Christian Israeli urges divestment
Before Taylor spoke, the group of some 80
people heard a short, powerful presentation from Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a
woman of Christian faith who describes herself as "half-Jewish," who is one
of the leaders of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. She spoke
of the devastation being wrought among Palestinians, as Israel has
demolished some 14,000 Palestinian homes in the last 40 years, in East
Jerusalem and the West Bank. "If that isn’t causing the terror, I don’t know
what is," she commented. "Israel is a militarized society, and change isn’t
going to come from within Israel.
Speaking of voices in the PC(USA) calling for constructive investment in
Israel/Palestine, instead of divestment, she told of a People to People
group in Israel that has worked for dialogue between Israelis and
Palestinians, and has urged the same kind of constructive investment. They
have recently changed their views, however, in the face of Israeli refusals
to give travel permits to Palestinians so the dialogue could continue. Now
they, too, see divestment as a necessary and helpful step.
Renewed PHEWA website offers much more information
If you’re looking for resources on many social and health
issues before the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Health, Education and
Welfare Association, with a greatly improved website may offer just what you
Just go to
www.pcusa.org/phewa, then click on
whatever the "PHEWA networks" link on the right side of the page. Then
choose whichever network you want. For instance, if you need information on
the Presbyterian view on abortion, click on the PARO link.
Or just click here
Former CIA Director will urge Presbyterians to oppose
The Institute for
Religion and Democracy, along with Presbyterian Action for Faith and
Freedom, and The Committee to End Divestment Now, is sponsoring an address
by R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, at 12:30 p.m. on Friday,
June 16th, at the Medical Forum (third floor).
Woolsey has spoken and written extensively on his view
that Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian territory is a mistake, and that
divestment from corporations supporting the Israeli occupation is also a
He brings an interesting and mixed background to this
presentation. You may want to attend, with full awareness of what will
be going on.
Noted author on civil rights struggles will speak at
Historical Society Luncheon, Tuesday, June 20
Taylor Branch - author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years
1954-63 - will be speaking at the Presbyterian Historical Society
Luncheon on Tuesday, June 20. This is the Pulitzer Prize winner whose book
includes Birmingham's civil rights struggles. (Good for the Historical
It is too late to order advance tickets and, when the word
gets out, it may be difficult to get tickets in Birmingham. But often in the
past "auditors" have been allowed in at luncheons even though they can't get
Thanks to Lynne Reade for calling our
attention to this important event.
The Voices of Sophia breakfast has had a
location change, from the Medical Forum to the Sheraton Ballroom XII.
Dr. Norman Finkelstein will visit GA to observe
deliberations on divestment
Dr. Norman Finkelstein, who recently sent
a letter to all
commissioners stating his support of the PC(USA) divestment discussions,
along with his book, Beyond Chutzpah, is planning to visit the
General Assembly and observe meetings of the Assembly Committee #11,
Peacemaking and International Issues, on Friday, June 16, where various
overtures from PCUSA Presbyteries relating to Israel/Palestine are to be
Two more statements support divestment
McGarvey calls for continued support of divestment
McGarvey, a Presbyterian minister who has recently
returned from last month's Steps Toward Peace conference, sees "the
Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza" as the real issue.
Middle East caucus urges reaffirmation of 2004
selective, phased divestment decision
Both investment and divestment needed, says group
Both investment and divestment must happen in order to
end hostilities in Israel and Palestine, the National Middle Eastern
Presbyterian Caucus (NMEPC) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said in a
newly released statement.
June 17 Peace Breakfast to "lay hands" on
the future of peacemaking
Letter from the Birmingham Assembly launches national campaign among
With multiple wars boiling, and another in the oven, the
62 year old Presbyterian Peace Fellowship will borrow the traditional
"laying on of hands" ceremony to bless a tower of cardboard boxes at its
Peace Breakfast on Saturday June 17 at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General
Assembly meeting in Birmingham, AL. The breakfast begins at 6:45 am at the
Sheraton Hotel. The boxes contain the first round of 2100 appeal
letters to members of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, seeking pledges
toward the $2 million goal of the Endowment Campaign.
The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has designated the
people who will serve as its
Strategists for GA
Souper Bowl nets $4.8 million for needy
PC(USA) congregations are super, raising a record $921,616
Souper Bowl of Caring officials say Presbyterian churches
collected nearly a million dollars in this year’s annual anti-hunger
campaign. As of June 8, organizers say, 2,387 Presbyterian churches had
raised a record $921,616 — and collections haven’t been fully reported.
Overall, more than 11,664 organizations and congregations
from a variety of U.S. religious denominations have reported collecting
$4,844,466, with donations from Presbyterians making up 19 percent of the
report from Presbyterian News Service >>
That All May Freely Serve urges support for Heartland Overture,
and calls for resistance to "[a]busive power,
which we strongly lament is not addressed by the Report of the Theological
Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity ..."
The statement adds:
Since TAMFS affirms elements of the authoritative
interpretation proposed by the Task Force to be appropriate constitutional
provisions (See longer response in "On
Not Growing Weary in Well-Doing".) of which governing bodies should be
aware, we believe it would be positive to raise the provisions of G-6.0108
up to presbyteries and sessions for their consideration in dealing with
candidates for ordination and/or installation.
The full text
of the TAMFS statement >>
More on Israel and Divestment
We recently posted
the text of a letter sent by Norman G.
Finkelstein, who teaches political science at DePaul University in Chicago,
to all GA commissioners. In his letter, speaking as a Jew, he urges
them to support the Presbyterian action on to consider
"a phased, selective divestment from companies profiting from Israel's
We have received numerous critical notes from people who,
also speaking as Jews, said that Finkelstein most definitely does not speak
for them, or for the vast majority of Jewish people in America. As a
non-expert in this area, your WebWeaver will not pretend to judge between
the very different points of view, but we will present three anti-divestment
Jewish groups cooperating to head off divestment
Here’s a report from The Jewish Week ("Serving
the Jewish Community of Greater New York") giving their view on the
current Presbyterian debate as it comes to the General Assembly.
The article quotes Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor,
inter-religious director for the Anti-Defamation League, as saying that
the real issue should not be divestment, but "how to deal with the
structural anti-Semitism that still exists in segments of the church that
allows for divestment and for this de-legitimization of Israel." We’re not
sure what that means, but it seems to be a pretty serious charge.
Another supporter of Israel directly
criticizes Finkelstein. She begins:
I was frankly surprised to find a letter from Norman
Finkelstein featured with approval on the Witherspoon Society page.
Finkelstein is a sort of crackpot intellectual, the fact that some of his
ideas are congenial is no excuse for mistaking describing him as a
The rest of
Ms. Appelbaum's note >>
Letter from 12 Jewish organizations urges
commissioners to oppose divestment
Another letter has also been sent to commissioners, not
by an individual, but by twelve large Jewish organizations. One friend
tells us that this represents what the "real Jewish community" in the
United States feels.
The organizations include the American Jewish Committee,
American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith
International, and more.
The text of the letter >>
Presbyterian immigration advocates will meet at GA
PFJI Network (Presbyterians for Just Immigration) meeting is Monday, June 19
from 12:30-2:30 in the North G meeting room at the Convention Center. They
invite you to take your lunch and join them. And if you know of anyone that
may be interested in attending, they urge you to pass this information along
Also, PFJI will have an exhibit booth in the North Exhibit Hall, Booth
New book critiques the American Empire in light of the
Commonwealth of God
Rita Nakashima Brock informs
us of a very interesting new book on American Empire:
The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God
offers a powerful critique of the rapidly emerging American empire. The book
discusses how the United States "is seeking to become the world's first
borderless empire" and how its expansionist policies constitute "the primary
threat to the survival of the human species."
The four co-authors,
David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb, Jr.,
Richard A. Falk and
Catherine Keller, put forth the political, economic and ecological
arguments as well as the religious-spiritual-moral ones.
Joseph C. Hough Jr., President and William E. Dodge
Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, says:
Three outstanding theologians and one of the world's
leading experts on international policy issues have joined forces to
deliver a scathing critique of the aims, policies, impact, and pretensions
of the American Empire. While their criticisms may be familiar to some
readers, it is their alternative futures that offer such a practical and
morally compelling alternative to the disaster that looms ahead. Anyone
concerned about the future of American world leadership must read this
For more information, and to order the book >>
NOTE: Dr. Brock will speak at the General
Assembly breakfast of
Voices of Sophia, Monday, June 19, 7:00 – 8:30 a.m.
On dealing with sexuality
issues, it's a question of ...
Response time ... and Collateral Damage
As the 217th General Assembly approaches,
this thoughtful reflection comes from a frequent Witherspoon visitor,
Karen Ellen Kavey, of Chappaqua, New York.
She writes: "sometimes I feel as though I'm calling the Fire
Department, only to be told: 'Perhaps ....if we can get a consensus....we
can come over next Tuesday (or Wednesday)....We're continuing to discuss
it.....We'll see....' "
So ... what are our real problems?
usual – umm – forthright way, Molly Ivins puts our country’s political scene
in perspective as she discusses "Flag Burning and Other Dubious Epidemics."
She believes that what we have here is a difference over
moral values. The Republicans are worried about the flag, gay marriage and
the terrible burden of the estate tax on the rich. The rest of us are
obviously unnecessarily worried about war, peace, the economy, the
environment and civilization.
The full article >>
A Jewish professor
of political science writes in support of divestment
Commissioners preparing for the coming
General Assembly have received great heaps of letters and other
communications from people and groups wanting them to hear their point of
view. And there may be just a few among those commissioners who have not
quite kept up with the paper flood.
But one letter in the flood is worth reading,
whether you’re a commissioner or not.
Norman G. Finkelstein, who teaches political
science at DePaul University in Chicago, has long paid attention to the
Israel-Palestine conflict, and has worked for lasting peace between the two
His letter reflects both his experience and
his concerns, and explains why he supports the Presbyterian study of the
possibility of what he rightly calls "a phased, selective divestment from
companies profiting from Israel's occupation."
A note from your WebWeaver:
On the end
As far as we can tell from Minnesota, on this dreaded
6-6-6 date, the world hasn't ended yet. Of course, there's still time.
But we'll venture a predication that we're safe. From that
threat, at least. And then again, if we're wrong, who's going to be
around to criticize?
No2Torture’s Chicago gathering – an infusion of energy
and insight, new directions for action
The No2Torture network held a gathering in Chicago on June 2-3, and Carol
Wickersham sent her reflections on the event. She begins:
The Chicago gathering was an infusion of new energy, new allies and
fresh strategy. Our speakers brought deep insight and new dimensions to
the issue. From Christology, to politics, to legal and military
concerns, we were stretched and filled. And we were fed in spirit by
wonderful music and worship, and in body – with lasagna and more! For
me, one of the most moving moments was during worship when Adriana
Portillo-Bartow shared what it means to her as a torture survivor for
the church to take action on this issue. As I listened to her it was
clear to me that discouragement is not an option. We cannot give up on
But some not-so-good news on torture:
will skip Geneva Convention detainee rule
The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of
the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading
treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would
mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to
international human rights standards.
The L A Times
As immigration bill heads to committee,
NALACC points out serious flaws
Los Angeles, May 30, 2006 – The National
Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) expressed
disappointment at the complicated Senate "compromise" immigration bill
passed in the Senate last week. The Senate’s immigration reform bill is
inhumane and unrealistic, and will foolishly fasten into law strategies that
have failed repeatedly to fix the nation’s broken immigration system,
National Farm Worker Ministry announces:
NFWM Young Adult Leadership Development &
Farm Worker Solidarity Summit
JULY 14, 15, & 16 of 2006, National Chavez
Center, Keene, California
More information >>
|Budget and staff cuts are regrettable at many levels
A comment by Witherspoon Issues Analyst Gene TeSelle
The General Assembly Council (GAC), on the basis of recommendations by
Executive Director John Detterick, has made drastic staff cuts and
reorganized its agencies, citing a serious budget shortfall.
We want first to express our sympathy with and concern for those who are
being terminated at various stages of their careers, and for those who
remain in positions that will be more demanding and stressful than ever.
Homosexuality and the Bible are debated as vote comes June 6 on
Associated Press writer Richard N. Ostling outlines
briefly the main arguments on both sides of the debates about same-sex
marriage, with The
Religious Coalition for Marriage gathering an unusual collection of
churches demanding a constitutional amendment, and opposition to such an
amendment being coordinated by
Clergy for Fairness, which draws support from the Episcopal Church
majority, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association,
liberal Judaism and the largely gay Metropolitan Community Churches, among
The full report >>
sinned and saw The Da Vinci Code
Berry Craig, history prof and journalist, takes a keen
(and light-hearted) look at the reactions of his religious-right neighbors
to The Da Vinci Code. And through them he offers observations on the
alarms being sounded by James Dobson and Focus on the Family, who don't seem
able to accept the novel and the film as fiction.
Montreat conference will assess hope, future of the PC(USA)
Seminary presidents, former GA moderators head
participants list for early-July summit
Presbyterian News Service provides more information on the
high-powered Presbyterian church leaders planning to gather at Montreat
Conference Center next month to dialogue and share visions for the future of
The North Carolina-based center is hosting "The Hope of
the Church: Celebrating Common Ground" July 5-8 as a consultation for church
leaders and laity across the U.S. Fifteen GA moderators, the 11 PC(USA)
seminary presidents or their representatives and various pastors, elders and
lay leaders will address four key questions during the event in an effort to
share ideas and network.
The four questions are: How is the church being called to
transform itself? How is the church being called to transform the world?
What is God calling the next generation of pastors to do to faithfully serve
the church in the future? What are the opportunities for ministering to a
diverse and multicultural, 21st century church?
Ross Kinsler’s book God’s Economy wins
award from Catholic Press Association
Orbis Books has just announced that the Catholic Press
Association has given a Book Award, Third Place in the category of
Scripture, to God's Economy: Biblical Studies from Latin America.
The citation reads:
Real progressive and lasting social transformation
ought to be rooted in the Bible. Latin America, profoundly religious, is
fertile ground for cultivating such transformation. Over the past 30
years especially, popular reading and study of the Bible has stirred
human hearts and renewed hope for positive change so that Latin America
represents hope for all America. No one puts such hope into words better
than Orbis Books. The essays in the volume are an eloquent expression of
More on Ross and Gloria Kinsler's
PC(USA) membership declines, giving is up
Membership loss is largest since 1975
The Presbyterian News Service reports that membership in
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
declined by more than 2 percent in 2005, but total giving to the church
increased by more than 5 percent, topping $3 billion for the first time.
The full story >>
Maybe Mexicans should try alternatives for
David Rossie, associate editor of the
Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin, puts tongue firmly in cheek to
suggest that any Mexicans really wanting to move to the USA should go south,
and join the army in one of the countries that is still rightist enough to
gain US still support. Then if they join one of the death squads, they may
rise in the ranks and be invited to the School of the Americas (now the
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). Then they can return
to their military service until the country moves a bit to the left, then be
given asylum in the US. Home free!
The whole article >>
Thanks to Len Bjorkman
All postings from
Our coverage of the 2006 General
Assembly is indexed on a special page.
For links to earlier archive pages,
ratified (or not) by the presbyteries
A number of the most important actions of the 219th
General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their
action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book
We're providing resources to help inform the
reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.
Our three areas of primary interest are:
which would remove the current ban on
lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as
possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.|
which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of
10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government
that was approved by the Assembly. |
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Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New
York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive
New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the
Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian
Church in Flushing, NY.
John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive
A Presbyterian minister, currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!