Archives for July 2008
This page lists our postings from all of July
For an index to all our reports
on the 219th General Assembly
For links to
all our archive pages, listed by months,
|Witherspoon stands with UUs in Knoxville
To our UU sisters and brothers in Knoxville –
It takes courage – and firm hope – to stand for
justice and the inclusion of all people in the family of faith. You
all have taken just that kind of positive stand, and tragically you
have paid a high price. We salute you, and as a group of progressive
Presbyterians we stand with you. May the Creator’s love sustain you
all in these hard days.
for the Board of the Witherspoon Society
This message has just been posted to the
Church leaders lift up
Knoxville faith community in wake of shootings
by Jerry L. Van Marter,
Presbyterian News Service
Four top leaders of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.) have sent a letter to all of the denomination’s
congregations asking them to pray for those affected by the
shootings in a Knoxville, TN, church on Sunday (July 27).
here for the full text of the letter,
dated July 29 and signed by the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of
the 218th General Assembly; the Rev. Byron Wade, vice-moderator of
the 218th General Assembly; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of
the General Assembly and Elder Linda Valentine, executive director
of the General Assembly Council.
|Presbyterians stand with Unitarian
Universalists in Knoxville
others injured by a man angry at "liberals"
You’ve doubtless seen reports of the shooting at a
Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Sunday
morning, July 27.
you or your congregation might respond >>
Here’s one Associated Press report on the killing >>
The report begins:
An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening
fire at a Unitarian church, killing two people, left behind a
note suggesting that he targeted the congregation out of hatred
for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays,
authorities said Monday.
A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson's
small SUV indicated he intentionally targeted the Tennessee
Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because, the police chief
said, "he hated the liberal movement" and was upset with
"liberals in general as well as gays."
Adkisson, a 58-year-old truck driver on the
verge of losing his food stamps, had 76 rounds with him when he
entered the church and pulled a shotgun from a guitar case
during a children's performance of the musical "Annie."
more comments and responses >>
If you have news or comments to add
on this attack on a community of faith,
send a note,
to be shared here.
"Ordination Question" in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Presbyterians prepare to consider in their presbyteries the proposed
amendment to the Book of Order, which would broaden and deepen the
notion of conditions for ordination – and would eliminate the narrow
ban on homosexuality which was put in place in 1997 – it may help to
have a sense of the long and winding path the church has followed in
dealing with the question of sexuality and ordination.
TeSelle has prepared this brief chronology to help us navigate that
|It's Not the
An Iranian Christian considers U.S. threats to her country
Noushin Darya Framke, a Presbyterian from
Iran, has been a member of the PC(USA) for 20 years. She is an elder
in Newark Presbytery and a member of the Presbytery's Middle East
She has been a member of the Advocacy Committee
for Racial Ethnic Concerns of PC(USA) and has been its chair for the
last year. In addition she is active with the Israel-Palestine
Mission Network. She writes this, however, as an individual, to
describe how she feels these days, hearing the constant calls for
the U.S. to “bomb bomb Iran.”
Prayer,” long attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, may have come from
earlier sources, many of them women
R. Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, has used
online research methods to trace the sources of misattributed
quotations. He did this for the Serenity Prayer, usually ascribed to
Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943. But he finds it used by several women in a
variety of obscure local newspaper reports in the 1930s. Either
Niebuhr used it then, without remembering, or it was, as he himself
said, "spooking around for years, even centuries." It looks as
though the latter alternative is correct and it has what Shapiro
calls "a deep, traditional ancestry."
Niebuhr's daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, points out that
he was on the "YMCA/YWCA circuit" for many years in the 1920s and
1930s and that this could have been the source of this oral
tradition among women leaders.
Read the article in Yale Alumni Magazine >>
You can support Marriage
More Light Presbyterians is absolutely committed
to marriage equality in the Church and in civil society.
As part of the National LGBT Equality Movement,
More Light Presbyterians works in partnership and collaboration with
many other organizations that are committed to spiritual, marriage
and civil equality for LGBT persons and their families. One of those
organizations is the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice
The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality,
Justice and Healing has launched a national campaign to support
marriage equality through an "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on
Marriage Equality." The campaign invitation to clergy who support
marriage equality follows this call for faithful consideration and
endorsement of it from More Light Presbyterians.
For more information, to sign on now,
We posted a link to this call
earlier, and are happy to add MLP’s support of it.
reports minister’s “grassroots response” to withhold money from
Like, this is a new and
creative idea?? Shouldn't the Layman claim some credit
for pushing this for years?
The Layman’s report >>
218th General Assembly has opened doors to a new future
for the Presbyterian Church
Let’s help the PC(USA) move through those doors!
Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst, writes: "The actions
of the 2008 General Assembly suggest that the tide has turned in the
Presbyterian Church. ..."
analyzes the significant steps toward making the ordination process
more open and fair, looks at the announced plans of the Presbyterian
Right to oppose those steps, and suggests ways we might move forward
to bring a truly inclusive church closer to reality during the
months ahead, as presbyteries will be considering their responses to
the proposed amendments to the Book of Order.
article, along with other helpful material >>
|Religious leaders speak out for marriage equality
This invitation for action has come to us from the
Rev. Cedric A. Harmon, Associate Field Director for Religious
Outreach, Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
I am sharing with you an opportunity to
express your support for Marriage Equality at this highly
politicized moment. As each of you know there are several ballot
initiatives under consideration that would invalidate existing
and/or prohibit future marriages between persons of the same
gender. The Religious Institute for Sexual Morality Justice and
Healing (on whose Board I serve) is seeking to demonstrate that
there is significant support for Marriage Equality among
ordained clergy. If you are so inclined; please
your name to the attached endorsement statement and share
this with your peers.
The goal is to collect a substantial list of
signers by August 15, 2008. The Religious Institute will
publicize the level of religious support through media outlets
and print media in advance of this fall’s election. I appreciate
any assistance you can offer in this effort to present an honest
assessment of communities of faith on this issue.
The full text of the letter, which offers a strong, concise
statement of the reasons for “ending the exclusion of samesex
couples from the legal institution of marriage,” is posted in PDF
|Don Stroud summarizes
General Assembly actions on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT)
A long-time leader in
That All May Freely Serve, Stroud opens his thorough analysis with
As an observer and advocate for LGBT
issues at the 218th General Assembly (GA) meeting in San Jose, CA,
June 21-28, 2008, it is my assessment that the 218th GA took
decisive positive actions to begin to dismantle the oppressive, long
divisive and debilitating homophobia that has plagued the PC(USA) as
a denomination for the past thirty years.
Following a helpful explanation of
some of the terms that were used in the discussions, he deals with
the Assembly’s actions:
• on the ordination and/or installation of LGBT members,
• on the Overture from John Knox Presbytery to provide an
“authoritative interpretation” on the 217th GA’s AI on G-6.0108,
commonly called the “scruple process” for individual candidates for
ordination and/or installation,
• on various overtures to correct the translation problems of
the Heidelberg Catechism,
• and on overtures to amend the Directory for Worship regarding
the definition of marriage, and to affirm equal rights for families
of same-gender partners and call for an in-depth study on marriage.
The full report is available in PDF format >>
Presbyterian Peacemaking Program Update
for July 14, 2008
The 2008 Peacemaking Conference
is going on right now.
Follow events at
into Plowshares, the Peacemaking Program’s Blog
Much more on items such as ...
The Stony Point
Peacemaking Colloquium on Gospel Values and Gun Violence (September
The Colombia Free
Trade Act (FTA)
Coming events ....
you concerned about consumerism, the # 1 god of our culture?
(Well, you may have some
other candidates in mind for Deity # 1, but this one is certainly a
Then you need to hear the wondrous and liberating message of the
Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
Wikipedia introduces him:
The Church of
Stop Shopping is an activist performance group based in New York
City, led by Reverend Billy, the stage name of Bill Talen. Using
the form of a revival meeting, on sidewalks and in chain stores,
Reverend Billy and his gospel choir exhort consumers to abandon
the products of large corporations and mass media; the group
also preaches a broader message of economic justice,
environmental protection, and anti-militarism, protesting
sweatshops and the Iraq War. Though it continues its street
theatre activities, the Church has also appeared on stage and
has toured internationally.
Check out Rev. Billy’s website >>
You can find there a
brief “statement of
One of his latest
preachments is titled
Just send a
to be shared here!
|PC(USA) Department of Constitutional Services
offers advisory opinions on GA actions
Department of Constitutional Services, part of the Office of the
General Assembly, has issued an Advisory Opinion which states what
actions of the 218th GA, dealing with Book of Order
provisions G-6.0106b and G-6.0108, are taking effect immediately,
and which ones, as constitutional amendments, must be approved by a
majority of the presbyteries before they might take effect.
Briefly, the new Authoritative Interpretation of
G-6.0106b has gone into effect immediately following the Assembly.
That means that earlier AIs, beginning with 1978 and 1979, which
state that “[f]or the church to ordain a self-affirming, practicing
homosexual person to ministry would be to act in contradiction to
its charter and calling in Scripture,” are no longer in effect.
However, the “fidelity and chastity” requirement
set forth in G-6.0106b does remain in effect, until it is removed
from the Book of Order by the approval of a majority of the
presbyteries. That action must be taken within one year from the
conclusion of the 218th General Assembly.
The Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 also
takes effect immediately. This allows a candidate for ordination to
declare a departure (or “scruple”) from a standard of either
belief or practice on grounds of conscience. It is still a matter
for the examining body to “give prayerful and careful consideration,
on an individual, case-by-case basis,” to any such departure – but
the recent GAPJC decision in the case of Bush v. Presbytery of
Pittsburgh, which rejected any departure in matters of behavior, is
The full Advisory Opinions note >>
|From the Washington Office:
Urge Congress: Talk, Not War, with Iran
The dangerous climate created by the current
tensions between the United States and Iran could lead to war. Both
governments need to commit to diplomatic talks to ease the tensions
and reduce the likelihood of armed conflict.
A majority of the U.S. public supports diplomacy
with Iran, but members of Congress have introduced legislation that
could lead to war. New legislation in the House (H.Con. Res. 362)
calls for new sanctions on Iran and demands that the president
initiate a partial land, sea, and air blockade of Iran. A blockade,
even a partial one, is an act of war.
At last month’s General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a resolution was adopted opposing
preemptive war with Iran, either by the United States or any other
nation. The Assembly supported peaceful, diplomatic means of
resolving the tensions developing as a result of Iran’s pursuit of
its nuclear program. And, it called for direct, unconditional
negotiations between the United States and Iran with the goal of
finding and implementing a peaceful resolution.
The threat of a war with Iran will continue to
grow if the United States does not take steps now to open
communication with the Iranian government.
Urge your representative to oppose more sanctions
and any blockade against Iran.
|A letter from the new Moderator
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, who was elected Moderator
of the 218th General Assembly, is an energetic and committed
communicator. He has just sent a letter to the church as a
whole, which we share here as a sample of the thinking he seems to
bring to his new role.
I don’t know about you, but I
may have reached my post-GA punditry and analysis saturation
point. While I understand the cathartic need to vent and react,
I do think that at some point we must begin moving from where we
were to where we are going. And honestly, we all need a break
from some of the intensity lest we get caught up in our own
little bubble and lose sight of larger issues and/or we begin to
actually do damage to the very things we are trying to build up.
I know that as I get to feeling a little overwhelmed, it usually
means that I have been forgetting to nurture one or more of my
spiritual disciplines. I KNOW that I need to get out and ride
more, I can’t wait for my next spiritual direction appointment
and, good golly, I need to ramp up my prayer life.
The whole letter >>
|Lay Committee issues “a call to arms”
Reacting to the recent General Assembly, the
Presbyterian Layman has published a statement by their Board of
Directors, titled “A call to arms.”
After listing some of the Assembly actions which
they say “violate the faith and life of Biblical Christianity,” they
then “urge the sessions of faithful congregations to take the
• Form alliances with like-minded churches in your
presbytery. There is strength in numbers. A call to arms is a call
• Restrict all mission and per capita gifts to ministries
that are trusted by your congregation, and do not send undesignated
money in any form to denominational entities, boards or agencies.
• Be prepared to defend the property rights of your
congregation against claims of ownership by the PCUSA.”
The full statement >>
We note that none of these actions is new on the
part of the Lay Committee, though their rhetoric seems to be a bit
more bellicose than usual.
Religious Right — from anti-integration to anti-abortion
Randall Balmer’s 2006 book, Thy Kingdom Come: How
the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America,
offers an interesting view of how the Religious Right only slowly
coalesced around opposition to women’s right to choose, over a
decade after the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. They
constructed an “abortion myth,” he argues, to convince the American
people that they had been united in opposing abortion all along. In
fact, many evangelicals either ignored the Supreme Court action, or
supported it, until the 1980s.
The abortion myth serves as a convenient fiction because it suggests
noble and altruistic motives behind the formation of the Religious
Right. But it is highly disingenuous and renders absurd the argument
of the leaders of Religious Right that, in defending the rights of
the unborn, they are the "new abolitionists." The Religious Right
arose as a political movement for the purpose, effectively, of
defending racial discrimination at Bob Jones University and at other
segregated schools. Whereas evangelical abolitionists of the
nineteenth century sought freedom for African Americans, the
Religious Right of the late twentieth century organized to
perpetuate racial discrimination. (Pp. 16-17)
This book is
Click on Chapter 1 to read the material mentioned
|WCC young adult internship positions announced
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Warmest greetings from the World Council of
We are happy to inform you about the ways young
adults can be involved with the World Council of Churches'
Internships in Geneva, Switzerland. The WCC will select five (5)
young people between the ages of 18-30 years, to work in different
program areas of the WCC from February 2009 to January 2010. The
Internships provide an opportunity for ecumenical learning and work
experience in an international, ecumenical setting. This opportunity
is ideal for young people who are actively involved in the church
and are interested in learning more about WCC and ecumenism. The WCC
internships are a chance for young people to develop their
professional skills and capacities in order to better serve the
churches locally. We request WCC intern applicants to develop an
ecumenical project idea that they can implement when they return
from Geneva to their home community and church. This is a way to
ensure that the ecumenical movement is strengthened at a local level
with the churches’ support.
The five (5) WCC internships available in 2009
1. Accompanying Churches in Situations of Conflict
2. Youth and Ecumenical Relationships
3. Visitors Program/Media Relations
4. Faith, Science, Technology and Ethics
5. Faith and Order
Application forms are available on the youth page
of the WCC website:
The deadline for applications for these 5
internship positions is September 15th 2008.
|California United Methodists react to same-sex
A United Methodist News Service
On the heels of a California Supreme Court ruling
that opened the door to same-gender unions, two United Methodist
legislative bodies in California have approved gay-friendly
statements that are stretching the denominational promise of "open
hearts, open minds, open doors."
The church's California-Pacific Annual Conference,
convening June 18-22 in Redlands, approved three measures that
support same-gender couples entering into the marriage covenant.
Each "encourages both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace
and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families,"
according to a June 27 letter to the conference from Bishop Mary Ann
Swenson and other conference leaders.
That same week in Sacramento, the
California-Nevada Annual Conference approved two measures on the
same issue, including one that lists 67 retired United Methodist
clergy in northern California who have offered to conduct
same-gender marriage ceremonies. The resolution commends the
pastors' work in offering continued ministry.
The statements are the strongest yet on the issue
by California United Methodists and have drawn cheers from gay
rights advocates, who say the church and its pastors should extend
to same-sex couples the same level of support it provides
Others say the conferences are on the verge of
breaking a Scripturally based covenant with the rest of the 11.5
million-member worldwide denomination. The United Methodist Church,
while affirming all people as persons "of sacred worth," considers
the practice of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian
teaching." Its policy book, called the Book of Discipline, prohibits
its pastors and churches from conducting ceremonies celebrating
The full story >>
|New material added on Heidelberg Catechism
The Rev. John E. Harris, who authored an essay on the
discussions surrounding the translation of the Heidelberg Catechism,
has added some new material from Dr. Christopher Elwood.
|Responding to Gene TeSelle's report on the 218th
The Rev. John Shuck comments
on Gene TeSelle’s report on the Assembly, focusing on the increasing
number of legal cases over property issues, brought by congregations
choosing to leave the denomination. He concludes:
don't think it is going to work this time. I think the great middle
of the church is on to the right wing and their fear-mongering. That
is why the right is so desperate and so apocalyptic. Belittling gays
as a theological and political weapon is old, tired news. The threat
of putting a gun to the denomination's head if we ordain gays is
less fearful than it was a few years ago.
This General Assembly has shown that Presbyterians are not afraid
this time. People will vote with their conscience. As for those who
cannot possibly remain Presbyterian if we ordain gays, well, there
is the door. But you are not going to take the denomination down
with you on your way out.
Changing G-6.0106b has an excellent chance to pass in the
presbyteries. The new paragraph is far superior theologically to the
old. I think people are going to get that.
Read Shuck’s comment in full here >>
And we encourage you to visit his blog site >>
|Three responses to the GA actions moving toward a
more just, more inclusive, more faithful church
a joint news release, That All May Freely Serve, Covenant
Network Presbyterians, and More Light Presbyterians celebrate
that "Presbyterians move toward full equality for lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender clergy and members."|
The Covenant Network proclaims:
"Good News from G.A. 218"|
More Light Presbyterians "Applaud
General Assembly Action," welcoming all to service in the
Special Report on the
2008 General Assembly
This is being sent (in a shorter version, in print)
to Witherspoon Society Members and Friends
Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon
Society Issues Analyst, begins his customary wrap-up on the
previous General Assembly, in 2006, was relatively cautious,
electing a middle-of-the-road Moderator and adopting the
recommendations of the Theological Task Force (specifically its
interpretation of G-6.0108) by a close margin.
Assembly indicates a turning of the tide. It elected a Moderator who
was clearly progressive and forward-looking, and most of the
moderatorial candidates assumed that the framework of discussion was
the pluralism encouraged by the last Assembly's action. It approved
a number of measures that move the church ahead, including several
changes to the Book of Order, though it is also clear that these
will be highly contested in the presbyteries. It elected a new
Stated Clerk who decried "fear" inside and outside the church; he
represents continuity and a reaffirmation of the Kirkpatrick
approach. A strong social witness was also affirmed, including a new
"Social Creed for the 21st Century."
of the specific events and actions he discusses include:
For an index to all our reports
on the 219th General Assembly
For links to
all our archive pages, listed by months,
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.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
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
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
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!