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Archive for April, 2009

This page lists our postings from all of April

For an index to all our reports
from the 218th General Assembly

For an index to all our reports from the
Witherspoon conference on global mission and justice >>

Earlier in April, 2010
March, 2010
February, 2010
January, 2010
December, 2009
November, 2009
October, 2009
September, 2009

August, 2009
July, 2009
all of June
May, 2009

April, 2009
March, 2009

February, 2009
January, 2009
December, 2008
November, 2008
October, 2008
September, 2008
August, 2008
July, 2008
June, 2008
May, 2008
April, 2008
March, 2008
February, 2008
January, 2008

For links to earlier archive pages, click here.

This just in ....

Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons joins call for review of post-9/11 interrogations

Letter to President Obama urges non-partisan Commission of Inquiry

by Mark Koenig, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service

Louisville – April 30, 2009 – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons joined church leaders and human rights activists calling President Obama to create a Commission of Inquiry to review interrogation policies and practices of the United States in the years after Sept. 11, 2001.

"The God who made us all, is also the God to whom we are all answerable for how we treat each of God's children," Parsons wrote in his April 23 letter.

The letter specifically asks the president "to work with Congress to establish a non-partisan Commission of Inquiry" to conduct the review of Bush Administration interrogation policies and practices. It was delivered to President Obama and U.S. Congressional leaders.

Parsons based his call on an action of the 217th General Assembly (2006) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in response to an overture from San Francisco Presbytery. The Assembly called on Congress to "convene an investigative body with the independence, stature, and broad investigative powers of the September 11th Commission to inquire into whether any official or officer of the United States government bears direct or command responsibility for having ordered or participated in violations of law in the mistreatment of persons detained by the government of the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib Prison, or elsewhere or in transporting persons into detention in nations with known records of brutality and torture; to publish its findings and, if appropriate, to recommend the appointment of a special prosecutor if one has not been previously appointed."

Parsons acknowledged that the Executive Order to Ensure Legal Interrogations issued by President Obama is "an important step in preventing the use of torture against individuals in the custody of the United States in the future."     More >>

House passes Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Statement of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy on the passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act:

Washington, DC - Interfaith Alliance President, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement praising the passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hate is neither a religious nor an American value, and that is why Interfaith Alliance praises the House for passing this hate crimes bill. The sacred scriptures of many different faith traditions speak with dramatic unanimity in vehemently condemning hate. If we aspire to be true to the prophetic core of our religions and our American values, we cannot condemn hate and then sit idly by while it destroys the lives of a group of our fellow citizens.

To be sure, legislation alone cannot remove hatred from our midst, but passage of comprehensive hate crimes legislation will send a clear message about America's common values - that we utterly reject hate violence and embrace an America in which diverse people are safe as well as free. Interfaith Alliance calls on the Senate to follow the House's lead and send this bill to the president without delay.    More >>

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, urges ...

Stand with President Obama on Israel and Iran

If you're one of President Obama's supporters on the Middle East, Congress needs to hear from you right now.

Send an email to your representatives in Congress that you support President Obama's policy in the Middle East - both on the Arab-Israeli conflict and on Iran.

Some in Congress may consider opposing the President under the false impression that that's what Jewish Americans and other friends of Israel want.

They're wrong.

In fact, over 70% of Jewish Americans support President Obama's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Middle East. We would prefer if Obama went further--and clearly articulated a U.S. vision of what a just and fair peace agreement would look like. We are concerned that he may be dragged into giving US approval to a "peace process" that is little more than endless negotiations, while Netanyahu and Lieberman expand the settlements on the West Bank. So we want Obama to move beyond his current plans. He certainly won't do that if he faces a Congress that tells him that the US can't even engage in negotiations with the Palestinian unity government!    More >>

The Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
April 30, 2009

This week's messages are —

bullet Update on the Budget
bulletUrge Congress to Make U.S. Foreign Assistance More Effective!
bulletDon't Forget to Register: Churches for Middle East Peace Conference
bullet Psalm 9: 5-12 – The Lord Judges with Equity
From the Campaign for Fair Food:

CIW and Bon Appétit forge agreement

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and sustainable foodservice leader Bon Appétit Management Company have forged a new model for fair labor standards in Florida's tomato fields! The new model for advancing farmworkers' rights includes a new "minimum fair wage" provision, new practices to protect against wage fraud, worker empowerment, worker safety, and third-party monitoring which that also involves farmworkers. Read all the details as well as the Washington Post article on the agreement at . More >>

More in this update from the Campaign for Fair Food:

1. CIW and Bon Appétit Forge Agreement
2. Human Trafficking Training at Presbytery of Charlotte
3. Register for "The Big Tent" in Atlanta, June 11-13, 2009
4. 40th Anniversary of Presbyterian Hunger Program

From Seeking Peace --
updates from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program

Reports from Refugees International indicate that South Sudan is nearing collapse as a result of the influx of nearly 2 million Sudanese who have returned since 2002 to the homes and villages they were forced to abandon during a 21-year civil war.
Contact your senators and representatives and ask them to lead the international effort to identify an emergency rescue package to address the current budget shortfall of the Government of Southern Sudan; increase funding to help reintegrate returnees to south Sudan and help them earn an income; and maintain humanitarian funding to respond to emergency needs as well as chronic problems.

Get situation updates on Sudan from the Sudan Advocacy Action Forum. Read the history of how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has been in ministry with the people of Sudan for over 100 years.

Learn more about Sudan today.

The freedom to marry is at the heart of Christianity

The Rev. Dr.  Marvin M. Ellison, who Christian ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary, published a brief opinion piece recently in the Bangor Daily News, as the Maine legislature is moving toward consideration of a same-sex marriage bill.

He begins:

As a Christian theologian, I support marriage equality because I take the Bible seriously. More importantly, I take the God of the Bible seriously. The God I worship has a divine passion for justice that compels me to respect all neighbors and defend their human rights, including the freedom to marry regardless of the gender of the two people.

This freedom to marry is important because my religious tradition teaches that love — the call to love and be loved — is at the very heart of what it means to be human. Love is also holy ground. “Where there is love,” the tradition affirms, “there is God.”   More >>

More on marriage equality >>

Late news

Two more presbyteries shift to support Amendment 08-B

In their meetings today, the presbyteries of Lehigh (Eastern Pennsylvania, by a vote of 60-46-2) and Detroit (by 141-92) brought the number of presbyteries switching from their 2001-2 opposition to 30, and the total approving Amendment 08-B to 71.

Thanks to Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network

More on Amendment 08-B >>

Join a Presbyterian blog session on gun violence

Presbyterian Church Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow is setting up a “Presbyterian Bloggers Unite” group and inviting people to join in sharing their experiences, ideas, and resources on different issues.   For more information >>

bulletThe May 1 session will focus on poverty
bulletThe June 1 session will consider issues of church, state and politics
bulletThe July 1 session will look at gun violence
bulletAnd the August 1 session will deal with environmental issues

Witherspoon Board member Catherine Snyder especially encourages people to join the session on gun violence, to share their experiences of gun violence and its impact on their communities, to talk about ways people are acting to address issues of gun violence, and to mobilize people for action.   Click here to join >>

Amendment 08-B will not be approved, but the struggle for a more just and inclusive PC(USA) will continue  
by Doug King, your WebWeaver

On Saturday, April 25, the number of presbyteries voting against Amendment 08-B reached a total of 87, which constitutes a majority of presbyteries, and thus defeats the proposed amendment of the Book of Order. Amendment 08-B, which would have removed the explicit ban on ordination of LGBT members of the church, will still be voted on in a number of presbyteries, and it’s important to keep working on those votes, for they will be counted in the final tally.

The Presbytery de Cristo (Southern Arizona and Southwest New Mexico) maintained its previous support (59-48), but Sierra Blanca (Eastern New Mexico) did not (23-30), becoming the second presbytery (after San Francisco) to shift from previously supporting inclusion to opposing it in this vote. Also, the Presbyteries of Boise (Southwest Idaho, by a vote of 25-34) and Northern Plains (North Dakota, by 21-33) continued their rejection of the change in ordination standards.

The current tally stands at 69 in favor of 08-B, with 88 having voted against. (Actually, three of the “No” votes were ties, which are counted as No votes.)

Fifteen other presbyteries have yet to vote, and judging by past actions, at least five of them seem likely to support the change.

So what's next?  Click here for reports and commentary from Presbyterian Outlook, the Rev. Janet Edwards, More Light Presbyterians, the Rev. John Shuck, your WebWeaver Doug King, and more.


Christian Peace Witness for Iraq is Wednesday, April 29, in Washington, DC.

For the latest information on the event, and links to more, click here >>

The latest email update from CPWI says, among other things:

We have prepared for April 29 for many months. Our advocacy team is amazed at the timing of our visits to work for funds for Iraqi refugees and reconstruction. The President will be in the White House and his 8:00 p.m. press conference coincides with our witness outside the White House at Lafayette Park. ...

Our timing could not have been better. President Obama's supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan will be the focus of our advocacy. The supplemental shows no strategic shift towards "smart power" and the non-military spending for refugees and reconstruction is in danger of being stripped out. In addition to our conversation on the supplemental spending, Advocacy training will include talking points on the Commission of Inquiry, diplomacy with Iran, and codifying the Status of Forces Agreement.

Hugo Chávez’ gift to Obama is worth our attention

When Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, on his first meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama, presented him with a book about Latin American history, U.S. reports expressed some sense of offense and some puzzlement, but people who know the book see it as “a brilliant idea” of a gift, to quote Richard Gott, writing for The Guardian/UK.

Gott opens his article:

Some surprise has been expressed in the Anglo-Saxon world that should have presented a book to Barack Obama by Eduardo Galeano. Ignorance can be the only defence, the very fault that the had earlier accused his US counterpart of suffering from. For Galeano is one of the most well-known and celebrated writers in Latin America, up there with Gabriel García Márquez, and his huge output of fact and fiction, as well as his journalism, has been published all over the continent. His books have been continuously in print since the 1960s, read voraciously by successive generations. 


It was a brilliant idea of Chávez's to give Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America to Obama, since this book, first published in 1971, encapsulates a radical version of the history of Latin America with which most Latin Americans are familiar. Its subtitle, “Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” gives a flavour of its contents, which discuss the way in which Latin America has been dominated and exploited by its European invaders (and later by US corporations) for hundreds of years. For the full essay >>

What sort of spirituality might be shaped by an ecological consciousness?

Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries offers some answers to this provocative question in his most recent Eco-Justice Notes.

Enough for Everyone offers resources for Green Living, and suggestions for action on climate change legislation

Melanie Hardison, staff person for the Enough for Everyone program of the PC(USA), sends this update:

Hundreds of Presbyterian churches and families around the country have changed their light bulbs, started carpooling to church and are buying more local foods -- actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and leave a smaller footprint on God's Creation. Each individual, church and local community has a contribution to make in the effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Green Living

Consider deepening your involvement and celebrating every day as Earth Day. Check out our Green Living materials as a place to get started.

bulletEngage with family, friends, your Sunday school class or other small group to share ideas, discuss and pray together. 
bulletForm a discussion group with interested members of your congregation or community. 
bullet Post your own ideas and practices online -- and help expand our materials.
bulletJoin the organization Alternatives for Simple Living. They provide excellent recommendations for educational materials on simple, joyful and green living.

Climate Legislation

Washington OfficeOver the next month, the House of Representatives will consider legislation that addresses the United States' disproportionate contribution to global climate change emissions. Celebrate the glorious gift of God's Creation and our responsibility to care for it by contacting your members of Congress through the Presbyterian Washington Office. The sample letter provided is based on PC(USA) policy. In an ecumenical effort through Church World Service, you can also encourage the President to support a national climate response and to engage in international climate negotiations in good faith.

Upcoming opportunities for engagement on green living and climate change include:
bullet Embracing God's Call to Be Green (the Presbyterians for Restoring Creation biennial conference) at Montreat, July 7-11
bullet Climate of Fear, Climate of Hope at Ghost Ranch, July 27-August 2.


Melanie Hardison
Enough for Everyone
(888) 728-7228 x5626

Enough for Everyone is a partnership ministry of the following General Assembly Council agencies:

bullet Presbyterian Hunger Program
bullet Presbyterian Peacemaking Program
bullet Self-Development of People
bullet Women's Ministries
bullet Presbyterian Women
Memorial service set for Carl Dudley 

Pastor, educator was innovative leader in connecting church, community 

Jerry L. Van Marter of Presbyterian News Service reports that the Rev. Carl S. Dudley died on April 26 in his Hartford home, at the age of 76. 

Gene TeSelle of the Witherspoon Society notes that Dudley has been a Witherspooner for years, and led a collective recollection of changes in society and the church at our 25th anniversary celebration in 1998.

For the full PNS story >>

Two more presbyteries shift to approve Amendment 08-B, but San Francisco shifts to oppose inclusion

A number of presbyteries have met this week to vote on proposed amendments to the Book of Order, and two of them shifted from opposing the ordination of LGBT Presbyterians to approving Amendment 08-B.

Salem Presbytery (in North Carolina) approved the change by a vote of 156 to 149, with one abstention, while Wabash Valley Presbytery (in Indiana) voted 78 to 60. Both of these were shifts from their opposition to ordination equality in 2001-2. 

National Capital Presbytery first rejected a recommendation from their Bills and Overtures Committee for “No Action” by a resounding voice vote, and then approved the amendment by 222 to 102, with one abstention.

But San Francisco Presbytery, a traditionally supportive presbytery, became the first one this year to shift from support of inclusive ordination to reject Amendment 08-B, by a vote of 167 affirmative votes to 177 negative, with 4 abstentions.

That leaves the total tally thus far at 68 presbyteries in favor of 08-B and 85 opposed.

As Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network comments, “Because 87 is the number needed for passage, it would take an even bigger miracle than we have yet experienced for the amendment to be approved (nothing is impossible with God!); yet we continue to rejoice in the progress we have made, and continue to work in the presbyteries that have yet to vote. Even if we don't amend the Book of Order this year, we are on track to do better than ever before; let's keep sending a strong signal about where the PCUSA is headed, and let's keep engaging in the respectful witness that advances our cause regardless of vote totals.”

Thanks to Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians for these reports.

For more of our reports and commentary on the voting on Amendment 08-B >>

If you’ve been saying “No to torture!” ...
Now is the time to speak out and be heard

President Obama has recently announced that he is open to the possibility of investigation and perhaps prosecution of Bush Administration members who provided the claimed legal justification for the use of torture. That is an apparent shift from his earlier insistence that the U.S. needs to look forward, and not fret over the past.

He has made this shift, he acknowledges, because of pressure from those who are calling not only for an end to torture, but also for holding accountable the perpetrators and (especially) those in authority who ordered and justified the use of torture. But the pressure must continue, especially as voices on the Right rail against such a move.

The Rev. Carol Wickersham, Coordinator of the Presbyterian-based group No2Torture, writes:

This means that now is the time to redouble our prayers and our pressure. Please let the White House and Congress know that this is what we want: an investigation and accountability. We must make it clear that we want both: truth and justice. In order to achieve this, any investigation must be nonpartisan, authoritative, investigation of all who were involved in drafting the memos and giving the orders up the chain of command. This is what the Presbyterian Church has been asking for since the 2006 General Assembly. [Click here for the full text of the 2006 GA statement (in PDF format).]

The Rev. John Shuck has gone into more detail on his blog page,  summarizing the call by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture for an end to U.S.-sponsored torture.

More from NRCAT >>

Prosecution of war crimes is imperative

Nick Mottern, director of Consumers for, has a strong statement on, on why it is imperative that there be some prosecution of U.S. war crimes. He writes: 

Barack Obama is not given the right by our Constitution to be the judge and jury for torturers. I include Bush and Cheney in this category although they committed other war crimes. Mr. Obama and our Congress took oaths to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. They must be reminded that they must do this job regardless of whether they think it is divisive or not. If President Obama and the Congress do their jobs of enforcing the law with respect to torture and other Bush and Cheney war crimes, they will begin unraveling the web of deceit that has supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.   More >>

Remembering Maggie Kuhn and the Gray Panthers – for clues to dealing with such a time as this

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst, calls attention to a recent book by Roger Sanjek, entitled Gray Panthers.  He writes as an anthropologist, but also as a participant observer in the Gray Panther movement during the 1970s and '80s. A long-time national staff member of the Presbyterian Church, Kuhn was instrumental in the founding and shaping of the Gray Panthers as an organization advocating for the rights of "senior citizens," when that was a new thing in U.S. society.

TeSelle notes that this book reminds us that the Panthers achieved results in part because they refused to be a "single issue" organization focused on the interests of the ageing -- but pointed always toward a wider range of social justice issues.


Announcing a Holy Union:

Voices of Sophia and the Witherspoon Society Merge

Witherspoon co-moderator Jake Young announces the merger of Voices of Sophia with the Witherspoon Society ... and Sylvia Thorson-Smith tells more of how that is coming about, and what it may mean for members of both groups.

How shall we respond to this time of crisis?

We're posting here three items from our Winter 2009 issue of Network News,

Theologian Doug Ottati offers his thoughts on the state of the union, and the state of the church. He offers great insights on both, and so provides a context for thinking about how the church might respond to this time of economic crisis -- which is also a deeply human crisis for many of us.

Doug King, your WebWeaver, asks how we might name and confront the fears that are part of life for most of us these days -- for that's the only way we can begin to help ourselves, or neighbors and our society more through the fears to some new hopes. So what can we do or say that will offer authentic hope and not just platitudes or nice sentiments? 

One very common reaction to fear and anxiety is to build walls.  But what happens when we do that? We may shut out the threats – the strangers, the enemies – but we pay a price. Recently I heard a meditation on walls, given in a Lenten worship service in a Mennonite fellowship that my wife and I happened to attend. I think it offers thoughts about walls far better than mine, so I’ll share it here, with the kind permission of the authors.

But action there must be, or we’ll be merely hearers of the Word and not doers, clanging gongs and crashing cymbals, not partners in God’s work to make the world a better, fairer place. 

And many of you who read Network News and visit this website are doing things already, as you’ve been “doing” for years. But what do we need to be doing in these days? 

Let’s talk about this! Here on our website, on our Facebook page where chatting is even easier and more direct, or by sending a note to your editor to be shared in the next issue of Network News and on our website as well – however you do it, please let us know what you’re doing (or what’s been done in your city or neighborhood even if you’re not directly involved in it) so we can help each other find our way through these hard times. 

Let's talk.  And act!

Speaking of walls ...

Here's one voice in favor of walls ... and of getting rid of "radical, secular fringe" groups like Witherspoon

Prof. Earl Tilford of Grove City College has responded to our recent Holy Week reflections on contrition and apology, in which your WebWeaver wrote:

So what would you offer as a matter for contrition and apology this Holy Week? I’d have a long list, and near the top would be U.S. torture of so many people, in so many places; I’d have to add apologies to all those whose humanity has been derided or denied because of who they are, by virtue (and I choose the word intentionally) of the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation, their nationality, their religious faith ... and the list could go on and on.

Dr. Tilford has responded with this note:

I would apologize for not doing more to rid the Presbyterian Church of its radical, secular fringe, including the Witherspoon Society. All Christians within the denomination should do penitence for not speaking more forcefully against the abomination of same-sex couplings disguised as "marriage". I apologize for being too tolerant of the apostasy and heresy emanating from a radical fringe that condemns "US torture in so many places" and yet calls for opening up Cuba to travel without securing the release of political prisoners from Cuban prisons. My list goes on and on as well. I actually do regret and confess my sins rather than twisting the Scriptures to make what the Bible clearly tells us is sinful to seem righteous, i.e. the practice of homosexuality.

Background note:  Earl H. Tilford, Jr., Ph.D., Professor of History at Grove City College, has been there since 2001.  Prior to that, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. From 1969 to 1990, he served as an Air Force intelligence officer with tours in Vietnam and at Headquarters, Strategic Air Command, where he was a nuclear targeting specialist. During his Air Force career, Tilford also served on the faculties at the Air Force Academy and the Air Command and Staff College.

Dr. Tilford has shared his thoughts on this website fairly often.  You might be interested to look at his comments in 2003, in defense of the U.S. war in Iraq.

If you have thoughts to share on the matter of what we might need to be apologize for, please send a note!

A new perspective on Creation:

In the beginning God created good food (like broccoli and all those good things), and the Devil came along and tempted those poor humans with Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and Krispy Creme donuts.

But if you're serious about understanding our Biblical faith, you'll want to see the whole thing -- a little PowerPoint presentation complete with a hymn for background music. 

John Calvin: after 500 years, what does he say to us?

In this year, just 500 years since the birth of John Calvin, one of the major founders of what we now know as the Reformed tradition, it seems appropriate to consider what he and his teachings might mean for us in the very different world of the 21st century.

Two essays in our recent newsletter, Network News, offer just such reflections.

The Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who retired last year as Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) and is now serving as President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, highlights some of Calvin's most important visions and actions for our troubled time.  More >>

And Dr. Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon's Issues Analyst, looks at some of Calvin's distinctive roles in his own time, and ponders the positives and the negatives of his work. More >>

The Legacy of John Calvin

The Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who retired last year as Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) and is now serving as President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, highlights some of Calvin's most important visions and actions for our troubled time.  He begins:

July 10, 2009, will be John Calvin’s 500th birthday. For many it is not a very big thing. For others it brings up connections that we would just as soon forget – such as the (erroneous) connection between Calvinism and modern capitalism and the sad chapter of Calvin and Servetus in Geneva. But for Reformed Christians it has a much deeper significance – and a great promise for the renewal of our church and our witness in the 21st century.

John Calvin, a native of France, a Reformer of Geneva, is truly a son of the world. This movement of Reformation that started among the French and the Swiss has literally spread to the four corners of the earth! As we enter this year of jubilee, we do not celebrate or seek to replicate everything that Calvin did, but rather we seek to make come alive his vision and legacy:

bullet A vision of the priesthood of all believers, where everybody counts and where mutual respect and shared leadership should be the norm in churches and societies,
bullet A vision of the sovereignty of God over all the world, which calls all of us to work for a world filled with justice, compassion and peace,
bullet A vision of the creation as God’s gift, which needs to be respected and nurtured for future generations,
bullet A vision of the grace of God available through faith in Jesus Christ to every human being on the face of the earth. 

Calvin’s Geneva was a very different world from that of the 21st century. However, he too came on the stage of human history at a time of deep turmoil and change, and the wisdom he shared is remarkably contemporary in our time.

The rest of Kirkpatrick's essay >>

This article has been published in the Witherspoon Society’s Network News; to find it there in an easy-to-print PDF version, click here, and go to pages 5 - 7.

NOTE:  Dr. Cliff Kirkpatrick will be leading a seminar co-sponsored by the Witherspoon Society as part of the Peace and Justice at Ghost Ranch, July 27 - August 2, 2009 For more information >>

Commemorating John Calvin —  Halo, Warts, and All

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst, looks at some of the distinctive roles played by Calvin as he dealt with the culture and the religious reform of his own time -- and the mixed bag of positives and negatives in his work.

TeSelle notes:

If Calvin is an ambivalent figure, so are we Presbyterians at the beginning of the third millennium, caught between love and justice, freedom and authority, comprehensiveness and desire for order. Brian Gerrish has always taken pains to remind us that the Reformed tradition is much more than Calvin and Barth. Barth himself noted that the Reformed tradition does not elevate Calvin in the way that the Lutheran tradition elevates Luther to a distinctive status. H. Richard Niebuhr loved to quote Barth’s dictum that “we cannot do with only one church father.” Not even Barth. Not even Calvin.

So let’s take an “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” look at Calvin.

More >>

Mary Jane Patterson, long-time director of the Presbyterian Washington Office, died April 8 at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Washington, DC. 

Click here to read her published obituary notice >>

Click here for the Presbyterian News Service report, by Jerry Van Marter.

Latin America Working Group urges a complete end to the travel ban on Cuba

This statement, dated April 13, 2009, comes from the Latin American Working Group, which works "to encourage U.S. policies towards Latin America that promote human rights, justice, peace and sustainable development. LAWG promotes the interests of over 60 major religious, humanitarian, grassroots and policy organizations to decision makers in Washington."

The White House issued a statement today that lifted all restrictions on transactions related to the travel and remittances of family members to Cuba. Check our blog for details and comments. Here is the White House fact sheet on today's action.

We applaud today's announcement and President Obama's commitment to Cuban Americans and the sanctity of family relations. Nevertheless, we urge the President to now push forward in restoring the right of ALL Americans to travel. Watch our friend, Silvia Wilhelm of Puentes Cubanos, explain why she, a Cuban American, supports "Travel for All."

What today made clear to us is that we must double our efforts to demand a definitive end to the travel ban. Send the White House a message or, better yet, call the comment line (202.456.1111)

Here is the message:

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for your executive action lifting the restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans.  It is an important step forward toward creating a rational and effective policy toward Cuba. But it isn't enough.  I ask that you step even further: there is more you can do by executive action to allow Americans to travel to Cuba; and you should indicate your support for congressional action to lift the entire travel ban on Cuba. These steps would send a message across the hemisphere that real change has come to Washington.

Looking to the Summit of the Americas, and on the heels of your executive order, I urge you to declare your support for the lifting of travel restrictions for ALL Americans, finally restoring the constitutional right to travel.


We continue working toward our goal of putting an end to the travel ban, and each day more and more people join us in asking for "travel for all." Continue spreading the word, and be sure to take a moment today to celebrate this step forward.


Mavis Anderson
Paulo Gusmao

Visit the LAWG website for more Summit actions you can take.

For more on Cuba, on this Witherspoon website >>

What should be the goal of health care reform?

Monica Sanchez writes for the Campaign For America's Future:

To guarantee everyone has access to quality, affordable health care when they need it requires system-wide reform that will lower the cost of health care and slow its ridiculously high inflation rate. ... The way to lower overall health care costs, stem their inflation rate and guarantee everyone access to quality, affordable health care is to give everyone the choice of a public health insurance option.

The full essay >>   

For more on health care issues, on this Witherspoon website >>

America is not a Christian nation

Religious conservatives argue the Founding Fathers intended the United States to be a Judeo-Christian country. But President Obama is right when he says it isn't. joins the flood of laments and/or celebrations of the President Obama’s recently express view that the U.S. is no longer a “Christian nation” – if it ever was. In case you missed it, he said in his April 6 press conference in Turkey: “... we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

Michael Lind lays out four main arguments by those who say Yes, it is a Christian nation, and then offers a brief critique of each of them.
The full article >>

Got comments?
Please send a note,
and we can talk about it here!

More on church-state issues >>

18 congregation-based community organizing groups to share $92,500 

Grants support local efforts such as affordable housing, job creation

Presbyterian News Service reports that the Presbyterian Hunger Program, in partnership with the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Small Church and Community Ministry Office, recently allocated $92,500 to 18 congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs).

"They are among the hundreds of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations making a difference in their local communities" said the Rev. Phil Tom, associate for small church and community ministry in the Evangelism and Church Growth area of the General Assembly Council.

Grants are also provided to support training for lay leaders, pastors, middle governing bodies' staff and seminarians to develop the skills for congregational-based community organizing.

CBCOs – about 170 of them around the country – are broad-based coalitions of congregations working in partnership with other community organizations to address quality of life issues such as affordable housing, living wage and job creation.

The rest of the story >>  

Presbyterian United Nations Office will be seeking new staff coordinator

The Presbyterian United Nations Office will soon be seeking new staff coordinator. The current incumbent, Joel Hanisek, who has been there three years, has announced plans to leave for graduate research in Ireland. The office is located across from the UN Secretariat building. We are very glad that the position is slated to be filled even though we are concerned about its funding sources. Click here for more on the UN Office >>

We believe the work of education, advocacy (especially on human rights and peacemaking), ecumenical and interfaith coordination conducted by the Office, guided by General Assembly policy statements, are very important, both to the church and to the world God loves.

As far as we know, this position has not yet been listed on the Church Leadership Connection of the PC(USA) website, but click here to check for any new listing of General Assembly agency jobs.


The Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
April 9, 2009

For the online PDF version of this report, in PDF format, click here >>

The Washington Office wishes you a blessed Holy Week and a very Happy Easter celebration.

This week marks the first of two weeks of congressional spring break. Members of Congress are scheduled to return to Washington for legislative work Monday, April 20. Remember that congressional recesses are an excellent time to meet with your elected officials while they are home in their districts. Make an appointment to visit with your member or Senators in their home offices, or attend a local town hall meeting where you can raise your concerns. Members return home during these periods in order to build relationships with their constituents, so don't be left out!

This Week's Messages are:


Don't Forget to Plan Earth Day Celebrations


ACTION ALERT: Crisis in Madagascar


Yes We Can Ban Nuclear Weapons


Announcing the 2009 Churches for Middle East Peace Conference


Luke 22:14-22 - The Institution of the Lord's Supper

Travel to Latin America with Witness for Peace in 2009

Open doors to education and empowerment. At this dynamic time for Latin America and the United States, travel with Witness for Peace in 2009. Your "witness" - the true stories about the people you meet on a Witness for Peace delegation - will have the power to touch others and transform policy.

Read about the following exciting upcoming delegations. These are just a sampling of our 2009 travel opportunities. Join us!


July 13 - 23, 2009 — Colombia: Meet Colombian Communities Resisting Repression

August 10 - 20, 2009 — Colombia: Bilateral Free Trade Agreement, Human Rights and Military Repression


Be part of WFP's successful return to Cuba.

June 28, 2009 - July 07, 2009 — Cuba: Research Delegation-Professional Organizers

July 18, 2009 - July 28, 2009 — Cuba: Research Delegation-Professional Educators


May 20, 2009 - May 31, 2009 — Mexico: Migrant Trail Walk


June 27-July 7, 2009 — The Children: Casualties of the War Against the Poor

July 13, 2009 - July 27, 2009 — Inter-Cultural Teen Delegation to Nicaragua

For more details on these and other travel opportunities >>

Witness for Peace can customize delegations for groups of 10 or more. Contact Ken Crowley (202-547-6112) for more information.

Witness for Peace
3628 12th Street NE. 1st Fl.,
Washington, DC 20017
202.547.6112 - 202.536.4708

Mary Jane Patterson, long-time director of the Presbyterian Washington Office, died yesterday at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Washington, DC. 

We've just received this sad news from Jude Michaels, who adds that funeral arrangements are pending.  Ingleside Retirement Home will have details eventually - 202-363-8310.

Click here for the Presbyterian News Service report, by Jerry Van Marter.

From a pastor – curses on the Presbyterian Church (USA)

From the Letters to the Editor section of The Presbyterian Layman, March 2009, p. 23, comes this cursing prayer – an interesting insight, perhaps, into how some people view the current state of congregations separating from the PC(USA)

It’s also in the Letters to the Editor section of the Layman’s website. Just click here and scroll through the pages to Feb. 13, 2009.

Curse the money that has been extorted from Kirk of the Hills

Lord God, I pray to you in the name of Jesus Christ today, that you would for your own glory curse the money that has been extorted from your servants at Kirk of the Hills. I pray you would cause this fund to be a poison and that misfortune would follow it into every account into which it is placed. I pray it would be of no benefit to any entity that uses it. For you, O Lord, have taught us that it is against your holy and good will that we should steal. May this disaster be for those who have broken your holy law a testimony and witness concerning your justice; and may all your servants who watch this ruin transpire be encouraged that you, O Lord, do move among the affairs of men, promoting your own good name and the welfare of your chosen ones.

teaching elder
Riverside Presbyterian Church, PCA


One response to the “prayer” appears on the Layman’s website, dated March 23, 2009:

The "cursing prayer" on p. 23, The Layman (March, 2009) is breathtaking – sounds like something Lord Voledmort might have said about Dumbledore or Harry.

Rev. Tom Eggebeen, interim pastor
Covenant Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, Calif.


The Rev. Bobbie McGarey responded just now with this Maundy Thursday prayer:

Dear God,
   HOLY Thursday!
   We pray
   Keep our hearts open
   Keep our hearts soft
     ready to give and receive your love.
   Keep us cleansed as the Oklahoma sky
     when the winds are blowing full.
   Keep us ready to merciful
   For surely
   This day
   This is your
    Message for us. 


It's not just Iowa!

Vermont legislature overrides governor’s veto, allows same gender couples to marry

The New York Times reports:

The Vermont Legislature on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry, mustering one more vote than needed to preserve the measure.

The step makes Vermont the first state to allow same-sex marriage through legislative action instead of a court ruling. The law goes into effect Sept. 1.

The rest of the story >>

But not everybody's happy ...

A U.C.C. “renewal” leader has issued an open letter apologizing to the citizens and Christians of Iowa

The Rev. David Runnion-Bareford writes:

Today on behalf of many thousands of Christians who belong to congregations of the United Church of Christ and millions of faithful Christians in the ‘mainline’ churches that helped found our nation, I apologize with a broken heart for our denominational officials and other proponents of faux Christian religion who have publicly advocated and applauded the attempt of your court to redefine marriage. This is an ancient idolatry in new skin.

He goes on to affirm that “Marriage for all of us, regardless of belief, is the primary covenant in which all other human covenants, laws, and governments are grounded.”

The Rev. David Runnion-Bareford is Executive Director of Biblical Witness Fellowship, The Confessing Movement in the United Church of Christ, and President of the Association for Church Renewal, a strategic alliance of renewal ministries in the mainline denominations of North America.

For the full text of his letter >>


A reflection from your WebWeaver:

This Holy Week is certainly an appropriate time in the Christian year for contrition and penitence. Rev. Runnion-Bareford expresses his sorrow for what he regards as a betrayal of the Christian faith (the non-“faux” Christian faith, that is) – and of the laws of God and nature as well.

So what would you offer as a matter for contrition and apology this Holy Week? I’d have a long list, and near the top would be U.S. torture of so many people, in so many places; I’d have to add apologies to all those whose humanity has been derided or denied because of who they are, by virtue (and I choose the word intentionally) of the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation, their nationality, their religious faith ... and the list could go on and on.

But what would you list for penitence and apology just now?

Please send a note,
and share your thoughts
as we approach Good Friday and Easter.

NRCAT – the National Religious Coalition Against Torture – seeks more support for a Commission of Inquiry into U.S.-sponsored use of torture

Here is their latest communication to their members, including a number of helpful links for information and action.

Thank you to everyone who has endorsed the statement "U.S.-sponsored Torture: A Call for a Commission of Inquiry" and to those who are collecting endorsements from others. NRCAT is calling for a Commission of Inquiry (COI) so that our nation can learn the complete facts about U.S.-sponsored torture since 9/11 and thereby build a national consensus to assure that our country will never use torture again.

Getting a Commission of Inquiry is proving to be a challenging task.  Many Members of Congress do not support it, and at this point Senator Leahy, one of the strongest advocates for it in the Senate, is unable to find a Republican cosponsor.  We have our work cut out for us.  So far, we have more than 2200 endorsers of our statement (after about a month).  Here's what we can do to strengthen our effort:

  1. If you have not yet endorsed, please click here to endorse online. We need to grow the number of people of faith endorsing quickly in order to maximize the effectiveness of our call for a Commission of Inquiry. We also urge you to click here for a petition version of the statement for a COI. Please take the petition to your congregation or religious community and ask people to endorse.
  2. NRCAT is also eager to encourage national and regional faith group bodies, ecumenical and interfaith organizations, congregations and other religious organizations to consider endorsing the COI. Click here for a page that includes: a model resolution that you might suggest that your religious organization use, the list of religious organizations endorsing to date and a form for reporting that your religious organization has endorsed.
  3. click here for a page of resources and suggestions for promoting the Commission of Inquiry. The page also includes a link to a letter to Eric Holder and NRCAT's statement calling on the Department of Justice to investigate for criminal culpability.
  4. June is Torture Awareness Month. NRCAT is urging people of faith to encourage their congregations to incorporate the concern about torture into worship, to study the issue using a new DVD resource prepared by NRCAT and to consider displaying a banner. We are also encouraging delegations of people of faith across the country to visit their Members of Congress at the end of June. Click here to learn more about these opportunities.  We will be updating the web site page on Torture Awareness Month during the next two months and we will send an email to you with more suggestions for using Torture Awareness month in mid-April. 

We still have much to do this year, but thank you for everything you have done to end U.S.-sponsored torture. It has made a difference.


Linda Gustitus, President
Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director

John Jackson shares ...

Quotes for April

The Rev. John Jackson, a Witherspoon member living in Florida, sends out an occasional e-mail with various gems of wisdom and information with a leaning toward environmental awareness and action, under the title, EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED!

Here are his “Quotes for April” 

Between True friends even water drunk together is sweet enough. – Zimbabwean proverb 

You changed my mourning into dancing: O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks. – Psalm 30:13 

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need f the human soul. – Simon Weil

In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. – Confucius 

Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
Peace, peace, peace. – Satish Kumar 

Being rich is having money, being wealthy is having time. – Stephen Swid

Life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind could invent. – Arthur Conan Doyle 

Action is the antidote to despair. – Joan Baez 

I have loved, and I have been loved. All the rest is just background music. – Estelle Ramey 

True friends are those who really know you but love you anyway. – Edna Buchanan 

Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out. – Joan Wooden 

A cheerful heart is good medicine. – Proverbs 17:22 

To be nobody but myself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting. – e.e.cummings 

Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself. – Soren Kierkegaard

If you'd like to join John Jackson's e-mail list, just send him a note.

Two presbyteries have voted today on Amendment 08-B

The Presbytery of San Jose, meeting at the Los Gatos Presbyterian Church, Los Gatos, California, voted 84 Yes to 81 No to approve the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B. They were the 65th presbytery to approve the amendment.

But also today, the Presbytery of South Louisiana came closer than in the past to approving inclusive ordination, with a vote of 42 Yes to 55 No. Still not enough, but the last vote was 51 to 71.

So the total of presbytery votes so far is 65 Yes to 82 No.

For more on Amendment 08-B >>

... but South Louisiana voted No

The Rev. John Shuck offers this painful but helpful comment this evening on his always lively, always thoughtful blog, Shuck and Jive

And that is the clincher, I am afraid. I held out for a win until it was pretty much mathematically impossible to do so. With the score 65-82, only five presbyteries are needed to defeat it. There are five presbyteries that have historically voted 'no' unanimously or nearly so still yet to vote.

Now, team, we play for pride.

Our motivation is first of all to change hearts and minds one by one. This is the opportunity to tell the stories and to witness to the inclusive love of the gospel by proclaiming the equality of all people.

We also play the spoiler.

What we want to spoil is the claim by the voices against equality that the church has 'decisively spoken four times with increasing margins, blah, blah, blah....'

We have spoiled that already. 25 presbyteries have switched from no to yes, and the margin within most presbyteries who have voted no has decreased. The "popular vote" is nearly equal. These are clear factors that the denomination is moving toward equality. There is no decisive voice. We are about dead even and everyday hearts and minds change for equality.

This means we need to make this presbytery vote as close as possible and perhaps win the 'popular vote.' All of that matters as we look ahead to 2010. Bruce Hahne has a great analysis of all of this as well as commentary. He reminds us that we are in a marathon not a sprint.

‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
A time for prayer ...

We join with countless others in the U.S. and around the world, in prayers for the families of those who lost loved ones in the shootings at the Binghamton American Civic Association today.

Iowa Supreme Court affirms equal rights to marriage

Barbara Gaddis, a Witherspoon member and resident of Boone, Iowa, sends this good-news report

Boone, Iowa, April 3, 2009

A bright sunny spring day here in the heartland might be an apt, if trite, metaphor for the great news delivered this morning from the Iowa Supreme Court. The court unanimously struck down the 1998 “Defense of Marriage Act” defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. Declaring The Act unconstitutional, the court did not demur by creating a separate “civil union” category for same sex couples, but boldly stated that anything less than marriage for couples did not grant equal rights and protection under the law. The ruling makes Iowa only the third state in the union to allow same sex marriage, behind Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Needless to say this victory for equal rights has been greeted with celebration among progressives here.

However, the airwaves are rife with those on the other side of the ruling. Republican members of the Iowa House and Senate have already stated their opposition to the ruling, vowing to take the issue to a vote of “the people.” In the usual court-bashing rhetoric of the right, we’re hearing about how our “family values” are being threatened by “seven people in black robes.” The relentless pounding that heterosexual marriages will be undermined continues and so we expect to see a constitutional amendment on the ballot in the next election.

But the results of such an election remain uncertain. A recent “Hawkeye poll” conducted by the University of Iowa in late March 2009 indicated that about one third of Iowans support same sex marriage, a third oppose it and one third favor civil unions. The same poll reported those under 35 overwhelmingly support same sex marriage.

For now, we are savoring a wonderful victory for equality! And we are proud to live in Iowa. Come visit! Come get married!

Barbara Gaddis


The report from the New York Times begins:

Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage on Friday, after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided that a 1998 law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

The decision was the culmination of a four-year legal battle that began in the lower courts. The Supreme Court said same-sex marriages could begin in Iowa in as soon as 21 days.

The case here was being closely followed by advocates on both sides of the issue. While the same-sex marriage debate has played out on both coasts, the Midwest — where no states had permitted same-sex marriage — was seen as entirely different. In the past, at least six states in the Midwest were among those around the country that adopted amendments to their state constitutions banning same-sex marriage.

“The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution,” the justices said in a summary of their decision.

The full report >>


An affirmation of religious liberty

Americans United celebrates the ruling as upholding religious liberty, by stating (in the words of the news release) “that religious denominations have a constitutional right to set their own rules about marriage but that civil law should reflect equal protection for all citizens and not be anchored in religious dogma.”

More >>

And for more on marriage equality >>

World Council of Churches leaders: G20 must deal with 'greed' of financial system

Geneva (Ecumenical News International) – 30 March 2009 – The world's biggest grouping of churches has urged a "drastic transformation" of financial institutions, claimed that greed has become the basis for economic growth, and said that G20 leaders must build a new system based on ethical principles.

"What we need are brave and new measures to correct this unjust and unethical system in order to prevent such a crisis from occurring once again," said the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, ahead of a 2 April summit in London of leaders from the Group of 20 leading economies.

"The need of the hour is to construct a system in which market forces are checked [not only] through ethical regulations and oversight but also by a framework of common values that sets clear limits to excessive and irresponsible actions based on greed," Kobia said in a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made public on 30 March.

Kobia urged G20 leaders, "to go beyond short-term financial bail out actions and to seek long-term transformation based on sound ethical and moral principles".   The rest of the report >>

A Tale of Two Pastors & Two Different Kinds of Churches

Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians reflects on a newspaper report on the Grace Presbytery (Texas) meeting which approved Amendment 08-B by a vote of 203 to 182.

I do not know Rev. Kathy Collier or Rev. Ron Scates. They are the 2 pastors quoted in today's Dallas Morning News' article "North Texas Presbyterian leaders vote to ease way for gays' ordination" by Sam Hodges. The entire article about Grace Presbytery's recent vote of 203-182 in favor of the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B can be found on their website >>.

Certainly one or two quotations do not sum up a human being, or give a fully accurate picture of someone or the totality of their beliefs and values. However, I was struck by the profound contrast of these statements made by 2 pastors who serve Presbyterian churches within Grace Presbytery in north Texas.

In many ways, the contrast between Collier’s and Scates’ statements may indeed reflect and reveal two profoundly different understandings of God's creation, faith, Scripture, ministry and what it means to be the Church. Frankly, I see, experience and feel "grace" in one and "law" in the other. Jesus lived and spoke often about such things.   More >>

For an index to all our reports
from the 218th General Assembly

For an index to all our reports from the
Witherspoon conference on global mission and justice >>

Earlier in April, 2010
March, 2010
February, 2010
January, 2010
December, 2009
November, 2009
October, 2009
September, 2009

August, 2009
July, 2009
June. 2009
May, 2009

April, 2009
March, 2009

February, 2009
January, 2009
December, 2008
November, 2008
October, 2008
September, 2008
August, 2008
July, 2008
June, 2008
May, 2008
April, 2008
March, 2008
February, 2008
January, 2008

For links to earlier archive pages, click here.

Some blogs worth visiting


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 thoughtful community.


Witherspoon’s Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, Witherspoon’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.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

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 lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


Plan now for our 2010 Ghost Ranch Seminar!


July 26-August 1, 2010



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