Protestant Justice Action:
March 28-30. 2003
|Protestant justice groups proclaim "JusticeWorks" as
they explore ways of renewing the churches' social witness
a special report from Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Society Issues Analyst,
with assistance from Len Bjorkman of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
"JusticeWorks: Renewing the Church's Social Witness" was the
theme of the first major conference of Protestant Justice Action. Held in
the Union Avenue Christian Church, St. Louis, on March 28-30, the conference
was co-sponsored by Eden Theological Seminary and Equal Partners in Faith.
Protestant Justice Action includes the non-official justice organizations of
the mainline Protestant denominations: the Methodist Federation for Social
Action, the oldest of these groups; Christians for Justice Action (UCC);
Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ); Lutheran Human
Relations Association (ELCA); Baptist Peace Fellowship (American Baptists,
Alliance of Baptists, and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship); and Witherspoon.
The conference had more than 300 registered participants, including more
than 100 seminary and college students from 32 institutions. The person who
kept motivation alive and planning on course was Fred Tilinski, a UCC
layperson and airplane mechanic with a long-time commitment to social
justice. Nancy Engel and Becky Carr, students at Eden Seminary, took care of
publicity, registration, printing, and all sorts of details. Michael
Kinnamon, a leader in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who is now
teaching at Eden, was probably the key person in drawing together an
impressive cast of speakers and workshop leaders.
Bible study was led each morning by the Rev. Mari Castallanos, a Cuban
American who is on the Washington staff for the UCC. The opening preacher
was United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, an advocate for justice not only
in race but in issues of sexual orientation.
The keynote speaker was the Rev. Gregory Dell
of Chicago, back in his pulpit after being removed by the United Methodists
because of his advocacy of gay and lesbian rights.
The last night saw an impressive interfaith panel
including the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United, the Rev. Carlton Veazey
of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and Rabbi Andrea
Goldstein, a leader in the St. Louis Jewish community.
The conference opened with a reminder that it was meeting in the state of
John Ashcroft and of Richard Gephardt. It needed no reminder that it was
meeting at a time of a stagnant economy, tax cuts for the rich, and budget
deficits at the federal, state, and local levels. And it needed no reminder
that it was meeting during the first week of the Iraq War, which was not
going according to plan; the Iraqi army was not disintegrating, and the
first news out of the campaign involved a "fragging" by a soldier in the
101st and the taking of several U.S. prisoners.
Opening worship included a dramatization of Job in the role of a wearied
reformer, a man who had received adulation for his integrity, advocacy of
justice, and freeing of captives, but now has become a byword, mocked for
his loss of status, with his counselors suggesting that all of this must be
in punishment for his wrong deeds. One could not help being reminded of the
gloating in the conservative press that "the mainline is being sidelined"
and accusations from religious conservatives that advocates of justice have
been unfaithful to the Christian heritage. Lest progressive Christians
engage in too much self-pity, however, Bishop Talbert recalled the story of
Puccini's opera Turandot: in its premier performance Arturo Toscanini
stopped the performance, saying, "The master wrote thus far," and stopped;
but in later performances he continued with the sections completed by
disciples. In other words, the ministry of reconciliation, which was his
text (2 Cor 5:16-21), must continue.
No self-pity was expressed in the twelve workshops, which dealt with the
priorities set by Protestant Justice Action: church and state, public
education, the "criminal justice" system and the death penalty,
disabilities, racism and reparations, economic and environmental justice,
health care, justice for GLBT persons in church and society, peace in the
Middle East, peace advocacy in the churches, and amplifying our social
witness voice in Washington. Each workshop had four or five resource persons
as well as a range of experienced people who are on the front lines, so
discussion was lively.
Elenora Giddings Ivory, Director of the PC(USA) Washington
Office, provided leadership in the workshop, "Amplifying Our Social Witness
Policy," which covered the church's witness to government officials in
Washington. One new feature of the office's work is the opportunity for
Presbyterians to send e-mails directly to Members of Congress through the 10
advocacy networks and the
link to CapWiz.
Elenora also rounded out a panel on Saturday afternoon
as members discussed various aspects of renewing our social-justice witness.
During that panel, Bishop Talbert briefly described the ecumenical leaders'
solidarity trip to Baghdad in early January, as part of the NCCC's strenuous
efforts to prevent the war.
Another national staff person, Mark Koenig of the Peacemaking Program, had
expected to be there, but a family death prevented his attending.
Presbyterians were well represented by Elenora, as well as by Witherspoon
and the Peace Fellowship, along with at least two participants from St.
Louis. We hoped for more of a Presbyterian presence, since this promises to
a significant effort in promoting social justice. Social-justice minded
seminarians would have found it especially informative to be among the
articulate seminarians there, and to share in planning for renewal of the
church's witness in this ecumenical context.
The conference intentionally moved toward a conclusion of two sorts:
a statement that is being drawn up from comments
that emerged from the workshops, and a public act of witness (something
that has become a trademark of all Protestant Justice Action gatherings). On
Sunday afternoon, participants joined in vigil called "Four Corners for
Peace" at Union Avenue and Delmar, then streamed to the World's Fair
Pavilion in Forest Park, meeting six other streams, for a peace rally of
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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