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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Archives:   July 2003

Reports from the 215th General Assembly are indexed on another page.

All our reports from June are indexed on the June archive page.

Stories from May are indexed on the May archive page.

Check earlier months through the general archive page.

Network News, the Witherspoon quarterly newsletter, is at the printer. 

If you're a member, you'll be receiving it soon, we hope. In the meantime, here are three articles it will be bringing:

Keeping perspective

Witherspoon president Kent Winters-Hazelton surveys the recent General Assembly, and urges that we keep our attention on the "big issues" of war and peace, poverty and the needs of changing families.

So we're a special-interest group?

Doug King reflects on recent charges by The Layman that the Witherspoon Society is a "special interest group."  He urges members to think about what our interests really should be in these times, as we continue to work for peace and justice.  And the Witherspoon board, which will be meeting in September, would like to hear what you have to suggest!

What about those "change ministries"?

Jennifer Stone, a new Witherspoon board member and a counselor, examines some of the psychological and theological issues raised by so-called "change ministries."

The occupation of Iraq

What kind of victory is this?

Radical historian Howard Zinn looks at the "victory" of the new American Empire, and sees the seeds of its own collapse beginning to appear: the lies revealed, the growing resistance to our "liberation" among the people of Iraq, the likely shift in public opinion as the war drags on and casualties continue.

In a long-term perspective, he says:

There is a long history of imperial powers, gloating over victories, becoming over-extended and overconfident, as their citizens begin to get uneasy because their day-to-day fundamental needs are being sacrificed for military glory while their young are sent to die in wars. The uneasiness grows and grows, and the citizenry gather in resistance in larger and larger numbers, and become too much to control, and one day the top-heavy empire falls over.

Of calls for impeachment he says, "Of course, we do not expect a craven Congress to impeach him. They were willing to impeach Nixon for breaking into a building. They will not impeach Bush for breaking into a country. ... Still, it is good to bring up impeachment, because the Constitution allows it for 'high crimes and misdemeanors' and it is an opportunity to discuss the high crimes of this government."

Beans for peace

The Lutheran Peace Fellowship has posted on their website what sounds like a great "game" to help people learn about the real costs of the war - by using beans to show the number of billions of dollars spent on the military in comparison to development aid, UN peacekeeping, other forms of conflict resolution, and the Peace Corps.

The resource contains helpful ideas for action, once people get an ideas of where their money is going - including contacting Congress.

Thanks to Janet Adair Hansen

Moderator Susan Andrews recently led a Bible study on the call to an inclusive church - including gay and lesbian people, and bisexual and transgender as well, and other cultures too.  Erin Swenson reports with appreciation.
The Rev. Alice Anderson is seeking people to tell stories of what the PC(USA) has lost by its exclusion of GLBT persons from ordained service, to present them to the wider church.
Thinking (theologically!) about the government

Theologian Doug Ottati considers ways our Reformed heritage can inform the ways we relate to government and politics.  One paragraph, for example:

Our theological heritage may help to sharpen our reflections. The doctrine of creation encourages us to affirm that humans are social creatures who need institutions to maintain order and direct cooperative enterprises. The doctrine of sin indicates that we need governments to restrain the inordinate interests and destructive actions of both persons and groups. It also suggests that the concentrations of power which governments require to undertake these functions often invite dangerous abuses.

The blessings of marriage - why denied to gays?

Charles Henderson, Presbyterian minister and editor of the Christianity section of, offers a thoughtful essay about "the blessings of gay marriage," asking "Why should a couple that is willing to assume the responsibilities of marriage be denied any of its privileges?"

Preaching on feeding the 5000?

One of the lectionary texts for Sunday, July 27, is John's account of Jesus' feeding of the 5000 people - John 6:1-21. And the Presbyterian Hunger Program website offers two helpful resources for the day:

bullet "Where is Bread?" - a hymn by Carolyn Gillette that balances Jesus' ministry to people's spiritual and physical needs
bulletA good (and downloadable!) children's sermon

Thanks to Bruce Gillette

A global trend: World's oldest Protestant churches now ordain gays and lesbians

Opponents of inclusive ordination often claim that "nobody does it," so Presbyterians shouldn't either. To be sure, many churches around the world refuse to ordain people for a variety of reasons - like because they're women or something. And more refuse to ordain those who are openly gay or lesbian.

But Andy Lang, managing editor of the United Church of Christ website, posted an analysis over a year ago reporting that "most of the historic Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany and northern Europe" now practice inclusive ordination. He listed a total of 26 churches, mostly in Europe, but a growing number in Africa, North America and the Pacific, with a total membership of nearly 57 million.

"Evangelicals have become this century's witch burners"

The Guardian (in Britain) has an analysis of the role of evangelicals in the recent struggles in the Church of England over the appointment of Jeffrey John, a gay priest, as a bishop. Noting that "the word evangelical is now firmly linked in the public imagination with intolerance and bigotry," the author points to what a change this is from the origins of the evangelical movement in Britain, when it "had a reasonable claim to be the social conscience of the nation." It provided the motivation for the campaign to abolish slavery, for prison reform and the limitation of child labor.

Author of the article is the Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford. He doesn't really explain how the shift has come about, except for pointing to its historical roots. His view of the future is not hopeful: accommodation to the evangelicals, he asserts, will be in vain, and many of them have already determined to separate.

This makes interesting reading for us Presbyterians in the USA.

Got comments?  Just send a note!

How shall the church deal with the campaign of litigation?

Brian Wells comments on the continuing campaign of Paul Rolf Jensen against "anyone considered theologically impure." He urges those in "the Great Middle" of the church "to understand the folly of trying to appease the reactionaries with G-6.0106b."

Another pastor accused by Jensen

The Rev. James Rigby of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in North Austin, Texas, has been warned by Paul Rolf Jensen that the California lawyer will file an accusation against him sometime this week, charging him with violating the Book of Order by ordaining a gay elder.

Sylvia Washer, presbytery executive for the Mission Presbytery in San Antonio, is quoted as saying, "One conversation is, 'Well if we just wait long enough, the newer generation will come into leadership and . . . for them, this may not be such a major issue. ... But I don't think we're going to last that long myself."

This is reported in the Austin (TX) American-Statesman.

Pastoral support urged for glbt persons and families

Melissa Lynn DeRosia urges follow-up efforts from Atlanta overture, approved by 215th GA, calling for improved pastoral support for GLBT persons and their families.
More on the San Diego "guidelines" for "directing" candidates for ministry -- Joseph Cejka adds the texts from the Swearingen report, which call for call for forbearance, and not for "fundamentals"

For Gene TeSelle's first analysis of this effort to judge candidates' beliefs, which he warns may be "a new fundamentalism," click here.

South Africa offers a different and thoughtful look at the relation between religion and education

As the U.S. continues to struggle with the role of religion (if any, and that's part of the debate) in education, a recent "Draft Policy on Religion and Education in South Africa" may offer food for thought from a quite different setting.

We post it here not as an example to be followed, but as an alternative approach whose consideration might help us in our own thinking within the U.S. context.

It comes to us via the South African e-list called e-PRAXIS, which describes itself as "engaging faith and society" and is based in the theological community of South Africa.

The paper is long, but we have highlighted some of the topics and ideas that may be especially interesting.  We invite comments!

Washington Times anti-gay report is contested 

The Washington Times of July 11 carried an article entitled "Study Finds Gay Unions Brief."  Brian Wells of Baltimore responded with this letter to the editor, which he has kindly shared with us.  He argues that the conclusions drawn (that gay unions don't last, and all that) are based on statistics that are irrelevant to the issue.

"Who gets hurt if gays, lesbians get married?"

Columnist Tony Norman, writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, raises this question.

The occupation of Iraq

20 Lies About the War

The Independent (in the United Kingdom) provides a handy little list of "20 Lies About the War." The authors say that "falsehoods ranging from exaggeration to plain untruth were used to make the case for war. More lies are being used in the aftermath."

A few examples (each of which is followed by evidence of its falsehood):

1) Iraq was responsible for the 11 September attacks
2) Iraq and al-Qa'ida were working together
3) Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa for a "reconstituted" nuclear weapons programme
8) US and British claims were supported by the inspectors
10) Iraq was obstructing the inspectors
13) War would be easy
16) The "rescue" of Private Jessica Lynch
17) Troops would face chemical and biological weapons
19) Iraq's oil money would go to Iraqis
20) WMD were found

Thanks to TruthOut - a very helpful daily listing of news reports from many sources, providing alternative views of the war.

"These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed"

Just for fun:

For a little message about the war, try check out the following search before google fixes it:

1. go to
2. type in the search field: weapons of mass destruction
3. don't hit return, instead, hit the "i'm feeling lucky" button
4. read the error message

Or if that doesn't work, go directly to

So what about all those lies?

Peter Sawtell, Executive Director of Eco-Justice Ministries, reflects on the emerging "pattern of lies" from the Administration in Washington – those used to justify the invasion of Iraq, as well as those being trotted out to justify the continual downgrading of environmental protections.

Presbytery committee vindicates Abu-Akel

Former moderator the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel was accused of slander in May of 2003 by Mr. Paul Rolf Jensen.

In response, he asked his own presbytery of Greater Atlanta for vindication against those charges. The presbytery named an investigating committee, which has announced its conclusion that "Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel has not committed the offense of slander and bearing false witness against Mr. Paul Rolf Jensen."

Black caucus convention examines justice, spirituality and African connection 

Presbyterian News Service reports that the National Black Presbyterian Caucus drew some 700 participants to its 36th annual convention in Baltimore, from June 25 - 29.

Caucus president the Rev. Curtis Jones was praised for his leadership in "transforming the convention from a gathering in search of meaning into a driving and visionary force for the ministry of African-Americans." He has recently been named as the first full-time, paid executive director of the NBPC.

The convention focused on African-American church growth, the NBPC's historic traditions of devotion to racial and social justice, and re-affirming the group's mission connection to Africa and its commitment to helping ease the spread of AIDS there.

Jensen promises more complaints against 350 ministers by end of July

A recent AP report in the Cincinnati Enquirer, updating earlier reports on the decision of Cincinnati Presbytery to remove the Rev. Steve Van Kuiken from the ministry, adds an interesting note about what we can expect in the near future:

Mr. Paul Rolf Jensen, who filed the complaint against Van Kuiken, praised the presbytery's action as "a tremendous victory for those of us who want to take our church back from heretics who seek to destroy it." He is also reported to have said "that he and a group of 20 ministers and elders around the country will file disciplinary actions by the end of July against 350 ministers who they believe have broken ordination vows and violated church law."

The Stated Clerk and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church have recently posted their occasional open letters to the PC(USA).

Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, reflecting on his recently visit to Albania in connection with his World Council of Churches responsibilities, affirms that "nothing can separate us from the love of God."

Moderator Susan Andrews shares a theme she emphasized before and during the 2003 General Assembly: a call "to imagine ourselves as a collective offering to God, carrying forward our whole lives as a gift of hope for the church [by joining in] a season of graceful growth--in gratitude, membership, and mission."

More about our missing mystics

We recently posted a thoughtful report by a pastor to his presbytery, after serving as a commissioner to the 215th General Assembly.  He wonders if our Assemblies might not profit from a different ethos, where mystics, dreamers and lovers would be a stronger presence than the "lawyers."

Click here for an earlier, thoughtful, deeply personal response.

The Rev. Janet Adair Hansen has sent another provocative comment, along with her recent sermon on the woman whom Jesus healed of a long-term hemorrhage. 

We have now posted another -- and more critical -- reaction to the discussion.

So ... what do you think? Do we need a different ethos in our assemblies? Is such a change possible? What would you do to make it happen? Please send a note to join in a conversation here!

More about Brazil guests

The Rev. Lew Lancaster, recently retired from years of service on the national staff of the Presbyterian Church, adds a note to our report on presentations by Aureo Bispo dos Santos of the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil:

Covenant Network posts information on its 2003 conference, Nov. 6-8 in Washington, DC.

Theme: "The Church We Are Called to Be and to Become"

Speakers include Barbara Wheeler, President of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, in dialogue with Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Also Bruce Reyes-Chow, Organizing Pastor of Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco, and Patrick Henry, Executive Director of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research in Collegeville, MN.

Preachers include Jana Childers, Dean and Professor of Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary; Chris Glaser, author, activist, and popular retreat leader; Ken Kovacs, Pastor of Catonsville [MD] Presbyterian Church; and J. Barrie Shepherd, poet and pastor, recently retired from the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York.

Where are the mystics in our Presbyterian Church?

One preacher responds to David Garnett's question by saying that they're all around us and among us

The Rev. Janet Adair Hansen, Web Editor for Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, and a Witherspoon member, sent a note along with a sermon she had just finished preparing for Sunday, June 29, on the text of Mark 5:24b-34, and the healing of the woman with a flow of blood.

Click here for her note.   And click here for her sermon, "Your Faith Has Made You Whole"

Hansen argues that the amazing Good News that Jesus spoke of - and acted out - cannot be reduced to doctrinal formulae. She even takes on the call of the San Diego "guidelines" for belief in "Jesus' supernatural works of healing." For she says, Jesus' acts of healing are profoundly natural, and are a real part of life for many people today and in Jesus' time.

What do you think? 
Please send a note and join in the conversation!

So what's all this about marriage?

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, deviating slightly from his own Presbyterian Church teachings, has recently affirmed that marriage is "a sacrament," and that its sacred status justifies the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. (So take that, you wild-eyed liberals on the Supreme Court!)

Karen Armstrong, well-known author of A History of God, recently published an essay in The Guardian arguing that Christians have "always had a bleaker view of love - gay or straight - than any other faith." In her essay she touches also (briefly and clearly!) on many of the Biblical texts usually advanced to condemn same-sex relationships.

Thanks to Jane Hanna for pointing us to this article.

Reports from General Assembly are indexed on another page.

All our reports from June are indexed on the June archive page.

Stories from May are indexed on the May archive page.

Check earlier months through the general archive page.


GA actions 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 of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


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!


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