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Archives:   November 2003

Reports from all of October are listed on the October archive page.

For links to earlier archive pages, click here.

After the Massachusetts decision:

Some affirm "gay marriage" as a very good and sensible thing 

In the wake of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, there have been cries of alarm from those who feel that the whole institution of marriage is threatened. And so some kind of "defense of marriage" act or amendment is called for to rescue us all.

But there are other views.  Conservative David Brooks argues that marriage is a good thing for those who make that commitment, and there's no reason to exclude some couples from its benefits (to them and to society).  Andrew Korfhage explores the details of the Massachusetts decision and sees it as part of a wider trend.

Changing roles of religion in society

Academic panelists discuss controversial book on The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, and "Bush, the War, and Religious Rhetoric."

Gene TeSelle summarizes some of the criticisms and defenses of Philip Jenkins' thesis that the Christianity of the world's South, which is "traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural," will soon dominate the Christian scene as the northern nations become more "post-Christian." The panel on Bush's religious rhetoric took a generally moderate view of what the President has been doing with religious language, with David Brooks observing that the President's speeches contain no more religious language than is typical of the civil religion of past presidents. TeSelle adds that Brooks also "emphasized what to some observers has been obvious, that almost no theology is reflected in the speeches."

George Bush's "resumé"  

The "resumé" of George W. Bush has been circulating for a while now, but a frequent visitor, Brian Wells, recently sent us his version, urging strongly that we share it more widely. So here it is - unabashedly partisan, perhaps funny, but very provocative.

Ghost Ranch Seminar----July 26-August 2



Three Sisters national conference

More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, and The Shower of Stoles Project have announced plans for a national conference, May 20 - 23, 2004, in Kansas City on the theme "From Heartland to Horizon."  Details will follow.

Energy Bill Update: Senate vote to invoke cloture failed

from the Presbyterian Washington Office
[ received 11/21/2003 10:36:41 AM Central Standard Time]

Just a few minutes ago, the Senate failed to invoke cloture, which would have limited debate on the conference report of the Energy Policy Act of 2003 (HR 6). 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture, and the vote was 57 to 40.

This means that, for now, the Senate has not agreed to ending debate and taking a vote on the conference report of the Energy Policy Act of 2003. Senate Majority Leader Frist said that another vote to invoke cloture would be scheduled before the Thanksgiving recess.

I will e-mail you a list of how Senators voted as soon as it becomes available.


For more information, contact:
Carolynn Race,
PC(U.S.A.)Washington Office,
110 Maryland Avenue, NE, #104,
Washington, DC 20002.
202-543-1126, fax 202-543-7755.

Updates on the FTAA negotiations in Miami

US backs off of early hopes

Food First reports from Miami that, as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations wee beginning, the United States had already retreated from its hard-line position of signing a binding agreement with a draft proposing a "flexible" process, recognizing that countries "may assume different levels of commitments."

This is considered a big victory for those opposing the FTAA, even as the negotiations began, yet Food First expects that the US will try to spin the negotiations as a success.

Negotiations end early with a scaled-back, more flexible plan

Agence France Presse reported early on Nov. 21 that trade ministers from the hemisphere working on the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement have wrapped up work one day ahead of schedule, with a deal that scales back the original plan for a free trade bloc of 34 nations.

Latin American nations work together to shift away from "free trade" to aid

The Washington Post reports that Latin Americans are seeking to shift FTAA plans from trade to aid, in light of their experience that "free trade" hurts them and their people far more than it helps.

Civil Rights and same sex couples

The Presbyterian Washington Office has provided very helpful background information from Presbyterian statements on civil rights and same-sex couples.

On Episcopalians and the sanctity of marriage 

This little tidbit has been floating around for some time, but someone just sent it to your WebWeaver again, and he wants to be sure you haven't missed it.

"The actions taken by the New Hampshire Episcopalians are an affront to Christians everywhere. I am just thankful that the church's founder, Henry VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon, his wife Anne Boleyn, his wife Jane Seymour, his wife Anne of Cleves, his wife Katherine Howard, and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on our traditional Christian marriage. "

-Source Unknown                Thanks to Dugan Frederick

In the midst of "culture wars," we need to keep our bearings and be ready to take risks

A regular visitor shares this comment on how we might deal with the conflicts in our church.

Why George W. Bush should love Michael Jackson

William Rivers Pitt, Managing Editor of and author of three best-selling books, offers a delightful and insightful examination of why our president should send flowers to Michael Jackson. It's not a criticism of the president, but of the media (especially CNN) that cover things like the singer's surrender in a child-molestation case with far more intensity than things like the president's beleaguered visit to London, a couple wars and their attendant casualties, and so much more.

Presbyterian elder's grandson killed in Israel
... and Hymn for Peace

A tragic death - yet another one - has struck another Presbyterian congregation, as the grandson of a Presbyterian elder is killed in Jerusalem.

Bruce Gillette, co-pastor of the church, responded with his thoughts on "Not From This World," and his co-pastor, Carolyn Gillette offered a new hymn - a hymn of lament and of trust.  It might be just right for "Christ the King" Sunday, Nov. 23.

Human Rights Day 2003 will be observed on December 10, marking the 56th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 to affirm the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all people.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and shall act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

It's an area of concern we feel more sharply these days, and here are some resources for use in preparing for worship, adult classes, or other discussions.

The Presbyterian Church website provides a good background essay on human rights, and links to many helpful resources.

The 2002-03 Human Rights Update, developed by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and approved by the 215th General Assembly, is available in PDF format - all 72 pages of it.

Human Rights Watch provides lots of good material on specific issues, such as US treatment of prisoners being held at Guantanamo, problems in China, Sudan, Liberia, Afghanistan ... and sadly, the list goes on and on.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provides more material.

You'll find the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the UN website.

The AFL/CIO is planning observances around the theme of "workers' rights are human rights."

The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice provides lots of good resources, including 12 pages of Presbyterian materials.

Also "What Faith Groups Say About the Right to Organize"

Still time to act on the energy policy bill

An urgent call has just been issued by the Presbyterian Washington Office for encouragement to Senators to take action to resist the current bill for energy policy, which would do great harm to the environment; urge them to support principles of justice and sustainability.


2003 Ghost Ranch seminar offered a challenging Biblical vision for the future  

Jane Hanna reports on last summer's seminar, with Carol Johnston, Joseph Gerson, and Jennifer Butler all looking toward our future, through perspectives of the Bible, environmental and economic concerns, the perspectives of other cultures, and work with the UN and non-governmental organizations.

Jane adds suggestions for extra reading: three books that deal helpfully with the issues discussed in the seminar.  You can see her comments, and order directly from

Ghost Ranch Seminar----July 26-August 2



Free trade or fair trade: the struggle moves to Miami  

The Free Trade Area of the Americas is being negotiated this week in Miami, with expectations (now a bit shaky, perhaps) that this extension of "free trade" to the whole of North and South America (except for Cuba, of course!) would be put into effect in 2004. We offer an index to a few reports that will give some background and analysis of this important event.
'Confessing church' pastor to run for stated clerk

The Rev. Linn "Rus" Howard, the pastor of Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church in Venetia, PA, is expected to formally announce his candidacy after Thanksgiving.  He is supporting an overture to the 216th General Assembly, calling for a "gracious separation" in the PC(USA).

That would be interesting -- elected a stated clerk whose avowed intent is to split the church.

Another step forward for gay marriage

Massachusetts' highest court ruled Tuesday that same-sex couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution, but stopped short of allowing marriage licenses to be issued to the couples who challenged the law.

The Washington Post offers a report.

The Boston Globe offers a more complete report on the court decision and its implications.

Another - and different - overture is advanced to deal with G-6.0106b

Another overture dealing with G-6.0106b was approved by the Presbytery of Western New York on May 20, 2003, thereby earning the designation of "04-01"

This overture takes a new approach to the ban on ordination of LGBT people, by affirming "a covenanted relationship between two persons where a lifetime commitment is intended" as satisfying the demands for legitimate relationships as well as "marriage between a man and a woman."

This is the first pro-LGBT overture from Western New York, and seems to reflect a way of dealing with G-6.0106b that may be more acceptable in some "moderate" presbyteries. Genesee Valley Presbytery will be considering the possibility of concurring with this overture in January.

Another overture has been approved by the Presbytery of Baltimore, and another will be considered in January by the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area.

The 2003 Covenant Network conference drew a record number of participants, with over 600 registered.

Gene TeSelle reports on many of the theological ideas presented in worship and addresses, and on the discussions of differing ideas about strategy and timing in dealing with the PCUSA ban on LGBT ordination.


Body and Soul:  Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love

Not so very long ago a thoughtful, provocative report was drafted to give guidance to the Presbyterian Church on a wide range of questions dealing with sexuality. It was sent to the 1991 General Assembly, where a few groups on the right wing of the church focused the debate on questions of homosexuality, and created enough alarm that the report was rejected.

But the document is still as good and relevant as it was then -- and is still ordered and used by many Presbyterians and others.

Now Marvin M. Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-Smith, two members of the original drafting committee, have gathered an excellent set of essays that take another look at many of the issues in the report, drawing on its wisdom for our own time.

We've posted a little review by your WebWeaver.

Connecting Diversity in Community:
Race, Class, Gender, Religion

A new ACSWP video encourages congregations to become involved connecting diversity and seeking justice in their communities.

A gathering in Chicago  

A few individuals from various groups -- right and left -- in the Presbyterian Church gathered in Chicago recently at the invitation of the Stated Clerk and the GAC Executive Director for 48 hours of conversation and reflection.  Witherspoon president Kent Winters-Hazelton was among them, and offers his perceptions of the event -- which differ a bit from those recently put forth by the Layman OnLine.

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship announces special events at School of America protests  

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship invites everyone to two special events during the protests at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia -- Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 22-23.

Witherspooners Jane Hanna and Betty Kersting plan to be at the protest.  Anybody else?  Send a note and let us know!

The tangle of God and Country in our schools

Faith, religion and patriotism get tangled up in American public life, and especially in our schools, where the Pledge of Allegiance takes on religious dimensions, and school prayer and "creationism" are leading concerns of the right.

Jonathan Zimmerman, writing in the Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 4, 2003) offers a thoughtful exploration of this interesting tangle.

Thanks to Bruce Gillette, who forwarded this essay, and added an interesting line from the Confession of 1967:

Although nations may serve God's purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.
ACSWP readies four policy papers for next summer's General Assembly  

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) has received updates of a number of proposed policy documents, including four papers it is scheduled to present to next year's General Assembly. They include discussions of a further revision of last year's paper on "Living Faithfully with Families in Transition," as well as terrorism, immigration, and limited water resources.

Thoughts on truth and lies from a "Christian" White House

Greg Garret, who teaches at Baylor University, reflects on the varieties of lying in light of his 6-year-old son's simple definition: "A lie is when you don't tell the truth."

He concludes: "Other writers can talk about how policies of the Bush White House starve the hungry, harm the widow and orphan and discomfort the prisoner. That is not my aim today. I am simply trying to teach my son to tell the truth, and I'd appreciate it if the president of the United States would give me a little backup."

"Greentrade" - an alternative to globalization's attacks on the environment

World Trade Organization and Free Trade Area of the Americas are pursuing policies that threaten existing environmental protections and give vast new powers to corporations - all through secret negotiations.

Friends of the Earth offers a variety of good resources, background papers, and more, on these critical issues.

U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear final appeal of 'Ten Commandments Judge' Roy Moore

Action ends long-running case with victory for church-state separation, says Americans United 

Colombia elections appear to reject President Uribe's right-wing government policies

The U. S. Office on Colombia sees the defeat of a referendum as a defeat for President Alvaro Uribe's rightist policies, which are closely linked with U.S. power.  Center-left candidates won in many of the local elections.

Covenant Network Conference update has been posted for the national conference, coming up next week (November 6 - 8) in Washington, DC.
Dear God

Are these really kids' "letters to God"? We don't know. We don't really care. They're pretty funny.

I read the bible. What does begat mean? Nobody will tell me.
Love, Alison

Reports from all of October are listed on the October archive page.

For links to earlier archive pages, click here.


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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