Presbyterian Voices for Justice 

A union of The Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia

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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Church and State
and the funeral of Pope John Paul II

As world leaders gather in Rome, our Washington Office reminds us of Presbyterian perspectives on church-state relations     [4-6-05]

As the world mourns the death of Pope Paul II, this email serves as a reminder of what the General Assembly has said regarding government to church relations. The news is full of stories about the official US delegation and how many former Presidents should be in attendance at the funeral. The information below is taken from an introductory section of the Social Witness Policy Compilation of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). General Assemblies, over the years, have continued to support church to church relationships between the PC(USA) and the Roman Catholic Church as part of our ecumenical efforts.


Church and State

ACSWP Introduction

The Presbyterian understanding of how the church and state should related to one another has undergone a substantial transformation in the years since 1945. In 1947, the UPCUSA Assembly declared: ". . . Now, therefore, this Assembly respectfully requests our Government constantly to be mindful of its avowed faith in Almighty God as the fountainhead of our rights and liberties and on every public occasion to give due and proper recognition of this Faith . . ." (PCUSA, 1947, p. 110). The clear expectation of the church was that the state would be Christian, or at least theistic.

The Presbyterian General Assemblies came to their present understanding of the proper relationship between church and state through a sometimes difficult struggle with Roman Catholic power in the 1940's, 50's and 60's. Fear of the Vatican's power in temporal affairs caused each major Presbyterian body's 1946 General Assembly to protest the ". . . continued official relations between our government and the Vatican, under whatever guise they are cloaked . . ." (PCUSA, 1946, p. 84; see also: PCUS, p. 82; UPCNA, p. 771). The protest was repeated in subsequent years by the Assemblies of each particular church (PCUS, 1947, p. 89, PCUSA, 1947, p. 176; PCUSA, 1949, p. 251; PCUS, 1950, p. 48; PCUSA, 1950, p. 243; PCUSA, 1952, p. 205; PCUS, 1952, p. 68; PCUS, 1953, p. 93). The 1948, PCUS Assembly approved a paper entitled "Roman Catholicism and Protestantism," which concluded, ". . . the ultimate goals of the Roman Catholic Church conflict with fundamental American principles," and ". . . present policies of the Roman Catholic Church endanger our way of life . . ." (PCUS, 1948, pp. 155 & 159). Meanwhile, the PCUSA Assembly of the same year viewed, ". . . with deep apprehension any trend . . . which would give any of the various religious organizations in this country a position of privilege . .." (PCUSA, 1948, p. 206).

In the 1980's, given a reassertion of religion's role in political life, this time largely the product of Protestant evangelical and fundamentalist groups such as the Moral Majority, church/state concerns again emerged as a topic of interest to the Presbyterian General Assemblies. In 1984, the General Assembly adopted a resolution opposing the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. government and the Vatican. Even though its protest proved fruitless in the end, the church was on record as having opposed the establishment of any form of official representation between the federal government and any religious entity (PC(USA), 1984, pp. 350-352). Church-state issues were also raised in the context of laws respecting clergy confidentiality on which the General Assembly made its views known in a 1987 resolution appearing below. Most recently, in 1988, the General Assembly adopted a major policy statement on religious liberty, entitled "God Alone is Lord of the Conscience," also excerpted below.

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church (USA)
202-543-7755 (fax)
100 Maryland Avenue, N.E., Suite 410
Washington, DC 20002

For more information, contact:
Rich Houston, Presbyterian Washington Office, 100 Maryland Ave. NE, Suite 410 Washington, DC 20002 202-543-1126, fax 202-543-7755. Email



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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