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Archives:  March 2005

This page lists all our reports and commentary from March, 2005

For items added in April 2005 >>
For all items from February, 2005 >>
Find all stories from January 2005
For items archived from December, 2004, click here.
Our coverage of the 2004 General Assembly is indexed on a special page.
For links to earlier archive pages, click here.

A prayer on the death of Terri Schiavo

Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian minister and “Your Guide to Christianity – General” on, offers this prayer of gratitude for the gift of life, and a releasing of the loved one into the hands of God.

God of compassion and love,
you have breathed into us the breath of life
and have given us minds and bodies in which we live out
our days on earth.

For the gift of life, we are grateful.

We humbly acknowledge that there is a time to live,
and a time to die.

We commit this life* to you,
trusting in your gracious promises and
confident in the sure and certain hope of new
life in the world to come.

Into your hands we commit our beloved.
May your will be done!

In the good and gracious name of Christ,
we pray. Amen.

* the name of a loved one may be used here.

You can also read it on Henderson's web site >>

Other good resources from Dr. Henderson:

bullet a lengthy essay on the “right to die" >>
bullet a lawyerly survey of the legal issues in the Schiavo case >>

More on the dying of Terri Schiavo >>  

Witherspoon co-sponsors “Peace Not Poverty” witness

The executive committee of the Witherspoon Society has committed to co-sponsor the interfaith witness for “Peace Not Poverty,” which will culminate in a declaration that will be read at the "Beyond Iraq" interfaith service on April 4 at Riverside Church in New York City.

Two Witherspoon members, the Rev. Phyllis Zoon and the Rev. Tom Philipp, will  represent us in the opening procession.

More on the April 4th service and witness at Riverside Church >>

Break the Silence Bus Tour 

Following the April 4th Beyond Iraq Service and Rally at Riverside Church in New York City, the Building the Beloved Community Leaders are boarding a bus and heading out to Philadelphia, PA and Washington, DC to answer forcefully the attacks on freedom and justice by religious voices from the right.

Come, add your voice. Be there to greet the “Building Beloved Community” leaders on their bus tour throughout the nation.

Speak out against the Iraq War and its conduct. Speak out for economic, civil and social justice in our own land.

The first two stops have been finalized.

Philadelphia, PA – Tuesday, April 5, 11:00 am - 12:30 pm at Project Home, 1515 Fairmount Ave.

Washington, DC – Tuesday, April 5, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm at National City Christian Church, 5 Thomas Circle.

Additionally, all clergy and other religious leaders from all faith traditions are invited to an organizing session for an ongoing progressive religious community presence and voice in the nation's capitol. This will be held April 6, 9 am - 11 am at National City Christian Church.

Details for the rest of the bus tour will follow.

Please share this invitation to all in the Philadelphia and Washington DC areas who might want to attend. Thanks for your support.

If you can represent Witherspoon as a local coordinator in Washington or Philadelphia, please let us know.  Just send a note!

Marriage promotion, reproductive injustice, and the war against poor women of color

With Republicans busy attempting to take away Michael Schiavo's marital rights, and making sure gays don't have any, it's easy to forget another of the party's priorities is the Healthy Marriage Initiative, which links welfare benefits to getting hitched. The legislation, as invasive as it is hypocritical, is especially harmful to poor women and women of color who have been domestically abused.

From Utne WebWatch

bullet Read a digest of the article
bullet or the whole essay by Sarah Olson, in dollars&sense
Covenant Network’s Turning Points documentary honored by Religion Communicators Council

The Religion Communicators Council has selected Turning Points: Stories of Life and Change in the Church to receive the 2005 DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial Award as Best in Class for Educational/Documentary Video. The hour-long documentary was produced by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians in cooperation with Greenhouse Pictures in New York.

Read the complete press release >>

A call to repentance

Presbyterians from left and right attend prayerful Coalition conference

Houston, Texas, saw a gathering on March 17-19 of some 75 Presbyterians under the theme, "Repent & Believe: A Call to Prayer and Repentance." Convened by the conservative affinity group, the Presbyterian Coalition, the conference sought to provide an occasion for prayer and repentance, drawing together people from both the right and left sides of the PC(USA).

Read the Presbyterian News Service report.>>

Presbytery cuts ties with Messianic Jewish congregation

Relationship with Philadelphia’s Avodat Yisrael ends July 1

Philadelphia Presbytery voted Tuesday to end its relationship with Congregation Avodat Yisrael, the Messianic Jewish new-church development it began supporting in 2002.

On Tuesday, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the General Assembly, said in a prepared statement: “I am deeply grateful for the faithful work and witness of this and every other presbytery across the Presbyterian Church (USA), as we all seek to live out our call to share the good news of the gospel and to respect the common roots we share with our Jewish neighbors.”

Read the PNS report >>

For background on the Avodat Yisrael congregation >>

"Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances" join together to fight Patriot Act

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and President Bush are insisting that the U.S.A. Patriot Act must be renewed in full by Congress, despite the ever-growing concern from Americans across the political spectrum that the legislation unnecessarily undermines the defining tenets of our nation: the rights guaranteed by the Constitution itself. The Patriot Act, legislation passed hastily immediately following the September 11th attacks, allows for undue government intrusion into the private lives of average Americans.

This week a broad array of organizations, from the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform to the American Civil Liberties Union, joined in coalition to fight the controversial provisions of the Patriot Act. The mission of this partnership of progressives and conservatives, called "Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances," is to "fix the Patriot Act to enable the government to fight terror while preserving important checks and balances on law enforcement." The group is urging Congress to carefully review the Patriot Act, and to modify provisions giving the government enhanced surveillance and monitoring powers without cause.

Read more about the newly-launched "Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances." >>

Moderator and Stated Clerk send their latest letters to the PC(USA)     

Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase writes with enthusiasm about the diversity and the dynamic leadership he has found among Presbyterian young adults and college students in his visits this year.

Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick reflects on a spring without preparations for a General Assembly. (He doesn’t sigh visibly in his article, but you can almost imagine ...) He sees good things happening: "evidence that we are finding new ways to build community other than through legislative assemblies"; plans for various regional gathering and the National Pastors’ Retreat that might not be possible otherwise.  

A pastor writes to say that Terri Schiavo’s situation is not like those on true life support

Responding to our note about an article in the Columbia Journalism Review, the Rev. Jim Tweedie that the two patients mentioned in the article clearly could not have survived without life support, while Terri Schiavo has needed only food and fluid. He says this makes a difference that should be respected.

If you really want something new ... 

Folks can now advertise their commitment to abstinence thanks to a clothing line that’s getting more attention.

Los Angeles-based Wait Wear sells t-shirts and, most interestingly, underwear with various messages promoting abstinence until marriage.

One set of briefs reads “No Vows No Sex,” while a bikini brief has “Traffic Control: Wait for Marriage” emblazoned on the crotch. One of the girl’s t-shirts says, “Notice: No Trespassing on This Property. My Father Is Watching.” 

Read more and see a picture >>

There’s still time to get into the conversation for peace

This Wednesday, people all across the country will meet online -- we're expecting hundreds of thousands. Working together, we'll create a written Declaration for peace and justice and against the war (a smart new online collaboration tool will make it possible for such a huge group to work together easily). The goal is to articulate the progressive vision we all share for America, and to launch a determined, on-going nationwide effort to end the war and realize that positive dream.

Here's the link to sign up for the meeting:

That declaration of values -- YOUR values -- will be read in a televised "Beyond Iraq" interfaith service from historic Riverside Church in New York on April 4th, the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1967 speech against the Vietnam War. Then our friends from the Peace Not Poverty campaign will take the message on the road with a nationwide bus tour to connect with people of conscience across America.

In order to participate YOU MUST SIGN UP BY TUES, MARCH 29 AT NOON at

We're proud to be supporting the work of this unique event's many co-sponsors:

Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq, Clergy and Laity Network, Faith Voices for the Common Good, Drive Democracy, Fellowship of Reconciliation, United for Peace and Justice, National Council of Churches, FaithfulAmerica, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Gold Star Families for Peace, Pax Christi USA, The Tikkun Community, Unitarian Universalist Association, The Shalom Center, World Sikh Council-America Region, Progressive Christians Uniting, Protestants for the Common Good, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Christians for Justice Action (United Church of Christ), Disciples Justice Action Network, Witherspoon Society, Church of the Brethren, Peace Witness Office, Rainbow PUSH Coalition Clergy and Laity Network, The WHALE Center, The Bruderhof, Call to Action, The Witness Magazine, One Life Institute, Peace and Security Project of Iowa, Episcopal Divinity School

More >>

Thoughts for the day after Easter:

"Sad week gives way to joyful morning"

That’s the headline on Garrison Keillor’s Easter reflections in Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. I first misread it as “joyful mourning,” which I like better. Anyway, here’s a thoughtful look at the meaning of Easter from the land where ten people died just a week ago on the Red Lake Indian reservation, and the nation watched a family in Florida struggled with a question which, as Keillor says, “everybody over 50 has considered long ago.” I hope you’ll enjoy his essay as a little after-Easter meditation – a gift from the land where global warming doesn’t look like such a bad deal.

3/25/05 -- May God's Spirit live in us and among us on this holy day.

On the dying of Terri Schiavo

Personal Reflections on Theresa Schiavo's Life

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, has written a personal expression of concern – for Terri Schiavo and her family, and for the political climate in our nation today.

A few excerpts:

The life-and-death issues brought into focus by Mrs. Schiavo’s sad condition involve medical questions and legal considerations far too complex for me to address without more information. I might add that, in my opinion, members of the United States Congress would have been well advised to adopt a posture of humility and compassion related to these issues as they impact Mrs. Schiavo and her family. ...

Profound questions disturb me. Are there no limits on the intrusive reach of this government? Where will Washington go next? Do claims of both religious and political authority give a government the right to invade the spheres of personal autonomy and religious independence? How long will the American public wait for such questions to be answered.

Dear friends, all of us would do well to step back from the bedside of a woman caught somewhere between death and life, divorce our political initiatives from this realm of personal and familial pain, pray for the peace of Terri Schiavo and her family, and ... decide what we are going to do about our democracy.

Read his letter in full >>


"The case is full of great ironies. A large part of Terri's hospice costs are paid by Medicaid, a program that the administration and conservatives in Congress would sharply reduce. Some of her other expenses have been covered by the million-dollar proceeds of a malpractice suit - the kind of suit that President Bush has fought to scale back."

- NPR commentator Daniel Schorr.       [with thanks to Stuart Robertson]

Ten Native Americans die, and there is silence

[a little comment from your WebWeaver]

As residents of Minnesota, we may feel a little closer to the killings and suicide in Red Lake, just a couple hundred miles north of the Twin Cities.  And we do wonder about a sense of proportion.  Ten people -- men, women, and teen-agers -- are dead, and a tightly connected Native American community is deeply affected.  And from the White House, not a word.  For one white woman, slowly dying in Florida after years of unconsciousness, the White House and Congress have tried to move heaven and earth -- or at least the state and federal courts, including even the Supremes -- to extend the life of Terri Schiavo's body a bit longer.  Why?

Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement here in the Twin Cities, is quoted in a Washington Post article as commenting:  "From all over the world we are getting letters of condolence, the Red Cross has come, but the so-called Great White Father in Washington hasn't said or done a thing.   When people's children are murdered and others are in the hospital hanging on to life, he should be the first one to offer his condolences. . . . If this was a white community, I don't think he'd have any problem doing that."

Resources for end-of-life issues

As the impending end of Terri Schiavo's life moves many people to think about similar situations that might one day face them, we offer some listings of helpful resources for dealing with end-of-life issues, living wills, and more.  

More on the dying of Terri Schiavo >>

25 years after Romero assassination, liberation theology lives on

While the past 25 years have seen an apparent decline in the impact of liberation theology in our churches and seminaries, Celeste Kennel-Shank argues that it still makes a difference – in Christian base communities in Central America, in the continuing witness against the School of the Americas, in the churches’ awareness that “salvation is connected to liberation in this world.”

Says Margaret Swedish, a Romero biographer and director of the Washington-based Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico, says “What he presents us with is a model of how to be a community of faith in a time of fear. ... His legacy is still powerful today, especially in the U.S. with 9/11 and the war in Iraq. People are looking to these martyrs to see how to witness in a time of violence.”

Read the whole article, from Religion News Service >>

Peace - NOT Poverty

The Witherspoon Society has endorsed this upcoming act of witness for peace and justice. 

And since then, FaithfulAmerica has sent a message urging support for the Peace Not Poverty witness. It provides a good survey of the activities planned, and why they’re important.

Faith leaders to call for ‘Hunger No More’

Capital gathering in June will include PC(USA)’s Kirkpatrick

An interfaith convocation on hunger organized by Bread for the World (BFW), a Christian anti-hunger group, will bring together a host of prominent U.S. religious leaders, including the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The gathering, “Hunger No More: An Interfaith Convocation,” is scheduled for June 6 at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

The event, part of a larger conference in the capital, will address hunger in the United States and around the world. Participants will urge President Bush and members of Congress to join Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths in a new national commitment to ending hunger.

“As Christians, and as all people of faith, we are called to care for hungry people,” Kirkpatrick said. “This issue is one on which we can all agree. So, we are using our collective voice at this historic event to call our government to stand for ‘the least among us.’ I am proud to represent the PC(USA) at this event.”

Read the full report from Presbyterian News Service >>

Proclaiming Easter

Presbyterian Outlook has posted two very helpful sermons on the meaning of Easter:

The Significance of the Resurrection by Cynthia L. Rigby

Easter Faith, Easter Church by George W. Stroup

Also -- "A Prayer at the Empty Tomb" is a short poem shared with us by Witherspooner Bill LeMosy.  It awakens reflection on conversion and compassion, justice and wisdom, faith and transformation.


Witherspoon co-sponsors “Peace Not Poverty” witness 

The executive committee of the Witherspoon Society has committed to co-sponsor the interfaith witness for “Peace Not Poverty,” which will culminate in a declaration that will be read at the "Beyond Iraq" interfaith service on April 4 in Riverside Church in New York City.

You can play a role in drafting the statement.

On March 30, a one-million-person community of conscience will gather online to create a declaration against the Iraq War. This "write-in" is the second of four events planned by progressive religious leaders and organizations to launch a movement to build what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the Beloved Community.

More >>

Questions or comments?
Please send a note!

Remembering Romero

The "Salvador Option" —to use death squads to target Iraqi regime enemies—is still being considered at the Pentagon. Twenty-five years ago today, the original Salvador option assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero. Mark Engler, an analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus, looks that that dark time and warns that choosing state-sponsored terror as U.S. policy in Iraq will only exacerbate the incipient civil war and kill more innocent civilians. 


Read the essay >>

... and our short posting from yesterday

More on "the Schiavo case"

We recently received a note urging us to provide some serious moral and theological reflection on the tragic case of Terri Schiavo.

Read the note >>

Here are more reflections, first from Witherspoon Issues Analyst Gene TeSelle, then a press release from Americans United, and finally an analysis of media coverage, by the Columbia Journalism Review

And of course, We welcome your comments!
Just send a note to be shared here.

Tomorrow, March 24, marks the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

As the archbishop of San Salvador, Romero regularly spoke out against the growing violence and violations of human rights perpetrated by the armed forces and paramilitary death squads in his country. On March 23, 1980, he directly addressed the country's soldiers in his weekly homily, pleading, "In the name of God, in the name of these suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression."

The next day, he was shot dead by a sniper while celebrating Mass.

We invite you to remember his death, celebrate his life, and meditate on God’s call to us to be partisans for peace in our own time and place.

You might begin by looking at a short piece posted in the San Romero Yahoo Discussion Group by Carlos X. Colorado, moderator,

It’s called Ten Reasons Why Archbishop Romero Is Important, 25 Years after His Death

The first four reasons (to get you started) are

1. He told the marginalized, "you are important"

2. He was a Christian martyr

3. He was a prophet

4. His "conversion" makes him a compelling hero

Read the whole essay >>

Towards a Just and Durable Peace: Presbyterian Bruce Gillette speaks to the United Nations on Israelis and Palestinians

On March 9, 2005, the Rev. Bruce Gillette, moderator for the Assembly Committee on Peacemaking of the 216th General Assembly (2004), spoke to a special meeting of the United Nations in Geneva about the creative actions for peace and justice for all in the Middle East that were taken by the assembly. One week after the assembly met, the International Court of Justice (the principal judicial organ of the United Nations since 1946) issued an advisory opinion that "the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law." The UN held a special meeting on the question of Palestine on March 8-9, 2005 in its Geneva offices for the purpose of exploring the implications of the ICJ opinion and peacemaking efforts in the Middle East by various groups in society through the support of international law. The Presbyterian Church (USA) was the only religious organization to be invited to make a presentation at this meeting.


Read the full text of Gillette’s statement, which offers a careful tracing of the background of the PC(USA) action at the 216th General Assembly, the process and criteria by which divestment decisions are shaped and weighed, and much more.

On being a nation of Pharisees

Jesuit warns that America has become a nation of Pharisees -- and Presbyterian Berry Craig takes off from there. 

In this provocative little essay (and that word can mean it's one that will make you think -- or make you mad) journalist and professor Berry Craig, responds to a recent article by Jesuit John Dear, saying that "we have become a culture of Pharisees." 

We encourage you to take a look at Dear's essay, along with Craig's.

Responding to the shootings at Red Lake (MN) High School

We grieve with those whose lives have been touched by the shootings at Red Lake High School and by gun violence across the country. Five years ago, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote new words to a hymn that seem particularly appropriate today.  It's called "A Prayer for the Children," and it is available on the web page of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

Thanks to Bruce Gillette

Student activists (yes, they’re out there!) are going hungry to help janitors

Twenty-five Georgetown University students are carrying on a hunger strike to support demands for living wages security for the university's 450 contract employees, mostly custodial, food service and security workers.

Read the report in the Washington Post ... or on

Today Witherspoon members have been sending lots of notes -- their own reports, reflections, or suggestions of other sources.  Keep up the good work!  And if you're not a Witherspoon member, we welcome your contributions too!  Just send a note.
The case of Terri Schiavo

Witherspoon member Dean Lindsey asks for reflection on the tragic and conflict-laden case of Terri Schiavo -- and he offers some opening thoughts.

A political take on the situation:  It's a "midnight coup" in Washington

The L. A. Times comments on the intervention of Congress and the President as a "midnight coup," short-circuiting the role of states and their courts, thus merely imposing a right-wing interpretation of morality on the nation.

We welcome your comments!
Just send a note to be shared here.

Two years of war marked by vigils and protests

Witherspooner Jean Rodenbough sends her reflections on the protest rally she joined in Fayetteville, NC, outside Fort Bragg.

The Chicago Tribune reported on the demonstrations with a focus on the action outside Fort Bragg, but covering the broader picture as well.

TruthOut presents a long collection of web reports from participants in actions around the country.

A former Israeli soldier calls for divestment as a way to peace

Witherspooners Darrell and Sue Yeaney have shared with us an article published in The Nation. Calling it "a powerful witness to the truth by an former member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), [and] a witness that few Americans see, hear or know," they encourage people to share it with friends and acquaintances.

After recounting his experiences in the Israeli army (including the torture of Palestinian detainees), he says:

After years of failed political efforts by the Israeli and international human rights community aimed at ending the occupation, it is clear that new approaches must be implemented. It is time for American civic institutions to support a multi-tiered campaign of strategic, selective sanctions against Israel until the occupation ends. Since the Israeli government is flagrantly disobeying the ICJ decision, international law mandates the use of sanctions to force Israel to comply with UN resolutions and human rights treaties.

The first step for American institutions is to engage in selective divestment--withdrawal of their investments from companies that are, directly or indirectly, funding the occupation.

Faith and science – not enemies!

Witherspooner Chris Iosso urges that ministers and others might want to sign on to a public letter calling for clear thinking (theological and otherwise) about the relation between faith and science.

Guatemalans protest against CAFTA

Karla Koll, a Presbyterian mission co-worker in Guatemala, sends an on-the-scene report of demonstrations against the legislature's approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). At least one demonstrator has been killed, apparently by police.

What we can learn from the Orthodox churches

Jean Rodenbough, a retired Presbyterian minister, reflect s on a two-week visit to Belarus and Russia by ten representatives of Salem Presbytery. Her time with churches in the Russian Orthodox tradition exposed her, she says, "to an alternative for our studied intellectual approach to faith." In the Orthodox sense of the Mystery of the divine she finds what could be a refreshing corrective for our current problems and tensions. 

PCUSA and divestment from Israel supported by Jewish organization

A representative of Jewish Voice for Peace tells Chicago Presbyterians why her group appreciates and supports the PC(USA)’s considering possibilities for selective divestment from companies that are providing equipment and other support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

Thanks to PresbyWeb for this connection.

Resources for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday
bullet A State of Emergency: Meditation for Palm Sunday
On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Christ's entry in the city of Jerusalem. On that occasion Jesus felt that the people faced a state of emergency, but did not realize the seriousness of their situation. The same may be true today ...

The Rev. Charles Henderson, Presbyterian minister and “Your Guide to Christianity” on, reflects on Christ's warning to a world at war.

bullet A New Freedom Seder

Many Presbyterian churches combine the Jewish celebration of the Passover seder with their celebrations of Maundy Thursday.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has published a new version of the well-known Freedom Seder. As he introduces it: “Now it is we who renew the Seder, rebirthing the Telling of freedom itself as the Telling rebirths us. New Pharaohs have arisen. It is time for a new birth of freedom, time for a NEW FREEDOM SEDER.”

New organization of U.S. churches set for June launch

Ecumenical group first to include Catholic bishops  

A long-discussed organization of a wide range of U.S. churches and church bodies will be launched in June. The new group, Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT-USA), will officially inaugurate its work on June 1. It will include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelicals for Social Action, the humanitarian organization World Vision, as well as evangelical and main-line Protestant denominations.

Bankruptcy – a real problem

We recently called attention to a critique of the bill now in Congress to make it more difficult of people to declare bankruptcy, particularly as falling most heavily on people of limited means.

Witherspooner Gordon Shull of Wooster, OH, sends this comment:

Re. the bankruptcy bill: friends of the poor need to acknowledge that the abuse of bankruptcy options is a serious problem. Creditors have a right to be paid. I know creditors who have been grievously damaged by unscrupulous or careless "bankrupters."

The fact that the new bill would fall heavily on the needy is one more reason to correct our health insurance scandal, and to provide government-as-employer-of-last-resort for the unemployed. If we solved these problems we could deal with bankruptcy on its own merits. But it is awkward and unhelpful to try to help the poor and needy via bankruptcy legislation.

-Gordon Shull, Wooster, OH

Bankruptcy bill said to hit poorest Americans hardest

If you’ve been following the Senate debate and action on the so-called “bankruptcy reform bill,” you’re probably aware that it will have a great impact on many people of limited means, who have used bankruptcy as a way to get a fresh start – often when they have been overcome by illness and medical bills, or by unemployment.

This article provides more details on the impact of the bill, which passed the Senate last week, and will very likely be approved by the House and then signed by the President.

Read it on or on CommonDreams

Read a comment on this item >>

Top court rejects appeal involving Muslim's head scarf

Freedom of religious observance seems to be restricted by the ruling. 

The AP story >>

Sex and Shame: from Ancient Israel to Today

Wilson College, in Chambersburg, PA, is holding a one-day forum on this provocative subject on Monday, March 28, with Dr. Alice Ogden Bellis of Howard University’s School of Divinity as the featured speaker, and a number of interesting workshops are planned.

To Pre-Register or for more information visit
Or contact David True, Chair of Philosophy and Religion:  (717) 264-4141

Rocky Mountain College will host a Jesus Seminar on the Road (JSOR) in Billings, Montana, April 8 and 9.

The workshop is entitled; "Jesus Before and After the Myth." Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar will be there, and will be joined by Joe Bessler-Northcutt of Phillips Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

For more information and instructions on how to register >>

For the frugal: If you sign up by Friday, you will save money.

Thanks to Witherspooner John Shuck

New DVD series tells stories of Palestinian Christians in West Bank 

Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders announce the completion of their series

Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders lived in the mostly Christian Palestinian village of Zababdeh from August, 2000, through December, 2003. Volunteers with the Presbyterian Church (USA), their ministry was one of ecumenical support to the Church in the land of its birth. Salt of the Earth documents the lives of nine Palestinian Christians living in the northern West Bank. This film grew out of a desire among their Palestinian neighbors to share their stories, and a desire among Christians in the West to hear them. The Sanders describe the project as "a labor of love, a response to the graciousness, warmth, hospitality, and welcome we received from our Palestinian neighbors and colleagues."

10 Things You Never Hear in Church ... including ...

1. Hey! It's my turn to sit in the front pew!

5. I volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Junior High Sunday School class.

Don't miss the other eight >>

Network News for Winter 2005 is in the mail ...
and it's right here in PDF format
Announcing a major Witherspoon event:

A national conference on Global Mission and Justice,
Sept. 9 - 11, Stony Point, NY. 
"Dancing with God: Global Mission on the Edge."

We've added more information, and a registration form for the event.

Louisville gathering celebrates success of the Taco Bell boycott

Noelle Damico, coordinator of the Taco Bell Boycott, reports that "yesterday many, many folks gathered to celebrate the just resolution of the Taco Bell boycott at the Presbyterian Church's headquarters in Louisville."  She provides links to two articles from the Louisville Courier Journal which "will give you a sense of the joy and commitment that marked the day!"

Peace Not Poverty -- bearing witness for the “Beloved Community” 

On March 30, a one-million-person community of conscience will gather online to create a declaration against the Iraq War. This "write-in" is the second of four events planned by progressive religious leaders and organizations to launch a movement to build what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the Beloved Community.  Details  >>

Church leaders term Bush budget ‘unjust’

Kirkpatrick among those calling for opposition to ’06 spending plan  

The leaders of five mainline Protestant denominations, speaking together at a press conference in Washington on March 8, called President Bush’s 2006 federal budget "unjust."

Kirkpatrick was represented by the Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, director of the PC(USA)’s Washington Office. She read a statement Kirkpatrick had prepared.

Domestic Programs Slated for Large Cuts in 2006 Budget

The Presbyterian Washington Report, prepared by the PCUSA Washington Office, provides more details about the severe and broad cuts in domestic programs that would be imposed by the Administration’s budget proposal. Programs impacted would include those that help alleviate hunger through Food Stamps and school lunch programs, provide high quality public education to all children, assist families in affording safe child care, help families find safe, affordable housing, and offer unemployment benefits.

PCUSA news releases stimulate issue-oriented discussion and action in a congregation

The Rev. Linda Pflugfelder shares this suggestive idea in a note dated 3/10/05:

I want to comment on a PCUSA news release I received this morning entitled "Under the Radar" concerning the numbers of people in the pews who are not aware of 216th General Assembly’s controversial actions with respect to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

We have experienced a wonderful thing happening in our church because of these PCUSA news releases I receive because I forward them on to those few people in the congregation that I think will be interested.

When I received one a while back about the ecumenical letter that went to President Bush concerning the conflict in the Middle East, I forwarded it to about 8 people I thought would be interested in it, asking if they wanted to get together and talk about what we could do to help promote peace. I thought maybe we'd write a letter. What happened was phenomenal!

We met and they decided to form a "peacemaking" group in our congregation that would be responsible for finding ways to educate the congregation about issues of peace and justice.

This group of 8 has met weekly to plan a four-week Adult Ed class on the Israel/Palestine situation. They have done research, contacted people who can speak from different perspectives and found material to lead this discussion with our congregation. I am only with them as a resource. When this series is done, they plan to continue to meet together to find other ways to educate the congregation about peace and justice issues.

This is just one way to get important issues "on the radar screen." (And it is not left up to the pastors to get it there.)


Rev. Linda Pflugfelder

You can always get the latest reports from Presbyterian News Service

Sharing the Waters of Life
June 9-12, 2005
Presbyterians for Restoring Creation
5th National Eco-Justice Conference
Silver Bay YMCA Center, Silver Bay, NY

"Sharing the Waters of Life" will gather people from throughout the U.S. to:


Explore biblical and theological foundations for responsible human living in God's creation


Learn of water challenges in relationship to economic and ecological justice, globally and locally-in your own watershed as well as in the Lake George, Adirondack, and Hudson River watersheds.


Share strategies, skills, and opportunities for on-going education and action.


Advocate as a gathered community for just public policies. Adopt new five-year goals and action plan for PRC.


Celebrate the tenth anniversary of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, as well as global accomplishments for environmental justice of the past decade, through music, dance, arts and worship.


Church Folks for a Better America adds progressive faith-based voices to the "moral values" debate

Princeton Seminary professor George Hunsinger started this group, to which we have referred in the past. Now in The Nation magazine he shares this thoughts on Iraq, torture, and the challenges facing progressive religious leaders.

Read our earlier reference >>

3/8/05  --  a good-news bulletin
It’s over, and the workers won!
Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Taco Bell reach groundbreaking agreement

CIW to end Taco Bell boycott; Taco Bell to pay penny-per-pound surcharge demanded by workers, will work with CIW to raise farm labor standards in supply chain, across industry as a whole


A letter has just been sent to middle governing bodies, telling of the settlement ending Taco Bell boycott

... and a note from Noelle Damico, boycott coordinator for PC(USA)

Rev. Don Beisswenger speaks to his presbytery about the spiritual significance of his 6 month prison term for nonviolent protest against the School of the Americas

Don Beisswenger was arrested for his participation in the November 2003 demonstration again the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.  He was sent to the Federal Prison in Manchester, Kentucky, where he served a six-month sentence.  He completed his sentence and was released on October 1, 2004. 

In speaking to his Presbytery, Don reflects on the meaning of his action, the continuing violence -- especially now in Colombia -- rooted in the work of SOA.  He concludes:

Prison is not foreign to our faith. In Hebrews we are called to “remember those in prison as though in prison with them, and as those who are ill treated for you also are of the body.”

So I thank you as you remembered me with prayer and letters. I knew a deep sense of community with the people of God, and peace, even amidst the difficult time.

Erin Swenson receives Lazarus Award, speaks about her own new life in becoming female

Rev. Erin Swenson received 2005 Lazarus Project Award at the Lazarus Banquet in Pasadena, CA, on February 26, 2005.

Susan Halcomb Craig, pastor of United University Church in Los Angeles, introduced her saying: ".. after 23 years of ordained service in the Presbyterian Church, Erin became the first known mainstream Protestant minister to transition from male to female while retaining her ordained status in the denomination. Erin is accomplished as theologian and psychotherapist; as Ph.D. author and educator; as More Light Presbyterians’ Co-Moderator and counselor; as father/mother and devoted family member, wise woman and friend."

Erin, in her keynote address, spoke about the occasional importance of a comma (as in that popular book Eats, Shoots and Leaves). A lectionary reading for later this summer will include Isaiah 56:1, 6-8. It’s a powerful, prophetic passage which demands doing justice, but skips over (with a comma) the inclusion of foreigners, "eunuchs" and those who don’t have children among God’s people.

More >>

Confession is good for the soul ... even in journalism

We have recently posted news of an argument of sorts between Parker T. Williamson, editor of the Layman, and Dr. Mark Achtemeier, a conservative member of the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity.  Achetemeier demanded that Williamson retract some of the things he said about Achtemeier's classroom teaching.  Williamson has refused to retract, correct, or apologize for what he wrote.

We have also linked to a much-discussed talk by journalist Bill Moyers, in which he quoted a statement and attributed it to former Secretary of the Interior James Watt.  Turns out Watt apparently never said that, and Moyers apologized.

In passing, we noted the contrast between the two journalists.  Now a former journalist, Berry Craig, offers a few more comments on the ethics of journalism, the importance checking facts, and the equal important of acknowledging our mistrakes.

This May and June, three different national Presbyterian conferences are taking place in Snowbird, Utah. Witherspoon encourages you to consider taking part in one of these if you can.
More discussion on "Steps toward peace in Israel and Palestine"

a report by Arch Taylor on a conference sponsored by the Office of the General Assembly, February 10-12, 2005

We recently posted Arch Taylor’s summary of a discussion on Israel and Palestine, which focused on concerns expressed about the possibility of divestment of some PS(USA) investments in companies providing support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

We received one brief note from Will Spotts, objecting to some of Taylor’s statements, along with comments by Sarah Lisherness of the Presbyterian Peace Program, as showing lack of respect for Jewish statements and attitudes.

A longer comment came from Robert Hardage of New York, taking issue with Taylor’s characterization of the group Rabbis for Human Rights, and some of his descriptions of the State of Israel in general. Dr. Taylor has responded to that note, and Mr. Hardage has offered further elaboration of his views.

A reminder:  Taco Bell rally in Louisville, March 12th  

A Canadian looks wryly at US policies – missile defense projects and all

Witherspooner Darrell Yeaney of Iowa City, IA, sends word of an open letter from former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after the US Ambassador to Canada asked "why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty" by not going along with the US missile defense project.

He begins with a wee bit of sarcasm:

Dear Condi, I'm glad you've decided to get over your fit of pique and venture north to visit your closest neighbour. It's a chance to learn a thing or two. Maybe more.

I know it seems improbable to your divinely guided master in the White House that mere mortals might disagree with participating in a missile-defence system that has failed in its last three tests, even though the tests themselves were carefully rigged to show results.

But he moves far deeper to point out truly important differences between the attitudes of Canadians and their neighbors to the south. Among other things: 

I invite you to expand the narrow perspective that seems to inform your opinions of Canada by ranging far wider in your reach of contacts and discussions. You would find that what is rising in Canada is not so much anti-Americanism, as claimed by your and our right-wing commentators, but fundamental disagreements with certain policies of your government. You would see that rather than just reacting to events by drawing on old conventional wisdoms, many Canadians are trying to think our way through to some ideas that can be helpful in building a more secure world.

These Canadians believe that security can be achieved through well-modulated efforts to protect the rights of people, not just nation-states.

To encourage and advance international co-operation on managing the risk of climate change, they believe that we need agreements like Kyoto.

Read the full letter >>

Unseen and bloody realities of the Iraq war

Another helpful Witherspooner, Jean Rodenbough, of Madison, NC, calls our attention to something few of us saw on Inauguration Day – or any time since.

Sister Joan Chittister wrote in the National Catholic Reporter on Jan. 28, while she was in Dublin, about seeing vivid photos in the Dublin paper, which were apparently circulating rapidly all over Europe. They depicted the shooting of a car-load of Iraqi civilians in Tal Afar, when their car did not slow down for an American check point. (Sounds sadly close to today’s news of the shooting of Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist just released from weeks of being held hostage by Iraqis in .)

The series of photos of the incident includes one of a little girl screaming beside her family car, the blood of her parents splattered on her dress.

Jean adds: “I cannot even now remember that photo without getting choked up. Yet it has not appeared in US papers, at least around here, nor did the Greensboro paper publish a letter I wrote about it (whether it was because it didn't fit any of their criteria, or because they didn't want to touch this subject, I dunno).”

You can look at Joan Chittister's article or go directly to look at the photos. Jean asks, “Is there something that can be done to publicize this? That 3rd picture stands on a par with the Vietnamese girl running naked down the street during the Vietnam War. I am just appalled that this news story never reached US media. According to Chittister's article, it spread like wildfire across Europe.”

bulletA quick Google search turned up hundreds of links, but your WebWeaver in scanning the first 100 found only one report of this incident in a US newspaper – the Long Island paper Newsday.

Bankruptcy Reform bill would make it harder for Americans to get relief from high medical bills by declaring bankruptcy

This word comes to us from FamiliesUSA – slightly edited here

One urgent issue in Congress today is S.256, the Bankruptcy Reform bill, which would make it harder for average Americans in financial distress to receive help through the bankruptcy process. This bill is especially harmful because nearly half of all bankruptcies in America are caused by medical bills.

To ease the harmful effects of this bill for those who must declare bankruptcy for medical reasons, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) will introduce several amendments to the bill next week. These may include limiting how much hospitals can charge those individuals, Medicare prescription drug negotiation authority for the federal government, drug reimportation, and other measures to deal with the rising costs of health care.

To take action now --

Call your Senators to oppose making it harder for Americans with high medical bills to declare bankruptcy. Instead, urge them to support efforts to lower hospital and prescription drug bills. To find your Senator's phone number, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

For more information, read E.J. Dionne's column in The Washington Post, "A Bill Bankrupt of Pity" (free registration required).


Steps toward peace in Israel and Palestine

Arch Taylor offers a detailed report on a conference sponsored by the Office of the General Assembly, February 10-12, 2005, to help Presbyterians from all over the Church gain understanding of the historical background of the Israel/Palestine conflict, the GA policy, the process leading up to the official action related to the possibility of divestment, and to assist the implementation of the action.

A hymn for World Day of Prayer, 2005

O God of Light, May Our Light Shine

The World Day of Prayer 2005s theme is Let our Light Shine. The new hymn, O God of Light, May Our Light Shine, was written by Carolyn Gillette for the ecumenical celebration of the World Day of Prayer hosted by the Hockessin United Methodist Church in Delaware. We thought you might like to see it and maybe share it with others.

from Carolyn and Bruce Gillette  

We are a "pharisee nation," argues Jesuit priest John Dear

John Dear says that "we have become a culture of Pharisees. Instead of practicing an authentic spirituality of compassion, nonviolence, love and peace, we as a collective people have become self-righteous, arrogant, powerful, murderous hypocrites who dominate and kill others in the name of God."

He urges that Christians become not like the pharisees, but rather "try all over again to follow the dangerous, nonviolent, troublemaking Jesus." 

NCC Interfaith Relations Office provides guidelines for U.S. churches continuing tsunami response work

The media blitz is over, but the pain of thousands of tsunami survivors goes on. The Rev. Shanta Premawardhana, the National Council of Churches' Director of Interfaith Relations, has prepared a set of guidelines for U.S. churches that want to continue to be engaged with Asians in rebuilding their communities.

Meanwhile, the devastated province of Aceh in North Sumatra is apparently facing the threat of new tightening of control by the Indonesian government, now that many of the foreign agencies are leaving.

More on theology in an age of terror

Peter Hodgson responds to the criticism from Paul R. White, noting the danger in arguing from scripture, and his own sense of the judgment of scripture against “human vanity, illusion, aggression, and self-justification.”

The debate grows out of Hodgson's two-part exercise in doing Christian theology in an age of terror.  Part I offers "A Theological Critique of the War on Terror."  And Part II explores "Theological Virtues in an Age of Terror: Truth, Courage, Justice, Love, Hope."

A great web resource on issues of hunger, poverty, and development

The Institute for Food and Development Policy – better known as Food First – is a member-supported, nonprofit peoples' think tank and education-for-action center. Their work highlights root causes and value-based solutions to hunger and poverty around the world, with a commitment to establishing food as a fundamental human right.

Their web site has over a thousand articles on social justice, development, aid, trade, sustainable agriculture, and social movements – and lots more!


Supreme Court bars death penalty for juvenile killers

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Constitution forbids the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes, ending a practice used in 19 states. The 5-4 decision throws out the death sentences of about 70 juvenile murderers and bars states from seeking to execute minors for future crimes. The executions, the court said, were unconstitutionally cruel. It was the second major defeat at the high court in three years for supporters of the death penalty.

For items added in April 2005 >>
For all items from February, 2005 >>

Find all stories from January 2005
For items archived from December, 2004, click here.
Our coverage of the 2004 General Assembly is indexed on a special 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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