Presbyterian Voices for Justice 

A union of The Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia

Welcome to news and networking for progressive Presbyterians 

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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Epiphany 2006

Christianity and Empire

As Epiphany approaches, Witherspooner Byron Bangert reminds us that the story of the wise men also includes the slaughter of the male children in the area of Bethlehem – a clear confrontation between the reign of God and the rule of Empire.

The Rev. Dr. Bangert is a Member at Large of the Presbytery of Ohio Valley, living in Bloomington, IN.

As Epiphany approaches, recall an important theme that often gets lost in the schmalz of the Christmas season. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the wise men’s pilgrimage to the infant Jesus. In the course of their search, King Herod is alerted to the existence of this potential future rival. Herod, the titular King of the Jews–a surrogate king, ruling on behalf of the Roman Empire–issues an edict commanding the slaughter of every male infant near Bethlehem under the age of two. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus must flee to Egypt to escape. So Matthew begins, showing us the inherent contradiction between divine and imperial rule. All four Gospels confirm this contradiction by their accounts of Jesus’ death by crucifixion at the hands of the Empire under the Roman governor, Pilate.

The first–and still central–Christian creed was "Jesus is Lord." Its meaning has largely been lost, however. This creed arose in a political context in which Caesar, the Emperor, claimed to be God and Lord. The early Christians were people whose faith expressed an ultimate allegiance that countered or trumped any claims of the Empire.

Ironically, three hundred years after Jesus, the Empire co-opted Christianity. The Emperor Constantine first made it legal, then made it the official religion, and convened the Council of Nicaea as part of a strategy to help unify, consolidate, and secure his rule through the imposition of doctrinal uniformity and organizational discipline. The "freedom of religion" that we now cherish was not a gift of the Empire, but rather had to be wrested from the State and established ecclesiastical authority centuries later.

Today, the American Empire is celebrated by some. Others rue its emergence. Christians must be wary of the nation state, especially when it exercises imperial power.

When it is construed as unpatriotic to dissent, when dying for one’s country is considered the highest form of sacrifice, when the demands of national security are surreptitiously invoked to limit civil rights and liberties, when "democratic" values are selectively applied in ways that permit torture and other abuses of persons who have been labeled enemies or terrorists and condemned without due process or trial, when the Emperor invokes God and stands above the law, religious freedom is also profoundly jeopardized. Any authentic way of being a Christian or other religious person is fast becoming a mortally hazardous path.


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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