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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Witherspoon's report on the 217th General Assembly

Doug King and Gene TeSelle offer a summary report and commentary on the recent General Assembly.  It begins:

The 217th General Assembly was a "down the middle" Assembly. It elected a Moderator who seemed moderate and open-minded. It approved the report of the Theological Task Force (TTF) on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (for short, "PUP Report"), which most regard as offering more leeway for the ordination of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) church members. But it resolutely refused to consider amending the Book of Order to delete the prohibition in G-6.0106b.

This may be a typical "approach/avoidance" pattern. The closer you come to doing something new, the more you hesitate. Then it seems more comfortable to make one change at a time, putting other issues on hold for the time being.

The full report >>

We'd appreciate your comments, additions and corrections.
Just send a note, to be shared here!

More from the Witherspoon Luncheon

Peacemakers Anne Barstow and Tom Driver receive the Andrew Murray award    [7-3-06]

One feature of this year’s Witherspoon Awards Luncheon was a double-header. Anne Barstow and Tom Driver, a couple both of whom have long been active in working for peace in the U.S. as well as in Colombia, Haiti, and Central America, received the Andrew Murray Award in recognition of their courageous work, especially in acting as accompaniers to people whose lives have been under threat because of oppressive (and often U.S.-supported) regimes.

Their comments on accepting the award were appreciated by many at the luncheon. We post them here as transcribed (and only slightly edited) from a recording of the event.

GA action on social justice issues touched many concerns   [6-26-06]

The General Assembly acted on a report from the Social Justice Issues committee which covered many issues, and generally approved the committee’s recommendations.

Presbyteries and congregations were encouraged to work to end homelessness.

The "no2torture" initiative was adopted handedly (318-157-4).

After adding some language to include "all foreign government and/or combatants" to the U.S. government as those to be held accountable for human rights, commissioners approved (by 402-55-3) a paper focused on the issue of human rights in a time of terrorism and torture.

Perhaps one of the most far-reaching actions was the commissioners’ vote to receive from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Polity (ACSWP) a major study paper and recommendations called "Just Globalization: Justice, Ownership, and accountability." The aim of the report is to educate Presbyterians on the sweeping influence and implications of globalization on a number of levels — individual discipleship, implications for congregational and presbytery mission, international governance, trade practices and issues for development assistance. In taking this action, however, the commissioners added a requirement that the proposed study guide should include responses from multiple perspectives.

Another proposal condemning labor practices and accusing Smithfield Packing Inc. of using "threats, intimidation, and violence against workers" engendered the most passionate deliberation and most divided vote in committee. On the floor of the Assembly, commissioners chose overwhelmingly (323-150-7) to refer this item to ACSWP.

The highlight of the evening came after commissioners approved a proposal in support of ongoing partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the campaign for fair food. Lucas Benitez, director of the Coalition, thanked the PC(USA) for its solidarity and willingness to walk with the Imokalee workers toward a strong resolution of their relationship with Taco Bell.

Benitez closed with the words, "We will not rest and we will not stop until justice comes to all of us." Not a bad line for the rest of us!

The full report from Presbyterian News Service >>

Dealing with late-term pregnancies – again   [6-26-06]

On Wednesday evening, June 21, the General Assembly approved an overture from the Health Issues committee dealing with late-term pregnancies that, in the words of Presbyterian News Service, "affirms the lives of viable unborn babies."

You can read the report on JustPresbys >>           or on the PC(USA) website >>

Ann Hayman, a member of the PARO Leadership Team, offers this comment on the GA action:

Well, folks -- this has only served to convince me that Presbyterians should not be allowed to practice medicine in groups larger than two. The debates concerning our abortion policies in both the Health Committee and on the floor of GA were confused and confusing. We had several commissioners who fought a brave battle. It is too soon to assess how much damage was done to our Late-Term, Post-Viability Abortion Policy . I assume that the Stated Clerk’s office will have to cull through this and make some kind of a determination. I fear that we've lost the edge and it will become difficult to do much with this in the realm of amicus briefs.

The new policy certainly does not speak to much of any kind of reality I've ever encountered. Post-viability abortions only involve compromised fetuses -- the unborn that have been medically determined to be incompatible with life. We Presbyterians have come out squarely for viable fetuses and healthy babies, so I'm not sure what we have. The prevailing myth of the Assembly was that 8-month pregnant woman who wakes up one morning and decides she's tired of being pregnant and on impulse (whim) seeks an abortion. It just doesn't happen. I will continue to be dismayed at the abominable and undeserved lack of trust we manifest for both women and physicians, most of whom put their life on the line to do this work.

Upward and onward to San Jose in 2008.


PUP passes   [6-20-06]

The Assembly listened to some 2 and a half hours of debate this afternoon on the report of Committee 6, on Ecclesiology, with its recommendation that the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church.

A minority report from the committee called for the acceptance of the first 4 sections of the report – the theological background, and the rejection of recommendations 5 (offering a new "Authoritative Interpretation"), 6 (calling for a moratorium on further actions on the issue of ordination until the next Assembly), and 7. That was defeated after lengthy debate by a vote of 283 to 234.

That was followed by a motion to refer recommendations 5 and 6 to the presbyteries before final action. The plea was that the process of discernment valued so highly by the task force be allowed to be followed in the presbyteries as well.

Finally at about 4:18 PM, the committee’s recommendation to approve the Task Force report was approved by the full Assembly, by a vote of 298 to 221.

The commissioners are now standing, holding hands in small groups, praying.  And now one commissioner is encouraging commissioners to register their dissent.

Heartland defeated

Moments after the Assembly approved the Task Force's proposed authoritative interpretation — of G-6.0108 of the Book of Order — the Assembly voted to disapprove more than 20 proposals also pending before the Assembly to delete G-6.0106b of the church's Book of Order.  It seemed clear that many commissioners felt they had gone as far as they could comfortably go, and by a vote of 405 to 92 they refused to support that more concrete step toward justice and inclusion for lgbt Presbyterians.       << The report from Presbyterian News Service >>

Commissioner's Resolution submitted in support of Colombia accompaniment program   [6-16-06]

The General Assembly will be receiving a Commissioners' Resolution which praises efforts by the PC(USA), the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to provide volunteers to accompany church workers who are in danger because of their work for human rights in Colombia.

The resolution also calls for continued support for the accompaniment program, and urges changes in US policies and actions in Colombia.

The text of the Resolution >>

Joan Gray elected as moderator     [6-15-06 -- 10:50 pm CDT)

After presentations Wednesday evening from the four candidates for moderator of the PC(USA), followed by an hour of their responding to questions from commissioners and Youth Advisory Delegates, the General Assembly has just elected the Rev. Joan Gray as its new Moderator.

She was elected on the third ballot, by a vote of 307 to 152 for the Rev. Deborah Block, 20 for the Rev. Tim Halverson, and 19 for the Rev. Kerry Carson.

The first round of votes was remarkably close: Block received 143, Gray 139, Halverson 113, and Carson 109.

More >>

Witherspoon/Semper Reformanda pre-GA conversation tackles a big question: What’s going on in the USA?    [6-15-06]

Prof. Mark Lewis Taylor of Princeton Seminary answers with analysis of the "rise of an imperial triumvirate."

One of the first events of the Presbyterian General Assembly on Wednesday, June14, was the gathering of Witherspooners and many others at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, to hear Dr. Mark Taylor discuss the trends and troubles that are shaping Americans’ lives today.

He explored what he sees as the three major elements controlling America today: the radical Christian Right, particularly the "theo-cons" who want to create a theocracy (or even a "Christocracy") in the US; the "neo-cons" who have been dominant in the development of American foreign policy during the Bush administration; and the high echelon of corporate power. These three, the "triumvirate," interact and cooperate with each other, especially since 9/11 shattered the "myth of American safety," and drove people to search for new narratives to restore their confidence and self-esteem as a nation. The triumvirate has met that need by romanticising the American past and the present American State, and thus harnessing "our peoples’ desire for belonging."

Taylor urged that progressives, if they are to have any influence at all in the US, must offer a similar narrative. And we must be aware of the danger of such narratives, blending religious and political nationalism, can only lead farther to the right – as we have seen in the rise of National Socialism in Germany, and more recently fascism in Latin America.

See the full text of Taylor’s talk in PDF format >>

Christian Israeli urges divestment

Before Taylor spoke, the group of some 80 people heard a short, powerful presentation from Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a woman of Christian faith who describes herself as "half-Jewish," who is one of the leaders of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. She spoke of the devastation being wrought among Palestinians, as Israel has demolished some 14,000 Palestinian homes in the last 40 years, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. "If that isn’t causing the terror, I don’t know what is," she commented. "Israel is a militarized society, and change isn’t going to come from within Israel.

Speaking of voices in the PC(USA) calling for constructive investment in Israel/Palestine, instead of divestment, she told of a People to People group in Israel that has worked for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and has urged the same kind of constructive investment. They have recently changed their views, however, in the face of Israeli refusals to give travel permits to Palestinians so the dialogue could continue. Now they, too, see divestment as a necessary and helpful step.

Renewed PHEWA website offers expanded information    [6-15-06]

If you’re looking for resources on many social and health issues before the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association, with a greatly improved website may offer just what you need.

Just go to, then click on whatever the "PHEWA networks" link on the right side of the page. Then choose whichever network you want. For instance, if you need information on the Presbyterian view on abortion, click on the PARO link. (Or just click here.) Or just click here

Former CIA Director will urge Presbyterians to oppose divestment

The Institute for Religion and Democracy, along with Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom, and The Committee to End Divestment Now, is sponsoring an address by R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, June 16th, at the Medical Forum (third floor).

Woolsey has spoken and written extensively on his view that Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian territory is a mistake, and that divestment from corporations supporting the Israeli occupation is also a mistake.   

He brings an interesting and mixed background to this presentation.  You may want to attend, with full awareness of what will be going on.    More >>

Dr. Norman Finkelstein will visit GA to observe Committee 11 deliberations on divestment   [6-10-06]

Dr. Norman Finkelstein, professor of political science at DePaul University and author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, The Holocaust Industry, and Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, is a strong advocate of full human rights for Palestinians and a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

He is planning to visit the 217th General Assembly (2006), Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., in Birmingham, AL, and observe meetings of the Assembly Committee #11, Peacemaking and International Issues, on Friday, June 16, where various overtures from PCUSA Presbyteries relating to Israel/Palestine are to be discussed.

Dr. Finkelstein is interested in making contact with any other GA attendees who are also concerned with justice and peace for the Palestinians. He can be reached via his e-mail address, . Further information about him may be seen by visiting his personal web site, .

See his earlier letter to GA commissioners >>

The Voices of Sophia breakfast has had a location change, from the Medical Forum to the Sheraton Ballroom XII.   [6-10-06]
That All May Freely Serve urges support for Heartland Overture, and calls for resistance to "[a]busive power, which we strongly lament is not addressed by the Report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity ..."    [6-9-06]

The statement adds:

Since TAMFS affirms elements of the authoritative interpretation proposed by the Task Force to be appropriate constitutional provisions (See longer response in "On Not Growing Weary in Well-Doing".) of which governing bodies should be aware, we believe it would be positive to raise the provisions of G-6.0108 up to presbyteries and sessions for their consideration in dealing with candidates for ordination and/or installation.

The full text of the TAMFS statement >>

Are you looking for the committee that will deal with an issue of particular interest to you?   [5-29-06]  

The Presbyterian News Service a few weeks ago posted this general description of where some of the major issues will be considered.  Check out the list, with links to the committee pages >>

The General Assembly committees    [5-28-06]

On the JustPresbys website, we have now created a separate page for each of the GA committees, with a list of its members, leadership, and proposed docket. On each page you will also find any information or analysis we have posted relating to the work of the committee -- or links to it on other pages.

We welcome your comments, questions, or additional information on any of the committees. Just send a note, please mention which committee you're referring to, and identify yourself.

On dealing with sexuality issues, it's a question of ...
Response time ... and Collateral Damage

As the 217th General Assembly approaches, this thoughtful reflection comes from a frequent Witherspoon visitor, Karen Ellen Kavey, of Chappaqua, New York.  She writes:  "sometimes I feel as though I'm calling the Fire Department, only to be told: 'Perhaps ....if we can get a consensus....we can come over next Tuesday (or Wednesday)....We're continuing to discuss it.....We'll see....' "

A Jewish professor of political science writes in support of divestment   [6-6-06]

Commissioners preparing for the coming General Assembly have received great heaps of letters and other communications from people and groups wanting them to hear their point of view. And there may be just a few among those commissioners who have not quite kept up with the paper flood.

But one letter in the flood is worth reading, whether you’re a commissioner or not.

Norman G. Finkelstein, who teaches political science at DePaul University in Chicago, has long paid attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and has worked for lasting peace between the two nations.

His letter reflects both his experience and his concerns, and explains why he supports the Presbyterian study of the possibility of what he rightly calls "a phased, selective divestment from companies profiting from Israel's occupation."

Remembering Justice Delayed    [5-23-06]

At General Assembly this year, we will be in the heart of the Deep South where official segregation of races, frequently violent, existed until forty years ago. White Birmingham, with its Bull Connor, attack dogs, fire hoses and exclusive churches, rejected anyone with African heritage.

Commissioners will not be able to go on tours of the local area being held during business sessions when some of the sad history of this city will probably be presented. Will any of this Southern discrimination and church history be recognized officially and lamented by our denomination at the 217th General Assembly?

Commissioners who did not grow up in the Deep South need to familiarize themselves with our destination and its history before leaving home. It might help them to recognize some of the current forms of discrimination they will be dealing with there.

In reading Parting the Waters/America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch, I am learning, as never before, what the Deep South was like during that time. I recommend this book to others who will be going to General Assembly. This Pulitzer Prize winner is so well written that the pages fly by despite their number (1064!)

For those who don’t have time to read this book before going to Birmingham, they might at least read or re-read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. (Just Google the title to obtain a copy online. For one Web site that has it >>

This letter was written in response to a statement issued by eight well-meaning white clergy, including one Presbyterian, who wanted Dr. King and others to be patient and wait – saying their actions were "unwise and untimely." In his reply that became world famous, Dr. King reminded the clergy that, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."

Lynne Reade
Fremont, California

GA will consider "Resolution in Support of Ongoing Partnership Work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Campaign for Fair Food"    [5-23-06]

The resolution, presented by the Advocacy Committee for Racial and Ethnic Concerns, traces the theological foundation for the Presbyterian Church's ongoing efforts for justice for farmworkers, some of the efforts of the past, and then reaffirms the use of consumer action (e.g. boycotts, public protest) in the struggle for economic justice, acknowledges that such action may be called for in the ongoing Campaign for Fair Food, authorizes the General Assembly Council to approve Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) participation in such consumer actions if it is taken in accord with existing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) criteria and in concert with our partners in the Alliance for Fair Food, and calls for continuing promotion of this resolution through preaching, education, and participation in the Campaign for Fair Food by all settings of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through periodic mailings to congregations and the use of resources available on

The full text of the resolution >>

Presbyterian News Service provides ... a backgrounder on the PUP Report   

Recommendations on ordination standards provoke intense debate   [5-23-06]

Presbyterian News Service provides ...  a backgrounder on ordination standards

Debate on G-6.0106b complicated by Theological Task Force report    [5-23-06]

A general calendar of special events at GA        [5-4-06]

We have just posted a list of General Assembly events that may be of interest to Presbyterians with special concern for the peace and justice witness of our church.

Some of these events are sponsored by official agencies of the PC(USA), and are listed with links for further information. (Their listing here implies no endorsement by those agencies of the JustPresbys web site.) Other events are sponsored by one or more of the groups that have established the web site. Still others are sponsored by unofficial groups that have no role in sponsoring the web site; their events are listed simply because they may be of interest.

For a complete listing of official GA events, along with many others, go to

Many of the Mission/Cultural Tours, which are being offered to those with time to get out in the real world, will provide information and insight into Birmingham’s history in the civil rights struggle, and much more. They are all listed on the official GA schedule.

If you find anything missing from our list, or listed with incorrect information, please let us know!
Just send a note.

GA has spoken often to affirm the dignity and rights of immigrants     [5-16-06]

As the national debate continues over immigration and immigrants' right, this may well become a matter of discussion in the 217th General Assembly.  Since at least 1984, Presbyterian General Assemblies have spoken out often to affirm the rights of immigrants, and the need for justice in the way they are treated.  Here is a small sampling of some of those statements, especially a longer statement from the 211th General Assembly (1999).    

More Light Presbyterians offers legislative recommendations    [5-14-06]

More Light Presbyterians has issued a brief statement of their recommendations for action on the various overtures dealing with ordination -- and the Theological Task Force report -- which will be considered by the 217th General Assembly. 

Considering some of the many "other" issues coming to the Assembly

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Society Issues Analyst, offers brief analysis of overtures and reports that will be presented to the Assembly, dealing with


the divestment dispute


Social Witness Policy reports on globalization, people with disabilities, human rights, Iraq, and more





This article has also been published in the Spring 2006 issue of Network News, the Witherspoon newsletter, which is being sent to all commissioners and advisory delegates.  It is also available online in PDF format.  Just click here, then type in "14" in the page space at the bottom of the Adobe Reader, and you'll find it.

An analysis and reflection on the PUP report

Gene TeSelle, Issues Analyst of the Witherspoon Society and emeritus professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, offers an in-depth analysis of the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church.   [5-10-06]

This report is also available in the Spring 2006 issue of the Witherspoon Society's Network News, which is being mailed around May 10 to all commissioners and advisory delegates to the General Assembly.  You can also find it online in PDF format, beginning on page 6.

The Covenant Network of Presbyterians has announced its support of the Peace, Unity and Purity report, and its appreciation of the report as presenting the church with "a remarkable moment of hope that will not come again soon."   [5-9-06]

Acknowledging with regret that "the Covenant Network has contributed to a partisan spirit in the denomination by our tendency to draw apart from those who differ with us," the group will not, as it has in the past, suggest to commissioners how they might act on particular overtures or other issues. 

The statement says, however, that the Network will "continue to support these overtures [for the removal of G-6.0106b from the Book of Order], trusting that the Spirit will lead the commissioners to a faithful response to the Task Force report and the related overtures they will consider."    The full statement >>

Rita Nakashima Brock to be featured speaker at Voices of Sophia breakfast

Rita Nakashima Brock is an award-winning author and a respected international lecturer and scholar in religion. She directed a think tank for women at Harvard University for several years and has worked for two decades in the field of religion in higher education.

Along with business and technology strategist Brian Sarrazin, she founded Faith Voices, a non-profit community of diverse member organizations. Faith Voices uses Synanim, a powerful new technology innovation, to bring theological educators into dialogue with policy experts and activists.

Dr. Brock will be the featured speaker at the Voices of Sophia breakfast at General Assembly June 19th. She will be sharing the research she did on early Christianity, at a time before crucifixion and resurrection became the core of Christian theology, a time she calls paradise. Tickets are available for $20 online until May 22nd and upon arrival at GA. Tickets will not be sold at the door.

More >>

We've been asked ...

How to register, order event tickets, and all that

The process is a bit mystifying sometimes, but for the best guidance we can offer, click here.

Witherspoon Society events at General Assembly

We hope you'll join us for any or all of these events!


Wednesday, June 14, 1:00 to 4:00 pm

To order tickets for any of these events (and lots of others) go to the GA registration page -

for online registration >>

for a printable registration and ticket order form >>

Semper Reformanda Pre-GA Conversation
(sponsored by the Witherspoon Society)

Speaker: Dr. Mark Lewis Taylor, Professor of Theology and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary

This conversation will look at the United States as empire. This will be addressed in Dr. Taylor’s remarks and in looking at the document, “Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth,” adopted by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Accra, Ghana in 2004. Dr Taylor is author of the recent book, Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire.

First Presbyterian Church, 2100 4th Avenue North, about 5 blocks from the Convention Center.
Ticket price: $15.00

Wednesday, June 14, 8:30 to 10:30 pm (immediately following Covenant Network dinner)

Witherspoon GA Issues Briefing

Speaker: Eugene Teselle, Witherspoon Society Issues Analyst, and Friends.

This regular Witherspoon Society event for commissioners and others provides a progressive look at the Assembly and the issues, ideas on how to be an effective participant, and a chance to meet other progressives.

Location To be announced
Ticket price: $15.00

Saturday, June 17, 9:00 pm to 1:00 am

Witherspoon Party and Dance

Time for a break!  This is a great chance to relax and enjoy great music, dancing and conversation and also a good time to meet others at the Assembly.

Sheraton Ballroom XII
Ticket price: $20.00

Sunday, June 18, 12:30 to 2:30 pm

Witherspoon Society Awards Luncheon

Speaker: Rev. Eugenia A. Gamble, Writer in Residence, Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley.  Rev. Gamble’s featured address is entitled “Embodying Love.”
More about Eugenia Gamble >>

The Andrew Murray and Whole Gospel Congregation Awards will be presented and the Witherspoon business meeting will follow the luncheon.

Sheraton Ballroom I
Ticket price: $35.00

GAC announces sweeping restructure of GA offices $9.15 million budget cut costs 75 jobs, including top management    [5-2-06]

The General Assembly Council has approved the most radical restructuring of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s mission program since 1993, as it moves to reduce the 2007-2008 General Assembly mission budget by $9.15 million.

In all, 75 national staff positions in Louisville have been eliminated - most effective May 1 - as well as 55 overseas mission co-worker positions. Staff cuts in Louisville account for $4 million of the budget reduction, while the price tag for the overseas mission positions is $1.2 million.

For details, including a list of programs and positions being eliminated >>

Peacemaking Dinner at General Assembly  [4-24-06]

The Presbyterian Peacemaking 25th Anniversary Celebration and Dinner will take place on Monday, June 18 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:50 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel in Birmingham, AL.  

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is pleased to announce that the program at the 217th General Assembly (2006) dinner will include the Rev. Dr. Mark Lomax as a speaker, music by the Congo Choir, and a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling.    Details >>

Candidates for Moderator

The four ministers who have been endorsed by their presbyteries for Moderator of the 217thGeneral Assembly have all responded to a set of five questions from the Witherspoon Society, to give them the opportunity to express their views on some of the more urgent concerns of our church today.  The Presbyterian News Service has released stories on each of the candidates as they have been endorsed by their presbyteries.

You may want to look at those stories to learn a little of their background.    [4-21-06]

San Francisco overture reaffirms call for divestment from firms supporting Israeli occupation of Palestine, or Palestinian terrorism.    [4-19-06]

Walter T. Davis, Jr., HR, a member of San Francisco Presbytery, explains the thinking behind the overture.

And the full text of the overture is here, too.

Conversations with Peacemakers

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship invites you to join in conversations with outstanding peacemakers, in the Peace Fellowship booth in the Exhibit Hall, each day of the Assembly from Saturday through Tuesday.   Details >>

Douglas Ottati, prof. at Union Seminary/PSCE in Richmond and Witherspoon writer, will be signing his new book at GA    [4-11-06]

Doug Ottati, who is a regular contributor of a column of "theological musings" in the Witherspoon Society’s Network News, has just published a new book entitled Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species.

He will be signing copies of his book at General Assembly on Thursday, June 15 11:00-1:00 and 5:00-6:00 at the Cokesbury Bookstore in the Exhibit Hall.

Here’s the publisher’s notice for the book:

In this witty, accessible, and concise book, theologian Doug Ottati contends that liberal Presbyterians and other liberal Protestants still have much to contribute to the contemporary world. Offering an alternative to evangelical and conservative thought that he believes now pervades the larger culture, Ottati presents what he sees as the foundations of liberal, theological thought. Writing out of the Reformed tradition and a theology of grace and with a dose of humor, he addresses current issues such as evangelism, the ordination of homosexuals, and the war on terrorism. Ideal for individual or group study, this book is a call to liberal Presbyterians and other liberal Protestants to restate, rethink, and revise traditional theologies and beliefs in the face of contemporary knowledge and realities.

We’re proud to note that many of the essays in the book have appeared previously in Network News.

Published by Geneva Press
Price: $17.95
ISBN: 0-664-50289-X

Progressive Presbyterians establish shared web site for GA   [4-8-06]

A number of progressive organizations related to the PC(USA) are jointly putting their information and commentary on General Assembly business on a web site, hosted by the Witherspoon Society. We are honored to be invited to play this role.

The site is already up and running, at . Some material is already posted there, and more will be added frequently. There will be daily updates during the Assembly as well.

If you have comments or suggestions, just send a note to .

We hope you’ll find it helpful!

"Visions of Peace and Justice in Israel and Palestine"    [4-3-06]

Pre-assembly educational event slated for June 15th in Birmingham

This pre-assembly event will share visions and perspectives regarding justice and peace in Israel and Palestine. It is not a forum for or against proposed items of GA business. The program will include a current assessment of human rights; a panel of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders sharing their visions for a just peace; a description of Presbyterian ministry and mission; and time for general discussion.

Confirmed speakers include Mr. Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Mr. Salam Al-Marayati, Director of Muslim Public Affairs Council Bishop; Dr. Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

The ticket price of $25.00 includes a boxed lunch. To register for this or other events at GA, go to

An Open Letter to the Commissioners of the 217th General Assembly, on the Theological Task Force Report       [4-14-06]

The Rev. Aurelia Fule, who served for many years on the staff of the Office for Theology and Worship in Louisville, considers the report on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church in light of our Reformed theological heritage. She urges that as the General Assembly shapes its response to the report, it might be aided by taking our Presbyterian history and the Reformed tradition more seriously by than did the Task Force.

Israel/Palestine issues will loom large at GA

Numerous measures would rescind, refine controversial 2004 divestment action  [3-31-06]

Presbyterian News Service offers a survey of the nearly 20 overtures going to the coming General Assembly, about how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should deal with the conflict in Israel and Palestine, actions on divestment and more.   Read the report >>

Milwaukee Presbytery supports San Francisco overture against torture     [3-29-06]

Carol Wickersham, one of the initiators of the growing No2Torture network, reports (and exhorts): 

Great good news! Last night [March 28] Milwaukee Presbytery voted unanimously to concur with the overture to GA from San Francisco Presbytery. Thanks is due to the small, but mighty, Clinton Presbyterian Church, especially to the study group which used the "Out of Horror, Hope" curriculum to help focus their thoughts and prayers. Michelle Dennis, who was a part of the Miami gathering, made an eloquent presentation.

Perhaps others will be inspired? Concurring resolutions need to be to the GA office 45 days prior to the Assembly, or by May 1. So there is time if we move quickly. The more Presbyteries which concur, especially representing the diversity of the church, the louder our voice is. In addition, Presbyteries are a receptive audience to educate, and can spread the word, especially if pastors take the issue back to their pulpits.

NOTE:  We have just been informed that the Presbytery of the James and the Presbytery of Seattle have approved similar overtures.

Baltimore Presbytery is sending an overture for "Proactive, Constructive Nonviolence and Establishing Nonviolence Training"   [3-24-06]

The full text of the overture is posted on the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship website >>

ACSWP approves policy documents

Papers on globalization, disabilities among those going to ’06 GA    [2-17-06]

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, meeting January 18-21, approved nearly a dozen reports which will be sent to this summer’s 217th General Assembly.

Papers covered topics including globalization, human rights, disabilities, Iraq, and more. Aming them was a report chronicling the work of ACSWP and the Office of the General Assembly in pursuing ecumenical talks in advance of the centennial of the Social Creed of the Federal Council of Churches, now called the National Council of Churches (NCC).

The full story >>

"Local option" gets a new look from the Presbyterian Right

The Layman reports that "Beaver-Butler Presbytery on Jan. 28 approved an overture that calls for changes in the Book of Order that would allow congregations, with a two-thirds majority vote, to join presbyteries and synods of their own choosing – if the presbyteries and synods vote by a simple majority to accept them."

Read the Layman’s report >>

The Heartland overture   [1-30-06]

Here (at last -- sorry!) is the full text of the first of the overtures being sent to the General Assembly to "delete B" and provide a new Authoritative Interpretation that would eliminate earlier official statements condemning same-sex relationships as a bar to ordination.

For this overture, plus the text of all the concurring overtures (many with distinctive rationales), go to the PC(USA) web site.

Two more presbyteries support overtures for inclusive ordination   [1-28-06]

Last Saturday, January 21, the Presbytery of the Redwoods concurred with the Heartland ordination overture by 64-16. The presbytery also concurred with the Santa Fe overture to amend the Rules of Discipline restricting the filing of accusations from those outside the bounds of a presbytery and that vote concurring with Santa Fe was 73-7.

And on January 27, the Presbytery de Cristo in southern Arizona approved a concurrence overture from the Session of St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, Tucson, by a vote of 48 to 38.

Adee states his belief that a total of 20 overtures have now gained approval in presbyteries, seeking to remove barriers to ordination for lgbt Presbyterians.

Thanks to Lisa Larges, Regional Partnership Coordinator of That All May Freely Serve, and Michael Adee, National Field Organizer for More Light Presbyterians, for these reports.

Looking back to look ahead:
The Civil Rights movement
with a special look at Birmingham

Witherspoon’s Issues Analyst, Gene TeSelle, has gathered good materials for background reading on the civil rights movement, and presents some books that relate especially to Birmingham. So before many of us head for Birmingham and the 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, you may want to dip into some of these as a way to experience the city with new depth.   [1-28-06]

Presbytery of Boston passes ordination overture to remove barriers to full membership & ministry for LGBT persons and their families

With an appeal from the Gospel of Matthew, the Presbytery of Boston has approved a Delete-B/Remove AI overture calling for an end to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians.   Michael Adee, National Organizer of More Light Presbyterians, estimates this is the eighteenth presbytery approving an ordination overture to the General Assembly in Birmingham.

More, including the text of the overture >>

Cincinnati Presbytery passes overture to amend 1978 GA Policy Statement on homosexuality - a call from the Midwest for change!    [1-14-06]

Today the Cincinnati Presbytery has sent an overture to the GA that would seek to delete seven of the most insulting statements in the GA's 1978 Policy on Homosexuality.  The vote was 79 to 74 with 4 abstentions.    Three reports, plus the text of the overture >>

Overture on torture issue proposed by San Francisco church

Calvary Presbyterian Church of San Francisco has produced a new overture on the torture issue which will be voted on by Presbytery at its January 10th meeting. The issue does not end with the legislation recently sponsored by Senator McCain. The proposed overture calls for investigation and creation of a public record of what we have done and accountability wherever the law has been broken. The evasions and hiding behind legalisms will continue until the whole horrible apparatus is exposed to daylight and the consequences of law breaking are made to fall on the guilty.

The text of the overture >>

Introduction and background information >>

"Delete B" overtures are multiplying

Chicago Presbytery passes "Delete B" Ordination Overture by large margin

The Rev. David Murad of Chicago Presbytery reports that the Presbytery voted on December 13 to "delete b" by a vote of 147-50. Michael Youngblood of Evanston Northminster and Michael Kirby of Chicago Good Shepherd presented the overture.    More >>   [including a full listing of "delete B" overtures so far]    [12-16-05]

Birmingham pastor urges us to sign Birmingham Pledge to end racism   [12-8-05]

As the 2006 General Assembly in Birmingham draws near, we are glad that John Bush, interim minister of the First Presbyterian Church, has called our attention to the Birmingham Pledge against racism.

His note:

I've signed the Birmingham Pledge and I'm sending it to you so that you can help end racism one person at a time too. The Birmingham Pledge is a personal commitment to recognize the worth and dignity of every individual. Tens of thousands of people from all over the United States have signed the Birmingham Pledge and I hope you will join me. If you have not already done so, you can sign the Pledge by clicking this link Thank you for making a difference!

Redstone Presbytery submitting three overtures on sexuality    [12-2-05]

The Presbyterian Layman reports that Redstone Presbytery, in central Pennsylvania, will send three overtures to the 2006 General Assembly, which will "test the 217th General Assembly's commitment to a Biblical perspective on marriage, abortion and counseling." One of them affirms that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that no other sexual relationship is legitimate. The second would require that pastoral counseling and study materials offered by the PC(USA) must be consistent with that narrow definition, and insist on guiding people to seek forgiveness and change from their "sexual sin."

The third would once again oppose late-term abortions, while couching the opposition in apparently pastoral concern: "When late term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive. We look to our churches to provide pastoral and tangible support to women in problem pregnancies and to surround these families with a community of care. We affirm adoption as a provision for women who deliver children they are not able to care for, and ask our churches to assist in seeking loving Christian adoptive families."

More >>

PHEWA seeks nominations for social-justice ministry awards

Deadline is Jan. 1 for awards to be presented during General Assembly

by Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE - Oct. 21, 2005 – The Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) is seeking nominations for five social-justice ministry awards to be presented during next summer's 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, AL.

"There are a lot of good people out there doing remarkable work with folks that find themselves marginalized or forgotten," PHEWA Executive Director Nancy Troy said. "These awards recognize those ministries, and by doing so help to remind us of God's call to love kindness and to do justice."

The deadline for nominations is Jan. 1.

The awards:

The Community Transformation Award is presented by the Presbyterian Association for Community Transformation (PACT) to a congregation that, through ecumenical or interfaith community ministry or a special project, has been faithful and creative in ministry to and with its community.

The Nancy Jennings Award, presented by Presbyterians for Disability Concerns (PDC), goes to a person, congregation or other PC(USA) entity that affirms, supports and advocates for the gifts, rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities in the life of the church.

The David Hancock Award is presented by Presbyterians for Addiction Action (PAA) to a church or church professional for a significant contribution in the area of addiction prevention, intervention or recovery.

The Margaret A. Fuad Award, also presented by PAA, honors a lay person who, as a volunteer or activist, is instrumental in getting his or her church and community involved in issues related to drug and alcohol abuse through education, awareness or treatment.

The Florence Iversen Kraft Award
goes to a congregation that has demonstrated outstanding leadership in ministry with those who suffer from serious mental illness and their families; it is presented by the Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network (PSMIN).

Nominations should include the nominee's name; contact information for the person making the nomination, with address, phone number and email address; and a two-page description of the ministry.

Mail nominations to PHEWA, 100 Witherspoon Street, Room 4617, Louisville, KY 40202; or fax them to (502) 569-8034.

PHEWA, a ministry of the PC(USA)'s National Ministry Division, is a volunteer organization dedicated to social welfare and justice ministries. It has 10 constituent member networks that strive to implement General Assembly policies in community ministries and faith-based community organizing, addictions, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, reproductive options, specialized pastoral ministries, child advocacy, disabilities, health and wholeness, and serious mental illness.

For more information about PHEWA, visit its Web site at

New Wineskins proposes two overtures to replace Book of Order with New Wineskins Constitution

The New Wineskins Initiative, on whose conference we reported in June, 2005, is moving rapidly to place their "vision" for a radically different Presbyterian Church before the 217th General Assembly.

In a letter to their supporters and those who attended their conference, David Henderson and Dean Weaver, Co-Moderators of the group, call on endorsing congregations and other friends to present one of two proposed overtures to their presbyteries.

They then remind their friends that "From the beginning the NWI has sought to work through existing mechanisms for change available within our denomination. We want to be true to our word, and faithful to pursue change from within in this season. This means overtures."

Acknowledging the support recently expressed by Presbyterian seminaries for the Theological Task Force report, and the calls for new authoritative interpretations, they assert that "the clarion call of the New Wineskins Initiative to radically rethink how we do church and serve Jesus Christ is all the more real. We are convinced that new window-dressings will not fix our present structure."

More >>

Looking toward Birmingham:

The Cumberland Presbyterian Heritage: Two Highlights

For many Presbyterians attending the 217th General Assembly, that gathering will offer some new experiences:  a meeting in the city of Birmingham, with its rich history of events in the Civil Rights movement, a joint meeting with the Cumberland Presbyterian churches, and much more. 

Witherspoon Issues Analyst Gene TeSelle, having lived for some decades in the neighboring state of Tennessee, will be providing some glimpses ahead for that encounter.

First, he provides a brief background look at the Cumberland Presbyterian churches, and finds some surprises in their development.  Also in the works is a survey of resources on the civil rights movement in Birmingham.

Presbytery of Twin Cities Area votes strongly for overture to delete B

In the first presbytery vote on a delete-B overture since the PCUSA's Theological Task Force released its widely-criticized report, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted overwhelmingly on September 13 to send a delete-B overture to the 2006 General Assembly. The vote was 103 in favor, 34 opposed (75% in favor) on the delete-B overture, and 101 in favor, 41 opposed on the parallel overture to delete the PCUSA's discriminatory "authoritative interpretation" from the 1970's.

bullet The rest of the story, from More Light Presbyterians >>
bulletThe text of the overture >>
bullet Introduction of the overture >>
Santa Fe Presbytery passes overture to limit abuses of disciplinary system

In response to the rising number of disciplinary accusations that have been filed in recent years, often by persons who have not been directly affected by the alleged offenses, the overture would amend D-10.0102 so that the accusation(s) must involve some claim of personal harm, or must be brought by a person with standing in the governing body which receives the complaint. 

Proposed Overture. On Amending D-10.0102, Accusation of Another – From the Presbytery of Santa Fe.

The Presbytery of Santa Fe overtures the 217th General Assembly (2006) to direct the Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendment to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative vote: (Text to be added or inserted is shown in italics.)

Shall D-10.0102 be amended as follows:

"D-10.0102 – The written statement may be submitted by

"a. a person under jurisdiction of a governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who alleges having been personally harmed by an alleged offense making an accusation against another;

"b. a member of a governing body receiving information from any source that an offense may have occurred which the member thinks should be investigated for the purpose of discipline; or

"c. a person under jurisdiction of a governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) coming forward in self-accusation."


Under the current Book of Order, any Presbyterian wherever located may accuse any other Presbyterian of committing an Offense as defined in D-2.0203b. If the accusation is in writing and submitted according to D-10.0101 *, the accusation automatically requires the appointment of an Investigating Committee by the Presbytery or Session receiving the accusation and makes other requirements of them (D-10.0103 and following.)

This procedure can be abused if any single Presbyterian chooses to accuse numerous other Presbyterians of Offenses. This has happened in recent years, resulting in much unnecessary judicial action costing both the church and individuals time and money.

At present, no appropriate limits are in place to control those who can make accusations against individuals in disciplinary matters although such limits do exist in Remedial Cases that involve governing bodies.

The Proposed Overture seeks to correct this problem while protecting the right of any individual who has been personally harmed to seek church discipline. If the person who claims personal harm is Presbyterian, he or she has direct access under subsection a. If the person is not Presbyterian, any member of the proper governing body may act on that person’s behalf under subsection b. but is not automatically required to do so.

In addition, any member of the proper governing body continues to be able to submit a written statement from any source that an Offense may have occurred without regard to whether any personal harm occurred.

This Proposed Overture arose out of necessity to protect our church’s disciplinary system from abuse while continuing to provide access to those seeking justice through our church.

* (Section D-10.0101, immediately preceding the section to be amended provides additional details about the written statement: "D –10.0101 - Procedure preliminary to a disciplinary case is initiated by submitting to the clerk of session or the stated clerk of the presbytery having jurisdiction over the member (D-3.0101) a written statement of an alleged offense, together with any supporting information. The statement shall give a clear narrative and allege facts that, if proven true, would likely result in disciplinary action. Such allegations shall be referred to an investigating committee. (D-10.0201)" )



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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