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Archives:  June 2006

This page lists reports and commentary from all of June, 2006

All postings from
February, 2007
January, 2007
December, 2006
November, 2006
October, 2006
September, 2006
August, 2006
July, 2006
June, 2006
May, 2006

April, 2006
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February, 2006
 January, 2006

Our coverage of the 2006 General Assembly is indexed on a special page.
For links to earlier archive pages, click here.

A conversation with the New Wineskins movement:

"Why a New Wineskins Initiative?"

In the Spring 2006 issue of Network News, which was sent to all GA commissioners and advisory delegates, Witherspoon Issues Analyst Gene TeSelle in his survey of issues coming to the 217th General Assembly, listed some possible responses of the Assembly to the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church.

The first response he mentioned was that some groups would likely oppose the report. And by way of example, he wrote:

The New Wineskins movement promises that, if this part of the Task Force report is approved, it will start a campaign to get congregations to sign a formal threat to withdraw from the church. The hope is to drive a hard bargain with the General Assembly, letting them leave with their property and continue to draw pensions. (This hardball strategy has been compared, not surprisingly, to that of Karl Rove and Tom DeLay in national politics.)

That characterization of New Wineskins elicited an objection from Renee Guth, a member of the Board of the New Wineskins Initiative. And that sparked an exchange of views between TeSelle and Guth, leading Ms. Guth eventually to write a longer statement of the significance of purpose of New Wineskins.

Ms. Guth prepared this essay in May, and we had intended to post it before the Assembly in June. But things piled up as they seem to do around GA time, and your WebWeaver just lost it in the pile. As last it’s come to the surface again, and we’re happy to share it -- with our thanks to Ms. Guth.    More >>

The following items were posted on the JustPresbys site on 6-28-06.
Moderator and Stated Clerk issue pastoral letter on General Assembly

'God's spirit was with us,' Gray, Kirkpatrick say
GA action on divestment is a reaffirmation, not a repudiation

Former Moderator Susan Andrews interprets the GA action on divestment for a Jewish audience – without making it into a mere apology. She says that "the statement passed by this year’s Assembly refocuses, rephrases, and reinterprets the actions we made in 2004. But it does not repudiate those actions."

Powered by More than Hot Air

The General Assembly used lots of energy in the Convention Center and the Assembly hotels. But working with the Presbyterian Hunger, Peacemaking and Environmental Justice programs and Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, this meeting was also powered by the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs). The GA purchased enough RECs to "offset" the 168 tons of carbon dioxide being produced by the Convention Center and our hotels. This investment in renewable energy will help to build a wind farm on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and the Dovan family dairy farm’s methane project in Pennsylvania.  

The rest of the story >>

A more inclusive church?  GA offered a mixed picture

A new observer reviews the Assembly through the lenses of an inclusive-church activist, and finds a mixed picture, with more to be done – especially dealing with the issue of power   

Sonnie Swenson wrote these comments soon after the Assembly. She introduces herself thus: "I attended GA as one under the umbrella of (but still brand new to) TAMFS. In addition to that affiliation, I have been involved with MLP nationally and locally, individually and congregationally, for years and years; and with CovNet as a local chapter leader (of a chapter that has chastised the national CovNet leadership for not being strong enough). I have also been active in the inclusive church movement through the Lazarus Project in Southern California. I consider my own best work to be at the grassroots level, and the bigger and wider the scope gets, the more painful it all gets for me."     Her observations on the Assembly >>

"Letters from a Birmingham Assembly" highlights MLP Dinner

Michael Adee gave the keynote talk at the More Light Presbyterians Celebration Dinner on June 15, the opening evening of the 217th General Assembly.  He told his own story and many others about living into the questions of life, and into answers, as he learned to affirm his own identity as God’s gift.    Adee's talk >> 


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!

The Peacemaking Update for June 29 includes information on the Gaza crisis, the availability of International Peacemakers for local visits, immigration legislation, coming events, and much more.
GA action on social justice issues touched many concerns

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

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.


The following two items were added on June 22 to the JustPresbys website
More on the approval of the Peace, Unity and Purity report

News conference offers reflections on the passage of Recommendation 5 of TTF report

Controversial measure does not change standards; places responsibility for discernment on presbyteries and sessions   [posted here 6-22-06]

Presbyterian News Service reports on a news conference in which Moderator Joan Gray expressed satisfaction at the way commissioners and advisory delegates handled Tuesday's voting on Recommendation 5, the most controversial of the recommendations of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church report. Recommendations 5 through 7 were approved by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.

Joining the moderator at the press conference was the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly; the Rev. Blair Monie, moderator of the GA Committee on Ecclesiology, which dealt with the report; the Rev. Catherine Kotfiela, vice moderator of the committee; and three members of the Theological Task Force: the Rev. Mark Achtemeier, elder Barbara Wheeler, and the Rev. John Wilkinson.  

Visitors offer their thoughts -- and you're invited to join in

GA overwhelmingly approves Israel/Palestine recommendation   

The 217th General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the recommendation of the Peacemaking and International Issues committee regarding Middle East issues.

By a vote of 483 in favor, 28 opposed and 1 abstention today, the Assembly set as church policy that "financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits." The recommendation was an alternate resolution to an overture that sought to repeal and rescind the actions of the 2004 General Assembly relating to "phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel."   The full story >>

Visitors are commenting on the divestment action.  See what's being said, and add your own thoughts.

6/22/06    (1:45 am)
Assembly apologizes for divestment action  

This afternoon (Wednesday, June 21) the Assembly received the report from the Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues, with the issue of divestment as the star attraction.  Details >>

Jewish organizations respond to the divestment action

Clearly a variety of Jewish groups have been watching the Assembly with great interest. You may be interested to glimpse their "take" on the action of this afternoon’s session.   Details >>

For a general report on the debate and the Assembly's action, see the Presbyterian News Service report >>

GA acts on ecumenical and interfaith relations

Assembly refers proposals to curb U.S. support for Colombian government, military

On Monday, June 19, the General Assembly acted on a number of recommendations from the Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations .

The actions included support for human rights work of the Presbyterian Church in Colombia , but a number of specific requests for more overt action directed at the U.S. government's support of the Colombian government and military were referred to the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program for study. This was done in spite of urgings from PCC Executive Secretary David Illigge Quiroz, who said "The church in Colombia can't wait for more study."

The Assembly made the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a provisional member of Christian Churches Together (CCT), a new ecumenical organization more broadly based than the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Other issues considered included globalization, and relations among the three "Abrahamic traditions" of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The full article >>

Southern Faith, Labor And Community Alliance Conference
July 27-29, 2006, Memphis, Tennessee

This message comes from J. Herbert Nelson, II, who is a member of the Covenant Network Board and was a preacher in the recent Southeast Conference in which Jack Rogers was the featured presenter.  Nelson is with the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis.  Witherspooner Janet Arbesman has shared his message with us.

We are excited about the upcoming Word and World School/Faith Labor, and Community Alliance Conference. At the center of our work is the question, "Does faith have a role to play in forging a relationship with organized labor to rebuild communities and advocate for economic justice?" We hope you will join us in this historic gathering that recaptures the vision of Dr. King, who gave his life in a labor struggle 38 years ago in this same city. We (faith, labor and community alliances) are building a new strategy throughout the country, with a particular emphasis on southern states. Our work encourages faith communities, labor and community activist and organizers, to assist in rebuilding a movement for economic justice.

More information >>

$150,000,000 gift may not be there

According to an article in this morning’s Denver Post, Colorado business man Stanley W. Anderson, whose record gift to the PC(USA) was greeted with great enthusiasm by the Assembly just a few days ago, is in deep financial trouble.

He has failed to pay his homeowners association fees, dental bills and mortgage payments, and he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to jilted creditors he persuaded to help keep his business afloat, according to public records.

Anderson said Tuesday that he is working to pay off his debts and is confident he will be able to deliver on his pledge. An official with the 2.3 million member denomination in Louisville, Ky., also expressed confidence in Anderson, a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Denver and active in the local and national church.

At the beginning of the Wednesday morning business session, GAC Executive Director John Detterick announced this development to the Assembly.  He quoted Mr. Anderson as reassuring him that "I would not make a promise to my church that I am not able to fulfill."  Detterick affirmed his own confidence that "by November there will be money in the account," as Anderson had promised.

Detterick closed by saying "I pray that we will continue to accept Stan's promise with gratitude and grace."

The news story >>

6/20/06 (4:24 pm CDT; updated 10:00 pm)
PUP passes

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 >>

For more reports and comments on the passage of the PUP report
and other GA actions,
please go to the JustPresbys website,
and scroll down a bit on the home page.

... and just for fun:

Replying to the Scientists’ Ball invitation

Pierre and Marie Curie were radiating enthusiasm.
Einstein thought it would be relatively easy to attend.
Volta was electrified at the thought.
Ampere was worried he wasn’t up on current research.
Ohm resisted the idea at first.
Edison thought it would be an illuminating experience.
Watt reckoned it would be a good way to let off steam.
Wilbur Wright accepted, provided he and Orville could get a flight.
Dr. Jekyll declined – he hadn’t been feeling himself lately.
Morse’s reply: "I’ll be there on the dot. Can’t stop now must dash."
Audubon said he’d have to wing it.
Darwin said he’d have to see what evolved.
Descartes said he’d think about it.
Pavlov was drooling at the thought.

Thanks to Witherspooner John Simpson,
who is also active in the Presbyterian Association of Science, Technology and the Christian Faith.

For more news from GA, please go to JustPresbys!

6/20/06    (1:00 am)
The Witherspoon Luncheon

Eugenia Gamble speaks of "embodying love"

The Witherspoon Society’s Award Luncheon, held on Sunday June 18, drew about 170 people – some drifting in a bit late as they returned from worship services at churches around the Birmingham area.

The keynote speaker for the luncheon, the Rev. Eugenia Gamble, told the story of a congregation she called "extraordinary" – First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham. This congregation, she said, has been showing deep compassion to its community by providing hospitality and a safe place to the people in its downtown neighborhood, just a few blocks from the Convention Center where the General Assembly is meeting this week.   The rest of her talk >>

She offered a closing blessing which many people wanted to have in writing -- so here it is >>

Witherspoon's Whole Gospel Congregation Award was presented to First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham.  Joan Witherspoon Norris (yes, really!), a member of the Church, accepted the award with another glimpse into the depth and breadth of this congregation.   Her comments >>

GA acts on Trinity paper
Assembly votes to 'receive' and commend to the church

BIRMINGHAM, June 19 -- Presbyterian News Service -- The 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a recommendation today to receive and commend to the church for study the paper, "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing." The vote was 282 to 212, with 7 abstentions.

The original recommendation from the General Assembly Council called for the Assembly to approve the paper. An amendment during the debate changed the word to "receive" when some commissioners expressed concern that the word approve meant endorsement. While a majority of the commissioners were uncertain about endorsing it, they were ready to commend it to congregations for study.    The full story >>

Committee questioning unintentionally shows how G-6.0106b is a tool for prejudice

As overture advocates for the Heartland overtures and others aimed at removing G-6.01016b and the related authoritative interpretations from the Presbyterian constitution, two people presenting testimony were two ministers, Kim Smith King and Ray Bagnuolo.

Heather Reichgott reports on the MLP website an interesting exchange they had with a commissioner who questioned them about their "compliance" with Presbyterian law, since one of the speakers acknowledged that he is gay.

Here’s the story >>

And your WebWeaver acknowledges with pride that he appears in this story, too.

Things could be worse!

Southern Baptists reaffirm prohibition against alcohol

The Southern Baptist Convention, the biggest Protestant denomination in the United States, has said no one who drinks "alcoholic beverages" should belong to any denominational trustee board. "The use of alcohol as a beverage can and does impede our testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ," said Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, at the denomination's annual meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina.

from Ecumenical News International -- Geneva, Switzerland


At about 3:00 this afternoon Committee 4, on Church Orders, in effect rejected the Heartland Overture and the concurring overtures that called for the removal of G-6.0106b from the Presbyterian Book of Order, along with the related Authoritative Interpretations.

The vote was on a motion to disapprove the overture, and that motion was approved by a vote of 30 to 28.

Committee 6, which is dealing with the Theological Task Force Report on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, is still debating -- currently dealing with a motion to strike Recommendation 5 (which would give authority to sessions and presbyteries to discern the qualifications of a candidate for ordination within their own understanding of the Book of Order.

Well anyway, tonight's the Witherspoon Party.  And much can change between now and final actions on these matters.  

Details and comment from MLP >>

Peace Fellowship names Rick Ufford-Chase as its first full-time Executive Director   

The news release from PPF begins:

What do you do with a former moderator?  Rick Ufford-Chase, the first moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to serve a 2 year term, will return to his activist and spiritual home, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. The 62 year old organization announced at its June 17 General Assembly Peace Breakfast that Ufford-Chase will become the first full-time Executive Director of PPF, starting August 1, 2006.

We'll add more of this announcement as soon as possible.

From Friday morning:

Open hearing on the Peace, Unity and Purity report

Ecclesiology committee hears conflicting views on PUP report

Presbyterian Outlook reports on the differing views expressed some 60 people in their testimony to Committee 6, on ecclesiology, on Friday morning, June 16.  The report >>

NOTE:   You have to register to access the full article on the Outlook website, but it doesn’t cost anything, and doesn’t really hurt too much.

A new way to be church

As Committee 6 – Ecclesiology – heard testimony from many witnesses on Friday morning, some of the words began to sound pretty familiar after a while. But one short statement struck me as different. Camille Cook, a candidate for ordination in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, who is working this summer at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, said this:

My name is Camille Cook and I am a candidate for ordination in the Twin Cities Presbytery. I speak in favor of the task force report.

Last night as I listened to the four moderator candidates speak, I started a list of all of the negative and disheartening words I heard.

Conflict, dissent, unrest, tumult, tension, difference, division, anxiety, decline, distance, season of depression, turbulence, lack of trust, lack of faith, absent, pain, dying, hurting, distress, hopelessness, despair.

As a recent seminary graduate and a young Presbyterian excited about entering full-time ministry in the church, these are not the words I want to be hearing. This is not the gospel I want to preach, this is not the church I want to practice.

The task force report has the potential to shift the focus of our denomination to new words of hope, peace, and community. We need a new way to be the church and the task force report gives us such a possibility.

This report allows us to live together in community. This is the kind of community the task force committee experienced after being together for four and a half years.

We must honor their work, support their witness, and believe in their unanimous vote. The committee came from differing backgrounds but they found commonality in this report. The task force report gives the church a fresh hope for unity and mutual forbearance.

The church I know and love and am excited to serve deserves this report and not the laundry list I read before. Thank you.

Witherspoon luncheon – we’ve added more tickets, so just come to the door on Sunday!

The GA ticket office was telling people yesterday that tickets were sold out for the Witherspoon Awards Luncheon, which will be Sunday, June 18, at 12:30 in Sheraton Ballroom V and IX (does it sound we’re divided??) .

Well, in the great Christian of hospitality, we’ve ordered more places, so we will have more tickets available at the door on Sunday. We hope you’ll come and find a place at the table!

More about the Witherspoon luncheon >>

Commissioner's Resolution submitted in support of Colombia accompaniment program

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 >>

For more news from GA, please go to JustPresbys!

Joan Gray elected as moderator

Joan Gray after election

Photo by Dwight Blackstock

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 about Joan Grey: a "polity wonk" who sees hope for the church in "a burning passion for God"

For some background on Joan Grey, you might look at her responses to the questions submitted by the Witherspoon Society to her and the other three moderatorial candidates.

Gray has served seven churches in the Atlanta area, most recently as interim pastor of College Park Presbyterian Church.

She has filled leadership positions at the presbytery and General Assembly levels of the PC(USA). She was moderator of Greater Atlanta presbytery for one term, and has served on numerous presbytery committees.

She has co-authored Presbyterian Polity for Church Officers, and is known as an expert on church polity, having served on the GA Advisory Committee on the Constitution, Moderator of the Permanent Judicial Commission, Presbytery Council, and much more. She has held teaching positions as adjunct faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary and Johnson C. Smith Seminary, as well as teaching in the Princeton Theological Seminary Continuing Education program. She has also served in pastoral ministry in seven different congregations.

Nevertheless, in her opening statement to the General Assembly, she made clear that "polity is not going to save us." She told of her own experiences in working for the healing of "some congregations so broken I almost despaired. But when we broadened our focus and threw ourselves on the mercy of God, we began to move forward."

The full story >>

See also the Presbyterian News Service report on the election of Joan Gray >>

Surprise announcement electrifies Assembly

PC(USA) receives historic $150 million gift for church growth

Report from Presbyterian News Service  

A Colorado businessman and elder has contributed a historic $150 million gift to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) aimed at helping presbyteries start new churches, transform struggling congregations and develop new racial-ethic congregations.

The money from Stanley W. Anderson of Denver, CO, for the new Loaves and Fishes Church Growth Fund will be distributed to presbyteries through grants ranging from $250,000 to $1 million each. Presbyteries will be required to apply for the grants and will have to match a portion of it.

Word of the money came through a surprise announcement Thursday that electrified those attending the opening of the PC(USA)’s 217th General Assembly here, prompting commissioners to stand and cheer.

Presbytery mission causes and Presbyterian seminaries will also benefit from the money.

The rest of the story >>

6/15/06   (2:00 am)
Witherspoon/Semper Reformanda pre-GA conversation tackles a big question: What’s going on in the USA?

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 much more information

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

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 >>

Noted author on civil rights struggles will speak at Historical Society Luncheon, Tuesday, June 20

Taylor Branch - author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 - will be speaking at the Presbyterian Historical Society Luncheon on Tuesday, June 20. This is the Pulitzer Prize winner whose book includes Birmingham's civil rights struggles. (Good for the Historical Society!)

It is too late to order advance tickets and, when the word gets out, it may be difficult to get tickets in Birmingham. But often in the past "auditors" have been allowed in at luncheons even though they can't get lunch.

Thanks to Lynne Reade for calling our attention to this important event.

The Voices of Sophia breakfast has had a location change, from the Medical Forum to the Sheraton Ballroom XII.
Dr. Norman Finkelstein will visit GA to observe deliberations on divestment

Dr. Norman Finkelstein, who recently sent a letter to all commissioners stating his support of the PC(USA) divestment discussions, along with his book, Beyond Chutzpah, is planning to visit the General Assembly 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.

Details >>

Two more statements support divestment

Presbyterian Will McGarvey calls for continued support of divestment

McGarvey, a Presbyterian minister who has recently returned from last month's Steps Toward Peace conference, sees "the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza" as the real issue.   More >>

Middle East caucus urges reaffirmation of 2004 selective, phased divestment decision

Both investment and divestment needed, says group

Both investment and divestment must happen in order to end hostilities in Israel and Palestine, the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus (NMEPC) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said in a newly released statement.   More >>

June 17 Peace Breakfast to "lay hands" on the future of peacemaking

Letter from the Birmingham Assembly launches national campaign among Presbyterians  

With multiple wars boiling, and another in the oven, the 62 year old Presbyterian Peace Fellowship will borrow the traditional "laying on of hands" ceremony to bless a tower of cardboard boxes at its Peace Breakfast on Saturday June 17 at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly meeting in Birmingham, AL. The breakfast begins at 6:45 am at the Sheraton Hotel.  The boxes contain the first round of 2100 appeal letters to members of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, seeking pledges toward the $2 million goal of the Endowment Campaign.  More >>

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has designated the people who will serve as its Legislative Strategists for GA  
Souper Bowl nets $4.8 million for needy

PC(USA) congregations are super, raising a record $921,616

Souper Bowl of Caring officials say Presbyterian churches collected nearly a million dollars in this year’s annual anti-hunger campaign. As of June 8, organizers say, 2,387 Presbyterian churches had raised a record $921,616 — and collections haven’t been fully reported.

Overall, more than 11,664 organizations and congregations from a variety of U.S. religious denominations have reported collecting $4,844,466, with donations from Presbyterians making up 19 percent of the total.

The report from Presbyterian News Service >>

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 ..."

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 >>

More on Israel and Divestment  

We recently posted the text of a letter sent by Norman G. Finkelstein, who teaches political science at DePaul University in Chicago, to all GA commissioners.  In his letter, speaking as a Jew, he urges them to support the Presbyterian action on to consider "a phased, selective divestment from companies profiting from Israel's occupation."

We have received numerous critical notes from people who, also speaking as Jews, said that Finkelstein most definitely does not speak for them, or for the vast majority of Jewish people in America.  As a non-expert in this area, your WebWeaver will not pretend to judge between the very different points of view, but we will present three anti-divestment opinions here.

Jewish groups cooperating to head off divestment

Here’s a report from The Jewish Week ("Serving the Jewish Community of Greater New York") giving their view on the current Presbyterian debate as it comes to the General Assembly.

The article quotes Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, inter-religious director for the Anti-Defamation League, as saying that the real issue should not be divestment, but "how to deal with the structural anti-Semitism that still exists in segments of the church that allows for divestment and for this de-legitimization of Israel." We’re not sure what that means, but it seems to be a pretty serious charge.


Another supporter of Israel directly criticizes Finkelstein.  She begins:

I was frankly surprised to find a letter from Norman Finkelstein featured with approval on the Witherspoon Society page.   Finkelstein is a sort of crackpot intellectual, the fact that some of his ideas are congenial is no excuse for mistaking describing him as a responsible scholar.

The rest of Ms. Appelbaum's note >>


Letter from 12 Jewish organizations urges commissioners to oppose divestment

Another letter has also been sent to commissioners, not by an individual, but by twelve large Jewish organizations. One friend tells us that this represents what the "real Jewish community" in the United States feels.

The organizations include the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, and more.  The text of the letter >>

Presbyterian immigration advocates will meet at GA

PFJI Network (Presbyterians for Just Immigration) meeting is Monday, June 19 from 12:30-2:30 in the North G meeting room at the Convention Center. They invite you to take your lunch and join them. And if you know of anyone that may be interested in attending, they urge you to pass this information along to them.

Also, PFJI will have an exhibit booth in the North Exhibit Hall, Booth #100.

New book critiques the American Empire in light of the Commonwealth of God

Rita Nakashima Brock informs us of a very interesting new book on American Empire:

The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God offers a powerful critique of the rapidly emerging American empire. The book discusses how the United States "is seeking to become the world's first borderless empire" and how its expansionist policies constitute "the primary threat to the survival of the human species."

The four co-authors, David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb, Jr., Richard A. Falk and Catherine Keller, put forth the political, economic and ecological arguments as well as the religious-spiritual-moral ones.


Joseph C. Hough Jr., President and William E. Dodge Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, says:

Three outstanding theologians and one of the world's leading experts on international policy issues have joined forces to deliver a scathing critique of the aims, policies, impact, and pretensions of the American Empire. While their criticisms may be familiar to some readers, it is their alternative futures that offer such a practical and morally compelling alternative to the disaster that looms ahead. Anyone concerned about the future of American world leadership must read this book.

For more information, and to order the book >>

NOTE:  Dr. Brock will speak at the General Assembly breakfast of Voices of Sophia, Monday, June 19, 7:00 – 8:30 a.m.



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....' "

So ... what are our real problems?

In her usual – umm – forthright way, Molly Ivins puts our country’s political scene in perspective as she discusses "Flag Burning and Other Dubious Epidemics."

She believes that what we have here is a difference over moral values. The Republicans are worried about the flag, gay marriage and the terrible burden of the estate tax on the rich. The rest of us are obviously unnecessarily worried about war, peace, the economy, the environment and civilization.

The full article >>

A Jewish professor of political science writes in support of divestment  

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."

A note from your WebWeaver:

On the end

As far as we can tell from Minnesota, on this dreaded 6-6-6 date, the world hasn't ended yet.  Of course, there's still time.  But we'll venture a predication that we're safe.  From that threat, at least.  And then again, if we're wrong, who's going to be around to criticize?

No2Torture’s Chicago gathering – an infusion of energy and insight, new directions for action

The No2Torture network held a gathering in Chicago on June 2-3, and Carol Wickersham sent her reflections on the event.  She begins:

The Chicago gathering was an infusion of new energy, new allies and fresh strategy. Our speakers brought deep insight and new dimensions to the issue. From Christology, to politics, to legal and military concerns, we were stretched and filled. And we were fed in spirit by wonderful music and worship, and in body – with lasagna and more! For me, one of the most moving moments was during worship when Adriana Portillo-Bartow shared what it means to her as a torture survivor for the church to take action on this issue. As I listened to her it was clear to me that discouragement is not an option. We cannot give up on hope.   More >>

But some not-so-good news on torture:

Army Manual will skip Geneva Convention detainee rule

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.
The L A Times report >>

As immigration bill heads to committee, NALACC points out serious flaws

Los Angeles, May 30, 2006 – The National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) expressed disappointment at the complicated Senate "compromise" immigration bill passed in the Senate last week. The Senate’s immigration reform bill is inhumane and unrealistic, and will foolishly fasten into law strategies that have failed repeatedly to fix the nation’s broken immigration system, leaders say.   More >>

National Farm Worker Ministry announces:

NFWM Young Adult Leadership Development & Farm Worker Solidarity Summit

JULY 14, 15, & 16 of 2006, National Chavez Center, Keene, California   More information >>

Budget and staff cuts are regrettable at many levels

A comment by Witherspoon Issues Analyst Gene TeSelle 

The General Assembly Council (GAC), on the basis of recommendations by Executive Director John Detterick, has made drastic staff cuts and reorganized its agencies, citing a serious budget shortfall.

We want first to express our sympathy with and concern for those who are being terminated at various stages of their careers, and for those who remain in positions that will be more demanding and stressful than ever.    More >>

Homosexuality and the Bible are debated as vote comes June 6 on "marriage amendment"

Associated Press writer Richard N. Ostling outlines briefly the main arguments on both sides of the debates about same-sex marriage, with The Religious Coalition for Marriage gathering an unusual collection of churches demanding a constitutional amendment, and opposition to such an amendment being coordinated by Clergy for Fairness, which draws support from the Episcopal Church majority, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, liberal Judaism and the largely gay Metropolitan Community Churches, among others.     The full report >>

We sinned and saw The Da Vinci Code     

Berry Craig, history prof and journalist, takes a keen (and light-hearted) look at the reactions of his religious-right neighbors to The Da Vinci Code.  And through them he offers observations on the alarms being sounded by James Dobson and Focus on the Family, who don't seem able to accept the novel and the film as fiction.

Montreat conference will assess hope, future of the PC(USA)

Seminary presidents, former GA moderators head participants list for early-July summit

Presbyterian News Service provides more information on the high-powered Presbyterian church leaders planning to gather at Montreat Conference Center next month to dialogue and share visions for the future of the denomination.

The North Carolina-based center is hosting "The Hope of the Church: Celebrating Common Ground" July 5-8 as a consultation for church leaders and laity across the U.S. Fifteen GA moderators, the 11 PC(USA) seminary presidents or their representatives and various pastors, elders and lay leaders will address four key questions during the event in an effort to share ideas and network.

The four questions are: How is the church being called to transform itself? How is the church being called to transform the world? What is God calling the next generation of pastors to do to faithfully serve the church in the future? What are the opportunities for ministering to a diverse and multicultural, 21st century church?     More>>

Ross Kinsler’s book God’s Economy wins award from Catholic Press Association

Orbis Books has just announced that the Catholic Press Association has given a Book Award, Third Place in the category of Scripture, to God's Economy: Biblical Studies from Latin America.

The citation reads:

Real progressive and lasting social transformation ought to be rooted in the Bible. Latin America, profoundly religious, is fertile ground for cultivating such transformation. Over the past 30 years especially, popular reading and study of the Bible has stirred human hearts and renewed hope for positive change so that Latin America represents hope for all America. No one puts such hope into words better than Orbis Books. The essays in the volume are an eloquent expression of this fact.

More >>                     More on Ross and Gloria Kinsler's writing >>

PC(USA) membership declines, giving is up

Membership loss is largest since 1975

The Presbyterian News Service reports that membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
declined by more than 2 percent in 2005, but total giving to the church increased by more than 5 percent, topping $3 billion for the first time.   The full story >>

Maybe Mexicans should try alternatives for immigrating

David Rossie, associate editor of the Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin, puts tongue firmly in cheek to suggest that any Mexicans really wanting to move to the USA should go south, and join the army in one of the countries that is still rightist enough to gain US still support. Then if they join one of the death squads, they may rise in the ranks and be invited to the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). Then they can return to their military service until the country moves a bit to the left, then be given asylum in the US. Home free!        The whole article >>

Thanks to Len Bjorkman

All postings from
February, 2007
January, 2007
December, 2006
November, 2006
October, 2006
September, 2006
August, 2006
July, 2006
June, 2006
May, 2006

April, 2006
March, 2006
February, 2006
 January, 2006

Our coverage of the 2006 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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