Presbyterian Voices for Justice 

A union of The Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia

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Archives for February 2008

This page lists all our postings from February

For an index to all our reports and analyses
on the 219th General Assembly

For links to all our archive pages, listed by months, click here.

The 218th General Assembly is drawing near!

We invite you to take a look at the events we have planned during the Assembly, and plan on joining us for as many as you can.  The listing also includes instructions for ordering tickets from the G.A. Ticket Service.


Christian Peace Witness for Iraq
March 6 - 10, 2008
Washington, DC ... and around the country

Witness in Washington, Vigil in your Community

Join thousands of Christians in Washington D.C. and across that country as we worship and witness together to say “YES” to peace and “NO” to the War in Iraq. Read our invitation and principles. Events start Thursday, March 6 and end Monday, March 10.

This event is being coordinated with the 6th Annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days – Claiming a Vision of True Security.

There's lots more, too!  Check it out >>

Mind the Gap!

The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Growing Gap between Rich and Poor

This is the introductory note in our special issue of Network News, focusing on the growing rich-poor gap. The whole issue is posted in PDF format, but we’ll also post some of the articles in regular web format (html), for quicker accessibility.   

The world isn’t just getting warmer, it’s getting more deeply divided between rich and poor.

We began discussing the need to dedicate an issue of Network News to this topic in a Board meeting back in April of 2007. The economy had not yet begun to tank but there were ample signs that all was not well and would probably get worse. Since that initial discussion, it has become clear that the gap is not so much between the rich and poor as it is between the rich and everyone else. And the gap is not just a matter of wealth, it’s also a growing differential in power, as labor unions and other structures that have helped balance the rich-poor differential are being attacked and weakened.   More >>

Labor justice – up close and personal

Trina Zelle, who is co-moderator of the Witherspoon Society (and editor of this issue of Network News), is the Lead Organizer and Director of Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona

Out of her experience she tells of the struggles of working people in Arizona (and not just there!). Then she looks briefly at some of the ways people of faith can act for justice for workers.

Presbyterians Advocate Worker Justice

Kim Bobo, who serves as Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice at the national level, looks at the many ways Presbyterians have been involved in working against hunger and poverty in the U.S. over recent decades. She explains why labor unions are necessary, and how government policies need to be shaped to provide greater justice for working people. Finally, she offers ways Presbyterians can “put your faith to work for workers.”

Mission and that Other Inconvenient Truth
by Jake Young

Jake Young, as co-moderator of Witherspoon, was invited to participate in the consultation on World Mission, held by the PC(USA) on January 16-18, 2008 in Dallas, Texas, around the theme, “Renewed Call to Presbyterian Mission in the World! A Dialogue for Our Shared Future.”

He reports his own appreciation of the sense of understanding and respect that he found in the group, but notes too that at least one of the six invited global partners, the Rev. Milton Mejia of Colombia, reminded the group that the world is far from the “flat” and fair world that Thomas Friedman – and many of the conference participants – seem to find so comforting, and (for them) comfortable.

A comment on the rejection of "scruples"

abominable scruples

Dearly beloved!

I have always opposed any and all restorations of monastic vows in the courts of our church.

I agree with Martin Luther's arguments, as did John Calvin, in his work opposing monastic vows. I also agree with Calvin's finding that monastic vows, mixed with superstition, are based on our ability to earn God's favor and so cannot be anything other than abominations in God's sight. How dare we have reinstated vows of chastity and obedience? I find the resulting judicial flagellations wholly unbefitting the Reformed tradition.

What next? Will we now restore the vow of poverty?

Rev. Ralph Garlin Clingan, PhD, member, the Board of Directors of PHEWA, Professor of Theology, Saint Peter's College, Jersey City, NJ

For more on the recent decisions by the General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission, which appear to deny candidates for ordination the possibility of stating "scruples" or departures on grounds of conscience from requirements of behavior.

The Winter 2008 issue of Network News is now available here.

Focusing on the theme, "The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Growing Gap between Rich and Poor," we offer a variety of perspectives on issues of justice for working people, seen through the work of the organization Interfaith Worker Justice, reflections on issues of worker justice in Latin America, the growing "industry" of union busting, and much more.

Click here for a list of the contents.

When Is Growth a Good Thing?

Distributive Justice in the Age of Globalization
by Gene TeSelle

Here’s an additional look at the growing rich-poor gap in a global perspective. (The current issue of Network News focuses on that, but we ran out of time and space to include this important take on the subject.)

Thomas Pogge, a German scholar and student of John Rawls (author of Theory of Justice in 1971), notes that while India and China have experienced economic growth recently, the people of China, like those in the U.S., are increasingly divided by the rich-poor gap.

He goes on to suggest that this gap could be reduced significantly, though,as “doubling the wealth of the bottom 40 percent [of the world’s people] would take only 1.55 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent. Doubling the wealth of the bottom 80 percent would take only 15.3 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent.”

The full essay >>
Another tragic hate crime

Eighth grade boy shot and killed for being gay

Read the New York Times report >>

Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians offered this reflection for Presbyterians:

A Presbyterian pastor speaks to the tragic death of a gay teen in Oxnard, CA; what will his Church say at the 218th General Assembly in San Jose in June?

It is a tragic day when a teenager kills another teenager for being different, ostensibly because he was gay – and because he did not conform to conventional male dress codes. Lawrence King, at age 15, is dead and Brandon McInerney, age 14, is charged with his death as a hate crime.

King had recently come out as gay to classmates, and his recent wearing of mascara, lipstick and jewelry to school resulted in bullying by male students at school. Being different, being gay or transgender should not cost someone their life, not in this country, not anywhere in the world.

More Light Presbyterians and I give thanks to God for a pastor who gets it and who lovingly and powerfully evoked Psalm 139 at a memorial service for Lawrence King at Westminster Presbyterian Church: "God knit Larry together and made him wonderfully complex ... Larry was a masterpiece,” said the Rev. Dan Birchfield, pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Oxnard.

More >>

Where's the debate over gun control?

Liliana Segura, an AlterNet staff writer and Editor of the Rights & Liberties section, posted this reflection on Feb. 22:

The campus shooting at Northern Illinois University may be old news by now, but forgive me for thinking it might have presented an opportunity at last night's debate for someone to ask Hillary or Obama about gun control. Can you remember the last time either candidate talked about it? The last time any Democratic presidential contender did? Thinking "Dems" and "guns" leaves me with images of John Kerry in a hunting outfit. Embarrassing.

The rest of her essay >>                       More on gun control >>

Christians and politics

Two modest pointers toward a meeting of religious right and left

What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?
A Guide for the Searching, the Open, and the Curious

Delwin Brown, dean emeritus of the Pacific School of Religion and formerly Professor of Christian Theology at Iliff School of Theology, “writes with a passion for clear thinking about what it means to be a pluralistic, compassionate, open-minded, justice-seeking Christian today,” according to a reviewer on the website of The Center for Progressive Christianity.

While he is critical of both conservative and liberal , Brown “reclaims the ideas and language of traditional Christianity, carefully reconstructing them in positive ways. If there is such a thing as progressive Christian apologetics, Brown has come close to producing it. For example, he rediscovers a positive meaning for ‘biblical authority’.”

The reviewer summarizes some of Brown’s major points:

A uniquely helpful part of the book is Brown’s wisdom about the role of religion in politics. “There are good reasons, then, for urging that religion be kept out of politics. The only problem is that it is not possible...” (p 112) So he proposes six ways to manage the inevitable relationship between the two: don’t privilege any one religion, understand one’s adversaries, find common values, seek compromise, don’t outlaw conduct unless it directly undermines the common good, and deliberate with others in community. “Our Christian voice is vitally important. It endeavors to speak reflectively on behalf of justice, repentance, inclusion, and healing. The progressive Christian witness is ‘good news’ for everyone.” (p 121)



And maybe things are changing anyway, as the generations change ...

The Austin (TX) American-Statesman carries a report of a Tuesday-night gathering in an Austin restaurant of “mostly 20- and 30-something Christians [who] drank iced tea, red wine and Belgian ale and traded thoughts about the war in Iraq, abortion and immigration reform. Some of them support Sen. John McCain for president. Some are torn between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. All said their Christian faith informs the decision they will make in the voting booth.”

Reporter Eileen E. Flynn writes that “at the moment, no candidate can lay sole claim to the evangelical vote,” citing Michael Lindsay, a sociology professor at Rice University in Houston, author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, who pictures evangelicals today as much more “diverse and sophisticated than the stereotype of the right-wing fundamentalist.”

She adds that evangelical writer Tony Campolo sees this shift as largely generational, with evangelicals under 40 as more concerned about poverty and environmental issues rather than abortion and same-sex marriage.

Dangerous toys from China?  It's a US problem too.

Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, argues that the problem of toxic toys and all the other stuff coming into the US from China is less a reflection of China’s problems than it is a result of “a business model in which companies outsource manufacturing under short-term, low-cost contracts to the firm that will follow their design standards most cheaply. All that is really Fisher-Price about Dora the Explorer is the design – the product itself is made in a factory over which the company has almost no control. It doesn't manage the working conditions, environmental standards, or safety practices. As a result, it no longer controls the product itself.”

In short, the desperate drive for maximizing short-term profits is undermining any long-term planning and development – and thus responsibility.

The forthcoming issue of Witherspoon’s Network News is focusing on another side of the same problem, as it affects workers both in the US and around the world.

Carl Pope’s article >>

Sojourners offers training for leaders in justice-building

Is your congregation looking for practical ways to help build the movement to overcome poverty in the U.S. and around the world?

There's no better time than an election year to make our voices heard on behalf of the "least of these," which is why Sojourners is offering an in-depth, practical training this June—teaching hundreds of passionate and dedicated Christians how to join us in changing the political landscape in 2008 and beyond.

Participants in this year's Pentecost conference, held June 13 through 15 at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., will learn how to impact their congregations and communities with the biblical mandate for social justice. Trainings will focus on everything from raising awareness about why Christians must engage in politics, to using new media tools to share the goal of ending poverty with the whole world.

More >>


Christian Peace Witness for Iraq
March 6 - 10, 2008
Washington, DC ... and around the country

Witness in Washington, Vigil in your Community

Join thousands of Christians in Washington D.C. and across that country as we worship and witness together to say “YES” to peace and “NO” to the War in Iraq. Read our invitation and principles. Events start Thursday, March 6 and end Monday, March 10.

This event is being coordinated with the 6th Annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days – Claiming a Vision of True Security.

There's lots more, too!  Check it out >>

Knox Presbytery asks GA to reverse GA-PJC decision on ordination standards, with new AI

The Presbytery of John Knox has adopted an overture asking the 218th General Assembly (2008) to adopt the following Authoritative Interpretation of Section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:

The requirements of G-6.0108 apply equally to all ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). G-6.0108 requires examining bodies to give prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual, case-by-case basis, to any departure in matters of belief or practice that a candidate may declare during examination. However, the examining body is not required to accept a departure from standards, and cannot excuse a candidate's inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).

Dr. Mark Achtemeier, in a letter to Knox Presbytery sent with the proposed overture, explained that "This overture is prompted by events of this past Monday, in which the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission issued a decision (Bush v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh) that effectively nullifies Recommendation 5 of the [PUP Task Force].”

Achtemeier’s intent is apparently to recover some of what the PUP Task Force intended, by allowing the possibility of departures for standards in the Book of Order relating to behavior as well as belief.

Read the report of PresbyWeb >>

The full text of the overture >>

When “‘prayers’ just won’t do”

On the recent spate of school killings and challenge of the gun lobby

Tim Rutten, writing in the Los Angeles Times recently, lamented the numerous shootings recently in schools around the nation.

All these wrenchingly tragic crimes are linked by a common factor – the ubiquity of guns in America. Given that we're in the midst of the most hotly contested presidential campaign in recent memory, you'd think that all this bloodletting might become a campaign issue. If you thought that, you'd have reckoned without regard to the gun lobby's near-total victory among the politicians of both political parties. ...

The truth is that guns make the malicious, the malcontent and the mad powerful. They confer the power of life and death on the demented and deranged – and yet we do nothing. There are more guns circulating in the U.S. today than ever before, somewhere around 250 million, according to projections by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Rutten’s article >>

Your WebWeaver found this article instructive, but checked it out with Catherine Snyder, who has just joined the Board of the Witherspoon Society. She serves as a campus minister at Virginia Tech, where 32 students were gunned down last April. She wrote this response:

Dear Doug,

Thank you for calling Tim Rutten's piece "'Prayers' just won't do" to my attention. I hope you will share it with as many people as you can. As a minister, I confess my sadness that the most faithful and courageous responses I have seen since April 16 have come from the secular press. Churches seem to be as afraid as our politicians when it comes to expressing outrage over these preventable tragedies. It is shameful how we tolerate this violence and do so little to change the laws that would make such a difference in this country. We are not powerless, though we act so.

Grace and peace,

She suggested these articles, too:

bulletHad enough gun violence? We can't let the NRA block sensible gun-control laws.   From the Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 20, 2008
bulletPacking Heat in the Parks A New York Times editorial, Feb. 20, 2008

It begins: “A sound and bipartisan public lands bill is being held up in the Senate in behalf of the gun lobby’s attempt to overturn decades-old safety regulations barring people from carrying loaded guns in national parks.”

bullet“Shootings,” a moving essay written by Adam Gopnik right after the killings, in The New Yorker, April 30, 2007

More on gun control legislation >>

When African-American history is just known as history

The Vice-Moderator of the PC(USA), Elder Robert E. Wilson, is sending a message to the church about Black History Month.

It begins:

Do we need Black History Month? Yes.  But we need to get back to the original intent of the celebration.

Black History Month began as a yearlong study and discussion of African-American history, with the month of February as the kickoff. Many say Black History Month is necessary until textbooks more completely and accurately portray the contributions Blacks have made.

We need to make sure books and curricula are upgraded so that schools and churches can teach Black History the whole year, rather than one month. Black students, as well as Asians, Native American, Hispanic/Latino and White students need to know more about African American culture than just the history associated with slave owners.

More >>

No 2 Torture Announces a Youtube Video Contest,

AND  they are asking for help to generate $10,000 in prize money.

Starting April 1st  No2Torture will begin soliciting submissions on the popular site Youtube, of 60 second videos that address from a No 2 Torture perspective the question, "What's the big deal about torture?" They will collect these submissions to be judged by a panel of prominent activists in the Anti-Torture movement. The ten best videos will be awarded $1,000 prizes. The money for these cash awards must come from you, our No 2 Torture supporters. All of these videos will then become the property of No 2 Torture to be used in future information campaigns online and on television to continue conscience raising in this nation. They have already been given a $1,000 matching gift and $300 towards the match.

More on the contest, and the need for support >>

Installing Your Husband ...

Dear Tech Support,

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slow down in overall system performance, particularly in the flower and jewelry applications, which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0.In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs, such as Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5 and then installed undesirable programs such as NBA 5.0, NFL 3.0 and Golf Clubs 4.1. Conversation 8.0 no longer runs, and Housecleaning 2.6 simply crashes the system. I've tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix these problems, but to no avail. What can I do?



Read the response from Tech Support >>

Tonight!  Or, like, maybe tomorrow??

Satellite shoot-down nothing more than anti-satellite test

The planned Pentagon shoot down of the wayward U.S. military satellite is nothing more than an opportunity to test new Star Wars anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) technology says the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

"The Bush administration is magnifying the risk to justify the testing of new dangerous and provocative offensive space warfare technologies,” says Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator of the Global Network, which is based in Maine.   More >>


Following up on the PJC ruling against gay ordination

A Witherspoon comment
from Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Society Issues Analyst

The PJC decisions need to be corrected – by a new Authoritative Interpretation and by deleting or replacing G-6.0106b

The recent decisions of the General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) in three cases are disappointing in that they give an over-simplified response to a complex question and introduce further confusions into the life of the church.

TeSelle's brief analysis asks what these decisions affirm, and what they deny; how they confuse our priorities, and what can be done.  Read it all >>

More Light Presbyterians has issued a statement adopted unanimously by their Board, saying in light of the PJC ruling:

It is time for Presbyterians to end the discrimination against their LGBT sisters and brothers and to honor their calls to ordained office. This judicial ruling further entrenches the unjust ordination standard in G-6.0106b. MLP hopes that this ruling will also stop what we now know to be futile and divisive attempts to interpret or seek ways around what really must be removed. Since 1997, More Light Presbyterians has consistently maintained that the only response to the unacceptable and impossible choices imposed on LGBT persons is to change our constitution. It’s about time!

The full MLP statement >>

A response from one deeply affected by the PJC decision:

Dr. Paul Capetz, who was restored to ordained ministry just three weeks ago by action of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, has written this very personal comment (slightly edited) in response to friends who have been contacting him to express their concern and support.

Dear friends,

Since many of you have expressed concern for me these past few days since the PJC handed down its ruling which portends to overturn the presbytery's decision to restore me to ordained office, I send you these observations and thoughts.

Frankly, I just haven't been answering my phone – I haven't got the energy even to talk with people. I'm feeling punched in the gut by the church – waiting for the PJC to overturn the presbytery's decision restoring me to ordained minister – I can't begin to put together into words all my thoughts and feelings – sheer disbelief and outrage may be close to the mark.

I never would have requested to be restored if I hadn't been completely convinced from a close reading of the PUP report that was adopted as AI by the GA in 2006 that this was a completely legal thing to do. Moreover, the Committee on Ministry and the presbytery would never have gone through such a lengthy and complicated process had not everyone believed that this was in accord with the polity. Furthermore, the COM and presbytery were so careful to do everything "decently and in order" so that no missteps were taken.

The rest of Paul Capetz' note >

Covenant Network responds to recent PJC decision

In response to the recent GAPJC rulings, Covenant Network Co-Moderators Jon Walton and Deborah Block issued a statement saying in part:

One decision of the PJC was profoundly disappointing. In the case of Bush v. Pittsburgh Presbytery, the PJC ruled that the second sentence (including “chastity in singleness”) of G.6-0106b is an “essential of Reformed faith and polity,” from which behavioral departure is not acceptable for those seeking church office. This ruling lifts one sentence in the Book of Order to a position of authority above all others in the Constitution, including the Book of Confessions of the church. We do not believe that there is any sound theological or legal basis for making such a distinction. . . .

In inexplicably lifting up one sentence as outside the bounds of discernment, the PJC appears to have disregarded the wisdom of that General Assembly and its clear intention as made explicit in the report of the Theological Task Force. We pledge to do everything we can to help set the church back on the path that the PJC decision has partially blocked.

Read the full statement >>

"In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle..."

Blogger John Shuck offers a sharp look at the state of the PC(USA) in light of the recent GA PJC decision, and the various battle lines that seem to be shaping up for the 218th General Assembly, to be held in San Jose, Cal., June 21 - 28, 2008.

Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., Shuck is clear and thoughtful and very forthright in his opinions. And sometimes funny, too. Whether you’re on the left, or right, or somewhere in the “broad middle” of the Presbyterian Church, you may disagree with his views. We know he’ll welcome your notes of discontent (or who knows, maybe even a good word or two). And we hope you’ll send us a note here, too, so we can talk more about it here.

He concludes:

It is time for moderates to stand up and do the good thing. Yes, if the June GA does remove the AI and send to the presbyteries the opportunity to remove G-6.0106b there will be an outcry from the right wing. They will be well-funded. They will threaten to shoot the denomination in the head by withholding funds and so forth. It will get ugly. So? Toughen up.

Heterosexual prejudice is the presenting issue. That is only the surface issue. The real issues are much deeper. These issues are ultimately about freedom. Freedom of thought and freedom to change and to grow. Fundamentalists will have none of that. No, you may not like many of my or others' progressive theological ideas. But it is good for you that we participate in a denomination in which we can express them.

Freedom of thought does not come without the willingness to defend it. Moderates, you are the ones who will make it happen or not. I hope that you will go with your heart on the lgbt issue and go for freedom of thought on theological, social, and political issues. Only from that standpoint can we really be a church that can address the issues we face that are much larger than worrying about who has gay cooties.

Read the rest of his blog >>
Looking toward the 218th General Assembly   

Obviously those who seek a more just and inclusive church will be going to the General Assembly in San Jose (June 21 - 28, 2008) with hopes for making changes.

We are offering here reports of overtures that have been passed by various presbyteries, and will try to keep up with further developments as they occur. 

If you're aware of other overtures or approaches, please let us know, and we'll add your reports!  Just send a note.

Current reports include:

bullet Overtures to "delete B," the requirement for "fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness"
bulletOther overtures to "improve B" by improving the ordination standard in relation to sexuality, rather than simply deleting it.  Some interesting new approaches!
bulletAn overture from the Presbytery of Baltimore, which would define marriage as "between two persons," rather than just between a man and a woman.
bulletTwo overtures on the other side, that would rescind the Authoritative Interpretation approved by the 2006 GA, which permitted candidates for ordination to express "scruples" about particular requirement in the Book of Order.
Two presbyteries send overtures to correct anti-gay mistranslation of Heidelberg Catechism

The Presbytery of Boston and the Presbytery of Pittsburgh have passed overtures that would correct the mistranslation in 1962 which added the phrase "or of homosexual perversion" that was not part of the original Heidelberg Catechism.

On the Pittsburgh action >>

The overture from the Presbytery of Boston >>

The presbyteries of Northern Kansas and New York City have taken similar actions.

Preliminary list of issues facing 218th General Assembly outlined

Presbyterian News Service reports from Louisville:  "The key issues coming before the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) were outlined here Wednesday (Feb. 13) during a joint meeting of the General Assembly Council (GAC) Executive Committee and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA)."

The full report >>

GA Permanent Judicial Commission rules out conscientious objection to “fidelity and chastity” requirement

PJC says only a constitutional amendment will change things

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) has overthrown the authoritative interpretation that the General Assembly approved in 2006, which would have allowed candidates for ordination to declare a “scruple” against a particular requirement for ordination, on the grounds that they could not in conscience adhere to it.

Specifically this means that any candidate for ordination as a minister or elder must obey the requirement of “fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness,” which was added to the Book of Order as provision G-6.0106b.

The ruling of the GA PJC, issued on February 11, 2008, actually deals with three cases, all of which touch on the issue of sexuality and ordination.

The action of the 2006 General Assembly left it up to the discernment of the ordaining body (the session for elders, the presbytery for ministers) as to whether the ordination requirement must be regarded as “essential,” and therefore an absolute requirement, or might be seen as not essential, and therefore might be set aside in the case of a particular individual.

This PJC ruling describes the “fidelity and chastity” provision as “a mandatory standard that cannot be waived.” Further, it makes clear that while candidates may be permitted to “depart” from ordination standards related to belief, they cannot be allowed the same freedom of conscience with regard to behavior.

And it upheld language from a prior Synod of the Trinity PJC ruling which made a distinction between allowing departures from the church’s standards related to belief – but not departures related to behavior.

Presbyterians committed to a fully open and inclusive church, including its practices of ordination, have differed over the past few years in their strategies for dealing with the essentially exclusionary demands for “fidelity and chastity.” Some have sought a gradual approach to changing practice and the application of ordination standards through action in presbyteries, which others have believes that no real change would happen until the “fidelity and chastity” requirement in G-6.0106b of the Book of Order is totally removed.

The PJC seems to side with the latter approach, especially when it declares: “the fidelity and chastity standard may only be changed by a constitutional amendment. Until that occurs, individual candidates, officers, examining and governing bodies must adhere to it.”

It seems likely that this action will reverse the moves toward a more inclusive church recently taken by two presbyteries: On January 15, San Francisco presbytery voted 167 to 151 to approve as “ready for examination” Lisa Larges, a lesbian who works for the advocacy group, That All May Freely Serve. And on January 26, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted 196 to 79 to restore the ordination of Paul Capetz, a gay seminary professor who voluntarily set aside his ordination in 2000 in protest over the PC(USA)’s ordination standards.

More reports and comments >>

bullet from Presbyterian Outlook and the Louisville Courier-Journal
bulletfrom the Office of the General Assembly -- an Advisory Opinion
bulletfrom More Light Presbyterians
bulletfrom Ray Bagnuolo, “openly gay Presbyterian minister”
bulletfrom That All May Freely Serve
bulletfrom Presbyterians for Renewal

We welcome your comments and additions!
Just send a note.

More from the conference on “terror, torture, and security”

Facing our complicity, needing conversion:  More questions

Following the presentation by Dr. Ed Long, the evening discussion continued with Dr. Mark Douglas, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary, who began by agreeing with what others had said: that people in congregations are reluctant to talk about torture. But the reason, he said, is that “we don’t have the language to talk about it.” Some churches have tried to deal with the painful subject, but they don’t have the theological tools that we need.

He proceeded to work out some of these tools through a series of questions:  Why aren't Christians asking about torture?  Why do Christians ask questions?  What do we know about torture?  Why is torture going on?  And how can Christians deal with our complicity in that torture?

Through the questions, he moved to the conclusion that the U.S. use of torture reflects our nation's need for a sense of control, and our lack of patience to deal with terrorism more slowly and carefully.  His concluding emphasis on the need for patience brought some provocative responses from the group.   More on Douglas' presentation >>

More from the conference on “terror, torture, and security”

Healing for survivors

Cat Bucher provided the second presentation of Monday afternoon, speaking out of her broad experience in activism and concern for people who are struggling to recover from torture and other abuses of their rights, in Latin America as well as in the Middle East and Africa. She is part of the founding team for the Dallas Center for Survivors of Torture, where she continues to work as case manager, and she accompanies Latin American Forensic Anthropology Teams exhuming massacre sites.

If torture is used as a way by which a government can tear apart social groups, then confronting that torture helps to rebuild the torn social bonds. Therefore much of her work is devoted to “finding safe places where communities of healing can happen. Part of that process, too, is providing support systems for the care-givers of the survivors of torture.

Bucher raised the question of how we will provide support in the years ahead for military veterans, as they begin dealing with the deep pain and guilt of what they have been through.   More on her presentation >>

Monday evening: dealing with “complacency, complicity and denial” in our churches

The two final presentations in the conference were aimed at moving the group toward finding ways to deal with the resistance that seems at be present in many churches and educational institutions, to dealing with the issue of torture.

The first speaker was Dr. Edward Leroy Long, Jr., who is the James Pearsall Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics and Theology of Culture of Drew University. His most recent book is Facing Terrorism: Responding as Christians. Rick Ufford-Chase, introducing Dr. Long, mentioned that book as one that “touched me deeply,” and that led to numerous conversations during his moderatorial term, which “convinced me that he is one of the important seminal thinkers of the church.”

Long’s talk focused on “the way in which social witness and social action can best take place in a changed ecclesiastical and political climate.” He sees two approaches to dealing with social issues, one being “institutional social witness,” and the other “movement-oriented undertakings.” These are not entirely different, but each approach has its strengths and weaknesses.  More >>

A conference participant urges action against U.S. leaders guilty of war crimes

Chuck Fager, of Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg, NC, responds to comments by presenter Scott Horton about the possibility of legal actions against U.S. leaders responsible for war crimes, i.e. torture.  Read his note >>

Take Action to Stop Torture!

Tell Your Senator to Support Section 327 of H.R. 2082

from Witness in Washington Weekly, from the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Those who oppose torture have an opportunity in February to end the CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques" program. A vote in the Senate, which we expect to take place in mid-February, will decide the fate of very important anti-torture legislation (Section 327 of H.R. 2082 - the Intelligence Authorization bill). That bill would require the CIA to comply with the restrictions in the Army Field Manual on interrogation of detainees. The U.S. Army Field Manual prohibits torture, as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.   More >>

Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a month away!

The 2008 Advocacy Days: Claiming a Vision of True Security is March 7 – 10. Don’t forget to register for Ecumenical Advocacy Days before the cost of registration increases on Feb. 15. Visit to register today. Room rates at the conference hotel will increase on the 11th. Please book them now! Visit the website above for more information.

This year’s conference promises to be an exciting event. The vision statement states, “As people of faith and hope, we believe our nation is entering – and must enter -- an era of renewal and re-creation. The conviction is now widespread that it is time to envision and act on a new pathway to true human security – one which seeks not only the absence of tension, but the presence of justice (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) The 2008 Ecumenical Advocacy Days assembly will explore new visions of security in our homes, neighborhoods, nation and world.”

Full Time Position announced for Social Justice Director at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church, New York

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church (JHC) is seeking a Social Justice Director who, in partnership with the Social Justice Committee and the congregation, shall be responsible for Jan Hus Church’s Social Justice Programs known as Homeless Outreach an Advocacy Program (HOAP) and Global Concerns Program.  More >>

More from the conference on “terror, torture, and security”

Torture as a conflict point between competing theologies

On Monday afternoon the focus shifted to theological reflection about torture. The session was opened with a reading from the Barmen Declaration, which reflected the struggle of the Confessing Church in Germany as they stood against the demands of the Nazi state that

Christians conform to the national ideology, including Nazi symbols in their sanctuaries and much more. The declaration of the Confessing Church, led by Karl Barth, was a resounding affirmation of Jesus Christ as the Word which we must hear, and an equally clear No to the false faith proclaiming by the Nazis.

The first speaker, Dr. George Hunsinger, is Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, and was the founder of the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).  He has recently edited Torture Is a Moral Issue (Eerdmans, 2008), which will lift up various moral aspects of this issue from a variety of faith and academic perspectives.

Hunsinger opened with a clear statement of the theological issue: “Today the ideology of nationalism and a new and cryptic form of racism are threatening the integrity of the Church.” The question for us today, he said, is the same as that faced by German Christians in 1938: “Do we really put our loyalty to Christ above all else?”

More >>

More from the conference on “terror, torture, and security”

Seeing torture in the U.S. context

The first session on Monday morning focused on the issue of torture in European and U.S. history, and considered ways our present situation both reflects and differs from our past.

The presenter for this vast subject was Scott Horton, who is an attorney and a partner with the law firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler LLP in New York. He serves as adjunct faculty at Columbia Law School and is author of over 100 publications, as well as contributing to Harper's Magazine and writing the online column “No Comment” for their website.

He traced the uses of torture from the Roman Empire, through Nazi Germany, Soviet communism, and down to the U.S. in the 21st century.  Seeing torture as basically corrosive of the nation that uses it, and as ineffective at many levels, he portrayed the need for religious voices to be raised against it as a threat to our values as a nation, and as a people of faith.

Pittsburgh Presbytery passes overture to restore Heidelberg Catechism to its historic form 

Media release from More Light Presbyterians, Pittsburgh, PA: February 7, 2008

Today at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Presbytery voted 128-94 in support of sending the Heidelberg Catechism Overture to the 218th General Assembly in San Jose.

Submitted for consideration by the Sessions of Sixth Presbyterian Church, Community of Reconciliation and East Liberty Presbyterian Church, this Overture's intention is to correct the mistranslation in 1962 which added the phrase "or of homosexual perversion" that was not part of the original Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism is part of the Book of Confessions for the Presbyterian Church (USA). Sixth Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh and Community of Reconciliation, Pittsburgh, are More Light Presbyterian Churches.

Andreas Kurt Schuele, Professor of Biblical Theology, Union-PSCE, Richmond, VA offered an advisory opinion on this Overture to Pittsburgh Presbytery.

Click here for more information about the Heidelberg Catechism and this Overture on the National MLP Website. 

A debt of gratitude is owed to Professors Johanna Bos and Christopher Elwood of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, for their faithful scholarship which revealed the errors and mistranslations within the 1962 translation of the Heidelberg Catechism from its original form and languages.

The 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will now have the opportunity to restore the Heidelberg Catechism to its original form and meaning, when it meets in San Jose, June 21 - 28, 2008.

Michael J. Adee, National Field Organizer, More Light Presbyterians
(505) 820-7082,,

A similar overture was approved by the Presbytery of Northern Kansas in January, by voice vote without dissent, according to a note from the Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Lawrence, KS.
More from the conference on “terror, torture, and security”

Lucy Mashua meets Eric Fair

Facing the realities of torture

The first two presentations in the conference on torture were planned to put faces on the reality of the human abuse of human beings.  And they did just that.

First, Lucy Mashua spoke of growing up in Kenya, being subjected to female genital mutilation, and then to torture and rape by police and others who attacked her for her resistance to the degrading treatment of women.

Then Eric Fair, formerly an interrogator serving under a private contractor in Iraq, told of his experience in using sleep deprivation in the interrogation of an Iraqi prisoner, until he realized within himself that this was something that he simply could not do.  So he stopped, he left Iraq, and has told the ugly story.

For related reports from the conference >>

A major Ghost Ranch event this summer!

July 28 - August 3, 2008
Paths toward Peace and Justice:

Spirituality, Earth-Care, and the Prophetic Word in a time of Violence

In partnership with the Witherspoon Society, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

Come to Ghost Ranch for a revival of the old fashioned "cowboy camp-meetings" of its history. Each morning will offer high quality workshops on a wide variety of issues and artistic expressions related to peacemaking, justice and earth-care. Afternoons will include some activities and free time to enjoy Ghost Ranch. Nancy Eng MacNeill and Mark Koenig of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program staff will offer an intergenerational activity each day after lunch.

Evenings will center on all-Ranch worship with former PC(USA) Moderator John Fife and Rabbi Lynn Gottleib offering the prophetic word in the beautiful Agape Center, looking out over the valley toward Pedernal. This year there will be a concerted effort to join the "arts" side of the program with the "seminar" side. Rev. Carol Wickersham, founder of No2Torture, will design and coordinate the worship experiences.

Families, note that there will be a special "Peace and Justice Track" for high school students this year. Former Young Adult Volunteer Andrea Leonard will team with the College staff to build an experience that integrates the high school students into the broader community and conversation. High school seminars will be highly interactive, activity-based, and a lot of fun.

Rick Ufford-Chase and Gail Brown will reprise the popular "camp culture" begun in 2007, offering a low-cost housing and food option in the campground. Enjoy fellowship over shared meals and late night campfires.

More information --- both general and about each of the nine scheduled seminars >>

2/6/08 -- Ash Wednesday
Seeking ways to confront “terror, torture, and security”

Spending three days talking about torture may not sound like much fun. It’s not. But about sixty people came together at Columbia Theological Seminary, in Decatur, Georgia, from Sunday evening, Feb. 3, through noon on Tuesday, Feb. 5, to do just that. Nearly half the participants were students, mostly at Presbyterian-related colleges and seminaries, looking for ways to act against something that seems to betray all they believe in about the Christian life, and about the values of the United States.

The group responds to presentation by Dr. Edward LeRoy Long, Jr.

The conference was sponsored by Presbyterian-based No2Torture and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, along with the denomination’s Presbyterian Peace Program. Three seminaries also joined in sponsoring the event: Columbia, which provided generous hospitality, along with Princeton and Fuller. All three were represented by faculty members and/or students, and there were students also from Harvard Divinity School, Union Theological Seminary (both of them, in New York and Richmond), San Francisco Theological Seminary, along with Austin, Dubuque and New Brunswick.

The meeting was held with one specific goal: finding ways to help Presbyterian congregations deal with an urgent issue which most of them seem desperate to avoid. Various participants spoke of their experiences in trying to deal with U.S. use of torture, whether in sermons or in less “weighty” situations. And the general reaction has been “We just can’t talk about that here.”

The conference began Sunday evening by plunging into the lived reality of torture: We heard harrowing presentations, the first being from a woman who was a victim of genital mutilation and torture in her native Kenya, and is now a refugee in asylum in the U.S. The second presentation was by a former police officer who then served in the U. S. Army as a linguist, and then was sent to Iraq with a private contractor, interrogating detainees using “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as sleep deprivation, that were approved in the Army manual. He did that for a short time, until “after three or four hours I had to stop,” because his spirit rebelled so strongly at what he was being told to do.

On Monday there were presentations looking at the issue of torture first in the context of America history, then in light of theological reflection, and finally in relation to the “complacency, complicity and denial in our American churches.

Tuesday morning was spent in small group discussions on possible strategies for helping our churches and people get beyond the complacency and denial.

We’ll bring you more detail on the presentations as soon as we can process them. But in the meantime —

A note from your WebWeaver:

I am writing this on the evening of Ash Wednesday. I discovered in the service of imposition of ashes at our church this evening that a ritual of penitence was indeed appropriate for me, as one who is complicit in the terrible deeds our nation is doing.

And an invitation:

If you were at the conference and have thoughts to share, please send a note!

We'll post more tomorrow -- we hope!  For the page on the conference >>

Albany Presbytery approves overture to delete G-6.0106b

At its regular meeting on Saturday, Feb. 2, the Presbytery of Albany voted by 69 to 41, with 2 abstentions, to send to the 218th General Assembly an overture to delete G-6.0106b from the Book of Order. It also approved a new Authoritative Interpretation which would rule that “Interpretative statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or effect.”

Thanks to Terry Diggory, of Saratoga Springs, NY, for this report.

For the full text of the overture and its rationale >>

For an index to all our reports and analyses
on the 219th General Assembly

For links to all our archive pages, listed by months, 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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