Presbyterian Voices for Justice 

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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Archives for July 2008

This page lists our postings from all of July

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.

Witherspoon stands with UUs in Knoxville

To our UU sisters and brothers in Knoxville –

It takes courage – and firm hope – to stand for justice and the inclusion of all people in the family of faith. You all have taken just that kind of positive stand, and tragically you have paid a high price. We salute you, and as a group of progressive Presbyterians we stand with you. May the Creator’s love sustain you all in these hard days.

Doug King

for the Board of the Witherspoon Society

This message has just been posted to the Knoxvillesupport blogspot

Church leaders lift up Knoxville faith community in wake of shootings

by Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Four top leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have sent a letter to all of the denomination’s congregations asking them to pray for those affected by the shootings in a Knoxville, TN, church on Sunday (July 27).

Click here for the full text of the letter, dated July 29 and signed by the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly; the Rev. Byron Wade, vice-moderator of the 218th General Assembly; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly and Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Council.

Presbyterians stand with Unitarian Universalists in Knoxville

Two killed, others injured by a man angry at "liberals"

You’ve doubtless seen reports of the shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Sunday morning, July 27.

For ways you or your congregation might respond >>

Here’s one Associated Press report on the killing >>

The report begins:

An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire at a Unitarian church, killing two people, left behind a note suggesting that he targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays, authorities said Monday.

A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson's small SUV indicated he intentionally targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because, the police chief said, "he hated the liberal movement" and was upset with "liberals in general as well as gays."

Adkisson, a 58-year-old truck driver on the verge of losing his food stamps, had 76 rounds with him when he entered the church and pulled a shotgun from a guitar case during a children's performance of the musical "Annie."


For more comments and responses >>

If you have news or comments to add
on this attack on a community of faith,
please send a note,
to be shared here.


The "Ordination Question" in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

As Presbyterians prepare to consider in their presbyteries the proposed amendment to the Book of Order, which would broaden and deepen the notion of conditions for ordination – and would eliminate the narrow ban on homosexuality which was put in place in 1997 – it may help to have a sense of the long and winding path the church has followed in dealing with the question of sexuality and ordination.

Gene TeSelle has prepared this brief chronology to help us navigate that path.

It's Not the Bombing ...

An Iranian Christian considers U.S. threats to her country

Noushin Darya Framke, a Presbyterian from Iran, has been a member of the PC(USA) for 20 years. She is an elder in Newark Presbytery and a member of the Presbytery's Middle East Task Force.

She has been a member of the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns of PC(USA) and has been its chair for the last year. In addition she is active with the Israel-Palestine Mission Network. She writes this, however, as an individual, to describe how she feels these days, hearing the constant calls for the U.S. to “bomb bomb Iran.”

“Serenity Prayer,” long attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, may have come from earlier sources, many of them women

Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, has used online research methods to trace the sources of misattributed quotations. He did this for the Serenity Prayer, usually ascribed to Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943. But he finds it used by several women in a variety of obscure local newspaper reports in the 1930s. Either Niebuhr used it then, without remembering, or it was, as he himself said, "spooking around for years, even centuries." It looks as though the latter alternative is correct and it has what Shapiro calls "a deep, traditional ancestry."

Niebuhr's daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, points out that he was on the "YMCA/YWCA circuit" for many years in the 1920s and 1930s and that this could have been the source of this oral tradition among women leaders.

Read the article in Yale Alumni Magazine >>

More Light Presbyterians urges:

You can support Marriage Equality today.

More Light Presbyterians is absolutely committed to marriage equality in the Church and in civil society.

As part of the National LGBT Equality Movement, More Light Presbyterians works in partnership and collaboration with many other organizations that are committed to spiritual, marriage and civil equality for LGBT persons and their families. One of those organizations is the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing.

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing has launched a national campaign to support marriage equality through an "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality." The campaign invitation to clergy who support marriage equality follows this call for faithful consideration and endorsement of it from More Light Presbyterians.

For more information, to sign on now, click here >>

We posted a link to this call earlier, and are happy to add MLP’s support of it.

Layman reports minister’s “grassroots response” to withhold money from denomination

Like, this is a new and creative idea??  Shouldn't the Layman claim some credit for pushing this for years?

The Layman’s report >>

The 218th General Assembly has opened doors to a new future for the Presbyterian Church

Let’s help the PC(USA) move through those doors!

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst, writes:  "The actions of the 2008 General Assembly suggest that the tide has turned in the Presbyterian Church. ..."

He analyzes the significant steps toward making the ordination process more open and fair, looks at the announced plans of the Presbyterian Right to oppose those steps, and suggests ways we might move forward to bring a truly inclusive church closer to reality during the months ahead, as presbyteries will be considering their responses to the proposed amendments to the Book of Order.

The full article, along with other helpful material >>

Religious leaders speak out for marriage equality

This invitation for action has come to us from the Rev. Cedric A. Harmon, Associate Field Director for Religious Outreach, Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

I am sharing with you an opportunity to express your support for Marriage Equality at this highly politicized moment. As each of you know there are several ballot initiatives under consideration that would invalidate existing and/or prohibit future marriages between persons of the same gender. The Religious Institute for Sexual Morality Justice and Healing (on whose Board I serve) is seeking to demonstrate that there is significant support for Marriage Equality among ordained clergy. If you are so inclined; please add your name to the attached endorsement statement and share this with your peers.

The goal is to collect a substantial list of signers by August 15, 2008. The Religious Institute will publicize the level of religious support through media outlets and print media in advance of this fall’s election. I appreciate any assistance you can offer in this effort to present an honest assessment of communities of faith on this issue.

The full text of the letter, which offers a strong, concise statement of the reasons for “ending the exclusion of samesex couples from the legal institution of marriage,” is posted in PDF format

Don Stroud summarizes General Assembly actions on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) issues

A long-time leader in That All May Freely Serve, Stroud opens his thorough analysis with this comment: 

As an observer and advocate for LGBT issues at the 218th General Assembly (GA) meeting in San Jose, CA, June 21-28, 2008, it is my assessment that the 218th GA took decisive positive actions to begin to dismantle the oppressive, long divisive and debilitating homophobia that has plagued the PC(USA) as a denomination for the past thirty years.

Following a helpful explanation of some of the terms that were used in the discussions, he deals with the Assembly’s actions:
•      on the ordination and/or installation of LGBT members,
•      on the Overture from John Knox Presbytery to provide an “authoritative interpretation” on the 217th GA’s AI on G-6.0108, commonly called the “scruple process” for individual candidates for ordination and/or installation,
•      on various overtures to correct the translation problems of the Heidelberg Catechism,
•      and on overtures to amend the Directory for Worship regarding the definition of marriage, and to affirm equal rights for families of same-gender partners and call for an in-depth study on marriage.

The full report is available in PDF format >>

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program Update for July 14, 2008

The 2008 Peacemaking Conference is going on right now.

Follow events at Swords into Plowshares, the Peacemaking Program’s Blog

Much more on items such as ...

The Stony Point Peacemaking Colloquium on Gospel Values and Gun Violence (September 15-17)

The Colombia Free Trade Act (FTA)

Coming events .... and more.

Are you concerned about consumerism, the # 1 god of our culture?

(Well, you may have some other candidates in mind for Deity # 1, but this one is certainly a strong contender.)

Then you need to hear the wondrous and liberating message of the Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.

Here’s how Wikipedia introduces him:

The Church of Stop Shopping is an activist performance group based in New York City, led by Reverend Billy, the stage name of Bill Talen. Using the form of a revival meeting, on sidewalks and in chain stores, Reverend Billy and his gospel choir exhort consumers to abandon the products of large corporations and mass media; the group also preaches a broader message of economic justice, environmental protection, and anti-militarism, protesting sweatshops and the Iraq War. Though it continues its street theatre activities, the Church has also appeared on stage and has toured internationally.

Check out Rev. Billy’s website >>

You can find there a brief “statement of belief” >>

One of his latest preachments is titled “Resist Consumerism! Shout!”

Any thoughts?
Just send a note,
to be shared here!

PC(USA) Department of Constitutional Services offers advisory opinions on GA actions

The Department of Constitutional Services, part of the Office of the General Assembly, has issued an Advisory Opinion which states what actions of the 218th GA, dealing with Book of Order provisions G-6.0106b and G-6.0108, are taking effect immediately, and which ones, as constitutional amendments, must be approved by a majority of the presbyteries before they might take effect.

Briefly, the new Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0106b has gone into effect immediately following the Assembly. That means that earlier AIs, beginning with 1978 and 1979, which state that “[f]or the church to ordain a self-affirming, practicing homosexual person to ministry would be to act in contradiction to its charter and calling in Scripture,” are no longer in effect.

However, the “fidelity and chastity” requirement set forth in G-6.0106b does remain in effect, until it is removed from the Book of Order by the approval of a majority of the presbyteries. That action must be taken within one year from the conclusion of the 218th General Assembly.

The Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 also takes effect immediately. This allows a candidate for ordination to declare a departure (or “scruple”) from a standard of either belief or practice on grounds of conscience. It is still a matter for the examining body to “give prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual, case-by-case basis,” to any such departure – but the recent GAPJC decision in the case of Bush v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh, which rejected any departure in matters of behavior, is invalidated.

The full Advisory Opinions note >>

From the Washington Office:

Urge Congress: Talk, Not War, with Iran

The dangerous climate created by the current tensions between the United States and Iran could lead to war. Both governments need to commit to diplomatic talks to ease the tensions and reduce the likelihood of armed conflict.

A majority of the U.S. public supports diplomacy with Iran, but members of Congress have introduced legislation that could lead to war. New legislation in the House (H.Con. Res. 362) calls for new sanctions on Iran and demands that the president initiate a partial land, sea, and air blockade of Iran. A blockade, even a partial one, is an act of war.

At last month’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a resolution was adopted opposing preemptive war with Iran, either by the United States or any other nation. The Assembly supported peaceful, diplomatic means of resolving the tensions developing as a result of Iran’s pursuit of its nuclear program. And, it called for direct, unconditional negotiations between the United States and Iran with the goal of finding and implementing a peaceful resolution.

The threat of a war with Iran will continue to grow if the United States does not take steps now to open communication with the Iranian government.

Urge your representative to oppose more sanctions and any blockade against Iran.

More >>

A letter from the new Moderator

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, who was elected Moderator of the 218th General Assembly, is an energetic and committed communicator.  He has just sent a letter to the church as a whole, which we share here as a sample of the thinking he seems to bring to his new role.

He begins:

I don’t know about you, but I may have reached my post-GA punditry and analysis saturation point. While I understand the cathartic need to vent and react, I do think that at some point we must begin moving from where we were to where we are going. And honestly, we all need a break from some of the intensity lest we get caught up in our own little bubble and lose sight of larger issues and/or we begin to actually do damage to the very things we are trying to build up. I know that as I get to feeling a little overwhelmed, it usually means that I have been forgetting to nurture one or more of my spiritual disciplines. I KNOW that I need to get out and ride more, I can’t wait for my next spiritual direction appointment and, good golly, I need to ramp up my prayer life.  The whole letter >>

Lay Committee issues “a call to arms”

Reacting to the recent General Assembly, the Presbyterian Layman has published a statement by their Board of Directors, titled “A call to arms.”

After listing some of the Assembly actions which they say “violate the faith and life of Biblical Christianity,” they then “urge the sessions of faithful congregations to take the following actions: 

•          Form alliances with like-minded churches in your presbytery. There is strength in numbers. A call to arms is a call to unite. 

•          Restrict all mission and per capita gifts to ministries that are trusted by your congregation, and do not send undesignated money in any form to denominational entities, boards or agencies. 

•          Be prepared to defend the property rights of your congregation against claims of ownership by the PCUSA.”

The full statement >>

We note that none of these actions is new on the part of the Lay Committee, though their rhetoric seems to be a bit more bellicose than usual.

The Religious Right — from anti-integration to anti-abortion

Randall Balmer’s 2006 book, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, offers an interesting view of how the Religious Right only slowly coalesced around opposition to women’s right to choose, over a decade after the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. They constructed an “abortion myth,” he argues, to convince the American people that they had been united in opposing abortion all along. In fact, many evangelicals either ignored the Supreme Court action, or supported it, until the 1980s.

He writes: 

The abortion myth serves as a convenient fiction because it suggests noble and altruistic motives behind the formation of the Religious Right. But it is highly disingenuous and renders absurd the argument of the leaders of Religious Right that, in defending the rights of the unborn, they are the "new abolitionists." The Religious Right arose as a political movement for the purpose, effectively, of defending racial discrimination at Bob Jones University and at other segregated schools. Whereas evangelical abolitionists of the nineteenth century sought freedom for African Americans, the Religious Right of the late twentieth century organized to perpetuate racial discrimination. (Pp. 16-17)

This book is online on Google Books

Click on Chapter 1 to read the material mentioned here.

WCC young adult internship positions announced for 2009

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Warmest greetings from the World Council of Churches!

We are happy to inform you about the ways young adults can be involved with the World Council of Churches' Internships in Geneva, Switzerland. The WCC will select five (5) young people between the ages of 18-30 years, to work in different program areas of the WCC from February 2009 to January 2010. The Internships provide an opportunity for ecumenical learning and work experience in an international, ecumenical setting. This opportunity is ideal for young people who are actively involved in the church and are interested in learning more about WCC and ecumenism. The WCC internships are a chance for young people to develop their professional skills and capacities in order to better serve the churches locally. We request WCC intern applicants to develop an ecumenical project idea that they can implement when they return from Geneva to their home community and church. This is a way to ensure that the ecumenical movement is strengthened at a local level with the churches’ support.

The five (5) WCC internships available in 2009 are:

1. Accompanying Churches in Situations of Conflict
2. Youth and Ecumenical Relationships
3. Visitors Program/Media Relations
4. Faith, Science, Technology and Ethics
5. Faith and Order

Application forms are available on the youth page of the WCC website:

The deadline for applications for these 5 internship positions is September 15th 2008.

California United Methodists react to same-sex marriage ruling

A United Methodist News Service report begins:

On the heels of a California Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to same-gender unions, two United Methodist legislative bodies in California have approved gay-friendly statements that are stretching the denominational promise of "open hearts, open minds, open doors."

The church's California-Pacific Annual Conference, convening June 18-22 in Redlands, approved three measures that support same-gender couples entering into the marriage covenant. Each "encourages both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families," according to a June 27 letter to the conference from Bishop Mary Ann Swenson and other conference leaders.

That same week in Sacramento, the California-Nevada Annual Conference approved two measures on the same issue, including one that lists 67 retired United Methodist clergy in northern California who have offered to conduct same-gender marriage ceremonies. The resolution commends the pastors' work in offering continued ministry.

The statements are the strongest yet on the issue by California United Methodists and have drawn cheers from gay rights advocates, who say the church and its pastors should extend to same-sex couples the same level of support it provides heterosexual couples.

Others say the conferences are on the verge of breaking a Scripturally based covenant with the rest of the 11.5 million-member worldwide denomination. The United Methodist Church, while affirming all people as persons "of sacred worth," considers the practice of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching." Its policy book, called the Book of Discipline, prohibits its pastors and churches from conducting ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions.

The full story >>

New material added on Heidelberg Catechism

The Rev. John E. Harris, who authored an essay on the discussions surrounding the translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, has added some new material from Dr. Christopher Elwood.  Click here >>

Responding to Gene TeSelle's report on the 218th General Assembly

The Rev. John Shuck comments on Gene TeSelle’s report on the Assembly, focusing on the increasing number of legal cases over property issues, brought by congregations choosing to leave the denomination. He concludes: 

I don't think it is going to work this time. I think the great middle of the church is on to the right wing and their fear-mongering. That is why the right is so desperate and so apocalyptic. Belittling gays as a theological and political weapon is old, tired news. The threat of putting a gun to the denomination's head if we ordain gays is less fearful than it was a few years ago.

This General Assembly has shown that Presbyterians are not afraid this time. People will vote with their conscience. As for those who cannot possibly remain Presbyterian if we ordain gays, well, there is the door. But you are not going to take the denomination down with you on your way out. 

Changing G-6.0106b has an excellent chance to pass in the presbyteries. The new paragraph is far superior theologically to the old. I think people are going to get that.

Read Shuck’s comment in full here >>

And we encourage you to visit his blog site >>

Three responses to the GA actions moving toward a more just, more inclusive, more faithful church
bulletIn a joint news release, That All May Freely Serve, Covenant Network Presbyterians, and More Light Presbyterians celebrate that "Presbyterians move toward full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy and members."
bullet The Covenant Network proclaims: "Good News from G.A. 218"
bullet More Light Presbyterians "Applaud General Assembly Action," welcoming all to service in the church.

A Special Report on the 2008 General Assembly

This is being sent (in a shorter version, in print) to Witherspoon Society Members and Friends

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Society Issues Analyst, begins his customary wrap-up on the Assembly:

The previous General Assembly, in 2006, was relatively cautious, electing a middle-of-the-road Moderator and adopting the recommendations of the Theological Task Force (specifically its interpretation of G-6.0108) by a close margin.

This Assembly indicates a turning of the tide. It elected a Moderator who was clearly progressive and forward-looking, and most of the moderatorial candidates assumed that the framework of discussion was the pluralism encouraged by the last Assembly's action. It approved a number of measures that move the church ahead, including several changes to the Book of Order, though it is also clear that these will be highly contested in the presbyteries. It elected a new Stated Clerk who decried "fear" inside and outside the church; he represents continuity and a reaffirmation of the Kirkpatrick approach. A strong social witness was also affirmed, including a new "Social Creed for the 21st Century."

Some of the specific events and actions he discusses include:

bullet Witherspoon's pre-Assembly conversation, and awards luncheon
bullet election of the Moderator
bullet nominations to GA standing committees
bullet election of Stated Clerk
bullet per capita
bullet social justice reports and actions
bullet New Social Creed
bullet Heidelberg and Belhar Confessions
bullet Dialogue with Islam
bullet Israel/Palestine
bullet Iraq
bullet Reproductive rights
bullet Defining marriage
bullet Ordination
bullet Getting along: issues with Presbyterian Foundation, property rights, and more
bullet Form of Government issues
bullet Our continuing dilemma: each side wants spontaneity in some things, legality in others -- but we differ in which should apply in which areas
bullet What to do now?

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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