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July 26-August 1, 2010



“We’re All in This Together: Confronting the Structures of Injustice” —

Revival found at Ghost Ranch Seminar; resources suggested

by the Rev. Schaunel Steinnagel, Hunger Action Enabler, Presbytery of Philadelphia


Each year, since around the year 2000, a week for peacemaking is held at Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu, New Mexico, sponsored by both the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the Witherspoon Society (now in union with the Voices of Sophia, as Presbyterian Voices for Justice.  For the first time, I made the fortunate choice to attend this conference for 2010.

This year, during the week of July 26-August 1, I attended “We’re all in this Together: Confronting the Structures of Injustice.” This conference of peacemakers took as its starting place and theme the new Social Creed for the 21st Century, which was approved by the National Council of Churches in 2007 and as Presbyterian social policy at the 2008 General Assembly in San Jose. This newly worded creed updates and expands upon the original Social Creed, written by Protestants in 1908 as part of the Social Gospel movement and as a response to the rising of trade unionists. Our group watched a video about the two social creeds and heard lectures on their history and possible future purposes.

Two years after our denomination has affirmed this new expression of faith, which our congregations should probably be studying and thinking about how to put into practice (text and additional resources are available here,, it was beyond timely for a concerned group to give it several days of attention and use it as a springboard to delve into a variety of key social issues. Christians have periodically observed that we need to attend a Revival, from time to time, as part of our faith practices. The challenging topics presented to conference participants, with which to wrestle as people of faith—including war, foreign policy, women’s experience worldwide, and economic issues—were definitely ones that could set a fire and spur me on in belief, struggle, and action, as in a Revival. One of the suggested texts for the gathering, To Do Justice: A Guide for Progressive Christians, studies the Social Creed for the 21st Century and includes among its essays one by each of the presenters of the conference, Drs. Grace Kao, Gary Dorrien, and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, and is available from the Presbytery’s Resource Center. 

Dr. Grace Kao, Associate Professor of Ethics at the Claremont School of Theology, a position she recently took on, after having served as the Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Women’s Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, started the week’s thinking off with a unique and compelling presentation on some of the theological questions that arose after the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech by Seung-Hui Cho, on April 16, 2007:


Why was Cho remembered in certain media as a Muslim?


Given Cho’s childhood faith upbringing being Christian and his disturbed language seizing upon Christian images, is there anything in mainstream Christian theology that demands either our scrutiny or careful interpretation?


Why did certain voices following the Virginia Tech tragedy assign blame for the event to some perceived unfaithfulness of some segment of American society, a similar trend in a variety of other recent times of crisis?


Is it possible to speak of God’s blessings without speaking of God’s curses?


Why did American flags appear at memorials of those killed, when not all of the dead were from the United States?


Cho having killed 32 others and then himself, members of the greater Virginia Tech community alternated between memorializing 32 and 33 dead, and there are questions of for whom is there space.


In a world where fewer people seem to be “going to church,” what becomes the form of the secular “funeral” or mourning?


Virginia Tech’s memorial service included representatives from more than one faith tradition and little explicit Christian language, so what is appropriate from Christians in the public sphere?


Why did President Bush attend the Virginia Tech memorial service; why did Queen Elizabeth, visiting Virginia for the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, meet with Virginia Tech students; and in a world of a troop surge in Iraq and long-silenced voices of Native Americans, beginning with their meeting with the English in Jamestown, whose deaths warrant observance?

Dr. Kao later had the opportunity to continue to challenge listeners with an excellent presentation on Christian ethical thinking and war, which compared war realism (“you do what it takes to win,” as possibly a stance of George W. Bush, and from a specifically Christian perspective, Reinhold Niebuhr); Holy War thinking (God authorizes war and is ultimately responsible for it); pacifism; just war theory; and “just peacemaking” (as developed by Dr. Glen Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary and also the Presbyterian Church (USA); see the “Just Peacemaking Study Guide,”

I have been exposed to a variety of classes and conferences presenting similar material, and Kao’s presentation was by far the most detailed and serious of any I have heard, so that no perspective was presented as a caricature of itself, and several conference participants either appeared angry at Kao for a time, or concerned for her faith, that she would wade into just war theory. Obvious concerns about just war theory for Christian pacifists include, but are not exhausted by, its later development in Christian thinking, as compared to Christian pacifism; the “principle of double effect” (i.e. an “evil effect,” such as killing civilians, is permissible, if it was a foreseen but not intended effect of a military action); the tension between using war as a last resort, and only entering into war when there is a reasonable hope of military success, for what has honestly been expected or prepared for by a nation becomes a question; and the lack of development within just war thought of what should happen after a war. Kao’s presentation took all of this into account. Definitions, major components, history, and theology of just war theory were all extensively covered. Towards the end of her time, Grace Kao expressed, in earnest, “I am a pacifist,” but clearly, she has also done her homework! To know what exactly it is you are rejecting, before going forward in thought and action, is wise. We further had the opportunity to discuss Christian baptism as a subversive act, for if as Christians, we truly believe that through baptism, we enter into a family or nation with other Christians throughout the world, regardless of other human divisions (cf. Gal 3:28), then does not any concept of “national interest” (as in war realism) pale in comparison to, for example, our relationships with and responsibilities towards Protestants and other Christians in Iraq and throughout the world?

Dr. Gary Dorrien is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York and was likely the lone non-Presbyterian (Episcopalian) in the room. Rich thought continued. Dorrien’s lectures were, according to self-description, done without manuscripts. Speaking on United States foreign policy, he included thought on our activity in many areas of the world, clarified American imperialism, and offered the alternative view of multilateralism as a more consistent and productive ethic. In his lecture on economic matters, he spoke to the causes and reality of the global economic slowdown and called for greater economic democracy.

Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is a Presbyterian minister of Word and Sacrament and teaches at Bellarmine University, a Roman Catholic institution, in Kentucky. The seminar group had been asked to read Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, and Hinson-Hasty started her talk on women’s issues by leading us in consideration of some of the book’s prominent content.

Extremely worthwhile reading, this book seeks to cover both the violent struggles and hope-filled opportunities of women in many nations. It presents startling statistics: that in current, modern-day slavery, there are more enslaved than ever in the antebellum transatlantic slave trade; and that more women have died, simply for being women, than have all the men in wars, in the 20th century. After the 19th century’s effort to end slavery and the 20th century’s effort to end totalitarianism, the authors offer the challenge for the 21st century’s final word on history to be about ending global oppression, trafficking, and needless death for women, through a broad variety of means, which would include left/right coalitions and roles for the Church. Authors Kristoff and WuDunn suggest the model of William Wilberforce, who by the early 19th century, was a force in causing Britain to end its participation in a slave trade and emancipate its own slaves, even though there was economic cost for the nation. I heartily recommend Kristoff and WuDunn’s book for all to read! This is all part of our calling to end hunger and poverty.

Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty supplemented her presentation of the reading with discussion on other personal experiences and related topics. First, she shared on her recent trip to the Kerala state in India, where she observed interesting blending of religious pluralism, an increasing life expectancy for women, improvements in sanitation and fighting poverty, mandated representation of women in the political sphere, and the effectiveness of women’s cooperatives. Second, recounting that once, when pregnant, she was to deliver a sermon at a church, where she was physically unable to fit in and ascend the pulpit’s narrow staircase, Hinson-Hasty asked where might women ostensibly have access in our churches, but the greater church culture still may need to change. She suggested some steps for creating a church culture that would affirm the full humanity of women:
1.   Open, honest discussion of the circumstances of women, worldwide.    
2.   Mission as being and doing with. 
3.   Leadership as shared power.        
4.   Confession.       

She described the church community of which she is now a part, in Kentucky, and how it is intentionally working towards these sorts of goals. Finally, by prior invitation, Hinson-Hasty had Grace Kao respond to the presentation, providing for multicultural insight on the topics.

As a conclusion to the conference, we were offered information about active partners with whom to continue the work that we had begun. These include:

•    Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing organizations;

•    Gamaliel Foundation chapters, which seek to build bonds of trust across racial lines and then encourage members to take action on behalf of issues which are chosen with special attention being given to the needs of oppressed minorities and the impoverished;

•    Recently formed, specifically Christian organizations, including –

            •    Beatitude Society (;

            •    Center for Progressive Christianity (

            •    Faith in Pubic Life (;

            •    Institute for Progressive Christianity (

            •    Network of Spiritual Progressives (;

            •    Plymouth Center for the Progressive Christian Faith (;

            •    Progressive Christians Uniting (

            •    There is work going on to unite the work of some of these organizations, under the name “Progressive Christian Initiative.” 

•          Rev. James Forbes’ Healing of the Nations Foundation (, which is proposing an interfaith approach.

•          Resources such as –

            •          Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (a book from which several prayers were taken, during our time together at the conference);

            •          Tikkun magazine.

Ghost Ranch continues to be a place of beauty, where in addition to my conference work, I enjoyed hiking, a gospel music concert, and the finale of the children’s programs, each age group presenting on their theme of “Peace, Justice, and Families.” What a week!


July 26-August 1, 2010

(A Ghost Ranch Seminar)

by Jane Hanna (who put this event together, saith the WebWeaver)

Again this summer Presbyterian Voices for Justice and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship joined in co-sponsoring a seminar at Ghost Ranch, “We’re All in this Together: Confronting the Structures of Injustice.”  The inspiration for the seminar was a guidebook for social action, To Do Justice: A Guide for Progressive Christians, edited by Rebecca Todd Peters and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty.  Ethicists from across mainline denominations contributed essays connecting their faith to the most urgent public issues of our time.  Three of them, notable educators, became our leaders for 2010.

Dr. Grace Kao is an Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology; Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty an Associate Professor of Theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, and Dr. Gary Dorrien is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. They provided a wealth of information and tools for addressing justice and peace concerns.

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy of the PCUSA (ACSWP) has been instrumental in developing an ecumenical Social Creed for the Twenty-first Century in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed. This is a document that should be known to every congregation, one these leaders had a part in developing.

Dr. Hinson-Hasty had also co-edited Prayers for The New Social Awakening, Inspired by the New Social Creed, with Christian Iosso, Coordinator of ACSWP. We began our sessions each morning with one of the prayers from this collection written by Christians of many traditions who feel called to speak out and act in hope of realizing God’s vision for a just world.

Viewing the excellent DVD, “Toward a New Social Awakening: The Social Creed,” produced by ACSWP, introduced us to the history of the 1908 Social Creed and background for the 2008 “New Social Creed for the Twenty-First Century.” (This can be viewed on-line at

The social gospel movement grew from the belief that churches have a responsibility to address social issues, and that Christians are obligated to reform society. Elizabeth and Gary challenged us with the history of the Social Gospel and looking at it in light of our own time. The similarities between present economic circumstances and those of the early 20th century are striking. The social gospel had a big impact on theological education and social ethics studies. Jesus was the example for social justice but churches did not always accept the ideas of the early reformers. Many congregations still largely avoid race, gender and economic critiques.

Grace presented an excellent PowerPoint “Primer on Thinking Ethically about War” followed by Gary’s discussion about War/Militarism/Foreign Policy. Background about the “Just War Theory,” and when war is unjust, presented a multitude of questions and the obstacles toward defining any war as “Just.”

Many provocative issues were raised by statistics concerning the experience of women worldwide. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Kristof and WuDunn, had been on our reading list for the seminar. Quoting Kristof’s belief that the well being of women is the moral issue of the 21st Century, Elizabeth asked “Should Women’s Rights be the Church’s Cause for our Time?” In addition to encountering the many worldwide abuses against women, we were given suggestions for supporting victims of gender abuse. A series of brief films “What Harm is it to be a Woman?” was available for participants to view as was the DVD “Soldiers of Conscience.”

Gary provided an in-depth look at current economic practices fed by a belief in an unrestricted ability to acquire wealth. We are a long way from economic democracy. Today’s capitalism commodifies everything, exploits resources, disrupts societies, and damages the environment, all creating a huge surge in inequality. An unleashed greed describes our current economy and is the source of much of the injustice experienced by growing numbers of our population. Advocating a more democratic economy would directly address many of the social problems we face.

Grace, who was Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Tech when 32 students were shot and killed, raised provocative questions in discussing a Search for Religious Meaning in those Shootings. Was the early labeling of Cho an Islamic suicide-killer a matter of hasty, sensationalized reporting or part of a deeper problem making him an “other”? Actually, Cho had used Christian symbols to describe, even sanctify his actions. Dr. Kao asked if there are steps we as Christians could take to prevent our traditions from being used for such destructive ends. What role should we play when our nation is engaged in ongoing wars abroad? She raised many disquieting questions about the shootings themselves and the responses to it, asking what can be learned from this tragedy.

There was much to take back to our congregations, both the questions and some resources to address the need for justice in our communities, the nation, and the world.

                                                                                                 Jane Hanna

Plans are already in place for our 2010 Ghost Ranch Seminar!


July 26-August 1, 2010




In partnership with The Witherspoon Society/Voices of Sophia and The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

Jane Hanna, Coordinator

Questions?  Email Jane Hanna >>

If it seems there are many critical issues confronting us, it is because there are. How do we respond to the biblical call for justice in a world facing deepening global inequality, environmental challenges, and the escalation of violence in human relationships? We are fortunate to have three eminently qualified people prepared to address these questions. We will use A Social Creed for the 21st Century to discern a moral, ethical and spiritual response to the many challenges humankind must meet. In presentations and discussions we will search for the prophetic spirit to guide our efforts toward a more just and humane world.

Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. An Episcopal priest, he was previously the Parfet Distinguished Professor at Kalamazoo College, where he taught for 18 years and also served as Dean of Stetson Chapel. He is the author of 14 books and approximately 225 articles that range across the fields of ethics, social theory, theology, philosophy, politics and history. Prof. Dorrien has a long record of involvement in social justice and anti-war organizations. His most recent books are The Making of American Liberal Theology and Social Ethics in the Making. His next book, due in 2010 is Economy, Difference, and Empire. For more on Dr. Dorrien >>

Grace Yia-Hei Kao is an Associate Professor of Ethics at the Claremont School of Theology, where she teaches and researches issues related to human rights, religion in the public sphere, feminism, environmental ethics, and Asian American Christianity. She was previously Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Women’s Studies at Virginia Tech. Dr. Kao has published chapters and articles on a variety of topics, including ecofeminism, the relationship between religion and violence, and the prospects and challenges for interreligious cooperation and peace. Georgetown University Press will soon publish her first book, Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World, in their Advancing Human Rights series. For more information on Dr. Kao >>

Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is Associate Professor of Theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY where she teaches a broad range of courses including Theology from the Margins for which she was recently awarded a Kentuckiana Metroversity Instructional Development Award. She is also a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Much of her work has bridged the gap between church and academy. Dr. Hinson-Hasty currently serves as an elected member of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) and was part of the PC(USA) committee that drafted the Social Creed for the 21st Century. She is the author of Beyond the Social Maze: Exploring Vida Dutton Scudder’s Theological Ethics and co-editor of Prayers for the New Social Awakening, with Christian Iosso and To Do Justice: A Guide for Progressive Christians with Rebecca Todd Peters. For more information on Dr. Hinson-Hasty >>


GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly have now been acted upon by the presbyteries, confirming most of them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We provided resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest have been:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which  removes the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.  Approved!

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.  Disapproved, because as an amendment to the Book of Confessions it needed a 2/3 vote, and did not receive that.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which  adopts the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.   Approved.

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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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