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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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219th General Assembly
For our index page for GA 2010 >>

We welcome your reports and comments
on preparations for the 219th General Assembly.
Just send a note, to be shared here.

Covenant Network hears about “coming out as Presbyterians”    [7-2-10]
Randy Bush, a member of the Covenant Network Board of Directors, describes "the hopes Covenant Network has for this Assembly," namely reinforcing the strides made at the last Assembly while still working to remove G 6.0106b.

The Covenant Network held a dinner this evening (Thursday, July 2) at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis.

Doug Nave, an attorney and a member of the Covenant Network Board of Directors, gave tonight, basically challenging all of us to do some reflection and "come out as Presbyterians."

Here are two engaging quotes from his talk:

We have spent the last 30-odd years arguing about sexuality – at least, that’s what we think we are arguing about. But over the years I have come to believe that the crux of the issue is not what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. The crux of the issue, for us, is what it means to be Presbyterian.

And toward the end of the talk:

Let us go out this week and remind each other what it means to be Presbyterians. We have work to do, in preserving the last two Assemblies’ affirmation of our core traditions, and still more work to do in correcting exclusionary rules that have deeply hurt GLBT people and their families. Let us hold fast to the gospel of grace and reconciliation, to conscience and mutual forbearance.

For the full text of Nave’s presentation, which we are happy to share here with his permission >>

16 former moderators support Middle East report

Leaders encourage GA commissioners to approve study committee's report

Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service, reports:

LOUISVILLE — With the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) days away, 16 former GA moderators are calling for commissioners to approve a study report on Middle East peace that was requested by the 218th GA.

"Breaking Down the Walls" is the report of the Middle East Study Committee. The committee was charged with preparing a comprehensive study focusing on Israel/Palestine with regard to the context of the Middle East. The report includes recommendations and study materials. 

The rest of the report, including the text of the Moderators' letter >>

Voices for Justice offers a brief commentary on key issues coming to the Assembly   [6-28-10]

Early in June we posted a longer essay commenting on issues coming to the Assembly.  Now Sylvia Thorson-Smith, PVJ's Issues Analyst, has prepared a shorter version of those comments, including a number of items not covered in the earlier version.  It will be available on paper at the PVJ Commissioners' Orientation on Saturday morning at the Assembly, and at the PVJ booth in the Exhibit Hall.

But here it is in advance, in an HTML version, and in easy-to-print PDF.

Author plans book-signing at PVJ booth   [6-29-10]

David Weiss, the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God, and a resident of the Twin Cities area, will be visiting the Voices for Justice booth in the Exhibit Hall of the General Assembly, at some time (or times) during the Assembly, to sign his book and talk with visitors there.

He describes his book as a collection of his essays and hymns, which invite faith communities to become fully welcoming to LGBT persons.

Michael Adee, Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians, says of the book: "Body and soul come together in this beautiful, inspiring worship and meditation resource celebrating God's love for all of God's children. I wholeheartedly commend To the Tune of a Welcoming God."

Marvin Ellison, Professor of Christian Ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary and lead author of a 1991 PCUSA report (Keeping Body & Soul Together) on LGBT inclusion, comments: "Writing with a clarity and passion reminiscent of Robert McAfee Brown, these words by an insightful ally will help many enter into the kind of thoughtful conversation desperately needed in the church."

See the author’s website for more about the book >>

And watch for announcements of the book-signing and a chance to meet the author.

The Rev. James A. Belle responds to our questions to candidates for Moderator    [6-28-10]

Voices for Justice has presented four questions to all the candidates for Moderator of the General Assembly, inviting them to share their thoughts on matters of concern to all of us.  We have posted the responses for four of the candidates, and have just received the responses from the Rev. James Belle.  We regret the apparent misunderstandings which caused this delay.

We have not yet received responses from the latest candidate, the Rev. Julia Leeth.

Discussions on God’s Gift of Marriage    [6-28-10]

To help people considering the question of how we define (and limit or open up) our understanding of marriage, the Rev. Donald E. Stroud, with That All May Freely Serve: Baltimore, has prepared – and frequently updated – an essay on concepts of marriage, both historically and in contemporary society.

We've just received this from the Rev. Ralph Garlin Clingan, of Bloomfield, NJ.  We are happy to share it with all who visit here, as a profound expression of call and hope for the coming Assembly.    [6-25-10]

Best wishes for the PC(USA) General Assembly


(by Thomas Merton)  

Go tell the earth to shake 
And tell the thunder 
To wake the sky 
And tear the clouds apart 
Tell my people to come out 
And wonder 

Where the old world is gone 
For a new world is born 
And all my people 
Shall be one. 

So tell the earth to shake 
With marching feet 
Of messengers of peace 
Proclaim my law of love 
To every nation 
Every race. 

For the old wrongs are over 
The old days are gone 
A new world is rising 
Where my people shall be one. 

So tell the earth to shake 
With marching feet 
Of messengers of peace 
Proclaim my law of love 
To every nation 
Every race. 

And say 
The old wrongs are over 
The old ways are done 
There shall be no more hate 
And no more war 
My people shall be one. 

So tell the earth to shake 
With marching feet 
Of messengers of peace 
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation 
Every race. 

For the old world is ended 
The old sky is torn 
Apart. A new day is born 
They hate no more 
They do not go to war 
My people shall be one. 

So tell the earth to shake 
With marching feet 
Of messengers of peace 
Proclaim my law of love 
To every nation 
Every race. 

There shall be no more hate 
And no more oppression 
The old wrongs are done 
My people shall be one.

Justice and Policy at General Assembly: the Middle East Study Committee report, and the proposals for divestment from Caterpillar     [6-18-10]

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) has sent out an update on some of the justice-related matters that will be discussed at the General Assembly in early July, commenting particularly on “Breaking Down the Walls,” the report of the Middle East Study Committee, and the related matter of proposals for divestment from Caterpillar, whose machinery is being used by Israel to destroy Palestinian homes.  Click here for the whole update paper.

One section deals with the “core values” that underlie the various Advice & Counsel memos which ACSWP (like other GA entities) provides to the Assembly to help inform its work. This understanding is that “justice” is often our guiding principle in dealing with social and political matters. “Justice,” though, is merely “a nice word” unless the church goes beyond pronouncements to deal with policies and resolutions, leading toward actions and programs. So if we as Christians are to be responsible, we need to aim for (1) effectiveness, (2) integrity – as in “practice what you preach,” and (3) solidarity with Christians and others whose voices are not beings heard, i.e. who are largely powerless.

A second section lays out some of the long history of Presbyterian consideration of divestment as a means of effecting social and political change.

And a third section, entitled “Background for the Conversation in your community,” provides some understanding of the very sharp attacks being leveled against the Middle East Study Committee report, particularly by pro-Israel Jewish groups that are attempting to discredit the report as “anti-Semitic,” and more. Commissioners are already hearing from these groups in many cities, and might find this background very helpful.

Finally, a listing of all the ACSWP Advice & Counsel memos provides links to all of them on the GA’s PC-Biz site. A nice bit of help if you’re looking for these helpful resources!

Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC):

An Overview of General Assembly by Jerry Rodewald, a Co-Moderator of ACWC who lives in La Quinta, CA.

[Published in the Spring 2010 issue of Network News, and posted here on 6-14-10]

ACWC’s Advice and Counsel Team has just concluded its meeting in preparation for the 219th General Assembly beginning on Saturday, July 3. ACWC has submitted recommendations that deal with the escalating murder of women in Juarez, Mexico and the ratification by the U.S. of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

The GAMC Review Committee report of ACREC, ACWC, and ACSWP is quite positive; they have recommended that the three committees continue, with further discussion about staffing for ACREC and ACWC. Because of the debacle of losing ACWC staff almost 2 years ago, we have to ask General Assembly to “transfer” the funds we were awarded at GA in 2008 for the design of a research project on the Status of Women throughout the church—we don’t really anticipate a problem, but that will be watched closely. As well, there are a couple of issues with regard to the approved (2008) Women of Color Consultation Task Force that have to come back to the GA for additional approval.

The overtures indicate several hot-button issues — as usual! We have identified several of those issues for which we will advocate. We will support the Belhar Confession, with the request that the language be revised to be fully inclusive for God. We will support the efforts toward ordination and marriage, pension benefits for same sex partners, affirm PHEWA, and disapprove the abortion overtures and the baptism for the unborn.

There were several overtures regarding violence in Afghanistan, Colombia, Sudan, but not one mentioned the violence against women, so that is the basis of our comment on those. In addition, there are several very fine papers that have been submitted by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), to which we have added comments regarding women’s vulnerability— the economic crisis, theology of compensation, Human Rights Update.

Language remains a lingering, BIG issue, particularly language for God, and those of us that have been “fighting” this issue for so many years are weary!! We are putting the tried and true “Well Chosen Words” into every commissioner’s packet and will have the expansive language magnets in the ACWC/ACREC booth. Some of us on ACWC have already decided it will be a primary issue for the next two years.

We’re planning to suggest that any commissioners interested can meet for lunch at a soon-to-be-identified church school classroom or other meeting room at Westminster Church on Tuesday, Wednesday and/or Friday of GA. Calvin’s Café has box lunches for $10. Some of us will be there to be available to answer questions, provide information, and caucus! We’ll have more information the morning of our breakfasts, and I look forward to being present, following the Women’s Orientation Breakfast. ACWC’s Advice and Counsel Team looks forward to interacting with Presbyterian Voices for Justice throughout the Assembly.


A Call for Justice & Grace: Being a Church for All “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” John 7:38
[Published in the Spring 2010 issue of Network News, and posted here on 6-14-10]

The National Board of Directors of More Light Presbyterians stands with our sisters and brothers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and with their families, friends and allies calling for the welcome and affirmation of all baptized Christians as equal church members of our Presbyterian Church (USA).

We open our hands in witness and justice work to this call, joining with That All May Freely Serve, Covenant Network, Presbyterian Welcome, Presbyterian Promise, Presbyterian Voices for Justice and all others who are convinced that the promises of God in Jesus Christ are for all people, with no exceptions. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Anticipating the work of the 219th General Assembly, we stand firm in prayer, calling the Presbyterian Church (USA) to remove the obstacles in the Book of Order to the ordination of deacons, elders, and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity; to make the changes necessary in our Directory of Worship to affirm marriage as a blessing for all committed couples; and to correct the language falsely inserted in the Heidelberg Catechism translation in our Book of Confessions.

We make this call trusting in the unmerited grace and mercy of God who welcomes all of us, ever drawing us closer to God through the redemption and presence of Jesus in all our lives. We believe God is doing a new thing now in reforming us and our church to follow Scripture by embracing our neighbor and reflecting the Love of God.

The National Board of Directors of More Light Presbyterians pledges by God’s grace, to open our hearts so that the living water of the Holy Spirit may enter into all that we do, now and at the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, MN, July 3 - 10. We commit to this spirit of love and grace in worship, in testimony and dialogue, at meals and in conversation. As we have known God’s extravagant love in our own lives, we will joyfully share it with all of those we meet.

February 24, 2010

The National Board of Directors of More Light Presbyterians

GA Help is offered by a former commissioner and presbytery moderator   [6-10-10]

The Rev. Robert Austell, pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, has created a new resource – or source of many resources – for people attending the coming General Assembly.

Click here to visit >>

He describes it: 

Having served as a commissioner to GA in 2008, I realized that one of the greatest challenges commissioners face is not theological disunity, but technological challenges and information overload. I witnessed many, many votes and decisions rush by while almost all the commissioners around me were trying to locate what we were talking about. 

I have created this site in an effort to simplify the information gathering process, drawing from a broad range of theological perspectives to get all the information on the table in a way that commissioners and the wider church can comprehend, follow, and evaluate. I believe the site will continue to be a resource for them (and you) as they return from GA to interpret and share resources with presbyteries, sessions, and congregations back home. 

Several key online sources have noticed the site and begun recommending it more widely: Steve Salyards at "GA Junkie," Hans Cornelder at Presbyweb, some of the emergent voices online, and most recently the Layman.  

I've taken a quick look around, and I agree -- it presents a wide variety of resources from advocacy groups across the spectrum, as well as official PC(USA) sites. 

Visit yourself, and see what you think.

Doug King, your WebWeaver 

Looking for a room for GA?

Click here for more information about PVJ's hotel arrangements for GA -- at pretty reasonable rates, about 5 blocks from the Convention Center.

PVJ issues letter to commissioners and advisory delegates to GA, with practical information for playing their roles effectively

For some years, the Witherspoon Society has sent a letter to commissioners and advisory delegates as they begin preparing for General Assembly.  This year's letter was sent a couple weeks ago by the co-moderators of Witherspoon's successor organization, Presbyterian Voices for Justice.

We have not previously posted the letter, simply because its intended audience was receiving it by mail.  This year, though, the Rev. Bob Davis, otherwise well-known as conservative blogger "PresbyBob," has posted a thoughtful reflection on his blog about this and other efforts by various advocacy groups to inform (or influence?) the commissioners for their demanding work at GA. 

Davis kindly pointed to the PVJ letter as an example of the ways such groups try to assist the commissioners in their work for the good of the Assembly and of the church.

He writes:

Let me illustrate by using a piece produced by a group with which I would probably disagree about most everything: Presbyterian Voices for Justice sent a piece to commissioners and advisory delegates that begins “Congratulations and Welcome!” It is a primer for how the Assembly works.

Read it. I tried for years to produce something this concise. I don’t know if it is Doug King (return address) or someone else who is primarily responsible, but it is well done.  [Well, he's mistaken there; Doug King is not the producer of the letter!  Thus speaketh Doug King, your WebWeaver, but not your author of Letters to Commissioners.]

So with this kindly nudge from PresbyBob, we are happy to post the full letter here, and we hope you'll find it helpful.  Even if you're not a commissioner!

Click here for the letter >>

If you have comments, suggestions for changes in the letter, or anything else, we'd be happy to hear from you.  Please just send a note to


Get Ready for GA!!      [5-22-10]

Vicki Moss and our booth
at the 2008 GA

Presbyterian Voices for Justice is about to come out at the General Assembly in Minneapolis. We are a new creation and there’s every need to be loud and proud. Our name shouts out our mission and purpose. There is no guessing about who we are and what we stand for. So, in that spirit, we are going to speak the truth in love at our booth by offering some new products for progressive Presbyterians who wish to proclaim their proclivity for justice.  

More about plans for the PVJ booth, from our Booth Lady, Vicki Moss -- and an invitation for you to help out!

Voices for Justice events
at the 219
th General Assembly

Saturday, July 3, 7:00 to 8:30 am

Presbyterian Voices for Justice Commissioner Orientation

Sunday, July 4, 12:00 to 2:30 pm

Presbyterian Voices for Justice Awards Luncheon

Tuesday, July 6, 7:00-8:30 a.m. 

Voices of Sophia Breakfast

Tuesday, July 6, 9:00pm-1:00am

Witherspoon Dance

Click here for complete information about all these events.

Tickets for these and all other events can be ordered
through the General Assembly website, by going to

Some helpful links and hints for registering for GA >>
Overture suggested to further peacemaking education in colleges, campus ministries, and seminaries     [2-3-10]

The Rev. Len Bjorkman, a Witherspoon member and long-time leader in the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, has draft an overture which would support more effective peacemaking programming in Presbyterian-related campus ministries, colleges, and seminaries.

Click here for the full text of his draft – and you might consider putting it up for consideration in your own presbytery.

For more information, you can contact Len at

Below are some earlier news items that deal with issues or reports that will be coming to the Assembly.
Presbyterians invited to participate in review of Washington Office     [8-4-09]

News release from General Assembly Mission Council, July 31, 2009

NOTE: The Witherspoon Society encourages you, as someone who is likely committed to the social witness and mission of the PC(USA), to speak up in response to this invitation. Our voices need to be heard!

The Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  is “a central and important instrument through which Presbyterians make witness to their faith on matters of public affairs,” says Sara Lisherness, director for Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the General Assembly Mission Council.

In 2008, the Rev. Eileen Lindner, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastor, presbytery executive and social research specialist, was engaged to lead a study of the role and purpose of the Washington Office. Presbyterians are now invited to provide feedback and responses to the study.

The study includes a provisional mission statement, eight principles to guide the work of the office in the future, and a request for input from Presbyterians. The mission study and feedback will be reported to the General Assembly Mission Council at the September 2009 meeting.

The effort that culminated in the initial report included analyzing previous research; assessing the work of ecumenical partners’ Washington presence; scrutinizing all correspondence regarding the office received over the last several years; empanelling a distinguished group of Presbyterians for additional consultation; conferring with leading secular partners in public witness activities; and reviewing related literature.

In preparation for the presentation of the report to the General Assembly Mission Council, the guidelines and comment section are now posted on the PC(USA) Web site.

Lindner stated, “The public voice and public witness of the PC(USA) is the business of all Presbyterians in keeping with our Reformed theology. As we move closer to making decisions about the future of our public witness, we will be strengthened in our discernment by the shared thoughts of a diversity of Presbyterians sharing their views.”

"We need advocacy groups!"

Does the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) still need to support advocacy work? [Hint: Yes!]

Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty , a PC(USA) minister and a member of the theology faculty at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky, recently published an essay dealing with this critical issue in Presbyterian Outlook. She begins:

This key question arises in many discussions related to restructuring at the denominational offices in Louisville, a global economic recession, reviews of the PC(USA) Washington Office as well as a review of the relationship between the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC), the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC), and the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). These discussions are adding to perennial theological debates about the church’s social mission.

My response to the question could simply be “yes.” Recognizing the need to take seriously the current context of these conversations in church and society, I want to offer three reasons why we as a denomination cannot afford to lose advocacy groups.

Her reasons:

bulletAdvocacy groups were formed to assist our church in reaching out and looking in
bulletThere is still reason to be concerned about justice
bulletAdvocacy groups help to cultivate and equip leaders for church and society

We urge you to look seriously at this article >>

See an earlier comment on this development >>

Do you have thoughts on this matter?
Please send a note,
to be shared here!

Conservative Presbyterian group proposes a non-geographical synod for conservatives

The conservative PC(USA)-related organization, Presbyterians for Renewal, is putting forward a proposal by which the General Assembly would allow for the creation of non-geographical synods upon the initiative of at least three presbyteries.

For the introduction of the proposal >>

For the proposal itself (13 pages in PDF format) >>

This includes a brief introductory statement (p. 1), a long list of “frequently asked questions” (2 - 9), the proposed amendment to the Form of Government (10 - 11), and an appendix (12 - 13).

Critical reflections on the proposal

Margaret Thomas (a past member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and GAPJC, and former Deputy Executive Director of the UPC/GAMC until reunion) has written a statement critiquing the proposal in her usual judicious but incisive manner.  Click here for her statement >>

Some observers have described the proposal as a simple “ploy” to allow conservative presbyteries to form their own governing bodies while retaining their property.

Action by Presbytery of the Pacific

A small number of conservative congregations (some of them with large memberships) presented the proposed overture to the Presbytery of the Pacific in its assembly last Saturday, Jan. 30. After a “lively” debate, it was rejected by a substantial margin. One member of the Presbytery has referred to the proposal as “Presbyterian apartheid.”

In the same meeting, the Presbytery heard and discussed in small groups a proposal to establish a “mission unit” of evangelical congregations that would remain a part of the presbytery, while in some ways functioning as a separate body.

The Presbytery’s report of the discussion, in the “The Day After” report, describes the process thus:

The Reverend Dan Chun, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, presented a power point presentation outlining a proposal developed by three churches in the Presbytery. The proposal was not presented for vote at this meeting, but was shared in order to begin conversations and collecting feedback. Everyone in attendance was invited to participate in a small group to generate input to the General Mission Council on the proposal. Twenty-two groups met throughout the Gardena facilities to generate questions, concerns, and possibilities if the proposal were adopted. The input will be digested by the Council and plans for further processing of the proposal will be designed. The proposal asks the Presbytery of the Pacific to conduct an experiment on how it might work to have a group of churches aligned on a theological basis rather than a geographic basis as is the current situation. The proposal suggests that an administrative commission be established and given the powers to manage the Committee on Ministry, Committee on Preparation for Ministry, and Judicial Commission business for certain specified churches. The churches that choose to be aligned with this experimental “mission unit” would still be a part of the Presbytery of the Pacific, but would function, in some ways, as if they were in a separate presbytery. At some point, the Presbytery will decide whether or not it wishes to engage in the experiment.

One member of the Presbytery noted that the proponents of this idea “claim it is in response to the decline in membership across our church. They say there are three main issues that continue to lead to our argument with PCUSA - ‘life style,’ salvation through Christ alone, and the Trinity.”

The same presbytery assembly moved an openly gay candidate from inquirer to candidate status, and elected a gay elder commissioner to General Assembly.

If you have more information
about the action of Pacific Presbytery,
or have thoughts about the PFR proposal in general,
please send a note, to be shared here.

While we were busy preparing to post the material just above and below this box, the indefatigable John Shuck was doing the same story ... his way:

PFR's Ghetto

Those crazy kids in Santa Barbara have introduced a new scheme to create a fundamentalist ghetto. Presbyterians For Repression dreamed up this doozy. According to the LayMAN:
The rationale for the new synod states that its goal is to be identified by a particular theological and missional commitment rather than a geographic region. The “New Synod,” as it is currently named, will have specific standards on marriage, ordination and dismissal of congregations to other presbyteries. Those standards supersede any other provisions in the PCUSA Book of Order to the contrary, the overture states.
In other words they want to make their own rules yet still retain all the rights, privileges (and property), of the PCUSA. It is kind of like running away from home but going no farther than your parents' basement.

So...why make such a proposal?

Oh....can you say....Gay?
The proposed synod also would:
bulletforbid ministers and congregations from celebrating marriages or marriage-like unions between members of the same sex;
bulletteach Biblical sexual ethics while welcoming all of God’s children with the unconditional love of Jesus Christ;
bulletprovide opportunities for deacons, elders and ministers to renew their ordination vows and reaffirm the additional standards.
Commissioners will see through this charade and I predict they will approve deleting or revising G-6.0106b and send it to the presbyteries who will pass it this time and thus remove the final barrier to full equality regarding ordination.

Commissioners will also revise the Directory of Worship to approve equality in marriage and send it to the presbyteries. The presbyteries will approve the change as well.

The busybodies can either leave or stay.

But in no way are we spending

Thanks, John!


Margaret J. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Thomas is a past member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and GAPJC, and former Deputy Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council of the United Presbyterian Church (USA), until reunion.  After that she served as head of the Minnesota Council of Churches for ten years (85-95), then as Synod Executive in the Synod of Lakes and Prairies (95-00).  [We apologize for identifying her incorrectly as a former member of the Office of the Stated Clerk in the PUC(USA).]

Out of a deep frustration with the current direction of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterians for Renewal ( has offered “a new way to relate to one another within” the denomination. They do so in the expressed desire that by forming a new non-geographical Synod (NS) based upon a particular theological affinity and missional commitments effective ministry will flourish by redirecting passion and energy away from our current internal struggles.

They invite others who seek creative solutions to our current impasse to work in perfecting their proposal.

Taking them at their word, from a progressive perspective is there potential in this anticipated Overture? Not as currently drafted, in my opinion. The rationale and proposed Overture are inconsistent, contrary to provisions in the Book of Order in areas not related to the expressed concept, and harmful to the intent of its authors to preserve communal ties within the PC (U.S.A.). Can it can be made to work for all parties in the current disputes? Does it form a basis to free not only PFR Presbyterians but also progressive Presbyterians from endless attacks on, and denigration of, their understanding of the historic Reformed tradition - including the appropriate usage of its confessional documents and the clear teachings of scripture in fulfilling the missional imperatives of the gospel?

Perhaps this analysis will assist progressives in responding to this proposal.

Defining the Frustration

It has been clear for decades that a significant portion of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is dissatisfied with the current direction of the denomination. The precipitating issue is, of course human sexuality. It is PFR’s absolute conviction that G-6.0106b represents the clear biblical standards of fidelity and chastity – and presumably the Reformed tradition regarding the relationship of scripture and the confessions to salvation as offered by Jesus, who is the Christ. Circling around these questions of Christology, biblical authority, human sexuality and the limits of diversity is a profound belief among PFR that what they describe as “the self-serving demands of a minority” has led to an “unacceptable misrepresentation of the Christian faith.” In reality they cannot accept the emerging consensus in the church. A close majority of numerous General Assemblies and a significant minority of presbyteries find the positions of PFR Presbyterians theologically and biblically lacking. The recommendations of the Peace, Purity and Unity Task Force along with the related Authoritative Interpretations of two General Assemblies has not provided sufficient space to allow the diversity of the church to dwell together in a spirit of mutual tolerance. In fact, implementation of a discernment process within several presbyteries has simply led to an increase in judicial challenges.

Furthermore, tensions within many presbyteries are real and destructive. PFR correctly observes that geographical proximity does not automatically produce “the unity of faith sufficient for meaningful ‘connection’.” Sadly, it would be fair to say that they are also convinced that the historic and global witness of the church cannot be manifested while in an organic/structural relationship with those whose theological affirmations are different than theirs.

What is Proposed? 

The creation of a non-geographical, affinity based new Synod theologically defined in an Appendix to a proposed Overture. This Appendix specifies the missional intent of those who join the new Synod, a focus on essential tenets in the examination of officers, marriage only between a man and woman, no same sex marriage-like-unions, teaching of biblical sexual ethics, and regular opportunities to renew ordination vows and the standards of the new Synod.

According to the proposed Overture the new Synod would be created when three originating presbyteries vote by a 2/3 majority to join it. All congregations and minister members of these presbyteries would transfer to the new Synod with their boundaries intact. Continuing synods would redraw their boundaries to encompass the “holes”, though presumably there would be no congregations, members or ministers remaining under their jurisdiction in those geographies. Once the new Synod is established any presbytery in the denomination may vote by 2/3 to join or leave the new Synod. New presbytery boundaries would be established solely by the new Synod (without General Assembly approval.) Similarly any congregation elsewhere in the denomination would be able by a majority vote to join one of the new Synod presbyteries solely upon the new presbytery’s approval, and as they do so the new Synod would be free to expand presbytery boundaries. Congregations who do not want to be a part of their presbytery’s decision to join the new Synod may opt out and transfer to a specific continuing presbytery upon its approval. All new Synod presbytery boundaries would overlap at least some of the denomination’s continuing presbyteries. [There are conflicting expectations in the August 25, 2009 FAQS on the New Synod Proposal document. In #26 it is implied that every congregation in the denomination should take a formal vote to either join the new Synod or to remain with their current presbytery affiliation with a 2/3 vote required for either option, but the vote to join is at the presbytery level in other sections.]

The provisions of the Overture, including the standards listed in the Appendix are to “be strictly interpreted, followed, and enforced in any judicial process involving New Synod or a governing body or ordained leader within New Synod.” Presumably the GAPJC would follow two different sets of constitutional requirements in determining any cases that may reach it – one for the new Synod and one for the continuing presbyteries.

The provisions of the Overture may not be amended without the consent of the new Synod as determined by a majority vote of its presbyteries.

Provisions that Would Need to be Amended Before There Is Further Consideration in the Church
  1. Every congregation must be given the opportunity to decide whether it wishes to join the new Synod. No presbytery may join the new Synod until 2/3 of its member congregations have voted to do so. Congregations not voting to join automatically remain in a continuing presbytery whose boundaries will be redefined by their continuing Synod.     
  2. All continuing members of a presbytery joining the new Synod must be given the opportunity to decide whether they wish to join the new Synod. Ministers who do not wish to do so automatically remain in a continuing presbytery whose boundaries will be redefined by their continuing Synod.                                                              
  3. As the new Synod takes shape and the configuration of the continuing presbyteries and synods are affected, those continuing entities may chose to either expand or contact their boundaries by forming new presbyteries to further the mission and ministry of their congregations.   
  4. In as much as the proposed constitutional provisions creating and defining the new Synod can not be amended without the approval of a majority of the new Synod’s presbyteries, the continuing presbyteries and synods should have the same protection regarding denominational standards that parallel those of the new Synod. Consequently, commissioners from new Synod presbyteries shall not have the right to vote in the General Assembly on issues related to those specified in the new Synod standards. In such instances commissioners may assume an advisory role only. [See FAQ #22 where the same argument could be applied for the continuing governing bodies who may well be troubled by the actions and positions of the new Synod and yet have no right to correct the situation. Mutual forbearance goes both ways.] 
  5. Language needs to be drafted regarding how the GAPJC would function with two different sets of standards for judicial review.
  6. Care should be taken to ensure that the proposal does not contain inadvertent conflict with constitutional provisions.     

Next Steps

Clearly the PFR proposal has not been sufficiently perfected to achieve its primary goals. If progressive Presbyterians find any merit in it they may wish to meet with PFR to discuss possible revisions. Of course, if it does become an Overture to the General Assembly amendments are always in order, and no proposal of this magnitude should be adopted without the careful review and revision of a representative special committee of the General Assembly.

If you have comments about the PFR proposal,
please send a note, to be shared here.

Overture suggested to further peacemaking education in colleges, campus ministries, and seminaries


The Rev. Len Bjorkman, a Witherspoon member and long-time leader in the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, has draft an overture which would support more effective peacemaking programming in Presbyterian-related campus ministries, colleges, and seminaries.

Click here for the full text of his draft – and you might consider putting it up for consideration in your own presbytery.

For more information, you can contact Len at

Campus Peacemaking in the Twenty-first Century


The Presbytery of ..., on ...., 2010, overtures the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to:

Direct the GAMC to work with the PC(U.S.A.)-related seminaries and colleges, through the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, the Peacemaking Program, World Mission, Collegiate Ministries and other appropriate units,  

1)        to develop a comprehensive strategy to strengthen college and university peacemaking programs and to link them to international relations study programs and short-term mission projects, assessing:

            a)        the relationship between peacemaking, as contained in “Peacemaking the Believers’ Calling” and related documents, and the wars in which the United States is involved, whether they be wars in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan or “the global war on terrorism;” and

             b)        how these wars and related dynamics of globalization and pluralism affect the world-wide mission of the PC(USA); and

            c)       the experience of combat veterans in Presbyterian colleges and universities, as well as the experience of those who have participated in accompaniment programs in Colombia, the Middle East, and the Philippines;

            d)        how the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in general relates to the world-wide mission of the PC(U.S.A.);

            e)        how the dynamics of climate-change affect the peacemaking, earth-care mission of the Church globally, and 

2)        to propose ways that appropriate resources and church-wide programs could help strengthen campus ministries; and 

3)        to make at least a preliminary report to the 220th General Assembly (2012).


College students care whether the church has something to say about war and peace. Presbyterian campus evangelism and outreach has traditionally included looking at major moral concerns and providing mission opportunities. This overture focuses on ways that the "gospel of peace" can be carried by Presbyterians on the 21st Century college campus (and to commuter students as well!) and on PC(U.S.A.) seminary campuses. We suggest a number of questions below, but the two emphases are clear: peacemaking thinking and strategy needs updating and campus ministry and witness can benefit from this. Part of the new dynamics involve globalization and the impact of US military policy on how our US Christian witness is viewed-- not only by people overseas, but by our own children. Certainly Jesus' prophetic love of all people challenges the inertia and inevitability of war, the "blowback" of terrorism, and the narrow allegiances of extremism. Our current peacemaking materials date back to the Cold War, and while the nuclear threat is still real, other cultural, religious, and environmental dynamics will pose new threats of war and new questions for students. Will the church be present to help them find answers? 

The educational institutions of the Church have long worked on issues related to peacemaking, including earth-care, warfare, globalization, pluralism and the like. What have they learned? What are the distinctive insights from the Reformed Tradition that guide our study and action? How can their learnings be gathered together in complementary fashions? Are there new approaches about how our leaders are educated to deal with the global realities of the 21st century? Can the seminaries and colleges provide more opportunities for not only their enrolled students, but also for those who would take short-term courses or seminars? With many churches across the country taking part in mission trips within the United States and to other countries, are there ways that our educational institutions may both take advantage of those experiences and contribute to them? With a new form of mission through Mission Networks becoming more popular and influential, how can our seminaries and colleges contribute to them as well as learn from them? In light of the many international students in our seminaries and colleges, are there ways that they might relate creatively to such programs as the Mission Challenge, International Peacemakers, or the Interfaith Listening Program? How have relevant studies by ACSWP or the Peacemaking Program been beneficial? How may the experiences of the Presbyterian United Nations Office and of the educational institutions with their global experiences compliment each other more?

Investigating these and related matters can yield great blessing as we follow the Prince of Peace, the Nazarene who called for the Year of Jubilee, and the Risen One who calls us to go into all the world with the Gospel, empowered by the Spirit.

ACSWP readies papers for General Assembly

Policy group working on gun violence, HIV/AIDS, public education, others

Presbyterian News Service reports:

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy feverishly worked last weekend on a half-dozen reports it is preparing for the upcoming 219th General Assembly later this year in Minneapolis.

The committee — which develops policy statements, resolutions and other reports on topics that are referred to it by the General Assembly — is trying to finish work on papers on public education, HIV/AIDS, the theology of compensation in the church, gun violence, human rights and a study on the nature and value of human life.   The full PNS report >>

We welcome your reports and comments
on preparations for the 219th General Assembly.
Just send a note, to be shared 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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