Presbyterian Voices for Justice 

A union of The Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia

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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Archive for May, 2010

This page lists our postings from May, 2010

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.

Our pre-GA issue of Network News is here
-- the Spring 2010 issue is posted here in PDF format

NOTE:  This special issue is being sent to all commissioners and advisory delegates to the 219th General Assembly.  It is now at the printer's, and should be in the mail around June 1.

The contents:

bulletCo-Moderator Colleen Bowers -- a word of welcome   (page 2 )
bullet Voices for Justice events at General Assembly    (4)

bullet Two images for thinking about GA -- from the Editor   (7)

bullet Reflecting on some of the work coming to the Assembly   (10)

bullet We need Belhar, by John Harris   (28)

bullet The FOG Task Force report  (29)

bullet An overview of GA, from a co-moderator of the Advocacy Committee for Women's Concerns   (31)

bullet A Call for Justice and Grace, from More Light Presbyterians   (32)

bullet Candidates for Moderator respond to questions from Presbyterian Voices for Justice  (33)

bullet Receiving the PVJ Whole Gospel Congregation Award:  Kwanzaa Community Church, Minneapolis   (42)

bullet Receiving the PVJ Andrew Murray Award:  Ann and Manley Olson   (46)

plus more news ...  and ...

Ghost Ranch Seminar, July 26-August 1, 2010 –                
We’re All In This Together: Confronting the Structures of Injustice

To download this issue of Network News (in PDF format) click here.

To get it in high-resolution format -- looking better but taking longer to download, click here.

Some of the articles in the on-line print version will soon be posted in html format, as regular web pages.  Clicking on any of the titles above that are formatted as links will take you to those pages, which may differ slightly from the "print" version.  And we'll be adding more of those as quickly as we can.



Get Ready for GA!! 

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.  

In addition to our ubiquitous barrage of buttons, we are also stocking bumper stickers, postcards, and bookmarks at pre-recession prices! That’s right. Everything is $1! Yes, I said that. Everything is $1! (It will help those of us who are math-deficient to keep it simple.) Many of the items for sale – like some of the buttons – are one of a kind, meaning there is only one button that says it. Once it is bought, people will have to bribe/trade/negotiate with the owner if they wish to obtain it. (This could give us all practice with our mediation skills and create some interesting dialogue and discussions.) Postcards can be mailed with messages to the folks we left at home in our churches, or framed and given as gifts to our justice-loving friends. Bookmarks can be put to use immediately since we know our suitcases incur excess baggage fees from all the books we cram in them for the flight home. Bumper stickers pack well and they are useful for so many of those opportunities when our words fail us. These items can all be harbingers of hope in the places that need it the most. 

We are also providing a great service to those who visit our booth. We are replacing W & W’s and Skittles with ... throat soothers. We wish for everyone to take special care of their voices. All voices need to be heard and sometimes require some assistance when they are tired and sore. Along with the throat soothers we will also have a TIP Sheet on how to care for your voice. (I’m a singer; it is useful knowledge.) 

If there are other suggestions for our booth or ideas for enhancing our “theme”, please let me know. I am thinking that we need to have some sing-alongs to raise awareness of our new presence and to keep our voices warmed up. I’m still pondering this angle, but I think I like it. I am always looking for people to help staff the booth or contribute their creativity to make the space welcoming and inviting. If you can help, contact me by email: or cell: 347.907.9849.

See you at GA!

Vicki Moss

More Americans say U.S. morality getting worse.
But it’s interesting what we worry about – and what we don’t

The Gallup polling service reports its annual survey on attitudes about moral values showed that “76 percent of Americans said moral values in the country are getting worse, up five percent from last year.”

Among the values about which people were most concerned were “declining moral values/standards and disrespect of others (both at 15 percent).” Following those concerns were “parents not instilling values in children (8 percent); dishonesty among government, business leaders (8 percent); and rising crime and violence (8 percent).”

In the next lower tier of worries were “people moving away from religion, church and God (7 percent), the breakdown of family and unwed mothers (7 percent), and sex, promiscuity, and pornography (5 percent).”

What’s really interesting to us as Presbyterians might be the moral issues that people were least worried about: At the very bottom of people’s worries: abortion and gay relationships (each mentioned by 3 percent).

For a brief summary of the Gallup report >>

For the more complete Gallup news release, with tables >>

Religious institutions are ruled by the morally bankrupt –
but we need them, if they would just do what they need to do

Chris Hedges, son of a Presbyterian minister and himself seminary-trained, is well equipped to offer sharp criticisms of religion and religious institutions. A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, he is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.


He begins this essay:

It is hard to muster much sympathy over the implosion of the Catholic Church, traditional Protestant denominations or Jewish synagogues. These institutions were passive as the Christian right, which peddles magical thinking and a Jesus-as-warrior philosophy, hijacked the language and iconography of traditional Christianity. They have busied themselves with the boutique activism of the culture wars. They have failed to unequivocally denounce unfettered capitalism, globalization and pre-emptive war. The obsession with personal piety and “How-is-it-with-me?” spirituality that permeates most congregations is narcissism. And while the Protestant church and reformed Judaism have not replicated the perfidiousness of the Catholic bishops, who protect child-molesting priests, they have little to say in an age when we desperately need moral guidance.

But he eventually concludes that we need religion, no matter how dangerous it may be, for without it we fall easy prey to a vapid secularism and materialism – the world that Nietzsche worried about:

We live in the age of the Übermensch who rejects the sentimental tenets of traditional religion. The Übermensch creates his own morality based on human instincts, drive and will. We worship the “will to power” and think we have gone “beyond good and evil.” We spurn virtue. We think we have the moral fortitude and wisdom to create our own moral code. The high priests of our new religion run Wall Street, the Pentagon and the corporate state. They flood our airwaves with the tawdry and the salacious. They, too, promise a utopia. They redefine truth, beauty, morality, desire and goodness. And we imbibe their poison as blind followers once imbibed the poison of the medieval church.

Could we hear this as a passionate call for the church – like, maybe our PC(USA) – to care to stand up and do its job? Not to save the church, but to save the world.

The full essay >>                    Also on AlterNet >>

Thanks to Elizabeth Sarfaty

Texas schools board rewrites US history with lessons promoting God and guns

US Christian conservatives drop references to slave trade and sideline Thomas Jefferson who backed church-state separation

Here’s a British take on the latest adventures in the religionizing of Texas schools. It begins:

Cynthia Dunbar does not have a high regard for her local schools. She has called them unconstitutional, tyrannical and tools of perversion. The conservative Texas lawyer has even likened sending children to her state's schools to "throwing them in to the enemy's flames". Her hostility runs so deep that she educated her own offspring at home and at private Christian establishments.

Now Dunbar is on the brink of fulfilling a promise to change all that, or at least point Texas schools toward salvation. She is one of a clutch of Christian evangelists and social conservatives who have grasped control of the state's education board. This week they are expected to force through a new curriculum that is likely to shift what millions of American schoolchildren far beyond Texas learn about their history.

More >>

Comments on GAMC actions

The recent GAMC meeting, with its decisions on restructuring of our church's mission agencies and its latest round of staff reductions, has stimulated lots of thought and comment.

Here are the first to arrive -- and more are likely to turn up soon.  So far we've heard from Mitch Trigger, PVJ Secretary/Communicator; Jake Young, former Witherspoon co-moderator; Annie King, former mission co-worker; we also link to a blog comment by Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow. And most recently, from Rev. Bob Campbell, Sharon Hill, PA.

And just added:  a vote for non-geographic presbyteries.

Together, they raise some provocative questions about the future of the PC(USA) -- whether we may need change far deeper than "restructuring" and adapting to more limited funds; whether "justice" is still seen as a vital dimension of the church's mission; whether the time for denominations (and their internal battles) may be past.

We hope you might have comments too!  Just send a note!

Presbyterian Controversies Present and Past:
the Case of the Reinstatement of Paul Capetz in Light of Never-ending Conflict in the Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Heidi Vardeman has kindly shared with us a paper she has written looking at the case of the Rev. Paul Capetz, who, as a gay man, set aside his ordination in the year 2000 when the PC(USA) became increasingly rigid in its banning of LGBT Presbyterians from ordination. In 2007, after the “Peace, Unity and Purity” report led to the to affirmation of the right of conscience for candidates for ordination, allowing them to declare “scruples” or reservations about the ban, Dr. Capetz applied to his presbytery for reinstatement as an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament.

His request was granted by a strong majority vote, but various complaints and challenges have been filed against, and the process continues still.

The paper examines this case not as a matter of theological or biblical dispute, but in light of the history of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. over the past few centuries. Vardeman writes: 

It is my intention in this paper to tell the story [of] some older controversies within the Presbyterian Church and the manner in which they were settled – or not – in order to place the issue of the ordination of gay men and lesbian women within a broader historical context. My aim is pastoral as well as academic. I hope to encourage my denomination not to be too disheartened by the present state of affairs. To be in controversy is to be Presbyterian.

Our current disputes suffer from a lack of historical perspective. If we could see our controversies as part of a storied tradition, we would be wiser for it. It might give us the patience to work out our differences in a more loving and productive way.

Click here to read her paper, in PDF format >>

Click here for some of our earlier reporting on Paul Capetz' case >>

Concerns about Louisville layoffs – and about justice

Today (Friday, May 14) the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) has approved the elimination of forty-five staff positions to be eliminated and all staff have already been told to prepare for layoffs as soon as the GAMC acts on Friday morning. No announcements have been made of the specific positions eliminated, pending notification of all the employees being dismissed, which was planned to be done this afternoon.

Reports are that twelve of the 45 are voluntary departures, some are vacancies, but the majority will be servants of the church given packages and, we hope, a few days to say good-bye. Some of these staff persons will have worked for many years at the Presbyterian Center and it will be a sad loss of collective memory, and many gifts and skills.

We sympathize with the General Assembly Mission Council as it faces hard choices. Would it be different if more of a spirit of shared sacrifice were presented to the wider Church? It is our experience that congregational leadership is more likely to share cutbacks and give proportionate raises. And while we support the World Mission unit of the denomination, which is featured in so much of the direct mail the GAMC sends out, we are also convinced that there are domestic needs and justice ministries that would also benefit from some marketing support. Otherwise we fear that further cutbacks will make the General Assembly’s justice ministries almost purely symbolic. Also, how much inequality does the church want in its national staff of all agencies, especially in the midst of this “Great Recession”?       More >>

We'd like to hear your comments!
Whether you're one of those directly affected by the staff cuts,
or concerned about the PC(USA) and its budget woes,
please share your thoughts here.
Just send a note!


Presbyterian Welcome announces ... 
retreat 2010

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning Presbyterian Inquirers and Candidates for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament

We gather to:

• Laugh and cry in the presence of God
• Develop a network of support
• Greet old friends and meet new ones
• Worship with one another
• Claim our call in the changing church!

All those pursuing ordination are invited to join us in retreat.

Dates: July 15–18, 2010
Rural Indiana

Cost: $350 plus travel expenses. In order to gather all of us together, very substantial scholarships are available to all in need. We gratefully thank supportive organizations and congregations for their commitment to the participants and their financial support in helping us gather.

Application Deadline: June 14, 2010

If you are an inquirer or candidate and feel this retreat would be helpful, or if you know someone who is in “the process” please call Mieke’s confidential voicemail at 917-441-8638 or email .

Call or email for an application:


Supportive Organizations:
Covenant Network of Presbyterians
More Light Presbyterians
That All May Freely Serve—Michigan
That All May Freely Serve—National
Presbyterian Promise
Presbyterian Rainbow
Presbyterian Welcome


Presbyterian Welcome’s mission is to build up and repair the Body of Christ by working for the full inclusion of all disciples without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.

[This notice has been received from Presbyterian Welcome.]

Wisconsin pastor is fourth GA moderator candidate

Northern Waters Presbytery endorses Eric Nielsen for top post

The Rev. Eric G. Nielsen

LOUISVILLE — May 7, 2010 — (from Presbyterian News Service)  The Rev. Eric G. Nielsen, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Eau Claire, Wisc., has been unanimously endorsed by Northern Waters Presbytery to stand for moderator of the upcoming 219th General Assembly, July 3-10 in Minneapolis. The presbytery took its action May 6.

More >>

Other news of General Assembly, including other candidates for Moderator >>

Philadelphia pastor James A. Belle is fifth to stand for moderator

Presbytery to vote on endorsement May 25

The Rev. James A. Belle

LOUISVILLE — May 10, 2010 — (from Presbyterian News Service)  A Philadelphia pastor, the Rev. James A. Belle, is the fifth candidate for moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

More >>

Other news of General Assembly, including other candidates for Moderator >>

A hymn for a time of disaster in the sea

This hymn-prayer was written by the Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, in response to the ongoing oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig that started on April 20th.

O God, the Great, Wide Seas are Yours
MELITA (“Eternal Father, Strong to Save”)

O God, the great, wide seas are yours!
You carved the oceans’ rugged floors.
You set the waters in their place
And made all sea life by your grace.
You also made humanity
To care for earth and sky and sea.

Forgive us when we disobey
And fail to care for what you’ve made.
Consuming more than what we should,
We harm the waters you call good.
Forgive us when we fail to be
Good stewards of your wondrous sea.

We pray for those who seek to care
For troubled waters everywhere—
For those who work to stop the spill
Of all that would destroy and kill,
For those who work with loving hands
To tend your marshes, shores and sands.

God, may we hear your call anew
To care for all these gifts from you.
May we protect the sea and shore
By using less, conserving more,
And humbly learning how to live
As stewards of this world you give.

Biblical references: Genesis 1-2:4
Tune: John B. Dykes, in Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861.
Text: Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

Hymn Background: The hymn-prayer was written in response to the ongoing oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig that started on April 20th. Churches are also using other creation hymns by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, including her popular “The Earth is the Lord’s.” The first five hymns in her Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor (Upper Room Books, 2010) have creation themes. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is co-author of “A Journey to a Green Church.” A complete list of her 160 hymns can be found at:

Greater Context: How We Wrecked the Ocean” is an online April 2010 TED Talk by Jeremy Jackson, the Ritter Professor of Oceanography and Director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, on how the oceans are overfished, overheated, polluted and getting worse.
Reflecting on gay ordination

Click here for a brief essay written as a Letter to the Editor of the Layman, by the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament serving Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House in New York City. He was responding to the Layman’s report that Stockton Presbytery has joined in a complaint against John Knox Presbytery for its action in approving the ordination of Scott Anderson, who is gay. He raises the question – from his own experience in ministry – of just what difference it makes whether a minister is gay or straight.

How Large Is Your Circle?

That’s the title of a sermon preached by the Rev. John Shuck on Sunday, May 2, 2010, in First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tennessee.

And that, he says, is the crucial question raised by Jesus’ call to us to love one another: How big a circle is included within that “love one another”? Is it our family and friends? Or people who believe or look or act like we do? Or is it “everyone?” And that, obviously, is a step toward the right answer. But it’s a tall order, loving everybody.

But here’s a start toward the answer: “How do you love six billion people, let alone non-human relations? We do this through politics. We put it in terms of human rights and a just distribution and access to Earth's gifts.

So the question that confronts all of us – in the battles over immigration, and the rights of people who are different from us in one way or another, and what it means to be people of faith in this wildly diverse world – is simply “how large is your circle?”

A good question for all us of today and every day – and perhaps especially as many of us gather once again in our Presbyterian General Assembly in July.

For the full sermon, on John’s Shuck and Jive blog >>

'A different world is possible'

Accra Confession calls for economic, ecological justice

From Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — April 29, 2010 — The Accra Confession  represents a ministry of ecological and economic justice, with the idea that a different world is possible, said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

Kirkpatrick spoke at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary's Festival of Theology & Reunion, held April 25-28.

WARC adopted the Accra Confession in 2004. It's not a doctrinal confession — it challenges economic doctrines that exclude the poor and vulnerable and deny God’s sovereignty.

Kirkpatrick, a former stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)' General Assembly and visiting professor of ecumenical and global ministries at LPTS, called the formation of the confession a "kairos moment" for the ecumenical community.   The rest of the story >>

Standing where God stands

Allan Boesak speaks of history, importance of Belhar Confession

From Presbyterian News Service

The Belhar Confession
will be "an issue"

in the 2010 General Assembly,
so Allan Boesak's look at it in this talk
may be very helpful.

LOUISVILLE — April 29, 2010 — The Belhar Confession was formed out of parochial necessity, but its appeal is ecumenical and universal, said Allan Boesak, the opening speaker of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary's April 25-28 Festival of Theology and Reunion.

Boesak, a well-known theologian, anti-apartheid activist and political leader in South Africa, spoke about the Belhar Confession's roots, meaning and significance.

Adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986, the confession was a response to apartheid in that country and particularly focuses on reconciliation, justice and unity.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is considering adding Belhar to its Book of Confessions as the denomination’s response to ongoing racial prejudice in this country. A task force will recommend to the 219th General Assembly, to be held July 3-10 in Minneapolis, that the study process continue.   The rest of the report >>

Crossing Borders: a photo essay

A border encounter between Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Mexico

Text and photos by Erin Dunigan; special to Presbyterian News Service

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — April 29, 2010 — The April 15-17 "Crossing Borders, Encountering God" conference here — co-sponsored by the Synods of the Sun and Southwest of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyteries of Noroeste and Israel of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico — brought together close to 200 participants from both churches for worship, workshops, teaching and learning from one another about the complex border relations between the two countries and churches.

One group of 11 participants engaged in a border encounter between Douglas and Agua Prieta on the Mexican side of the border.       

Click here for a powerful glimpse of the border experience >>

PC(USA) leaders press for immediate immigration reform

In wake of Arizona legislation, three say "broken immigration system" must be fixed

From Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — May 3, 2010 — Three top leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have sent a letter to members of the U.S. Congress insisting on the enactment of "comprehensive immigration reform this year."

In their April 29 letter, General Assembly Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow, General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine said "we are keenly aware of the devastating effects our broken immigration system has on the lives of individuals, immigrant and non-immigrant families, and our communities."  

The rest of the report, and the full text of the letter >>

Position open

First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo, Cal., is seeking an Associate Pastor for Children, Youth and Families   More >>

We hope you like our new logo as much as we do!

Our warm thanks to Gwyneth Roske, of Tucson, Arizona, who created it for us.

Got comments?  We'd like to hear what you think of it, and what it says to you.  Please send us a note!

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 going to 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.

If you like what you find here,
we hope you'll help us keep Voices for Justice going ... and growing!

Please consider making a special contribution -- large or small -- to help us continue and improve this service.

Click here to send a gift online, using your credit card, through PayPal.

Or send your check, made out to "Presbyterian Voices for Justice" and marked "web site," to our PVJ Treasurer:

Darcy Hawk
4007 Gibsonia Road
Gibsonia, PA  15044-8312


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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