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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Added on 3/24/01
The effects of the earthquake in El Salvador are still being felt, and the Reformed Church is now engaged in the long-term multi-faceted process of "recuperation."  Presbyterian volunteer Marcia Towers has sent an update.  
Conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy targets Presbyterian and other churches for "reform" as it seeks to gain power in governing bodies. 
In response to a statement by the session of Summit Presbyterian Church, the Presbytery of Beaver-Butler in Pennsylvania is sending to the General Assembly Council a confessional statement that calls on other congregations to join in a three-fold declaration of faith:
  1. Affirming that Jesus is the only way to God and salvation.
  2. Affirming that the Bible is the "unique and authoritative witness" for the life of the church and that "there are no new revelations that show the Bible to be wrong or outdated."
  3. Affirming that any sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman is sinful and that the "we should not ordain or install" any minister, elder or deacon "involved in any unrepentant sinful behavior, sexual or otherwise."

Barbara Kellam-Scott, moderator of Semper Reformanda, expresses concern at the notion that a congregation can adopt its own statement of faith and doctrine. 

Alexa Smith of Presbyterian News Service ponders the close votes on most recent issues dealing with sexuality. 
Have you considered joining the Witherspoon Society?  See what it can offer you!
Added on 3/21/01
Voting on "O"
bulletThe current unofficial count is 67 presbyteries voting for Amendment O, and 92 against -- 158 votes recorded so far, or 92% of the total.  Redstone voted 69 to 67 for "O" -- compared to 94 - 52 for "B."  Donegal voted 92 - 83 for "O."
bulletReligious News Service reports on the defeat of Amendment O: "Back at square one on gay issues"   [3-21-01]
bulletPresbyterian News Service has prepared a map showing the voting on Amendment O (by the unofficial count). It brings no great surprises, but you may want to take a look - and you can download a printable version if you want to use it elsewhere.

In case you have trouble reading the key, as I did, the colors mean:
bulletWhite = No
bulletBlue = Yes
bulletGreen = not yet voting or not yet reported

bulletIf you're looking for a calm, reasonable presentation of the meaning of the defeat of Amendment O, you might borrow from a presentation by the Rev. James D. Brown, former Executive Director of the General Assembly Council, to his congregation in Harrisburg, PA

For all our reports on Amendment O voting, go to our special page on that subject.

Hate Crimes legislation to be introduced in Congress ... the latest legislative update from UCC Justice and Peace Ministry
Inter-religious violence continues in Indonesia.  The Christian Science Monitor provides a look at the complexities of the situation, including religious and ethnic conflicts, political groups exploiting the tensions, and a government seemingly unable to deal with it. 
The latest issue of Network News -- the quarterly newsletter of the Witherspoon Society -- is in the mail. 
If you'd like a copy, please send a note - and don't forget to include your snail-mail address! 
Added on 3/19/01
Voting on "O"

Reports received on Saturday, March 17, indicate that the unofficial vote count is now 65 in favor of Amendment O, and 92 opposed - out of a total of 157 presbyteries voting, or 91% of the total.

Latest reports: Newark (36 for - 57 against); Mackinac (24 - 53); Los Ranchos (140 - 67); Giddings-Lovejoy (55 - 116); Lackawanna (32 - 47). These votes all follow the voting on Amendment B.

Check our voting page for more details.

Other groups comment on the defeat of Amendment O   
Presbyterian-related organizations have responded in different ways to last week's deciding (but not final!!) votes on Amendment O.  We provide links to some of them comments, and summarize some major points.

Voices of Sophia gathers at the border [3-19-01]

The annual Voices of Sophia Gathering held in Tucson, Arizona from March 1-4, was a great success, drawing record attendance especially from young people. Focusing on the theme, "Wisdom on the Border," participants explored the challenge of transforming our land from one of frontiers and borders that lead to oppression to one in which justice prevails.

Privatized spirituality - a threat to liberal church life too?


The Rev. Henry Brinton, who has recently become pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, writes in the Washington Post about the need for community in our churches. He sees the proliferation of religious reading materials and individualized "spirituality" as threats to the communal nature of authentic religion. Further, he says, communal relationships are a deep human need that is often unmet today.

He also suggests that the web may help deal with this need.

Some have suggested that much of "liberal Christianity" has fallen victim to this plague of spiritual individualism. What do you think? Please share your thoughts!  And we'll share the conversation (if any!) here.

Thanks to

Added on 3/17/01
Two visitors have commented in response to some of the thoughts we have published regarding the defeat of Amendment O.  Sam Lanham points to the important of the human dimension of the issue in presbytery debates.
We have a new page listing all available information on overtures to the 213th General AssemblyThe official GA website has begun listing overtures, but so far just nine (along with some concurring overtures) are on the list, with links to the text of each one.  Texts of detailed rationales and advisory opinions will be added later.
Witherspoon events for General Assembly are listed, with information on ordering tickets.
And we're looking for volunteers who'd like to help us at the Assembly.
Added on 3/16/01
More comments on the defeat of Amendment O
bulletMore Witherspoon leaders offer comments. [3-16-01]
bulletEarlier comments were offered by Jane Hanna and Doug King.
bulletPresbyterian News Service reports on this decisive point in the voting.
bulletYou might also check out the Presbyterian Outlook report, written by Leslie Scanlon and John Sniffen
We have an interesting report on the debate in San Gabriel PresbyteryIs Satan at work here?!?
What's happening with Amendment A??  The best we can offer comes from Mary Ruth Phares of the Office of the General Assembly, who reported on March 16 that the official tally on Amendment A is 71 affirmative and 64 negative votes. 
We're still voting on "O"

The latest presbyteries: Washington (51 - 45); New Brunswick 54 - 128) ; Pacific (87 - 110 - a shift from their 97 -95 vote in favor of Amendment B).

Check our voting page for earlier reports and details.

We have a new page listing all available information on overtures to the 213th General AssemblyThe official GA website has begun listing overtures, but so far just nine (along with some concurring overtures) are on the list, with links to the text of each one.  Texts of detailed rationales and advisory opinions will be added later.
Added on 3/15/01
Doug Nave sees many hopeful elements in the defeat of Amendment O

Witherspoon member Doug Nave is a practicing attorney, and serves as a Trustee of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. He sent this note soon after the deciding votes were reported that meant the rejection of Amendment O. After analyzing the patterns of voting, he considers some of the implications of the debate thus far, and urges continued efforts for the remaining presbytery votes.

His conclusion: "It really is time to remember the fundamental reasons why we're a church, to stop debating sex and start doing service."

At the Voices of Sophia gathering in Tucson, Arizona, on March 1 - 4, 2001, one of the prayers was offered by Meredith White-Zeager, who will be serving as Witherspoon's Wareham Intern during the coming General Assembly.  It's a prayer for wisdom, of wisdom, and we're glad to share it here.
Added on 3/14/01
Some Witherspoon reflections on the defeat of Amendment O

Two visitors have commented in response to some of these and other thoughts we have published regarding the defeat of Amendment O.  Sam Lanham points to the important of the human dimension of the issue in presbytery debates.  [3-17-01]

Our group has not had time to discuss this collectively, but here are a few immediate comments from some officers as individuals. More will be added as they come in. And if you'd like to share your thoughts about this decision, please send us a note!

Doug King (your WebWeaver) notes that this vote is a healthy step back from the unceasing pressures to constrict our church's witness to a gracious God. But even though the decision has been rendered, progressives will need to keep working to make the vote as convincing as possible in the presbyteries that have yet to vote. We will continue to provide whatever resources we can for that effort.

Clearly, the really important steps toward an inclusive church have yet to be taken, and they will be much more challenging than this one.

Nevertheless, this is a hopeful indication that many people in our Presbyterian Church are concerned to protect the integrity of the church and its ministries. While there is strong and legitimate concern for families, there is a growing awareness that "family" and healthy relationships can take many forms.

We celebrate this step away from a morality of exclusion, and we're grateful to the many sisters and brothers who have worked (and are still working!) so hard to bring us to this point.  We look forward with renewed hope for the vital witness of our Presbyterian Church to the gracious love of God for all people.

Jane Hanna, president of the group, appreciates this action partly because "using the Book of Order to decide controversial issues about what constitutes moral behavior is not in the best interest of the Church. With opinion so evenly divided on this subject, it is healthier for the whole body to leave room for individual conscience, and for congregational and presbytery rights to decision making about matters of faith and biblical interpretation."

She adds that "none of us has been given the power to determine upon whom God's blessing should be given. [Check out Sarah Melcher's essay on this subject, published here just yesterday.] As others have pointed out, the health of a committed relationship between two people is a far more important moral concern than the matter of who the two people may be. In no way do the faithful relationships of homosexual couples threaten heterosexual relationships. Any loving relationships between people give additional health to the whole community."

She concludes: "We know the subject is not likely to be dropped, but we are grateful that for now this uncharitable attempt at exclusion has been defeated."

For more on the voting, go to our special voting reports.

The decision is No on O

Amendment O has been rejected by 88 No to 64 Yes. Voting continues (this is just 89% of all presbyteries) - and it still matters.

The requisite 87 presbyteries have now decided the issue: Amendment O, which would ban the blessing of holy unions (and in wording, if not in intent, the blessing of many other events and persons as well), has been rejected.

With 152 (89%) votes unofficially reported, 64 favor "O," and 88 reject it.

In voting on Tuesday, March 13, two presbyteries shifted from their votes on Amendment B. Kiskiminetas, which rejected "B" by 64 to 76, yesterday approved "O" by 89 to 59. Presbytery of the Pacific moved the other way; having once approved "B" by a narrow 97 to 95, they yesterday rejected "O" by 87 to 100.

Other No votes came from Eastminster (55 - 56); Cincinnati (105 - 123); New Brunswick (54 - 128), and Utica (voice vote); Yes votes came from Washington (51 - 45), San Gabriel (163 - 113) and Missouri Union (49 - 42).

Go to our voting page for earlier reports, details, and more.

Presbyterians Together [not Presbyterian Partners, as we stated earlier!], a conservative umbrella group formed to support Amendment O, published a statement in their on-line Presbyterian Coalition News. Acknowledging the defeat of "O," they add: 

"While the Church has lost this vote, the Church is by no means lost. We have no intention of relaxing our efforts to affirm the message and authority of scripture and to uphold the confessional statements of the Presbyterian Church (USA)."

Well, we're glad to know who defines "the Church."  But not quite yet, at least.

Interfaith Alliance and Baptist group issue booklet dealing with government funding through religious groups

The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs are publishing a free educational booklet, "Keeping the Faith: The Promise of Cooperation, The Perils of Government Funding: Guidelines for Houses of Worship," that will offer guidance and information to religious leaders searching for answers on how to serve those in need without jeopardizing their autonomy or the constitutional and civil rights of those served.

The Dallas Morning News web site carries an AP report on the launching of the project, which aims to distribute 20,000 copies of the booklet around the country.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written a thoughtful critique of the President's proposal to provide government funding for religiously based social service programs.  But ... faith-based air traffic control???  
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has issued a press release, dated 3-13-01, analyzing the reasons for the Administration's pull-back on their proposed use of religious groups for government programs.
Killing in Indonesia:  Let's face the reality that Christians do it too. Those who portray Christians as always the victims of Muslim violence are distorting reality.
Added on 3/13/01
The Reformed understanding of the freedom of conscience has been discussed as presbyteries have debated Amendment O, but is a matter of far broader import. For one thing, numerous overtures to the 213th General Assembly deal with G-6.0106b on the basis of conscience. Dr. Sarah Melcher looks at Calvin's Institutes to help us consider this issue. 
Thoughts on blessing:  As the voting on Amendment O, which would ban the blessing of holy unions, draws toward an end, Dr. Sarah Melcher, a Presbyterian pastor now teaching Hebrew Scriptures at Xavier University in Cincinnati, offers deeply biblical reflections on "blessing." She concludes: "Nothing in the biblical text encourages us, as sinners before God, to limit our blessings to only those who fulfill our human notion of righteousness. Without Christ, none of us are righteous before God." 
UCC Justice and Peace Ministry urges action to resist tax cuts as they come up in the U.S. Senate. 
Added on 3/12/01
Second Bible study between "left" and "right" has been held in Glen Ellyn, Illinois  

According to a first report from Outlook's Leslie Scanlon, five representatives of groups opposing ordination of gays and lesbians, and five from groups urging ordination, met on March 9 and 10 to continue the discussion initiated during the 2000 General Assembly.

We also have a report from Presbyterian News Service.  One major issue remained the question of whether we are to live "under Scripture" or in obedience to Christ.

Covenant Network newsletter is online.

The April 2001 issue of the Covenant Connection newsletter is now online. It offers a brief letter from the Cop-Moderators, the full text of William Placher's address at last fall's Covenant Conference, a preview of some overtures making their way to the 2001 General Assembly, and much more.

Witherspoon events for General Assembly are listed, with information on ordering tickets.
And we're looking for volunteers who'd like to help us at the Assembly.
Added on 3/10/01
When people oppose Amendment O, a major reason seems to be their recognition of the human cost of such exclusion. Elder Millie Sieber of Cleveland, Tennessee, as the mother of a gay son, represented that cost clearly in the discussion in East Tennessee Presbytery. 

The second Semper Reformanda News Update includes:

bullet6th Annual Pre-Assembly Theological Conversation
bulletThe Annual Semper Reformanda Dinner and Social Justice Lecture
bulletNews Note: President honors Elenora Ivory
bulletConcern expressed over minority staff in Louisville
Jubilee 2000/USA becomes the Jubilee USA Network and seeks to end debt domination  

Following up on the successes achieved toward debt cancellation, a coalition of faith-based and activist organizations launched the Jubilee/USA Network at a three day meeting in Denver, Colorado February 16-18, 2001.  We now have a more complete report of decisions and plans shaped at that meeting.  The newly formed Jubilee USA Network will continue urging full cancellation of debts owed by developing nations to the IMF and the World Bank, will work for making more treatment for AIDS available to developing nations, and will urge the completion of legislative action needed this year to get full Congressional appropriations for existing debt relief programs.

Added on 3/8/01
Presbyterian News Service recently reported on a survey of PCUSA members which indicates that most of them still oppose any blessing of same-sex unions.  
bulletDoug Nave has commented on the survey and current voting on Amendment O, finding hopeful signs in both.
bulletBarbara Kellam-Scott has been critical of the reports of the survey.
Prof. Eugene March, speaking at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, says Christians must repent of their age-old mistreatment of Jews, calls on church to change in this age of religious pluralism. 
Three models of spirituality and justice

Prof. Albert C. Winn, in a lecture at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, explored the lives of three extraordinary Christian writers who in his mind exemplify the ideal balance between "deep spirituality" on the one hand and "radical social concern" on the other:  Quaker abolitionist John Woolman, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and Elizabeth O'Connor,  leader in an ecumenical congregation and activist. 

Just yesterday we published one comment questioning a recent editorial in the on-line Presbyterian Layman, which seems to assert that commissioners to presbytery should agree beforehand on the true and Biblical position on an issue such as Amendment O, and then vote as a bloc.  We have now received other comments by attorney Doug Nave and elder Marcia Casais, each stating their own concerns with the Layman's notion of voting "in lockstep," as Justice calls it. 
Added on 3/7/01
Most of the analysis of "charitable choice" that we have published here has been critical of Pres. Bush's initiative to use faith-based organizations in government programs.

Here is an essay offering a theological perspective on charitable choice which takes a more positive view of the program.  The author, the Rev. Dr. Nile Harper, is a Presbyterian pastor, an officer of Semper Reformanda, and former professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

The author has also provided information clarifying what is meant by the "charitable choice" program, and some practical suggestions for participating in it.

Jonathan Justice comments on a Layman editorial, disputing the notion that pastors should instruct their elder commissioners on how to vote at presbytery, and that any commissioner should feel compelled merely to "represent" his or her congregation.  
Added on 3/6/01
GAC member Cathy Cummings Chisholm comments on the recent meeting, seeing greater unity than in recent years.

We now have one page linking to all our reports on the General Assembly Council meeting in Louisville, Feb. 19-24, 2001.
Web site created on Auburn Affirmation

The recently established Silicon Valley chapter of the Witherspoon Society has been busy, among other things discussing the Auburn Affirmation of 1923 as a possible framework for dealing responsibly with present tensions in the Presbyterian Church. 
Ten African-American employees of the Christian Coalition have filed suit against the organization and Pat Robertson, charging glaring problems of racial discrimination.  One white employee charges that he has been fired for refusing to spy on the African-Americans.
Pastor expresses support for Kellam-Scott's critique of The Layman

A pastor supports Barbara Kellam-Scott's comments on the recent issue of The Layman. The Rev. Kristine Jane Jensen, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Audubon, Iowa, has written a letter to PresbyWeb,

As a recent graduate of Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education, she notes that "my fellow students and I would read the publication and wonder what school the Layman was talking about, so far from the reality of campus life they seemed to be."

She adds that in her role as pastor, she believes she is called to present to her congregation "the range of ideas that are being expressed in church and society," and that doing less would be an act of distrust in their "intelligence and discernment."

Campaign finance reform has been supported a number of times by General Assembly actions. The United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries office publishes a weekly update on justice issues, and their latest one provides specific suggestions for action on this issue, as the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform bill banning "soft money" in elections is scheduled for two weeks of Senate debate, amendment and final vote, during the week of March 19th or 26th.
If you're thinking of joining in the gathering of progressive faith groups in Washington, DC, on April 4-6, we now have a detailed statement of the thinking behind the gathering.
Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio, has submitted (for the ninth year in a row) a letter of dissent from the strictures of G-6.0106b.
Added on 3/3/01
Barbara Kellam-Scott, a Presbyterian elder and moderator of Semper Reformanda, is a professional writer. Out of that experience she does a careful analysis of the Jan/Feb 2001 issue of The Presbyterian Layman. Asserting that information matters, she urges that we take seriously the "misinformation" that is so influential in our church.
Added on 3/2/01
Your WebWeaver apologizes for his long absence.  Getting Network News (the paper version of this web site -- which you can receive by joining Witherspoon!) to the printer has absorbed most of the past week.  He'll try to catch up a bit, at the risk of boring you with some news you may have seen elsewhere.
More reports on the GAC meeting last week in Louisville:
bulletPresbyterian News Service provided a summary of the final actions of the Council.
bulletResponding to protests from the Right, the GAC affirmed the lordship of Christ, and asserted the freedom of Presbyterians to express their views at GAC-sponsored event.
bulletParker Williamson of The Layman immediately distributed a statement protesting the action, and asserting that "Presbyterians are no longer obliged to follow" the leadership of GAC. 
bulletGAC adopts $136 million budget for '02, and accepted John Detterick's plan to shift funds into mission program areas considered "high-impact"
bulletGAC received a report on the success of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, applauding the role played by Presbyterians. A video about the debt-relief campaign will go to Assembly.
bulletThe Layman reports on GAC's receiving of reports calling for studies of reparations to people of color, and of the "disenfranchisement of people of color in the United States' electoral system."
Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick shared with GAC his expectation of what will be the "top 10 issues" at the coming General Assembly.
The Rev. James D. Brown, former Executive Director of the General Assembly Council, preached at the installation of the Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton at Claremont Presbyterian Church, Claremont, CA, on January 21, 2001. His sermon was entitled "Presbyterians at the Crossroads." His text, Peter's encounter with Cornelius in Acts 11, led him to reflect on the radical demands of the Gospel for openness to what is new and unexpected. He concluded with Paul's question, "Who are we that we could hinder God?"
Do you want to go back in time??

To wander through earlier headlines and links:

bulletfrom the first part of December, 2001
bulletfrom November, 2001
bulletfrom October, 2001
bulletfrom September, 2001
bulletfrom August, 2001.
bulletfrom July, 2001
bulletfrom June, 2001.
bulletfrom May, 2001.
bulletfrom April, 2001.
bulletfrom March, 2001.
bulletfrom February, 2001.
bulletfrom January, 2001.
bullet from December, 2000.
bullet from November 2000
    including reports on 
bulletCovenant Network conference
bulletRe-Imagining Conference
bullet articles from the Spring 2000 issue of Network News
bullet from mid-September through October, 2000.
bullet from July through mid-September, click here.
bullet from January through June 2000.

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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