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A union of The Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia

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Archive for March, 2002

Eight complaints (not "disciplinary cases," as stated by the Layman Online) have been filed relating to the recent ordination of the Rev. Katie Morrison, who is now serving as a staff member of More Light Presbyterians.

We have a brief summary of the story, with links to the Layman Online report, comments from More Light Presbyterians and others.

What's the Word?

Ruth Kratz points to the depth of meaning that the Confession of 1967 added to our understanding of Jesus as the Word of God. She expresses concern at how that insight is being eroded as some insist that the Bible -- the book -- is the Word.

This Year Make Earth Day, April 22nd, A Family Affair

Tips & Activities for Celebrating Earth Day are offered by the EcoMall, one of the oldest and largest portals for environmental shopping.

The Confession of '67 affirms faith in Christ - and an ethic that flows from that faith  

Amid all the demands for confessions of faith in Christ, Gene TeSelle has noticed that a central section of the Confession of 1967 (C-9.31-32) offers a clear affirmation of faith in Christ, and links that faith to a radical ethic of reconciliation. That "ethic" is not so much imperative or moralistic as it is eucharistic: a thankful response to God's grace shown in Christ.

TeSelle suggests that this passage might well serve as a prayer at the close of a celebration of the Lord's Supper, combining both "promise" and "charge."
"Empathetic evangelism" -- a Palm Sunday sermon -- makes clear that conservatives are not the only ones interested in sharing the Good News.

The Rev. Thomas C. Davis, of Wilmington, DE, finds in St. Patrick a model of a "Celtic way of evangelism" that listens to others, respects them, and so offers truly good news.   

Pastor gives away his stoles as a symbol of solidarity

The Rev. John Mann, pastor of Peace Presbyterian Church in St. Louis Park, MN, has found a creative way to show through his ministry his solidarity with those who are excluded from ministry. He is giving his stoles to people who cannot be ordained, and will no longer wear stoles until they can, as well.

Read how he describes the path that has led him to this action. But be aware that if you follow his example, you too may expect what he describes as "vitriolic" responses.

Clergy sexual abuse has been dealt with in different ways, in different denominations

This web site may be one of a select few that has not carried reports, or links to them, on the current rash of stories on sexual misconduct in the Roman Catholic Church and others. Our assumption is that you don't need our help to read about that. But here's one recent report from the LA Times, that offers a helpful overview of approaches taken by other denominations, especially the Episcopal Church and various Jewish groups.

What do you think? Do you have stories to share, opinions, concerns? Please send a note, and we'll post them here.

Thanks to

Two women pastors serve one congregation

Women still encounter barriers to exercising their ministries in the Presbyterian Church. No big surprise here! But Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas, is one of only nine congregations in the denomination where both the pastor and the associate pastor are women.

The Rev. Julie Riley, associate pastor, comments on her new head of staff, the Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner, "what she lacks in anatomy, she makes up in God-given gifts. And the congregation sees that."

This report is in the Dallas Morning News, 3/23/02

Peter Sawtell ponders the well-known "Serenity Prayer," and the tension between accepting and acting.  And he adds helpful reflections for Holy Week. 
Presbyterian resources are available for Earth Day Sunday (April 21), and for Rural Life Sunday (April 28).  
Equal Exchange's Interfaith Coffee Program works in partnership with communities of faith and faith-based organizations to make a difference in the lives of small coffee farmers and their families through Fair Trade. The Presbyterian Church, among other denominations, is actively supporting this effort.

Here's a report on the Coffee Program's activities during 2001, along with details of a recent delegation visit to coffee growers in El Salvador.  There's also a brief description of the program as a whole.  


Survey looks at American attitudes toward religion in public life

Most Americans believe religion is good for public life, but that it also has a significant role in causing conflict and war. Only 18% view their own religion as the "one true faith," and the only way to eternal life. This and much more is shown by the latest survey of religion and public life by the Pew Forum.  

Thanks to for leading us to this fascinating report.

Let's hear your comments on this study -- and we'll share the responses here.  Just send a note!

Most Americans say "No" to church support of political candidates

Americans United for Separation of Church and State takes note of the Pew Forum poll's finding that 70 percent of respondents said churches should not endorse political candidates, while only 22 percent backed church involvement in campaigns. They contrast this with three bills now in Congress that would allow churches to endorse candidates for public office, without losing their tax-exempt status.

US may escalate military action in Colombia 

Pres. Bush will propose broader military aid to Colombia, eliminate current language requiring respect for human rights. But increased military aid is not the solution! Washington Office suggests calls to Washington.  

A "muddled moderate" joins in the Call to Civility - and explains why  

This e-mail came to your WebWeaver on 3-16-02, and we are happy to share it here with the author's permission.

Dear Doug,

Please add my name to the Call to Civility. I'm an avid reader of your web page. I'm that "muddled moderate" who wrote to you earlier. I've got a lot of questions about these issues concerning human sexuality, and my position is somewhat like that of George Hunsinger's of Princeton, BUT I love my denomination and can't abide the fact that civil discussion has degraded into such anger.

Please add my name to the Call to Civility as follows: Russell C. Sullivan, Jr., Pastor, Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church, Hartsville, Pennsylvania


Two inclusive churches charged  

Two churches that welcome glbt members into leadership -- Mt. Auburn in Cincinnati and First Presbyterian Church of Baldwin Park, California -- have both been charged with various offenses.

A suggestion from the Rev. Bruce Gillette:

Use this Sunday for prayers for sexual abuse victims, offenders, families and churches

Stated Clerk to Ariel Sharon: " We urge you to renounce and to stop this violent madness."  

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), has sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calling on him to withdraw the Israeli military from all Palestinian territory.


Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries ponders the problem of heresy, which happens "when partial truths are elevated to the status of absolute truths." And today's big heresy, he suggests, is the idea of personal freedom. It was the key argument in the US Senate against tighter standards for fuel economy in US vehicles -- including even SUVs and vans. The assumption was that Congress had no right to tell Americans what kind of cars they could drive.

Says Sawtell: "Freedom is one of the core values for the United States. But we have encountered heresy when that value is lifted up as an absolute truth."

A workshop for teachers on First Amendment issues and principles, sponsored by the First Amendment Center in Washington DC, will be held on July 12-14, 2002. If you are a teacher (or someone you love is!), you may want to consider participating.
The Christian Right and "racial reconciliation"

Andrea Smith, writing for the journal Color Lines (Spring, 2002), examines the growing movement among conservative and evangelical groups toward what they call "race reconciliation." Basically, this new trend involves conservative Christian magazines highlighting the role of people of color in conservative groups. But it also seems aimed at splitting middle-class African Americans from those below them on the socio-economic ladder.

We're still receiving signatures endorsing The Call to Civility, drafted by participants in a Ghost Ranch seminar in the summer of 2001 to encourage a better climate in our church and to urge an end to personal attacks on the Moderator and the commissioners to the 213th General Assembly.  It has been endorsed by the sessions of six congregations, along with the leadership of Presbyterian Women, and over 300 individuals.

You can still add your name, or that of your congregation!

The vote on Amendment 01-A: 46 yes - 120 no    

Recent votes:

YES: New Brunswick, Cascades; Lake Michigan; Miami; Grand Canyon (122 - 96 - a shift from past votes in favor of 96-B and against 97-A.

NO: Cincinnati, Indian Nations

We've received comments from participants/observers in a number of these presbyteries.

Your reports and comments are always more than welcome.  Just send a note!

Presbyterian Washington Office reports on new challenges to conscientious objectors in legislative proposals for Universal Military Training  

In line with actions of numerous General Assemblies, the Washington Office has prepared an excellent summary of current pressures for some kind of compulsory military service, challenges faced by anyone who feels compelled by conscience not to engage in such actions, and Presbyterian thinking on questions of military service.

NCC website features resources on the challenge of poverty - a Lenten theme in March 2002. 
Baptists do it. Buddhists do it. Even followers of Muhammad do it.

"Breaking up's not hard to do."

A story in the Dallas Morning News looks at conflict in various religious bodies, and concludes that religious splits - no matter what the religious rhetoric - are most often really about "Who makes the rules?"

This essay focuses on the Southern Baptists (after all, it is Dallas!). Do you think the writer could say the same things about Presbyterians? Take a look, and send us your thoughts!

About leaving the church

We recently reported on a note from a Witherspoon member who says she is giving up on the church.

Witherspoon board member Trina Zelle responded:

I got a similar note from a friend of mine -- GLBT -- who said, "Why stay, this is messed up." I gave her the pep talk about the greatest struggle coming right before massive change occurring, which I believe, but another thought came to me later.

If we were the last generation on earth, we might want to think about leaving. But we're not (probably). And this generation of GLBT folk is not the last GLBT generation. There are GLBT babies being born in the church every day, a church that welcomes them as infants and then rejects them as adults. We can't abandon them to this kind of fate -- we owe it to all those vulnerable adolescents of the future -- gay and straight -- to continue the struggle.

And by the way, a non-Witherspoon person suggested this motto for us: The Witherspoon Society: proclaiming the whole gospel. Pretty good don't you think? 


How about a little humor -- about a housework-challenged husband?  But Bobbie McGarey adds some sober and suggestive reflections on the story.
The UCC Justice and Peace Action Network has sent a helpful bulletin with information on energy policy issues being discussed in the US Senate -- along with suggestions for action.
Urban churches: Here's help in caring for your building and making it useful in your community   
God is apparently circulating a customer satisfaction survey.  Check it out!  

Presbyterians will join other churches to push for welfare reform.

At least a dozen Presbyterians will join more than 80 other representatives of churches and ecumenical groups next week in pressuring Congress to strengthen the nation's welfare system.

"Reconsidering Scripture" after September 11th

The new Winter issue of the journal Cross Currents focuses on the theme of "Reconsidering Scripture." While some of the essays were written before the attacks of 9/11, and some afterwards, the journal's editor, Charles Henderson, suggests that the issue offers "an invitation to seek answers that spring from a source beyond self, beyond nation, and even beyond all that we currently comprehend."

Some of the articles have been posted on-line, including

When I Boarded the Midwest Express to Washington, D.C., on September 11, by professor Daniel C. Maguire, who teaches ethics at Marquette University.

Theology and the Clash of Civilizations, by Pulitzer prize-winner Jack Miles

To Whom Shall We Give Access to Our Water Holes?, by Muslim theologian Farid Esack, the author of Qur'an, Liberation and Pluralism (1996), On Being a Muslim: Finding a Religious Path in the World Today (1999) and An Introduction to the Qur'an (forthcoming), all by Oxford: Oneworld. This essay was delivered as the Jack and Lewis Rudin Lecture at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, October 10, 2001.

Presbyterian minister/poet J. Barrie Shepherd has two poems in the issue, but they are not posted on-line.

The Cross Currents home page will allow you to access some of the other essays on-line. And hey, you can even subscribe!

Don't give up on the PC(USA)!

We recently received a very distressing note from a Witherspoon member who has decided not to renew her membership.  She is fully supportive of Witherspoon's goals and activities, she says, but she has given up on the church -- any church.

We urge you not to give up. We believe our gracious God calls us all to continue the struggle for a just and inclusive church.  And we invite you to join with Witherspoon in doing all we can to hasten the time when the struggle will be fulfilled.

If you're already a member, perhaps you can give something extra to support our planned mini-conferences on the Confession of 1967, with its prophetic theme of reconciliation.

If you're not a member, you can read more about what we're doing, and then please join us!  

The Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church (TTF) has written a mission statement and approved a six-item agenda to guide its work over the next four years.  [We note that the question of "power," which was part on the GA action creating the Task Force, seems to have dropped off the agenda.]  
Congressman from Ohio offers a prophetic prayer for America

Congressional representative Dennis Kucinich recently gave a speech in the form of a prayer - a prayer for America that challenges the U.S. "war on terrorism" - both what is being done now, and even more what is being proposed.

Here's an inspiring and prophetic mixing of religion and politics. It may not be what some advocates of prayer-with-politics have in mind, but it has power and authenticity that are worthy of our attention.
"Chicks with guns"   

A New York Times opinion piece takes note of increasing number of people carrying guns, and raises the question of where this all may lead.

"...Already, since the beginning of September, more than four times as many Americans have fallen to guns as to terrorism, but quietly, one by one, with no one noticing."

The PC(USA) position on gun control can be found at:

Martha Juillerat reports on the latest developments in the Shower of Stoles Project, including the production of a video telling the story of the project -- and "premier parties" in Minneapolis and Atlanta to celebrate its arrival! 
Presbyterian News Service has recently published a report on the decision of the Permanent Judicial Commission of Central Florida Presbytery, ruling unanimously that the session of First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian does not have the authority to amend confessional statements or to bind church officers to theological standards apart from the ordination vows in the denomination's Book of Order as a prerequisite for ordination or installation.
Jack Rogers, the General Assembly moderator, and the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk, have sent a letter to the Presbyterian Church (USA) calling for reconciliation and healing in the wake of the defeat of Amendment 01-A. 
The Presbyterian Church is publishing a very helpful new on-line magazine called Perspectives.  

Check out details on the articles in their first issue.

Eco-Justice Ministries offers worship resources for Earth Day 2002 

These resources, built around the theme "Having All Things In Common," are based on one of the Revised Common Lectionary texts for Sunday, April 21.

They are now available on the Eco-Justice Ministries website,

Ken Boyer comments on Scott Anderson's sermon about "embracing the contradiction" as we relate with people of other faiths. 

He agrees that we all are sinful, but insists that "the line ... must be drawn and maintained between Christians who believe that God has a Son who is our Savior, and Muslims and Jews and others who definitely do not."

What are the GLBT members of our PC(USA) saying after the defeat of Amendment A?

One strong, clear statement was offered by Martha Juillerat, director of the Shower of Stoles, in a sermon preached on Sunday, March 3. It was a call to stay, to work, to be courageous, because "this Presbyterian Church has the potential and the resources and the power to change the world. We have the hands to feed a hungry planet, the arms to rebuild its cities and the feet to march by the thousands for justice and peace. I believe that this church can and will be resorted to greatness. That is why I am still here, and that is why I will never, ever give up."

Concerns for Korea   

Gary Campbell, retired Presbyterian mission co-worker, reports on a visit to South Korea in August of 2001, with a Veterans for Peace delegation. Having served there as a very young soldier of the U.S. Army in 1950-51, he reports now on visits to the sites of civilian massacres during the Korean War, under the guidance of the Korean Truth Commission. With the other members of the delegation, he urges us to recognize the "war crimes" committed by the U.S. in Korea, and then to act against the continuing U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula, especially in light of President Bush's inclusion of North Korea in his "axis of evil," with the threats that such a condemnation implies.

Campbell reminds us too of the greetings extended to the 2001 General Assembly by the visiting moderators of two Korean partner church general assemblies, in which they both expressed their concern about the missile defense program proposed by President Bush, and appealed to the PC(USA) to continue working with them in support of efforts for the peace and reunification of their broken and divided country.

Colombian Christians have issued an urgent plea for action to protest new government military action in the former demilitarized zone.

Alice Winters, a Presbyterian mission co-worker in Colombia, has sent this to us.  We are posting both the original Spanish text, and the interlinear English translation. 

The next meeting of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Witherspoon Society will be on Tuesday, March 5, at 4:00pm, at First Church, San Jose. Among other things, the meeting will consider possible action on the issue of land mines. (


Deadline extended for "Changing Families" study document 

ACSWP provides more time for feedback on church's evolving policy.

Further comments are invited on the church-wide study document, Changing Families [and Witherspooners may want to offer comments, notes your WebWeaver].

Talking about the Trinity 

Shawn Coons, a Candidate for Ministry under care of the Presbytery of East Iowa, recently posted a note in the WITHERSPOON MEMBERS meeting on PresbyNet, as a response to a Guest Viewpoint" essay on our language about the Trinity, by the Rev. James C. Goodloe IV.

Coons writes: "All language about God is incomplete and insufficient. How can we use the finite to completely describe the infinite?"

Muslims view critical studies of their tradition with deep suspicion   [3-4-02]

The New York Times for March 2 carried a report on the hostility encountered by scholars - both Muslim and non-Muslim - who try to use any kind of critical perspective in studying the Koran. Novelists like Salman Rushdie have been threatened with death when their writings were perceived as disrespectful toward Islam.

Scholars have also been threatened for suggesting that parts of the Koran might have origins in earlier Christian Aramaic texts, while other sections may have been written years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

The report continues: "... when the Arab scholar Suliman Bashear argued that Islam developed as a religion gradually rather than emerging fully formed from the mouth of the Prophet, he was injured after being thrown from a second-story window by his students at the University of Nablus in the West Bank."

Well, our differences haven't quite come to that.

thanks to

Maybe there's hope!

The LA Times reports on a growing number of stand-up comics among evangelical Christians. These comedians find audiences willing to laugh at some of the distinctive foibles of their own traditions. If all sides in our ongoing strife could laugh a bit at themselves, then Yes, maybe there's hope!

One example from Christian comedian Thor Ramsey:

"There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be a born-again Christian. It's pretty simple, really. You just bow your head, say a simple prayer, and when you open your eyes you're a registered Republican with a firearm."

OK, who can offer some good Liberal jokes??  Please send us a note!

Do you want to go back in time??

To wander through earlier headlines and links:

bulletfrom April, 2002
bulletfrom February, 2002
bulletfrom January, 2002
bulletfrom 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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