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Notes from your WebWeaver
(archive 2)

A time for truth


"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
                Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of John 8:32

"There is nothing so powerful as truth - and often nothing so strange."

Well, that may have been the sentiment of Daniel Webster, the great American statesman, lawyer, and orator, but these days it begins to look like it's the lies to hold power, and telling the truth can get you in trouble. Just ask some of the whistle-blowers in Washington. Just heed the warnings from Washington that any criticism of U.S. policy may well be seen as disloyalty, even treason.

But maybe it's time for us - all of us - to start trying to tell the truth. It won't be easy for most of us. We're just not used to it.

We've gotten so used to lies that they are destroying the delicate social fabric that binds us together as a nation, as a global community ... and even as a church. It's time for a change.

The lies come from those famous "highest sources" in Washington, and from leaders of other nations as they cooperate (for reasons of their own) with our leaders. And the habit of untruthfulness seems to be part of what finally drove the Presbytery of Western North Carolina to withdraw its validation of the ministry of the Rev. Parker Williamson with the Presbyterian Lay Committee and the Layman. (But it seems we're so used to untruthfulness ... and it's so hard to consider it an offense ... that the stated reasons for not validating his ministry dealt with other things entirely.)

But wait a minute here. Is it enough to fling charges of lying only against those with whom we disagree? If our current president has established an impressive record for deception, let's remember that his predecessor was no champion truth-teller. (Though the things he worked hard to cover up were of considerably less consequence than the lies of the present administration. They didn't cost us taxpayers as much, either.)

If Parker Williamson has used untruthful statements and has distorted reality by his "interpretation" of events and issues, he is not entirely alone. If anything is to be done toward the healing of our church, it might well begin with our joint confession that we all are guilty of concealing truth, distorting reality, and just plain making things up - almost always for what we consider very good reasons.

Why do we lie? Well, there's no end of reasons:

Sometimes we tell untruths because we are mistaken. If you ask me what time it is an my watch is slow, I may tell you an untruth simply by mistake. Something to be avoided, certainly, but not a lie.

Then sometimes we tell lies out of simple decency - those famous "white lies." Whether it's telling someone they look just fine when they really don't, or telling a patient he or she will be OK when sometimes we know they won't - untruths like this maybe be necessary and appropriate, because they're motivated by concern for the other - compassion, if you will - rather than for our own self-interest.

But then again there are the big juicy, heavy-duty lies we tell precisely for our own self-interest: distorting reality to convince people of the rightness of our point of view (making up evidence, as for invading a country), to conceal our own faults and failures (denying things we've done with White House interns), or simply shaping the "facts" on a resumé to improve our chances of getting a job.

OK, we've all done it. My first memory of telling a lie is still vivid. I was in second grade, I think. When I got to school one morning my teacher asked for a paper I was supposed to bring from home, and I was appalled to realize I had forgotten to give it to my mother to fill out. (Certainly not the last time I forgot something!) I made up some excuse - something better than "My dog ate it," I hope! But my teacher very gently suggested that I walk home during lunch hour to get it. (This was long, long ago, when kids walked to school.) So I trudged home and had to dig the paper out of wherever I'd left it, and give it to my mother, admitting what had happened. I trudged back to school weighed down with the awareness of having done something far more serious than forgetting a paper, when I lied about it.

I remember even more vividly a couple years later, when two boys in my neighborhood had been picking on me on the walk home from school. Then one day they invited to walk with them. We talked about this or that - and I felt so happy about being accepted. Then they stopped along the way. One of them kept talking, and suddenly he gave me a push so I fell back ward over the other guy who had knelt down behind me. It hurt - on my butt, but even more in my heart, because my trust had been betrayed by that simple deception.

Lying is something we've all done, and we'll all had it done to us. We know it hurts us as individuals, and even more it tears the delicate threads that keep us together in some kind of community. So maybe it's time to think seriously about telling the truth.

But to borrow a line from Pontius Pilate, "what is truth?"

The Mennonites, for whom truth-telling is tied up with their refusal to take an oath, offer a profoundly simple definition: "In the biblical languages, truth is related to faithfulness - faithfulness to the facts (speaking truth) as well as faithfulness in relationships (being true). Speaking the truth in love in the Christian community shows our commitment to right relationships as well as to accurate speech." (Mennonite Confession of Faith, commentary on article 20.)

So truthfulness means being faithful - both to the facts and to our relationships in community. We will let our words be shaped by our best perception of what are the "real facts," and by our commitments to one another (and compassion for one another) in community.

That's very different from the idea that "speaking the truth" means declaring whatever doctrines or ideologies we hold to be true. Too often (as we are seeing in Washington and in our churches) people seem to feel they have told the truth when they have stated a few propositions that support the ideological commitments they have already made. "Facts be damned" seems to be the attitude, for the "facts" are simply tools to bolster whatever religious or political ideology needs to be realized. Lying seems justified when it is for the sake of "Truth" with a capital "T."

But perhaps we (all of us) need to learn a little humility. We can learn from the sciences that it's helpful to humble ourselves before the facts as best we can see them. And it's wise to be humble, too, as we recognize that we never have a lock on all the facts, let alone the "truth" behind them.

Finally, our faith teaches us that there's an element of mystery in all truth. As we learn to respect that mystery, we will grow in our truthfulness - and in our tolerance of others whose "truth" may be very different from our own.

In that humility, we might again become a more whole and more healthy community of faith.

We'd like to hear what you think -- if anything!
Please just send a note
and we'll share it here.

The first comments follow:

Comments on "A Time for Truth"   [3-4-04]

We have received a number of comments about our recent thoughts on truth-telling, including one thoughtful one which the author ask not to be published, and one which was anonymous, and in line with our custom, we will not publish it unless the author asks for a special dispensation.

But the others are interesting:


RE: Truth telling

a note from Brian Jordan  [posted 3-6-04]

Cogent and fantastic piece. The lack of focus on core ideals such as Truth, Love and Honor is exactly what calls into question the fabric of the community of which we are all a part. Our loss of focus and the failure of each of us to demand of our leaders to be treated with the respect expected in a relationship is exactly why we suffer under a national malaise and produce succeeding generations that are each more cynical than the last.

There are ways to right the course and Doug you are right on target. It starts at home with each of us testifying to the power of the ideal in each of our lives and relationships.

Denominationally, we too must continue unabated in our crusade to shed the light of truth into the darkness of bureaucracy.

Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters do that which Christ beckons all of us to do - they profess the truth of their own hearts. Yet, our denomination refuses to set them free to lead worship and follow the Light of the call that echoes in their very being.

In this way, we are denominationally legislating against the Truth, against Love, and without an Honor that is incumbent on each of us to bear as a child of God.

Yes, lets go forth with the Truth - ensuring that the ideal - itself - is not corrupted by personal interpretations of morality that fly in the face of Her Love. With Truth as our Compass, Love as our Guide and clothed in Honor there is little we cannot accomplish.

The Truth will set you free. Amen.

Brian Jordan


Dear Webweaver,

I for one, appreciate not only the content of the article, but the spirit with which it was written. The mystery of truth, indeed. And the need for humility. From our President on down. From the least to the greatest (as was said of Nineveh in the great parable from Jonah). Maybe God will be gracious, after all our dust and ashes.

John Kleinheksel,

Honorably Retired, Monmouth Presbytery, NJ


In this day and age, it seems to me that once again Christians should look to the old adage,' What would Jesus do.' I don't believe that he ever told a lie, that too then should be our goal.


Rebecca Cambier-Hewlett RN


Your attempt to link Parker Williamson and the Presbyterian Lay Committee to "lying" is despicable. You know, or ought to know if you've done your homework, that on many occasions the Presbyterian Layman has been examined by individuals, committees and judicatories that are, shall we say, not in sympathy with what it is publishing, and in no instance (save one minor misstatement that was immediately corrected) has any instance of inaccuracy or "lying" been uncovered.

You can be sure it would have been widely reported had any variances from the truth been discovered in these witch hunts.

But with your article you perpetuate the convenient fiction which is, itself, a "lie." Sort of like the old saw that, "If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth."

Shame on you!!

Warren B. Howe, MD
Bellingham, WA 98226


Anybody else??
Please send your thoughts,
and we'll share them here.

The Layman says we're a "special interest group" -
so what should be our interests?


A few weeks ago The Layman Online did us the honor of labeling the Witherspoon Society as a "special-interest group." We were cited especially for having "vilified" the Presbytery of San Diego - or at least its adoption of "Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives" for use in directing the preparation and examination of candidates for ministry.

We're in good company, though. Former Moderator Herbert Valentine sent an e-mail note adding his critical views of the San Diego effort to enforce a new orthodoxy, and we posted it along with a through commentary by Witherspoon Issues Analyst Gene TeSelle.

Click here for more responses.

First I was bemused at being accused of vilification by real experts, but that led me to think about what it means to be a "special-interest group." That term is used in church politics, as in secular politics, as a condemnation (a vilification, perhaps?) - and for good reason. To be involved in a political process working only for one's own limited interests is to ignore the wider needs of the whole group. The examples that come to mind are overwhelming: the giant corporations that manipulate the U.S. government - even into war - for their own profits; church organizations whose primary commitment is not to the church, but to their own vision of a purer, more righteous church in accordance with their own narrow definitions. (See for instance that document from San Diego.)

So what about Witherspoon; are we just another special interest group? Well, yes, there's truth in that. We too play a role in the political processes of our Presbyterian Church on the basis of our own particular commitments to the church's mission to seek justice, and build peace, and move our church toward a more open and inclusive way of being the church. And indeed, we're sometimes in danger of forgetting other aspects of the church's life and mission in the world. But we try to remember that we are not the whole church, and we don't have the whole truth. We have our vocation, if you will, within the wider mission of the church. And we try to fulfill that mission as faithfully - and as creatively, and courageously (for it does take a bit of courage these days!) - as we can.

So tell us your interests!

But speaking of special interests, and of a defined mission within our church, I'd like to invite you, our members, to ponder a question: What should be the particular focus (or foci, if you don't want to be too narrow!) of our mission in these difficult days? Our Executive Committee will be meeting in September for three days of visioning and planning. It would help us greatly to hear from you about things to which we should pay attention: issues, theological ideas, ways of working both locally and nationally, projects - what can you suggest as we plan for the coming year, and the years beyond?

Just send an e-mail note to, or a letter to Doug King, 1418 Clarendon Drive, Wayzata, MN 55391. I promise I'll pass everything along to the whole group as soon as I can!

Please let us hear from you!

Restorative justice can teach us about being ambassadors for the reconciling Christ ... and vice versa


This essay, in slightly different form, constitutes the "Editor's Spot" in the Spring 2002 issue of Network News, which will soon be in the mail to Witherspoon members, and to all commissioners and advisory delegates to the 214th General Assembly.

The topic of restorative justice will be on the Assembly agenda, in the form of a resolution and report on the topic, which will be referred to Committee 12, on National Issues. You can download the full set of material for that committee in pdf format; it's item 4, pages 6 through 10 of the document. A more complete 20-page discussion of the Biblical and theological foundations of restorative justice, along with contemporary realities, can also be downloaded. They're well worth looking at.

For more resources -- from around the world -- on restorative justice   [5-27-02]

If you want more information on the subject of restorative justice, you may want to check out a very helpful (not to mention somewhat massive) index of web sites dealing with restorative justice. It includes sites representing organizations around the world, some church-related, some government or academic in their sponsorship, others apparently independent.

Whatever you'd like to learn about the theory or the practice of restorative justice around the world, you should find it here!

The theme of the 214th General Assembly reminds us that we are called to be "ambassadors for Christ" - for the reconciling Christ whom Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians. One Bible study prepared on the theme seems to claim that reconciliation is something that can be accomplished only by Christ, and leaves us the role of merely proclaiming what has already happened.

Two things lead me to suggest another view: That the Christian calling is not simply to proclaim reconciliation, but to work for it.

First, it seems to me that any ambassador from one nation to another is expected to do far more than simply proclaim the views of his or her nation to another nation. The ambassador works at developing understanding, and seeks creative ways to resolve differences between the two nations. Perhaps the terrible events in Israel/Palestine today are due in part to a failure of good ambassadorial efforts from the United States and others. Merely proclaiming is not enough. There must be active efforts to resolve conflicts.

And second, I look at this question in light of my own experience over the past few years in a community justice program in the county where I live in Minnesota. I signed on as a volunteer mediator in the county's victim-offender conferencing program, went through a lengthy training period, and have been awed to see what reconciliation can mean in the trenches of everyday suburban crime.

The program brings offenders together with their victims to seek ways to undo some of the damage that has been done by an act of vandalism, perhaps, or even a more serious felony-class act of theft or assault. I have been moved to see so many victims show real concern for the people (often teenagers, but not always) who have damaged their property, or threatened them, or even harmed them physically.

Of course it doesn't always work that way. I met with one victim whose carefully-tended front yard had been torn up by a car-load of joy-riding boys; he began our meeting by declaring, "I don't want justice. I want blood!" That case didn't get very far.

But restorative justice can work -

bulletwhen both parties are willing to listen respectfully to each other, without interrupting or blaming or threatening;
bulletwhen the offender is willing to take responsibility, express regret, apologize, and find some way to make up for the harm that has been done;
bulletwhen the victims are willing the share their feelings of pain, fear, anxiety, resentment ... without aiming a load of hostility at the person who caused those feelings.

Then amazing things happen: One couple had been approached on a dark street one night and threatened with a gun by a couple boys out looking for something to do. The gun was an air-gun, but the couple didn't know that, and were truly thinking they would be killed. The two boys were remorseful, and said so in their mumbling way. Then slowly the two victims realized that one of the boys had recently lost his sister in an auto accident, and that part of his attitude reflected his rage over her death. Then the victims could tell how upsetting the incident had been to them, because one of their own daughters had recently died. Suddenly we two mediators were watching two victims and two offenders sitting together as if the rest of us weren't in the room - sharing pain that went far deeper than anyone had known was there. And the victims began searching with the two boys for ways they - the "victims"! - might really help them change the direction of their lives. It was a shared project, not a confrontation but a joint venture in starting life anew.

So when we talk about restorative justice in this 214th General Assembly, let's be aware of what miracles can happen when people are willing to listen, to respect one another, to stop blaming, and to seek together the kind of true justice that can restore life - that can make reconciliation a reality.

Yes, reconciliation is indeed a gift. But it is also a calling, a ministry, a mission. Let's not simply proclaim it; let's do it. In our society. In our conflicted and violent world. And, yes, even in our church.

Is it really a matter of "conservative rage" in contest with "liberal guilt"?


A recent op-ed essay in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Sunday, January 21, 2001) reviewed the very different ways Democrats and Republicans have dealt with recent political events.

The writer suggests that conservatives tend to think and act on the basis of a world view in which things are clearly divided between good and evil, black and white. They suffer from no self-doubt, but are motivated by an honest rage at the evils they deplore.

Liberals, on the other hand (the left one, presumably), see the world as a more complex matter of varying shades of grey. They see themselves as less than pure, but they nevertheless struggle to make the world a better place. They favor tolerance and diversity.

In case you haven't caught on, this is not a purely unbiased view of our political climate. But it raises some good questions for us, both about our national life and about the right-left tensions of the Presbyterian Church.

So what do you think?? Your WebWeaver invites your comments, which may be as critical of the author (David Morris, of Minneapolis, who is vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance) as you wish. I will assume, unless you state otherwise, that you would like your comments to be shared here. Please include your name with your note.

So let's talk!  Please send a note.

doug king

Greetings at Christmas

The most ambiguous night of the year?

December 23, 2000

I've always been struck, and often moved, by the line in "O Little Town of Bethlehem" that says that in that backwater place, on that night so long ago, "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

Though we do our best to cover it up, Christmas is surely a time of fear as well as of hope. Awe and wonder, dread in the dark night, the shepherds' fear of the angels ... all these are updated for us as we watch children's eagerness mix with panic when they wait in line to climb on Santa's lap at the mall.

Our culture today, like any culture in any age, does what it can to tame that wild night. We make it into a time to celebrate a "jolly old elf" with twinkling lights and mistletoe (but no longer at office parties!). Or in more steadfastly religious circles, we shrink God's wild Christmas venture into a cool, apparently rational doctrine of incarnation.

But this is indeed a time when we're flung headlong into God's wild irrational love, as we tell again the story (not a doctrine, a story -- with all the depth and breadth and mystery and ambiguity that only a good story can convey) of God's getting right into our human skin, of all heaven's breaking loose in the singing of angels and the dancing of stars.

What does this wild night say to us in these days, as we face the troubles of our nation, our world, our church?

To me it say that maybe we are letting ourselves be troubled, as Mary was troubled, with good reason. But we're troubled about the wrong things.

Many of us are anxious to defend the purity of our faith, in the form of rationally defined doctrines and statements of belief. And this season reminds us that the awesome mystery of God shines in the dark night, glowing far beyond the dim rational formulas that we've concocted to make sense of a God who stretches far beyond our sense-making capacities.

Many of us are struggling against the continuing reign of injustice and prejudice and oppression in the world, and in our church. And the dark night that we remember in this season -- and the countless dark nights and days that followed -- remind us that pain and evil are woven through all of life, and we're never going to make them go away. And that we are not alone in the eternal struggle to overcome them.

Many of us are seeking restlessly, relentlessly for our own happiness -- maybe personal fulfillment or wealth, or power, or even some kind of salvation. And the babe born that dark night grew up to teach us, and to show us in his own living and dying, that real life comes to those who live for something beyond themselves and their own private interests. Real life comes to those -- and through those -- who are willing to give up their lives, even for their enemies.

So what kind of greeting can we share with one another at this Christmas time?

Merry Christmas doesn't quite reflect the radical depth of what we're remembering and even celebrating.

So ...

May peace be within us and among us in this troubled time.

May peace be a leaven working through our conflicted churches and nations and world.

May we grow silent before the wonder of a love that touches and transforms all of us.

May we be given eyes to see the light shining in the darkness.

May we gain the courage to follow that light down whatever surprising and wondrous ways it may lead us.

May peace -- a true, just peace -- be with us all in this Christmas time.

From your WebWeaver,

Doug King

Click here for a couple earlier essays from your WebWeaver

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.

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
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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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© 2011 by Presbyterian Voices for Justice.  All material on this site is the responsibility of the WebWeaver unless other sources are acknowledged.  Unless otherwise noted, material on this site may be copied for personal use and sharing in small groups.  For permission to reproduce material for wider publication, please contact the WebWeaver, Doug King.  Any material reached by links on this site is outside the control and responsibility of the WebWeaver and Presbyterian Voices for Justice.  Questions or comments?  Please send a note!