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Presbyterians urged to register for Ecumenical Advocacy Days

from the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), February 22, 2009

The eighth annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days gathering will take place in Washington DC March 19-22, 2010.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) helped to found this event and continues to provide leadership, each year registering over 100 participants, including many youth and young adult attendees.  Presbyterians attending Advocacy Days will have several opportunities for denominational networking and community-building, including a lunchtime meeting on Saturday and a dinner on Saturday night.
The theme for this year's conference is "A Place to Call Home:  Immigrants, Refugees, and Displaced Peoples".  Policy makers, expert speakers and representatives from global regions will join church leaders and grassroots activists in reflecting on this theme, while a variety of workshops and training sessions will focus on shaping U.S. immigration and refugee policies and doing advocacy at home on these topics.  The program will also include visits to Capitol Hill and meetings with Members of Congress and their staffs.
Speakers and preachers confirmed to date include:
bulletThe Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships;
bulletBishop Minerva Carcaño of the United Methodist Church Desert Southwest Conference; and
bulletSister Helen Prejean, Anti-Death Penalty Activist and author of Dead Man Walking.
In addition, D. Paul Monteiro, Associate Director of the White House Office on Public Engagement, will be speaking at the Presbyterian Dinner, Saturday, March 20th, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a program of the ecumenical Christian community and its recognized partners and allies which is grounded in biblical witness and shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation.  Its goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen the Christian voice of citizens mobilized for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues.
Registration and more information about Ecumenical Advocacy Days is at on the Web.  You may also contact Mary Cooper at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office,, if you have specific questions.
Don’t Forget to Register for Ecumenical Advocacy Days     [2-12-09]
From Witness in Washington Weekly, published by the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), February 11, 2009

Register Now for Ecumenical Advocacy Days - "Enough for All Creation" - March 13-16

"The Thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Join us at the 7th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days, as we explore ways to bring about a world with Enough for All Creation. Learn about the connections between climate change, migration and poverty in the U.S. and around the world. Come together with faith-based advocates and activists from across the United States in the nation's capitol March 13-16 as we discuss the abundance of our world and how it can be allocated in a way that is fair and just for all creation.

We live in an increasingly interconnected world and have an enormous impact on each other and creation. As the earth's temperature rises we see a strain on resources. Food, while plentiful for some, is desperately scarce for others. Lack of clean water makes children sick and burdens women. Global warming and growing resource deprivation forces some people to migrate and others to wage war over food, water and oil. Our increasingly co-dependent economies lift a few individuals up to great heights while keeping others living lives of destitution.

This year, Presbyterian delegates will again have the opportunity to gather for dinner on Saturday night, as well as for lunch and a special “denominational” time earlier that day. Don’t miss it!

For more information and registration go to

A letter to Obama calls for human rights action

Human rights leader and professor urges Obama: “.... you must act quickly and decisively if you are to get human rights back on track.”    [11-20-08]

Julie Mertus is a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, a professor at American University, and the author of the award-winning book Bait and Switch: Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy (2nd ed. 2008). She is also a member of Towson (MD) Presbyterian Church.

She urges in president-elect to take four concrete steps to restore the standing of the U.S. as a supporter of human rights:

bullet“Create a relationship with U.S.-based human rights organizations.”
bullet“Repair your relationship with human rights bodies at the United Nations.”
bullet“Do something that unequivocally demonstrates that the United States will no longer act as if it is above international law.”
bullet“In your first week in office, get out your pen and begin signing some long overdue international human rights treaties.”

For the full text of her letter >>

Thanks to Witherspoon member Mary Louise Ellenberger,
of Glen Arm, Maryland, for this suggestion.

Pondering a Forbidden Possibility

Gene TeSelle takes on a subject that's being discussed frequently, but that many of us would prefer to ignore:  The many expressions of hatred toward president-elect Barack Obama and those who support him, based largely on racial resentments and fears.

TeSelle views these threats as part of a wider effort to "delegitimize" Obama as the newly elected leader of the U.S.

We encourage you to read his essay, consider how well it does or doesn't match your own impressions of our society today, and offer thoughts about ways communities of faith might respond to this climate of fear and threat.

Greed gets blamed for our Wall Street woes – but hey, is it really that bad?     [10-2-08]

Everybody is blaming greed for our current financial crisis. But if you’d like to think a little more deeply about the subject of greed, you might take a look at a blog on the Utne website, which gathers together bits from a number of perspectives, and links you to them the original sources – including Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, and Dr. Rebecca Blank, who says in an interview on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly that greed does have its value, too.

Click here for the story and the links >>

America’s values are changing — and will change our politics    [9-18-08]

Writing on the Op Ed page of the New York Times, Mark Mellman, who is a Democratic pollster, says:

Voters not only express a desire for change in the coming election, they themselves have changed, and their shifting values are likely to alter the course of future policy debates.

For more than 25 years, three core questions have animated our political discourse:

• What should be the role of government?

• Should moral absolutism or moral relativism guide our actions?

• Should our foreign policy primarily pursue unilateral interest through military power or a multilateral approach grounded in diplomacy?

Almost every major policy controversy in the past quarter-century involved at least one of these fundamental values; more often than not, conservatives prevailed by convincing Americans that their positions were in sync with voters’ ideals.

But it could be different in 2009 and beyond. Public commitments have shifted, most profoundly on the role of government, but also on morality and unilateralism — transforming the trajectory future policy disputes will follow.      The rest of his essay >>

Has McCain been studying Napoleon on scamming working people?     [9-9-08]

Berry Craig, long-time Witherspoon member and frequent contributor to this website, has just sent an interesting reflection on John McCain’s use of religion to oppose labor rights – and compares him to Napoleon in the process.   His essay >>

Two comments to brighten the current campaign

Two friends have shared with us this observation. One reports seeing it as a bumper sticker, the other as a comment from a community organizer:

Jesus was a community organizer.
Pontius Pilate was a Governor.

And a for a painfully funny little video in the style of the “jib-jabbing” of a couple years ago, take a look at “It’s time for some campaignin’ ”

With John McCain’s choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, 'creation science' enters the race  [8-29-08]

In October, 2006, the Anchorage Daily News reported on Republican Sarah Palin’s affirmation that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms.   Here's the story >>

Thanks to John Shuck, and to The Clergy Letter Project, for calling attention to this interesting bit of background.

Washington Report to Presbyterians July-August issue highlights ...

The Hospitality of Housing Policy    [8-29-08]

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house? - Isaiah 58:6-7a

The stories of the Hebrew Bible place a tremendous emphasis on the idea of place – of having a place to call home. It is not such a surprise, really – it is a collection of stories produced by the descendants of people who wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Of course home was important to them. And likewise, the concept of hospitality, of inviting others into their homes, was a foundation of society, because they had once been strangers / sojourners / resident aliens / immigrants / refugees, and they knew what it felt like to be strangers in a strange land.

Likewise, hospitality returns as a central theme in the ministry of Jesus, the length of which is marked by acts of hospitality. His hospitality knows no bounds as he welcomes those at the margins of society. He shares meals and communes with those to whom no one else will even speak. The conduct of his own ministry is dependent upon the hospitality of others. Think of all the events that take place in people’s homes. Both the hospitality of Jesus and the hospitality that Jesus receives are pervasive and enabling throughout the Gospels.

The Rationale for the 218th General Assembly’s (2008) new statement, “From Homelessness to Hope” discusses God’s hospitality:

God makes a home and a place for all at the table, but humans, through sin, have excluded particular groups of people… Due to human sin, hospitality too often becomes a matter of sharing our crumbs rather than offering an abundant loaf… In contrast, true hospitality is equated with justice. Each person is provided not only a chair and a meal, but a bed and a place of shelter, indeed the opportunity to become an ongoing part of the community. True hospitality requires emancipation of slaves and economic redistribution, so all may find a place to be at home.    Click here for the full GA statement >> 

Certainly, the question of hospitality for the stranger is a question for the church, but what about U.S. national policy? The question of U.S. hospitality is the concern of this Washington Report to Presbyterians. Whether the issues concern immigration and family reunification, refugee policy, or the homelessness and affordable housing crisis at home, U.S. policies have much for which to answer when it comes to hospitality.

The July-August issue of Washington Report to Presbyterians provides very helpful surveys of three areas in which Christians are discerning the call to welcome the stranger and the homeless:

bullet Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing
bullet The Plight of Immigrant Families
bullet Iraqi Refugees

Also -- plan for this event:

ECUMENICAL ADVOCACY DAYS – "Enough for All Creation”

The program for Ecumenical Advocacy Days (March 13-16, 2009) will focus on the world’s abundance and how it can be allocated to address concerns regarding climate change, immigration and migration, and poverty. Religious advocates and activists will gather in Washington DC for worship, issue briefings, workshops, advocacy skills training, and lobbying with Congress. Information and registration forms will be available soon at

And -- join the Washington Report e-list!

If you want to receive Washington Report to Presbyterians, just click here.  If you’d like to receive it electronically, send your name, mail address and email address to Members who subscribe electronically to Washington Report will also receive Witness in Washington Weekly, an online weekly update of legislation before Congress, with related Presbyterian policy and links to more information.

Mix of politics, religion appears a recipe for disaster

Peter S. Canellos, Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe, takes another look at the current mixing of religion with politics, and sees a fairly ugly picture. He begins:

The 2008 primary election campaign began with candidates scrambling to embrace religious leaders, and it's ending with candidates rushing to repudiate them. An election cycle that was supposed to usher in the marriage of religion and politics may be hastening its divorce.

From the evangelical ministers who questioned the fitness of a Mormon to be president, to the religious-right activists who denounced John McCain as godless, to the McCain-backing radio preacher who said Hitler was fulfilling God's will, to Barack Obama's longtime minister who blamed the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to Obama's Catholic adviser who last week mocked Hillary Clinton, the clergy haven't just made a bad show of it: They've behaved like small-minded bigots.

These preachers have managed the amazing feat of making all the politicians involved in the campaign seem, by comparison, more tolerant, more reasonable, and less self-interested.

What do you think?
Please send a note
with your own analysis of the faith-and-politics issue
as you see it today --
and we'll share it here.

Witness in Washington Weekly
April 21, 2008


Find helpful information for expressing your views to Congress on:

bulletusing diplomacy with other nations in the Middle East to move toward peace in Iraq
bulletsupporting equal pay for women
bulletshaping the still unconcluded Farm Bill debate

For more on any of these issues, click here, scroll down to the link for April 21, and download the newsletter in PDF format.

This very helpful newsletter is published by the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Isaiah 42:1-4 - The Servant, a Light to the Nations

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
   my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
   he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
   or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
   and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
   he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
   until he has established justice in the earth;
   and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a month away!    [2-11-08]

The 2008 Advocacy Days: Claiming a Vision of True Security is March 7 – 10. Don’t forget to register for Ecumenical Advocacy Days before the cost of registration increases on Feb. 15. Visit to register today. Room rates at the conference hotel will increase on the 11th. Please book them now! Visit the website above for more information.

This year’s conference promises to be an exciting event. The vision statement states, “As people of faith and hope, we believe our nation is entering – and must enter -- an era of renewal and re-creation. The conviction is now widespread that it is time to envision and act on a new pathway to true human security – one which seeks not only the absence of tension, but the presence of justice (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) The 2008 Ecumenical Advocacy Days assembly will explore new visions of security in our homes, neighborhoods, nation and world.”  More information below >>

Wars, Lies, and Google   [1-23-08]

I use Google’s News service to get a fresh page of news headlines on my laptop every day, updated through the day. I get reports on US and international news, medicine, business, the arts and entertainment (today, yet again, featuring Britney Spears), the PCUSA, and various other topics. This morning’s news provided a trio of stories right next to each other, that I feel compelled to share with you all.

First, the New York Times report headlined:

Web Site Assembles U.S. Prewar Claims

Students of how the Bush administration led the nation into the Iraq war can now go online to browse a comprehensive database of top officials’ statements before the invasion, connecting the dots between hundreds of claims, mostly discredited since then, linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda or warning that he possessed forbidden weapons.

The database is online at
The rest of the Times' story >>

Just below that was the headline from Alaska Report, leading a brief report on the same database.  The headline -- a little less subtle than the Times', read:

Bush administration officially called liars over Iraq

And in the column right next to them was the headline for a very long Wall Street Journal article by Norman Podhoretz, one of the leading “neo-con” figures behind Administration policies for invading Iraq, next Iran, and then who knows? He is Editor-at-Large of Commentary magazine. His new book is entitled World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism.

His opinion column is titled:

Stopping Iran
Why the case for military action still stands.

The full essay >>

Ah, the wonders of the World Wide Web.

Bigotry is an ugly word.

Rabbi Jack Moline, The Board Chair of The Interfaith Alliance, offers some cautions on the way legitimate concerns about the faith of presidential candidates are easily being exploited into scurrilous attacks. Those attacks, he says, are often effective because they exploit the bigotry that is still part of our national culture.

One Nation, Many Faiths.
Vote 2008

Click here for the Interfaith Alliance website.

Bigotry is an ugly word, beyond prejudice and stereotype. So I want to make it clear that I have chosen it purposely, knowing that some people who read this message will be insulted. To be clear again: the insult is intentional.

Religious belief has emerged as a central issue in the campaign for president, though it has been just below the surface for many years in local, state and national contests. As the chair of The Interfaith Alliance and as a congregational rabbi in Virginia, I have a particular interest in this issue. It is right and proper to understand what role deeply-held convictions will play in the decision-making of a candidate for public office. A candidate who makes a point of his or her religious life should be expected to respond to questions about the intersection of public policy and the tenets of a tradition. Virginia's current governor, a devout Catholic, addressed just such questions surrounding the state's death penalty.

Likewise, integrity and credibility ought to be central to public service. While it is not always the case, in the race for president, there is ample evidence in each candidate's record that the men and woman running for the highest office in the land have little to hide. Moreover, what little there may be to hide is almost certain to be ferreted out by responsible journalists and investigators. Recall the failed candidacy of Senator Gary Hart and the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew.

A phenomenon that violates both sensibilities while pretending to promote each one has emerged in a campaign that includes a group of candidates whose backgrounds are as diverse as America. Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Senator Barack Obama, who is part African and whose father and step-father were Muslim, have been subjected to wild speculations about the extreme nature of their true beliefs and accused publicly of concealing their genuine loyalties. Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton have been challenged on their "religious credentials." The kernel of accuracy in these public broadsides does not excuse the exaggerations, fabrications and manipulations of the truth within them. They constitute hate crimes and would be treated as such if leveled against you and me in our private lives.

Of greatest concern to The Interfaith Alliance is the fertile soil these attacks have found around the country. From my own vantage point within the Jewish community, I have seen my rabbinic colleagues asking about documents circulated by groups claiming to be disinterested politically that call into question the RELIGIOUS beliefs and identities of the candidates, with the overt purpose of frightening Jewish voters. The candidates, Republican and Democratic alike, have been accused of supporting proselytization from the White House, polygamy, Wahabi-sponsored terrorism, and the eventual disenfranchisement of Jews from the benefits of United States citizenship.

Generally written in breathless style and peppered with quotations from people of renown taken out of context, these attacks are as objectionable to people of conscience as the notorious "Sturmer" of pre-WWII Germany, which caricatured the Jews and "proved" their untrustworthiness and corrosive influence on society.

If you write such material, you are a criminal. If you distribute such material, you are an accomplice. And if you believe such obvious tripe, you are a bigot.

Support the candidate of your choice. Vote as if your life depended on it. Donate time, money and advocacy to the causes you endorse. But the life of the body politic is a dirty enough business as it is. Do not sully it further with sin of bearing false witness.

And now that I have insulted some of you, allow me to insult the rest of you: broadsides like these are being distributed because of the presumption that they will have resonance. Too many in this country have been thoroughly effective at communicating our distrust of Mormons, or Islam or atheists or evangelical Christians, the list goes on. The result is that political operatives sense fertile ground for exploiting our prejudices to their advantage. I ask that if you see similar materials distributed in your communities, let The Interfaith Alliance know so that we are prepared to respond when necessary.

We have some deep self-reflection to undertake. And we have some changes in behavior to consider. As I think about the history of the Jewish community, I recall that we felt secure only when reassured by the first president of the United States that America offers "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." Every faith community needs that reassurance. But the standard must be private as well as public.


Rabbi Jack Moline
Board Chair, The Interfaith Alliance

The Evangelical Rebellion  [12-24-07]

Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and is the author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, analyzes the rise of Mike Huckabee’s standing in the Republican primary campaign as showing “a seismic shift in the tactics, ideology and direction of the radical Christian right.”

He continues:

Huckabee may stumble and falter in later primaries, but his right-wing Christian populism is here to stay. Huckabee represents a new and potent force in American politics, and the neocons and corporate elite, who once viewed the yahoos of the Christian right as the useful idiots, are now confronted with the fact that they themselves are the ones who have been taken for a ride. Members of the Christian right, recruited into the Republican Party and manipulated to vote against their own interests around the issues of abortion and family values, are in rebellion. They are taking the party into new, uncharted territory. And they presage, especially with looming economic turmoil, the rise of a mass movement that could demolish what is left of American democracy and set the stage for a Christian fascism.

The full story >>

Why the Democrats could lose in 2008:
Pragmatism is not enough

Faith-based progressive groups such as the Network of Spiritual Progressives and Sojourners have been developing political voices proclaiming (in the tradition of the prophets) ridiculously unpragmatic values such as justice and decency and human rights and mutual respect. Now Robert Parry, author of the new book Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, is developing a very similar critique of the current campaigns of the Democratic Party candidates.

Voters want more than a few new (or revived) social programs, he argues. They want a clear reaffirmation of constitutional values and human rights, respect for the values of truth and accountability, and real steps toward peace.

He concludes: “More than anything, many in the Democratic base want to send a message to the Democratic leadership that –regardless of what the professional pollsters might say -- principles do matter to Americans.

The full essay >>

An Overdose of Public Piety     [12-14-07]

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer criticizes what he considers the excessive use of religious rhetoric in the current campaigns, noting that “there's nothing wrong with having a spirited debate on the place of religion in politics. But the candidates are confusing two arguments. The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life.”

He begins:

Mitt Romney declares, "Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." Barack Obama opens his speech at his South Carolina Oprah rally with "Giving all praise and honor to God. Look at the day that the Lord has made." Mike Huckabee explains his surge in the polls thus: "There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people."

This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN-YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" – and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

 The whole article >>

God, guns, gays, gambling and a gone governor

Are the old appeals losing their fright value?

By Berry Craig

Mayfield, KY. -- It was almost election day, and Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky's Republican governor, was way behind in the polls.

Some of the GOP faithful rallied in Lexington, his hometown. They were hungry for rhetorical red meat. They got a big hunk of homophobia.

"Do you want a couple of San Francisco treats, or do you want to reelect Gov. Ernie Fletcher?" the Louisville Courier-Journal Internet blogsite quoted Robbie Rudolph, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Of course, the crowd got the implication: the Democratic ticket is gay.

It isn't.

Rudolph had to know that. But he figured the homosexual innuendo would pay off on election day.

It didn't.

Fletcher and Rudolph lost by almost 184,000 votes.

"I don't think the Three Gs resonate in this state like they did in the past," said Charles Wells, a Kentucky labor and Democratic Party leader. He meant God, guns and gays.

"I think a lot of people have come to realize that they are being duped and manipulated by politicians who use these so called 'values' issues to get elected," Wells said. "Even people of faith understand now that they are being taken advantage of."

The governor-elect is Steve Beshear. The lieutenant governor will be state Sen. Dan Mongiardo. They ran as moderate Democrats, at least by Kentucky standards, polling almost 59 percent of the vote to about 41 percent for their opponents.

Fletcher and Rudolph campaigned as "family values" Christian conservatives. They are for God and guns. They are against gay rights.

Fletcher added a fourth "G," gambling. He doesn't want casinos.

An ex-lay minister, Fletcher must have hoped the Three Gs -- make that Four Gs - would cause voters to forget he is evidently the only Kentucky governor indicted while in office.

The voters remembered.

"The election was clearly a repudiation of Fletcher, who was seriously damaged by a scandal over his administration's hiring abuses in the state merit system," said the Courier-Journal, the state's largest newspaper. "Fletcher refused to testify before a grand jury, was indicted on three misdemeanor counts -- later dismissed -- and pardoned those around him who had been charged."

From start to finish, Fletcher trailed Beshear in every opinion poll. The closer the race got to election day, the harder he ran on God and gays.

A day before Kentuckians went to the polls, the governor ordered a copy of the Ten Commandments "and other historical documents" displayed in the state Capitol in Frankfort. At the same time, the GOP revved up the gay-baiting.

The Fletcher campaign pounced on a state gay and lesbian rights group's endorsement of the Beshear-Mongiardo ticket. State Rep. Stan Lee, the Republican candidate for attorney general, joined Rudolph in branding Beshear and Mongiardo "San Francisco treats," Joe Gerth, a Courier-Journal reporter, wrote on the newspaper's blog.

Lee lost by more than 213,000 votes to Jack Conway, the Democratic winner. Conway got more than 60 percent of the vote to less than 40 percent for Lee.

The state GOP backed up Rudoph and Lee's double-barreled bigotry with a flood of automated "robo calls" linking Beshear to the gay rights group. Gerth got one.

He heard the recorded voice of Pat Boone, the famous 50s crooner who is a conservative Christian and a Republican. "Boone told me that he is concerned about the upcoming governor's race and that I should vote for Ernie Fletcher," Gerth wrote. He quoted Boone: "[Fletcher's] opponent is so ultra-liberal, he has just been enthusiastically endorsed by C-Fair, a prominent gay rights advocacy group. Do you really want Kentucky to become another San Francisco?"

Other Kentucky phones rang with similar robo calls. "For the first time in 20 years the homosexual lobby proudly endorses a candidate for governor, Steve Beshear," the message said. "Beshear is receiving major support from out-of-state gay activists."

The Fletcher campaign denied any connection to these calls, the source of which is still a mystery.

Wells thinks the robo calls -- from Boone and from whomever else -- backfired, further energizing already pumped-up Democrats and possibly causing some moderate Republicans to vote for Beshear, too.

"I know plenty of Republicans who are hanging onto their party affiliation by a thread," claimed a post on BluegrassReport, probably the most widely read Kentucky political blog site. "Pronouncements such as these by Rudolph and Stan 'I am not an extremist' Lee should induce them to sever ties once and for all."

I wouldn't bet the farm that "family values" Republicans like Rudolph and Lee -- and some conservative Democrats -- will stop pandering to Kentuckians' prejudices.

But maybe this election means that most of our citizens don't think bigotry is a "family value." And maybe the next time a Bluegrass State politician is tempted to pander he might ponder "One Term Ern," the Democrats' nickname for Fletcher that came true on election day.

-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. He and his wife, Melinda, are members of the Witherspoon Society.

Another lament for the U.S.A.

Where have all the leaders gone?   [10-31-07]

Remember Lee Iacocca, the man who rescued Chrysler Corporation from death throes? He recently published a book with the title above. Here are a few choice lines:

Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening?

Where the hell is our outrage?

We should be screaming bloody murder.

We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car.

But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course"

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies.

While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions.

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.

These are times that call for leadership.

But when you look around, you've got to ask: "Where have all the leaders gone?" Where are the curious, creative communicators?

Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, competence, and common sense? I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo.

We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina.

Excerpted from Where Have All the Leaders Gone?  Copyright (c) 2007 by Lee Iacocca. All rights reserved

Thanks to Jim Atwood


The Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

October 22, 2007   [posted here 10-22-07]

This week's issue brings some important messages and helpful resource material:

bullet Take Action: Support the JUBILEE ACT for debt relief in developing nations.
bullet A Fair Harvest - Urge Senators to Enact Meaningful Farm Bill Reform
bullet No Child Left Behind Act - Still not Reauthorized
bullet Free Thanksgiving Worship Resources from the National Council of Churches
bullet Isaiah 1:27-28 - Redeemed by Justice
Save the Date: March 7 - 10

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2008:
Claiming a Vision of True Security


Last year, nearly 900 participants gathered showing the strong commitment of the ecumenical community to seek justice through effective advocacy on public policy. In 2008, our conference theme: 2008: Claiming a Vision of True Security hopes to encourage broad participation and asks for movement toward a new vision of true human security – one which seeks not only the absence of tension, but the presence of justice (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

This new vision is based on a song of praise calling God’s children to trust in him, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but our trust in the name of our God" (Psalm 20:7, New King James Bible). In the language of today, Psalm 20:7 might read: Some trust in violence and take pride in technologies of war, and some in military power, but our trust is in the unfailing love and faithfulness of our saving God. The 2008 Ecumenical Advocacy Days assembly will call upon our government to conceive new visions of security in our homes, our neighborhoods and our world.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office has been a sponsor of Ecumenical Advocacy Days since its inception in 2003. Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community and its recognized partners and allies. The annual gatherings include plenary sessions and workshops organized into eight tracks: Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the United States, Global Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, and Global Security issues. Its goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen the Christian voice for a more just and peaceful world and to mobilize for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues.

Please save the dates on your calendar. More information on how to register will be available soon.

A Platform in Search of a Party    [8-16-07]

Witherspoon member Dr. Ray Heer has shared with us the results of his concern for our nation. Rather than expressing his outrage at the situation (and our political parties) today, he has tried to put on paper "a positive vision of policies for a better future." He has put it in the form of a "platform in search of a party," since he recognizes that no existing party is likely to adopt it. It reflects, he says, his effort to let his life "be influenced by the teachings of Jesus."

The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth     [6-27-07]

For anyone interested in where the American public really stands on the big issues that distinguish progressives from conservatives – including the issues at the forefront of today’s political debates – "The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America Is a Myth" offers hard facts and analysis based on decades of data from some of the nation’s most respected and nonpartisan public opinion researchers. This is the evidence that political leaders have a mandate to pursue bold, progressive policies.

This report by the Campaign for America’s Future and Media Matters for America shows that in study after study, solid majorities of Americans take progressive stands on a full spectrum of issues, from bread-and-butter economics to the so-called "values" issues where conservatives claim preeminence.

See some highlights of the report >>
Read the full report >>

Democratic candidates talk about faith

This past weekend was brightened (or burdened, depending on your point of view) by an important step in the current Presidential campaign. Initiated largely by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, the three leading Democratic candidates – Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards – appeared together on CNN, where each responded to several questions from journalists and religious leaders about the intersection of faith and politics. The stated topic was "Faith, Values and Poverty," reflecting Wallis’ conviction that poverty must be seen as the major issue in this campaign.

So, how did it go?

We bring you comments from Jim Wallis himself, Peter Steinfels of the New York Times, Brian Lewis wrote in the Springfield, MO, News-Leader, and Sister Joan Chittister -- with perhaps the most provocative of the responses.

Click here >>

Witness in Washington Weekly   [5-24-07]

This weekly bulletin, produced by the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), focuses this week on some issues about which the PC(USA) has stated policies, and which are now wending their way somewhere through the halls of Congress:

• Tell Your Members of Congress to Vote NO on Fast Track Renewal!

• Housing Vouchers: an important support for low-income families

• Stated Clerk's Letter to Congress Opposing Free Trade Agreements

• Clarification of Presbyterian Policy Related to the Supreme Court Ruling on Late Term Abortions

Here are the opening paragraphs of each of the items; to read the rest, Click here, and scroll down the page to that point.

Tell Your Members of Congress to Vote NO on Fast Track Renewal!

The 215th General Assembly (2003) asked the U.S. trade representative, U.S. senators and representatives, congressional committees with trade jurisdiction, and state legislators to oppose any extension of "Fast Track" Presidential Trade Negotiating Authority, which limits the role of Congress in negotiating or amending the terms of the FTAA and other proposed trade agreements."

Housing Vouchers: an important support for low-income families

In 1966, the 178th General Assembly of the UPCUSA "support[ed] the establishment of national programs of housing subsidies, . . . which would enable low-income families to obtain standard housing, give freedom in selecting their own units, and enable them to rely primarily on the private housing market to provide satisfactory housing" (Minutes, 1966, p. 382).


Stated Clerk's Letter to Congress Opposing Free Trade Agreements

TO: United States Congresspersons

Dear Congresspersons:

I am writing to you on behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to urge you to oppose the current Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) coming before Congress, which include the U.S.-Panama FTA, U.S.-Peru FTA, U.S.-Colombia FTA, and U.S.-Korea FTA. The 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.) declared its opposition to free trade agreements negotiated under the current trade model since these agreements fail to adequately protect workers’ rights, human rights, food security, and environmental standards. Nor do they extend to governments and indigenous peoples the ability to regulate corporations to protect the common good.

Clarification of Presbyterian Policy Related to the Supreme Court Ruling on Late Term Abortions

In the April 23, 2007 issue of Witness in Washington Weekly, the Washington Office informed readers about the Supreme Court decision Gonzales v. Carhart concerning late term abortions. The article has generated questions across the church about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s stance on abortion. The current policy on this matter includes:

"We affirm that the lives of viable unborn babies—those well-developed enough to survive outside the womb if delivered—ought to be preserved and cared for and not aborted. In cases where problems of life or health of the mother arise in a pregnancy, the church supports efforts to protect the life and health of both the mother and the baby. When late-term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive. We look to our churches to provide pastoral and tangible support to women in problem pregnancies and to surround these families with a community of care. We affirm adoption as a provision for women who deliver children they are not able to care for, and ask our churches to assist in seeking loving, Christian, adoptive families."- (Minutes of the 217th General Assembly (2006), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), p. 905.)

Fascist America??

Wolf's heart is in the right place but her head is elsewhere

By Berry Craig    [5-5-07]

I like Naomi Wolf’s books. But if a story posted elsewhere on the Witherspoon
website is an example of how she writes history, she should stick to other topics.
The headline is a grabber: "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps." The story is half-baked.
Wolf claims history proves it takes "10 steps" to turn a democracy into a dictatorship. "... Each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration," she added.


Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t vote for the Union-Buster-in-Chief (or his daddy). My candidate in 2000 was Al Gore, whom Wolf worked for.

Wolf’s heart is in the right place. Her head is somewhere else if she thinks "George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society."

Bush is not a big fan of the Bill of Rights (except for the Second Amendment).

But that doesn’t make him a Fascist.

Wolf would do well to lay off the "F" word when writing about the president. (There are some good substitutes at "George the Lesser," "Panderer-in-Chief" and "Toxic Texan" are my three favorites, with "Kennebunkport Kowboy" earning an honorable mention.)

History teaches that dictators grab power with bullets. American presidents get the keys to the White House with ballots, admittedly not all of them counted fairly. (Like Wolf, I haven’t forgotten Florida in ’00 and the "Family values means having your little brother steal the election for you" bumper stickers.)

Wolf’s story reminds me of loopy John Birch Society pamphlets somebody used to leave in my hometown post office. They said LBJ was turning America Communist.

More recently, anti-Bill Clinton bumper stickers had the letter "C" in Clinton morphed into a hammer-and-sickle.

Equating Bush with Fascism is just as ridiculous.

I've spent most of my adult life reading, writing and teaching history. History shows that Bush couldn't make us a dictatorship even if he wanted to. Nowhere on earth has a home-grown dictator closed down a long-running democracy like ours.

Before Lenin, Stalin and the Communists, divine right czars ran Russia for centuries. Hitler and the Nazis toppled the Weimar Republic, but it was short-lived. For most of its history, Germany was ruled by Kaisers, kings and Holy Roman emperors.

Mussolini and the Fascists grabbed power from a weak Italian parliament and a king who was less than enamored of democracy.

China wasn’t a democracy before it went Communist. Neither was Cuba, South Vietnam or what became North Korea.

Wolf’s story is filled with dubious historical comparisons. Probably the worst one is where she links the USA Patriot Act, bad as it is, to infamous German legislation that made Hitler dictator.

It took World War II to get rid of Hitler. In 2009, Dubya won't ring the White House with tanks and troops and refuse to go home. He will depart (hopefully succeeded by a candidate Wolf and I will back).

Wolf would do better to compare Bush to Presidents John Adams and Richard Nixon. Like Bush, Adams – dubbed "King John I" by his detractors – and Tricky Dick believed in government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. They also figured anybody who opposed their policies was unpatriotic.

Adams got Congress to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts. It became a crime to criticize the president.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were even worse than the Patriot Act. But they didn’t make Adams a dictator. They cost him his job.

Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801. The Alien and Sedition Acts went away, and the republic got stronger.

Like Adams and Bush, Nixon was obsessed with security. He got the government to spy illegally on Vietnam War protestors – he called them "bums" -- and drew up an "enemies list."

Facing almost certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon resigned in disgrace. Remember the "Jail to the Chief" buttons?

To be sure, between "King John I" and "George the Lesser," we have had other politicians –Democrats and Republicans -- who trod hard on our liberties.

Attorney Gen. A. Mitchell Palmer trumped up the "Great Red Scare" after World War I. Sen. Joe McCarthy resurrected Red-baiting after World War II.

Neither Palmer nor McCarthy made us a dictatorship. Like Nixon, they made the rogue’s gallery of American history.

My guess is history won’t be kind to Dubya either.

The voters weren’t last November. The Republicans wrapped themselves in Old Glory and implied that a Democratic sweep would be a victory for the terrorists. Republicans love to impugn the patriotism of the loyal – disloyal to Dubya – opposition.

The Democrats retook the House and Senate. Bush admitted the GOP got a "thumping."

I suspect the Patriot Act is on borrowed time.

Anyway, the '06 election was a headline-grabber. Wolf must have missed it, because she wrote, "Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny" in George W. Bush’s America. No doubt, whoever left the John Birchers’ fliers in the post office would have insisted he was a patriot, too, "… trying to hold back the tide of tyranny."

Implying, or saying flat-out, that a conservative like Bush is Fascistic is as asinine as implying, or saying flat out, that a liberal like Wolf is a Communist "fellow traveler" (The Birchers especially liked "fellow traveler" – "Comsymp," too.). Washington under Bush isn't going to become Berlin under Hitler or Rome under Mussolini, not by a long shot.

We are no more goose-stepping toward Fascism under Bush than we were marching toward Communism behind LBJ.

Real Fascists and Communists put pesky scribes like Wolf, union-activist history teachers and religious dissenters like Witherspooners behind barbed wire, or shoot them. Fascists and Communists make sure their guys don't get thumped at the polls.

Berry Craig is a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. He and his wife, Melinda, are members of the Witherspoon Society.

Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps    [4-25-07]

See a contrary point of view from Berry Craig, above.

A recent article in The Guardian/UK advances a harsh word of warning to the people of the United States: that this nation (or at least the current administration) is taking many of the steps toward dictatorship that we have seen before under such rulers as Hitler and Pinochet.

These "ten easy steps" include invoking e a terrifying internal and external enemy; creating a "gulag," a prison system outside the rule of law; developing a "thug caste" of private paramilitary forces, that we now call security contractors; setting up an internal surveillance system; harassing citizens’ groups; engaging in arbitrary detention and release; pressuring key individuals such as academics and civil servants to go along; controlling the media; equating dissent with treason; and suspending the rule of law.

Sound familiar? Yet this is a serious charge, and you may want to read the article and offer your own response. 
Just send a note, to be shared here.

The author, Naomi Wolf, has recently written The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, which will be published by Chelsea Green in September. A political activist, she worked with the Clinton team on his successful 1996 re-election campaign, and for Al Gore’s 2000 election bid. Wolf has written several other books, and is a co-founder of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership.

Her closing paragraph:

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

Can Left and Right join to oppose the war and defend the Constitution?   [4-10-07]

For years Jim Wallis of Sojourners has called for a new faith-based approach to politics in which liberals and evangelicals can unite.

Now others, from different perspectives, are saying the same thing.

Jon Basil Utley, associate publisher of The American Conservative, says that some conservatives are becoming more critical of the war. Even if their opposition is rooted in different thinking from that of the liberals who oppose the war (and he notes that many of them, including many Democratic Party leaders, are really not standing against the war), the two sides need each other if they are to have any impact on the growing trend toward Empire. And, he says, they can work together for some goals that both sides value, such as true national security, a return to use of negotiations to settle problems, and avoiding further spread of the war, which would among other things be "bad for business."
His essay is on the Foreign Policy in Focus website >>

And from the Left, John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation, writes of a group of conservatives which is advancing a so-called "American Freedom Agenda," which calls for such radical measures as ending the use of military commissions to prosecute crimes, prohibiting the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture, and ending National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping. (And lots more!)

He quotes conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie as saying, "Conservatives must not fail to oppose the massive expansion of presidential powers out of fear they will be aid and comfort to the Left. Concern about one branch of government acquiring excessive power should not be the providence of liberals, moderates, or conservatives. It must be the concern of all Americans who value liberty…"
Read Nichols’ article >>

More on apologies   [3-15-07]

We received this good note yesterday from Dean Lindsey, a Witherspoon member in Salem, VA

In reference to the recent article "Is it Time for a Presidential Apology?" I would like to mention an outstanding book by Psychiatrist Aaron Lazare called On Apology. It's the kind of book that any preacher could use as the basis for three or four good sermons. Lazare analyzes why we have trouble apologizing and what makes for both good and bad apologies.

For instance, apologies that are conditional, make excuses or shift blame simply cannot hit the mark. Examples would be "I am sorry if my remarks hurt your feelings" or "I am sorry that I hit you, but I thought you were planning to hit me." However, a genuine apology – ordinarily it is simple and to the point – is a completely cleansing and freeing thing both for the person who apologizes and the one who receives the apology.

If the United States, or more specifically the President, could make an apology for what we have done both to ourselves and Iraq these past four years, it would be an amazing step toward healing and correcting a disastrous state of affairs which currently exists. Such an apology would require, first of all, that we recognize and acknowledge the damage we have done, and that could be painful for us all. I have considerable doubts that the President is able to make such an apology or is able to engage in the kind of self-examination that ordinarily leads to apology. However, that does not mean that the rest of us can't do anything in the meantime. I believe that we can all apologize to God, to one another, to our own soldiers, and to the people of Iraq for our silence and our indifference, among other things. As Presbyterians, we confess our sins each week. We should be accustomed to admitting our weaknesses and faults. We shouldn't have to wait for the President to do it for us.

Is it time for a Presidential apology?    [3-13-07]

By Daniel Malotky, Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy, and Director of Ethics across the Curriculum at Greensboro College.

President Bush has acknowledged on several occasions that mistakes have been made in Iraq. His statements, however, have been framed to present him as a strong leader who is willing to take responsibility for his actions. None of his public remarks has constituted an apology, and he scrupulously avoids any suggestion that the invasion as a whole was a mistake.

In these non-apologies, we confront the tragic gap between the ideal and the real. Repentance is at the heart of the faith this president so publicly espouses; the intersection of spirituality and morality, for Christians, lies in the ironically positioned capacity for admitting one's moral failure. The redemption that the President surely desires is only possible by shedding the sense of his own — and, by extension, America's — inherent righteousness by admitting wrongdoing.

The rest of the essay, from Sightings, published by The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School >>

From the Presbyterian Witness in Washington Weekly:

The Federal Budget: a Human Needs Budget?
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
– Matthew 6:21


The Presbyterian Washington Office is posting very helpful analyses of the proposed federal Budget, from the perspective of our church's views on social needs and social justice.  These are being posted as part of the office's Witness in Washington Weekly, with the first section appearing in the February 12, 2007 letter, and the second in the February 19 letter. They are authored by Leslie G. Woods, staff person for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues. More articles will be posted in the near future.

The first section offers a general introduction to the budget process, and some of the major issues and concerns.  The second part deals more specifically with funding for hunger and nutrition programs, home energy assistance, and conservation.

We reprint them here with the kind permission of the Washington Office. If you find these analyses helpful, you can receive them yourself only by subscribing to the e-list for them, since they are not normally posted on the Washington Office web-site. Just go to . And we encourage you to do just that! 

America's Holy Warriors   [1-2-07]

Chris Hedges, the former New York Times' Mideast Bureau chief, warns that the radical Christian right is coming dangerously close to its goal of co-opting the country's military and law enforcement.  He begins:

The drive by the Christian right to take control of military chaplaincies, which now sees radical Christians holding roughly 50 percent of chaplaincy appointments in the armed services and service academies, is part of a much larger effort to politicize the military and law enforcement. This effort signals the final and perhaps most deadly stage in the long campaign by the radical Christian right to dismantle America's open society and build a theocratic state. A successful politicization of the military would signal the end of our democracy.

Hedge's full essay >>

Stories on U.S. politics from 2006 are archived >>

Items posted here from 2003 through 2005 are  archived on their own page.


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.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, 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.


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.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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