Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day Action: Water, Holy Water

Today is Earth Day! How are you and your church community planning to commemorate Earth Day and celebrate God’s beautiful gift of Creation?  Have you chosen a Sunday to hold an Earth Sunday worship service?

Make sure to check out the annual Earth Sunday worship resource from Creation Justice Ministries (formerly the NCC Eco-Justice Program). This year, we are focusing on Water, Holy Water, with which we have been blessed throughout our faith story. “Throughout the Bible, water plays a significant role in helping us understand the nature of God… [from] the crossing of the Red Sea [to] Jesus’ baptism… [from] the woman at the well [to] Jesus describing himself as ‘living water.’”[1] Indeed, water – fresh, clean water – has an essential role in our lives even beyond its spiritual significance. Clean water is essential for life and identified by our faith tradition as a human right. [2]

And in the Reformed tradition, we engage our faith beyond the church walls as well. Take action today to support a new rule that will provide greater protection for U.S. water.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft rule that will provide clarity, protecting streams and wetlands that connect to larger watersheds and protecting the quality of the water that we depend on for drinking, cooking, washing, swimming, and fishing. Under the proposed rule many of the streams and wetlands that were historically covered under the Clean Water Act will again be covered. The proposed rule works within the more narrow definition of "waters of the United States" given by the two Supreme Court rulings and clarifies that under the Clean Water Act:
  • Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected.
  •  Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
  • Other types of waters that have less certain connections with downstream will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if their connection to overall water quality is significant. 

The process opens the rule up for public comment, so this is a great opportunity to weigh in for a proactive regulation that will protect our water. The EPA needs to hear from you in support of U.S. waters and safe and clean water for all. 

“The health of rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters depend on the streams and wetlands where they begin. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities – they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. They are also economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.” [3]

The most recent Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly (2012) acknowledged protection of the environment as vital to the Christian faith, supported a strong and proactive EPA, and affirmed a statement urging strong oversight authority over waters of the U.S. [4]

For more information on the proposed rule, visit the EPA site on Waters of the United States.


[1] Excerpted from Water, Holy Water, published by Creation Justice Ministries, Earth Sunday Resource, 2014. http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50750/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=7497
[2] 219th General Assembly (2010), Minutes, p. 332.

[4] 220th General Assembly (2012), Minutes, p. 241.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”  Deuteronomy 16:20

Last week the Raise the Wage Coalition, a coalition of over 80 policy, labor, advocacy, business, civil rights and faith groups, created a week of action in anticipation of the Senate Vote on Minimum Wage.  

The week of action began with “Equality Monday” calling for the advancement of equal opportunity for women and people of color.  “Tipped Tuesday” asked for a wage that will help tipped workers be more secure economically.  “Worker Wednesday” sought to highlight how the $10.10 minimum wage increase will improve the lives of working families.  “Prosperity Thursday” aimed to identify how an increased minimum wage will be instrumental in creating a strong economy that will help small businesses prosper.  "Faith Friday" identified the moral case for raising the minimum wage.
Click here to email your Senators in support of above-poverty wages for low-wage workers. 

The Minimum Wage Fairness Act legislation (S.1737), would increase the national minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, with automatic cost-of-living adjustments thereafter, and set the base rate for tipped workers at 70% of the full minimum wage.

The week of action came during the Lenten Season, and as we are called to witness both by God and our denomination we must name the need to raise the minimum wage.  The current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is a poverty wage. A $10.10 minimum wage will keep a family of 3 out of poverty, it would lift an estimated 900,000 people out of poverty, and it will give low-income workers the opportunity to be economically independent.  Not only will raising the federal minimum wage bring economic security to minimum wage earners working full time, it would also help boost our economy.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage would generate more than $22 billion in new economic activity and contribute 85,000 new jobs to the economy over the phase-in period.  Finally, by some estimates the $10.10 minimum wage increase will help 3.5 million Americans cycle off of SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) and create $4.6 billion in annual savings.[1]  

The minimum wage, which has been losing real value since its peak in 1968, has created a permanent community of working poor persons.  Our Presbyterian 1967 Confession of Faith states, “Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world’s poor is the cause of his disciples…A church that is indifferent to poverty …offers no acceptable worship to God.”[2]  The 208th General Assembly (1996) asserted the need to “provide incentives for productive employment for the unemployed, including a livable minimum wage.”[3]  In 2006, the 217th General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the PC(USA) to “communicate to all members of Congress its desire that legislation to increase the minimum wage…with the goal of a wage level sufficient to lift full-time workers out of poverty.”[4] 

Click here to see a recent article discussing "What Scripture Tells Us About Minimum Wage" written by Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson & David Beckmann.

Brothers and Sisters, the issue of the minimum wage is still a moral issue.  Let us join with each other, with the larger faith community, and with all those in our community pressuring our Congress to raise the minimum wage.  Let us pursue justice together.

Click here to write to your Senators.

[1] If we #RaiseTheWage, it will help 3.5 million Americans get off foodstamps and create $4.6 billion in annual savingshttp://ampr.gs/1mV0vcB
[2] The Confession of 1967, 9.46
[3] Minutes, 1996, pp. 494-495
[4] Minutes, 2006, pp.894-895

Monday, April 7, 2014

Senate to Vote on Unemployment Insurance Extension TODAY!

The Senate will vote tonight (Monday) on final passage of the bill to restore unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless - finally! 

Please don't leave anything to chance:  tell your Senators to vote yes. And tell the House to take a vote.

Click here to send emails to your Senators and Representative.

As of April 5th, more than 2 million unemployed workers have lost jobless benefits because Congress hasn’t acted.The Senate seems ready to help - you can make sure they do.But House Speaker John Boehner is using every excuse he can think of to prevent UI from coming up for a vote.

Where things stand:The Senate has taken all the procedural votes.  Now the vote on final passage in the Senate is scheduled for Monday, April 7, at about 5:30 p.m.  
But Speaker Boehner and his leadership team are preventing UI from being voted on in the House.  First they said it needed to be paid for.  It is paid for in the Senate bill.  Then they said the expiration has gone on for so long, it would be too hard to provide retroactive benefits.  But Jeff Frischmann, head of Nevada state unemployment insurance operations, says "We would stand ready and do it...We'll get through it, just like we have in thepast."

What to do:  click here to send emails to your Senators and Representative.
TODAY - Monday, April 7:  Contact your Senators and tell them to vote to restore Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
Contact your Rep. and tell him/her to urge Speaker John Boehner to bring up the Senate bill to restore Unemployment Compensation for a House vote ASAP. 

 The Senate has gotten through all the procedural votes; now comes the vote on final passage, which only requires a simple majority.  The Senate bill to restore Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) is a bipartisan agreement on a 5-month restoration of long-term unemployment benefits (the last resort after all other federal and state support has been exhausted). Those who were denied assistance after the program expired on December 28th will get retroactive help.  The bill is an important step forward, made possible because you and many thousands of constituents held their Senators accountable.  But it still needs the final vote.  So please send this email to your senators so they know you’re still paying attention, because jobless workers desperately need this help.

Your representative needs a different message.  Speaker Boehner has refused so far to bring a bill to the floor to restore unemployment insurance.  So every House member must be urged to tell the Speaker to bring the Senate bill to the floor and to vote for its passage.    

Each week since EUC was allowed to expire, another 72,000 workers and their families have been cut off.  As of April 5th, more than 2.3 million people have been denied assistance.  More than $5 billion in benefits have been lost to families and communities.  There are still not enough jobs and too many out of work for more than six months. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Jesus Weeps: Resisting Violence, Building Peace - Join EAD Lobby Day

This morning, March 24th, hundreds of Christian advocates are converging on Capitol Hill as part of Ecumenical Advocacy Days’ Lobby Day to bring a message to Congress promoting policies that make for a more peaceful world, including efforts to end gun violence and promote poverty reduction. The conference theme, Jesus Weeps, was centered on Luke 19:41-42, where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem for not knowing the things that make for peace. 

Even if you didn’t get a chance to come to Ecumenical Advocacy Days or our PC(USA) pre-event, Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day, you can still join in Lobby Day. Click here to send a message to your members of Congress that challenges our culture of violence and seeks to build nonviolence and peace.

Our nation can and must do more to nurture a culture of peace. We call for policies that:

  • Reduce acquisition and use of guns for purposes that cause harm; and
  • Rebalance funding priorities away from out-sized military spending to focus more resources on preventing violence and enhancing human security.

Neither Ecumenical Advocacy Days nor the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness is advocating that all guns be banned. Rather, we support legislation that will make it harder for people with hostile intentions to buy guns and easier for the community stakeholders to adequately prevent them from doing harm.

Further, Pentagon and war spending currently account for 57% of the federal discretionary budget. This means that every other priority included in the discretionary part of the budget must vie for tiny pieces of the remaining 43%. Research has indicated that investing in conflict prevention is 60 times more cost effective than intervening after violence has begun. We can, if we choose, invest in a different way of relating and interacting with our brothers and sisters here and around the world. We should be making budget decisions that promote policies that reduce violence, including right sizing military spending and focusing on efforts to end poverty and other causes of violence.

To read more details about these policy recommendations, see the Ecumenical Advocacy Days Ask.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Whose Brother and Sister are You?

THE PROPHETIC WORD: Whose Brother and Sister are You?
By the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Opening Worship
Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day
Friday, March 21, 2014
manuscript, as prepared

The 4th Annual CPJ Training Day was held at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

Genesis 4:8-16                                              John 7:53-8:11

Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9b)

Our text for the morning is an account of two brothers named Cain and Abel.  These brothers are in the sons of Adam and Eve.  This is God’s first family of creation.  Together, they represent the biblical account of the beginning of people-kind.  Some theologians interpret Genesis 4:2 as an inference that the two boys were twins when using the terms “later again” to describe the birth of Abel.  Although this postulation is not firmly substantiated, we are made aware in the text that Cain was the older brother.

The two brothers grew up in an agrarian culture.  Therefore, both possessed skills in farming.  Abel was a herder of sheep and Cain tilled the soil.  On the surface both of these young men are positioned to demonstrate to the world how one can live under a Godly mandate.  The opportunities to earn a living; build a life of satisfaction; embrace ones’ neighbor; and succeed in one’s endeavors is laid before them.  Don’t you hear the possibilities that stand before these two young men?  “What blessedness, what a joy divine!”  However, something goes terribly wrong between these two brothers. 

Both brothers bring their sacrifice for the Lord to the altar.  Abel brings his prime stock of meat to the altar of the Lord.  Cain brings the fruit of the ground from his field.  According to the text, the Lord did not look with favor upon the offering given by Cain.  While both of them brought offerings to the Lord as required, the bible emphasizes that Abel brought the fat portion of his offering to the altar.  Cain brought a few of the fruit from the ground.  From the descriptive phrases of the bible it becomes evident that Cain’s sacrifice did not measure up to that of his brother Abel. 

The writer of Hebrews 11:4 records, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.”  When Abel came for worship, it was by faith that he brought his offering, the “fat portions from some of the first-born of his flock.”  And, in Jude’s epistle verse 11, we read, “They have taken the way of Cain,” referring to men who did not follow the law, but wanted to worship in their own way and not by faith.  These texts imply that there was some disobedience among those who refused to follow the way of the Lord.  In short, Cain’s offering was rejected due to some type of disobedience, short-cut, or detachment from the will of God.  However, Cain’s real struggle begins when he takes his eyes off of pleasing God and places them on comparing himself to his brother.  Jealousy emerges! 

The scripture records, “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  This is the first murder recorded in biblical scripture.  It occurred within the first family of the scriptures. 

As we come together around a major initiative for Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to eradicate gun violence, we must recognize that we have a serious problem among humanity regarding our relationships with one another.  Beyond the struggles of race, class, culture, gender, and other dividing lines we are falling far short of godly expectations.  We are not living together as one people created in the likeness and image of God (Genesis 1:26a).  Therefore, we are unable to be faithful stewards of God’s creation as we are intended to be.  As a matter of faith, human life (God’s creation) seems to be less valuable among us than ever before.

In the United States today we are witnessing gun deaths of more than thirty thousand persons per year since 1997.  From the Revolutionary War in 1775 to the Persian Gulf War in 1991 which totaled 116 years of foreign combat engagement, there were 650,858 persons killed.  In 18 years from 1979 to 1997 we have experienced 615,697 deaths by guns.  There were 839 more persons killed in this 18 year period in the United States than in 116 years of foreign wars involving the United States.[1]  Over 30,000 persons each year are killed by guns in the United States since 1997.  Although the media has an attraction to mass killings, which are largely focused on European Americans, African Americans die at the hands of guns more often.

We (with the help of the National Rifle Association) have normalized guns today as though they are an American value.  Baseball, apple pie and guns are the slogans on billboards.  There are even theologically mixed messages as the late actor Charlton Heston who played Moses in a television movie held up a rifle at the NRA convention some years ago.  God (Jesus’ Parent) is misrepresented when one mixes God, guns and allegiance to our country.  The challenge for the Church is to recognize that our holy book declares killing a sin.  Thou shall not kill (Exodus 20:13).  The gospel writer John declares the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly.  (John 10:10)

Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis should not be dead today behind Stand Your Ground, a Florida law that is declaring open season on young African American men in that state.  We ought to be pressing for legislation entitled “Yield Your Ground” that encourages us to avoid killing in an effort to change the culture of violence that permeates this country.  How can we be the land of the free and the home of the brave when we cannot walk the streets at night without fearing for our lives?  Fear does not breed freedom. 

I have stopped by to tell you that the Church of Jesus Christ can no longer stand idly by and declare that this is not our problem while innocent children and adults are killed all across this country.  We cannot continue to live in a nation where the culture of violence is reinforced by our federal government, where 57 percent of our nation’s discretionary budget is spent on the military and children go to bed hungry at night; when public education for the masses is failing; when mamas and daddy’s can’t feed their children, because they don’t have a job; when minimum wage is not a livable wage; when poor families can’t afford college for their children. 

The highest incidences of gun violence are suicides.  This is related to mental health and when we assess the failing governmental leaders that attempt to strip Medicaid, which assists persons with mental health issues, it is clear that there is no effective moral and ethical leadership that collectively governs our nation.  Our government is fragmented and blinded by corporate financial contributions to these campaigns.  We need campaign finance reform as a measure to restore government of the political action campaign contributions, for the rich and wealthy and by the politician on the take. à We need you – to take your role as a brother and sister.

In John’s gospel, Jesus encounters a mob of males preparing to put a woman to death who was caught in adultery.  They are ready to stone her.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?”  They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.  7They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinner throw the first stone!”  8Then he stopped down again and wrote in the dust. (John 8:4-8)

The scripture then records,

“When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.  10Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers?  Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” 11”No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I.  Go and sin no more.” 

The scripture does not record what Jesus wrote on the ground.  I must use my sanctified imagination here.  I believe that when Jesus wrote on the ground, he placed names of men who were also participating in adultery with this woman or others.  He exposed the sin in them and placed before them the challenge.  He reminded them that they too were unworthy of life, but that by the grace of God, we are here. 

We must stop this killing whether by lethal weapon or lethal injection.  Give people a job so that they don’t have to pack a gun and stand on the street corner selling dope to feed their families.  Give children an education so they can see a potential beyond the federal prison or county jail as a way to prove their manhood or womanhood.

When the Lord our God asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’  Cain responded, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’  The redress to that question today is No, but we must be our brothers’ brother, and our sisters’ sister.

And in so doing the Church must find its way back to Jesus, who can turn our brokenness into a blessed assurance; Jesus, who reminds us that we are his own; Jesus who calls us to love one another: Jesus who will make a way somehow.  Our claim must be that Jesus will and can fight our battles for us.  Now, let’s put some feet on our prayers!

[1] James Atwood, America and It’s Guns: A Theological Expose (Eugene Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012) Appendix p. 227-228