Thursday, February 16, 2017

PCUSA Joins 14 Christian Organizations in Briefing Paper to Congress and Administration on Israel/Palestine

On February 15th, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and 14 other Christian organizations sent a briefing paper to all members of Congress and to the Trump Administration calling for U.S. policies that promote peace, justice, and equality between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Toward Peace, Justice, and Equality in Israel and Palestine
February 15, 2017

As U.S.-based Christian churches, agencies, and organizations, we urge Congress and the Administration to take actions which will enhance the prospects for peace, justice, and equality in Israel and Palestine, and refrain from actions that would harm those prospects.

2017 marks 50 years since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza and 24 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords. Over the last 50 years, but particularly since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, there have been significant changes on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories that have a negative impact on efforts to achieve peace with justice. Violations of human rights and international law have continued without consequence and are enabled further by Israeli legislative actions.

An example has been the continued and growing expansion of settlements, an approach long condemned by Republican and Democratic administrations alike as a violation of Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Settlement expansion forcibly takes property and resources from Palestinian landholders, many of whom have held legal title to their lands for generations.

·      Settlements now control 42% of all West Bankland, areas that are recognized by the international community, and international law, as Israeli-occupied Palestinian land.
·      Since 1993 the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) has increased from 110,900 to over 400,000, and the number of Israeli settlers in Jerusalem has more gone up from 146,800 to over 300,000.
·      More than 15,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, often as a result of Israeli authorities refusing to grant permits to Palestinians for modifying or building structures on their own lands, then destroying any homes that are modified.

These changes, among others, have caused analysts, scholars, diplomats, and politicians to assert that the window of opportunity for a viable two-state solution is closing or may have closed. As that reexamination is occurring, the underlying need for equality of rights remains.

The principle of equality is foundational to true democracies as well as to international law. It is necessary if a sustainable future is to be found for both Palestinians and Israelis. Regardless of the underlying political governance structures, equal rights and opportunities must be assured for all people in the region – not someday based on an idea of future negotiations, but as a fundamental human right today. Yet the present situation and trajectory neither reflect nor promote equality, as demonstrated by these facts, among others:

·      Freedom of movement for individuals of Palestinian descent is inhibited, based on discriminatory and separate criteria;
·      Trials for Palestinians in the West Bank take place in military courts, while trials for Israeli settlers take place in civilian courts;
·      A two-tier system of laws, rules, and services operates for the Israeli and Palestinian populations in areas of the West Bank under Israeli control, providing preferential services, development, and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.
·      The parameters that determine political participation in Israel break down according to ethnic and geographic lines: in the West Bank, for example, Jews can vote while their Palestinian neighbors – regardless of whether they live in “Palestinian” Area A or in “Israeli” Area C – are not eligible to vote.


Neither Israelis, Palestinians, nor those of us in the U.S. will ultimately benefit from structures and approaches that reinforce inequality and injustice. To address this untenable situation, U.S. policymakers should make clear their commitment to ensuring fundamental human rights by:

·      Urging the Israeli government to immediately take action to secure an end to the occupation and all discriminatory policies resulting from the occupation, including home demolitions and inequitable distribution of land and water resources;
·      Applying Leahy vetting processes and other mechanisms to all recipients of U.S. security assistance consistently;
·      Upholding and protecting the rights and abilities of human rights organizations and defenders to do their work, and including them as part of delegation visits to hear their perspectives;
·      Urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to uphold the values of peace, justice, and equal rights for all peoples; and urging both to refrain from actions that lead to violence while encouraging efforts to work for peace, justice, and reconciliation;
·      Protecting the rights of U.S. citizens seeking to carry out nonviolent economic protests to challenge unjust policies.

Our perspectives on the situation in Israel and Palestine are based on decades, and in many cases centuries, of organizational engagement in the Middle East. We fervently pray for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to support policies that promote equality for all people in the region.


American Friends Service Committee

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness

Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

Pax Christi International

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Reformed Church in America

United Church of Christ

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New OPW Director Jimmie Hawkins: “We Must Redouble Our Efforts to Work for Justice”

2017 has already proven to be exhausting. There is so much work to be done that it can appear somewhat daunting and presents uncertainty of where to begin. However, we learn from the words of “those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…” Lord, renew us!
Holy Scripture that

Therefore, as this year unfolds, let us dedicate ourselves to redoubling our efforts to work for justice, equality and human dignity for all persons.

We as a Church must expand our toolbox of strategies and be much more creative as the forces arrayed against us demonstrate political power and advantages we lack. Our coalitions must be effective and determined as we align ourselves with others committed to the cause of justice. We must expand social media capacity as an efficient tool to connect with young adults who are becoming active in this political moment. They must be brought to the table of decision-making not just eliciting their support for the decisions we make.

There comes a time when meetings and letters do not win the day. We are in a time of rapid and shocking change, most upsetting and disruptive. The question becomes, how does the church respond? How does the individual Christian respond in a faithful and loving manner?  The Bible teaches us to pray and action will follow (Mark 11). But oftentimes, we are the fulfillers of the prayerful action. The church over the centuries has protected those who were hounded during the Underground Railroad and Sanctuary movements. The church has given Biblical and theological justifications for our stands for a liberating justice for all persons under the stress of oppression. It has challenged, in the courts and in the streets, laws that are unjust and discriminative. We are the church of Christ Jesus and serve a God who commands that we speak “truth to power”.

Change comes from the ground up. We hear this so often that it sometimes loses its impact. But we see from the Women’s March the impact one person can have as one person’s initiative grew into a response from millions around the world. What we strive for here in Washington only matters if people locally react to our call to fulfill God’s command that we “love justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:5)

We therefore will strive to offer resources and education through the OPW to amplify and inform your courageous local action. Below, I have outlined our policy priorities for the year 2017, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, the OPW exists to serve you.

In faith we share,

Rev. Jimmie Ray Hawkins


Domestic Policy Priorities:

Health Care

As far back as 50 years ago, the General Assembly called for federal legislation relating to health care. In the last decade, the church has had to reflect on an array of health care issues to discern what system would best serve the needs, not only those who can afford medical assistance, but also to those on the margins of society.

The 208th General Assembly (1988) adopted the policy statement, “Life Abundant: Values, Choices and Health Care – The Responsibility and Role of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” The 1991 resolution on “Christian Responsibility and a National Medical Plan” urges Presbyterians to “seek candidates for office...who will place high priority on the establishment of an equitable, efficient and universally accessible health plan....” Until such a plan is instituted, the General Assembly called upon “the federal and state governments to: protect uninsured persons, especially those with low or fixed incomes, from erosion of health care benefits or an increase in cost of health care benefits and expand Medicare and Medicaid benefits (Minutes, 1991, p. 810).


Immigration

The 218th General Assembly (2008) added to the already considerable complement of PC(USA) policy on immigration, “declar[ing] that the common practice of police officers working in collaboration with Federal government institutions to enforce immigration laws represents a dangerous situation for families and the community in general.” The Assembly further “declare[d] that the raids and road blocks near churches are unjust and represent a violation to people’s right to worship; denounce[d] the suffering and hurting of thousands of young children and parents, which is the product of the separation during deportations; denounce[d] the injustice and lack of standards in the detention centers; deplore[d] hate speech against immigrants in public arenas; and state[d] that the PC(USA) believes that all humans should have access to basic human needs like health, education, and housing.”

Care for Creation

Presbyterian General Assemblies have been speaking on issues of environmental protection and justice since the late 1960s.  Their witness ranges broadly from drinking water safety and acid rain, to protecting endangered species, to cleaning up dirty power plants, to climate change and U.S. energy policy.

Racial and Economic Justice

When the Presbyterian Church adopted a contemporary Confession of Faith in 1967, it stated that “the reconciliation...through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation. 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, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God” (The Confession of 1967, 9.46).

Acting on such convictions of faith, Presbyterian General Assemblies over the years have expressed frequent concern for the economic well-being of the nation, the fairness of our economic system, and especially, the needs of the poor.

In 2016, the Presbyterian General Assembly made history by adopting the Confession of Belhar. Belhar, written by non-white Christians in South Africa in 1982 to challenge the theological support that undergirded Apartheid, focuses on reconciliation in the church (specifically racial reconciliation), but applicable wherever the church is divided for any reason. It is a call for the church body to adopt and prioritize the work of racial justice and reconciliation in our communities and policy work.

International Policy Priorities:

Corporate Accountability and Fair Trade
The Resolution on Just Globalization from passed by the 217th General Assembly “reaffirm[ed] the request of the 215th General Assembly (2003)….to continue the monitoring of trade agreements and support for efforts that strive toward international cooperation on fair trade, respect for diversity and common concerns for a
peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

Peace in the Middle East
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly has long supported two viable states as a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The challenge has been how to respond to the human rights violations and suffering resulting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The church’s policy, based on General Assembly actions, includes: promoting a just peace in the Middle East;  acting in solidarity with Palestinian Christian mission partners and other church partners across the Middle East; ending the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; and  advocating for the right for Israelis and Palestinians “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Humanitarian and Refugee Assistance
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations have supported refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis created by World War II. The 160th General Assembly (1948) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America stated, “The United States should pass legislation to bring in at least four hundred thousand displaced persons during the next four years. ... As they arrive, our church people should stand ready to open their homes and provide work for these unfortunate victims of war” (Minutes, PCUSA, 1948, Part I, p. 204). The OPW advocates for increased humanitarian aid for victims of conflict globally and increased support for refugees, particularly those fleeing the Syrian Conflict.

Global Security
The Office of Public Witness will advocate for a measured policy on drones and opposing targeted killings, assassinations, with special attention paid to stopping the use of Torture by the US government . A long standing priority has been to work against increases in military spending and the modernization of nuclear weapons. This work is particularly informed by the 2014 General Assembly Resolution entitled “Drones, War and Surveillance.”

Peacemaking and Defending Human Rights in Africa

Based in long standing General Assembly policy, the OPW will advocate to advance human rights and a peaceful end to the conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, and the Congo.

#ProtectOurCare, a Guest Post from Seminary Intern Bridget Wendell

My name is Bridget Wendell and I am the Spring Seminary Intern at the Office of Public Witness.  I am excited to be working with the OPW to advocate for immigrant and refugee rights as well as domestic justice issues.  Although I am a seminarian at Princeton Theological Seminary, the National Capital Semester for Seminarians through Wesley Seminary has brought me to DC for the semester to learn about the intersection of faith and politics.  I feel fortunate to be in Washington at this critical time to advocate for hospitality, acceptance and the gospel message. 
I am personally invested in current issues that are on the President’s docket.  Recently, I enrolled in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.  As a graduate student who typically works three jobs during the semester, I still had a hard time paying for the school sanctioned insurance.  In trying to steward my money well and avoid taking out student loans, I struggled to pay my premiums until I realized I was eligible for the Affordable Care Act. 
When I returned to school in the fall, I was able to switch over to ACA insurance.  With my new insurance, my premiums dropped and I was able to go back to my long-time doctors, which weren’t covered under my school insurance.  It was a relief to be able to get the services that I needed without being afraid of gigantic bills arriving after visiting the doctor. 
I am not alone in my dependence on the ACA for health insurance.  Thirty million people could lose their health coverage and twelve million people who qualify for financial assistance will no longer have affordable healthcare if ACA is repealed.  Senior’s prescription drug costs will rise and many African Americans, Latinos and Veterans will return to being uninsured, which would further exacerbate the racial wealth gap. 
Recipients of private insurance will be affected as well. Insurance companies will once again be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and women will return to paying higher premiums in the middle of their lives.  Lifetime limits could be re-instituted, making it hard for the sickest people to get care when they need it most, and companies will no longer have to provide coverage for mental  health and substance abuse.  It will no longer be required for companies to provide free preventative services or put premiums towards care instead of profits. 
If a repeal bill is drafted and passed through the House and Senate, the President can sign it into law.  If this happens, as soon as next year we will see major changes for people who buy their own health insurance and get their coverage through Medicaid. 
As a second career seminarian, it was hard for me to leave my job as a public school teacher and the benefits that went along with it.  Being able to enroll in insurance through the ACA has made it easier for me to follow God in my calling.  I am one of the many Americans that will be adversely affected if ACA is repealed.  In order to support efforts to protect the ACA, please join me in taking the following action steps:
1. Meet with Members of Congress or staff of in DC or in district offices to express your concern.
2. Share your story and attend or organize rallies in support of ACA.
3. Share your story on social media with the hashtag #ProtectOurCare. 

4. Write a letter to the editor to your local newspaper in support of ACA.

Monday, January 30, 2017

URGENT: Take Action for Refugees Now!


Tell the White House & Congress that you OPPOSE Trump’s Announcement to

Grind Refugee Resettlement To a Halt & Bar Refugees from Certain Countries


President Donald Trump has announced that the U.S. government will stop resettling refugees from certain countries; pause the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 days; preference religious minorities; and reduce the number of refugees we welcome at the very time when they are most in need of safety. These announcements fly in the face of our best values of compassion, hospitality, and welcome. With more than 65 million forcibly displaced in the world–the worst in our global history–it is more important than ever to take action by condemning this new policy.

Barring refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from resettlement and narrowly preferencing religious minorities is tantamount to a Muslim ban. And by reducing refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000, Trump is going back on America’s promise to refugees and abdicating America’s leadership role on human rights. Halting resettlement for 120 days will grind refugee processing to a halt. Each step of the security check process is time sensitive, so a pause will force refugees who were set to arrive in the United States soon to instead wait months and even years to go through fingerprinting, interviews, health screenings, and multiple security checks all over again, all while their lives are in danger.

These announcements are gut-wrenching for our community members who are waiting to be reunited with a sister, brother, parent or child, and for refugees overseas with no other options for safety than to be resettled in the U.S. We cannot discriminate against refugees for how they pray or where they are from. Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted immigrants in the United States, undergoing biographic and biometric checks, medical screenings, forensic document testing, and in-person interviews. It is critical that President Trump and all Members of Congress hear their constituents decry these announcements and declare their support for refugees from all over the world.

CALL THE WHITE HOUSE AND CONGRESS TODAY!
President Trump: (866) 961-4293
Your Senators and Representatives: (202) 224-3121*

*Please call this line 3 times to be connected with your 1 Representative and 2 Senators
Sample Script: “I’m your constituent from [City, State], and I support refugee resettlement in the U.S. I am strongly opposed to President Trump’s announcements to stop the resettlement of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen; pause the refugee resettlement program entirely; preference religious minorities; and reduce the number of refugees we welcome. This discriminatory announcement is morally reprehensible, runs counter to who we are as a nation, and does not reflect the welcome for refugees I see in my community every day. I urge you to do everything in your power to see this announcement reversed.”

Please also share a personal story about why refugee resettlement is important to you, your community, etc. Let them know the specific ways that refugees contribute and are welcomed into your community.

One of the best ways to make your voice heard is by tweeting @realDonaldTrump, @WhiteHouse, and @ your Senators/Representatives; posting a comment on Facebook.com/WhiteHouse; and submitting an electronic message at whitehouse.gov/contact.

Please also join us in tweeting photos at @WhiteHouse using the hashtag #SolidaritySelfie: 1) Write a short note on a piece of paper – something like “Refugees Welcome,” “Here to Stay” or “I stand with immigrants.” 2) Take a picture of yourself with the paper. 3) Tweet the photo of yourself, along with a note, at @WhiteHouse. Make sure to include the hashtag #SolidaritySelfie!
Suggested Tweets:
  • .@realDonaldTrump & @WhiteHouse Don’t stop welcoming refugees. Resettlement demonstrates the best of our values #SolidaritySelfie
  • .@realDonaldTrump & @WhiteHouse Keep America welcoming. Refugee resettlement is a proud American legacy with bipartisan support #SolidaritySelfie

You can also take action by organizing or joining Rapid Response Prayer Vigils in your area! Click HERE to learn more!

More than 2,000 faith leaders have signed a letter opposing policies to bar refugees based on their religion or nationality, available at bit.ly/2000FaithLeaders4ALLRefugees. And statements from faith leaders opposing this announcement can be found HERE. Responses to the announcement from Syrian, Iraqi, Cambodian, and Bhutanese refugees can be found HERE.
Follow @CWS_global on Twitter and “like” CWS Immigration & Refugee Program on Facebook for up-to-date alerts.

Resources: