Wednesday, December 17, 2014

PCUSA Office of Public Witness Celebrates President Obama’s Work on Cuba

The Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejoices in the news of the release of US citizen Alan Gross from prison in Cuba, along with the release of Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino, three Cubans being held in prison in the United States.    The release of these prisoners has opened the way for historic changes in US policy towards Cuba.

“The release of Alan Gross and the three Cuban prisoners is an example of how nations can find common ground.   When there is a will to live as true neighbors as Jesus Christ has taught us, we find a way towards justice and reconciliation,” Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Office of Public Witness stated.

The announcement by President Obama of momentous changes in US policy towards Cuba is welcome news to all who have been working towards the normalization of relations with Cuba.  The Presbyterian Church USA has been advocating for changes in policy towards Cuba for over 50 years.   Most recently the Office of Public Witness has organized religious delegations from Cuba, led a coalition of denominations and faith based organizations calling for a change in policy towards Cuba, and organized meetings with members of congress and the administration urging an opening of relations between the two countries.

In 2011, the Obama administration credited a delegation of religious leaders from Cuba and the United states, organized by the Office of Public Witness, with influencing an ease of restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.  Presbyterian pastors who were once part of the PCUSA before the revolution were unable to collect their pensions due to the policies of the economic embargo.  After meeting with the delegation, the administration allowed the pastors, many of whom were elderly and alone, to collect their much needed pensions. 

“The record will show that our work on building better relations between the United States and Cuba is faithful to the policies of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Over the years, we have consistently called on our nation’s leaders to end the embargo and find common ground,” said Rev. Nelson.  “Our faith partners on the ground in Cuba have suffered significantly due to the failed policies of the past.  The Obama administration has taken a major step to reunite families and open doors to broader opportunities and a new way forward.”

The Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Rev. Gradye Parsons, recently participated in delegations to Cuba and Washington along with the Reverend John L. McCullough, president and chief executive officer of Church World Service, and Rabbi Elhanan “Sunny” Schnitzer, executive director of the Cuba-America Jewish Mission, in order to urge officials to release Alan Gross and the three Cubans.  The Stated Clerk’s statement on their release can be found at

Luis Lopez Acabal Leaves Sanctuary After PCUSA Delegation Visit

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is proud to announce that Luis Lopez Acabal was able to leave the protection of Sanctuary at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona on Friday, December 12. He is the one of nine immigrants this year to shield themselves from deportation as part of the new Sanctuary Movement. From September 7 of this year to last Friday, 100 days exactly, Luis lived inside University Presbyterian to prevent his deportation and separation from his family. Luis is eligible for deportation relief through the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) Program, announced on November 20, because he is stepfather to his wife Mayra’s two children.

J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness stated, “We greatly rejoice in this good news. It sends a signal that the work we do in Washington, D.C., in local congregations, and across the denomination is necessary when our immigrant brothers and sisters are being denied human dignity and full inclusion in society. Luis, his family and the congregation of University Presbyterian demonstrated courage and a deep faith conviction by claiming the power of sanctuary. It is this type of courage that will make the PCUSA more relevant in these times.”

Our delegation with Luis, Rev. Ledermann, and church members

A delegation of Presbyterian leaders, including Rev. Gradye Parsons (PCUSA General Assembly Stated Clerk), Teresa Waggener (PCUSA Office of Immigration Director), Rev. Toya Richards Jackson, (Office of General Assembly Associate for Communications), Randy Hobson (Office of General Assembly Webpage Coordinator) and AmyBeth Willis (Office of Public Witness Young Adult Volunteer), met with Luis, Mayra, Pastor Eric O. Ledermann,  and members of University Presbyterian on Thursday, December 4 during their Immigrant Solidarity Pilgrimage to the border.

Luis left Guatemala at the age of 17, fleeing because a local gang threatened his life. He applied for asylum, but was denied.  Here, he has made a life, working in maintenance in schools. He fell in love and married Mayra Canales, a legal resident from Mexico and mother of two U.S. citizen children, one of which has autism. Luis has become father to her two children, Kevin (5) and Kimberly (2). He is the sole breadwinner for the family, allowing Mayra to act as a full time caregiver for their children. Kevin has thrived in the new family setting and some of his autism-related behaviors have diminished. Luis’ support as a loving husband and parenting partner has made a huge difference in Mayra’s battle with depression and anxiety. When Luis was ordered to leave the country, University Presbyterian stepped up to provide Sanctuary to him. The congregation has embraced him and his family for 100 long days, recognizing that his deportation threatens not only his life but the wellbeing of his family.
Mayra and Luis with daughter Kimberly

Luis is happy to be home, but remains in legal limbo as he waits to apply for the new deferred action program, which grants temporary relief from deportation and a work permit. In reflecting on this great news, Rev. Eric Ledermann, pastor of University Presbyterian said, “I am thrilled that Luis gets to go home and be with his family. However, our work is not done. The President’s Executive Action is temporary and we still have a lot of work to do to fix the broken immigration system.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent at the Border


A View of the Border Wall
Jesus was born in Nazareth under an edict to kill boy babies. Because of this, he and his family fled to Egypt. After two years as an undocumented immigrant in Egypt, he returned home to begin his earthly ministry. The story of Advent is the story of our Savior’s migration to avoid death and persecution from earthly powers that threatened the life of our Savior. Like Jesus, many undocumented immigrants today cross the border of the United States in order to flee oppressive forces in their own country. Abuse at the hand of border patrol, invisible fences, and detention centers supported by restrictive laws and racial profiling await them. We preach, sing, and pray about the baby in the manger during this Advent season, however the story of Jesus’ birth is one of cultural alienation.    

This week, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is engaging in an Advent Solidarity Pilgrimage as part of our commitment to Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Teresa Waggener, Director of the PC(USA) Office of Immigration Issues; and J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witnessing Washington, DC, are leading a delegation this week (December 1-4) to study, engage, and explore ways to strengthen the Presbyterian connection to immigration issues. Presently, three of the eight congregations across the country sheltering immigrants in Sanctuary are Presbyterian:

  • Southside Presbyterian in Tucson, AZ
  • University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, AZ 
  • West Kensington Ministry at Norris Square (PCUSA) in Philadelphia, PA

“Our vision is to introduce persons to the struggles related to immigration while building a contextual framing around globalization and theological framing around creating the beloved community. Through this trip, we seek to further build a significant Presbyterian network of immigration advocates in the United States," said J. Herbert Nelson.

Follow the rest of our trip on our Facebook and Twitter pages at #presbysanctuary and #journeyinginhope.

Monday, December 1, 2014

World AIDS Day- Tell Congress to Stop Blocking Clean Needle Exchange

Today is World AIDS Day.

In 2010, the PC(USA) General Assembly called on us to become and “HIV and AIDS Competent Church,” to engage in programs that “reduce stigma, discrimination, and fear of persons who have been diagnosed as HIV positive,” and to support public policies that promote treatment and prevention.  Specifically, the Assembly called for increased federal “funding for critical HIV and AIDS research including research focused on (a) infants and children, (b) the risk behaviors of teenagers and comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for teens, and (c) underreported, indigenous, and special-needs populations.”

An overwhelming consensus of research shows that providing clean syringes (needle exchange programs) to injection drug users is a highly effective way to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and is credited with reducing the rate of new HIV infections among injection drug users by 80 percent. Additional research shows that syringe exchange programs do not increase the numbers of injection drug users, and reduces long term health care costs that occur with the medical needs of people with HIV and/or Hepatitis C.

But Congress prohibits federal funds that are already being spent on HIV prevention and treatment from being spent on needle exchange programs. Write to your Members of Congress here.

Needle Exchange is one of the key public health interventions that we need to implement a long-term strategy to end AIDS.  But in 2012, Congress reinstated the ban on using federal funds for needle exchange programs. The ban on federal funding for syringe exchange was originally adopted in 1989 but was finally lifted by Congress in 2009. Without a discussion or legislative debate, the language was slipped into the spending bill before advocates knew what was happening. Contact Congress and tell them to reverse the ban.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is on the record in support of Needle Exchange Programs – in 2000, the General Assembly approved an overture “advocate[ing]… for lifting the ban on the use of federal funds to support needle exchange programs [and] mandate[ing]… work to remove barriers that keep drug injectors at unnecessary risk for HIV disease and Hepatitis.”

For more information on how to be involved in AIDS ministries, get in touch with the Presbyterian AIDS Network. And download their World AIDS Day packet.

Write to your Member of Congress now to urge lifting the ban on life-saving needle exchange programs.

PC(USA) Comments on EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule

NOTE: If you have not submitted comments on the EPA's proposed Carbon rule, you may still do so by the end of the day on Monday, Dec. 1, at our Action Center.

December 1, 2014

Environmental Protection Agency
Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460

Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

First, let me begin by thanking you for meeting with my colleagues and me the week before Thanksgiving in the Faith Leader meeting at which we delivered thousands of comments on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule from concerned people of faith. I am truly grateful for your leadership of the Environmental Protection Agency and your proactive approach to protecting the Creation with which God has blessed us.

Adding to that cloud of witnesses and representing the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the highest deliberative body in this denomination, I am writing to support strongly the EPA’s Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, which will limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.  Knowing that carbon pollution is the leading cause factor in global climate change, that the U.S. economy has historically been the largest greenhouse gas emitter, and that power plants are the single largest contributor of such pollution in the U.S. economy, we believe that this rule is essential for addressing global climate change. Climate change is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time, endangering the well-being of current and future generations and all of God’s creation.

In 2008, the 218th General Assembly wrote:

With our Lord, we stand with the ‘least of these’ and advocate for the poor and oppressed in present and future generations who are often the victims of environmental injustice and who are least able to mitigate the impact of global warming that [is falling] disproportionately on them.

As citizens of the U.S., which has historically produced more greenhouse gases than any other country, and which is currently responsible for over a fifth of the world’s annual emissions, we implore our nation to accept its moral responsibility to address global warming [through public policy, as well as through our own actions individually and as communities]…

As advocates for justice, we reject the claim that all nations should shoulder an equal measure of the burden associated with mitigating climate change. Industrialized nations like the U.S. have produced most of the emissions over the last three centuries and deserve to shoulder the majority of the burden… (The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming, approved by the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA))

This policy statement went on to outline numerous policies that could and hopefully will yet be employed to achieve the goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (many requiring an act of Congress). At the time, we called for a national response to climate change that would be based on the best available science, would mitigate the worst impacts of increased prices on people living in poverty in the U.S., and would provide ample adaptation support for the poorest and most affected communities around the globe.  While it is not in the EPA’s jurisdiction to accomplish all this, the Clean Power Plan is an important step in the right direction.

Further, our most recent General Assembly “affirm[ed] the vital importance of sustainable development through faithful stewardship of natural resources and the Precautionary Principle. Such methods of preventing irreversible ecological impacts are part of the basis for a responsible, moral, and scientifically-informed human flourishing, affirming the sacred in societal and creation care, and protecting the earth for future generations.” Clearly, a Clean Power Plan is vital to the principle of sustainable development and future energy decisions should be strongly advised by the Precautionary Principle.  

We know from our global church partners that climate change is already changing life on earth, as we know it. Multi-year droughts in some areas, sea-level rise and extreme flooding in others, are impacting communities and people around the world, particularly those who are most vulnerable, lacking the financial and technological resources required to adapt to a changing climate. Climate change is also already impacting global agriculture, both food supplies and prices. Reducing hunger and alleviating poverty are key concerns for the Church. Yet, we know that climate change is increasing the need and reducing our capacity to respond to it effectively.

By setting limits on the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in our economy, the proposed rule will not only begin to reduce the U.S. economy’s contribution to this overwhelming problem, but also will improve public health by decreasing the number of unhealthy air days.  Too often, the people that bear the burden of harmful emissions are communities of color and low-income families.  By reducing our emissions from existing power plants, we will be cleaning up the air that was gifted by God, so that all may breathe freely.

If we hope to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and protect communities around the world, reducing carbon emissions from power plants must be a top priority for our country.  The proposed rule will make important progress towards that goal while still allowing states the flexibility to implement standards in ways that make the most sense for their economies and power needs.

Climate change is already affecting all of us.  But mostly, it will affect our children, our grandchildren, and our most vulnerable neighbors, if we fail to take bold action now to curb its worst impacts.  As Presbyterian Christians, we believe that we have a moral obligation to leave our children a healthy and safe world and to care for our neighbors.  This proposed rule is an important step on the path to meeting that obligation.

Thank you for taking this bold step to protect our future.


The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Director for Public Witness

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Presbyterians Thank President for Immigration Executive Action


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk, the Rev. Gradye Parsons last night reacted to the President’s announcement of deferred action for the undocumented parents of citizen and legal resident children:

“Tonight the prayers of millions have been answered. Soon many of our neighbors will no longer be at risk of deportation. Still, we lament for those who will not gain relief from this program. This church will stand with those that qualify for relief as they enter the process and we will also continue to stand with those still at risk of deportation by visiting them in detention, protecting them in our sanctuaries and by praying and pressing for broader and more lasting relief through comprehensive immigration reform.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is thankful that President Obama’s executive order, which stands in a long, bipartisan tradition of executive authority protecting vulnerable populations of immigrants. This action will allow undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to register with the federal government. These persons, if approved, will receive a three-year period of protection from deportation and permission to work. This action also expands eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to an additional 300,000 young people. Although the President’s plan will not make beneficiaries eligible for U.S. citizenship or green cards, their ability to work and feed their families, while providing livelihoods for themselves, is an extraordinary move forward from the current immigration policies. It is estimated that this action will benefit some five million people and their families.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has consistently called for the protection of family unity in immigration policy and for comprehensive immigration reform. The 206th General Assembly (1994) adopted the “Call to Presbyterians to Recommit to Work and Pray for a Just and Compassionate U.S. Immigration Policy.” Again, in 1999, 2004, 2010, 2012, and 2014 Presbyterians, through General Assembly actions and guided by theological and ethical principles, continued to call for a commitment from both Presbyterians and the government to work toward welcoming immigrants into communities and providing just laws that affect those who live and work in the United States.

“We believe that the President's executive order is a step in the right direction,” said the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, PC(USA) Director for Public Witness, “however it does not fully address our commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. We will continue to call for major reform of U.S. immigration policies that will provide a viable path to citizenship for all immigrants in the United States, including the 11 million undocumented neighbors currently living and working the shadows.”

The President’s action provides a new foundation on which Congress must build. The Rev. Nelson continued by calling on Congress take the President’s lead by “enacting meaningful, comprehensive reform that provides a pathway to citizenship, enacts the DREAM Act, demilitarizes the borders, and protects family unity. Today, we are not where God will eventually take us, but the President’s action moves us closer to our vision for one nation, under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”


- Emma Lazarus, engraved on the Statue of Liberty Greeting Arriving Immigrants on Ellis Island