Friday, December 30, 2011


March 23 – Compassion Peace and Justice
Training Day

“Presbyterians and Economic Justice”

New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC

Come join the Office of Public Witness and all the ministries of Compassion Peace and Justice in a training day in Washington, DC. Participants will have a full day of practical church based training and investigate the role Christians must play in today’s changing society - particularly on issues of economic justice.  Topics of plenaries and workshops will include faith-based community organizing, practical tools for simple living, justice as discipleship making, social responsibility through investing, and many more!

 March 23-26 – Ecumenical Advocacy Days

“Is this the Fast I Seek? – Economy, Livelihood, and Our National Priorities”

Come to the 10th annual EAD, March 23-26, 2012, in Washington, DC where we will explore economy, livelihood and our national priorities through the lens of Isaiah 58. Join other Christians in seeking a global economy and a national budget that break the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger and unemployment throughout the world — heeding Isaiah's call to become "repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in."

In a global economy based on scarcity, corporate greed, and individualism, we will seek God's alternative vision for global community: one that breaks the chains of injustice and creates the possibility of a sustainable livelihood with dignity for all, thus living into a reality of God's abundance.

Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Come to "Is This the Fast I Seek?," EAD's Tenth Anniversary Celebration, March 23-26, 2012 in Washington, DC and help shape our national priorities!

For more information go to

For more information call the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness at (202) 543-1126

Register Now for Both Events Below @

Reverend Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget 
is the opening preacher at the
Ecumenical Advocacy Days 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PCUSA Director Preaches Opening Worship Service for Israel Palestine Mission Network Meeting


Sermon Delivered by Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson, II at the Opening Worship Service for the Israel Palestine Mission Network Meeting on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 in Louisville, KY.

The Confession of Our Hope
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope (Hebrews 10:23)

            I come to you this afternoon with a concern that you will not give up the labor of faith that drives your work. These are the words that I would use to paraphrase the writer of Hebrews as he expresses a concern for the struggles that life is bringing to the lives of God’s people. In this text the church is reminded that faith, hope, and love are important factors in living their life for Jesus Christ. He reminds them of the great sacrifice seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by God Almighty.

He writes;

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful;

We hear warnings and encouragement throughout the text. I was moved by these words to reflect on the old song I use to hear in my younger days while visiting the African Methodist Episcopal Church with my father for Watch Night Service,  “Get right with God and do it now.” At one moment in pondering the scriptures read for your hearing, God’s illumination suggested that our need to walk carefully in the calling to serve Jesus is important so that we are not broadsided by its dangers or staggered by faith’s pitfalls. What a delicate balance to live out in our faith response to God. However, I could not take my eyes off of the words, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. As I read other translations I noticed that the word confession was replaced by the word profession. Notably, the King James Version uses the word profession. It reads; Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised; 10:23b - KJV). I recognize the struggles that we Presbyterians have with the King James Version of the Bible. We prefer the scholars’ bible The New Revised Standard Version. However, when I read the word profession it reminds me of our faith professions as Presbyterians regarding the work of justice and authentic community building. “Profess” implies that we proactively engage our faith perspectives through our mouths and actions. This means our faith is not simply confessed after something occurs, but instead it is professed (put forward or initiated) on the front end of our claim.  
I believe the work of the Israel Palestine Mission Network is couched in proactive engagement. The reaction that I received from a few Presbyterians who heard that I was coming to preach the opening sermon of your gathering, made me aware that you proactively profess your advocacy on behalf of fair and just Israel-Palestine relationships. And, this is not uncommon for Presbyterians who take seriously a connection to justice issues. We affirm in the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness those issues and relationships that call for a transformation of powers and principalities (including the Church) in an effort to support the poor and oppressed across the globe. We affirm the Christian belief that God through Jesus Christ cares deeply for all people. Our faithful response as Christians is to continually be called out of our own way of life to confess the power of Jesus Christ to overturn earthly sin of institutions, governments, powers, principalities and ungodly people. These challenges are not easy, but are the cornerstone of a our faith work together. 
I was challenged on the floor of a Presbytery meeting during a presentation on behalf of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness. A PC(USA) member rose to speak during the question and answer period of my presentation. She expressed her dismay that the PC(USA) was involved in politics. She felt that our Church had no role in challenging the politics of our day, because it was divisive. “We have experienced too much division and your office is perpetuating the problems that already exist, she said. I provided a reminder for her that Jesus died a political death. He was railroaded through a makeshift court while vacillating political leaders washed their hands of his impending execution. The military taunted and beat him while marching him up Golgotha’s height bearing a cross. He was publicly executed although he was innocent of any crime. Jesus’ followers and the ones who opposed him were faced with unrest and fear. They retreated into hiding in order to save their own lives. The military was of the government. Pontius Pilate was of the government. The execution chamber known as the cross was the signature of government’s capital punishment laws. The government put our Savior to death, because of his impact that led to uncovering of the deceit of the people. Thanks be to God the redemption of sinners (like you and me) through Calvary's cross was divinely designed to set us free to offer a living word to a fallen humanity through him that we might engage the political and the personal; the powerful and priviledged; with both possibility and hope.
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.(Hebrews 10:23)
Last week our office sent out an action alert e-mail to our constituents within the PC(USA) calling for President Obama to refrain from veto of Palestinian Statehood at the United Nations. The Palestinians’ application is presently being considered by the Security Council Committee on Admission of New Members, which met for the first time on October 7th to address a number of procedural issues. There is no formal deadline announced for the Committee to report back to the Security Council body. The Middle East alert emerged from discussions with the Stated Clerk; the PC(USA) Ministry at the United Nations; and the PCUSA Middle East Staff Team. Our support of the action alert is based on the PCUSA’s policy over the years advocating for;
1.      The PC(USA) support of self-determination for Palestine
2.      The PC(USA) implementation of UN resolutions – UN resolutions have long called for two states and Jerusalem and environs being an international city.

We recognize in this advocacy that;

3.      Membership does not preclude a need for negotiations on issues such as final borders, right of return, settlements, Wall, etc.
4.      Membership may level the playing field – The expectation and hope is that negotiations would take place between member states of UN
It is important to note that the PC(USA) Ministry to the United Nations is a connectional component of the work of our denomination. Therefore, we are called as an Office of Public Witness and advocates for just Middle East Peace to support the work of our ministry partners. Emails have ranged from jubilant support to angry criticism. This is a highly charged issue in our denomination, but Jesus calls us to Speak Truth in Love to Power, even within our own ranks. Our challenge is to not give up or be defeated in our efforts by opposing forces to the will of God we are called to express, but to stay at the table and declare we are not moving until God’s truth marches on.  
As we view our text from Hebrews it is understood by some scholars as a call for holiness. I agree that it is. But, holiness without wholeness in a community is foolishness. We cannot say get right with God on one hand while declaring that our role as a denomination is to gather rich Presbyterians to go on mission trips for the purpose of cleaning up the mess that we could have prevented by strong advocacy at the United Nations. This type of thinking is symptomatic of our internal struggle as a denomination and the reason why many justice driven advocacy groups within the PCUSA are constantly under pressure to step back from pressing for justice. I stop by today to encourage you not to get up from the table with opposing groups. I encourage you to be honest with friends and foes of our denominational policy. Most of all I encourage you to follow the faith and hope found in Jesus Christ that leads us to know that even the impossible is possible when we trust the God of the ages. 
On yesterday, I faced a court hearing on my arrest with ten other religious leaders now known as the Rotunda 11. We were arrested for praying in the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC on July 28, 2011. Our purpose for appealing to Congress through prayer in the Rotunda was due to the political morass we witnessed in Congress regarding the authorization of a spending cap for the President and the attempts to balance the federal budget on the backs of poor people. I was informed that Dick Gregory (activist, civil rights leader, comedian) was in the courthouse.  and wanted to meet me. He was arrested earlier that day for protesting British Petroleum. Someone told him about our protest and Jim Winker of the United Methodist Washington Office came to me with his request. I was honored to meet the man that I heard speak my freshman year on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC. We talked about his arrest and the Washington Interreligious Staff Community’s (WISC) work in raising the level of commitment within mosques, synagogues and local churches. His comment was that “this government is coming down.” He mentioned being in New York City with the Occupy Wall Street crowd the day before. He witnessed rich people distributing food to the occupiers. He spoke of how different this protest is from the civil rights movement. Then he said, “Rich Anglo Americans are on the streets of New York supporting the Occupiers. When rich White people see the injustices and decide to take a definitive stand it is a statement as to how the comfortable are now uncomfortable with the barriers placed on full participation in the process of our government. This means something big is on the way.”
            I contend that the governmental transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya that
represent a break from domination towards a more inclusive government for the people, ofthe people and by the people is a global fight. Our desire for freedom and peace in the Middle East is no less important to this global struggle for freedom. All of these struggles are a part of God’s desire for us to affirm community peace and justice as a standard for humanity. The Israel Palestine Mission Network has an important role to play. The challenge now and in the days ahead is to remember the words of this scripture;

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope (Hebrews 10:23)

Copyright © 2011 J. Herbert Nelson, II. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sermon delivered by Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II on Saturday, July 2, 2011 at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Big Tent Event in Indianapolis, IN. The sermon was preached at the closing worship service.


A Ministry of the
PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, Washington, DC

Sermon Title: “Moving From Success to Significance”
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. God is doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 18-19a)

            The Sovereignty of God is evident when one begins to read the power of Isaiah’s comfort to God’s people in Babylonian exile. The promise that Yahweh would gather this flock that belonged to the divine is one of the most compelling sources of strength to remind us of the coming of the Lord. Feel free to close your eyes and listen to these words that may have provided a moment of calm to you during your sojourn with the Lord. 

Comfort, O comfort my people, says our God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for her sins. A voice cries “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and the people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:1-5).

Israel’s penance is accepted and Yahweh is promising to gather his flock and bring them home. God is promising to redeem God’s people. And what better time could this redemptive relief come than in the middle of an impending Babylonian collapse. King Cyrus is leading Babylon to ruins. Emerging from the Old Testament view of God’s all-powerful and sovereign nature is the belief that suffering is a by-product of God’s dissatisfaction with humankind. Exile was God’s righteous judgment, but it was not a sign of God giving up on God’s people. Therefore, the collapse of Babylon is God’s way of sending a message to these exilic people. Although there are divine messages that can be derived from our dismal, dark and desolate circumstances, our reformed faith tradition reminds us that suffering is a part of the human experience.
It is worth noting here that Isaiah’s message is one of total confidence in God through these times of struggle. Oh, I hear him paraphrasing some of the old words of comfort that have paved the way on my journey on the highway of life. Some of you know what I am talking about - “God is God all by God self” – “the Lord Will Make a Way Somehow” – God can do anything but fail!  Isaiah says it this way;  

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circles of the earth and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. (Isa. 40:21-23). 

These words of comfort are marked with expectations of liberation and release from the binding that prohibits God’s people from becoming what they are intended to be. In other words, God is available to redeem, restore and relieve these exilic people from their burdens and despair, but it is incumbent that the people assist God in their own desire for liberation. Their focus requires a liberation motif that is entrenched in being significant to the Kingdom of God. Significant!
Our success model is being destroyed everyday! As churches and people are leaving the denomination over the passage of 10A; NFOG; and conservative–liberal posturing it is clear that we face a moment in time that will result in our liberation from the religious yoke of bondage or the death knell to the potential freedom found in being captive to the will of God. We have a choice! We can lament over not being what we used to be or live into the mystery of God’s desire for what we are to become with God’s help. We used to have four million members; we used to have clout; we used to be able demand an appointment at the White House; we used to have collection baskets overflowing and persons looking for the nearest Presbyterian Church when they came to town. We used to be successful!
But, like the exilic people in our text for today, God is calling us back to a renewed relationship to our God and ourselves as the body of Christ. God wants the Presbyterian Church to be significant. Therefore, it is a blessing that while our country and world has to rediscover a new way of meeting demands in this present global society, we are required to do the same. God is saying to us, as he said to those in Babylonian exile, that to move from a mentality of success to one of significance we must:  

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. God is doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43: 18:19a)

Identity and Imagination Must Lead Our Transition

God is calling the PC(USA) to live out a new call in transforming a broken and dying world. At the core of our challenge is making a new discovery about who we are. Our identity is found in what we are becoming – not what we used to be or our circumstances. Our challenge is akin to the pastoral challenges of assisting people in restoring hope in a new future. A story is told by a pastor who counseled a woman who could not find satisfaction in her life. She complained:
“The people at my job always leave their work undone and I am the one that has to clean up their mess. They take long breaks and talk about people all of the time. I know they are talking about me too! Some of them come in and play games on their computers, look at Facebook and talk on their cell phones.

“My husband never wants to talk.

“My children act like they live in a zoo. Their rooms are never clean and they leave stuff all over the house.

“My mother in law is staying with us and the place is crowded.

            After listening for a long time, the pastor took a piece of paper and folded it in half. The pastor asked the woman to take the paper and on one side list the positive things in her life. She helped her begin the list by saying “You have a job. In view of so many job losses, that is a good thing, wouldn’t you agree,” The woman nodded her head in agreement. The Pastor said, “Write that down.” She then assisted the woman in listing other things that were positive in her life, such as her children and husband being healthy; her husband assisting the children with their homework; and the woman’s children doing well in school. The woman was then instructed to take the other side of the paper and in the coming week write all of the bad or not so good things occurring in her life. “Then, let us sit down next week at this same time and discuss your list.”
 A week later the woman missed the appointment; did not return phone calls; and had not been in Church. At the grocery store several weeks later ,the pastor saw the woman and shared her concern at not having seen or heard from her: “I have not seen you in church and you did not return my call. Oh yes, and the appointment we had, you missed it. What happened?” The woman explained that she and her husband went on a vacation without the children. It was the first vacation that they had taken by themselves in over two years. “Who kept the children while you were gone” asked the pastor. The woman responded, “My mother-in-law.” The pastor then asked “Are the children still doing well in school?” The woman responded, “They are all on the honor roll.” The pastor then asked the big question, “How are things with your job?” The woman’s response was, “You know, those people on that job sure have changed.”  
The reality is that her view of her own life changed. She recognized that her circumstances did not define her. And, if the PC(USA) is to move from a model of success to one of significance, it is incumbent on us to walk in the way and the admonition of the Lord, so that we will begin to see more clearly our possibilities rather than our problems; our way forward rather than lamenting the life we must leave behind; our mission and message rather than our mess; people who are waiting to hear a word from the Lord rather than those who are leaving the church; our Young Adults who rejoice in the possibilities of a new day of mission and justice advocacy rather than those who only want to make sure that the church cemetery will be their burial ground. Yes, we can become a transforming entity in the lives of people who want sing a new song while marching toward a divine commission, rather than lamenting those whose quest is power, dominance, and control, trapping the church in the dark ages while singing out of the green and red hymnal.
Brian McLaren reminds us that we are no longer mainline. Joel Olsten is mainline today. T.D. Jakes is mainline today. And, we must search for a new identity as a denomination. What an exciting time to serve the Lord in the PC(USA). What an exciting time to grow our ministries, take risks in the name of the Lord and expand our opportunities to serve in this time of globalization, which demands that we rediscover creativity in order to reimage what it means to church in the 21st century.     

Faith Must Lead Us

            During Thanksgiving, I spent time with my mother, who would be upset with me if I told you her age, and my 102 year old grandmother[lgw1] , who would be upset with me if I did not tell you her age. It was becoming evident that 10A may be a close vote, but it was still early. Before leaving with my wife Gail to return to Washington, DC, I asked the two of them to share with me what they thought was happening in the church today -- with congregations pulling out and people withholding money and threatening to leave the denomination. They both paused for awhile and then my mother responded by opening her bible and read these words:

I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and me in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

Momma closed the bible and grand-momma began to speak. “Herbie, the Lord is pruning Presbyterian Church. Cutting it back! It is not about agreement or disagreement. The church has been pruned in every new thing that God has intended to make possible. The Presbyterian Church was pruned during the slavery of African Americans; the ordination of women; the civil rights movement and Angela Davis; the reunion of the Presbyterian Church U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); and now the ordination of lesbian and gay persons to ministry. God prunes the church to make it useful for God’s service! And when it comes back on faith it becomes beautiful and full and produces good fruit.” They told me, “if you look at this time as a despairing moment then you will miss the point that only the eyes of faith can understand. I packed the car and returned to Washington, DC, committed to let God do a new thing.

Our call to move from the model of success to one of significance requires that God, through Jesus Christ, be the center of our joy in faith.

I, I am the Lord and besides me there is no Savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed when there was no strange God among you; and you are my witnesses, says the Lord. I am God, and also henceforth I am He; There is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?
Isaiah 43:11-13
These are the words that precede the new thing that God is going to do for those being called back to a commitment of significance for the Lord:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. God is doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43: 18:19a)

This new thing will not be done without a supreme faith in the God of salvation. Church can no longer be ritual. The young people I talk to want to experience God in worship. I have led both a church redevelopment and new church development in my ministries. It is clear that in our ministry development, we are challenged to learn how to pray for the courage to evangelize and serve. God is the center of our joy! Moving from success to significance requires that pastors,  elders, deacons, members of congregations, and governing body leaders learn to pray and build a healthy faith in God through Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (11:1). Prayer and our faith in God must be the guiding sources of our work ahead. We must study God’s word and know it for ourselves. We must know more about the book of John than the Book of Order or NFOG. The constant reminder in the days ahead must be the notion that we work for God and not ourselves. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
And I’m so glad that God loved little ole me and little ole you enough to send the only begotten son that God had for the redemption of the world, and through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can have hope right now. I’m so glad the scripture reminds us that the darkest part of the night is often just before dawn.  I’m so glad that every appearance of death may be our only way to resurrection, not dead never to stand again.  I’m so glad that the Lord never forgets God’s children, and has promised to walk with us all the way and gives us a new start and a brand new opportunity.  I’m so glad that Jesus lifted me, and I’m so glad that the promise is that Jesus will lift us all.  That the day will come when the Kingdom shall reign and we shall shout “Hallelujah!  Thank you Lord!” We live in the land of power and might, given by God Almighty!  Stand to your feet today and declare that God is our only help in these times of trouble! Thank you Lord!  He’s still on the throne!  Never forget God’s truth! God’s truth is still marching on!  Our God is able to do all things but fail! 

Let us pray. 

Copyright (c) 2011 J. Herbert Nelson. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Trusting God to Do Abundantly More Through Us Than We Can Do For Ourselves

Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson
Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
Washington, DC

July 28, 2011

            Today, I was arrested in the Capitol Rotunda while kneeling in prayer with colleagues from several Washington offices that are primarily affiliated through interfaith justice work. These persons are Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center, Philadelphia, PA; Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director, Faith and Public Life; Rev. Paul Sherry, Director, Washington Office, Interfaith Worker Justice, and Past President, United Church of Christ; Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President, National Council of Churches of Christ (USA); Sandy Sorenson, Director, Washington Office, United Church of Christ; Martin Shupack, Director of Advocacy, Church World Service; Jordan Blevins, Director of Peace Witness Ministries, Church of the Brethren; Bob Edgar, President, Common Cause and former General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ (USA).

I am writing this statement to explain why non-violent civil disobedience was a necessary action to pursue at this time. I pray that through this writing, we who are committed to faith traditions will renew our call to community-building, so that all people are embraced irrespective of individual differences. It is time for faith communities to pursue a more excellent way, by  demonstrating concerns through deliberate and direct actions regarding the upcoming Congressional budget discussions.

The Absence of Hope

On Monday, July 25th, I was saddened to hear both President Obama and House Speaker Boehner offer a bleak outlook regarding potential default on the nation’s debt and downgrading of the national credit rating. It was apparent that both men were distressed about the economic havoc that would occur if this issue was not resolved by August 2, 2011. Along with other Americans, I can see, hear, and share the frustration in the debate among politicians in Washington.

On Tuesday, I accompanied the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reverend Gradye Parsons, and a group of other religious leaders and Heads of Communion, to meetings with both Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership. We had meetings with staff in the offices of House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. We also met in person with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn. All of these meetings left the impression of bleak and uncertain prospects for reaching an agreement over the debt ceiling.  They left us with almost no hope that such an agreement would protect the most vulnerable in society from a disproportionate share of the fiscal sacrifice. When asked, “How does the outcome look?” one senior staff member responded, “I don’t know, but it will be bad. No matter what the decision, it will be bad. We just don’t know how bad it will be.”

            After we finished our meetings, we gathered to debrief in a solemn and defeated atmosphere. We discussed the need for the faith community to continue responding in a significant way to this crisis, which is not only fiscal, but also moral. The interfaith advocacy community in DC has been organizing for several months, and even years, around issues of just and compassionate federal budget decisions.  In the past month, we have been holding daily prayer vigils across the street from the U.S. Capitol Building, in front of the United Methodist Building (where many of our offices are located). As our campaign to address the crisis this summer took shape, one opportunity for public witness that was suggested repeatedly was an action of non-violent civil disobedience.  We share a belief that after exhausting all other avenues of persuasion and witness, civil disobedience is a necessary and appropriate way to demonstrate our concern and raise the voice of the faith community in this debate. Yesterday, we prayed together and each shared where his or her personal decision of conscience would lead. We agreed to support one another no matter our personal decision.

Political Morass

Today we were guilty of one charge…the promotion of social righteousness. Our nation is in a political morass. Elected officials in Washington seem unable to work together for the good of all people in the U.S. and across the globe. Our communal well-being is compromised by the self-interest of our political leaders. I am convinced that this is not the fault of any one political party. Too many congresspersons of all parties are trapped where commitment to the common good is diminished for the sake of personal gain and the seduction of power. Simply put, these men and women are conduits for corporate power and many vacillate between God and mammon.

In this process, the American people and others all over the world are left to suffer and fight over the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, while corporations and wealthy people are protected by tax loopholes. The middle class is eroding and the rolls of poverty and joblessness are expanding. Grandparents who live on fixed incomes are paying mortgages for their children and private education for their grandchildren. Foreclosures are continuing and homelessness is reaching unbelievable numbers as many who were once considered middle class are now homeless or one paycheck away from living on the streets.  Those who were once generous givers to our ministries of mercy now come to us seeking the assistance they used to be able to fund.  The Prophet Isaiah calls us to be “restorers of the streets to live”: a direct challenge to employ a theology that turns powers and principalities on their heads for the liberation of God’s people.

 If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to live in.

-- Isaiah 58:9b-12

My call to be arrested is united with a challenge to break through the mess of political spin and sound bites that inflame the U.S. electorate without informing it. Church leaders cannot stand idly by while our congregants lose their homes, withdraw their children from college because financial aid is cut, live in fear that their social security checks will not be delivered, search fruitlessly for jobs to support their families, and watch their children grow up uneducated and without opportunity.

Isaiah is right, “The Lord will guide you always.” However, we are required to put some feet on our prayers. We must move toward building a world that represents the will of God for our lives. At this time, it will take extraordinary faith, courage, and resilience to transform this broken political machinery. However, the greatest challenge is rediscovering as a nation the true virtues of government of the people, by the people and for the people.  

My prayer is that others will take on leadership roles in their local communities to challenge the fallen structures of our day. Our challenge begins by rethinking and discerning our call. Church leaders are called to a public witness. Therefore, as we encounter a Congress that is unwilling to compromise for the good of the nation, let us not despair, but remember our mission, which our Savior makes clear at the very beginning of his ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

The Spirit Must Outweigh the Risk

On several occasions, it has occurred to me that I have only been on the job for fourteen months. I have asked myself, ‘what might happen to me if I am arrested at this tender moment in my tenure as Director of Public Witness for the PC(USA)?’. All who care for their families and themselves want a certain amount of security in life. However, it is impossible to feel secure when fear grips our souls and paralyzes us in moments of challenge and controversy. Jesus prayed until he perspired while coping with the cup that was his burden for the Lord. However, He resolved that doing the will of God was far greater than anything else that he could experience – even unto death. And, he was right! Resurrection is greater. I am sure that many do not understand my actions.

My travels throughout the denomination, to approximately 25 Presbyteries in 14 months, have shown me disconnects in two places -- between Presbyterians and the historic role of our history, theology, and activism with regards to faith and politics; and the biblical connection between the prophets’ and Jesus’ impact on the political sphere of their day.

On Presbyterians, faith and politics:

John Calvin, founder of the Presbyterianism, was a staunch believer that the Church had a responsibility, on behalf of the governed, to assist government to become what God required it to be. He believed that governmental authority was not subject to the Church per se, but certainly subject to God’s Will on behalf of the people. Therefore, the Church had a responsibility to provide guidance to political leaders and structures in an effort to assist them in the implementation of Godly leadership. For Calvin, church attendance by political leaders was not enough. Political leaders needed to reflect the love of God for the people of God given the gravity of their office and responsibility.

On the prophets’ and Jesus’ role in the political sphere:

The prophets spoke truth in love to power. “Thus says the Lord” was their mantra. God’s people were called to return to the precepts of God for the purpose of living lives that were worthy of God’s acceptance. Generations later, Jesus faced the cross at Calvary in an effort to be responsive to the will of God in his life. He died a political death because his message was not only spiritual, but also political, and because a vacillating political leader chose to wash his hands in order to conceal his internal shame for putting to death our Savior, who was innocent of wrongdoing. Both the Old and New Testaments speak loudly to the commitment and consequences that derive from prophetic work. It seems that the Bible continually reminds us that misunderstandings and hardships come when we fully immerse ourselves in the work of faith.

I am not sure what will come out of these actions of civil disobedience, but it is clear that conversations will emerge. I am convinced that when the alarm is sounded, urgency is created and a Word from the Lord can be given new clarity. I want to suggest that even as you are reading this paper, the process is already beginning. Truly, the risk is great with regard to public opinion and even my standing in the church.

However, I wonder what would have happened to us if Jesus had worried so much about his standing, public perception, and even his own life. I wonder what would have happened if both Luther and Calvin had turned away from the pursuit of reforming the church at a time when her soul was dying. I wonder what would have happened if Eugene Carson Blake, Dr. King, and my own father (who was a Presbyterian pastor) had decided to turn back from their commitments to the civil rights movement. I wonder what would have happened if Lois Stair, Lawrence Bottoms, Clinton Marsh, Thelma Adair, Fahed Abu-Akel, Rick Ufford-Chase, Bruce Reyes Chow, Cindy Bolbach and Linda Valentine had failed to challenge our denomination to grow toward accepting leaders of different genders, races, ethnic backgrounds, age categories, and lay and clergy status in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  I am sure each one of these persons was told that the time is not right. However, when we encounter a centering moment that brings us into deep deliberation with the Almighty, our conviction to something far greater than ourselves has the capacity to take us places that we can only explain in terms beyond our own power. I am convinced that this is why the Apostle Paul declared an unusual freedom, even while in jail, to implement the Lord’s will.  He wrote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

            I encourage you to risk your life as we battle to reclaim the integrity of our political process and decision-making on behalf of the people of God.  This is not a call towards greater dominance and control of other nations, but rather a call to work with the poor, dismantle the root causes of poverty, and build up a new middle class. This call requires that we commit to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for the entire world, through governmental policies that promote the common good and loving our global neighbors. The challenge and the call now is to repair the breach in our covenant with God, while challenging our communities and this nation to become first in love. Our policies and practices must be consistent with this vision to reclaim the moral authority of our nation and world.

As religious leaders, we cannot stand idly by and watch while the mandate of our gospel – to love our neighbors – is trampled by a selfish few. I do recognize the potential fallout from this action and I am trusting God to do abundantly more for this situation through me and the others who are making this sacrifice than we can do ourselves.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

J. Herbert Nelson on NPR

As Washington looks for cuts in government programs, support for nonprofits is also on the line, and donations to philanthropies have not been growing. President Obama is targeting tax breaks for what George H.W. Bush called "a thousand points of light" that help make up for cuts in safety-net spending. At the same time, Christians on the Left and the Right argue about the duty to help the poor and the danger of creating dependence on others. What's in store for the aged, blind and disabled? What about the unemployed and those who can't afford medical insurance?

To listen to the show, click the link below.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Office of Public Witness' Leslie Woods in Yale's Reflections Magazine

Leslie Woods, Representative for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues at the Office of Public Witness, has recently been published in Yale Divinity School's Reflections Magazine.  

The article, titled American Dream, American Nightmare: Poverty Today, calls attention to the reality of poverty in our country today, its impact in women in particular, and our responsibility to address these issues.  "It is hard for the rest of us – me included – to conceive of the pain and anxiety a woman feels when she cannot afford to fill a prescription for a sick child."

To read the full article, click the link below.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Office of Public Witness Offers Information on Washington’s Debt Ceiling Deal

On Tuesday, August 3rd, Office of Public Witness staff worked with colleagues in the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) to present a webinar on the content of the debt ceiling deal approved by Congress and signed by the President earlier this week.  The deal will increase the federal debt ceiling by at least $2.1 trillion and cut federal spending by about the same amount.

The goal of the webinar was to present the details of the new law, in addition to outlining the faith community’s concerns in this debate and the steep road of work ahead.  To learn more about the newest law of the land, watch a recording of Tuesday’s webinar.

About five minutes before the webinar began, the hosting software reached its capacity, so that many people were unable to login to the webinar.  Because of this overwhelming interest, this webinar will be presented again on Tuesday, August 9th, and 2pm eastern time.  Instructions for logging in will be available as soon as possible on the Office of Public Witness website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Faith-based advocacy community is gearing up for several more months, and even years, of witness on behalf of those who can least afford to bear the cost of budget cuts.  In Tuesday’s webinar, representatives from the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, and Bread for the World, explained that there is much work to be done in the months ahead.

“Whatever you think about [this bill], this is only the first phase.  This was not the final card,” said Amelia Kegan, Policy Analyst from Bread for the World.

Watch the recorded webinar or join the reprise presentation on Tuesday, August. 9th

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Passage of debt-ceiling bill prompts response from Stated Clerk

“programs that serve the common good are bearing the costs”
AUGUST 3, 2011
The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement today (Wednesday) in response to the bill signed by President Obama yesterday that will increase the debt-ceiling by more than $2 trillion and cut a roughly equivalent amount of spending from the U.S. budget.
In the statement, Parsons writes, “While I am pleased that the nation no longer faces the impending financial peril of default on our national debt, I am deeply troubled by the deficit-reduction package that Congress passed to get us to this place.”
According to Parsons, the budget package “does little to address the underlying causes of our mounting deficits.”
Parsons had joined a number of religious leaders in Washington the previous week to urge Congress “to enact a deficit-reduction plan that would require a greater contribution from those who have been blessed with plenty, and not to sacrifice the poor and vulnerable on the altar of political ideology or deficit reduction.”
The ecumenical and interfaith leaders had also reminded legislators that religious communities and charitable organizations do not have the resources to make up the difference between the spending cuts and the “growing and monumental need caused by a severe recession, anemic recovery, and systemic inequity.”
Parsons writes, “Private charity needs public partnership in order to answer our call to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.”
The Stated Clerk acknowledges helpful measures within the bill – exemptions for low-income programs, as well as and a reduction in military spending, which will help to push the country toward seeking “new and innovative initiatives for peace around the world.”
Parsons concludes his statement by inviting Presbyterians to join the effort. “United by our shared commitment to Micah’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, and to the common good for our brothers and sisters around the world, we must urge our elected leaders to protect the vulnerable and restore equity in a society where imbalance of wealth has become the norm.”
The full text of the Stated Clerk’s statement:
This week, Congress approved and the President signed into law a bill that couples a $2.1-$2.4 trillion increase to the U.S. debt ceiling with about equivalent spending cuts. While I am pleased that the nation no longer faces the impending financial peril of default on our national debt, I am deeply troubled by the deficit-reduction package that Congress passed to get us to this place. With the enactment of this bill, we see ahead a few rays of light in an otherwise bleak landscape.
Together with our ecumenical and interfaith partners, the PC(USA) has been firm in calling on decision-makers in Washington to enact a plan for a just and compassionate budget. Last week, I joined other faith leaders to meet with Congressional leadership and their staff. During those meetings, we urged them to make responsible decisions that would protect the most vulnerable at home and around the world. We asked them to enact a deficit-reduction plan that would require a greater contribution from those who have been blessed with plenty, and not to sacrifice the poor and vulnerable on the altar of political ideology or deficit reduction. 
In addition, we reminded our elected leaders that we who engage in ministries of charity and mercy cannot meet the overwhelming need alone. Private charity needs public partnership in order to answer our call to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. As earnestly as we will try to fill gaps in services left by government spending cuts, we simply do not have the resources to respond to the growing and monumental need caused by a severe recession, anemic recovery, and systemic inequity.
The new law of the land is far from answering these concerns. On the contrary, it does little to address the underlying causes of our mounting deficits, while making severe cuts that will harm millions of people who depend on our humanitarian aid and the social safety net. It contains no increased revenues, fails to address the inequities in our tax code, and does not attempt to control growing health care costs. It places the burden of deficit reduction on programs that not only serve low-income and vulnerable people in the U.S., but also that provide international humanitarian aid, protect God’s good creation, conduct medical research, ensure food safety, and strengthen our transportation infrastructure. In short, programs that serve the common good are bearing the cost.
On a positive note, a significant portion of the spending cuts will likely come from the defense budget, thereby pushing our nation toward rethinking our defense strategy and seeking new and innovative initiatives for peace around the world. Likewise, exemptions for some low-income programs have also been included in the “enforcement” part of the bargain, protecting some important programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Unemployment Insurance from bearing the brunt of deficit reduction.
If nothing else is clear from the rancorous debate that culminated in this week’s final deal, it is that we still have a good deal of work to do. This deficit-reduction package sets up several deadlines by which Congress must meet more deficit reduction targets. This means that the Appropriations process ending in September as well as the deliberations of the new bipartisan, bicameral Joint Committee, which will meet throughout the fall, will be opportunities for us to continue raising the voice of the poor and vulnerable at home and around the world. In achieving exemptions for some low-income programs and in convincing Members of Congress to consider “the least of these,” we have achieved much. We must build on this success to lift up programs and services that make a difference in the lives of people across the world: people in our pews, in our neighborhoods, in our partner churches, and in our global community.
I invite Presbyterians to join me in this effort. United by our shared commitment to Micah’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, and to the common good for our brothers and sisters around the world, we must urge our elected leaders to protect the vulnerable and restore equity in a society where imbalance of wealth has become the norm.