Monday, December 22, 2014

J. Herbert Nelson Celebrates 2014


Dear Friends of Justice Advocacy Work and Ministry:

I am thankful for your support of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. We could not do our work without you. I am writing you to give a few updates on our work this past year and a brief look forward.

Youth and Young Adult Emphasis
2014 Seminary Interns Sabrina Slater and Kyle Cristofalo with
Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons 
In 2014, we completed a three-year initiative to focus on youth and young adults. Thousands of youth and young adults were impacted by our efforts. We will share an impact study with the denomination during the first quarter of the year. Due to the great success of our three-year commitment, we are launching a second phase of our initiative with more of an emphasis on justice advocacy training and leadership. Training young adult justice advocates and activists to engage in coalition- and movement-building in local communities will be the new emphasis of this work. This process is already being implemented through our Internship, Summer Fellowship and Young Adult Volunteer initiatives and will continue to grow.

See our theological basis for work with young adults published in the First Quarter 2012 Advocacy as Discipleship publication, “A New Organizing Model: Young Adults are Essential for a new Era of Political Advocacy.” 

Revamped and New Educational Forum

For more than 20 years, Presbyterians have traveled to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness for our monthly Second Tuesday briefings. Given the access to technology by so many persons across the globe, we are now preparing to launch a series of online tools that will assist us in inspiring, equipping and connecting Presbyterians and others to stay abreast of the latest policy and political information. You will have an opportunity to engage our advocacy partners, staff and officials via a series of forums. We will also have specific conference calls for identified issue advocates. There will be no standard day or time for these events, but rather will be scheduled when the issue demands it and to serve people in various times zones and availability. We will hold these events at least twice a month and you should be able to participate through your telephone and/or computer. Notices of monthly events will be published on our media resources, such as our email list, Facebook, and Twitter.

Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day and Ecumenical Advocacy Days

The U.S. makes up only five percent of the world’s population, and yet we incarcerate a quarter of the world’s prisoners. With private, for-profit prisons that incarcerate, but fail to rehabilitate, the United States’ “justice system” fails to achieve justice on multiple levels. A failing public education system, eroding worker protections, and a minimum wage that traps families in poverty has left persons vulnerable to the desperation and behaviors that lead to incarceration. Militarized police forces that racially profile, while killing innocent children of color, further exacerbate a problem where private investors are permitted to profit from the incarceration of human beings.

We erect fences to keep persons from crossing our borders while creating the very economic and political turmoil, oppression and violence that leads people to migrate in the first place. We use our purchasing power to support companies that employ slave labor and buy products that contain conflict minerals. It is time to build a movement to achieve systemic changes that releases the prisoners (literal and figurative) from the bondage of unjust laws and leadership.

Two events comprise our Advocacy Training Weekend. “Compassion, Peace and Justice (CPJ) Training Day” is a one-day Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-focused training event that provides interaction and information regarding the work of the denomination. Held at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2015, together we will share worship, fellowship, education, networking, and training in order to better engage Presbyterians in the work of building a movement for justice.

CPJ Training Day precedes Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD), which brings together 56 ecumenical organizations to sponsor a “how-to” advocacy-training event. Together, “we will confess our personal and corporate failure to break the chains of poverty, racism, and greed institutionalized in our laws, economy, and social behaviors that collude to perpetuate human exploitation and strip people of their civil and human rights.” Advocacy Days will take place April 17-20, 2015.

Join the Advocacy Training Weekend beginning with Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day on Friday, April 17, 2015, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and stay the whole weekend for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, which will start on Friday evening, April 17, at the Doubletree – Crystal City, VA (just across the river). The weekend will conclude with lobby day on Capitol Hill on Monday, April 20, 2015.

We have drawn over 300 Presbyterians to these events each year since 2011. We are hoping to bring more in 2015. Please register today and share the information found about the Advocacy Training Weekend with your friends, church groups, Presbyteries, Synods and other congregations in your community. 

Celebrating Advocacy Victories

  • Celebrating the great news on US-Cuba relations! Thanks to all of you who have been responding to our action alerts on this issue!
  • After 100 days in Sanctuary at University Presbyterian Church, Luis Lopez Acabal returned to his home and family on Friday, December 12!
  • Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have passed the ABLE Act, which will “unlock the doors of financial freedom” for people with disabilities and their families, who must either be independently wealthy or live in poverty in order to receive the support and services they need. The President is expected to sign this bill into law – perhaps the most important stride forward in legislation for people with disabilities since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) itself. Read more from our partners at the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition’s (IDAC) Facebook page.

I give thanks each day for the way God has blessed this ministry and for you, who are our partners in ministry and mission. May the joy and peace of this season be yours and may we move into a New Year with hope and thanksgiving.


J. Herbert Nelson, II

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 one of nine immigrants this year to shield themselves from deportation as part of the new Sanctuary Movement. From September 4 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), Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II (PCUSA Office of Public Witness Director), Teresa Waggener (PCUSA Office of Immigration Director), Rev. Toya Richards Jackson, (Office of General Assembly Associate for Communications), Randy Hobson (Office of General Assembly Web Services Coordinator) and AmyBeth Willis (Office of Public Witness Young Adult Volunteer), met with Luis, Mayra, Pastor Eric O. Ledermann,  and congregation and community members 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 whom 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 & Luis with daughter Kimberly. Credit: Alonso Parra, Left Lamp Media

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.)