Greetings to members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, mid council executives, and friends,
There are times when God calls us to take a stand—and take our place—among the “great cloud of witnesses,” whose steadfast commitment to being God’s church necessarily involved engaging the secular world.
In her message below, Sara Lisherness, director of the Compassion, Peace, and Justice ministry area, describes how our Presbyterian history and traditions not only inform and inspire us but also continue to call us to take action toward promoting a more just society.
Greetings, sisters and brothers in Christ!
Presbyterians have a deep and rich history of engagement in public life. Our Reformed tradition clearly attests to God’s sovereignty over all of creation, including the ordering of human community, and calls the church to be involved in the political culture of every age, witnessing to the shalom of God. The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s vision statement, “Presbyterians joyfully engaging in God’s mission for the transformation of the world,” recognizes and affirms this calling.
The roots of our church’s engagement in public affairs can be traced to John Calvin, who was concerned about not only personal piety but the welfare of the citizens of Geneva. He was deeply engaged in public life—establishing universal education, creating a representational form of government, building a sanitation system, caring for the poor, and welcoming refugees from all walks of life into the community.
Calvin initiated a legacy that Presbyterians have followed over the centuries. John Witherspoon, president of what would become Princeton University, was the only clergy member to sign the Declaration of Independence. So active were Presbyterian leaders in seeking independence from the crown that they were labeled “disrupters of government,” and King George was said to have called the colonists’ quest for independence the “Presbyterian Rebellion.”
Many Presbyterians have followed in the footsteps of Calvin and Witherspoon—Elijah Lovejoy and Henry Ward Beecher and his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe were outspoken advocates for the abolition of slavery. Woodrow Wilson and John Foster Dulles were both leaders in international affairs, seeking ways that the world community could work together for peace. Eugene Carson Blake and Edler Hawkins were among the “great cloud of witnesses” in the civil rights movement. Inspired by the Reformed understanding of what faithfulness to the God who is sovereign over all creation means, these leaders are examples of countless Presbyterians who bring their faith into the public arena.
This dedication to public witness continues in the life of our church today. The Office of Public Witness—working in the nation’s capital since 1947—is the voice of PC(USA) social witness policy. It nurtures and encourages Presbyterians from all walks of life to get involved in civic life.
Each year, this ministry—working in partnership with other programs of Compassion, Peace, and Justice—organizes Advocacy Training Weekend, scheduled this year for March 21–24. Presbyterians from across the country will gather at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, on March 21 to worship, to pray, and to learn how to strengthen their public advocacy. This daylong gathering is followed by Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a three-day conference that brings together people from many religious traditions to build partnerships and strengthen the voice of the church as it bears witness in our nation’s capital. The theme this year is “Jesus Weeps: Resisting Violence, Building Peace.” Registration is still open for both events.
Join us March 21–24 to learn how you can more effectively share the convictions of our faith with elected officials and to meet other Presbyterians joyfully engaging in God’s mission for the transformation of the world!
Sara Lisherness, Director
Compassion, Peace, and Justice