Monday, June 30, 2014

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson Speaks on Supreme Court Labor Ruling

A Travesty and a Shame on the Nation: Harris v. Quinn limits workers collective bargaining rights

The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC, today expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) ruling in the Harris v. Quinn case. He said –

"In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we have long supported the rights of workers to organize, to share in workplace decisions and productivity growth, to seek protections from dangerous working conditions, and to gain time and benefits to enable full family life.* Today's Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn is a step backward for all workers, for as we rise together, so together do we fall. There is no doubt that this decision will make it more difficult for all workers, not just public sector workers, to exercise their rights to bargain collectively. With respect to the specifics of this case, home health care workers, who are disproportionately women and people of color, are essential for the health and well-being of older adults and people with disabilities who wish to live their lives and to age with dignity in their homes. These workers are also key providers of support for families. This entire community would benefit from a home health care workforce that is more stable and better compensated. That these workers would be denied the basic human right to organize for better lives, wages, and working conditions is a travesty and a shame on this nation."

The 5-4 split decision rules that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay fees that help cover the union’s costs of collective bargaining. The SCOTUS today has not forbid public employee unions from compelling contributions, but has nonetheless limited it.

This is a damaging blow to public sector unions that have done so much to improve the lives of millions of working families across the country. Unions serve as the organized voice for workers and have led the charge on numerous workers’ rights issues that most Americans today take for granted, such as regular wage increases, health and safety regulations, 8-hour workdays, overtime protection, and the weekend. Further, unions were instrumental in creating a strong, economically secure middle class.

Unions continue today to be more essential than ever, as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. We also know that unions are one of the best hopes for leveling the playing field of the gender wage gap, as a new study this year shows that the gender wage gap for women union-members is half that of the disparity for non-union women workers. Indeed, unions continue to be essential to the health and strength of the American workforce, but today, unions have lost an important tool to support more workers in the struggle for better wages and working conditions. The PC(USA) will continue to support workers and their ability to bargain collectively.

* This characterization of PC(USA) support for workers’ right to unionize is excerpted from the Social Creed for the 21st Century, approved by the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

To see the ecumenical faith community's response to the decision, click here.

Faith Leaders Condemn SCOTUS Decision in Harris v.Quinn

Faith Leaders Condemn Supreme Court Decision: Ruling in Harris v. Quinn Will Hurt Caregivers and the People They Serve

**Partner Organizations and Quotes from Individual Faith Leaders Listed Below**

WASHINGTON, DC—In response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court today that weakens the collective bargaining power ultimately jeopardizes the ability of seniors and people with disabilities to get the reliable care they need to remain at home, the PICO National Network, Faith in Public Life, and nearly one dozen, non-partisan and multi-cultural faith-based organizations issued the following statement and words of support:

“Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Harris v. Quinn that undermines the labor rights of Illinois home care workers and puts at risk the quality of care for seniors and people with disabilities.  The 5-4 decision also compromises the future of critical services we all need while putting wages and benefits at risk for millions more.

“People, who bathe, feed and care for the sick and the elderly in our society, as well as those who protect and serve our communities such as firefighters, police officers, nurses and teachers, must themselves be treated with dignity and respect. That includes the ability to bargain collectively for fair wages, good benefits, safe workplaces and higher standards for the services our communities need.

“While we are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision and its impact on home care workers, we are relieved that the Court reaffirmed the long-standing collective bargaining rights of public sector employees.  As people of faith we believe in the dignity of all work and the fundamental right of all workers to organize for better pay, benefits and working conditions.”

“Today, we stand up in solidarity with the millions of those working so hard to bring comfort to so many.  We reaffirm their sacred and constitutional right to join together to fight for better lives for themselves, their families and those for whom they care.”

Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), Faith in Public Life, Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC), NETWORK, PICO National Network, Presbyterian Church USA, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Sojourners

“Home health care aides provide one of the most important services in our society—caring for the elderly, disabled and infirm.  But it’s difficult to provide quality care to others when you’re worried about putting food on your own family’s table.  We must treat all workers fairly by paying them a living wage and allowing them to join together to improve their own working conditions. Our commitment to Biblical justice demands that we speak out on behalf of these workers. ”—Rev. Noel Castellanos, Chief Executive Officer, Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).

"The care and compassion that home healthcare providers give the sick and the elderly echoes the healing ministry of Jesus. These hardworking, underpaid workers deserve the dignity afforded by a voice in the work place, but the Supreme Court struck a blow to this principle today.”Rev. Jennifer Butler, Chief Executive Office, Faith in Public Life (FPL).

“Homecare workers provide critical tasks for families and the society.  Like other workers, they deserve to have voice and representation in their jobs and advocates for improving wages and benefits.  The Supreme Court should help us move toward, instead of hindering, serving the common good.” Kim Bobo, Executive Director, Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ).

“In a democracy one of the greatest gifts is being able to stand up and have a voice in decisions that impact your life.  As an Evangelical I support the right of these hard-working women and men to have a say in their working conditions so they can build better lives for themselves and their families.”— Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NALEC).

The practical impact of today’s decision will be to make it harder for everyday heroes to deliver quality public services to millions of Americans all across the country. This decision, however, does not stop the resolve of working people who come together to have their voices heard make real change in communities."— Rev. Michael-Ray Mathew, Director of Clergy Organizing, PICO.

In the PC (USA), we have long supported the rights of workers to come together and collectively bargain for the good of all. Today’s Harris v. Quinn decision is a step backward for all workers, for as we rise together, so together do we fall. The services of home health care workers, who are disproportionately women and people of color, are essential for older adults and people with disabilities, as well as their families, who all depend on a caring, competent, and stable workforce that enables living at home and aging with dignity. That these workers would be denied the basic human right to organize for better lives, wages, and working conditions is a travesty and a shame on this nation.” — The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, Director for Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“Today marks a major step backwards for racial and economic justice.  More than 9 out of 10 home care workers in the U.S. are women, and nearly half are women of color.  Racist politicians ensured that home care workers were excluded from New Deal labor protections in the 1930s, now the Supreme Court says they do not even have the right to come together to fight for a better deal.  This is a moral outrage. We will continue to support home care workers in the fight for their human dignity.”—Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
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PICO National Network is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. PICO works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 60 local and state federations. PICO and its federations are non-partisan and do not endorse or support candidates for office. PICO urges people of faith to consult their faith traditions for guidance on specific policies and legislation. Learn more at

Friday, June 20, 2014

J. Herbert Nelson Addresses 221st General Assembly

Remarks Given by the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
221st General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Meeting
Detroit, Michigan
June 20, 2014

Good afternoon. I am J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. Your Office of Public Witness is responsible for advocating the social justice policies approved by each General Assembly that has implications for the federal government. Presbyterians’ work in justice advocacy began with the founding of Presbyterianism in Geneva, Switzerland, by a lawyer named John Calvin who advocated for public education. Calvin believed so strongly that the Church of Jesus had a role to correct, influence and transform government that upon his death, he willed his writings to governmental leaders of Geneva, Switzerland, rather than the Smithsonian Institute of his day. He did this simple act to underscore his commitment to the belief that given the moral and ethical latitude of political leaders, their thoughts ought to be reminded of the mind of Christ in their deliberations.

A Scots Presbyterian Clergyman John Witherspoon was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. He was the only active clergyman to sign the document.

In 1963, African American Presbyterian Pastors and Women’s Rights Advocates led student and community movements across the country. We are often reminded of the role that Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church played in assisting White clergy of all denominations to engage the struggle for racial and gender justice. His monumental moment was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he stood with Dr. King in the March for Jobs and Justice, known today as the 1963 March on Washington, to declare that the White Church is late in coming to this movement, but he made it clear “we are here now.”

As Gradye Parsons suggest in his writing Presbyterians and Politics: Disturbers of Government, “So, on one hand, it would appear that those of the Reformed tradition have been defenders of the role of government, and on the other hand, disturbers of governments.” This paradoxical call places us in a significant position to love our nation while possess a willingness to make it better.

The biblical mandate for our call to justice as a denomination is found in the words of Jesus’ emancipation address when he entered the temple at the beginning of his ministry and gave voice to the power of his commitment to justice and liberty for all when he read “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” This liberating, agitating and elevating personal mission statement from the reading of Isaiah sets the tone for discipleship and provides the basis for our work in Washington, DC.

We give thanks to God for the revamping and revitalization of our Summer Fellowship and Intern Programs, where we are engaging young people in the work of justice advocacy. Four of our summer fellows have been working at this General Assembly in your committees and on the floor.  Additionally, we are excited about our partnership with the Young Adult Volunteer Program and Hunger Program that will bring one or two Young Adult Volunteers to serve in our office for the next two years. These training opportunities for young people could not be done without your gifts and financial support.

On yesterday we launched a new initiative with World Mission to educate children. I firmly believe that given our Presbyterian heritage in education, if there is PC(USA) congregation in town or on the corner no child should enter school without knowing their colors or numbers or how to spell their name! If there is PC(USA) congregation in town or on the corner no child should attend school from K – 12 and not be able to get a high school diploma! Our commitment to partnering with other entities of the Church extends to joining the Peacemaking Program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in an effort to eradicate Gun Violence in the United States. Presbyterian congregations across this country have screened the movie ‘Trigger’ and developed action plans to address a policy entitled Gun Violence and Gospel Values approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010). We are training Presbyterians to go back to their local communities become change agents in the political realities they face every day. Over three hundred Presbyterians have come to Washington, DC annually for our annual Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day and Ecumenical Advocacy Days. These persons are engaged in advocacy training with skills to return home and make a difference in their local communities through engagement with policy makers.

Friends, we face a time when our voting rights are being suppressed; a time when corporations are paying millions to CEO’s who have failed at their job, while people in our nations are working hard every day. In this country of opulence there are people working overtime and still don’t make enough to pay their bills and feed their children. We live in a nation that chooses war over peace and power over partnership. We live in a nation where leaders would rather shut down the government than make a righteous decision.

I’m so glad Jeremiah did not bow to the temple priest who locked him in the stock room. He declared that he thought about turning back during his detention. However, something within him allowed him to say, ‘I can’t turn back. What I feel inside is like a fire shut up in my bones. He continued to proclaim God’s liberty and truth. If that does not convince you, I’m so glad Isaiah called the exiles back home; I’m so glad Micah made it plain when responding to the question, What does the Lord require? He said, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God!” And Jesus demonstrates this call in his earthly life and reminds us in Matthew 25: 41-45 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'  

We cannot remain silent in these troubling times. The world needs the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to stand up and be the Church. Join me in making a difference in this sin sick world. We can do it together.  Thank you and God Bless!  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Advocacy as Discipleship Pre-GA Issue

221st General Assembly (2014):
The Office of Public Witness Prepares

As the public policy information and advocacy office of the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Office of Public Witness watches PC(USA) General Assemblies closely. 

Each General Assembly has several specific responsibilities outlined in Chapter 3 of the Book of Order. The Assembly seeks to protect our church from errors in faith and practice and is responsible for assuring that the expression of our theology remains true to the biblical standards in our historic confessions. The General Assembly presents a witness for truth and justice in our community and in the world. It sets priorities for the church and establishes relationships with other churches or ecumenical bodies.

The upcoming GA is no different.  The commissioners and delegates elected by each of the 172 Presbyteries will become “the council of the whole church and it is representative of the unity of the synods, presbyteries, sessions, and congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” 

Public Witness Ministry in Washington offers a chance to translate the church's deep convictions about justice, peace, and freedom from words into reality. The political process is where decisions are made that help or harm people; decisions that help to make the kind of world God intends.

For Presbyterians, this expectation of faithful political engagement does not begin in Washington – it begins at the General Assembly.  GA is where the decisions of the gathered council will faithfully guide the future practice of the church within the church and world.  We believe that church, if it is to remain true to its biblical roots, theological heritage, and contemporary practice, must not fall silent.  The church (and its people) must speak faithfully, truthfully, persuasively, humbly, boldly, and urgently.    For the community of the faithful to live into this expectation, to hear the prophetic call through scripture to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God,” we must prepare.  We must prepare ourselves and our communities through prayer, through reading scripture, and through becoming familiar with the business set before our denomination. 

As we seek humbly to serve God, our neighbor, and our church, we are taking the opportunity to share our preparation for GA.  In this Advocacy as Discipleship, we will highlight various recommendations and overtures to be considered at the 221st GA that will guide and direct our Public Witness ministry in Washington. This is not intended to be a comprehensive view of all social witness policy before the 221st GA, but rather a snapshot and quick study of the business to come. We encourage you to keep our denomination, each commissioner, delegate, overture advocate, resource person, and all those who will be present in Detroit for the Assembly in prayer, and to use (click on the “PC-Biz box”) as a resource to see all the business before this GA.  When the Assembly meets in Plenary, the business will be broadcast via live stream.

Contents of this Issue:

For a complete look at all the business before the 221st General Assembly, please visit the General Assembly's business website at

The Assembly Approaches

There are certain themes that begin to rise out of the collected witness of the presbyteries and other bodies bringing business before the 221st General Assembly, but only time will tell us what the voice of this particular Assembly will be. Guided by the Spirit, commissioners and delegates to the Assembly will spend nine days wrestling with hard questions that are not all, by any means, identified or encompassed by this document. Even as related to social witness policy, we confess that this is not a complete list of the vast witness that the church will consider. What these overtures, resolutions, and recommendations do, however, is to show a deep denominational concern for the current state of the nation and the world, and an earnest effort to faithfully and prayerfully struggle with appropriate solutions to the challenges that face us.

Stay tuned and follow the 221st General Assembly.
Visit the GA website here: for information about attending and following the Assembly, including social media handles and hashtags.

Click on the “PC-Biz box” in the upper right-hand corner. PC-Biz is the business site of the Assembly and you can read each of these items in their entirety, along with their Rationale, other comments, and recommendations (either urging approval or disapproval of each item).

The Office of the General Assembly also live streams Assembly business sessions online, so you can tune in to the votes that are most important to you. Check back on the GA 221 website to find information about the live stream.

The Most Important Preparation
As we all continue preparing for this General Assembly, let us all enter into the conversation in a spirit of respect and goodwill. These are big questions, but as the Body of Christ, we rely on the Spirit to guide these deliberations. Please keep in prayer each person whose participation in the General Assembly will contribute to the collected voice of the church and especially pray for the commissioners, whose task is to listen for the Holy Spirit and to speak the prophetic voice of God to the church and the world.

See you in Detroit!