Monday, September 29, 2014

Save the Date! October 1 Briefing on Peace in Israel and Palestine

Join the conversation 

Advocating for a just peace for Palestine and Israel – What can U.S. Christians do?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
8-9 PM EDT Dial: 1-866-740-1260
Participant Access Code: 2419972#

The aftermath of 50 days of fighting has left devastation in Gaza which still struggles under a suffocating
blockade. More and more land continues to be confiscated for expanding settlements in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem. The occupation of Palestinian lands continues unchecked. Israelis and
Palestinians both suffer from the lack of a peaceful resolution. Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers
look to the international community for support in their efforts to change the status quo and work
toward a just peace. With the breakdown in peace talks, what direction should U.S. policy take? How
can persons of faith be part of the solution through their public policy advocacy? Join us as we take a
look at these questions, hear perspectives from experienced advocates on what churches are doing and
can do, and engage in conversation about directions for advocacy.

Catherine Gordon
Representative for International Issues
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Office of Public Witness
Mike Merryman-Lotze
Israel-Palestine Program Director
American Friends Service Committee
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
There will be time for questions and answers, as together we seek a constructive way forward in
advocacy for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.
Sponsored by the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy, a network of national Christian denominations and
organizations working for a just peace in the Middle East with a primary focus Israel and Palestine.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Join the Sanctuary Movement and Keep Families Together

Every day, close to 1,000 people are deported from this country. Mothers and fathers, brothers and friends are torn from their families and communities, deported to countries some of them no longer know. Congress has not acted to change this reality; they have failed to take any meaningful action on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. This nation desperately needs Immigration policy reform that will grant legal status to the 11 million people living in fear of deportation. Moreover, on September 6, 2014, the Obama Administration delayed executive action that could have extended deportation relief and offer work permits to thousands.

Click here to read PC(USA) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons response to Obama’s announcement on delayed action.

In response, communities of faith across the nation have decided to take a stand against our broken immigration system: we are leading a movement to offer Sanctuary to people set to be deported and thus separated from their families. Sanctuary is the practice of offering housing and shelter in the church building, protecting people from harm; it has deep roots in church tradition. Four congregations in the U.S. are currently providing Sanctuary to four loving families; two of these churches are Presbyterian: Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ and University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, AZ.

President Obama must not continue to stand by while people are forcibly separated from their families. Contact the White House today and ask him to use his broad executive authority to stopdeportations immediately and to expand deferred action for all.

The Sanctuary Movement

Rooted in the actions of people of faith throughout history who have welcomed the stranger and loved their neighbors, Sanctuary in 2014 seeks to shield immigrants under immediate threat of deportation. By invoking 2011 policy set by immigration authorities, which recommends individuals who fit certain qualifications be granted deportation relief through prosecutorial discretion, faith communities protect these individuals in the shelter of their churches until they receive a stay of removal or their cases are closed. These qualifications include the length of time they have resided in the U.S., a lack of a criminal history, and whether an immediate family member -- a child, parent, or spouse -- is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Thousands of deportation cases have been closed through this type of prosecutorial discretion. But people in immigration removal proceedings rarely have access to adequate legal representation that would request this type of relief. This is where communities of faith, under the advisement of legal teams, can intervene. We can offer sanctuary, thereby publicly shielding immigrants from deportation and providing a network of care and support throughout the advocacy process. (Immigration authorities have set policy forbidding immigration officers to enter places of worship to make an arrest.)

Sanctuary Has Real Meaning in Real Lives

Daniel Neyoy Ruiz
Photo credit: Fernanda Echavarri/Arizona Public Media
Southside Presbyterian in Tucson, AZ, has taken the lead in this movement, reviving the 1980s movement (also founded at Southside) of over five hundred churches and synagogues nationwide that sheltered over ten thousand Central Americans fleeing civil wars. On May 12, 2014, Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, publicly entered into sanctuary in Southside on the eve of his deportation order. After a month of living inside the church with his family, he received a stay of removal, granting a means to remain in the U.S. and receive a work permit.

Luiz Lopez Acabal, in Sanctuary at University PC in Tempe
Right now, four immigrants reside in Sanctuary: Rosa Loreto Robles at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ, Luis Lopez Acabal at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, AZ, Beatriz Santiago Ramirez at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Chicago, IL, and most recently, Francisco Aguirre in Agustana Lutheran Church in Portland, OR.

Their individual histories and cases are different, but they all bear the cost of immigration policy that fails to uphold the unity of family, recognize human dignity, or acknowledge immigrants’ rich and diverse contributions to their communities and this country.

Rosa Robles Loretto and family

This is how you can help*:

1. Contact the White House today and ask them to:

  • Expand deferred action for all
  • Close Luis’ case
  • Close Rosa’s case 
  • Close Beatriz's case

What does the PC(USA) say about Sanctuary?

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has affirmed its support for immigrants many times. This year, the 221st General Assembly (2014) affirmed the formation of the Presbyterian Immigrant Defense Initiative, a campaign to “empower Presbyterians to work to change policies and practices that infringe on the human and civil rights of immigrants in our communities including immigrant detention, streamlined deportation, and the executing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by local law enforcement.” ** Sanctuary—a movement begun by Presbyterian churches-- is heeding that call.

The 2014 Sanctuary Movement is growing. This week is the launch of the National Sanctuary Movement. Over seventy-five congregations nationwide are preparing to offer Sanctuary or to support other congregations engaging in this ministry.

Read PC(USA) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons’ letter to President Obama on Sanctuary and delay of executive action: 

Just yesterday, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took part in a tele-press conference about the growing Sanctuary movement. Here are the remarks prepared by the Reverend Gradye Parsons. 


* Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more updates on how you can support Sanctuary 2014.

** “On Recognizing the Presbyterian Immigrant Defense Initiative to Affirm and Promote the Civil and Human Rights of Immigrants in Our Communities—From the Presbytery of Central Florida.” Approved by the 221st General Assembly (2014).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Religious Leaders Letter to Kerry on Forced Transfer of Palestinian Bedouins

Today, a letter signed by  14 national religious leaders, including Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, was sent to Secretary Kerry.  The leaders called on the US Government to take immediate action to stop the forced transfer of Palestinian Bedouins living in the West Bank.

 September 23, 2014

The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Secretary,

On behalf of the signing organizations, we are writing to urge the U.S. government to take immediate action to stop the forced transfer of Palestinian Bedouins living in Area C of the occupied West Bank. As you know, the U.S. has consistently indicated to the Israeli government that building in the E-1 area is unacceptable and, as a State Department spokesman noted in 2012, “would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”

In September, Israel published six spatial plans to forcibly transfer Palestinian Bedouins from their communities around Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Jericho and relocate them to planned townships. The published plans show that as many as 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins could be affected. If implemented, the plans will lead to a situation of individual and mass forcible transfers, which are prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, regardless of the motive. A violation of this nature may be considered a Grave Breach of Article 49, giving rise to individual criminal liability and codified as a war crime.

The six plans have raised serious concern over Israel’s intent to officially annex Area C in order to establish and expand settlements, in violation of international law. The publication of the six plans follow recent moves within the Israeli Knesset in August to de-centralize jurisdiction and expand decision making power over Area C to Knesset sub-committees, which are heavily influenced by Israeli settlement lobby groups.

The plans have also been published within weeks of Israel’s announcement to annex a large piece of Palestinian land situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in order to expand the existing settlement of Gush Etzion. The six published plans also include moving Palestinian Bedouins from the politically sensitive E1/Jerusalem Periphery, where the Israeli-approved E1 master plan shows that Israel intends to demolish Bedouin villages in order to expand the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and link it to settlements between the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem. Settlement expansion in this area could render the two-state solution unachievable, as it would cut the West Bank in half and further isolate Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank, is economically and geographically vital to the sustainability of the Palestinian state, as it contains the natural resources and space necessary for Palestinian development. Although Area C is within the internationally recognized 1967 borders of the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel only allows Palestinians to build on one percent of it. The lack of authority to build makes Palestinians vulnerable to home demolition, displacement, and forcible transfer and limits their ability to realize their rights to water, to adequate shelter, to education, health, and to livelihood. In recent months, Israel has heightened the pressure on Palestinian communities in Area C, using coercive tactics such as demolition and
eviction notices to get them to move off their land. Israel has also restricted the ability of aid agencies to respond to the needs of people affected by demolition, demolishing and seizing aid items. According to data recorded by UN OCHA, Israel has already demolished more than 350 Palestinian homes or livelihood structures in Area C in 2014, 39 of which were demolished in the E1/Jerusalem Periphery. Of these 39 structures, at least 12 were provided by international donors.

Israel has stated that the six plans to relocate Palestinian Bedouins are with their best interests in mind, despite the fact that Bedouin have vehemently opposed them. Around 80 percent of the Bedouin faced with forced transfer are registered refugees, originally from the Negev in what is now the state of Israel. While their lifestyle is no longer nomadic, they do depend on the vast natural resources, mainly open land for grazing, found within their current communities. Similar transfer plans executed by Israel between 1997-2007 had devastating effects on the Palestinian Bedouin who were relocated. Research indicates that, 17 years after the forcible transfer of 150 Bedouin families to a planned township called Al Jabal, life in the township is neither economically nor socially sustainable for the Bedouin, and the impact on women has been particularly harsh.

We therefore urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure these six transfer plans are cancelled and that Palestinians can remain in and develop their communities. Such steps should include:

Ø Applying immediate and effective pressure on Israel, at the highest political level, to cancel their Bedouin relocation plans. The United Nations Secretary-General has previously stated that the implementation of “relocation” plans may amount to individual and mass forcible transfers and forced evictions, prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law. In their May 2012 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, the European Union and member states called on Israel to halt forced transfer in Area C and in their March 2014 EU Heads of Missions report on Jerusalem, the EU and member states recommended that they monitor and respond appropriately to forced transfer of Bedouin communities in the E1. The U.S. and the EU have condemned settlement expansion in the E1, warning that changes to the status-quo in the E1 present a risk to the two-state solution that they support.

Ø Calling for a freeze to all outstanding demolition orders in the E1 and the rest of Area C and for Palestinians to have access to a fair and representative planning system. In a February 2014 UN Secretary General report, the SG called on Israel to: cease the violations of Palestinians’ human rights resulting from discriminatory and unlawful planning policies, laws and practices. Israel has to, in compliance with international law, amend the planning legislation and processes in order, in particular, to ensure the security of tenure and the full participation of Palestinians. Israel must also refrain from implementing evictions and demolition orders based on discriminatory and illegal planning policies, laws and practices.

Ø Continuing to pledge for and implement humanitarian and development programs for vulnerable communities in Area C, in a manner consistent with international

humanitarian law. International donors should ensure their aid is delivered in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law and that they take all necessary precautions to ensure that their aid efforts do not recognize violations or comply with the coercive environment facilitating the forced transfer of vulnerable communities in Area C.

Thank you for hearing our concerns. We look forward to your response.


Shan Cretin
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Eli S. McCarthy, PhD
Director of Justice and Peace
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. James Moos
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Gerry G. Lee
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

J Ron Byler
Executive Director Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Grace Said
Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace

Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International

Sr. Patricia Chappell
Pax Christi USA

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

Donna Baranski-Walker
Founder & Executive Director
Rebuilding Alliance

Susan T. Henry-Crowe, MDiv.DD
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Stated Clerk speaks on Sanctuary Movement

Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Press Conference Statement, Sanctuary, September 24, 2014

This morning, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took part in a tele-press conference about the growing Sanctuary movement. Here are the remarks prepared by the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly.

Consider two facts:
First, every day 1,000 people are deported from this country.
Second, three-fifths of the undocumented persons in this country have been here more than 10 years.
Think about that – more than 10 years.

So those at risk of deportation are known and beloved in our communities.
They are our friends and family.
Our church members and colleagues.
Our lives are inextricably intertwined.
We wear the same garment of destiny.

When faith bodies thought that comprehensive immigration reform was inevitable, we sadly stomached the daily disappearance of 1,000 of our brothers and sisters.
When President Obama held out Administrative action as an imminent form of relief, we bore the weight of the daily loss knowing that soon it would all be over.

After the President’s announcement on September 6th to, again, delay administrative relief to those at risk of deportation, faith bodies began to question the morality of waiting and bearing the daily loss of our brothers and sisters any longer.

And so here we are, at this point in the faith history of this country where congregations intercede by offering sanctuary.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment of all. He answers, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The congregations involved in sanctuary are living out their love of neighbor by protecting families vulnerable to separation.

This denomination has a history of supporting churches that find sanctuary to be a moral response. We support Southside Presbyterian Church and University Presbyterian Church and pray for relief for Rosa Robles Loreto and Luis Lopez Acabal.

We are also honored to join with our interfaith partners across the United States in this sanctuary movement.

PW Horizons: Law and Power

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Horizons, the magazine for Presbyterian Women. To subscribe or learn more, visit

To Change the Power Behind the Law
By Leslie G. Woods

Having served in the ecumenical advocacy community for nearly 10 years, I find that I need ways to keep my spirits up. The work of advocacy (as a good friend of mine says) is a marathon, not a sprint. At times, the long, grinding haul of justice-making seems hopeless. But as the prophet Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

One of my favorite biblical reminders of the power of tenacity is the story of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. In Luke 18:1–8, Jesus tells the story of a widow seeking justice against her adversary from a judge who does not “fear God or care for people.” The widow keeps coming back, demanding justice, until finally the judge grants her suit—not because she convinces him of the merits of her case, but because her continual advocacy wearies him. She eventually receives justice through her persistence—a potent reminder to all of us who engage in advocacy for justice.

But what if the unjust judge were being paid to deny justice? What if the unjust judge, in order to keep his position of power, needed to refuse the merits of the widow’s case? What if her adversary was not simply the lone judge, but the political or social engine that empowered the judge and benefitted from the judge’s rulings? What then would have happened to the widow and her quest for justice?

In all likelihood, she would have been denied justice. The judge would have continued to ignore her just case and appeased the special interest backing his power. Regardless of what the widow said or did, the judge would have denied her justice.

The Shifting Paradigm of Advocacy

Of course, rewriting Bible stories is not what we do in the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, where I serve as the representative for domestic poverty and environmental issues. We advocate for justice. In the more than nine years that I have been doing faith-based advocacy, I have worked on antipoverty programs, the federal budget and tax code, justice for workers, economic inequality, health care reform, environmental justice, climate disruption, clean energy, food justice, violence against women and children, public education and immigration.

It is a broad portfolio and there have been some true victories for justice during my tenure. But more and more, I find that my workshops include an admonition that sounds something like “If we don’t work to get the special interest money out of politics, we will never achieve a ____ bill.” In the blank space, name your favorite justice issue: comprehensive immigration reform, a national climate justice plan, tax reform, gun violence prevention, prison reform or any other of the myriad fundamental reform concerns. These pressing justice issues have caught the attention of advocates, but have also caught the interest of special interest groups who are willing to spend to bring about particular outcomes. For true justice, we must first reduce the undue influence of special-interest spending in policymaking.

Law and Power

Which comes first: law or power? Certainly, laws need power to be enforced. But for this article, I am more interested in the power at play while a law is being made. When the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) speaks to the creation of laws, our positions are rooted in Christian values and the authority of Presbyterian General Assemblies. Many advocacy groups speak to the creation of laws out of conviction or concern for the welfare of others. Still others speak out of self-interest or special interest. Some special interests—though by no means all—speak to the creation of laws with a goal of furthering profit or currying favor. Even nefarious ends may propel a person or group to speak to the creation, continuation or repeal of a law.

It frequently comes down to what creates power. Is it, as suggested above, morality or conviction, concern or welfare, profit or favor? Each of these motivations may compel some special interest or another; each has the capacity to create power and, hence, law.

Sadly, our system of legislation, justice and executive power has tipped too far to one side. We have allowed our system to move away from a code of laws based on conviction and welfare—as outlined in our Constitution—to one that is unduly influenced by whomever has the deepest pockets.

We have a system in which the cost of running for office requires exorbitant spending, personal wealth and donations from those who can afford to pay. And that financial support usually comes with strings attached, whether expressly stated, implicitly felt or simply created out of a sense of obligation and gratitude.

As the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said,

Large sums of money, and the time needed to raise it, dominate our electoral and legislative processes. Money buys access to legislators as well as to the details in legislation. If they reject special interest money, candidates fear that their opponents will outspend them—and spending counts: incumbents almost always raise more money than challengers, and the candidate who spends the most money almost always wins. (For House seats, the number is more than 90 percent.) Because the Supreme Court has ruled [that] campaign contributions are a protected form of “speech,” the most important reform to enhance the voice of citizens and reduce the role of powerful special interests and big money in elections is public financing. Under such systems, candidates or parties receive public funds to replace or augment private money. Public funding can curb the appearance of the influence of big money over lawmakers, encourage candidates with limited resources to run for office, and allow politicians to spend less time raising money and more time serving their constituents [emphasis added].

The Money Behind the Power

According to an analysis in Lo$ing Faith in Our Democracy: A Theological Critique of the Role of Money in American Politics, published by Auburn Seminary, “more than $6 billion was spent on the 2012 elections. That’s a lot of money in American politics. And that figure only includes election campaigns expenses—it doesn’t include funds spent on lobbying or advocacy” (1). According to the footnote,

“[O]f that figure, $970 million was spent by outside groups, that is, groups supposedly unaffiliated with a political party. . . . The Alaska Dispatch analyzed the presidential election expenses into dollars spent per registered voter, and found that the combined spending of the Obama and Romney campaigns amounted to $11.75 per voter. That figure is more than double, in inflation adjusted dollars, the $5 per voter that the Reagan and Carter campaigns spent in 1980.”

The study notes that the influence of money in human politics is as old as the Bible, and likely as old as human civilization, but this doubling of U.S. presidential campaign spending in just 30 years is astronomical, not to mention unsustainable.

Decreased transparency in campaign and other political spending, as permitted by Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United and McCutcheon, makes it even more difficult for the voting citizen to sift through the propaganda and make an informed decision with his or her vote. And I’m learning that many people feel that their vote is less valuable than it used to be. “It doesn’t matter whom I vote for, it won’t make a difference in Washington anyway,” I hear regularly. Many voters (or those who don’t bother) feel that the voices, opinions and convictions of real people who are engaged in honest debate are drowned out by the volume of special interest money. This development in American politics is not serving people, only profit. This is a true problem in today’s political landscape and the failure of the current system.

In an op-ed published earlier this year, Diane Randall of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Patrick Carolan of the Franciscan Action Network wrote,

More often than should be true in a democracy, money appears to speak more loudly than the voices of the electorate on these and other values-based issues. The wealthiest 0.01 percent of the voting age population now account for 40 percent of all campaign contributions. When money talks, it almost inevitably makes a difference in the decisions elected officials make. If money is doing the talking, it is unlikely to fairly represent needs for housing, health care and decent wages for people who cannot take those things for granted.1

Indeed, people of faith are beginning to challenge such disproportion in the brokerage of power in our political system. Polls vary, of course, but a recent survey reported by Time magazine showed that

[A] majority of likely voters among Democrats (75%), Independents (64%) and Republicans (54%) see the wave of spending by Super PACs this election cycle as “wrong and leads to our elected officials representing the views of wealthy donors.” So far in the 2014 election cycle, Super PACs, which can raise unlimited sums from donors, have spent $87.5 million and counting to influence election outcomes.2

It will only be through addressing this deficit of the people’s voice in politics that we will affect the choices made by those who hold power and are in a position to create law.

Leslie G. Woods serves as the representative for domestic poverty and environmental issues in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Horizons, the magazine for Presbyterian Women. To subscribe or learn more, visit

Many thanks to Horizons for permission to reprint. 


1. “Faith groups push back on role of money in politics,”, February 18, 2014.
2. “Poll: Support for Campaign Finance Reform Strong in Key Senate Races,” Time, July 31, 2014.