Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The PC(USA) Signs On to Faith Letter on Syrian Crisis

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We write to you as Christian organizations and denominations with strong interest and concern regarding the Syria crisis. Many of us maintain close connections with Christians and other faith communities in the Middle East, as well as civil society organizations, and have been responding to the crisis in various ways for the last four years. 

Recent media attention has focused primarily on the plight facing refugees trying to enterEurope. But not enough attention is being paid to the dire circumstances that have led these refugees to make the difficult decision to leave their homes in the first place.

1. The root of the crisis is the devastating civil war in Syria, which has been raging now for more than four years. As a result of the war, half of all Syrians are displaced from their homes and more than 220,000 have died, according to the United Nations.

Rather than responding with deeper military involvement, the armed involvement of alloutside actors, including the United States, must cease. This includes the provision of arms and weaponry, as well as training, to opposition groups. The U.S. must urge its allies to do the same. 

2. The U.S. government must make finding a negotiated solution to the Syria crisis a top diplomatic priority. This will require continued dialogue with Russia and the willingness to enter negotiations without preconditions, such as the requirement that President Bashar al-Assad step down immediately. In addition, Iran and all involved actors will need to be at the table if a sustainable solution is to be found. 

3. Humanitarian assistance for people suffering from the brutal impacts of the war is vastly underfunded. Despite the difficult circumstances, many people wish to remain in Syria or nearby, in neighboring countries. 

But their options are bleak, as the Syrian economy is in disarray and most refugees in neighboring countries are unable to work legally. As the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies have been forced to reduce or eliminate food vouchers, rent subsidies and other forms of assistance, and families exhaust their reserves, many feel they have no option but to leave. 

We commend the generous commitment of $4.5 billion that the U.S. has already made toward humanitarian needs in the region. But the U.S. can and must do more and should continue to encourage others in the international community to increase their contributions as well.

4. The U.S. should open its doors to receive many more refugees. Even with more adequate funding for humanitarian assistance, some Syrians feel they will never be able to return home safely and wish to resettle in a third country. Many in our faith communities have a long and rich history of welcoming refugees. We encourage the U.S. to accept more Syrian refugees and to expedite the processing of these applications.

After more than four years, the Syria crisis feels intractable. But it is a human-made, political crisis. We can find a way forward, if we are willing to dedicate our collective long-term vision and energies to resolving the crisis.

May you experience wisdom, courage and strength in the days ahead.


American Friends Service Committee
Church of the Brethren
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Marquette University Center for Peacemaking
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. 
Pax Christi International
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Office of Public Witness Welcomes Nora Leccese as New Interim Associate for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues

Nora Leccese joined the staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in early September. She serves as the Interim Associate for Domestic and Environmental Issues.
Leccese, is not new to the OPW. She was assigned to the OPW as an Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center for a year long fellowship. During that time she researched equitable food systems in Montpelier, Vermont and served the Office Of Public Witness where she focused on criminal justice reform and economic justice.
She is a graduate of the University of Colorado with a degree in economics and a focus on community leadership. An activist and advocate by nature she is deeply committed to food and climate justice. In her home state of Colorado, she co-founded and chaired the board of a national food rescue non-profit and organized with the fossil fuel divestment movement.
Leccese serves in the capacity that was held by Leslie Woods for ten years. We welcome Nora to the justice advocacy work of the PCUSA and Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministries.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Economic Recovery Concentrated with the Wealthy, Poverty Rate Unchanged

A Response to the 2014 US Census Poverty Data

Last week, the US Census Bureau released their annual report on poverty data, and we at the Office of Public Witness wish to highlight the frustrating continuity of these data in the public square. The poverty rate in the U.S. remains statistically unchanged between 2013 and 2014, but still unacceptably high at 14.8 percent. In the Census Bureau’s report, we received more evidence that the lion’s share of the economic recovery has gone to those who already enjoy abundance. The number of people living in poverty remained stubbornly at 46 million in 2014, and there are still more than 15 million children living in poverty in this country.  Damaging racial inequality continues, with more than one in three African American children (36 percent) and about one-third of Latino children (32 percent) living in poverty. For white non-Hispanic children, the poverty rate was 12.3 percent[1]. It is deeply troubling to see evidence of such widespread hardship while the most wealthy and powerful continue to reap the benefits of our slow economic recovery.
Graphic Courtesy of the US Census Bureau

While the situation is grim, we lift up the fact that these data show government programs like low income tax credits, housing programs, social security and SSI help alleviate the burden of poverty. The Census Bureau finds low income tax credits lift 5 million children out of poverty. In addition, the proportion of people who live without health insurance dropped substantially. Last year, 10.4 percent of people reported they had been uninsured the whole year, down from 13.3 percent in 2013.

In response to the Census Bureau’s findings, the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Director for Public Witness said:

“We believe that all persons living in the United States, regardless of income, race or ethnicity, geography or employment status deserve access to quality health care, and so we celebrate the increase in the number of people who have insurance this year. We also lift up the inherent dignity of work, and we must decry the lack of political action to extend the wealth of the economic recovery to our nation’s poorest. Millions of parents work full time and still cannot escape the crushing weight of poverty. We call upon congress to strengthen the social safety net as a strategy to address systemic injustice, however with only a few days before the end of the fiscal year, the Congressional majority is divided and unwilling to act.”

As Presbyterians, we are called to stand with the least of these in our world, and we must raise the alarm when nearly one third of our nation is dangerously close to poverty (below twice the poverty line). God has blessed us with a world of abundance and it is our duty to see that prosperity is shared. That means standing up against economic and racial injustice and systemic inequalities that trap generations in poverty and low-wage work. We need jobs that keep people out of poverty, not trap them in it.

Many thanks to the Coalition on Human Needs for 2014 Census analysis

[1] Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014. US Census Bureau. (P60-252)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Struggle to Make Federal Jobs into Good Jobs Continues

Reverend J. Herbert Nelson Joins Hundreds of Striking Low-Wage Federal Contract Workers to Welcome Pope Francis and Call for a Living Wage

Washington DC- On Tuesday at 10:30 am, the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Office of PublicWitness, joined federal contract workers who walked off their jobs to protest poverty pay and to welcome Pope Francis and his commitment to economic justice and the working poor.

The U.S Senate contract employees joined hundreds of striking workers from the U.S. Capitol, Pentagon, Smithsonian Institution and other federal landmarks, where private companies receive lucrative contracts to run food service, provide janitorial services, and much more. Today, the federal government awards contracts to the lowest bidder, making the government the largest low-wage job creator in the country, funding over 2 million low wage jobs through contracts, loans, and grants to private businesses. Taxpayer dollars should create good jobs that pay workers livable wages, provide benefits, paid sick leave, and dignity in the workplace. 

Of the Prayer Action, Reverend Nelson said:

"It is imperative that we challenge our government to be an example of valuing all work by paying these government contract workers a wage that keeps them out of poverty. It is shameful that our elected officials lack the will to raise wages for these workers who clean their offices and serve their food. I am standing with these workers on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, because the Church is called to affirm the worth and dignity of people in the workforce. People should be paid a livable wage for the work that they do."  

Reverend Nelson was joined in his solidarity with low-wage workers by several other religious leaders who lifted up the struggle of Senate workers who feed our elected representatives but must feed their children with food stamps. Reverend Michael Livingston, Executive Minister of Riverside Church said he was “honored and humbled to pray and stand with striking government workers who serve our senators and congress persons and who yet don’t make enough money to support themselves and their families.”  Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches echoed that sentiment in saying “this is a wonderful welcome for the Pope. Our prayer is that he will lift up the plight of workers and that he’ll become aware of the situation facing low wage federal workers. We wish to thank him for his teachings on economic justice.”

This strike is part of a new labor movement, a movement that is made up of low wage service sector workers, and a movement with new tactics. Just like the thousands of fast food worker who are calling for better pay, benefits, and working conditions, federal contract workers say they need “More than the Minimum” to survive.  Federal jobs should be good jobs, and the momentum around Pope Francis’s visit can help build the political will to make those good jobs a reality.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Action Alert: Urge Your Elected Officials to Call upon the Israeli Government to Halt Separation Wall/Barrier Construction and Home Demolitions

In recent weeks the Israeli government has taken two related series of actions on Palestinian land and against Palestinian property that make prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians more difficult.

The Israeli military has resumed construction of the separation wall in the Cremisan Valley in the West Bank after the Israeli High Court in July effectively reversed its decision in the spring to prevent the wall from being constructed between the Salesian Sisters Convent and the monastery of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, issued a press release last month, strongly condemning “this Israeli conducted operation, which is without regard to the rights of the families of the valley; the rights that these same families have bravely tried to defend before the law over the past decade. We join with the sorrow and frustration of these oppressed families, and we strongly condemn the injustice done to them.” He called on the Israeli authorities to halt work on the wall before a decision was made on a petition submitted by the families of the valley.

The Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), a coordination forum of international nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations working in the occupied Palestinian territory, issued a statement recently that drew attention to a surge in home demolitions by the Israeli army in August. They determined that demolitions in one recent week “rendered 132 people homeless, including 82 children, accounting for a quarter of the displacement from demolitions in 2015 and marking the highest number of people rendered homeless from demolitions in nearly three years.”

The AIDA statement also noted, “These demolitions are being carried out against the backdrop of the government of Israel’s plan to ‘relocate’ 7,000 Palestinians living in 46 communities throughout Area C. The international community has repeatedly called on the government of Israel to cancel the ‘relocation’ plan. The plan affects Bedouin and herding communities in the central parts of the West Bank, including the E1 area around Jerusalem, where the government of Israel plans to expand settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

In view of this disturbing and destructive series of actions, write your representative and senators to urge them to call upon the Israeli government to halt these harmful actions immediately and avoid further hostile activities that dim the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Help build peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Click here to contact yourrepresentative and senators today.

Visit pcusa.org/boycott to do more to stop the settlements.