Friday, December 16, 2016

Join Us for Advocacy Training Weekend April 21-14

Join us for Advocacy Training Weekend

Advocacy Training Weekend
April 21-24, 2017 in Washington, DC

Confronting Chaos, Forging Community – Racism, Militarism, and Materialism

When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. posed the question, “Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?” in his book of the same title 50 years ago, no one could have imagined that we would still be wrestling with this question today.  Over the past year, our nation has experienced a divisive election in which racism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry were a constant. We still find racism an open wound in our nation, resulting in the disproportionate killing of black and brown bodies and stunting their lives through unjust economic and social structures. The militarization of our police is a reflection not only of broken communal values, but also a lopsided foreign policy that spends drastically more on defense than diplomacy or development. Militarism continues to be the United States’ overriding approach to resolving conflict, despite studies that show the effectiveness of peacebuilding and the power of non-violence. Extreme materialism threatens our souls and our very planet, as prosperity narratives and unchecked capitalism spreads despite overwhelming scientific evidence that our current path is unsustainable. As in Dr. King’s time, we teeter precariously between chaos and community.

Click here for more information!

Join us April 21 for Compassion Peace and Justice Training Day at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC.  Gather with your fellow Presbyterians as we look at how our church and our partners are confronting racism, materialism, and militarism in our country and abroad.  In plenaries and workshops we will analyze our current context and offer concrete tools for members and their congregations to address these urgent issues.  We will learn how we can “forge community” amidst the current chaos in our country.

After Compassion Peace and Justice Training Day join the ecumenical community for Ecumenical Advocacy Days April 21-24.  Almost one thousand Christian advocates join us every year for a weekend of workshops, lectures, and concrete actions addressing the ills of our nation.   The weekend culminates in a lobby day on Monday, April 24th when we raise our voices in the halls of power for a more just society.

For more information and links to registration for both events click here or contact Catherine Gordon at

Friday, November 4, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions about #NoDAPL

Location of Sioux Tribes
prior to 1770 (dark green)
FAQ on the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests and the PC(USA)

What is the history of the land?
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was originally established as part of the Great Sioux Reservation. Article 2 of the Treaty of Fort Laramie of April 29, 1868 described the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation, as commencing on the 46th parallel of north latitude to the east bank of Missouri River, south along the east bank to the Nebraska line, then west to the 104th parallel of west longitude. (15 stat. 635). 
The Great Sioux Reservation comprised all of present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River, including the sacred Black Hills and the Missouri River. Under article 11 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, the Great Sioux Nation retained off-reservation hunting rights to a much larger area, south to the Republican and Platte Rivers, and east to the Big Horn Mountains.  Under article 12, no cession of land would be valid unless approved by three-fourths of the adult males. Nevertheless, the Congress unilaterally passed the Act of February 28, 1877 (19 stat. 254), removing the Sacred Black Hills from the Great Sioux Reservation.  The United States never obtained the consent of three-fourths of the Sioux, as required in the Treaty of Ft. Laramie. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that "A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history."  United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371, 388 (1980).
Lands Opened to development and
sale by the Dawes Act of 1889
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was greatly reduced through the Act of March 2, 1889, also known as the Dawes Act and the Allotment Act. This opened up the reservations throughout the United States to settlement by non-Indian entities, thus creating checker-boarded land ownership within the Standing Rock Reservation. The tribe maintains jurisdiction on all reservation lands, including rights-of-way, waterways, and streams running through the reservation; this in turn leads to on-going jurisdictional disputes in criminal and civil court. Recent cases such as Nevada vs Hicks have contributed to the contentious issues in this iron triangle between the Federal, State, and Tribal governments.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands by its right to self-government as a sovereign nation, which includes taking a government-to-government stance with the states and federal government entities. The Tribe signed treaties as equals with the United States Government in 1851 and in 1868, which established the original boundaries of the Great Sioux Nation. The tribe staunchly asserts these treaty rights to remain steadfast and just as applicable today as on the day they were made.
Text from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe website

Proposed route of the
 Dakota Access Pipeline
To learn more about the federal government’s trust doctrine with the tribes that put the government and the tribes in a guarantor/trustee relationship, refer to this reporting from High Country News.

What is the history of the conflict?

For a full timeline, please refer to the Sacred Stone Camp website

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), in a pipeline project operated by Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Houston based corporation, Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. The DAPL, also known as the Bakken Pipeline, would transport 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.

Despite strong objections from the Tribe from the first time they heard of the project, on July 25, 2016, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers granted authorization to the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe. The current route of construction takes the pipeline less than one half mile from the Tribe’s reservation border, and thus the Tribe maintains a sovereign interest in protecting its cultural resources and patrimony that remain with the land. The pipeline would cross the Tribe’s traditional and ancestral lands and the construction of the pipeline jeopardizes many sacred places[1].
According to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, David Archambault, the tribe was presented with already completed plans for the pipeline during consultation. In contrast, he noted that other federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) share early notification of projects before embarking on construction. “Tribes should be at the steering level of such infrastructure projects,” Archambault said[2].
On April 1, 2016 the Sacred Stone Camp was established by Standing Rock Sioux tribe members and allies with the goal of protecting the tribe’s drinking water and their sacred lands. Since that time, the protest has grown to include several camps of peaceful and prayerful protestors who employ non-violent direct action tactics to stop the construction of the pipeline.
Photo Credit to Tomas Alejo
The response by law enforcement to evict and repress water protectors has escalated over the past months. Police and private security representatives have unleashed dogs, pepper spray, and military grade weapons on protestors and tribe members, including children. The camps have seen increased military and militarized police presence, which tribe members say is an unnecessary display of force against peaceful protestors. Those arrested have reported being strip searched and intimidated. David Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has written a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in which he notes, “state and local law enforcement have increasingly taken steps to militarize their presence, intimidate participants who are lawfully expressing their views, and to escalate tensions and promote fear.”
What is the current status of litigation to stop the pipeline?

There are two broad issues of concern to the Standing Rock Sioux. First, the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River (at Lake Oahe) just a half a mile upstream of the tribe’s reservation boundary, where a spill would be culturally and economically catastrophic. Second, the pipeline would pass through areas of great cultural significance, such as sacred sites and burial grounds that federal law seeks to protect.
The Tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the primary federal agency that granted permits needed for the pipeline to be constructed. The lawsuit alleges that the Corps violated multiple federal statutes, including the Clean Water Act, National Historic Protection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act, when it issued the permits.
Because the Corps owns land on either side of Lake Oahe, Dakota Access must get an “easement” from the Corps to dig the tunnel for the pipeline underneath federally owned lands. Dakota Access only needs the easement for the drilling underneath Lake Oahe; it has permits to construct everything else, such as the access road and pipeline route up to the Lake Oahe crossing site. 

For a litigation timeline and to read key documents pertaining to the case, please refer to the Earth Justice website:

What is the PC(USA)’s stand on the protests taking place against the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation?

Recognizing the call of Jesus to stand with those who seek justice, Presbyterians have supported the water protectors in prayer. We have traveled to Standing Rock and have made financial contributions and provided supplies. We have signed petitions, made phone calls, and written letters to public officials and corporate leaders. Strong support for the land defense effort by the Standing Rock Sioux is one step towards right relationship with Native people who are on the frontlines of protecting God’s good creation.

This show of support is a timely response to actions of the 222nd General Assembly in Portland Oregon in June 2016, which approved:
·      An apology to Native American’s for the church’s involvement and administration of boarding schools during the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose purpose was the “civilization” of Native American children.
·      A repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery: this “doctrine” derives its authority from Pope’s and European royal decrees stating “explorers” may seize lands and convert “non-Christians” in their name and for the good of the Christian Church. It remains the basis, as late as 2005, for Indian Law and Supreme Court decisions against Tribes.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson III, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in conjunction with the Rev. Irvin Porter, associate in the Office of Native American Intercultural Congregational Support, issued a statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux on August 29, 2016.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

PC(USA) Submits Comment to the CFBP to Regulate Payday Lending

October 6, 2016
The Honorable Richard Cordray
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552

Re: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comments on proposed rulemaking on payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans.
Docket number:  CFPB-2016-0025 or RIN 3170-AA40  

Dear Director Cordray, 

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) files this comment in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) proposed rule on payday, vehicle title, and certain high cost installment loans.  Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments. The rule is a critical step in stopping the harms of unaffordable loans, but the rule must be strengthened to ensure it stops the debt trap once and for all.  

The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is the public policy information and advocacy office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Its task is to advocate, and help the church to advocate, the social witness perspectives and policies of the Presbyterian General Assembly. In 2006, the PC(USA) General Assembly passed a resolution entitled “A Reformed Understanding of Usury for the 21st Century,” which highlighted the questionable practices of the payday lending industry that trap the working poor in cycles of debt.

Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), Reverend J. Herbert Nelson recalls his time pastoring a poor inner city Presbyterian congregation in Memphis, Tennessee like this: “One of the chief concerns in our community was the strife caused by injustices of payday lending. The debt trap in which many of our congregants were continually ensnared was a result of low wages from employers and predatory lending practices by payday loan sharks, furniture rentals and check cashing. These immoral lenders preyed on the poor and left whole families in debt that directly resulted from intentional exploitive practices."

The core principle of the CFPB’s proposal is the right approach – requiring lenders to ensure that a loan is affordable without having to re-borrow or default on other expenses. This is critically important to stopping the harms of this predatory business model, and we strongly support this approach. This basic principle though must be applied to every loan – with no exceptions and no room for future evasion. As currently written, the proposed rule contains dangerous loopholes that significantly undermine this standard.

The proposal allows too many dangerous exceptions to its ability to repay test.  For example, the draft proposal would allow six payday loans a year to be made without any ability-to-repay standard. Given that payday loans carry costs as high as 391% on average, this is six unaffordable loans too many. Even a single unaffordable loan can create a cascade of financial consequences for borrowers.   In addition, the rule exempts longer-term payday loans with high origination fees from its proposed ability-to repay-test.  These loopholes must be closed. We urge the CFPB to require an ability-to-repay determination on every loan, with no exceptions.

The draft rule does not go far enough to ensure that people have enough money to live on after repaying the loan. Right now, the proposal may allow lenders to simply continue “business as usual.”  To fix this, lenders should be required to use an objective measure for reasonably projecting a borrower's basic living expenses, and avoid over-reliance on back-end measures like default and reborrowing rates. Even low default rates are not sufficient evidence of ability-to-repay, given the lender's ability to coerce repayment through control over the borrower's bank account or car. At the same time, the CFPB should take care not to sanction industry-wide high rates of defaults and reborrowing by comparing one payday lender's default rates only to other payday lenders' default rates.  The CFPB can and should close the “business as usual” loopholes in the ability-to-repay test by requiring lenders to show that loan payments will leave borrowers with enough money to be able to pay their necessary expenses, and not allow them to rely on already too low industry standards as evidence that loans as affordable.

The rule does not provide sufficient protections against flipping borrowers from one unaffordable loan to the next. For short-term loans, the CFPB must do better to ensure that short-term debt does not become unaffordable long-term debt. We are concerned that under the draft rule someone could still be stuck in ten or more short-term loans in a year.   The final rule should ensure a 60-day cooling off period, rather than just 30 days as proposed, between each short-term loan. It should also ensure that short-term loan indebtedness does not exceed a total of 90 days every 12 months, consistent with FDIC 2005 guidelines for its banks. In addition, it is critically important to strengthen the protections against repeat refinancing of longer-term loans. If lenders can repeatedly flip borrowers from one long-term loan into another, debt will continue to pile up and borrowers will once again be stuck in a debt trap.  We support measures to strengthen protections against flipping loans, such as prohibiting more than one refinancing of these loans.

Many abusive loans still fall outside of the scope of the proposed rules, and should be covered. One concerning loophole ripe for exploitation by predatory lenders is the proposal that high-cost longer terms loans are not covered if the lender waits just a few days to can leverage over the borrower's bank account or car title, even if these loans carry rates as high as 300%.  All loans secured by a bank account or car title should be covered by the rule, regardless of when security is taken.  In addition, loans where lenders can aggressively collect by garnishing wages or taking access to a borrower's personal property should be subject to the CFPB's ability to repay test. 

We are thankful that one loophole has already been closed – an exemption from the proposed ability-to-repay test, included in the Bureau's preliminary outline, if loan payments are less than 5% of a borrower’s income. Examining income only is not enough to determine if a loan is affordable. We call on the CFPB to close the remaining loopholes and issue the strongest rule possible to stop the harmful debt trap of unaffordable payday loans.

Today, there are 14 states plus the District of Columbia that enforce rate caps that effectively prohibit these dangerous payday loans, and families are better off.  Capping the rates on payday and car title loans at about 36% is the most effective way to prevent these harms.  The CFPB must not undermine these strong state laws, and must go further to deem that making or offering a loan in violation of a state law is an unfair, abusive, and deceptive practice.
In its absence of being able to cap he rates on these abusive high-cost loans, for the CFPB rule to curb this vicious cycle of debt, it must close these loopholes and strengthen provisions to ensure a meaningful ability to repay test for each and every loan.  


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

UPDATE- Action Guide: Support the Standing Rock Sioux #NoDAPL

Photo by Thane Maxwell
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a planned 1,172-mile oil pipeline, with an expected capacity of 500,000 barrels of oil per day. The pipeline would originate in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and terminate in Pakota, Illinois. For frequently asked questions on case litigation, please refer HERE.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of the pipeline under the Missouri River just one mile north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, home to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The proximity of this pipeline to the Missouri River could threaten the Sioux people’s access to clean water, and in April 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux initiated a protest effort to protect this international human right. 
Tribal leaders also argue that the pipeline infringes upon their sacred burial grounds, and in July, the Reservation sued the Army Corps of Engineers over their failure to conduct meaningful consultation and to adhere to environmental and historical protection regulations. While the judge ruled against the Sioux’s request on September 9th, 2016, on this same day, the Army Corps of Engineers, with the support of the Departments of Justice and Interior, halted the pipeline’s construction near key tribal lands until they could fully review the permits granted for construction. On February 8, the Army Corps granted the final easement to complete construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline and construction is moving forward. 
Since April, 2016 a growing popular movement lead by indigenous people has formed at the site of pipeline construction. As of mid-September, thousands of native and non native protestors have demonstrated support at the protest camps, and an unprecedented 180 tribal nations have sent letters of solidarity. These camps are being monitored by the National Guard, and private security companies have attacked some protestors with dogs, among whom number women and children. There are between 200 and 300 people currently residing in the camps and North Dakota Governor Burgam has issued an evacuation order to be enacted on February 22nd. 
Our Stake As Presbyterians:

General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessors have affirmed the sovereignty and treaty rights of Native American tribes on numerous occasions. For example, the 193rd General Assembly (1981) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America called the President of the United States to develop “a national Indian policy that is consistent with the concerns of Indian people for self-determination, tribal sovereignty, economic self-sufficiency, and preservation of treaty rights.” 

Building on a long history of General Assembly policy related to the environment, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved an action empowering the Presbyterian Mission Agency to witness against environmental degradation and to affirm public policy that supports good stewardship of natural resources.” Among the environmental concerns identified were threats from “all modes of fossil fuel extraction, processing, transport, and storage.”

What can you do? 
a.     defund banks that support the DAPL. Close your accounts and encourage all organizations, governments and colleges you are associated with to do the same.  A list of these can be found HERE along with a guide and support to closing your account. 
b.    Donate money to:  Synod of Lakes and Prairies, 2115 Cliff Drive, Eagan, MN 5512. Payable to: Synod of Lakes and Prairies; note: Dakota Access Pipeline Acct #2087,  to help defend those who have been arrested and to fight in court the easement granted by the Army Corps of Engineers.
c.   March IN Solidarity in DC and other cities to support our Indigenous brothers and sisters against theDAPL on March 10.
d.    PRAY for those at Standing Rock and pray that God’s justice will prevail with the DAPL. Many thanks to Carolyn Winfrey Gillette who wrote new hymns to be sung in solidarity with water protectors. They can be found HERE

e.    SPEAK OUT REPEATEDLY to government officials, especially your U.S. Senators and Representatives.  Call Senator Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Committee on Indian Affairs and other members of the committee. has contact information for legislators as well as pending bills and other legislative information and activities.

f.      Stay informed. Know the facts.  Keep your contacts informed through social media. Helpful accounts to follow are 

Thanks to Irvin Porter, Elona Street-Stewart, Mark Koenig, and Gary Payton and Presbyterians for Earth Care for their contributions to this guide.