Tuesday, March 29, 2016

PC (USA) Signs onto Interfaith Letter to President Obama Regarding the Historic Drought in California

March 25, 2016

Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for your proposed FY17 budget investments to help California respond to the historic drought and spur innovation solutions to balance the long-term needs of Californians. In the faith community we recognize that water is a fundamental component of all life, and that stewardship of water is part of our call to care for God’s creation. Like California residents, Washington can’t lose sight of the critical threats posed by drought to our environment and fish and wildlife, families and communities – and there is more to do.

Many California communities and ecosystems rely on groundwater, and despite the robust El Niño rains and resulting snowpack, California remains in a drought and the groundwater supplies have yet to recover. Sadly, some communities are unable to cope with the loss of wells and with limited infrastructure, they are left to face these dangerous impacts on their own. In addition to our call to be faithful stewards of the earth, faith traditions teach us to care for vulnerable populations including communities of color and low-income communities. It is therefore crucial that we protect these communities by continuing to invest in groundwater recharge and infrastructure to capture the El Niño storms, and enhanced data sharing and collection so that we have the best information available for local decision-making and balancing diverse water needs.

We believe that in your final State of the Union, you were very clear: climate change is a threat to us all. We have to focus relentlessly on workable solutions, especially solutions to help our most vulnerable communities and protect God’s Earth. We are grateful that the White House has taken steps to combat drought, water shortages, and water insecurity in California and the West. It is our moral responsibility to care for our neighbors and for God’s Creation, and your Administration’s proposed FY17 budget is a step forward. Please do more to protect California’s families and fragile environment.

As Deputy Secretary Mike Connor has said, “Water is the lifeblood of our communities and every drop counts.”


Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Creation Justice Ministries
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Green Chalice Ministry
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Environmental Network
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Advocacy Office
Presbyterian Church USA
Sisters of Mercy, West Midwest Justice Team
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Justice Team
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

CC:   Honorable Sally Jewell, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
         Honorable Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator
         Honorable Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senator
         Shaun Donovan, Director, White House Office of Management and Budget
         Estevan López, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
         Christina Goldfuss, Managing Director, White House Council on Environmental Quality
         Wade Crowfoot, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, State of California

Urgent Action TODAY: Tell House Leadership Not to Bring Anti-Refugee Bill to a Vote!

Background: This month, the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 4731, the "Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act" out of committee. As House Leadership decides whether to bring this bill to the House floor for a vote, it is critical that they hear from everyone who supports refugee resettlement. We must stop them from even considering bringing H.R.4731 to a vote by the full House.

H.R.4731 would drastically reduce and cap refugee admissions; place refugees under continual surveillance after they have arrived; and create new procedures that would significantly and potentially indefinitely delay resettlement for many refugees whose lives are in danger, including but not limited to Central Americans, Syrians and Iraqis. It would allow state and local governments who "disapprove" of refugees to veto resettlement in their localities. Under the guise of prioritizing religious minorities from countries of particular concern, H.R. 4731 could effectively prevent many Muslim refugees from being resettled. It would keep refugees from adjusting to Lawful Permanent Residency until they have been here for three years, which would delay family reunification and integration opportunities. The bill would also revoke the refugee status of any refugee who returns to their country of origin to visit loved ones or rebuild their communities.

Call House leadership TODAY: Urge them to STOP this anti-refugee bill

       Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI-1): (202) 225-0600 / @SpeakerRyan
       Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23): 202-225-4000 / @GOPLeader
       Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA-1): (202) 225-0197 / @SteveScalise
       Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-5): (202) 225-5107 / @housegop
       Policy Committee Chair Luke Messer (R-IN-6): (202) 225-3021 / @RepLukeMesser

Here’s what you can say: “I support refugee resettlement, and I urge the Representative to STOP H.R.4731, the "Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act" from coming up for a vote. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee, but would decimate refugee resettlement by drastically reducing refugee admissions, changing the definition of who is a refugee, allowing states and localities to stop resettlement to their areas, placing refugees under continual surveillance, and discriminating against people based on their religion, among other provisions.  This bill runs counter to the humanitarian leadership of the United States and the welcome of the American people. Please oppose H.R.4731 and don’t bring this bill up for a vote."

Below is additional information about refugee resettlement that might be helpful:
·       Refugees have fled their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion.
·       Today, we are facing a global refugee crisis, with more than 60 million people displaced from their homes, more than at any time since World War II. Some 20 million are refugees.
·       Refugee resettlement is a last resort, only considered for the most vulnerable who cannot return home or safely integrate in a nearby country.  Less than 1% of refugees are resettled.
·       The U.S. is a global leader in refugee protection and resettlement, which is critical to encouraging other countries to keep their doors open to refugees fleeing persecution.
·       Refugees do not choose which country they are resettled to. The U.N. refugee agency refers refugees to resettlement countries. The U.S. government screens and approves all refugees who resettle here.
·       Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted people to come to the United States, undergoing rigorous security screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Department of Defense, Department of State, and National Counter Terrorism Center, including biometric checks, forensic document testing, medical screenings and in-person interviews by highly trained DHS officers.
·       Refugees resettled in the U.S. successfully support their families, pay taxes, and contribute to their new communities. They work in industries ranging from hospitality, food service, teaching, engineering, nursing and medicine, and many start their own businesses. Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and Sergey Brin, the founder of Google, are former refugees whose accomplishments demonstrate what the U.S. has to gain from welcoming refugees.

You can also call 1-866-940-2439.  The recording you will here when you call this number is:  Thank you for calling Leadership Members of the House of Representatives as they decide whether to bring H.R.4731, the "Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act" to the House floor for a vote. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee, but would drastically reduce refugee admissions, change the definition of who is a refugee, allow states and localities to stop resettlement to their areas, place refugees under continual surveillance, and discriminate against people based on their religion, among other provisions. Please call this line five times to be connected with all members of House Leadership. When you are connected, tell the receptionist that you and your community welcome refugees and urge them to STOP H.R.4731 from coming up for a vote. Please spread the word and urge others to call as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

'Major Changes Coming to those Receiving SNAP Benefits' by Young Adult Volunteer Mara Sawdy

Over the course of 2016, more than 500,000 and as many as 1 million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut off SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program),1  leaving them to struggle in an economy where wages are stagnant and full time work is difficult to find. In this round of cuts, unemployed adults between the ages of 18-49 who are able bodied and have no children have been targeted to lose their benefits. This is particularly troubling because SNAP benefits are often the only form of assistance they can access and this overlooked population tends to be extremely poor, with their gross income averaging 17 percent of the poverty line- about $2,000 per year.1

This three-month time limit was included in the 1996 welfare law, which limits childless, able bodied adults to three months of SNAP benefits when they are not employed or in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week. This means that a person could be diligently looking for a job, have a part time job and be in search of full time work, or be called upon to care for a family member and would still lose the only benefit available to them.

This year, the time limit will be in effect in more than 40 states. In 23 states, it will be the first time that the time limit has been in effect since before the recession.1 In most of these states, the time limit went into effect in January, meaning that many people will have their SNAP benefits taken away at the end of this month.

The return of the time limit imposed on SNAP benefits will have a large-scale impact on at least 500,000 unemployed Americans who rely on these benefits to meet their nutritional needs. Congress is unlikely to act on extending the time limit or include diligently searching for jobs as a way to retain SNAP benefits. With Congress unlikely to take any action, states must begin to plan on the how to assist those who need to meet their basic nutritional needs.

Source: http://frac.org/images_new/7-actions-to-stop-snap-time-limits.jpg

As people of faith, we must remember the parable of the sheep and goats: whatever we do to “the least of these” brothers and sisters of mine, we also do to Jesus himself (Matthew 25:40). We must remember “that God our creator has made the world for everyone, and desires that all shall have daily bread” (UPCUSA, Minutes, 1979, p.189). Alleviating hunger and eliminating its causes is at the very heart of the life of the church. It is the responsibility of the Church to speak out and share all that we have, and therefore we must help our brothers and sisters who are about to lose their only way to meet their basic nutritional needs.

1    1. “More Than 500,000 Adults Will Lose SNAP Benefits in 2016 as Waivers Expire” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. January 21, 2016.

       Mara Sawdy hails from West Newton, Pennsylvania and is a 2015 graduate of Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA.  In college, she studied environmental science and peace studies. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness and Miriam's Kitchen in Washington, DC. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Reverend Nelson Joins Faith Call to Rein In Abuses of Payday Lending

This statement was given by Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson on a press call on March 17, 2016. Faith leaders convened to urge Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to publicly renounce the abuses of payday lending. 


Good Morning. I am Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. Our concerns as servants of the Kingdom of God related to predatory lending practices are deeply biblical and theological. The Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures both address the issues of fair lending practices. Exodus 22:25 is likely the earliest when it focuses the concern in reference to the poor.

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. (NRSV)

A similar concern with charging interest that focuses on the condition of the one needing the loan is found in Leviticus 25:3536:

If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. (NRSV)

Both of these prohibitions against charging interest on loans have in view the distressed economic plight of the borrower, and both make the same judgment that God’s demands of covenant community preclude the practice of charging interest.

Even though the prohibition against charging interest on loans was limited to fellow Israelites, a universalizing tendency in Christian theology eventually extended the protection against charging interest to all with whom one had financial dealings[1]. The New Testament provided an explicit warrant for such a broadening of the claim in Luke 6:35:

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (NRSV)

Articulated in the context of loving enemies, the widening of the scope of Deuteronomy’s restriction on charging interest was virtually inevitable in Christian consideration of the matter.

I served as Pastor of a poor inner city congregation in Memphis, Tennessee before coming to Washington, DC in 2010. 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 lenders, 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. As people of faith we recognize this as a detriment to the building of true community and a deterrent to family welfare. Therefore, our call to Democratic Party National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is to discontinue her advocacy for a Florida bill that will not resolve this problem in her home state, but instead further damage the lives of poor people. We are asking her to side with the community values shared by both of our faith traditions – the Judeo Christian heritage. Thank you.

[1] Both Scriptures and statements are guided by the Presbyterian Policy Statements that may be found in A Reformed Understanding of Usury for the 21st Century ; Approved by the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Stated Clerk of the PCUSA Joins 22 Faith Leaders in Call for Congress to Pass Legislation to End the Embargo of Cuba

March 16, 2016

Dear Member of Congress,
As faith leaders in the United States we write to urge you today to take action to end our long-standing and counter-productive embargo on Cuba.
We have listened to the call of our partner faith communities in Cuba, with whom we have worked for many years on humanitarian issues, on disaster response, and in sister church relationships. Uniformly and consistently, they have told us that the embargo brings no benefits to the faith community in Cuba. In fact, it makes life more difficult for church members and the Cuban people more broadly. They would like a full normal relationship, in which they can visit and learn from us, and we can visit and learn from them. They recognize that our two governments have differences, and issues that must be resolved; they are eager to see those issues discussed in the context of normal, respectful relations.
As religious membership and attendance in Cuba has grown over recent years, we feel a renewed urgency to bring an end to the embargo, and move toward a more constructive relationship.
In the last few years, restrictions on travel to Cuba and on exports to Cuba have eased somewhat, and diplomatic relations have been restored. Our partner communities have welcomed these moves, as have we.
Now is the time for you, as our representatives in the Congress, to take action to bring an end to the embargo. The Cuban Democracy Act, the Helms-Burton legislation, and the Trade Sanctions Reform Act, all impose various legislative restrictions on travel, trade, and diplomatic relations. The time for those restrictions has passed.
In the current Congress, there is a packet of legislative initiatives that would bring an end to most of the onerous restrictions of the U.S. embargo. H.R. 3687 the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would end rules that limit agricultural sales to Cuba, H.R.3055, the Cuba DATA Act, would end limits on telecommunications trade and investment, and H.R. 3238, the Cuba Trade Act, would end limits on trade in general. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 664) would end any remaining restriction on U.S. citizen travel. We urge you to endorse these pieces of legislation, as a signal of your commitment to ending the embargo and returning to normal relations that will benefit both our peoples and our faith communities.
While our two governments have disagreements that must be resolved, these can be addressed in the future through respectful dialogue and engagement.
Religious freedom and religious life have grown dramatically in Cuba in the last two decades, and religious attendance – among Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim communities – has grown as well. The faith community is playing a greater role in the life of the Cuban people, and we look forward to its continuing growth and expansion. We look forward to the day when relations between our two countries are fully normal, and when our peoples and our communities can engage with one another unhindered and with mutual understanding and benefit. Legislative action to end the embargo will bring that day closer, and we urge you to support legislation that would do so.
Susan Gillies

Interim General Secretary
American Baptist Churches USA

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian
Armenian Orthodox Church

Christopher J. Hale

Executive Director

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Rev. Dr. James Moos and Rev. Julia Brown Karimu

Co-Executives, Global Ministries

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins

General Minister and President

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S.A and Canada

Dr. Steve Timmermans

Executive Director

Christian Reformed Church in North America

Rev. John L. McCullough
President and CEO
Church World Service

Rabbi Elhanan 'Sunny' Schnitzer

The Cuba America Jewish Mission

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Fr. William Kelley, S.J.

Secretary for Social & International Ministries
Jesuit Conference of Canada & the United States

J Ron Byler

Executive Director

Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Rev. Fr. Bill Antone, OMI


Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate-United States Province

James Winkler

General Secretary and President
National Council of Churches USA

Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey

Partnership Relations

Sister Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN
Executive Director

Pax Christi USA

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Dr. Timothy Tee Boddie

General Secretary

Progressive National Baptist Convention

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner


Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Sr. Madeleine Munday, RGS

Province Leader

Sisters of the Good Shepherd of North America

Rev. Peter Morales


Unitarian Universalist Association

The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President
The United Church of Christ

Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr.
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Join the Office of Public Witness for a Witness in Washington Webinar March 17 - 3pm

Cuba: What Next?

Thursday, March 17th - 3pm

Click here to register.

As President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba nears, join us for a webinar with experts from the region and Washington to discuss the current state of affairs in Cuba and the prospects for an end to the  US embargo. Get up to date information on the issues facing Cuba as aspects of the embargo are eased.  Learn how you can help push congress and the administration to end the embargo entirely!

Moderated by
Catherine Gordon
Representative for International Issues
Presbyterian Office of Public Witness
Click here to register.


Mavis Anderson, Senior Associate, Latin America Working Group (LAWG)

Since 1997, Mavis has covered U.S. policy toward Cuba, cultivating congressional, organizational and grassroots support for the LAWG coalition's efforts to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. For more information go to: http://lawg.org/about-us/staff

Reinerio Arce, Former President of the Cuban Council of Churches and Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba
Reinerio has served as President of the Cuban Council of Churches, Director of the Study Center of the Cuban Council of Churches, and Rector of Matanzas Theological Seminary. He has also served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba. He is currently a professor of theology at Mantanzas Theological Seminary.
For more information go to: http://www.ncccusa.org/news/cuba/cccbackground.html

Valdir Franca, Area Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Presbyterian Church USA
Valdir serves as the liaison with the global partner churches in Latin America and the Caribbean, providing support and serving as a bridge between global church partners and U.S. Presbyterians. For more information go to: https://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/8/19/valdir-franca-joins-presbyterian-world-mission/

Geoff Thale, Prorgam Director, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
As Program Director Geoff follows hemispheric trends as well as U.S. policy toward the region.  He directs WOLA's Cuba program, which supports normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. For more information go to: http://www.wola.org/people/geoff_thale

We are grateful for the financial support of the First Presbyterian Church of the City of New York for this webinar.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Washington Report to Presbyterians

 Click here to view or download the complete Washington Report to Presbyterians

The latest news from the PC (USA) Office of Public Witness Includes:

Lift Your Voice in Prophetic Witness at EAD 2016
By Catherine Gordon
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness invites you to participate in Compassion Peace and Justice Training Day and Ecumenical Advocacy Days April 1518 2016.

Office of Public Witness Director Responds to President Obama’s Executive Order to Curb Gun Violence
The scriptures remind us of God’s desire for abundant living: “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10). Abundant living is difficult to achieve in a society where headlines are driven by the slogan “If it bleeds, it leads.” In 2010, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a policy statement calling for a reduction in  gun violence entitled “Gun Violence and Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call".  Since then, the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness has vigorously advocated for Congress to act. 

A Photo Essay from Reverend Nelson’s Visit to the Philippines
Reverend Nelson recently returned from the Mission Personnel Regional Gathering in the Philippines entitled “Toward 200 Years of PC(USA) Global Mission: Shapes, Contours and Implications of Mission in Asia.”

An Update on the Trans Pacific Partnership
Historically, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has opposed the current trade model that put the rights of corporations above the rights of citizens and governments to determine policy. One major example of this is in Peru. A provision of free trade agreements called the State-Investor clause has left developing countries at a significant disadvantage. This clause grants corporations the right to sue a host country for activities or regulation that result in loss of profit for the corporation, considering it a breach of the agreement.

Reverend Nelson’s response to the 2016 State of the Union
The Office of Public Witness welcomed President Obama’s call to renew our civic responsibilities and live into the ideal of a government created “of the people” in his eighth and final State of The Union address.

An Update from the Senate Workers Struggle for Fifteen and a Union
In December, Senate and other federal contract workers got a hardwon raise just in time to bring Christmas cheer.