Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rev. Hawkins Responds to Rollback of Protections for Trans Students

We at the Office of Public Witness affirm the rights of children to a safe educational environment and mourn the loss of protections for transgender students ordered by the Administration that jeopardize that safety. It is a moral obligation for every school in the U.S. to protect students from bullying and harassment. We are called to stand with the marginalized and oppressed, and stand with students who may once again experience fear about going to school after a brief period of protection from the federal government. 

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor churches have explicitly affirmed the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people for almost forty years. This includes a call from the 117th General Assembly (1977) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States to stand for just treatment of LGBT people regarding their civil liberties, equal rights, and protection from social and economic discrimination. We also draw on the General Assembly’s rich history of education advocacy, particularly a 2010 resolution which “recommit[ted] the PC(USA) to the principle of equal educational opportunity for all children in the United States, different as each child may be, and affirms them all as our children, neighbors in our care.” (Loving Our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education (K-12). Approved by the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA), 2010.) Support for transgender students is mandated by our larger charge to advocate for rigorous quality education for students, to create affirming environments for all learners, and to live into the idea that children truly are neighbors in our care. 

Call the offices of Attorney General Sessions, Education Secretary DeVos and the White House to share your voice. Make sure your Members of Congress hear from you and tell them to pass a trans-inclusive safe schools act. And, advocate at the local level, with your local school board and administration, calling on them to ensure the safety and equal treatment of all students in school policies and their implementation.

In Faith We Share,

Rev. Jimmie Ray Hawkins

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Come join us for a weekend of education and advocacy in Washington, DC!

Confronting Chaos, Forging Community
Racism, Materialism and Militarism
April 21-24
Washington, DC

Compassion Peace and Justice Training Day – Friday, April 21 8:00 – 4:30
Join fellow Presbyterians to learn what the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its partners are doing to forge community in this chaotic time.   Learn skills and strategies you can take back to your church and your community to combat the ills of racism, materialism and militarism.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days – April 21-24
After Compassion Peace and Justice Training Day join hundreds of our ecumenical brothers and sisters for a weekend of study, action, and advocacy. 

For more information and to register click here!

 New Panelist Speaker Announced for Compassion Peace and Justice Training Day

Stephanie Quintana-Martinez

Stephanie Quintana-Martinez was born and raised in Añasco, Puerto Rico. For several years, Steph worked on issues of immigration justice on the US-Mexico border as a community organizer and social/legal services provider. When Steph is not busy studying Divinity at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, she is organizing, promoting radical self-care, and reading poetry.

Compassion Peace and Justice Training  Day Sample Workshops:

Creating Spaces of Welcome:  Acting in solidarity with refugees and immigrants of all faiths and nationalities

The PCUSA is a denomination with a majority white, U.S.-born membership. Congregations concerned about the racism and isolationism that permeates current immigration policy are often at a loss about how to step into the public debate, how to win over fellow members, and how to develop a message and strategy as allies with Muslim refugees, Central American asylum seekers and others. This is a “nuts & bolts” workshop designed for congregations who are just starting to become more publicly visible/active on the rights of refugees and migrants and/or those who wish to “step it up” due to the policy shifts under the Trump administration and new US Congress and rising acts of hostility and xenophobia toward immigrants and refugees.
Susan Krehbiel, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
Amanda Craft, Immigration Office, Office of the General Assembly

Doctrine of Discovery and Propagation of the Christian Empire

The 222nd General Assembly (2016) acted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.  Why don't we know more about it? Sometimes our histories are hidden so long by racism, cultural alienation and political manipulation, they get forgotten.  The story of the Doctrine of Discovery, also known as the Doctrine of Christian Domination, has been untold for centuries although it has been foundational to international land law for the past 500 years and is even codified in the US Constitution.  In an era of truth telling, we must ask its past and present impact on Native American tribes and individuals.  How can Presbyterians support American Indian rights of sovereignty and redress for past oppression of legal structures based on the Doctrine of Discovery?  
Elona Street-Stewart, Delaware Nanticoke, Synod Executive, Synod of Lakes and Prairies

For the Living of These Days: Hope and Courage in Difficult Times

What gives us hope when life becomes challenging? Where do we find courage in fear-filled times? How do we develop the resiliency to live faithfully as followers of Jesus? This interactive workshop will focus on equipping participants to lean into and claim power in what portend to be very difficult days.
Sara Lisherness, Director, Compassion, Peace, and Justice;
Mark Koenig, Leader Development, Racial Justice, and Networking

For more information and to register click here!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

PCUSA Joins 14 Christian Organizations in Briefing Paper to Congress and Administration on Israel/Palestine

On February 15th, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and 14 other Christian organizations sent a briefing paper to all members of Congress and to the Trump Administration calling for U.S. policies that promote peace, justice, and equality between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Toward Peace, Justice, and Equality in Israel and Palestine
February 15, 2017

As U.S.-based Christian churches, agencies, and organizations, we urge Congress and the Administration to take actions which will enhance the prospects for peace, justice, and equality in Israel and Palestine, and refrain from actions that would harm those prospects.

2017 marks 50 years since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza and 24 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords. Over the last 50 years, but particularly since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, there have been significant changes on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories that have a negative impact on efforts to achieve peace with justice. Violations of human rights and international law have continued without consequence and are enabled further by Israeli legislative actions.

An example has been the continued and growing expansion of settlements, an approach long condemned by Republican and Democratic administrations alike as a violation of Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Settlement expansion forcibly takes property and resources from Palestinian landholders, many of whom have held legal title to their lands for generations.

·      Settlements now control 42% of all West Bankland, areas that are recognized by the international community, and international law, as Israeli-occupied Palestinian land.
·      Since 1993 the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) has increased from 110,900 to over 400,000, and the number of Israeli settlers in Jerusalem has more gone up from 146,800 to over 300,000.
·      More than 15,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, often as a result of Israeli authorities refusing to grant permits to Palestinians for modifying or building structures on their own lands, then destroying any homes that are modified.

These changes, among others, have caused analysts, scholars, diplomats, and politicians to assert that the window of opportunity for a viable two-state solution is closing or may have closed. As that reexamination is occurring, the underlying need for equality of rights remains.

The principle of equality is foundational to true democracies as well as to international law. It is necessary if a sustainable future is to be found for both Palestinians and Israelis. Regardless of the underlying political governance structures, equal rights and opportunities must be assured for all people in the region – not someday based on an idea of future negotiations, but as a fundamental human right today. Yet the present situation and trajectory neither reflect nor promote equality, as demonstrated by these facts, among others:

·      Freedom of movement for individuals of Palestinian descent is inhibited, based on discriminatory and separate criteria;
·      Trials for Palestinians in the West Bank take place in military courts, while trials for Israeli settlers take place in civilian courts;
·      A two-tier system of laws, rules, and services operates for the Israeli and Palestinian populations in areas of the West Bank under Israeli control, providing preferential services, development, and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.
·      The parameters that determine political participation in Israel break down according to ethnic and geographic lines: in the West Bank, for example, Jews can vote while their Palestinian neighbors – regardless of whether they live in “Palestinian” Area A or in “Israeli” Area C – are not eligible to vote.

Neither Israelis, Palestinians, nor those of us in the U.S. will ultimately benefit from structures and approaches that reinforce inequality and injustice. To address this untenable situation, U.S. policymakers should make clear their commitment to ensuring fundamental human rights by:

·      Urging the Israeli government to immediately take action to secure an end to the occupation and all discriminatory policies resulting from the occupation, including home demolitions and inequitable distribution of land and water resources;
·      Applying Leahy vetting processes and other mechanisms to all recipients of U.S. security assistance consistently;
·      Upholding and protecting the rights and abilities of human rights organizations and defenders to do their work, and including them as part of delegation visits to hear their perspectives;
·      Urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to uphold the values of peace, justice, and equal rights for all peoples; and urging both to refrain from actions that lead to violence while encouraging efforts to work for peace, justice, and reconciliation;
·      Protecting the rights of U.S. citizens seeking to carry out nonviolent economic protests to challenge unjust policies.

Our perspectives on the situation in Israel and Palestine are based on decades, and in many cases centuries, of organizational engagement in the Middle East. We fervently pray for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to support policies that promote equality for all people in the region.

American Friends Service Committee

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness

Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

Pax Christi International

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Reformed Church in America

United Church of Christ

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New OPW Director Jimmie Hawkins: “We Must Redouble Our Efforts to Work for Justice”

2017 has already proven to be exhausting. There is so much work to be done that it can appear somewhat daunting and presents uncertainty of where to begin. However, we learn from the words of “those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…” Lord, renew us!
Holy Scripture that

Therefore, as this year unfolds, let us dedicate ourselves to redoubling our efforts to work for justice, equality and human dignity for all persons.

We as a Church must expand our toolbox of strategies and be much more creative as the forces arrayed against us demonstrate political power and advantages we lack. Our coalitions must be effective and determined as we align ourselves with others committed to the cause of justice. We must expand social media capacity as an efficient tool to connect with young adults who are becoming active in this political moment. They must be brought to the table of decision-making not just eliciting their support for the decisions we make.

There comes a time when meetings and letters do not win the day. We are in a time of rapid and shocking change, most upsetting and disruptive. The question becomes, how does the church respond? How does the individual Christian respond in a faithful and loving manner?  The Bible teaches us to pray and action will follow (Mark 11). But oftentimes, we are the fulfillers of the prayerful action. The church over the centuries has protected those who were hounded during the Underground Railroad and Sanctuary movements. The church has given Biblical and theological justifications for our stands for a liberating justice for all persons under the stress of oppression. It has challenged, in the courts and in the streets, laws that are unjust and discriminative. We are the church of Christ Jesus and serve a God who commands that we speak “truth to power”.

Change comes from the ground up. We hear this so often that it sometimes loses its impact. But we see from the Women’s March the impact one person can have as one person’s initiative grew into a response from millions around the world. What we strive for here in Washington only matters if people locally react to our call to fulfill God’s command that we “love justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:5)

We therefore will strive to offer resources and education through the OPW to amplify and inform your courageous local action. Below, I have outlined our policy priorities for the year 2017, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, the OPW exists to serve you.

In faith we share,

Rev. Jimmie Ray Hawkins

Domestic Policy Priorities:

Health Care

As far back as 50 years ago, the General Assembly called for federal legislation relating to health care. In the last decade, the church has had to reflect on an array of health care issues to discern what system would best serve the needs, not only those who can afford medical assistance, but also to those on the margins of society.

The 208th General Assembly (1988) adopted the policy statement, “Life Abundant: Values, Choices and Health Care – The Responsibility and Role of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” The 1991 resolution on “Christian Responsibility and a National Medical Plan” urges Presbyterians to “seek candidates for office...who will place high priority on the establishment of an equitable, efficient and universally accessible health plan....” Until such a plan is instituted, the General Assembly called upon “the federal and state governments to: protect uninsured persons, especially those with low or fixed incomes, from erosion of health care benefits or an increase in cost of health care benefits and expand Medicare and Medicaid benefits (Minutes, 1991, p. 810).


The 218th General Assembly (2008) added to the already considerable complement of PC(USA) policy on immigration, “declar[ing] that the common practice of police officers working in collaboration with Federal government institutions to enforce immigration laws represents a dangerous situation for families and the community in general.” The Assembly further “declare[d] that the raids and road blocks near churches are unjust and represent a violation to people’s right to worship; denounce[d] the suffering and hurting of thousands of young children and parents, which is the product of the separation during deportations; denounce[d] the injustice and lack of standards in the detention centers; deplore[d] hate speech against immigrants in public arenas; and state[d] that the PC(USA) believes that all humans should have access to basic human needs like health, education, and housing.”

Care for Creation

Presbyterian General Assemblies have been speaking on issues of environmental protection and justice since the late 1960s.  Their witness ranges broadly from drinking water safety and acid rain, to protecting endangered species, to cleaning up dirty power plants, to climate change and U.S. energy policy.

Racial and Economic Justice

When the Presbyterian Church adopted a contemporary Confession of Faith in 1967, it stated that “the reconciliation...through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation. Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world’s poor is the cause of his disciples... A church that is indifferent to poverty, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God” (The Confession of 1967, 9.46).

Acting on such convictions of faith, Presbyterian General Assemblies over the years have expressed frequent concern for the economic well-being of the nation, the fairness of our economic system, and especially, the needs of the poor.

In 2016, the Presbyterian General Assembly made history by adopting the Confession of Belhar. Belhar, written by non-white Christians in South Africa in 1982 to challenge the theological support that undergirded Apartheid, focuses on reconciliation in the church (specifically racial reconciliation), but applicable wherever the church is divided for any reason. It is a call for the church body to adopt and prioritize the work of racial justice and reconciliation in our communities and policy work.

International Policy Priorities:

Corporate Accountability and Fair Trade
The Resolution on Just Globalization from passed by the 217th General Assembly “reaffirm[ed] the request of the 215th General Assembly (2003)….to continue the monitoring of trade agreements and support for efforts that strive toward international cooperation on fair trade, respect for diversity and common concerns for a
peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

Peace in the Middle East
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly has long supported two viable states as a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The challenge has been how to respond to the human rights violations and suffering resulting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The church’s policy, based on General Assembly actions, includes: promoting a just peace in the Middle East;  acting in solidarity with Palestinian Christian mission partners and other church partners across the Middle East; ending the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; and  advocating for the right for Israelis and Palestinians “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Humanitarian and Refugee Assistance
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations have supported refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis created by World War II. The 160th General Assembly (1948) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America stated, “The United States should pass legislation to bring in at least four hundred thousand displaced persons during the next four years. ... As they arrive, our church people should stand ready to open their homes and provide work for these unfortunate victims of war” (Minutes, PCUSA, 1948, Part I, p. 204). The OPW advocates for increased humanitarian aid for victims of conflict globally and increased support for refugees, particularly those fleeing the Syrian Conflict.

Global Security
The Office of Public Witness will advocate for a measured policy on drones and opposing targeted killings, assassinations, with special attention paid to stopping the use of Torture by the US government . A long standing priority has been to work against increases in military spending and the modernization of nuclear weapons. This work is particularly informed by the 2014 General Assembly Resolution entitled “Drones, War and Surveillance.”

Peacemaking and Defending Human Rights in Africa

Based in long standing General Assembly policy, the OPW will advocate to advance human rights and a peaceful end to the conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, and the Congo.

#ProtectOurCare, a Guest Post from Seminary Intern Bridget Wendell

My name is Bridget Wendell and I am the Spring Seminary Intern at the Office of Public Witness.  I am excited to be working with the OPW to advocate for immigrant and refugee rights as well as domestic justice issues.  Although I am a seminarian at Princeton Theological Seminary, the National Capital Semester for Seminarians through Wesley Seminary has brought me to DC for the semester to learn about the intersection of faith and politics.  I feel fortunate to be in Washington at this critical time to advocate for hospitality, acceptance and the gospel message. 
I am personally invested in current issues that are on the President’s docket.  Recently, I enrolled in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.  As a graduate student who typically works three jobs during the semester, I still had a hard time paying for the school sanctioned insurance.  In trying to steward my money well and avoid taking out student loans, I struggled to pay my premiums until I realized I was eligible for the Affordable Care Act. 
When I returned to school in the fall, I was able to switch over to ACA insurance.  With my new insurance, my premiums dropped and I was able to go back to my long-time doctors, which weren’t covered under my school insurance.  It was a relief to be able to get the services that I needed without being afraid of gigantic bills arriving after visiting the doctor. 
I am not alone in my dependence on the ACA for health insurance.  Thirty million people could lose their health coverage and twelve million people who qualify for financial assistance will no longer have affordable healthcare if ACA is repealed.  Senior’s prescription drug costs will rise and many African Americans, Latinos and Veterans will return to being uninsured, which would further exacerbate the racial wealth gap. 
Recipients of private insurance will be affected as well. Insurance companies will once again be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and women will return to paying higher premiums in the middle of their lives.  Lifetime limits could be re-instituted, making it hard for the sickest people to get care when they need it most, and companies will no longer have to provide coverage for mental  health and substance abuse.  It will no longer be required for companies to provide free preventative services or put premiums towards care instead of profits. 
If a repeal bill is drafted and passed through the House and Senate, the President can sign it into law.  If this happens, as soon as next year we will see major changes for people who buy their own health insurance and get their coverage through Medicaid. 
As a second career seminarian, it was hard for me to leave my job as a public school teacher and the benefits that went along with it.  Being able to enroll in insurance through the ACA has made it easier for me to follow God in my calling.  I am one of the many Americans that will be adversely affected if ACA is repealed.  In order to support efforts to protect the ACA, please join me in taking the following action steps:
1. Meet with Members of Congress or staff of in DC or in district offices to express your concern.
2. Share your story and attend or organize rallies in support of ACA.
3. Share your story on social media with the hashtag #ProtectOurCare. 

4. Write a letter to the editor to your local newspaper in support of ACA.