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.