Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tell NBC to Air PC(USA) documentary: TRIGGER


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons (daughters) of God. (Matthew5:9)

The 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a policy statement: Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call. The policy called for “the church [to] take responsibility to build public awareness of gun violence and the epidemic of preventable gun-related deaths, totaling more than 620,000 over the past twenty years, with hundreds of thousands more wounded. Even while taking the focused and urgent efforts below to achieve practical solutions, that the councils and congregations welcome discussion from all viewpoints, and that the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy review and summarize responses for the 220th General Assembly (2012).”

Trigger Documentary – Produced by the PC(USA)

NBC has first dibs through May, 2013, on airing a PC(USA)-produced documentary on gun violence. The documentary named TRIGGER:The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence is produced by award-winning producer David Barnhart. Our latest inquiry reveals that many of the local NBC affiliates are not even aware that the documentary exists. We need your help! Pleasecall your local NBC affiliate today and request that the documentary be aired in prime time given the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and more than 30,000 people killed in the U.S. every year by gun violence.   

To find your local NBC affiliate, go to NBC’s website, search by state and choose your local station.  Once on the right website, look for a “contact us” or “feedback” link. Ask them to air TRIGGER in prime time.

Gun violence daily affects communities on levels equivalent with major natural and human disasters, and it is seen in almost every community. We may hear briefly about the victims and survivors of these shootings, but what happens after the media attention moves on and the wider public becomes numb to "just another shooting"? Drawing upon conversations with lawmakers, emergency room chaplains and surgeons, survivors and victims' families, former ATF officials, police officers, community leaders and others, this documentary shares the story of how gun violence impacts individuals and communities and examines the "ripple effect" that one shooting has on a survivor, a family, a community, and a society. TRIGGER also addresses the critical issue of gun violence prevention (such as keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill) by moving the conversation away from the polarizing extremes that have long dominated the debate and by lifting up the voice and experiences of those who seek common ground and a new way forward. View the documentary trailer. Please call today!  Encourage your friends and church members to do the same.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On Gun Violence

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) extends its sympathy to the students, faculty, staff and families affected by the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  This shooting represents another mass shooting leading to the senseless killing of twenty-seven people, including 18 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

OPW Director, J. Herbert Nelson reissued the call for all people to take seriously a movement to eradicate gun violence in the United States. “We are living in a society in which random gun violence is making everyone vulnerable to premature death. Whether it be the movie theater, houses of worship, college campuses or elementary schools, none of us are safe with automatic weapons; illegal sales of guns; limited background checks; and a host of inconsistencies that exist in present gun laws. We must call on our elected officials to committed action to stiffen gun laws in this country.”

(See the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) policy entitled GunViolence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unfinished Business – What the President and Congress have yet to do

Earlier this week, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons released a statement calling for “principle, not politics” in the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations, and in a recent OPW blog post, we reviewed the major concerns surrounding the fiscal cliff and its economic justice implications.  But it is not only the fiscal cliff that raises our concern at this time.

As the year and the Congressional session draw to a close, there is so much left to do.  In addition to a remedy for the fiscal cliff, Congress has also failed to take action on two of the PC(USA)’s domestic legislative priorities for the year: reauthorizations of the Farm Bill and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

Because of the way negotiations are moving forward, it is with President Obama and Speaker Boehner that the final decisions rest about what will get done and what will wait.  Despite the fact that it is Congress’ job to complete legislative reauthorizations like the Farm Bill and VAWA, we invite you to contact President Obama to ask him to ensure that these essential reauthorizations are included in his final bargain with Speaker Boehner.

The Farm Bill – Just and Sustainable Food Policy

The Farm Bill expired on October 1, 2012.  Just and sustainable food policy has long been a priority of the PC(USA), whose Presbyterian Hunger Program is a leading force demanding justice in the U.S. food system. We have been calling for a Farm Bill that will:
  • Reduce hunger and improve nutrition in the United States.
  • Strengthen rural communities and combat rural poverty.
  • Provide a fair and effective farmer safety net that allows farmers in the U.S. and around the world to earn economically sustainable livelihoods.
  • Promote conservation and protect creation from environmental degradation.
  • Protect the dignity, health, and safety of those responsible for working the land.
  • Promote research related to alternative, clean, and renewable forms of energy that do not negatively impact food prices or the environment.
  • Safeguard and improve international food aid in ways that encourage local food security and improve the nutritional quality of food aid.
(excerpted from Principles for a Faithful Farm Bill, an interfaith statement)

We must not let Congress ignore the Farm Bill reauthorization. Already the Farm Bill’s expiration has thrown even more uncertainty into an inherently risky profession.  But even without considering the costs to U.S. farms, both small and large, the Farm Bill’s impact on hunger and nutrition at home and around the world is tremendous.  It contains too many vital programs to be left for a new Congress. Furthermore, with the Fiscal Cliff looming ahead, there are serious concerns that lawmakers will find significant deficit reduction by cutting or making structural changes to the Farm Bill’s most important anti-hunger program: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as Food Stamps).

SNAP is one of the most effective programs for reducing hunger and poverty.  In 2011, when the sluggish economy and high unemployment continued to plague workers in this country, SNAP kept 3.9 million people above the poverty.[1] SNAP’s structure makes it an elastic program that can automatically respond to fluctuations in the economy.  When times are bad and more people are eligible for help, the program expands to provide needed assistance.  When the economy improves, people go back to work, and the number of eligible people falls, the SNAP rolls contract, reducing the cost and size of the program.  The counter-cyclical nature of SNAP is precisely the reason it is so good at reducing hunger – its very design makes sure that it serves more people when times are hardest.  Now is not the time to change that fundamental structure.  In the church, we see the faces of hunger every day in our soup kitchens, food pantries, and other ministries of mercy.  We cannot meet the need alone – only a public-private partnership where the government provides robust assistance, will respond to the current need.

Make sure the President knows that you support a year-end deal that includes a Farm Bill reauthorization that reflects the Senate-passed bill and that protects SNAP from further cuts.

Violence Against Women Act – Protection for ALL Victims of Violence

The Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 1994, recognizes the insidious and pervasive nature of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and it supports comprehensive, effective, and costs saving responses to these crimes.  VAWA programs, administered by the Departments of Justice and Health & Human Services, give law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges the tools they need to hold offenders accountable and keep communities safe, while supporting victims.  The current authorization of VAWA expired on Oct. 1, 2011.

On April 26, 2012, the Senate passed a bill (S. 1925) to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with bipartisan support. This bill strengthened protections for all victims, including immigrants, Native women, and gay and lesbian victims. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives passed a version of this bill that turns back the clock on VAWA. The House bill lacks several of the protections included by the Senate - in fact, some of the differences in the House bill would actually increase the risk faced by some women

So, before the end of the year, Congress must enact a VAWA reauthorization that includes the important improvements contained in the bipartisan Senate bill.  Again, because the final deal of the year will be hashed out between President Obama and Speaker Boehner, it is imperative that the President hears about the need to include VAWA reauthorization, with language from S. 1925, in the final deal.  VAWA has never been a partisan issue and it should not be held hostage by vitriolic political rhetoric. Our commitment to ending domestic and intimate-partner violence goes beyond partisan politics or the ideological divide.

[1] "As Poverty Remains Unacceptably High, Coalition on Human Needs Calls on
Congress to Preserve Programs Proven to Lift Families out of Poverty." Coalition of Human Needs. September 12, 2012.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Call Speaker Boehner - Agreement on VAWA is Possible!

Possible agreement on VAWA just hours away
Urgent that all VAWA advocates make one more phone call!

Call immediately and talk to Speaker Boehner’s 202-225-0600 or 202.225.6205 and House Majority Leader Cantor’s office 202-225-2815 or 202. 225.4000 and emphatically urge them to “Be a hero and help pass a VAWA that includes ALL victims and survivors. Your leadership can make this happen.” Then let them know that a final VAWA must protect Native women and hold perpetrators accountable. 

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a legislative priority of the PC(USA), has been held up in Congress over technicalities.  Earlier this year, the Senate passed a VAWA reauthorization that improved protections for immigrants, Native women, and LGBTQ victims of violence.  The House bill did not include these protections, and in fact, rolled back important confidentiality protections for immigrant women.  The PC(USA) supports the Senate-passed bill and urges Congress to complete a VAWA reauthorization this year that protects ALL victims of violence.

Right now, House leadership is in talks with VAWA’s Senate champions to discuss the reauthorization, but House leaders are hesitating about the provisions to protect Native women.  There is a path to bipartisan passage that protects and provides justice for all victims – including Native American women. Under current law, Native victims face dire and life-threatening violence on Tribal lands at the hands of non-Native offenders who cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts.  Neither can these perpetrators be prosecuted in non-Tribal courts because the offense took place on Tribal lands.  The House must agree to include new protections for these victims and ensure that perpetrators of violence can be held accountable.  It’s important for us to tell House leaders that we will stand with them if they do the right thing.

VAWA has bipartisan support and in recent days, dozens of Republican members of Congress have offered real solutions and solid support for the provisions that include all victims.  Last week, Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK) introduced H.R. 6625, a stand-alone bill which contains compromise language to address Republican concerns that the tribal jurisdiction over non tribal defendants is unconstitutional. These good faith efforts to find common ground and a path forward must not be dismissed. 

CALL immediately to Speaker Boehner’s 202-225-0600 or 202.225.6205 and House Majority Leader Cantor’s office 202-225-2815 or 202. 225.4000 and strongly urge House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker Boehner to seize the moment and get this bill done with the compromise tribal jurisdictional provisions intact.  This is their opportunity to stand firm with victims of violence and we are prayerful and optimistic that they will put politics aside and pass a VAWA inclusive of those who have been left behind so far.  House leadership needs to hear loud and clear that now is the time to pass a VAWA for all victims—Native women included.  And they need to also hear that a VAWA which does not protect Native women and does not hold perpetrators accountable is unacceptable. 

All victims of violence – including Native Women - cannot afford to wait another year for justice.

See previous posts about the Violence Against Women Act:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stated Clerk to Congress and the President: Principle, not Politics

December 10, 2012

Addressing the Moral Concern of Deficits through 
Principle, Not Politics
A Statement on the Fiscal Cliff from 
Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

I write as Congress considers a solution to the so-called fiscal cliff.  The fiscal decisions we make at the national level indicate where our priorities are as a community.  So, I urge members of Congress, as well as President Obama and his Administration, to put first and foremost in their negotiations those people who are already struggling with poverty, inequality, and injustice.

In 2008, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly said of the U.S. budget crisis: “creat[ing] ever-increasing debt and unfunded or underfunded obligations for future generations of Americans are a grave moral concern as well as a clear danger to the republic.”  The same Assembly further “call[ed] upon the church and the nation to study the policies and practices that have created this grave moral and economic crisis, to repent of the sins of greed and of stealing from future generations who cannot defend themselves, and to call upon our citizens and national leaders to make the sacrifices necessary to begin to solve this problem before it is too late.”

I, therefore, urge Congress to address this grave concern of long-term deficits by making decisions based on principle rather than politics.  We abhor the prospect of leaving a legacy of mounting debt to future generations, and likewise believe that it would be equally irresponsible to leave the same descendants a legacy of increasing poverty and inequality.

It is clear that we cannot achieve comprehensive, just, deficit reduction only by cutting spending. Even significantly re-envisioning our military priorities, which is also essential, will not be enough.  We must have new federal revenues to address our long-term deficits – new revenue that must be raised through a more progressive tax code.  In this way, we can both reduce our federal deficit and ensure adequate resources to make necessary investments for future generations.

We further challenge the notion that entitlement reform must contribute to deficit reduction.  We believe that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are part of our social insurance system, a compact between generations that must be preserved for future beneficiaries, as well as current ones.  The goal of any reform to these essential programs must be their long-term fiscal sustainability and improved efficiency.  Should deficit reduction result from well-intentioned reform – all the better – but these programs are not the primary contributors to the deficit, nor should they be primary sources for deficit reduction.  Again, we believe that the grave moral concern of the federal deficit must be addressed in a balanced and comprehensive way.

As Presbyterians, we are anxious that our national decisions reflect our commitments as a people. We are called by a loving and gracious God to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.  We know that we are responsible to each other and, as the Gospel of Luke teaches us, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.”  We, therefore, urge a solution to the fiscal cliff and federal deficit that ensures long-term fiscal stability; deficit reduction; just, new revenue; long-term integrity for entitlement programs; and a priority on the most vulnerable in society.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent Expectation and the Fiscal Cliff

Advent Expectation and the Fiscal Cliff
By Leslie Woods

At this time of year, as we turn our attention to the waiting and the preparation that characterizes this holy season, and to the hope for the future that will arrive on Christmas morning, we join with you as we wait and hope.  And yet we know that God has called us to be in the world and to call the world to better account.  In the church, and especially during Advent, we have responsibilities outside of the walls of our houses of worship.  We have responsibilities in our families, in our communities, and in our nation.

In Washington, it is also a season of waiting and hoping.  As Congress addresses the very pressing issues our nation faces during the Lame Duck session, we all wait with baited breath – what solutions will they bring to bear? Click here to send a message to your Members of Congress today.

Most pressing among the many items of business before this lame duck Congress is the looming so-called fiscal cliff – the convergence of a number of policies that will automatically take effect in January, 2013.  In this time of intense partisanship and long-term fiscal crisis, it is essential that the church’s voice be loud among those seeking to influence our national decisions.  The nation’s fiscal decisions reflect the collective priorities that share – our commitment to the common good, our call to be keepers of our brothers and sisters, and our call to be in solidarity and support of “the least of these.”

We continue to exhort Members of Congress to bear in mind to common good when making fiscal decisions.  We join in concerns about leaving a legacy of mounting debt to future generations, but so too do we abhor leaving a legacy of rising poverty, inequality, and under-investment.  As the national dialogue centers around ways to reduce the federal deficit, it is first important to remember what created our deficit (see chart) and second that there are only two ways to reduce it: cutting spending and raising tax revenue.  To date, all deficit reduction measures ($1.5 trillion) have come from spending cuts, mostly from the section of the budget that is not responsible for our ballooning deficit.  We cannot cut our way out of our deficit – new revenues must be part of any solution that seeks to reduce the deficit in a just way.

Absent action from Congress, on January 1st, a series of deep automatic spending cuts ($1.2 trillion) and the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will converge to create the so-called fiscal cliff.  These policies together will significantly reduce the deficit, but as blunt tools they will also do harm.  Combined with the pending need to increase the federal debt ceiling again and the expiration of Unemployment Insurance Benefits for the long-term unemployed, these policies have the potential to cause severe contraction in the economy and the labor market, even as a sluggish recovery from the Great Recession continues to provide too few new jobs to meet the demand of those seeking work. 

However, the current “fiscal cliff” does include some saving grace – the Budget Control Act which put in place these automatic spending cuts, also known as the “sequester,” includes specific and explicit protections for many mandatory programs that serve low-income people, including Food Stamps, Medicaid, SSI, and many other.  In addition, the sequester’s $1.2 trillion in spending cuts will be evenly split between military spending and non-military spending.  So, while the automatic spending cuts will be severe and promise to be painful for the recipients of important government programs like WIC and affordable housing, there is nonetheless some protection built into it. Indeed, Congress must only agree on an alternative to the current fiscal cliff if the new solution does a better job of protecting our shared priorities – reducing poverty and inequality, and making sure there is a strong safety net to catch people when times are difficult.

On the question of the expiring tax cuts, it has been clear since the enactment of these policies in 2001 and 2003 that they disproportionately benefit the top of the income scale.  While almost all taxpayers gain some benefit from these tax cuts, proportionately, the bottom 20% of wage earners receive only a 3.7% tax cut while the top 20% of wage earners receive a 5.8% tax cut.  And when the top of the income scale is further dis-aggregated  the top one percent’s tax cut is 7.2% (see chart).  In truth, there are numerous proposals to bring in new revenue, many on which the PC(USA) has not taken a position, including allowing some or all of these tax cuts to expire.  But regardless of the policies used to achieve the end of increased revenue, it is clear that we must have new revenue and it is essential that it not be raised from those who are already struggling.

For slides from a recent presentation on the fiscal cliff, click here.

Even in this time of waiting and thanking and hoping and praying, we know that we have so much work to do, both still to come this year, and as a New Year begins.  But we engage with Members of Congress, and with you, during this Lame Duck season with hope and thanksgiving, trusting in our God who calls us into the public square, requiring us to bring our religious understandings of compassion, peace, and justice, to the decisions we make as a nation.

Send a message to your Member of Congress today – make sure they know to protect the poor in a fiscal cliff deal.

In the next few weeks, the Christian community will prepare for the arrival of the Christ child. The advocacy community will prepare, advocate, and wait for the resolution of many policies that will affect us for years, perhaps generations.  In the Office of Public Witness, we are present and we invite you to join us in lifting up our voices. 

As the Lame Duck session continues, we will alert you to other important PC(USA) priorities that still require action by Congress.  So stay tuned and get ready for a busy season, not one of shopping and consumption, but of advocacy for that which matters most – a better world, a hope for the future. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

World AIDS Day 2012

By J. Herbert Nelson

“When he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:14)

Today is World Aids Day! We must remind ourselves that the alarm continues to sound regarding the urgency to address this critical health issue of our time. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported this week that out of fifty thousand new cases reported each year - one in four persons infected with HIV/AIDS is a young person between the age of thirteen and twenty-four. Sixty-percent of these persons are unaware that they are infected and most of the cases (seventy-two percent) involve men who have sex with men (MSM). We remain in a crisis regarding HIV/AIDS in the United States and around the world.[i]  The UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS epidemic (2012) reports that despite variances between the rise and decline among infected people across the world, we are still facing a global crisis.      

Globally, 34.0 million [31.4 million–35.9 million] people were living with HIV at the end of 2011. An estimated 0.8% of adults aged 15-49 years worldwide are living with HIV, although the burden of the epidemic continues to vary considerably between countries and regions. Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 20 adults (4.9%) living with HIV and accounting for 69% of the people living with HIV worldwide. Although the regional prevalence of HIV infection is nearly 25 times higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in Asia, almost 5 million people are living with HIV in South, South-East and East Asia combined. After sub-Saharan Africa, the regions most heavily affected are the Caribbean and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where 1.0% of adults were living with HIV in 2011.[ii]

This global crisis demands our attention. I have observed congregations in the United States that fear the judgment of people who believe that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease. Thus, congregations that embrace ministry and advocacy among gay persons are labeled “gay churches.” As Presbyterians and people of faith, our passion to witness healing among persons infected by HIV/AIDS has to be so strong that we are willing to risk being misunderstood for the sake of the Kingdom of God. I am suggesting that a lack of faith is often the greatest impediment to Christians shaping a significant response to persons infected with HIV/AIDS. Faith declares that even if a person or congregation is demonized for its courage, God’s power is enough to turn the world’s criticism into a prolific witness for the Kingdom. Jesus was sent by God to model the “wisdom” of God as recorded by John. (John 1:).[iii]
Jesus healed ten persons with leprosy in Luke’s gospel (Luke 17:11-19). Traditionally, this text is preached with a focus on the gratitude that one of these ten persons with leprosy displayed by returning to thank Jesus for his healing. Surely, this is an important aspect of the text. As Christians we are taught to give thanks to God through Jesus Christ in our prayers, worship, and daily life. However, we often overlook the risk that Jesus took regarding his own place in the context of the community by coming into contact with these ten persons with leprosy. Lepers were alienated from community. This dreaded skin disease represented to some a curse from God. Healing was the only means for the lepers to find restoration to a rightful place in the community. Touching or association with these individuals was a societal “no-no.” Jesus was so deeply focused on bridging the communal divide that he risked his own standing to give hope to those who were alienated. Therefore, Jesus’ call to those he healed was not to come and thank him, but to go and show the priest (the community gatekeeper), who had authority to readmit these persons with leprosy into the community. In other words, ‘Go and be restored to your rightful place among the community that God intends for you.’  

I firmly believe this is the role of the Church – the Presbyterian Church – Pentecostal – Baptist – Methodist – or whatever label we bear. We cannot moralize this health crisis in order to avoid engaging the communal impact of HIV/AIDS. We cannot declare we are in Christ Jesus our Lord while distancing ourselves from the responsibility to touch, embrace and heal persons living with HIV/AIDS, who need to be restored to a right relationship with family, friends and their faith.
In 1988, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a paper, "To Meet AIDS with Grace & Truth," confessing that its response to AIDS had been tardy, despite the 1986 General Assembly's warning that ". . . the rate of infection [is predicted to] double every nine to twelve months," and its declaration that "AIDS and ARC should be viewed as illnesses, and not as the punishment for behavior deemed immoral . . ." (PC(USA), 1986, pp. 495-496). It cautioned the church against making moral pronouncements about AIDS and affirmed, "that all peoples are precious to God and urge congregations, governing bodies, and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to renounce the popular notions of God's wrath toward AIDS sufferers . . ." (PC(USA), 1988, p. 362).

This week the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) is implementing the 2012 General Assembly policy on, “Becoming an HIV and Aids Competent Church: Prophetic Witness and Compassionate Action.”A partnership between the OPW, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary (Atlanta, Georgia) and the Presbyterian AIDS Network represents one model for advancing the Kingdom, a calling to believe that the living Christ can witness in a mighty way through our willingness to engage this global crisis. This model provides training/certification for theological students so that they are prepared to address the realities of HIV/AIDS upon entering their prospective areas of ministry. The OPW celebrates the opportunity to stress the importance of prophetic advocacyamong those gathered this week. We pray that this effort can be replicated across the country and globe. All three of the conference sponsors (JCSTS, PAN, and OPW) are willing to assist in efforts among Presbyterians and others across the country to embrace HIV/Aids competency, advocacy and compassion.

Jesus’ moral authority was earned through his willingness to love people who suffered alienation from their community. He models for us the 21st century role of the Church, if we desire to become viable agents of hope and faith in this world. We must advocate for the oppressed! We must overcome our fear and tendency to demonize persons living with HIV/AIDS! The Church must become a lifeline of hope to people who are drowning in a sea of despair!

This World Aids Day (2012) must be the moment that we pray for the courage to love the infected so that alienation is eliminated in our society and world. The scriptures remind us that There is no fear in love. But perfect love cast out fear. (I John 4:18a)    

[i]  Reported by Public Broadcasting - Service Reported on November 27, 2012. Young People Make Up More Than a Quarter of New HIV Cases in the U.S.
[ii] The UNAIDS Report on the Global Aids epidemic (2012), 8.
[iii] Word in John’s gospel is translated as wisdom. Ex In the beginning was the word (wisdom) of God…