Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Senate Workers Get a Raise, Will Push for $15 and a Union

December 15, 2015- Senate workers won a new raise of $14.50 an hour on yesterday.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness along with other ecumenical/interfaith partners were instrumental in the struggle to increase wages for low wage government contract workers. The Office of Public Witness and other partners advocated for a $15.00 an hour increase. The Senate rules committee signed a new contract that raises wages to 14.50 per hour. 
Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II commented "We are thankful for the support of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members who responded to action alerts; contacting their Senators; and advocating for government contract and other low wage workers on the local level." Nelson cited that "the struggle for economic justice on both Capitol Hill and local communities is not over, however the Senate vote on yesterday is a significant step in the right direction. The Church must continue its efforts to stand with the poor. This vote signals that our voice is heard when we are both compassionate and persistent in our efforts to impact social change. We are thankful to God through Jesus Christ that our prophetic voice was heard and workers can celebrate a significant coming of the Lord during this Advent/Christmas Season."

Op-Ed in The Hill "A Gift for Low Wage Capitol Workers"

"A Gift for Low Wage Capitol Workers" 
By Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II and Rev. Sèkinah Hamlin

December 10, 2015- As America’s lawmakers plan to take time off to enjoy the holidays with their families, we, along with the leaders of other national faith organizations, are committed to remain vigilant of the needs of those they leave behind in Washington, D.C. – the low-wage workers who clean their office buildings and cook their meals. 
These contract workers – who labor diligently inside the U.S. Capitol and Senate – will not get paid time-off to celebrate the holidays with their families.   Scores of these workers will be relying on food stamps to prepare their holiday meals and using Section 8 vouchers to avoid spending Christmas Eve on the streets.
Interestingly, on Dec. 6, our nation marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Ironically, a significant number of today’s federal contract workers find themselves having to fight to put an end to the financial bondage they are experiencing as a direct result of the low-wages they are receiving, along with the lack of benefits.
During the past year, we have accompanied these federal contract workers as they walked-off their jobs five times to strike for fair and just employment compensation and conditions. 
These fighters for “$15 & a Union” include women like Sontia Bailey, who begins each day working a full-time shift at the U.S. Capitol before making her way to her second job at a fast food restaurant.  Working 70 hours a week to pay the bills puts enormous stress on her body – she recently suffered a miscarriage.   To add insult to injury, Sonita and her fiancé could not  afford to take time to grieve the loss of their child as Sontia had to return to work two days later in order to try to remain current on her bills. 
With the holidays upon us, how should we respond to such suffering in our midst?
The scripture reading that leads us into the holiday season shines a light on the answer.   In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist, foretelling Christ’s birth, urges the powerful and privileged to repent from exploiting the people.   The crowd asks him “What then should we do,” how shall we repair and rectify this exploitation?  John replies, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3: 10-12)
John’s message is clear:  We must resist greed and share what we have with those who go without the basic necessities of life. 
Regardless of the holiday messages that flow from Madison Avenue, the most authentic acts of this season involve doing justice and sharing with those in need.  
Acts that are rooted in justice and grounded in sharing serve as good news for impoverished federal contract workers, particularly as they work amid the affluence of wealthy and powerful U.S. senators, and are employed by the Compass Group, a multi-billion dollar multi-national corporation.   
This holiday season we are sending a letter to the CEO of Compass Group asking him to give Sontia and her co-workers the gift of justice.  We are asking that Sontia and all federal contract employees be given an hourly wage of $15 along with fair working conditions and the right to engage in collective bargaining.  As faith leaders, we offer ourselves to serve as mediators who can bring workers and management together to achieve labor peace and fairness.
We know that a majority of the workers have signed cards indicating that they want to form a union and address workplace grievances without resorting to strikes.   Additionally, we know that company executives and many lawmakers share the desire for workplace harmony at the U.S. Capitol. 
By working together, we can bear witness to the true spirit of the holiday season. 
Read Original Op ED HERE

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Faith Leaders Continue to Support Federal Contract Workers in the Struggle for Living Wages and Decent Benefits

The Escalating "Fight for Fifteen" 

Washington, D.C.- On Tuesday December 8th, the Reverend J Herbert Nelson, Director of the Office of Public Witness, joined federal contract workers once again in their struggle for living wages and the right to unionize. Workers from the United States Capitol, Pentagon and other federal landmarks walked off of their jobs to fight poverty pay in an action that escalated their campaign and increased pressure on decision makers. Workers were in the holiday spirit, complete with Santa hats and Grinch costumes, and once again appealed to decision makers to make federal jobs good jobs with living wages and decent benefits.

Reverend Nelson was joined by The Reverend Sekinah Hamlin, Reverend Aundreia Alexander, and Reverend Leslie Copland Tune who led the striking Senate cafeteria workers in prayer as they marched into the Dirksen Senate cafeteria. Once in the cafeteria, the faith leaders presented a letter to the Restaurant Associates management. In this letter, leaders of faith offered to bridge the gap between management and workers, and to act as a third party to count the signed union pledges. The workers and faith leaders then marched to Senator Ted Cruz’s office in order to present him with a Golden Grinch Award for not following through with action on worker’s rights. Senator Cruz has spoken about the need for workers to earn a livable wage, but has not kept his word.

This faith action is a part of an ongoing struggle in the Fight for Fifteen. This past month, Senate staffers have joined in the Fight for Fifteen by participating in the weekly brown bag boycott in support of the Senate cafeteria workers. Faith leaders in Washington D.C. will sustain their support until workers have justice. 

Below is a copy of the letter the faith leaders presented to Restaurant Associates Management:

Richard John Cousins
CEO, Compass Group
Compass House
Guildford Street
Surrey KT16 9BQ
United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Cousins:

As faith leaders, we believe that there is inherit dignity in work and that workers deserve a seat at the banquet table so they can share in the fruits of their labor.
We have listened to the heart-breaking stories of U.S. Capitol and Senate contract workers – employed by your company – who earn so little that they are forced to sleep on the streets and use food stamps to feed their families. We have witnessed courageous workers willing to walk off their jobs on strike to call for justice and freedom at work. We have prayed with workers and their families so they might be strong in the face of threats and retaliation.

We understand why they are raising their voices to win living wages and a seat at the negotiating table – they seek dignity.
That is why we write to urge you to invite your low-wage workers to the table.
In all of our traditions, the “table” is a sacred symbol – a place where people gather in fellowship, where reconciliation happens, and where abundance is shared. It is a place where all can enjoy dignity.

Mr. Cousins, set a place at the table for your workers. Allow your workers the opportunity to self-organize and speak with one voice. Remove all obstacles in their way by protecting their freedom to associate and by recognizing their union based on a majority of membership cards. By doing so, you can lead by example and send a message to other CEOs – workers should not have to go on strike to have their voices heard.

We stand ready to support you and your workers end this labor dispute and achieve mutual reconciliation. We are available to help monitor a “free and fair organizing” process by mediating a resolution to the strikes and certifying the results of the card count.
The U.S. Capitol is a symbol of inclusion where everyone can have their voices heard. We hope you will to do everything possible to make this symbol real for America’s low-wage workers.


National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
National Council of Churches
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Urging Congress to Make the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit Permanent

December 7, 2015

Dear Senator,

The improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) that were enacted in 2009 but are scheduled to expire after 2017 are extremely important to millions of working families across the country. The undersigned organizations strongly urge Congress to make them permanent in any tax extenders bill before Congress adjourns.

Media reports indicate that negotiations are underway to extend the business tax breaks that expired earlier this year, and we urge Congress to make the EITC and CTC improvements permanent now, as part of any agreement on these extenders. Not doing so would put these improvements at considerable risk in 2017; there are too many uncertainties in 2017 to count on securing permanent extension of these critical provisions then.

The EITC and CTC are two of the strongest tools we have to help working families make ends meet, escape poverty, and become self-sufficient. Roughly 50 million Americans, including 25 million children, will lose some or all of their tax credits if the EITC and CTC improvements expire. More than 16 million people, including 8 million children, will be pushed into, or deeper into, poverty.

Low-income families cannot afford to lose this critical help to support themselves through work. Congress has a critical opportunity now to protect these highly effective provisions. Should Congress wait until close to their expiration, these provisions may, in fact, expire. Alternatively, securing their extension at the 11th hour as they are about to die in late 2017 could come at a very high price — costly, regressive tax cuts or other harmful policy changes. Waiting could cause the EITC and CTC improvements to essentially be held hostage for other, deleterious policy changes. No other issue affecting so many struggling working families and their children is before Congress in the rest of this session. We urge you to do everything you can to make these vital provisions permanent this year. Thank you for considering our request.


9to5, National Association of Working Women
Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Region
African American Health Alliance
Afterschool Alliance
AIDS United
Alliance for a Just Society
Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)
Americans for Tax Fairness
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment
Benedictine Health System
Bread for the World
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
Center for Community Change Action
Center for Economic Progress
Center for Global Policy Solutions
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Public Justice
Center for Rural Strategies
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Child and Family Policy Center
Child Care Aware® of America
Child Welfare League of America
Children's Defense Fund
Children's Health Watch
Children's Leadership Council
Citizens for Tax Justice
Coalition on Human Needs
Common Sense Kids Action
Community Action Partnership
Concerned Black Men National
Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED)
Corporation for Supportive Housing
Covenant House International
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Early Care and Education Consortium
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
Epilepsy Foundation
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Every Child Matters Education Fund
Feeding America
First Focus Campaign for Children
Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
Foster Family-based Treatment Association
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Generations United
Global Justice Institute
Goodwill Industries International
Interfaith Worker Justice
Islamic Relief USA
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO (LCLAA)
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
League of Women Voters of the United States
Lutheran Services in America
Main Street Alliance
Medical Mission Sisters
Metropolitan Community Churches
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
National Alliance of Children’s Trust & Prevention Funds
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
National Association for Hispanic Elderly
National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders
National Association for State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD)
National Association of County Human Services Administrators
National Association of Evangelicals
National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
National Center for Law and Economic Justice
National Center on Adoption and Permanency
National Child Support Enforcement Association
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
National Disability Institute
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project
National Foster Parent Association
National Health Care for the Homeless Council
National Immigration Law Center
National Latino Evangelical Coalition
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Low Income Housing Coalition
National Military Family Association
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Urban League
National WIC Association
National Women’s Law Center
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Partnership for America's Children
People Demanding Action
PICO National Network
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
Progressive Congress
Public Advocacy for Kids
Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition
Share Our Strength
Single Stop
Sisters of Charity Federation
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Congregational Leadership
Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sisters of Mercy, Institute Justice Team
The Arc of the United States
The Jewish Federations of North America
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The Office of Social Justice, the Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Salvation Army National Headquarters
The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Way Worldwide
Voices for Progress
Women's institute for a Secure retirement (WISER)
Young Invincibles

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Regarding Human Rights Violations by the Israeli Military and the Leahy Law

Instances of probable gross violations of human rights by Israeli military and security forces presented to  U.S. Department of State

December 8, 2015

Washington, DC

Concerned about specific, well-documented instances of probable gross violations of human rights by Israeli military and security forces, eleven churches and faith-based organizations discussed several case summaries at a meeting today with the U.S. Department of State.  Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance.
The groups said that they were seeking accountability for the observance of human rights in the use of U.S. military assistance as outlined in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 as amended and several annual Defense Department appropriations acts.  The provisions in these laws are often referred to as the “Leahy Laws” or “Leahy amendments” and, in the case of the Foreign Assistance Act, states “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” 

The organizations said that, with the information provided, the Department of State should designate the military units involved as ineligible for foreign assistance.

The groups noted that the cases presented at the meeting are part of a comprehensive project to seek accountability for documented human rights violations by Israeli forces and that further cases will be submitted.

In the context of the documentation they provided the Department of State, the groups also affirmed that they stand unequivocally opposed to all human rights violations by any actor -- state or non-state --  as well as any group or individual that is a party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The organizations signing a letter accompanying the documents addressed to Mr. Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, were American Friends Service Committee; Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Mennonite Central Committee U.S.; Pax Christi International; Pax Christi USA; Presbyterian Church (USA); United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; and United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society. 

Rev. Susan P. Wilder
Faith Forum on Middle East Policy
(703) 598-2503

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Call Your Senators in Support of Sentencing Reform!

The time is Now to Reform Our Criminal Justice System!
Our beliefs direct us to protect the dignity and well-being of everyone impacted by the criminal justice system. That commitment extends to people who are victimized by crime, as well as to those who commit offenses. Current federal law demands harsh punishment for even low-level drug offenses. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act seeks to restore proportionality and fairness to federal sentencing and aid in rehabilitation for people in prison. Tell your senators to support this bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation. 

Call both of your Senators by calling 202-224-3121 and ask for their office. 
Here is a sample script of what you could say:

"Hi, my name is __________ and, as a Presbyterian, I urge Senator (their name) to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act because our criminal justice system badly needs reform and this is an important step in that direction."

Then, call 3 other folks (don't just email them - calls work better!) and urge them to make this same call. This is how movements are built!

This legislation is sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and a bipartisan group of 25 other Senators. This is a bill that will help reduce extremely long sentences for those awaiting sentencing as well as some of those already incarcerated. This bill will lessen the number of those who are incarcerated in the federal prison population, which has exploded since 1980. The increase in the number of incarcerated individuals is largely due to mandatory minimum penalties, which exacerbate racial disparities and perpetuate dangerous prison overcrowding. Senate Bill 2123 is an important step toward fixing the federal prison crisis.

As Christians, we should prioritize forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation in our judicial system policies. In 1988, the 200th General Assembly weighed in, saying, “individual Presbyterians and the entities of the General Assembly should . . . advocate a social order where compassion and justice characterize efforts toward those in the criminal justice system.”

J. Herbert Nelson Responds to Shootings In California and Georgia

“Tell Congress not to go home for Christmas until Common Sense Gun Legislation is passed.”
…but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NRSV)
I am saddened to issue another statement on gun deaths in the United States. My prayers are extended to the families impacted by the Savannah, Georgia and San Bernardino, California mass shootings on yesterday. In Savannah one person was left dead and four injured. Fourteen lives were taken in San Bernardino. 

While law enforcement investigates the senseless deaths, our nation remains trapped in a discussion over access to guns. Today, I am sure that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is searching for the words to spin the reality of this ongoing list of national tragedies. However, there is no adequate spin to comfort those who were told yesterday and everyday in the United States that their loved one was killed by gun violence.

While we attempt to cope with our fears, we arm ourselves with more guns, add locks, to our doors, place cameras and alarms in our homes, and convince ourselves that these devices are enough to keep us safe. Our reality is that none of us are safe. We are all trapped in the malaise of news reports that remind us that we live in an out-of-control gun culture. The biblical name for our obsession with guns is called “idolatry.” Interestingly, the guns we buy to protect ourselves are the objects used to take 30,000 or more lives per year in the United States since 1979.
Once again, I plead with you to assist the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other faith groups to free our nation from the scourge of gun violence. Call your Congressional Office today and demand that they not go home for Christmas until Common Sense Gun Legislation is passed (1-866-961-4293- Congressional Switchboard).  Let them know that your vote for their reelection will be highly based on how they push to establish Common Sense Gun Legislation in the United States.
Common Sense Gun Legislation will have the following measures outlined below.Demand that they pass Common Sense Gun Legislation before leaving Washington, DC for the holidays;

1. Universal Background Checks for the Purchase of All Guns

2. The reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
3. The end to all straw purchases of guns. (no one should buy a gun for someone who cannot legally buy a gun for themselves)
4. Closing the gun show loophole
5. Making the trafficking of guns a federal crime (currently gun trafficking carries the same sentence as trafficking poultry)
Commit to vote and contribute only to those elected officials (locally and nationally) who are willing to vote for significant Common Sense gun laws
Our nation is in a crisis! Each of us can make a difference. Our lives depend on it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Take Action for Syrian Refugees!

WE NEED YOUR VOICE!  More votes on refugee resettlement are coming up!

Tell Congress & Your Governor to WELCOME SYRIAN REFUGEES!

Update:  In mid November, a number of Governors announced that they want to stop their states from resettling Syrian refugees. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4038, The American Security against Foreign Enemies Act, which would grind to a halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. These actions and the anti-refugee sentiment that has accompanied them, go against who we are as a nation. It is critical that public officials hear from their constituents NOW as decisions are being made in the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and state governments that will drastically impact the lives of Syrian refugees.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the PC (USA) Office of Public Witness, says “We must remember the words of Emma Lazarus etched on the welcome symbol of the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’ Our bible writes it another way, ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ Hebrews 13:2.”

Visit the visit the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance website for information on how the Presbyterian Church has been responding to the Syrian crisis and please take action TODAY!

Call your Representative and Senators : 1-866-961-4293

AND if you live in these states, call your Governor!

Alabama: 334-242-7100
Arizona: 520-628-6580 / 602-542-4331
Arkansas: 501-682-2345
Florida: 850-488-7146
Georgia: 404-656-1776
Idaho: 208-334-2100
Illinois: 217-782-0244 / 312-814-2121
Indiana: 317-569-0709
Iowa: 515-281-5211
Kansas: 785-296-3232
Louisiana: 225-342-7015
Maine: 207-287-3531 / 1-855-721-5203
Maryland: 410-974-3901
Massachusetts: 617-725-4005 / 413-784-1200 / 202-624-7713
Michigan: 517-373-3400 & sign the letter!
Mississippi: 601-359-3150
Nebraska: 402-471-2244 / 308-660-9111 / 308-632-1370
Nevada: 775-684-5670 / 702-486-2500
New Hampshire: 603-271-2121
New Jersey: 609-292-6000
New Mexico: 505-476-2200
North Carolina: 919-814-2000
North Dakota: 703-328-2200
Ohio: 614-466-3555
Oklahoma: 405-521-2342
South Carolina: 803-734-2100
South Dakota: 605-773-3212
Tennessee: 615-741-2001 & sign the letter!
Texas: 800-843-5789 / 512-463-1782
Wisconsin: 608-266-1212
Wyoming: 307-777-7434

Tell your Governor's office that as a constituent, you want to help WELCOME Syrian refugees and that you're against their calls to reject Syrian refugees.

Tell your Senator's office that as a constituent, you OPPOSE legislation that would stop or halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees, or only allow Christians to be resettled.

Tell your Representative's office that as a constituent, you OPPOSE H.R. 4038 and other bills that would stop or halt the resettlement
of Syrian refugees, or only allow Christians to be resettled.

Ex: “I’m a constituent from [City] and I support Syrian refugees. I am opposed to any proposal that would stop or halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees or only allow Christians to be resettled. I urge the Senator / Representative / Governor to represent me and other constituents who seek to welcome Syrian refugees.”

Here are some helpful points on the security process, but the most important point is your story and why your community wants to welcome Syrian refugees:  The U.S. government handpicks the refugees who resettle here, and the U.S. resettlement process has the most rigorous screening process in the world. Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted people to come to the United States, undergoing interagency screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies, including biometric checks, forensic document testing, medical tests and in-person interviews. This is not an either/or situation. The United States can continue to welcome refugees while also continuing to ensure national security. We must do both.

You can also tweet your Members of Congress and your network:
“.@REPRESENTATIVE, Our community is ready to welcome #Syrian #refugees. #RefugeesWelcome #AmericaWelcomes!"

Thursday, November 19, 2015

PCUSA Joins 24 Faith Groups to Advocate for Full Funding for Refugee Resettlement

November 12, 2015

Senate Leadership
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20515

House Leadership
Members of the House Appropriations Committee U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Member of Congress,

We, the undersigned national faith-based organizations, write to urge you to allocate necessary funds for refugee assistance and resettlement in fiscal year 2016.

Our many faith traditions call us to welcome the stranger; a sentiment that is not simply an ideal it must be a reality that we practice. As we grapple with increasingly heartbreaking and tragic reports of Syrian refugees seeking safety in the region and in Europe, coupled with the over 60 million people displaced worldwide, there is a clear imperative to respond. The United States has a responsibility to act with historic leadership and compassion in response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

With the President’s call to increase refugee resettlement from the current 70,000 level to 85,000 in FY16 and 100,000 in FY17, Congress must also stand strong with those seeking safety and provide the initial assistance needed to build a new life. From administering life-saving assistance overseas to supporting local communities with the resettlement process, these funds are crucial in ensuring the success of the U.S. refugee resettlement program at all levels. When we invest in the lives and success of refugees, we strengthen both our position internationally and our local communities. In the face of this overwhelming need, we strongly urge you to robustly allocate specific funds for refugee assistance during the FY16 appropriations process.

We ask that the subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies allocate:
  • $2.42 billion for International Disaster Assistance, to respond to the growing numbers of persons internally displaced, particularly in Syria and Iraq. 
  • $3.6 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance to assist refugees abroad and identify, process, and provide initial integration assistance to refugees resettled in the United States.  
  • $250 million for Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance to enhance the United States' ability to respond quickly and effectively to unanticipated crises, such as those in and around Syria.

We ask that the subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies allocate:

  • $2.44 billion for Refugee and Entrant Assistance to ensure local communities have the resources they need to help refugees integrate and thrive as they rebuild their lives.

We ask that the subcommittee for Homeland Security allocate:

  • $49.6 million for the Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to screen refugees for resettlement to the United States, a process that is currently fee-funded.

Now is the time for this nation to take a leading role in response to this ever-growing crisis. With these funds, Congress can ensure safe and expedient resettlement for those most at risk, aid individuals internationally displaced, prepare communities to welcome refugees, and ensure their success and self-sufficiency in the United States.

As people led by faith we recognize this as an opportunity to truly put our faith into action and live up to our responsibility to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor, and accompany the vulnerable. We ask that Congress seize the occasion to act.


African American Ministers in Action
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
Bread for the World
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada Christian Reformed Church in North America

Church of the Brethren
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Islamic Society of North America
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd National Council of Jewish Women
National Justice for Our Neighbors
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

PCUSA Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter in Support of Syrian Refugees

November 17, 2015

Dear Senator/Representative:

As refugee and immigration law experts, humanitarian aid organizations, faith, labor and civil and human rights groups, we write to express our support for the U.S. refugee resettlement program. The world is witnessing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 4 million Syrians have fled from their home country fleeing conflict and violence, and 6.5 million are displaced internally.

At a time when the world needs humanitarian leadership, some are now calling for the suspension of the U.S. refugee resettlement program or the imposition of restrictions on funding for Syrians and other groups of refugees. We oppose these proposals and believe they would jeopardize the United States' moral leadership in the world.

Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that unfolded on the streets of Paris. They have suffered violence just like this for almost five years. Most have lost loved ones to persecution and violence, in addition to having had their country, their community, and everything they own brutally taken from them.

Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States. Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies. Department of Homeland Security officials interview each refugee to determine whether they meet the refugee definition and whether they are admissible to the United States. Refugees undergo a series of biometric and investigatory background checks, including collection and analysis of personal data, fingerprints, photographs, and other background information, all of which is checked against government databases. The entire process typically takes more than two years and often much more before the refugee would arrive in the U.S. In addition the Administration is already taking steps, with its existing authority, to increase the capacity of its security and screening procedures for refugees. There is no need for Congress to impose additional restrictions or security measures.

The United States decides which refugees to resettle. Because so few refugees in the world are resettled, the U.S. often chooses the most vulnerable, including refugees who cannot remain safely where they are and families with children who cannot receive the medical care they need to survive.

To turn our back on refugees would be to betray our nation's core values. It would send a demoralizing and dangerous message to the world that the United States makes judgments about people based on the country they come from and their religion. This feeds into extremist propaganda and makes us all less safe. We call upon Congress to demonstrate leadership by speaking out against the scapegoating of any group during this time of crisis and to ensure that our nation’s humanitarian efforts are robust.

The United States is a welcoming country with a diverse society and our resettlement program must continue to reflect this.

We can welcome refugees while ensuring our own security. Refugees have enriched communities across our country and have been part of the American fabric for generations. Historically our nation has responded to every major war or conflict and has resettled refugees from Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Europe as well as the Middle-East. Closing the door to refugees would be disastrous for not only the refugees themselves, but their family members in the United States who are waiting for them to arrive, and our reputation in the world.

The Advocates for Human Rights
Alliance for Citizenship
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Lawyers Association American Jewish Committee (AJC) American Refugee Committee

America’s Voice Education Fund
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reproductive Health and Marginalized Women



By the Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson, II
Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of god, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
-John 4:10-11

The United States Congress and Planned Parenthood

Two months ago we were on the verge of a possible government impasse regarding funding for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Planned Parenthood” as it is commonly referred is one of the largest reproductive health service providers in the United States of America.[i] The health services they provide include, but are not limited to parenting skills; counseling; mammograms; birth control; and STI testing and treatment. Most notably, Planned Parenthood is known as a provider of low cost healthcare for poor women. Despite the range of services that Planned Parenthood provides, the most debated aspect of its work revolves around abortions. Planned Parenthood reports that only three percent of its services are abortion related. However, when one takes under consideration services related to abortions such as counseling, health education and money received as revenue for services, the percentage of Planned Parenthood spending dedicated to abortion services could rise to 12 percent.[ii]  It must be noted that it is illegal for government money to be used for abortions. Therefore, arguments on Capitol Hill, state legislatures and local municipalities are morally based rather than directly related to the utilization of government funds for abortions. At the center of the debate is discontinuing government contracts for Planned Parenthood as a service provider for poor people.

Since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a state law that banned abortions except to save the life of a mother, both the Church and Society has struggled with the issues related to abortion rights. [iii] Planned Parenthood is at the center of many debates regarding reproductive rights in the United States, due to its policy of performing abortions. However, these debates often dismiss the good work of counseling and providing other medical services to both children and adults. Oftentimes these services are provided to address both personal and family health issues.[iv]

Jesus’ challenge in biblical scripture with the woman at the well was to take the demonization off of her by the larger society. He counseled her by telling her truths about herself. He treated her with respect and restored her dignity to build a sense of belonging despite her lowly role in the larger society. She could not own property and without a man that she could call her husband was destined to poverty. Jesus named her exploitation by the system by reminding her of the number of men she knew as her husband. Her survival tactics are oppositional to establishing a life in the Spirit. Surely, the laws regarding her personhood did not fully affirm her as a person of standing in the society. However, Jesus challenged her on the basis of learning to affirm her own sense of self worth. He did not tell her what to do, but instead gave her the impetus to make decisions on her own about the life she was living. She heard his voice and walked away from the well a different person. She brought the men who engaged in mutual usury with her to hear the word of Jesus that penetrated her soul.[v]  The issues in this text are not simply about prostitution, multiple marriages,  or abortion, but the integrity by which we live.

Presbyterians have struggled with the issue of abortion for more than 40 years, beginning in 1970 when the General Assembly voted to declare that “the artificial or induced termination of a pregnancy is a matter of careful ethical decision of the patient … and therefore should not be restricted by law”[vi]

Reverend Nelson speaks at a rally in support of
healthcare March 2015
I remember sitting in the Health Issues committee at the 220th (2012) General Assembly in Pittsburgh, PA. while Commissioners discussed an overture titled Calling the Church to a New Way Forward on the Issue of Pregnancies and Abortion. The Health Issues Committee disapproved the overture with comment:

Considering this resolution invited the committee to consider the 1992 report of the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion. This noteworthy study brought twenty years of relative peace on a matter that has been a source of intense conflict in the PC(USA) for many years prior to the study. The study accomplished no mean feat in setting forth common ground that Presbyterian can gather around; common ground that eschews partisanship on either side of the cultural divide. We found insight and guidance in this document that was both eloquent and relevant to our work; therefore we do not see the need for a new study but rather commend the existing study to our church.[vii]

The 1992 report recognizes and includes many reasons for which abortions might be an option, including incest, and rape. However, it calls for abortions not to be used as birth control. Therefore, the policies of our denomination, call women to responsible care and decision making related to their bodies. The 1992 policies represented various theological positions on the issues related to reproductive health.  Eleven years post reunion the PC(USA) demonstrated the courage to reason together regarding one of the most divisive issues of our Church and Society. This represented an attempt to build unity in the body of Christ, while acknowledging that this issue of reproductive rights for women was divisive, but needed to be addressed. The deliberations and writing of this report was intended to provide a balanced view of the issues related to abortions without disrupting a woman’s right to choose.[viii] This effort by Presbyterians represents prophetic courage in a contentious time in the life of the denomination and larger society.

The 1992 policy states that “We affirm the ability and responsibility of women, guided by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, in the context of their communities of faith, to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies.[ix]

Women Marching for Equal Rights.
Source: Library of Congress
It is unclear as to how this issue of abortion has been watered down to the language of pro-life and pro-choice. We have forgotten or never been made aware of the complexities of bringing children into the world. Or, we do not understand the impact that remains as scars for so many women in our society who are victims of rape, incest and a host of other violent acts upon their personhood. Our faith calls us to an awareness of the issues and the individual. We are all pro life, however there are variances in how we live and move and have our being.

Addressing  The Double Standard

A Presbyterian minister in a rural congregation shared with me that he was once challenged when he refused to continue the practice of making a woman stand before the congregation to repent when she became pregnant outside of marriage. He raised the question with the elders of the Church as to whether the man who impregnated her was to publicly repent as well. The response from the all male Session was “no” although they knew the father of the child. During a time in this country when it was an embarrassment to be pregnant without a spouse, the Pastor felt that to have the woman stand alone before the congregation admitting her sin as though it occurred without the assistance of a male (who remained blameless) was exploitation of this woman.

The issue of unwanted pregnancies remains the imperfection of a woman rather than a shared responsibility in our society. The woman at the well was blamed for hustling men in order to make a living. However, the societal laws and standards placed her in a position that she had to engage in usury of men to survive. While I was pastoring a New Church Development in the late 1990’s in Memphis, Tennessee, our church committed to evangelizing the poor to the PCUSA. Over the course of that evangelism, it was shocking to discover that thousands of men in Shelby County Tennessee were behind in paying child support. The challenge to this type of behavior leaves the responsibility to raise children solely on the woman. The failure to provide child support by such a large number of men raises significant questions regarding the collusion of government with the expectation that women are to bear the sole responsibility of raising children. This type of inaction on the part of our government sends a message to men that their irresponsibility in supporting their child/children is given a pass.

As a Church we cannot dismiss our societal standards that place the sole responsibilities of becoming pregnant; delivering a child; and bearing the financial responsibility of the child’s upbringing on a woman. Maybe, when our government leaders vote affirmatively to pay women the same amount of compensation as a man for doing the same job it may take away the need to consider the financial hardships that women must bear in many cases to become a single parent.[x] Or, when our leaders determine that stricter enforcement of childcare payments are paid in full and on time, women will have another view other than to abort a child.

It is important that we who are of faith recognize the broadness of circumstances that trap the poor, victimized, and abandoned in our society. We must be conscious of the extraordinary struggles that women encounter when laws remain unjust towards them.  It was appalling to see an all male group of religious leaders standing at a Congressional Hearing  in 2012 testifying that the Obama administration went too far with its mandate that all insurers except churches - including non-church religious affiliated organizations - must offer health insurance. The hearing was titled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State” and centered around reproductive health, however not one person testifying on behalf of a religious organization was female. Linda Valentine, then Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency wrote a letter decrying this insensitive omission in which she wrote:

The views represented by the invited witnesses… boasted some glaring gaps in mainstream religious life in the United States. Not only were the voices of women missing, but also absent was a voice from the breadth of the mainline Protestant community. Grounded in our conviction that God wants healing and wholeness for each of us, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a supporter of universal access to comprehensive health care, including the full range of women’s reproductive health care. [xi]

Whether one agrees or disagrees with denominational policy on this issue, it must be asked “Why does this issue of conscience carry so much weight of authority in our nation when fifty one percent of the children in the United States are low income?[xii] Do we care that in the most developed country in the world  35% of households headed by single women are food insecure?[xiii] Or, does it matter that while we send children to public schools everyday, many do not graduate or possess no skills to work?” It seems reasonable that if we make deeper commitments to mothers and fathers about the future of their children, the issues surrounding abortion may be easier to solve. Most parents want to know that their child or children will have a future. It is difficult to convince a pregnant teenager or an out of work expectant parent that their child can become significant to the world when they have no reference in their own lives to give them hope.

It must be made clear that this is not an attempt to simplify the outcome or remedy to this struggle in the United States regarding women’s rights, but instead that this issue is interconnected to deeper struggles within the Church and Society.

Conclusion - Affirming Our Current Policy

I anticipate that there will be a number of critics and supporters responding to this PCUSA Office of Public Witness policy commentary. Family issues are known to be “hot button” topics for our office. Please be reminded that we advocate for the social justice polices approved by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). These policies emanate from congregations, and committee members who sit in pews. Policies are discussed and voted on by persons serving on committees who worship in congregations and not national offices. It is important that we read and review the 1992 policy, before rushing to judgment.

While Congressional leaders hold hearings related to fetal tissue and abortions, it is my prayer that child poverty, low graduation rates, gun violence, food security and a host of other issues related to children and their families would be addressed with the same fervor. More importantly, I pray that the Church of Jesus Christ would recognize that human life does not operate in a vacuum.

Our challenge is to create an environment on this earth that is conducive to human life being received as a blessing by all and not a curse. I pray that we can now focus on ways that all human beings can have life and have it more abundantly.


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[i]Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Forbes.
[ii] Fact Check: How Does Planned Parenthood Spend That Government Money? By Danielle Kurtzleben
[iii] The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continues to debate the issue at General Assembly meetings. In recent years the 1992 report of the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion has provided the impetus for interpreting the position of the General Assembly on Abortions.

[v] John 4:4-26
[vi] Minutes of the 182nd General Assembly (1970), United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., p. 891
[vii] Minutes of the 220th General Assembly (2012). Presbyterian Church USAPage 68.
[viii] The 1992 policy was developed with a variety of persons who represented various views on the issue of abortion.
[ix] Minutes of the 220th General Assembly (2012). Presbyterian Church USA Pg. 1707.

[x] God’s Work in Women’s Hands: Pay Equity and Just Compensation. Presbyterian Church USA, 218th (2010) General Assembly.
[xi] Valentine, Linda. Letter to Chairman Issa, US House of Representatives. March 1,2012.
[xii] Southern Education Foundation. New Majority Research Bulletin.
[xiii] Feeding America Hunger and Poverty Fact Sheet.