Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stated Clerk Signs Interfaith Letter on Lethal Drones Program

President Barack Obama
The Office of the President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

May 15, 2015


As senior leaders of our respective denominations and faith groups, we write to express our grave concerns about America’s lethal drones policy. The recent news of U.S. citizen Warren Weinstein’s inadvertent death by drone strike is disturbing and shows the deadly risks of drone warfare.

As people of faith, we share common values from our diverse traditions which broaden our concerns beyond national security objectives and national borders. We believe in the intrinsic value of all humanity and creation, compelling us to work for the common good of all people through the principles of love, mercy, just peace, solidarity, human dignity, restorative justice, and reconciliation. The U.S. practice of utilizing unmanned aircraft for targeted killings is contrary to shared values, which guide us, our faith communities, and most Americans.

Our concerns center first on the thousands of deaths, both intended and unintended, that have resulted from lethal drones technology. Despite the prevailing notion that drones are precise, the recent tragedy involving the death of a U.S. citizen demonstrates this is not the case. Indeed, such tragedies seem to happen frequently. Because the U.S. government rarely acknowledges its drone strikes or reports the intended and unintended deaths, our best knowledge of victims come from non-governmental organizations and journalists. The estimates of widespread casualties are devastating and morally unacceptable to us.123456 Additionally, the depravation of due process to citizen targets and the Administration’s unaccountable creation and control of a secret “kill list” are alarming to us, and counter to our notions of human dignity, participatory processes, and rule of law.

A second cause of concern for us as faith leaders is the secrecy and lack of accountability that surrounds these targeted drone strikes. The power to decide who will live and who will die has become lodged squarely in the Administration’s hands with the wide-ranging 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. With that unchecked power, the Administration has secretly selected targets and conducted strikes without publicly disclosing these activities, explaining their basis of legality, reporting who was killed, or if unintended victims were compensated. This unaccountability prevents the public and their elected representatives from having the ability to meaningfully oppose the policies or fully understand what is being done in our name.

A final concern is our firm belief that drone strikes do not make us safer, but instead lead to perpetual destructive conflict and extremism. Rather than simply taking the place of human bodies in a conflict, drones actually expand conflict by taking us into combat where we otherwise would not go.7 They enable reliance on warfare as the first resort.

This ever-growing warfare has increased fear in communities, aided recruitment of extremist groups and failed to eradicate terror or bring about security.8 Effectively combatting extremism requires nonviolent, creative strategies, including sustainable humanitarian and development assistance, and policies and programs that address the political, economic and social exclusion that fuel radicalization. Several organizations, many of them religious, are pursuing such strategies around the world. These efforts deserve more attention and support, but resources instead are consumed by the endless drones war.

We join together as leaders of faith communities to urge a halt to lethal drone strikes, accountability for past strikes, and a negotiated agreement holding the international community to the same standards.

cc: United States House of Representatives
United States Senate


J Ron Byler
U.S. Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK: A Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director Franciscan Action Network

Sr. Patricia J. Chappell
Executive Director
PAX Christi USA

Very Rev. Carl Chudy, SX
Provincial Superior
Xaverian Missionaries in U.S.

Carole Collins
Director of Finance and Operations
Alliance of Baptists

Shan Cretin
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Joan Diefenbach
Executive Director
NJ Council of Churches

Very Rev. Michael Duggan, MM
U.S. Regional Superior
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers

Betsy Dwyer
Director Commission on Justice Glenmary Home Missioners

Very Rev. James J. Greenfield, OSFS
The Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Jim Higginbotham
Disciples Peace Fellowship

Mark C. Johnson
Executive Director
The Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Ph.D.
Director, Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives;
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Disciples Justice Action Network

Gerry G. Lee
Executive Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Beyt Tikkun Synagogue
Tikkun Magazine
Network of Spiritual Progressives

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches, USA
National Council of Churches of Christ, USA

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

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

Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Bill Scheurer
Executive Director
On Earth Peace

Kavneet Singh
Secretary General
American Sikh Council (ASC)
(Formerly World Sikh Council - America Region)

Sandra Sorensen
Director of Washington Office
Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Sandra Strauss
Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Outreach Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Scott Wright
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

*Denominations listed for affiliation purposes only

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stated Clerk Writes to Army Corps of Engineers about Increased Coal Export Traffic in the Pacific NW

Col. John G. Buck
Seattle District Commander
Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 3755
Seattle, WA 98 124-3755

Re:  Support of Lummi Nation Request for Denial of Permit for the Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal Bulk Dry Goods Shipping Facility (Ref. No. NWS-2008-260).

Dear Colonel Buck:

As Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a Christian denomination in the Reformed tradition, it is my responsibility to communicate the will of the General Assembly, our church’s highest governing body, which is composed of representatives from all 171 presbyteries in the nation. Last year, the 221st General Assembly (2014) expressed, by unanimous consent, serious concern about the expansion of coal transportation through the Pacific Northwest. I therefore urge you to deny the permit for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal Bulk Dry Goods Shipping Facility at Cherry Point, WA.

The Assembly “recognize[d] that regional issues of extraction, pollution, transportation, and export have interstate, national, and global implications, both for environmental justice concerns and for global climate disruption/change. Such impacts range from coal dust pollution, diesel particulates, potential for derailments, negative impacts on real estate, and public health and safety concerns, to global climate change, sea level rise, acidification of oceans, severe weather events, and the ethical dilemma of profiting from the export of coal and other fossil fuels for use in countries whose environmental and pollution restrictions are less stringent.”

For these reasons we also urge that any expansion of coal train routes undergo a complete Environmental Impact Assessment conducted at multiple locations along the proposed expansion route so as to assess the impact on vulnerable communities.

To add to these environmental justice concerns, I understand that the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal will be located on Lummi Nation sacred sites. This terminal threatens Lummi fishing rights and their way of life. The potential damage to salmon, crab and herring fisheries cannot be mitigated.  Nor can the damage to ancestral homes and archeological sites be repaired once they are destroyed.   All of this has been clearly spelled out by the tribe in numerous letters to the Army Corps of Engineers. Siting this coal terminal at Cherry Point plainly violates Lummi Nation treaty rights. As a church, we have confessed our complicity in the oppression of this nation’s First People and affirm that “programs and services to Indian peoples are not ‘gifts,’ but are rights accorded to them as citizens of the United States and as members of Indian tribes who secured those rights through ‘government to government’ agreements and treaties.” I write to stand in solidarity with the Lummi Nation and urge you to reject the permit for the new Terminal.

Our covenants are sacred -- those with God, those between the U.S. government and the governments of indigenous people, and our covenant with each other to till and to keep the Earth healthy for generations to come. I call on the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold the treaty rights of the Native communities of the Northwest, to ensure that our extraction, transportation and export of fossil fuels not do harm to vulnerable communities and the environment, and immediately to deny the permit application for a proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, Xwe’chi’eXen in the Native language.   


The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

CC:      The Honorable Jay Inslee
            The Honorable Patty Murray
The Honorable Maria Cantwell
The Honorable Suzan DelBene
The Honorable Rick Larsen
The Honorable Jaime Herrera Beutler
The Honorable Dan Newhouse
The Honorable Cathy McMorris Rodgers
The Honorable Derek Kilmer
The Honorable Jim McDermott
The Honorable Dave Reichert
The Honorable Adam Smith
The Honorable Denny Heck

General Assembly Concerned by Coal Trains

Approved as amended (amended text below) by the 221st General Assembly (2014) on the consent agenda --

On Affirming a Programmatic Review of the Impact of Expanded Coal Export Projects on Human Health and Well Being

The Presbytery of Seattle overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) to state concerns related to the ongoing and expanding extraction and export of fossil fuels, particularly coal, from the U.S. for use in Asia, and approve the following measures for public health and climate stewardship:

     1. Urges civil authorities to conduct promptly a full, programmatic review and assessment of the impact of expanded coal export projects in Washington and Oregon on human health and the well-being of communities along the Northwest rail lines. [This should include full Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the studies should be conducted at multiple locations along the proposed expansion route so as to assess the impact on vulnerable communities.
     2. Commends the Washington State Department of Environmental Quality (WA DEQ) for its decision to conduct a full EIS along the route within its jurisdiction and directs the Stated Clerk to communicate this approbation to WA DEQ.
     3. Recognizes that regional issues of extraction, pollution, transportation, and export have interstate, national, and global implications, both for environmental justice concerns and for global climate disruption/change. Such impacts range from coal dust pollution, diesel particulates, potential for derailments, negative impacts on real estate, and public health and safety concerns, to global climate change, sea level rise, acidification of oceans, severe weather events, and the ethical dilemma of profiting from the export of coal and other fossil fuels for use in countries whose environmental and pollution restrictions are less stringent.
     4. Affirms that civil authorities are called upon to require full disclosure and consideration of the combined effect of all coal export projects taken together on the poorest and most vulnerable communities, locally and globally. The General Assembly further affirms that the evaluation of coal export involves moral choices, in which key considerations are caring for the creation that God has made and with careful stewardship and justice for those who depend on a stable climate and water supply for survival.
     5. Directs the Stated Clerk to write to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and the governors and congressional delegation of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho, urging comprehensive Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) along proposed routes for expanded export of fossil fuels, including analysis from the National Transportation Safety Board and other bodies as necessary.
     6. Commends the presbyteries of Seattle, Cascades, and North Puget Sound for their environmental awareness and advocacy, and encourages other Presbyterians and councils of the church to consider the impact of resource extraction, transportation, and use in their regions and to work with state and national ecumenical bodies and the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Mission Agency in addressing concerns.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stated Clerk Letter to President Obama Regarding Detained Presbyterian Pastors in Sudan



May 26, 2015

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I write with urgent concern about the Rev. Yat Michael and the Rev. Peter Yen, who are currently held in custody by the government of Sudan. The pastors are members of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. They were arrested in Sudan and have been charged with undermining the constitutional system and spying, offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment.

We would be extremely grateful if the U.S. government would use its networks to find out more about these pastors situations and to employ every means at your disposal to urge the government of Sudan to ensure that their human and civil rights are not violated.

Our partner churches in Sudan and South Sudan have asked us to do what we can to secure the protection and release of the Revs. Yat Michael and Peter Yen and to promote respect for religious freedom in Sudan. We know that you share our concerns for religious freedom around the globe.  We urge you to use the resources at your disposal to ensure that the rights of these pastors are respected fully.

Respectfully yours,
Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

cc:   Rabbi David Saperstein, Office of International Religious Freedom
Rep. James McGovern, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
Sen. Robert Menendez, Chair, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
       Sen. Bob Corker, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
       Sen. Chris Coons, Chair, SCFR Subcommittee on African Affairs
       Sen. Jeff Flake, Ranking Minority, SCFR Subcommittee on African Affairs
       Rep. Ed Royce, Chair, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
       Rep. Eliot Engel, Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
       Rep. Christopher Smith, Chair, HCFA Subcommittee on Africa
Rep. Karen Bass, Ranking Member, HCFA Subcommittee on Africa

Faith Groups Join Call to End Family Detention

Rev. Dr.  J. Herbert Nelson II met with White House staff, representing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), along with representatives of 17 other faith groups, to discuss the need for a decisive end to family detention. The press release, with his statement, is below. 

Also, find it on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) website here.

Check out some great resources and action items on family detention on the Office of General Assembly's page.


May 25, 2015
Contact: Shaina Aber, 202-629-5918,


Washington, DC – Last Thursday, May 21, a group of 18 faith leaders met with White House Staff to call for the end to family detention, delivering a letter signed by nearly 1,500 faith leaders from around the country. These leaders join calls by a growing number of Congressional members, civil society groups, and advocates to end this inhumane practice once and for all.

The U.S. government reinstated family detention in response to the arrival of 68, 684 family units at the U.S./Mexico border in 2014. Currently, over 1500 refugee mothers and children from Central America are being incarcerated in three detention centers in Karnes City, TX; Dilley, TX; and Berks County, PA. In 2009, the Obama administration closed the T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor, Texas due to complaints of abuse and poor conditions. Advocates and those currently detained report similar abuse as well as inadequate nutrition and medical care.

A lawsuit challenging the administration on this practice was set to be resolved this weekend, but negotiations between the parties have been extended until June 12, with a final agreement expected on June 19. Administration attorneys maintain that detention allows for greater flexibility in responding to surges of unauthorized migration.

Below are statements from faith groups that participated in the White House meeting:

“As Jesuits we stand in solidarity with the mothers, infants, toddlers, children and teens being unjustly incarcerated in so-called “family immigration detention” facilities. The overwhelming majority of these children and mothers are asylum seekers who fled unspeakable violence and are searching for safe-haven within our borders. We call on the Obama Administration to end this corrosive and immoral practice immediately. These families are not flight risks, they quite obviously pose no danger to our communities. There is simply no excuse for the continued detention of mothers, children, toddlers and babies in any immigration detention facility in the United States. This shocking practice should not be the legacy of President Obama’s policy toward refugees and immigrants.” —Very Rev. Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, SJ, President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States and Canada

“Family detention conflicts with the very core of the Quaker principle to honor that of God in each person. Any policy that detains families, asylum seekers or refugees is both immoral and illegal under U.S. and international law. We believe that family detention allows private prison corporations to profit off of migrants’ desperation. We call for an end to all family detention -- it is dehumanizing and it inhibits access to legal assistance. We’ve also seen that it damages physical, mental and familial health. And, worst of all, it is completely unnecessary.” — Diane Randall, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

“In the name of justice and mercy, I call on the administration to change its response to the desperate cry of refugee mothers and children fleeing violence and crushing poverty in Central America. Instead of offering protection and opportunities to pursue their asylum cases, we have locked them up en masse, replicating the trauma from which they flee. With this two-week delay on the final outcome of the court case challenging this practice, these mothers and children continue to suffer. We are a better nation than our actions demonstrate; mercy for these mothers and children ought to be our only option at this time. Family detention must end now.”
— Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

"Over the next two weeks, Sisters of Mercy ask the Obama administration to take immediate actions to end the shameful policy of incarcerating refugee woman and children. President Obama's decision to comply or to appeal Judge Dolly Gee's ruling will determine his legacy on immigration, as much as his fight for comprehensive immigration reform and deferred action."
– Sr. Patricia McDermott, President of the Sister of Mercy of the Americas.

“Mass detention shatters families and traumatizes children. The extension of time for agreement in the court case on family detention means these women and children will continue to suffer. Since the Order was formed in the early 19th century in France, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd have dedicated their lives to protecting women and children.  They condemn this detention of innocent people. As Director of the The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and speaking on behalf of the Sisters and lay staff in 74 countries, I strongly urge the government to immediately end this shameful detention policy.” — Lawrence Couch, Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

“Many within our Disciples of Christ churches are deeply concerned about the practice of family detention, which has re-emerged in the past year as a method for housing children of all ages and mothers who have fled to the United States to seek protection from horrific violence in Central America.  Nearly all are eligible for asylum.  We have prayed, visited, and supported the spiritual care of these vulnerable populations, and continue to urge the Obama administration to turn away from the practice of family detention, which locks up children in unlicensed facilities often run by for-profit prison companies.  Instead, we urge the administration employ much more humane alternatives to detention which promote healing and offer legal and mental support and hope for God’s children.”— Rev. Dr. Ron Degges, President of Disciples Home Missions