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Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Climate change to Palestine


Summer Israel-Palestine reading series

Time at the office sandwiched between two events. An early morning clergy  breakfast at the Ethical Culture Society to plan a September 21st People’s Climate March. The goal is to equal the million 1982 march against nuclear proliferation (planned at West-Park) that drew over a million people to the city. Rabbi Michael of the Labor-Religion Coalition invited me and it’s one of the most diverse groups of clergy I’ve seen in awhile. Our speakers include Black Pentecostal, Buddhist and of course, Judson Memorial. We are reminded that climate change has its greatest impact on the vulnerable poor and communities of color. Think asthma in Harlem and the South Bronx. Katrina and Sandy. I’m impressed by the level of organization already. I feel like I/we can commit to this action. There is criticism of having a major national march on  a Sunday morning, or on anyone’s Sabbath. Or on the day of the annual African-American heritage parade. And almost boos when it is said that the NYPD would not grant a permit for a march that would interfere with Broadway matinees. It is said that sometimes we need to be prepared to, as Heschel said in reference to Selma,  worship and pray with our feet . I think of what Russ said about maybe some Sunday mornings, that marching is our worship and begin to think about how to make that happen.

To read more about it, go to

I have just enough time to run down to Chelsea and retrieve my laptop from Tekserve before heading to Advent for another in our summer series of readings from Israel-Palestine. Tonight’s book, Faith in the face of Empire: Reading the Bible through Palestinian Eyes by Mitri  Raheb. I remember a visit with Pastor Raheb several months ago at pastor Heidi’s church. It’s interesting to compare his book to Naim Ateek’s. Both are done with the current discourse on empire. Mitri sees today’s Palestinian Christians as the direct descendants of historic Biblical Israel and makes his case. Whereas Naim focuses mainly on right wing Christian Zionists, Pastor Raheb takes on liberals as well. Pastor Heidi sees the book sometimes coming dangerously close to supersessionism or replacement theology, the idea that Christians have replaced Jews in God’s salvation story.

She does see that this can be a corrective to the traditional evangelical narrative that the Jews must possess the holy land in order for Jesus to come back again.  She has recently discovered her own Jewish family background and has been exploring that reality theologically. She also fears that the book’s argument denies any connection to the land whatsoever.

I make the following points:
* Any statement has to be looked a from the perspective of who has the power to do what to whom when. The same words/analysis has a very different meaning when  spoken by a European or American Christian in a situation when Jews are in a vulnerable minority than when made by a Palestinian Christian under Israeli occupation. How can they not see themselves in the role of Christ and the Israelis in the role of Rome?
* American Christians have little theology of land. It was in Central America I learned the expression, la tierra es la vida: the land is life. We cannot deny the mythic role of Israel over millenia on Jewish self-identity. Each year, Passover ends with the words, next year in Jerusalem.
* Wink, Brueggeman and others have wrestled with a theology of land. It has been said that the Jewish people needed land in order to reenter history, it takes land to be incarnated.
* BUT, living on, in, the land does not necessarily have  equate to sovereignty in a modern political nation state.And ultimately the idea of a Jewish democratic state is an inherent contradiction. It can be one or the other, not both.

It is extremely difficult to have this discussion in the context of the ongoing daily terror and trauma of the siege on Gaza.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Creation (still) groaning: god wrestling


Ready to hit the road

A busy and full day.

It took the Collection until 4:30AM to find a place where they could park their van and trailer. Some place in the Village. So they’re a bit sleepy. I want to give them a socio-religious overview of where they are. How the religious and social history of this place connects with the new reality  they are creating. 

Tricia is the director who has begun readings of her take on Othello, coming up in the fall. She was here last night and blown away by the energy and activity. Jeremy G’s seed group. The reGroup theatre rehearsal. The Collection family getting ready for their gig. It felt magical to her. Inspirational.

Berik is in to get his stuff out of the old medical room, my old office, so that it can become a green room. 

Deacon James back looking for Danielle again and again we’ve got a full house. 

While I was talking with the Collection, a very (successful, by certain standards), evangelical Christian group was in looking at the space.  They’re interested in the whole show. I will hand it to them, they do celebrate multiculturalism…and service…and discipline and commitment…BUT..there is a triumphalism, a rejection of women’s leadership and don’t even mention LGBTQ issues…I don’t understand why young adults are drawn to this at all. 

Jeremy G is in with Danielle finalizing plans for this weekend’s conversation. 

While I’m hard at work, Don stops in. He’s got some extra staff time this week. Can they help us with web site? Yes, of course. How do we make that concrete? That’s one of our biggest needs  right now. We’re one foot into a new site with lots of blank spaces. 

Russ stops in. I’m hoping he can at least meet David Wimbush, given his work at Wild Goose. He’s well known as the guy with the white hat….Everyone is still waiting for David to return. We wait for awhile but decide to head out for conversation. I try to explain what’s inside of me. How I look at the celebration of the life of Pete Seeger last Sunday. The thousands who came out. How I finally learned the subversive power of what he was trying to do with all of his sing alongs. The sustaining power. Like the black church and it’s creation of liberated space within  the context of life  denying slavery and oppression. My Harlem neighbor, First Corinthian Baptist, is living  that out whether they know it or not. I know that a community with mutual accountability, with disciplines of worship and prayer, stewardship, study and witness, could be a powerful presence. And  wonder again if I can do it. Somewhere between the intensity of the Open Center folks, the power of sung song in the Seeger tradition. As I looked around at the septuagenarians and octogenarians in the audience, I thought that what was most visible was hope. As Jim  Wallis said, Hope is believing inspite of the evidence and having the courage to work to make the evidence change.

 And I look at David’s Collection, these young Christians (in a post Christendom sense), with their combination of self-protection, who really wants to open up their soul to vulnerability and get hurt? and passionate, existential ahistorical wrestling with Jesus, like Jacob with the angel, somewhere in that gritty mix is the new church, or new Christianity being born.

The real dialectic is plain to see. The historic mainline church is irrelevant to this moment. Yes, they have  enough money to continue into the future perhaps indefinitely. But their power to shape what Christianity means is over. The dialectic is between the god wrestling, paradigm breaking grassroots radical discipleship on the one hand and the rapidly growing disciplined Muslim brotherhood style of conservative Christianity on the other. I know that new community can come into being. Is coming  into being. I want desperately for us to help bring it into being. But I don’t see all the how. That’s why my heart burns. That’s what Russ and I talk about. Is he down for that struggle? Everything about  him seems to say yes.

David Wimbush and Bob
When I get back, David and Mira are on the steps. Still waiting for the van. Stuck in rush hour traffic in the village. We talk about some of this. Inside, folks are getting bored. Instruments are coming  out. People trying out their own songs. Some Johnny Cash. Folsom prison. That  kind of thing. David comes back, opens up his violin. I’m about to get my own guitar. See if RL wants to come down. But just about then, the van shows up. And it’s the VW clown scene in reverse. How much can you put into that van? Soon enough, they’re ready to head out to Philadelphia. Leaving me pondering. Burning. I wave goodbye. Just like any rock band. But some serious Jesus wrestling going on in there. Keep struggling.
Waiting for the van to come

Spend some time with RL. Allow him to rail at me regarding how I accomplish my mission. Again. Knowing he does this because he cares. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Collection connection


The Collection at the Rockwood Music Hall

Deacon James looking for Danielle. She’s not in yet. She’s going to help him  sort through some legal  issues, some family issues. He’ll come back later.

Pat O, Marsha and then Jamie gather to  meet with our candidate for Construction Manager. who has come with his associate. He’s cool. Collected. Level headed. We go through the whole building, yet again. He sees things we don’t see. Sees solutions. practical. Pragmatic. We can do all this work within the grandfather provisions. He has made a good impression. People ready to move. Need to see some licenses. Some insurance. Some references. But we all  believe we can start work soon. I can almost see construction work beginning. 

Leila and Berik are in. Going to clear out all art stored in the old ,medical room so that it can become a green room for regroup and their Texas Trilogy production. 

Late afternoon, the van arrives. With its trailer. We are hosting the Collection Family Band from Greensboro, North Carolina. They are on tour. With their first CD. Connections. Friends with Kristen
Leigh Southworth, who has been in several shows at West-Park including her own Songs in  the Key of Redemption last year while I was in Berlin. She met their leader David Wimbish singing with him at the Wild Goose festival in North Carolina. An annual festival defined as  a community gathered at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and art. ( Our friend Russ J from our Palestinian work is the stage manager there every year. Connections.

Short story: their New York City housing connection fell through. Can I help? I offer them space on the floor, our showers not currently working. They’re overjoyed. I’ve got to run. David S will host them until they’ve got to head downtown for their concert at the Rockwood Music Hall, that lower east side emporium of fine music. I’ll head down there in time  for the show. It’s a big band. 13 members. Seeing them come out of the van reminds me of Bread & Puppet.  Or that old clowns out of the VW circus routine. They just keep coming. And they are so young…

From the balcony at the Rockwood, I look down in the show. A little loose at first, but turns solid, tight. Wimbish’s lyrics tackle questions of faith and doubt, somehow with both cynical distance, not wanting to get hurt, and desire, he takes this all very seriously. The Rockwood crowd taken aback by a 13 piece band. Guitars. Keyboards.Violins. Autoharps. Clarinet. Baritone horn. Trumpet. Drums. Mini glockenspiel. And well, there’s the didgeridoo, I knew there  was one in there somewhere. 

A touch of Sufjan. A touch of Arcade Fire. And maybe Mumford. But it all revolves around David and his lyrics. What I could do with a 13 piece band. (To sample their music go to

I leave to make sure I can  be back at the church before they arrive. It’s after 1:30 AM when they get there. I tell them, they make me feel parental, waiting up for them. Welcome back home, kids.  They’ve got to try and find a place to park the van and trailer overnight. I’ll see them in the morning. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's been a hard week in the world


It's been a hard week in the world.  A Malaysian aircraft goes down over the Ukraine. Israel enters Gaza. The 2000 years old Christian community in Mosul, Iraq is over., driven out by ISIS. And it is estimated  that in 20 years, one out of 5 the world's species will be extinct. Tough time to bring good news.

Jeremy and I start the  morning  by working on Jacob's Ladder. And I may even try Precious Lord, take my hand. (where's Andre when I need him?)

We've got a new visitor from the neighborhood.

This week we read all the passages first before any conversation. Genesis 28: 10-19A, the Jacob's ladder passage. Psalm 139, God everywhere. Romans 8: 12-25, creation groaning in birth pangs. And Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, another sower parable with wheat and tares. But we pause first to do Jacob's ladder, quasi Springsteen, quasi Seeger style.

First, I talk about that rough week. How disturbing it's been. We start with Genesis. We remember that last week, we had the Jacob and Esau story. Jacob winning the birthright through trickery. And that here we have Jacob being told that he will be a blessing. Point being, our blessings do not always come from whom or where we expect. Jacob is far from exemplary as a human being. But will be the patriarch of Israel. My favorite line is verse 16: Surely the LORD is in this place — and I did not know it! Sometimes we don't recognize the presence of God in  the place where we are. 

A point made clear by Psalm 139, which presents a no place you can run, no place you can hide image of God. I remembered with a laugh when Jim Costen, former President of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta, was Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly. We kept running into each other all around the country, then in Mexico and finally in Jerusalem. In the Holy City, he threw up his arms, laughed and said,  Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? and then we both laughed.

Romans speaks of the suffering of this present time (18) and a creation wait(ing) with eager longing (19) and that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains (22). What we know when we look at our present world is that things must change. Things cannot remain this way. If this  is indeed a groaning, let it be for the birth of something new

Ultimately, the passage leads to a discussion of hope. . (24-25) and as I have so many  times before, talk of hope as a radical theological  category, not optimism.  It's King saying that the  arc of history bends towards justice. Or Jim Wallis' classic definition, Hope is in believing despite the evidence and having the courage to work to make then evidence change.

Finally, Jesus' second sower parable. Admittedly, it' a tough one with it's talk of wheat and weeds. (Tares, in the King James version.) If there is a  Good News point, it is that we can't go trying to tear out weeds because they're so similar to the wheat, it would destroy the wheat too. (Like Israeli smart bombs taking out 4 children on a beach...) It's not our job. We're all a mixture of weeds and wheat. And if there is this weeding out at the end, that's God's job, not ours.

Marsha quickly points out that issues with this passage. The fire and brimstone angle. But more, even in my good news version, there's a movement towards passivity. Certainly the Wallis quote about hope asks us to have the courage to work to change the evidence...And the wheat and weeds imagery has dangerous repercussions in the real world.  Israelis and Palestinians demonize each other. And Jeremy is deeply disturbed by the  death of Eric Garner. A large African-American man, Garner was a victim of Police Commissioner Bratton's broken windows law enforcement policy in which small crimes are aggressively policed inn order to prevent larger ones. Garner was a well known loosie (as in loose cigarette) salesman, an inevitable business in a city where packs of cigarettes can run $13 a pack.

Police were attracted by the commotion of a fight Garner was breaking up, he had that reputation in the neighborhood, a peacemaker. But the police went after  his stash of loosies. He held up his hands, resisting cuffs. A choke hold was applied. He went to the ground, died shortly later. He was a married father of 6 children. Something has to change.
                                                                 Eric Garner video

Martha, our visitor, talks about journalism and control of the news and how can we judge wheat and weeds without information. And I recall visiting with my son when he lived in Ramallah, his highly watching of BBC, AL Jazeera and Russia Today and realizing how uninformed we are as Americans. And how ironic it is that our most reliable news sources tend to be comedy shows, eg, last Sunday's John Oliver Show focusing on income inequality. 

Can we get back to the Good News?

Marsha mentions our American obsession with end times, the rapture, etc. So I talk about the new TV show, The Leftovers. A scenario in which, in one moment, 2% of the world's population vanished. The show begins 3 years later, while people are still trying to deal with it. Understand it. A celebration has been planned to honor our heroes, a statue commissioned. A slightly unhinged Episcopal priest with a small, dwindling congregation (I'm sympathetic already) has taken on the task, is obsessed with the task, of researching those who disappeared and proving that this was no rapture. How this one abused children, this one cheated on his wife, this one sold drugs. He is clearly not popular. If we can't separate out the good from the evil, then all meaning is lost, he says.

And he's right. There is that which is clearly evil. Even though discernment can be difficult, we are called to resist. The message would appear to be that it is our means of resistance that makes all the difference. That's what we'll leave with today.

Jeremy had persuaded me to try Precious Lord, take my hand. And I do.Not my best, but I keep working on expanding my range. 

The Session meets. Approves a job description for our administrative position. Sadly, Danielle will be leaving in the middle of August. It's hard for me to imagine doing this without her. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On Friday nights, you just never know


Mindy and RL

The block in the office door is getting more and more difficult to open so handyman David S is on the case to fix it.

A young woman and man with  a keyboard come in to audition for Berik. He’s got live music at every opening now.

Ravi from the Interfaith Assembly comes in to ask what upcoming interfaith events we might have happening. I tell him about the Hiroshima event coming up in August. And he shows me the video of my talk at the Assembly’s most recent action on the City Hall steps. Ravi did video of everything. Still photos too. 

Late in the afternoon, an older couple comes in. They're interested in the church. And maybe Open Mic. I give them the standard tour and we talk. Turns out he’s Presbyterian clergy too. But a professor at Knoxville College, one of our historically black colleges. And she plays the violin. They decide to stay. They are soon joined by a man with kind of a biker guy thing going on. He’s here for the Open Mic as well. 

Matthew Brady
The show opens with Matthew, who despite his biker look, plays a decent guitar and sensitive original songs. Then he surprises us by inviting up his new friend, Mindy from Tennessee, to play fiddle with him. She starts off slow, then gets his song and goes full fiddle on. And there are smiles and laughs all around and RL says that’s why we do this.

In Mindy’s own set, she treats us to Tennesee’s state song, Rocky Top, then invites Matthew up to play with her. You just never know what’s going to happen. And of course, RL invites her up to join in with him.
Mindy and RL
We’re clearly giving her a great vacation story. David L keeps stepping out further each week. Mandola Joe does one killer of a recitation of Casey at the Bat in honor of the All Star game. Pat O brings his original about old soldiers out again and Joel has another improv journey through his spoken word. 

I’ve waited until my friend Beppe arrives. It’s one last visit for us before he takes off for Sardinia. I’ve changed my set list three times, finally settling for one that could involve Mindy, but it’s late and she and her husband leave before I get up, so one more recalculation. I start off with my Queen of the Factory Town song, then my New Mexico song, then finish with the Fred Rose classic made famous by Willie Nelson, Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain. As I leave the stage, RL says Thay was a fine performance of that song, and I thank him and he says, Did you hear that? And I say yes. Back in the early ’80’s, Tulsa’s most popular disco place always played that at 2AM as it’s closing song after and a night of Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band and whoever else was disco hot in those days. Roy Acuff sang it first. Also Hank Williams. And Elvis. But Willie owned it.

One more surprise. Marie M has arrived. Known as Monday Marie for our every Monday night gig at the Gate, a hymn  juke box who can play virtually anything you can name, plays a set of originals. Which I’ve always wanted to hear her do. She too, complements both my factory town sing, says it could be in a movie, and my Blue Eyes. After hearing her so many Mondays and sharing  an after show drink with her and RL, I feel good that she recognizes me as a player too.

We’ve got a hip hop artist, Wavy Don, who is far and away the best rapper we’ve ever had. 
Wavy Don
And then RL coleuses, as always, with Stay Awhile. And it’s time to head to the Gate for a studied review of the evening.

Some day when we meet up yonder,
We’ll stroll hand in hand again
In the land that knows no parting

Blue eyes crying in the rain.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Further reflections on the state of the church


Time for a visit from our Presbytery Executive, Bob Foltz- Morrison. First, an update on how things are going at West-Park. His support for what we are doing, from his first day on the job, has helped us to completely turn around our relationship with the  institutional church. For years, we had to contend with an old narrative. Accepted wisdom about who we were. That our story was, essentially, over. Bob took the position that it was time for a new narrative. And let the past be the past, regardless of what was true or not true. He was essential to helping our story be told and finally winning approval of our plan last November.

It's still hard to get used to the idea that I can go to a Presbytery meeting without having to worry about another challenge. For years, our existence was on a month to month basis, always a threat of hostile take over dismissal. Now that's over. I can't imagine what that must have felt like, he says, how you stuck it out.What set Bob apart was, well, a humility by which he didn't assume he knew what was best for us. Treating us (and me) with dignity and respect. Not a touch of condescension. It makes a difference.

So far, he's had no direct push back from the organized Jewish community regarding our divestment. Not surprisingly, the push back has come from tall steeple liberal churches and allied institutions. We're agreed that this is a struggle that will best be carried out at the grassroots, neighborhood level among those who work with each other on our shared community life. 

I talk about the difference between my experiences in Tulsa and Pittsburgh, the diaspora, so to speak, where the Jewish community seeks out allies in the Christian community out of their own vulnerable minority status and self-interest. In a neighborhood, city, like ours, they simply don't need us. No need for dialogue just to promote understanding. In a neighborhood like ours, understanding comes from working together, like in our shared work, model work, in the area of food justice. 
He has spent most of his time working to strengthen our own vulnerable community, not riding the ecumenical circuit. 

He passionately hopes for a day where our congregations will reach out and connect with our communities. Our need for more leaders. Like Patrick O' Connor, from Jamaica, Queens, who has become a major spokesman against gun violence in the Metro New York Industrial Areas Foundation. Or my now retired friend (and another Pittsburgh guy) David Dyson from Brooklyn who would say to me, It's time to get arrested. We can sit in jail and talk about the Steelers. I thank Bob for taking on the tough job of transforming the structure from gatekeeping to that of facilitating mission. Ending the absurdity of trying to tightly guard a door that no one's trying to break into anyways. Like the more we decline, the more we try and control, As Sharon Welch says, we need an ethic of risk.

He also agrees with me that the old liberal/conservative paradigm is over. The emerging struggle around race and class, big and small, the impact of emerging immigrant communities with their different cultural assumptions. The withholding of funds by the big monied churches has stripped the presbytery of its traditional mission creating role. So it's got to be grass roots up now. Neighborhoods. Ecumenical. And interfaith.  We talk about our late colleague, Annie Rawlings, embodiment of old school organizing. Her memorial service was a witness to interfaith as a way of life, not a strategy or tactic. What we can learn from Presbyterian Welcome which was created to bridge those divisions in the lgbtq inclusion struggle. And Bob is insistent that there be no dialogue around issues like Israel and Palestine without the direct involvement  the Muslim community. 

And we talk about Harlem. About the courage of churches who struggle on when only one of our churches has a full-time pastor. The need for a neighborhood strategy. How the best role of our larger church should be linking peers and sharing resources. Like who out there can help me with integrating people who have serious mental illness into a small faith community? To be open without being overwhelmed?
I tell him that I appreciate the partnership he's created with our new Stared Clerk, for so many yearsa conflictual   relationship exploited by thoe with other agendas.   The rest of the church is headed to where New York City already is. We have the opportunity to create and model new paradigms. Or wither and die with the old.

                                                            * * * *

Lily and Samantha stop by. One of the softball league umpires has just lost his wife. They're headed downtown to the funeral home to bring condolences on our behalf. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From other steps: Behind the spotlights, what I said to the General Assembly committee about US drug policy

While divestment and marriage equality captured the headlines, other important issues were being dealt with at the Presbyterian General Assembly as well. On with special interest to West-Park was the overture on US drug policy. Originally drafted by San Francisco, West-Park signed on as a co-sponsor and brought this overture to New York City Presbytery which also passed it and sent their concurrence on to the National Assembly. Since West-Park had introduced this overtire, New York City Presbytery named me as it's overture advocate for this issue.

Why did we bring this issue forward? We've had (and have) members who struggle with substance abuse issues, including (illegal) drugs. We've had members incarcerated. And the data is stunning. A though black and white Americans use (and sell) drugs at virtually the same rate, blacks make up 765% of arrests and 75% of those incarcerated. It becomes an issue of social control, and ultimately, as they say, the new Jim Crow. Since the Nixon-Reagan War on Drugs began, our prison population has doubled.  So it's time to take new look.

Here's what I had to say to the Social Justice committee in my testimony:

From the moment we open the doors of our church in the morning, on into I the night, I am confronted with people who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse issues. We live in  a society, in a culture of addiction, from caffeine to nicotine to alcohol to prescription drugs, chocolate and cocaine. These are health issues, not character issues and have unjustly criminalized a whole segment of our society without addressing the true issue. There is the further reality that when caught with drugs, my college student son was given community service while his friend from the projects were sent to Rikers Island and jail time. Even more so, members of my congregation from ventral America have seen their countries subjected to and tor with violence that sustains the drug trade. The time to change is now.

The Assembly committee voted for our overture 64-0 and the plenary passed the overture by concensus.

The text of the overtire and rationale  follows.

The Presbytery of San Francisco overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to call for a two-year study by the governing bodies and members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to discern how to advocate for effective drug policies grounded in science, compassion, and human rights, and to this end, do the following:

1.    Direct the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, in consultation with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, to appoint a Drug Policy Task Force to promote study, discussion, and engagement among church members and congregants and develop a plan of concrete actions and policy recommendations for the 222nd General Assembly (2016).

a.            The task force shall consist of seven to nine selected volunteer members representing the following stakeholders/disciplines: policy analyst/advocate; subject matter specialists in addiction science, criminal justice, and international relations; law enforcement; judicial representative; formerly incarcerated drug offender/drug user activist; defense counsel/community litigator; theologian.

b.            The task force will serve as a clearinghouse for information and discussion of relevant issues; it will create an online presence with diverse, creative, and fact-based information in support of local church study groups.

c.            The task force shall conduct four hearings in different parts of the country (rural, urban, suburban, border) in collaboration with presbyteries to receive a broad range of perspective and stimulate dialogue.

d.            As opportunities for policy reform may arise before possible General Assembly action, the task force will keep individual members, churches, and presbyteries within the PC(USA) informed of relevant policy reform initiatives or action for which they may want to exercise democratic advocacy on their own.

2.    Urge all publications and other communication vehicles of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to develop articles, reports, and other materials designed to educate, motivate, and activate church members and congregants to learn about the history, development, and implementation of U.S. drug policies.

3.    Recommend that the Criminal Justice Network of the Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association focus Criminal Justice Sunday in 2015 on issues related to the impact of drug prohibition.

4.    Urge Presbyterian Women (PW) to make drug policy education and reform part of their ongoing work.

5.    Urge Presbyterians who are ecumenical staff to advocate for making the impact of punitive drug policies a critical focus of the Summer 2015 meeting of the National Association of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Staff.

6.    Recommend that congregations and councils of the church, as well as the task force designated above, consider the following questions and concerns:

a.            What are the roles, responsibilities, and limits of the state and citizenry in relation to our bodies, particularly with respect to what we market and sell for consumption and what we consume? What does Christian theology suggest about current drug policies, and our social responsibility to ensure health for members of our communities? What are the spiritual and ethical implications of: massive and disproportionate incarceration of drug offenders, especially people of color, and of the militarization of relations with the nations involved in illicit drug cultivation and/or trafficking?

b.            Does current U.S. drug policy achieve its stated goal to reduce production and consumption of illegal drugs, or does it serve other policy goals, institutional interests, societal norms, or systemic forces? If so, how do we define those other goals, interests, norms, and forces?

c.            What laws, policies, programs, and treaties currently govern our nation’s responses to the production, transit, and use of illicit drugs?

d.            What are the consequences of maintaining current punitive drug policies? What might more effective and humane drug policies look like, with regards to the following:

(1)  militarization of law enforcement and the erosion of distinctions between civilian police and military, especially with respect to drug law enforcement;

(2)  relationship between prohibition of drugs and organized crime;

(3)  communities’ use of illegal drugs and the disparate impact that enforcement of drug prohibition has on poor people and racial minorities;

(4)  distinction between harmfulness, addictiveness, and illegality as it relates to use of psychoactive and/or addictive substances;

(5)  allocation of public resources required to enforce current drug policies and effectiveness in addressing underlying problems relating to substance abuse and addiction while programs for social needs such as health, education, and community development are underfunded;

(6)  rates of illicit drug use, abuse, and addiction; health effects and impacts on special populations—e.g. mentally ill, homeless, ‘at-risk’ youth, immigrants, victims of sexual violence.

At the heart of Jesus’ mission is the proclamation of restoration, liberation, and new beginnings. Jesus began his ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah (Lk. 4:18–19) and identifying his life’s work with transforming the situation of the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Following his mission entails participation in very concrete actions of social renewal. Drug prohibition has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable members of society—particularly poor blacks and Hispanics. Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African Americans comprise 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession; 55 percent of those convicted for drug possession; and 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession. As a result of the more than forty-year-long “war on drugs,” the United States has become the world’s greatest incarcerator—with 5 percent of the global population, we imprison 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, almost half of these are for drug-related crimes. Drug prohibition also has been the primary rationale as well for more than $20 billion spent in the last decade on U.S. military operations and aid in Latin America, where related violence has caused devastating human damage.

Prior General Assemblies have sought to speak to many of these issues, such as the 1971 statement by the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) on drug use; the 1993 statement on Freedom and Substance Abuse (Minutes, 1993, Part I, p. 758); the 2002 Resolution on Restorative Justice (Minutes, 2002, Part I, p. 576); the 2003 Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Prisons (Minutes, 2003, Part I, p. 439); the action of the 218th General Assembly (2008) calling for withdrawing military support to the government of Colombia (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 1180); the Resolution on Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call of 2010 (Minutes, 2010, part I, p. 334 of the printed copy, p. 830 of the electronic copy), and the Resolution on Racism, Incarceration, and Restoration of 2012 (Minutes, 2012, Part I, p. 32 of the printed copy, p. 1053 of the electronic copy). Our recognition of the institutional racism in how our drug laws are written, administrated, enforced is a continuation of the need for racial reconciliation identified in the Confession of 1967.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has clearly recognized the moral mandate to reexamine our nation’s current approach to substance abuse and drug-related crime with all its consequences. However, we have not yet dealt directly with our policy of prohibition of, and criminalization for, drug use. Unexamined assumptions in drug policy and in many people’s responses to drugs, as well as the extensive institutional structures and incentives that support current drug policies, mean that efforts to modify or transform policy can be controversial and difficult. The issues are complex, and serious change pushes us into unknown territory. Therefore, we call for a broad-based, all-church study that explores what is practically possible while holding up that which still needs the light of the Gospel.