Our strong feelings grow out of our reading of the Scriptures and also out of our experiences while working for the church — in most cases for 30 or 40 years — serving congregations and in other forms of ministry. Furthermore, our convictions on these issues are confirmations of positions taken by numerous Presbyterian General Assemblies through the years.
We want our church leaders, the U.S. Administration and Congress and those now campaigning for the presidency to know of our concerns. We are especially eager that all Presbyterians focus attention on these topics as vigorously as they do on internal issues in the church; for these issues are central and crucial in the lives of millions of Americans around us, people of all kinds, and they are also prominent throughout the Bible. Here we offer our concerns about three such matters.
1. A New Priority
Even the casual reader of the Bible can see that ministry to the poor was a dominant theme in the teachings of Jesus — much more prominent in his teachings, for example, than matters of sexuality. But in 2003 more and more citizens of the United States are living in poverty. More and more people are victims of industrial layoffs. Food banks, emergency housing centers and other charities serving the poor are being overwhelmed by demands on their resources and personnel. So we are troubled and alarmed.
In obedience to Jesus, we urge that care for the poor become a top priority for our churches and for our political leaders and candidates. Let active compassion for poor people and concern about systems which create poverty become the primary standards for the self-evaluation of Presbyterian churches and their leaders. Let those priorities supplant our preoccupation with standards of doctrinal correctness now hotly debated in our ecclesiastical gatherings. And in obedience to Jesus let Christians unite to challenge with loud voices our government’s apparent preference for the rich, a preference abhorrent to us and, we believe, abhorrent to God, the God of the prophets.
2. Why Can’t We?
Jesus cared deeply for suffering people, and he traveled through his homeland as a healer of the sick. Now all other industrialized nations in the world provide health care diligently and compassionately to all their citizens, rich and poor. So why can’t we? It seems to us incredible and unconscionable that the United States, despite its claims of national superiority, lacks accessible and equal health care for many millions of our people. Partisan politics and an apparent lack of genuine concern on the part of national leaders have led to feeble, token efforts to solve this crisis, while many old people, children and vast numbers of other Americans suffer and die, unable to afford adequate medical care. So we are troubled and alarmed.
Surely a nation that can quickly allocate billions and billions of dollars for military purposes can find a way to support its citizens in their need for doctors, medicines and hospital care. Even a few of those many billions could transform the quantity and quality of medical facilities in our land in awe-inspiring ways. With all our great scientists and business leaders, Americans should be able to see universal health care as a realistic possibility. Otherwise, the claims of the United States to righteousness and goodness, as proclaimed in our patriotic songs and slogans, sound hollow. And our hypocrisy is obvious in light of the teachings and example of Jesus.
3. “Suffer the children. …”
Jesus called us to honor and cherish our children, and he commanded us to love God with our minds. So we are Presbyterians who honor our church’s heritage of commitment to education. As pastors and other church workers we have seen the importance of public schools in both urban and rural communities. Now we are offended by the contrast between politicians’ verbal commitments to better schools and their failure to put those commitments into action. Federal support of public education is woefully inadequate; and the lack of federal help to the states in their deep financial crises indicates a callous willingness for millions of children to be “left behind.” So we are troubled and alarmed.
As we look around, we see overcrowded classrooms, school buildings in critical condition, underpaid teachers — situations which amount to a disgrace in a nation proud of its attainments. At the same time we hear that some national leaders are eager to spend billions on the development of new nuclear weapons and more billions on missile defense systems which many scientists say won’t work. Something is wrong with this picture. Let us demand of political candidates and incumbent politicians alike their plans for improvement of public education. For Christian believers current policies and strategies are set in stark relief by the teachings of our Master.
Grateful — but sad and dismayed
As older adults we are grateful to God for the blessings of life in this nation. But we are sad and dismayed about failures within our national life and the desperate needs of many of our fellow citizens. Therefore, we fervently hope that along with much-needed debates about U.S. foreign policy there may be, in coming weeks, unceasing attention to the three issues we have identified. We call upon all Presbyterians to join us in expressing our concerns to politicians and all who will listen, in faithfulness to the God of compassion and justice and in obedience to our Leader and Savior.
Posted Oct. 28, 2003
(Positions or careers listed are those held prior to retirement)
Jane Arp, missionary in Asia; Richard K. Avery, pastor and conference leader; Marilie Blanchard, world mission executive and stewardship consultant; Henry Bremer, pastor; Sidney Byrd, pastor and executive for Native American ministries; Jan Chesnut, spiritual director and author; Robert Chesnut, pastor and author; Edna Currie, church musician; Marilyn Davidson, missionary in the Middle East; Mary Ann Fowlkes, seminary professor of Christian Education; Aurelia Takacs Fule, professor of religion and executive for women’s program; Jane Hanna, author and seminar leader on peace and justice issues; Mildred Healey, missionary in South America; Julia Hudson, mission school teacher and administrator in New Mexico; Richard Hutchison, pastor; Frances Jameson, General Assembly mission interpretation staff member; Vic Jameson, church journalist and editor; Raymond Kersting, pastor and presbytery staff; Dean Lewis, General Assembly executive staff and conference director; Mary Ann Lundy, National and World council of churches executive; Frederick Mansfield, pastor; Donald Marsh, church musician and dramatist; David McGown, college chaplain and missionary; Marna McKenzie, executive for ministry in higher education; James Mechem, General Assembly executive staff; Helen Medina, local church adminstrative staff; Betsey Muldrow, missionary in the Middle East; William Muldrow, missionary in the Middle East; Anne Bateman Noss, General Assembly staff member and spiritual director; Paul Olmstead, mission school teacher; Shirley Olmstead, mission school teacher; Ann Rowe, poet and missionary in the Middle East; Richard Rowe, missionary in the Middle East; Paul Seto, missionary in the Middle East; Lowelle Simms, pastor and presbytery and synod executive; Etta Smith, Santa Fe Presbytery leader; Bonnie Smithson, missionary in Asia; William Stark, pastor; John Strausz Clement, pastor and area executive; Judith Strausz Clement, pastor and area executive; Alfred Swearingen, pastor and seminary teacher; JeanAnne Swope, G.A. staff member and conference administrator; and Donald Wilson, G.A. executive for social justice concerns
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