ST. LOUIS – Fifty breakfasts. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, an organization founded in 1944, held it’s 50th General Assembly breakfast on June 20, according to executive director Emily Brewer.
Stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) J. Herbert Nelson, brought greetings, noting his long affinity with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and, referencing the march that took place on June 19 to deliver $47,000 in bail money to the St. Louis justice center, said, “I think yesterday represented a significant turn in this denomination.” He recognized the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s years of work for justice and thanked those gathered for their work.
abby mohaupt (who does not capitalize her name), a Presbyterian pastor and leader in the ecojustice movement, accepted a Peaceseeker Award. mohaupt shared that she carries in her wallet a paper that documents a bond her grandmother gave her upon her confirmation. The paper, she said, reminds her of the woman who taught her not to be polite, but to speak up. Her two-year-old niece accompanied mohaupt to the breakfast and, mohaupt said, “She already knows if you ask enough times you will eventually be heard.”
mohaupt noted that given the tipping point of climate change, “we can no longer be polite.” Referring to fossil fuels, mohaupt said, “We have to divest, time is up.”
Co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and Cindy Kohlmann, brought greetings. Cintrón-Olivieri, who was born in Puerto Rico, continued the theme of seeking justice, gave thanks for commissioners’ resolution 11-22 that includes, “Establish a zero-tolerance policy towards colonialism and the double standard treatment of U.S. citizen residents of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”
Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly, Denise Anderson addressed the large crowd. Anderson, a leader in the Poor People’s Campaign in the state of Maryland where she lives, began by reading Mark:2-23-3:6 – the story of Jesus and the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath.
Anderson shared her experience of being arrested for participating in a “die in” at the Maryland State Capital as part of the Poor People’s Campaign. She detailed why she did so, saying, “I ‘died in’ because the war economy is killing us in more ways than we know.”
Speaking about the cash bail bond system (and more generally about the judicial system) Anderson noted that yesterday was Juneteenth and said that while slavery was abolished, the “slave economy just put on new clothes.”
“Why?” Anderson asked, “all these years later, are our siblings still not free?”
Returning to the text from Mark’s Gospel, Anderson proclaimed that Jesus reframed the entire law for people who had missed the point of both the Sabbath and the Law, saying, “Jesus calls us to righteousness, not religiousness.”
She went on to say, “We have far too long valued nicety over honesty.” Privilege, Anderson said, “is a pacifier” and it is time to take it out and “let them cry.”
Making it clear that Presbyterian decency and order should not become idols, Anderson said, “Order should be simultaneously followed and interrogated.”
A call-and-response followed with Anderson citing statistics such as, “When 32 million people lack health insurance … we can’t wait.” The crowd joined with Anderson after every example of oppression and injustice saying, “We still can’t wait.”
“Jesus,” Anderson said, “saw injustice, he got angry … we should get angry.” Anderson reminded her hearers that Jesus, in his anger, healed and advocated, did not condemn, but liberated. This, too, is the work of Jesus’ followers, Anderson proclaimed. She ended by leading the breakfast goers in a rousing chant:
“What do we want?” Justice!
“When do we want it?” Now!
“If we don’t get it?” Shut it down!
“Well, then.” Anderson concluded and received an extended standing ovation.