An honest to God real time act of reparation

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IT HAPPENED IN NEW JERSEY

New Jersey is not the first place one expects to hear a public confession of slavery with an action plan to make reparations for institutional racism. It may, therefore, come as a surprise that Princeton Theological Seminary, the nation’s second oldest graduate school (1812), has put New Jersey on the map of the national debate about reparations.

REPENTANCE FOR TIES TO SLAVERY

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a plan that commits $27,000,000 for a five-year Reparations Action Plan and $1,000,000 each year thereafter in perpetuity.

EXCERPTS FROM PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY NEWS RELEASE

“’The Seminary’s ties to slavery are a part of our story. It is important to acknowledge that our founders were entangled with slavery and could not envision a fully integrated society,’ says Princeton Seminary President M. Craig Barnes. ‘We are committed to telling the truth. We did not want to shy away from the uncomfortable part of our history and the difficult conversations that revealing the truth would produce.

“The historical audit uncovered that the Seminary did not own slaves and its buildings were not constructed with slave labor. Yet, the Seminary benefited from the slave economy, both through investments in Southern banks in the mid-19th century and from donors who profited from slavery. Also, founding faculty and leaders used slave labor at some point in their lives. Several of the first professors and board members were deeply involved in the American Colonization Society, which advocated sending free blacks to Liberia.

“’Our response to the historical audit is the beginning of our community’s journey of repair as we seek to redress historic wrongs and to help the Seminary be more faithful to our mission as a school of the church, both now and in the years to come,’ says Barnes. ‘We are taking tangible action to write a new chapter in our story.’”

— Princeton Theological Seminary, PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY, October 18, 2019

Princeton is the oldest seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Its announcement gives meaning to the prayer of confession and acts of repentance, strengthening hope that all religious communities and the nation itself will take responsibility for systemic institutional racism and move toward a just and equitable society.

Rev’d Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian Minister (HR), author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (click HERE for a look), Chaska, MN, October 29, 2019.

A Brother’s Letter to the President

September 25, 2017

Dear Mr. President:

I write to introduce myself as the brother you didn’t know you had.

baby_baptism_1368526cAs my grandson Elijah’s letter to you following your speech to the United Nations mentioned, you and I were baptized as infants in churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA) — you in New York City and I in Pennsylvania. Your parents and mine both answered ”We do” to the question “Do you promise, in dependence on the grace of God, to bring up your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”

As Elijah said, we don’t use the word ‘nurture’ much these days and ‘admonition’ has disappeared from our vocabulary — not the kind of positive-thinking that fits well with the prosperity gospel that has displaced what you and I were taught in Confirmation Class. But maybe the old church had it right that both nurture and admonition are essential to Christian faith and practice.

One of your home church’s pastors, Ray Schwartzbach, served as senior minister of the College Church and Pastor to The College of Wooster before going to First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica where you were baptized and confirmed. When Ray returned to Wooster for a visit, I had become his successor.

I remember his description of your church as the most diverse congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) with 32 different languages spoken among its membership. That was the church where your parents promised to nurture and admonish you in the faith. It is also the church whose members committed to partner with your parents as the extended family that would raise you in the way of Christ.

Among his peers in the Presbyterian Church, Ray was to his ministerial colleagues what John Gresham’s “Street Lawyer” was among his peers. He was a rough and ready street minister more at home among the poor — on the streets among the homeless and in the tenements and public housing — than in the places of white privilege in Wooster or downtown Manhattan. He admonished the rich and nurtured the powerless in the name of Christ. Ray Schwartzbach was bigger on the cross and resurrection than he was on Norman Vincent Peale and the power of positive thinking that came to influence you as an adult at Marble Collegiate Church.

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McGaw Chapel

It was into this “nurture and admonition of the Lord” as Ray understood them that you and I were baptized as brothers in Christ before either of us could raise a finger to protest it. As the great Christian ethicist Paul Lehmann, may he rest in peace, told the students from the pulpit of McGaw Chapel at The College of Wooster during my tenure there, “Your parents played a dirty trick on you. They baptized you as a child of God and a disciple of Christ before you could object to it. Whatever you would do from that day forward, the declaration made at your baptism will always identify you.”

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Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America – Getty Image.

Since our infant baptisms, you have gone on to become the President of the United States of America, a position without peer. But, as a brother, we are still peers in the same family. I write you in that spirit, remembering an exchange years ago between a new president of St. Olaf College here in Minnesota and a lowly faculty member just before the new president’s inauguration.

The new president from Norway with a heavy accent and a young faculty member, each in his impressive academic garb, found themselves standing next to each other in the men’s room moments before the ceremony. “In yust a moment,” said the soon-to-be installed Norwegian President of St. Olaf, “I will be the president and you will still be yust a yunior faculty member, but here we are both yust peers.”

849537016As your brother in Christ, your speech at the United Nations took a toll on me. I watched and listened, hoping to see and hear something that might reflect the spirit of the faith tradition we share. Instead I saw finger pointing and frowns, and heard harsh words of admonition of North Korea that embarrassed me, my church, and my country.

I am just a junior faculty member five years your senior, retired, and without question the less accomplished of the two of us. Although we have never stood next to each other, we do know each other from a distance through the shared history of our baptisms in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Whether or not either of us likes it, I am your brother in Christ, a peer.

In that spirit, I owe it to you to speak a gentle word of admonition. As the brother you didn’t know you have, I wished you had remembered your baptism. I wish you had remembered that we’re all just peers before you missed the urinal and hit the whole world we were nurtured and admonished to love.

Your Brother in Christ,

Gordon C. Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

“Fear is the ammunition of terror”

On November 17, the  Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) issued the following letter from its top official following terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt:

“We are a world grieving. We mourn the many deaths, not only in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt. Any sense of security we have had is badly compromised by these horrific events; moreover, our fear of ISIS grows with every successful execution of its violent agenda.

“Much has been taken from us but we still hold the choice as to how we react in our grief and fear. Many politicians have rushed from grief to fearful judgment. More than half of the governors of our states have attempted to protect their citizens by issuing declarations denying entry of Syrian refugees into their states (as if all of the potential terrorists are Syrian). Some have gone so far as to call for denial of entry to all refugees at the present time, as if that will guarantee safety to the citizens of their state.

“As U.S. governors pledge to refuse Syrian refugees within their states and some presidential hopefuls promise to abandon the refugee program altogether, we the people have a choice to make. We can choose to follow those who would have us hide in fear or we can choose hope.

“Our nation, for decades, has chosen hope and welcome for those fleeing war and persecution. Since 1975, more than three million refugees have found safety and security within our nation’s borders. Right now 11 million Syrians cannot go to school, tend to their land, or raise their children in the place they know as home. They cannot do these things because they, themselves, have been terrorized for far too long by numerous factions, including their own government.

“Do we choose to abandon our plan to protect these Syrians because the people who have been threatening them are now threatening the West as well? ISIS has taken lives; they have taken our sense of security. Do we now hand over our hope and compassion to them?

“Obviously, we need to move forward with a disciplined response, expediting security checks such as those employed by the U.S. refugee admission program. To refuse certain persons who are fleeing terror and persecution because they are “Syrian” or of some other particular ethnic group is unjust and may be illegal under U.S. law. We can be disciplined and, at the same time, led to love beyond our own limited, fearful vision.

“After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples hid in fear. They locked the doors but God had another plan. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). We were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion. Author, poet, and peace activist Wendell Berry wrote, “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation” (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, “The Body and the Earth,” p. 99). The way to end terror is to prove that those who demonize us are wrong. We are not a heartless secular culture. We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.

Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk

Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Louisville, KY

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 21, 2015.

Marriage Equality in Minnesota

gaymarriageMy younger son is gay. For 12 years he’s been in a committed relationship in New York.

His response to the news that Minnesota will now become a marriage equality state was:

“Great. One more state in which I get to choose not to get married!”

He doesn’t want to get married. He just wants for anyone who chooses the covenant of marriage to have that choice. He just wants to live his life.

In 1978 students at The College of Wooster began “coming out” to me in the safe space of my office at The Church House”, the campus ministry center that housed the offices of the College Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church. I served the dual role of Pastor of the church and Pastor to the College of Wooster.

Dr. Violet Startzman, the physician at the College’s Health Center, came home with the results of a three-year study on homosexuality commissioned by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Westminster sponsored public forums, adult studies, and less formal conversations about the core finding of the study: same-gender orientation is not a choice; it’s part of the natural spectrum of human sexual attraction and love.

It was in that context that previously fearful or confused students shared in the privacy of the pastor’s office and found affirmation. They were active in the college church. They were ordained (student) elders on the church board.

My story since then is complicated, more so than I would like it to have been, in retrospect. Pastors are teachers and educators as well as advocates. Those of us who seek to minister to a congregation wear the mantle of conflicting responsibilities of conscience, patience, unity, and advocacy. We are first and foremost rabbis (teachers). Teaching is different from preaching, although the good preacher is also a teacher. And teachers begin by respecting their students, no matter what their views are on a given subject. Each of us perceives the world through eyes that see what experience has taught us to see.

When my son came out to us, we were grateful. Grateful for his self-knowledge. Grateful for his trust. Grateful that a (not-so-secret) secret was no longer a secret. So very grateful and proud of who he was as a young man and all that he had done and stood for.

Now, today, I am in Minnesota. He is in New York. I, like him, am grateful that there is one more state in which he can choose whether or not to be married.

Huffington Post story on Lesbian Presbyterian Minister case

Photo of Rev. Jane Spahr (L) and Lisa Bove (R)

Today’s Huffington Post carries the story of two lesbian Presbyterian colleagues I know and love, Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove (“Jane Spahr, Lesbian Presbyterian Minister Case to be Reviewed“).

Lisa was a student leader at the Westminste­r Presbyteri­an Church at The College of Wooster where I served as Pastor (1977-1983). She was an elder and campus leader there. She went on to seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament.

Jane and Lisa are those rare ministers of the gospel who, have managed to remain gentle and bold, acting in conscience and ecclesiast­ical disobedien­ce without becoming hard or cynical. When you’ve been working for GLBT full inclusion as long as Jane and Lisa, it’s a testimony to their soulfulnes­s that they have not become bitter or plunged into the quick sand of self-righteous. For Jane, Lisa, and so many of us, the Bible calls disciples of Jesus to live in love and to be advocates for justice. The Presbyteri­an Church (USA) last year restored an older principle of church order that removes the restrictio­n against ordaining GLBT members. The issue of marriage remains contentiou­s in the church, as it is in the society as a whole. Some pastors have declared that until church and civil law permit them to officiate at same-gender marriages, they will not officiate at any marriage, as a witness to justice. Jane and Lisa are sweet, sweet spirits whose integrous lives bear witness to justice, love, and peace, drawing from that inner light of courage, conscience and consolatio­n that keeps them sane and strong.

I wish them well, and pray the Spirit’s guidance on the Permanent Judicial Commission reviewing the case.