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Members blast Presbyterian offering campaign

Written by Peter Smith on .

specialofferings1 medium250-194x300This probably wasn't the reaction they were seeking.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is re-evaluating the "bold statement" it attempted to make with promotional materials for its upcoming special offerings, according to the Presbyterian Outlook.

But it's getting plenty of pushback from clergy and members who see it as promoting racial stereotypes while making light of the very addictions that people seek help from at 12-step groups in church basements.

"Needs help with her drinking problem. She can't find water," says one, depicting an Asian girl. Another depicting a brown-skinned man, says, "Needs help getting high. Above the flood waters."

Offerings, such as the One Great Hour of Sharing, are intended to help people respond to such threats as disaster and disease. 

A former church moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, has criticized the materials and begun aggregating similar responses here. And there's a hashtag: #NotMyOGHS.

"I am all for creativity, playfulness, and even well-placed snark, but, I'm sorry, this misses the mark -- big time," said Reyes-Chow, who is Asian-American. "While we do some very good things, I am really disappointed that my denomination is going through with this offerings campaign."

Others joining the conversation are also calling it racist, as are commentators to a Presbyterian News Service story on it. The marketing campaign was created by an outside firm but approved by church officials.


The Presbyterian Outlook quotes Sam Locke, director of special offerings, who had originally touted the bold statement of the campaign:

“We have heard the many comments and concerns being raised about the One Great Hour of Sharing campaign. The misdirect in the bold headline was intended to pull the viewer into the message, which it clearly did. The goal of the campaign was to bring attention to the absurdity of stereotypes while emphasizing the importance of giving. We recognize that it was not received by many as intended. We take these concerns to heart and are actively reviewing options for the campaign.”





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New Pa. child-abuse affect congregations

Written by Peter Smith on .

Clergy and all religious employees and volunteers who work with children must report suspected child abuse to the state under new laws that went into effect in Pennsylvania on Jan. 1.

And those who work with children also must get background checks for any history of child abuse or other criminal activity.

As my colleague Molly Born reports, the law strengthens and specifies requirements of who must report suspected child abuse and how.

Among the requirements directly affecting religious workers, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, are the following categories of people who are required to report suspected abuse:


- A clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization.
- An individual paid or unpaid, who, on the basis of the individual's role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, accepts responsibility for a child.


If they have "if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse," they must contact the state Childline at or by calling 1-800-932-0313.

Also, paid employees who have regular interaction with children are required to have clearances of their state child-abuse and criminal-records histories and through an FBI fingerprint record check.

Volunteers need the first two checks as well as the third if they've lived out of state in the past decade.

Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania has a good summary of the impact of the law on congregations, and references for more resources, in its December 2014 newsletter. Once there's a link to it online, I'll add it here.


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Pope's rep: Bishops must show gospel not just talk about it

Written by Peter Smith on .


Catholics Bishops need to show the gospel in their lives, not just talk about it, to combat the lure of everything from drugs to assisted suicide to Islamic State-like fanaticism, Pope Francis' diplomatic representative to the United States said Monday morning.

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, asserted that the recently completed family synod at the Vatican laid the groundwork for affirming church teachings but called for more than a rules-oriented approach.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano wrapped recent news headlines into an address to American bishops in Baltimore. His address, while affirming church tradition, reprised his words from a year ago when he told bishops the pope was looking for shepherds not ideologues.

"As Pope Francis has repeated many times, it is not just by preaching or by words, but by example that people will grow in faith," he said.

The meeting comes just days after the news that Pope Francis had removed one of the most outspoken conservative American clerics, Cardinal Raymond Burke, from his post as head of the Vatican's top court. Cardinal Burke was instead assigned to a relatively ceremonial role.

Archbishop Vigano talked about how his dying mother took strength from his reading of the life of a saint to her. "What a contrast for someone who takes their own life into their hands, for example, through suicide and euthanasia," the archbishop said. His comments did not mention Brittany Maynard by name, but it came as the national debate continues over Ms. Maynard's decision to end her life rather than go through the full progression of her terminal cancer.

Archbishop Vigano also asked "why young people, submerged into the culture of these times, so often called the 'culture of death,' are searching among the most excessive and challenging experiences," including the murders organization calling itself Islamic State. 

Young people, he said, are searching "beyond just so-called 'happiness." They are searching for meaning and purpose."

He told of recently presiding at the funeral of an adolescent who overdosed on drugs while "fooling around" with friends.

"We have to let our young people know that their lives are worth living and that they were born for eternal glory, not for glamor, or guns or sensationalism."

Archbishop Vigano, admitting the church's credibility has been "deeply wounded" by the "deplorable actions" of some priests or bishops, but he said the church could restore credibility through the "shining example of so many saints in our very midst."

Bishops must both teach with confidence and listen to others, he said.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the bishops conference, sounded a similar theme when he said that when he visits parishioners' homes, he doesn't start by "telling them how I'd rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn't begin by giving them a list of rules."

For those whose romantic and family arrangements don't fit the church teaching, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, "I'd first spend time with them, trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts" and then "accompany them as we, together, follow the gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way."


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U.S. bishop head: Synod paper good, needs work

Written by Peter Smith on .

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has applauded a document issued Monday that calls for the church to affirm the positive aspects of gay unions and other couples who lack a church marriage, but he also wants to see strengthened language affirming church teachings and those who live by them.

In comments at a press conference on Wednesday in Rome, Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz calmly wove a diplomatic thread through the hoopla that has accompanied the document released Monday, half-way through a two-week synod at the Vatican to discuss issues and challenges related to the family. Some bishops there have denounced the document for failing to emphasize church teachings against homosexual acts, while many advocates for gays and others alienated from the church found the language to be surprisingly welcoming.

Archbishop Kurtz called it a "wonderful working document" but that the one to be issued at synod's end would be more important and lasting.


His three calls for revisions:

“One would be to highlight the importance of the witness of sacrificial, loving families today. ... (Second would be) to make sure all our words are truly welcoming and come truly from the heart ... and the third one was to locate clearly our pastoral ... outreach as being located within the beauty of sacred Scripture and Church teaching.”


Before the synod started, Archbishop Kurtz wanted to emphasize that while the traditional family has indeed become much less the norm than it once was, 

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, the former Pittsburgh bishop, is among those helping revise the document.



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