Category Archives: Social Issues

First Presbyterian Church (Orlando, Fla.) ministry to homeless sees results, garners recognition

 

Lead Homelessness, a national initiative formed to fight the causes and effects of homelessness in the United States, has named David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, one of the “11 Most Important Leaders Needed to Solve Homelessness in Orlando.” Others named to the list include Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer; Linda Gonzalez, Vice President of Social Responsibility for the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association (NBA); and Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In a video presentation produced by Lead Homelessness, Swanson said that in his 13 years as pastor at the downtown Orlando church, “the primary need I have faced, since day one, has been how to deal with the countless numbers of homeless people that have been on our steps, that are in our church on Sunday mornings, that are coming seeking money, shelter, and all the different needs that they have. It has been a constant challenge.”

Under his leadership, First Presbyterian Church has spent $1.5 million serving the homeless population of Central Florida. However, he emphasized that while those efforts helped people, they did not address the systemic issues that caused homelessness. In a partnership with the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness and the Lead Homelessness initiative, efforts are now focused on securing permanent supportive housing, in addition to meeting felt needs.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, noted that homelessness in the United States is a ministry opportunity for every city-center church, and many suburban and rural congregations as well.

“The emphasis that First Orlando is involved with in helping secure housing for the homeless is having a major impact in a major city,” he said. “What this church is doing can be a real model for all our EPC city-center churches.”

Swanson emphasized that ministry to the homeless, while not always easy, can have long-term significance in many ways.

“One of the Church’s most effective witnesses is the manner in which she serves the larger community,” he said. “Being actively engaged with community leaders, civil servants, non-profit leaders, and elected officials builds positive relationships while also addressing larger social issues. It is often a winsome and positive way to intrepret the gospel to a city.  This has been the case for us as it has engaged us with the city of Orlando in the area of homelessness.”

Hope Church Memphis featured in The Gospel Coalition

 

HopeChurchTGCThe Gospel Coalition’s lead story on November 2, “How the Country’s Largest White Presbyterian Church Became Multiethnic,” tells the story of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn. Planted in 1988 in a predominately white suburban area, within 20 years the congregation was the largest in Memphis—but with less than 1 percent of its 7,000 attendees African American.

The EPC’s largest congregation is now more than 20 percent African American, including the senior pastor, Rufus Smith.

Hope Church will host the 38th EPC General Assembly in June 2018.

Click here for the full story.

The Gospel Coalition is a network of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition, and was founded by Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

General Assembly adopts Position Paper on Human Sexuality

 

GA2017PositionPaperHumanSexualityCommissioners to the 37th General Assembly adopted the Preliminary Position Paper on Human Sexuality as the EPC’s official Position Paper on Human Sexuality, effective at the close of the Assembly on June 23. The paper replaces the Position Paper on Homosexuality and Position Paper on the Sanctity of Marriage.

The 35th General Assembly, meeting in Orlando in 2015, approved the formation of an interim committee to edit the homosexuality paper, which had been adopted in 1986 and revised in 1994 and 2014. While the EPC’s position on the issue had not changed, the 2015 Assembly recommended that language in the paper be updated to reflect how that position is expressed in response to changing cultural trends.

Mike Moses, Moderator of the 2015 Assembly, appointed the interim committee, which was chaired by Sandy Willson, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South.

Following comments and feedback from all EPC Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders to its first draft in early 2016, the interim committee presented the Proposed Position Paper on Human Sexuality to the 36th General Assembly in June 2016 at Ward Church in Northville, Mich. That Assembly approved the proposed paper, changing its status from “Proposed” to “Preliminary Position Paper.” As a Preliminary Position Paper, it was then sent to all EPC churches and presbyteries for review in anticipation of being presented for approval to this year’s Assembly.

A Position Paper expresses the mind of the General Assembly of the EPC on a subject of compelling interest. It is a definitive but not an exhaustive statement, and is not to be regarded as binding on the conscience of churches or individuals.

Click here to download the Position Paper on Human Sexuality.

#epc2017ga

Preliminary Position Paper and Pastoral Letter highlight May Jeremiah Journal

 

In the May edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah provides an update on the Preliminary Position Paper on Human Sexuality, which will be presented for approval as an official EPC Position Paper at the 37th General Assembly in June, and the Pastoral Letter on Ministering to the Church and the World on Issues Pertaining to Human Sexuality, the writing of which was approved by the 36th General Assembly.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

First Orlando’s Case Thorp pens Wall Street Journal op-ed on Keller/Princeton flap

 

Case Thorp, Senior Associate Pastor of the EPC’s First Presbyterian Church of Orlando and an alumnus of Princeton Theological Seminary, has written an op-ed article published in the Wall Street Journal on March 23. Thorp’s piece addresses the recent controversy surrounding the seminary’s retraction of its annual Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness. Earlier this year, the mainline seminary announced that it would present the award to Keller, but rescinded the honor on March 22 in response to protests by individuals who do not support the PCA (of which Keller is a member)’s stance on female and LGBTQ clergy.

The article on the Wall Street Journal is behind a paywall, but you can click here to read it on Thorp’s blog at www.casethorp.com.

ThorpWSJ

Congressional leaders release letter requesting Andrew Brunson’s freedom

 

senateletterrelease

The Foreign Affairs committees of the United States House and Senate issued a press release on February 16 calling for the immediate release of EPC teaching Elder Andrew Brunson. The press release urging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to grant Brunson’s freedom was signed by 78 members of Congress and includes both Republicans and Democrats.

https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press-release/congressional-leaders-seek-release-american-pastor-unjustly-detained-turkey/

Brunson was detained in October 2016 and falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” in December. He has been held for more than four months despite the charging documents presenting no evidence against him.

White House petition suffers glitch; Trump to talk with Erdoğan

 

brunsonpetition

Technical issues have plagued the “Forgotten American in Turkey” petition at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/forgotten-american-turkey since it launched on February 6. While tested prior to release, when published it was discovered that the signature counter does not register an accurate count. The petition was initiated in an effort to bring EPC teaching elder Andrew Brunson’s imprisonment in Turkey to the attention of the White House. Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” in December.

In the meantime, EPC leadership learned this morning that President Trump is scheduled to speak by phone with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan at 4:00 p.m. EST on February 7. It is not known if Brunson’s situation will be discussed.

White House petitions must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days of launch to be considered for response by White House officials, so the inaccurate counter may hinder this effort to reach President Trump. Until the counter problem is resolved, those interested in reaching the White House are encouraged to use www.whitehouse.gov/contact#page.

#ForgottenAmericanInTurkey

White House petition launched on behalf of Andrew Brunson

 
Andrew Brunson

Andrew Brunson

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has launched a “Forgotten American in Turkey” petition in an effort to bring Andrew Brunson’s imprisonment in Turkey to the attention of the White House and President Trump. Brunson is an EPC teaching elder who was arrested in October 2016 and falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” in December. He has languished in prison for more than four months with no evidence against him.

The petition is available at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/forgotten-american-turkey and must reach 100,000 signatures by March 6 in order to be considered for response by White House officials.

The White House also can be contacted directly at www.whitehouse.gov/contact#page.

The hashtag #ForgottenAmericanInTurkey has been registered for this effort to make Trump aware of Brunson’s unjust imprisonment.

In addition, the Senate House Foreign Relations Committee is circulating an open letter requesting Andrew’s immediate release and is addressed to Turkish President Recep Erdoğan. This letter is signed by leadership of both parties. The EPC is urging all American citizens to contact their representatives in Washington and request that they co-sign this letter before it is sent to Turkey on Friday, February 10.

Andrew Brunson the subject of February Jeremiah Journal

 

In the February edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah talks about Andrew Brunson, EPC teaching elder detained in Turkey since last October, and efforts undertaken to gain his release.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPNews and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

EPC pastor to pray at Inaugural Prayer Service

 
davidswanson

David Swanson

David Swanson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., will be among 26 faith leaders from across the country taking part in the National Prayer Service on January 21 at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral.

Swanson said he is praying “that God will give me the humility and godliness necessary to communicate the hope, unity, and wholeness that comes through God alone, when he prays with those gathered at tomorrow’s National Prayer Service.”

In an interview with Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of The Reconnect radio show, that the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) told him that the President-elect and Vice President-elect wanted a Presbyterian among the wide representation of faith groups that will lead a service focused on unity and wholeness.

Swanson said someone on the PIC knew a member of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando. When he was contacted about participating, he agreed. “When a person asks a Christian to pray, we pray,” he said, referencing 1 Timothy 2:1-2:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

The full interview between Swanson and LaBerge will air at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, January 20, on Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge.

January Jeremiah Journal discusses 2016 EPC budget allocation

 

In the January edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah discusses how the 2016 EPC budget was allocated between the four Strategic Initiatives (Global Movement, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, and Effective Biblical Leadership) and a fifth category, “protecting the EPC.”

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPNews and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

David Swanson reminds us to live in the story of “us,” not “me”

 
JeffJeremiah

Jeff Jeremiah

by Jeff Jeremiah
EPC Stated Clerk

One of the memorable moments at the 2016 General Assembly was First Presbyterian Church of Orlando (Fla.) lead pastor David Swanson’s report on the June 11 murder of Christina Grimmie and the June 12 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The congregation, members, and staff of the church were engaging in gospel-driven compassion and grace to the shocked and grieving in the community.

Swanson wrote a column reviewing those events and offering hope for the future in a wonderful way, which appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on December 30. I encourage you to read it and be inspired as you faithfully pursue gospel ministry in 2017.

Merry Christmas from Jeff Jeremiah and the EPC staff

 

In the December edition of The Jeremiah Journal, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah brings a Merry Christmas message on behalf of Moderator Scott Griffin, the National Leadership Team, and the entire staff of the Office of the General Assembly.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPNews and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Imprisoned EPC pastor formally charged in Turkey

 
Andrew Brunson

Andrew Brunson

Andrew Brunson has been charged in Turkey with membership in an armed terrorist organization and sent to prison by the officiating judge. Brunson, an EPC teaching elder and member of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, had been held without charge in a detention center in Turkey since October 7. He was interrogated without notice on December 9 and imprisoned.

The Brunson family has retained the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is active in defending persecuted Christians around the globe, as their legal counsel and leaders of the public campaign for Andrew’s release.

In a statement, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said Brunson is “facing grave danger in a Turkish prison where he is being held simply because of his Christian beliefs,” adding that if convicted, he could face many years in prison based on extremely serious—but false—charges.

At the time of Brunson’s detention in October, his activities were considered by the Turkish government to be “against national security.” However, no other reason was given for Andrew’s incarceration and no formal charges had been filed against him.

As of December 8, he had been held without charges for 63 days. In more than two months of detention, Andrew has been permitted only two U.S. consular visits.

The U.S. State Department, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and other U.S. government officials have been working with EPC leaders to gain Brunson’s release.

The Brunson family issued a statement December 14 in which they thanked those working to secure Andrew’s freedom. “We will not rest until Andrew is free,” they said. “We’re grateful for the support of the ACLJ and others who are working to demand that Turkey release Andrew without delay.”

The Brunsons have lived in Turkey since 1993, where he has been the pastor of two churches. At the time of his detention, the Brunsons had been trying for five months to renew their resident visas but had not received any response.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church firmly believes that Andrew Brunson’s detention is unfounded. The Brunsons have absolutely no connection to any armed terrorist organization in the country where he has lived peacefully for more than 20 years and where they raised their three children.

Andrew’s daughter, Jacqueline, who attends college in North Carolina, said the family is shocked by the charges against him and urged the Turkish government to release him immediately.

“It is both troubling and disturbing that my father, who has called Turkey home for the last 23 years, is imprisoned without cause,” she said. “I grew up in Turkey and saw firsthand how much he loves Turkey and the Turkish people. He has exhibited nothing but love, mercy, and grace during his time there. The best Christmas present our family could receive this year is the release of my father.”

Pastoral Letter interim committee appointed

 

 

SandyWillson

Sandy Willson

In June, the 36th General Assembly approved a motion calling for the Moderator to appoint an interim committee to draft a pastoral letter on “Ministering to the Church and World on Issues Pertaining to Human Sexuality.” The committee will make its report to the 38th General Assembly in 2018.

Teaching Elder Sandy Willson, Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., will serve as chair of the Interim Committee on Drafting a Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality. Willson chaired the Interim Committee on Position Paper Revision that wrote the Position Paper on Human Sexuality. Moderator Scott Griffin commended his leadership and asked him to lead the new committee as well.

Other committee members are RE John Graham (Presbytery of the Southeast), RE Rick Schatz (Midwest), RE Annie Rose (Rivers and Lakes), RE Scott Griffin (Pacific), TE Mike Glodo (Florida), TE Adam Barr (Midwest), and TE Sharon Beekmann (West). Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah will serve as staff resource.

The committee will begin its work on September 12 when it holds its first meeting in Memphis.

EPC signs religious liberty statement

 

JeffJeremiahby Jeff Jeremiah
EPC Stated Clerk

Can you imagine a state punishing a Christian school for upholding traditional Christian teachings? That is what could happen if the California Senate passes Bill No. 1146 (SB 1146).

The proposed legislation would reduce the number of California colleges and universities that can claim exemptions from federal Title IX anti-discrimination law—applying the exemption only to seminaries and schools of divinity. This means that Christian colleges could face a loss of accreditation status with the state of California, resulting in their students’ inability to qualify for state and federal grants and loans.

SB 1146 has been called a “real test” as to whether a state legislature (and most likely the court system) is going to impose the U.S. Supreme Court-imposed orthodoxy concerning sexual orientation and marriage.

This bill is a direct challenge to long-standing exceptions for claims of religious free exercise. If passed, it would change the legal landscape for religious adherents both individually and collectively. Not only is SB 1146 disastrous for religious post-secondary education in California, it also sets a dangerous precedent for other states.

For these reasons, the EPC signed on to a “Multi-faith Statement to Protect Religious Higher Education,” which was released on August 9 by Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (the text of this statement is below). As of August 9, more than 140 signatories from across the religious and political spectrum had signed, including presidents or administrators from more than 50 colleges and seminaries.

David Tyra, member of the EPC Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) and a Ruling Elder for Centerpoint Community Church in Roseville, Calif., is providing legal counsel for some of the religious institutions that would be affected by this statute. Please pray for David as he represents these colleges and universities in this politically charged situation.

A vote in the Appropriations Committee as to whether SB 1146 will come to the floor of the California Assembly will take place on August 11. We will keep you informed as this situation continues to develop.

Thank you for praying once again for God to be glorified in the face of continual secular government overreach.

“Multi-faith Statement on the Protection of Religious Higher Education”

The California Assembly has proposed legislation that is harmful to the free exercise of religion in higher education. In particular, the legislation disadvantages low-income minority students who want an education at private religious colleges. Though it purports to eliminate discrimination, Senate Bill 1146 results in its own form of discrimination by stigmatizing and coercively punishing religious beliefs that disagree on contested matters related to human sexuality. If SB 1146 were to pass, it would deny students’ ability to participate in state grant programs—programs that exist to help low-income students, and which are overwhelmingly used by racial minorities—at schools that are found in violation of the bill. Moreover, it would severely restrict the ability of religious education institutions to set expectations of belief and conduct that align with the institution’s religious tenets. While we do not all agree on religious matters, we all agree that the government has no place in discriminating against poor religious minorities or in pitting a religious education institution’s faith-based identity against its American identity. This legislation puts into principle that majoritarian beliefs are more deserving of legal protection, and that minority viewpoints are deserving of government harassment. Legislation of this nature threatens the integrity not only of religious institutions, but of any viewpoint wishing to exercise basic American freedoms, not least of which is the freedom of conscience.

We, the undersigned, do not necessarily agree with one another’s religious views, but we agree on the necessity of the liberty to exercise these views. At the root of the American experiment is the idea that conscience and religious conviction come before the demands of the state. Some of us disagree with the sexual ethics of orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims giving rise to this legislation, but we are unified in our resistance to the government setting up its own system of orthodoxy. As the American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” No less is this true than on matters of religious liberty. Where the state can encroach on one religion’s free exercise, it can just as easily trample on any other religion’s free exercise. We therefore join in solidarity across religious lines to speak against Senate Bill 1146.

We call on the California Assembly to abandon Senate Bill 1146. To ensure the future of the free exercise of religion in higher education in California and across America, we respectfully call on the supporters of Senate Bill 1146 to immediately withdraw their support of this bill, with the commitment to disavow similar intrusions in the future. Opposition to this bill is not grounded in the protection of religious liberty only, nor for the special pleading of one religion in particular, but for the protection of American society and American democracy. Such protection requires a civil society welcoming of religious diversity.

The future of a free America requires the full participation of religion in public life. Religious higher education cultivates both the mind and the soul. Senate Bill 1146 endangers the integrity of religious education institutions and discourages them from acting according to their conscience for fear of government retribution. As Americans with a rich legacy of freedoms afforded to us by the laws of nature and of nature’s God, and enshrined in the Constitution, we can do better. As we renew our commitment to religious pluralism in the public square, we should embrace debate, welcome dissent, and encourage civility as we work together for the sake of the common good and of a country we are all unreservedly blessed to call our home.

Click here for the list of signatories to the statement.