Category Archives: Social Issues

Revelation 7:9 Task Force evaluate “listening tour” input

 

Revelation79TaskForce201904At its second in-person meeting of 2019, the EPC’s Revelation 7:9 Task Force evaluated input and feedback received during its “listening tour” over the past seven months. Input came from a variety of sources, including an online survey of EPC pastors and individuals and organizations outside the EPC.

The group is tasked with studying how the EPC can better become a denomination that fulfills the great commandment and the great commission, and faithfully embraces and serves its neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language. (Revelation 7:9). The group met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, April 23-24.

The Task Force is co-chaired by TE Dean Weaver, Chair of the National Leadership Team, and TE Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn. Members are TE Tom Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Marc de Jeu, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE David Dwight, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Enid Flores, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Phyllis Le Peau, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Soon Pak, Presbytery of the Midwest; Beth Paz, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Brandon Queen, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Tim Russell, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Tom Werner, Presbytery of Mid-America; and Ted Winters, Presbytery of Mid-America.

Federal court rules minister’s housing allowance constitutional

 

HousingAllowanceRulingA three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled unanimously on March 15 that the housing allowance tax exemption for ministers is constitutional. The decision reversed a 2017 opinion by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb. Crabb ruled that the exemption provides an unconstitutional benefit to religious individuals, thereby violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit that led to the 2017 decision was brought by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The group was challenging a federal law passed in 1954, under which a “minister of the gospel” is exempt from income tax on compensation that is designated part of a housing allowance. The FFRF—which has fought against the housing allowance provision for more than 10 years—argued that the law discriminates against secular employees.

“I am thankful that with the Seventh Circuit’s decision, this matter is settled—at least for now,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I am confident that the FFRF and other atheist groups are not going to give up their fight easily, so we will continue to monitor the situation and keep our churches and ministers informed.”

Crabb also had ruled in 2013 that the housing allowance was unconstitutional—a decision that was overturned by the Seventh Circuit in November 2014. At the time, the appeals court stated that they did not rule on the “issue of the constitutionality of the parsonage exemption,” leading to the case being refiled under a different legal tactic.

In their most recent ruling, the judges declared that the 1954 law “falls into the play between the joints of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: neither commanded by the former, nor proscribed by the latter” and therefore neither endorses nor inhibits religion, and does not cause excessive government entanglement. The judges also noted that Congress has been providing federal tax exemptions for religious organizations as far back as 1802.

Writing for the panel, Judge Michael Brennan said that the primary effect of the housing allowance “is not to advance religion on behalf of the government, but to allow churches to advance religion, which is their very purpose. Providing a tax exemption does not connote sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement” of the government in religious activity.

EPC issues statement on abortion legislation

 

StatementOnAbortionLawsThe Evangelical Presbyterian Church has issued a formal statement in response to recent legislative action at the state level regarding abortion. The statement begins with the words, “In light of recent legislation at the state level regarding abortion, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church continues to strongly and unequivocally affirm the dignity and value of every human life—born and unborn.”

“I am very pleased to affirm Scripture’s very clear message that abortion is nothing other than the taking of an innocent life,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “At the same time, as Christians we are called to love and support those who have experienced the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds that result from a terminated pregnancy—whatever the reason.”

The full statement is as follows:

In light of recent legislation at the state level regarding abortion, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church continues to strongly and unequivocally affirm the dignity and value of every human life—born and unborn.

The EPC’s Position Paper on Abortion states that the Bible does not distinguish between prenatal and postnatal life. It attributes human personhood to the unborn child. This extends to the unborn child ex utero as no less a human being than the child in the mother’s womb.

Since abortion was legalized in the United States in 1973, more than 61 million Americans have been denied the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This concept is such a fundamental principle that it appears in the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, written almost 250 years ago.

Yet even more fundamental is the truth of Scripture, which was written more than 2,000 years ago and very clearly teaches that life begins at conception. To wit:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV).

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15 NIV).

“Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name” (Isaiah 49:1 NIV).

“for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born” (Luke 1:15 NIV).

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41 NIV).

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grieves over the murder of more than 61 million unborn children who were made in the image of God. We also stand in strong opposition to the legal and political decisions that have led to this tragedy. At the same time, we will continue to offer a loving and supportive community to those who have experienced physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds as a result of undergoing an abortion (or placing a child for adoption), and support those groups, parachurch ministries, and sponsoring agencies that offer viable alternatives to abortion.

Click here to download the statement in printable, PDF format.

 

Revelation 7:9 Task Force continues “listening tour”

 

Revelation79JanuaryMeetingMembers of the EPC’s Revelation 7:9 Task Force continue to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves its neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language as described Revelation 7:9. The group met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, February 5-6.

Continuing its focus on “input” during its first year, the group spent a significant portion of its meeting in discussions with individuals outside the EPC. These include Léonce Crump, Pastor of the multicultural Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga.; Michael Chen, National Director of Training and Cross-Cultural Ministry for the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO); and Michael Thornhill, CCO Associate Director of Cross-Cultural Ministry and Recruiting. The CCO is a strategic partner of the EPC.

“The hard and heavy work of listening—and listening well—is helped considerably by the support of friends and partners like Pastor Léonce and the CCO,” said Dean Weaver, Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, Pa. “I know I speak on behalf of the entire Revelation 7:9 team when I ask everyone in the EPC to please keep us in your prayers as we continue this important work.”

The Task Force is co-chaired by Weaver and TE Rufus Smith, Presbytery of the West. Members are TE Tom Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Marc de Jeu, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE David Dwight, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Enid Flores, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Phyllis Le Peau, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Soon Pak, Presbytery of the Midwest; Beth Paz, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Brandon Queen, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Tim Russell, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Tom Werner, Presbytery of Mid-America; and Ted Winters, Presbytery of Mid-America.

 

 

Revelation 7:9 Task Force begins work

 

Revelation79TaskForce

Members of the EPC Revelation 7:9 Task Force met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, November 13-14. The group was appointed by Moderator Tom Werner (standing) in response to a recommendation approved by the 38th General Assembly “to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves its neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9).”

In its first face-to-face meeting, the group discussed the scope of its work, reviewed preliminary results of an online survey sent to EPC pastors in October, and explored a variety of opportunities and potential challenges that could inform their work over the next two years.

“I am excited about the work of the Task Force,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Their first year can be summed up in one word: Input. They are not working in a vacuum, but seek to learn about our churches and communities from pastors and leaders in the EPC, as well as glean from the experiences of other denominations and organizations that have navigated these same waters in recent years.”

The Task Force is co-chaired by TE Rufus Smith, Presbytery of the West; and TE Dean Weaver, Presbytery of the Alleghenies. Members are TE Tom Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Marc de Jeu, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE David Dwight, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Enid Flores, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Phyllis Le Peau, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Soon Pak, Presbytery of the Midwest; Beth Paz, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Brandon Queen, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Tim Russell, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Tom Werner, Presbytery of Mid-America; and Ted Winters, Presbytery of Mid-America.

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.