Open Letter regarding PCUSA 2015 One Great Hour of Sharing materials

Dear Linda Valentine,

I am very concerned about the posters for the 2015 One Great Hour of Sharing campaign that were highlighted in the December 3 PNS story:  I find that these posters are quite offensive towards two groups that I minister to – those with addiction issues and people of color.

I am a Candidate for ordination and I am currently serving as the Resident Chaplain for the Capital Health hospital in Trenton, NJ.  Our hospital is an urban trauma center and is also the designated mental health in-patient crisis center for the county.  My particular floors include the trauma ICU and the in-patient mental health unit.

On both floors I work with patients suffering from addiction.  Some are victims of violence as a result of their addiction and are in the ICU.  Others are suffering from mental health issues including and related to their addiction.  Other patients are in the ICU because they have literally drunk or drugged themselves to death.

Those patients who survive and who will be released into the community generally express a desire to avoid the substance that they are addicted to.  They want to stay clean.  Those who come from a Christian background speak of needing God’s help to overcome their addiction.  I often recommend that these people connect with a church – either with the pastor or with the groups (AA, NA, Al-Anon, etc) that use the building.  On learning that I am Presbyterian, these people often express interest in getting help from a Presbyterian church.  In our area, there are many.

34323I would be horrified if any of these children of God that I spoke with walked into one of our churches and saw one of these posters.  Instead of the church providing a place of refuge for them, the church would reinforce the stigma that they already feel.  These ironic “jokes” aimed at addictions might be enough to send those church attenders with mental health issues back into the hospital.

Then the word brutiful started making sense sildenafil generic cheap to me, and I was getting the idea. If you have truly succeeded at moving your awareness-energy down into your body, your will likely notice your thoughts cheap viagra from usa are negative, you attract negative people and events into your world to match that inner image. A number of the issues that could be levitra generika efficiently remedied are very different varieties of discomfort, stress and anxiety, psychological disorders, despression symptoms, hypertension, menopausal and a few Acupuncture Ny alternative gynecological problems. All these ingredients are blended and processed in the decoction of Semal Musli, Gokhru and Sya Musli. cheap tadalafil no prescription Beyond the issue of addiction, these posters all include people of color, women, or the elderly.  I have also seen the presentation deck used by the ad agency back in September.  Only one of the five people presented was a white male, and he was middle-aged to elderly and his “drug addiction” was for a health issue.  The remaining figures were all people of color or women.  Are we really trying to imply that Asian girls have a drinking problem?  That Latino men get high?  At a glance, that’s exactly what these posters are implying.  If our aging Presbyterian audience suffers from presbyopia, the small print will never be read – those “ironic” messages will be all that people see.

specialofferings2_medium250I urge you to pull these posters from the campaign, and any other materials that use the drug addiction play on words.  I hope that an apology will be forthcoming for people with addictions and people of color.  And I hope that in light of this issue, and the 1001 New Worshiping Communities outside corporation debacle, that you will change procedures in Louisville to implement tighter program review.  It is my understanding that this campaign was presented to groups that highlighted these issues, and that their concerns were ignored.


Mark Smith
Hamilton, NJ

cc:       Marilyn Gamm, PMA
Sam Locke, Special Offerings
Terri Bate, Funds Development

For Everyone Born – a problematic hymn

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.  I went to the first new PC(USA) hymnal launch event in Pennsylvania last fall, and I’ve heard this hymn sung MANY times – at Field Ed, at General Assembly, at Princeton Seminary many times in chapel, at the Worship and Music conference.  This hymn is quickly becoming a favorite of churches and seminaries.

It’s catchy.  It’s easy to sing.  It has a central message of unity, though it stumbles with some equality concepts.  The refrain is really pretty and mentions all sorts of good things.

But it has a problem.  Several problems really, but I’m going to concentrate on one.  This problem has been pointed out to me by several friends.

Recently I’ve been noticing a pattern among my friends – primarily my female friends and close relatives.  I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at how many have been abused – usually physically or sexually.  It’s not that far from the truth to say that all adult women that I know well enough to have heard such stories have experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse.  Or controlling behavior.  ALL of them.  Some more than once.  I’m alarmed, and trying to figure out what to do with the anger.

For these friends (and certainly others), verse 4 of For Everyone Born is a problem.  Here’s the verse:

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,
(Copyright 1998, Hope Publishing)

At a first glance it seems pretty benign – that abuser and abused should be able to participate in the church and Eucharist equally.  We truly believe that.  It’s not really a problem.

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And worst of all – the abused is expected to be at the same table as the abuser.  THIS is psychologically damaging for everybody that has talked to me about this.  The idea of sitting at a table, a Holy Table, with one’s abuser is painful.  It causes panic attacks.  It causes anger.  One friend felt a call to walk out of a service in the middle of the hymn (though she didn’t).  This verse of this hymn turns our sanctuaries from places of safety to places of danger.  Danger in the triggering of abuse victims, and danger in the very real implication of sharing space with their abuser.

This becomes even more insidious when the abuser is a family member or significant other.  People who have suffered abuse have it repeated again through family pressures.  Family members urge or even demand that they reconcile with their abuser (often without knowledge of the abuse) “for the good of the family.”  The abused person becomes the problem in that they split the family, rather than having the responsibility for the split properly lodged with the abuser.  Some people continue years later to have nightmares about the abuser and the abuse, and this demand in this hymn can bring up all of that again.

The refrain calls on us to create justice, compassion and peace:

and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

I question whether any of these are possible when calling for abuser and abused to be in the same place.  The abused will not feel justice.  They will not feel compassion – they will feel the opposite.  They clearly will not feel peace, or joy.

I doubt that the hymn’s author intended to make this statement.  Still, the verse remains imbalanced.  Some call for repentance and reparation might balance it.  But perhaps it would be better just to leave it out.  When this hymn was sung as the Class Hymn at my Princeton Seminary graduation last May I chose not to sing this verse.  I almost sat down for the verse, but I was in a place where that would have been difficult and nobody would have understood what I was doing anyway.

So if you want to use this hymn, please consider skipping verse 4.  Or consider skipping the hymn entirely – there are other hymns that say the same thing without triggering the many (many more than you realize) victims of abuse.  Or at least know that you may have some work to do after it is sung.

An Open Letter to the Mayor and Council of Tenafly NJ

December 27, 2013

Dear Mayor Rustin and Council,

I don’t usually write letters like this.  But when I discovered this story from WPIX today, I felt compelled to write.

I am a former resident of Tenafly.  I lived about five blocks away from this Joyce Road home.  I walked by this street every day on the way to or from the Middle and High Schools.  My father was the principal of TMS for a number of years, and I am a 1986 graduate of THS.

The Tenafly shown by Mayor Rustin’s actions is not the Tenafly that I remember.

When I lived there, the town was made up of a mix of Christian and Jewish residents, with some other religions represented.  For the most part we coexisted peacefully.  We went to each others’ Confirmation and Bar/Bat Mitzvah services.  We shared each others’ Hanukkah and Christmas toys.  While I was there, the high school performed both Brigadoon (loosely based on Christianity) and The Diary of Anne Frank.  I remember seeing Christmas decorations and a large menorah at Huyler Park.
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I fail to see what is so offensive about candles in paper bags.  They are not overtly religious.  They do not directly pertain to any holiday.  They are simply pretty.  They were clearly not intended to offend, or even to send a religious message.

The “War on Christmas” idea is very much overblown in the media.  There is no war on Christmas in this country, where any religious holiday may be freely celebrated without fear of persecution or imprisonment.  But your actions fuel those who believe that there is such a war.  Your actions increase the divisions between religions in this country.

I urge you to apologize to the Alvator family, and to modify the relevant ordinance to allow for holiday displays.  I hope that you will work together to help create tolerance in a town divided.

Mark Smith


An Apology to Classical Presbyterian

March 26, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion, Shoot Yourself in the Foot, Weblogs 

A few weeks ago, Toby Brown on Classical Presbyterian published two articles (Here and Here) regarding his decision to file charges against the Rev. Janet Edwards for her performance of a lesbian civil union and related matters.

In Toby’s comments section, I took him to task for his decision (here, here, here, and here).  I stand by my words regarding the filing of charges in a case where the accuser does not know the defendant, does not have special knowledge of the situation, and where someone else who fits the other criteria is able to file the complaint.  However, I was intemperate in my remarks.

I had an “AHA!” moment regarding this today over at the Truth in Love blog.  I had imputed motives to Toby’s actions.  I do not live inside his head, and there is no hole in the wall behind my cubicle that allows me to inhabit his brain.  I cannot truly speak to his (or anybody else’s) motives for taking an action or making a statement.
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Toby – I am sorry for my less than reasonable language.  I am also sorry for assigning a motive (particularly a negative motive) to your action.  I will take steps to avoid a doing either again in the future, though I suspect that I will backslide again at some point.

Mea culpa.

Washington State Marriages – Children Required

February 6, 2007 by · 16 Comments
Filed under: Life, Religion, Shoot Yourself in the Foot 

(My alternate title:  The Gay Rights Movement Loses A Supporter Again)

The gay rights folks in Washington State have gone too far.  Once again, they have found a way to piss off straight supporters in their bid for gay marriage.

The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance is proposing a ballot initiative (957) that would:

  1. Require that heterosexual couples prove that they are able to have children before they can receive a marriage license, and
  2. Automatically annul any Washington marriage that fails to produce children within 3 years, and
  3. Require proof that couples married outside of Washington state file proof of procreation within 3 years of their wedding, or be labeled “unrecognized”, and
  4. Establish a process to prove procreation, and
  5. Make it a crime for people in an “unrecognized” marriage to receive marriage benefits.

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Carolyn and I have decided not to have children, for reasons that I don’t feel the need to go into here.  This would directly affect us if we lived in Washington.

The WDOMA folks clearly recognize that this is absurd.  They are hoping that challenges to this law would cause the Washington Supreme Court to overturn their previous ruling.

What this move fails to do is take into account the degree to which gay rights folks can anger their straight supporters.  Making my marriage illegal in order to try to make yours legal is not a good strategy.  It angers me.  I’ve been a strong supporter of gay rights, but if this type of move were to propagate across the country, I would drop that support – because MY marriage would be under attack by those whom I support.

Let’s face it – homosexual people are at most 10% of the population.  In order to have laws changed to support gay marriage, the support of a significant portion of the straight population is required.  This move – by directly attacking all heterosexuals INCLUDING YOUR SUPPORTERS – is doomed to fail.  Worse than that, it will erode the support of the gay rights movement among straight people.

Drop this attempt.  You are dangerously close to losing my support.  You NEED the support of straight people in order to achieve your agenda.

I Guess They’ll Skip Her House on Halloween …

In Durango, Colorado, two teenage girls (17 and 18) were successfully sued for delivering a gift of cookies to a neighbor’s house.

Wanita Renea Young was at home when her neighbors came over with a Random Act of Kindness – a few cookies.  They had been delivering cookies to their neighbors on Avenida Del Sol in Durango, CO for about an hour, having skipped a dance to be kind to their neighbors.  They even skipped houses that were dark – only going to houses where the light was on and someone was presumably up (at 10:30pm on a Friday summer night).

Ms. Young was so frightened by these scary girls (see picture with Follow Up story below) that she called the Sheriff.  The Sheriff didn’t see anything illegal.  She ended up going to the hospital with symptoms of a heart attack.

Wait – it gets better.  She later sued the girls, and won a judgment from a Small Claims Court judge (who is apparently very small himself) for $900 in medical costs, plus $1 in damages.
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The good news is that the kids are alright.  MANY people have offered to pay their costs.  They’ll even be going to NYC to appear on Good Morning America. (Followup #1)

But then it gets even worse.  Apparently, Wanita Young’s husband won’t stop calling the girls’ house.  Herb Young is the subject of a restraining order requested by the father of one of the girls. (Followup #2)

Wanita Young – you are truly a hard-hearted person.

An Open Letter to Charities Regarding Over-Soliciting and Telephone Solicitation

September 16, 2004 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Life, Shoot Yourself in the Foot 

Dear Charity Fundraising Personnel,

My wife and I make a good living. We have also made the decision not to have children, so our expenses are comparatively lower than people with children. That means that we have a little extra money. We believe in donating to charities that help people. We also believe in spreading our money widely rather than concentrating on one or two causes.

Unfortunately, it seems that you regard a donor as another name to be sold to other charities. This causes LOTS of mail at my house. Additionally, some of you feel that if I gave once, I’ll give again – right away. That ADDS to the pile of mail. The end result of this is that we now receive 3 or 4 letters per day from charities wanting our money.

What effect does that have on you? There are a few:
1. Most solicitations from charities that we have never donated to are recycled unopened.
2. All solicitations from charities who mail to us too often (once a week in some cases) are recycled unopened.
3. Many solicitations from charities that we do donate to are caught up in the above, and recycled unopened.

There’s just too much mail coming in wanting my money. This Presidential Election year has made it worse. My wife and I are registered in opposite parties, and BOTH parties seem to feel that we’ll donate to them – even to Senate candidates from other states! It’s gotten to the point where I want to consider stopping donations just to cut down on the amount of mail.

When it comes to telephone solicitations, things are even worse. Our telephone numbers are on the national and state Do Not Call lists. Now I know that charities are exempt from those rules, but what makes you think that I want to have my dinner interrupted by a rude person demanding my charity money anymore than I want the interruption from someone selling a timeshare? We are sufficiently upset by this that we have made a rule – we will NOT donate to someone who solicits money via telephone AT ALL. No phone pledges, and no mailed donations either. You call us, you’re cut off!

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1. Be a cause or charity that we believe in. It’s a very good sign if we’ve given you money in the past – you’re likely to get more. It also helps if you have a good reputation for putting most of your donations to work, rather than using them to raise more.
2. Send us a letter requesting funds once or twice a YEAR. I make my donations based on the amount that I want you to get for the whole year. Asking me more often isn’t going to make me give more – it’s going to annoy me and you’ll get less.
3. For Pete’s Sake – don’t send me a letter with suggested donation amounts where the lowest amount is MORE than I gave last year. That’s just pushy. Maybe I can give you more that last year, and maybe I will. Maybe I have reasons that I don’t want to give as much as last year – because I’ve chosen to allocate my charity money differently or because my finances are tighter. When I give you $100 one year, and your letter lists options of $150, $300, and $500 you’re telling me that you see me like a big piggy bank. Try $100, $150, and $200. Or better yet, $75, $100, and $150. I use Quicken and keep track – when I put your name into the electronic checkbook it tells me exactly what I gave you last time.
4. Don’t EVER, EVER CALL ME. That will get you a polite request to put me on your Do Not Call list, and a complete stoppage of donations. Repeated calls will get you an FTC or state complaint. It’s perfectly fine to call me to ask if I’ll participate in your activity (work on houses, serve at the soup kitchen, walk in a fundraiser, donate blood), but DON’T CALL ASKING FOR MONEY.
5. Sometimes, I only want to donate once. Maybe my deceased aunt or her family requested a donation to the “whatever disease she had” fund. I want to honor her memory in a more permanent way than flowers, so I donate to your charity. That doesn’t mean that I’m now a convert to the cause and want to donate again.

Follow those rules, and you’ll stop wasting money on mailed solicitations and phone calls, and start putting my money where it should be – to serve the end goals of the organization.


Mark Smith

(I’ve submitted this to the Outside the Beltway Traffic Jam)

No More Ladies Night in NJ

The NJ State Division of Civil Rights has ruled that “Ladies’ Night” in bars in the state is illegal.

For those of you not familiar with the concept – Ladies’ Night was a special night each week where the bar allowed women free cover charge and reduced drink prices.

This article from the Home News Tribune details the story.

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I’m a little torn on this one, because it really is discriminatory. However, the whole idea was created to draw women into the bars in the first place on slow weeknights, in order to give men a reason to be there (and to buy drinks). Mr. Gillespie has managed to shoot his entire gender in the foot on this one.

Don’t worry – the Governor (who’s fighting for his job at the moment) is against this ruling, calling it “bureaucratic nonsense”.