Stated clerk backs public employees’ collective bargaining rights

Parsons: dignity of labor theologically connected to doctrine of vocation

March 3, 2011


The Rev. Gradye Parsons, General Assembly stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has written a letter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, urging him to call off a plan to balance the state budget in part by de-unionizing state workers.

Parsons’ letter backs a Feb. 19 call from the Presbytery of John Knox ― based in Madison, Wisc. —  for Walker “and Wisconsin’s other elected representatives to enter into good-faith negotiations with Wisconsin’s public employee unions to deal with Wisconsin’s current budget issues and to respect the rights of all workers to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.”

Parsons and other religious leaders are also appealing to President Obama “to take measures to preserve the integrity of government promises and the health of local and regional economies.”

The full text of Parsons’ letter to Walker, dated Feb. 28:

I am writing on behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on the matter of collective bargaining by public employees of state governments. The policies of our General Assembly, the highest governing council of our church, have repeatedly addressed matters of unionization and collective bargaining. We fully support the urgent communication you have received from the John Knox Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), our regional judicatory based in Madison, Wisconsin, and repeat what they have quoted for you-a portion of our long-standing commitment to the right of workers to bargain collectively:

The 1995 General Assembly statement ("God's Work in Our Hands") specifically provides: "Justice demands that social institutions guarantee all persons the opportunity to participate actively in economic decision making that affects them. All workers ... have the right to choose to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining."

Therefore, The Presbytery of John Knox, meeting on February 19,2011 in Muscoda, Wisconsin, called upon Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin's other elected representatives to enter into good-faith negotiations with Wisconsin's public employee unions to deal with Wisconsin's current budget issues and to respect the rights ofall workers to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

As Presbyterians we base the rights of all workers, corporations and governments in a doctrine of covenant or mutual accountability that undergirds all contracts and includes our social contract in the United States. We share with many people of faith the conviction that collective bargaining is a concrete measure by which burdens and benefits are shared in a manner deeply consistent with both our faith and our democratic values. Our doctrine of vocation affirms that all human beings have a calling from God to serve the common good.

It is our understanding that your state workers have already agreed to significant sacrifices as an appropriate part of the overall effort to reduce expenses. To take away their future right to collective bargaining is an attack on a basic principle, rather than simply a cost-cutting measure. We challenge your administration to embody fairness and the sharing of burdens in your tax and wage policies, and to lead by your own example.

To learn more about the PC(USA)’s historic understanding of collective bargaining, unions and labor relations, read the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s compilation of related General Assembly actions.

  1. I'm sorry that the clerk has to suffer such incivility when he carries out his job. He is not speaking just for himself but for the church. He is speaking from already agreed upon social policy that has been vetted through appropriate Presbyterian polity. You may not agree with it. I often find my own thoughts are not inline with denominational policy. But as part of the Presbyterian Church I am willing to respect the polity whose processes sometimes yield a majority view different from my own. If you don't like a spirituality that is incarnational (in other words, political) then you will not be able to walk in the way of Jesus who came into the midst of our living human institutions to show us the way. Friends you have just been through Lent and the celebration of Easter. Did you miss the fact that Jesus life and death was political? Whether you are Republican or Democrat or Independent, and Presbyterian -- If you are not comfortable with a spirituality that has the Bible in one hand and the Newspaper in the other you are probably never going to be comfortable as a Presbyterian (If comfort and agreement is what you are seeking).

    by Lorne Bostwick

    May 5, 2011

  2. I agree with many who state that this political fray required no intercession by the Presbyterian or any other church and I feel it reflects badlly on the denomination. As Christians I believe we should pray for our leaders to make good decisions; and in this matter on both sides I think they could have used more of such prayers! As a specific denomination/speaker, I think the GA should be apolitical. I have been dismayed in the past by political comments from Presbyterian leadership that seem to claim to speak for all of the members. Because these comments are "timely", I feel they often do not reflect the majority of Presbyterians because they are made before polling the members to see how many are in agreement with the statements.

    by Jean Salzwedel

    April 22, 2011

  3. Thank you Rev. Gradye Parsons for standing up for justice in Wisconsin on behalf of PCUSA. I am sorry for the negative political responses. You were not partisan as the workers are not partisan, but standing up for workers' rights. You wrote about principles of our church as modeled by Jesus.

    by Elder Marian Seagren Hall

    April 16, 2011

  4. As a member of the PCUSA, I am appalled that our church continues to make statements where the will of Christ cannot be known with any level of certainty and anyone who says that it is known on this issue is guilty of hubris and pride. The language in the initial statement in support of collective bargaining should not have been made and is another example of the GA and presbyteries making decisions without the consultation (or even diligent informing) of the broader membership.

    by Michael Spires

    March 22, 2011

  5. Matt Ferguson said it well: another example of things we do wrong in PC(USA). The Clerk sure doesn't speak for this Presbyterian!

    by David Boyd - Elder/Clerk of Session

    March 15, 2011

  6. As my late father, a Presbyterian pastor for over 40 years, used to say ' politics and political posturing are more prevalent within the church than you'll find almost anywhere else.' He was so right, as evidenced by this diatribe. If our so-called denominational leaders feel it necessary to get involved in a debate such as this, I'd suggest they get ALL the facts before taking a position. Either they didn't do it in this case, or they chose to ignore some of the facts.

    by James

    March 10, 2011

  7. Gradye Parsons was acting on behalf of the Presbytery of John Knox and the long tradition the Presbyterian Church, USA has had in standing for justice and human rights. The General Assembly in 2008 Passed a Social Creed for the 21st Century in commemoration of one hundred years of our church's affirmation of standing with people negotiating for their human rights. This was a General Assembly vote and represented the larger church. The right of working people to organize and negotiate still stands on the books. Richard

    by Richard Poethig

    March 9, 2011

  8. Rev. Parsons writes his letter based on social policies of our denomination, which were approved by commissioners to General Assembly, who are both elders and ministers of word and sacrament! (For example, he quotes from "God's Work in Our Hands," from the 1995 General Assembly.)

    by Schaunel Steinnagel

    March 8, 2011

  9. Parsons' action is outrageous and disgusting. I am ashamed of our "leadership" in Louisville.

    by Ben Boyd

    March 7, 2011

  10. The general assembly has again exhibited its liberal agenda. I think the statement represents the views of the stated clerk.

    by dale german

    March 5, 2011

  11. This clerk should be censured!

    by Fre derick Dick

    March 5, 2011

  12. Thank you, Gradye, for your support of workers and negotiation rather than the bald exercise of power. When the church stops speaking truth to power, it stops being the church.

    by Rev. Susan Gilbert Zencka

    March 5, 2011

  13. Rev. Parsons used the phrase "As Presbyterians we..." in his letter to Gov. Walker concerning the teachers union dispute in Wisconsin. The political policy in question is irrelevant. It could be replaced with any other political policy. The relevant aspect of this letter is the "We Presbyterians..." refrain that's wielded as a political weapon. The Presbyterian Church is not a labor union. We are a unified group like a union, but we are not unified for the same reason: to exert power over others. Labor unions are unified to make collective demands on business and government. When the political union of "We Presbyterians" is used to inflict pressure on government to achieve political ends, righteous denominational unity is exploited. A church unified in Christ is paramount. A church unified in current events and politics is worthless. Let's focus our collective power on God's kingdom--not our own kingdoms.

    by Virginia Cruse

    March 5, 2011

  14. "As Presbyterians we base the rights of all workers, corporations and governments in a doctrine of covenant or mutual accountability that undergirds all contracts and includes our social contract in the United States." If this is indeed the case, then it follows that the PCUSA ought not to object to churches that wish to leave the denomination if 10-A passes. If 10-A passes, the PCUSA will have fundamentally altered the terms of the 'social contract' under which the denomination was founded. The only just thing to do would be to allow churches that object to this egregious violation of the social contract to opt out of the union.

    by Jake

    March 5, 2011

  15. There are 22 right to work states of which many have a stong Presbyterian presence. I am wondering what our stated clerk Mr. Parsons is going to write these states concerning their theology, their social work justice and their collective bargaining or lack of it. Are these 22 states wrong and living in sin? I anxiously await Mr. Parsons letter to all the presbyteries as well as the governors of these states. Maybe the voice crying in the wilderness from Louisville could help correct the work ethic for these 22 states! It seems to me that to address one and not the other is a little hypocritical.

    by Kenneth Davis

    March 4, 2011

  16. Once again the GA lobby takes on an issue on which the church membership is likely to be evenly divided. On various issues I read that our church has issued proclamations that are opposed to the thinking and voting of many of us. Why do you claim to speak for all members?

    by Mary Shell

    March 4, 2011

  17. Keep the church out of politics and politics out of the church. This has nothing to do with salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, and is flagrantly unbiblical (see Romans 13 for a start.)

    by Greg Scandlen

    March 4, 2011

  18. As Christians our faith should play into every aspect of our lives. The question here is not about whether or not PC(USA) should be taking a stance on it, for surely they should be, but is the stance being taken reflecting the teachings given to us in the OT and NT, as well as our doctrine and theology.

    by Liz

    March 4, 2011

  19. As Christians our faith should play into every aspect of our lives. The question here is not about whether or not PC(USA) should be taking a stance on it, for surely they should be, but is the stance being taken reflecting the teachings given to us in the OT and NT, as well as our doctrine and theology.

    by Liz

    March 4, 2011

  20. This is a good example of things we do wrong in the PCUSA.

    by Matt Ferguson

    March 4, 2011

  21. I am a life long Presbyterian. I have seen the membership numbers going down and wonder when we will bottom out. Presbyterians are not all of one voice when it comes to fact that is the beauty of our church we have diversified opinions and can disagree without being disagreeable. But, our leadership continues to embarass us with their unnecessary public participation in actions that do not apply to our faith. This is flat out political not religious discussion.

    by Barbara Enlow

    March 4, 2011

  22. Does the GA know if its view represents its membership? Will the GA issue a statement asking public unions and politicians to respect the limited resources of taxpayers? Will the GA support its private sector members who have been greatly adversely affected by the economy and who pay for every job in the public sector?

    by Jeff M

    March 4, 2011

  23. I support the "right to work" states. I do not support the idea that any group can hold the majority of people hostage. Open discussion-yes. Strong arm-no. Unions have served their purpose in the past, but now are selfish and self serving and infringe on the rights of others. I am very disappointed that the Church is involving itself in this.

    by John Rogers

    March 4, 2011

  24. The church (any church) has no business in this on either side. I am disappointed that Rev. Parsons and to a greater extent PC(USA) a) felt it was important to become involved in this and B) allow it to happen. We need to support the people who are suffering, but to make a statement supporting one political agenda over another (and that is all this is in the end) on a state level is totally beyond the national church and its duty. No matter how this comes out, black eyes will abound everywhere and now PC(USA) has been unnecessarily brought into this street fight and will wind up with one as well. I am very disappointed in my church.

    by Charles Layno

    March 3, 2011