The Office of Public Witness: a public policy ministry
The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is the public policy information and advocacy office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Its task is to advocate, and help the church to advocate, the social witness perspectives and policies of the Presbyterian General Assembly. The church has a long history of applying these biblically and theologically-based insights to issues that affect the public — maintaining a public policy ministry in the nation's capital since 1946.
Reformed theology teaches that because a sovereign God is at work in all the world, the church and Christian citizens should be concerned about public policy. In addition, Presbyterian forefather John Calvin wrote, "Civil magistery is a calling not only holy and legitimate, but by far the most sacred and honorable in human life."
A presence in Washington, D.C.
Ministry in Washington offers a chance to translate the church's deep convictions about justice, peace and freedom from words into reality. The political process is where decisions are made that help or harm people; decisions that help to make the kind of world God intends.
Office of Public Witness staff members visit national policy-makers and their staff, write letters, make phone calls and occasionally testify before Congress or facilitate the testimony of church leaders. This involvement helps to clarify the moral and ethical issues at stake in public policy. The goal is to make clear to people in government what the General Assembly is concerned about, why, and what can be done to respond to those concerns.
By adopting a study entitled, "Why and How the Church Makes a Social Policy Witness", the 205th General Assembly (1993) emphasized the importance of the church's social witness policies and programs. Along with affirming that God alone is Lord of the conscience, the study affirms "the responsibility and authority of the church to make a social witness policy which guides that witness. The church, if it is to remain true to its biblical roots, theological heritage, and contemporary practice, must not fall silent. It must speak faithfully, truthfully, persuasively, humbly, boldly and urgently."
Over 60 Years ...
In 1936, the former United Presbyterian Church in the USA developed the Department of Social Education and Action. Presbyterians have always been known as political advocates; however this new Department created the first organized national effort. Knowing the value of Washington representation, the Department hired Fern Colborn in 1946 to maintain an office and a secretary on Eleventh St. NW in Washington, DC. This became the first Presbyterian Washington Office. Since then, the Washington Office has been led by several directors and many dedicated issue staff.
Make a Difference ... Enroll as a Presbyterian Advocate!
An important part of the Office of Public Witness ministry is to provide ways for all Presbyterians to express their concerns to people in government in a timely and effective manner. Toward this end, Presbyterians can join the Witness in Washington Weekly (WiWW) program of public policy advocacy. Once subscribed to WiWW, Presbyterians will receive a weekly email message on issues in Washington. Participants receive action bulletins, special action alerts, theological and General Assembly guidance, and the bimonthly Washington Report to Presbyterians. When someone makes a personal commitment to WiWW, he/she joins with many other Presbyterians working to seek justice and peace in our nation and world. To subscribe to either WiWW the weekly message or the online version of the bi-monthly Report to Presbyterians from Washington, visit our subscription page.
What Does Scripture Say About Justice?
Throughout the Bible, scripture reveals God's will to do justice. The Hebrew prophets continually remind God's people "...What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). The prophets give specific warning to those who seek only their own well-being and ignore the well-being of the marginalized and oppressed. Israel's failure to be just and righteous is clearly seen as disobedient to God and the reason for national decay and destruction.
Jesus frequently witnessed to the priority of the poor in the reign of God. He challenged the rich young ruler, he sharply criticized the hard-heartedness of religious leaders, and he taught that those who reached out to marginalized persons were serving him (Luke 18:18-25, Matthew 19:16-24 and Luke 10:25-37). In addition, Christ speaks of the accountability of nations to do justice in Matthew 25 and states, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
Biblical & Theological Perspectives
Over the years, leading Presbyterians have written perspectives for the Office of Public Witness concerning the church and politics. We have compiled several essays into one resource. To download the essays, visit our theology page.
Christian & Citizen Election Year Resource
This election year resource is available online. It contains various items of use to congregations during an election year and in preparation for Christian & Citizen Sunday on the Presbyterian Planning Calendar.
Office of Public Witness Staff Directory
Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Director of Public Witness
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Associate for International Issues
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Associate for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues
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