From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:32:51


                     by Jerry L. Van Marter 
Editor's note:  This story contains some language that may be 
offensive to some. -- Jerry L. Van Marter 
NEW ORLEANS--Ravaged by the AIDS virus that one day soon will kill 
him, the Rev. Matt English seized the last opportunity he will 
probably have to speak publicly to lash out at those in the 
Presbyterian Church and society he said have made him feel like he 
"has been tossed in the trash and discarded like a leper." 
     Barely able to walk or catch his breath, English spoke to the 
Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) Jan. 
14 during its 1995 biennial conference after receiving its 1995 
John Park Lee Award for outstanding social welfare ministry.  He 
was honored for his work as executive director of North Dallas 
Shared Ministries, an ecumenical social service agency supported 
by 41 congregations in that city. 
      After struggling to the podium to accept his award, English 
drew guffaws when he wise-cracked, "You have just witnessed 
`creeping socialism.'" 
     There was little laughter after that.  In his acceptance 
speech, English excoriated "fascists and fundamentalists in the 
Presbyterian Church who believe only they know who belongs. ... 
They want to exclude, but according to Jesus, as soon as they 
exclude, they are out and everyone else is in -- the God of 
exclusion is not the God we know in Jesus." 
     He then criticized groups such as Presbyterians for Biblical 
Sexuality, describing them as "penis-pushers who would stick a 
penis on God so they can protect male dominance of the church and 
     English questioned whether such groups have read the Bible.  
"Do they want a biblical sexuality in which polygamy is the norm, 
not to mention harems and concubines and temple prostitutes?  Do 
they want a biblical sexuality in which rape and incest are 
commonplace and accepted behavior?  Do they want a biblical 
sexuality in which Paul frowns on marriage?  I don't think they've 
read the Bible at all," he thundered. 
     English leveled some of his bitterest criticism at the Board 
of Pensions.  "I've worked all my career to feed the hungry and now 
I'm being starved by the Board of Pensions," he complained.  
English said that after he was forced onto disability by his 
illness, his income declined by 75 percent.  He lost his house and 
car and now moves from friend's house to friend's house in 
     Board of Pensions representatives who were in attendance at 
the PHEWA conference said English's income could only have dropped 
so precipitously if he had opted out of Social Security (a choice 
given to ministers on the grounds of sepAration of church and 
state).  Pension and disability benefits are calculated on the 
presumption of participation in Social Security. 
     In a subsequent interview with the Presbyterian News Service, 
Board of Pensions president John Detterick confirmed that the Board 
had paid the maximum benefit allowed to English "given the 
circumstances of his participation in the plan."  He added that the 
details of each plan member's participation in the pension and 
health plan is confidential information. 
     Nevertheless, Board of Pensions staff member the Rev. Jack 
McAnlis told the PHEWA gathering, "the church should find ways to 
insure that no one falls through the cracks the way Matt has." 
     English also claimed that Dallas-based Grace Presbytery has 
neglected him.  "It feels like the Presbyterian Church has tossed 
me in the trash, discarded me like a leper." 
     But Christa Dixon, a member of Grace Presbytery, said that 
English's AIDS-induced memory loss caused him to forget assistance 
the presbytery has tried to provide.  She said the presbytery has 
also had great difficulty locating English since he moved from 
Dallas to northern California last summer. 
     English said he left Dallas after losing his house "because 
the Presbyterian mayor made destitution a crime in order to get the 
homeless people off the streets before the World Cup soccer matches 
arrived."  He also criticized government policies he charged make 
medicine and nutritional supplements for AIDS sufferers either 
impossible to attain or prohibitively expensive. 
     "It's funny, though," English continued, "I find that while 
the church has screwed me, God is good to me and I find Jesus all 
the time in strangers." 
     English also praised PHEWA.  "You keep me going from day to 
day and I want to encourage you to keep on because out there on the 
margins, among the marginalized, is where God's commonwealth in 
Jesus is being created." 
     He concluded by dedicating his award "to all the marginal 
people of the world." 
     A spontaneous offering -- bread baskets passed around the 
luncheon tables -- collected $1,000 and was given to English. 
                  Another Award Winner Responds 
     Later in the day, at the PHEWA business meeting, the 
association was praised by the Rev. David Cockroft for giving 
English a time and place to speak. 
     "PHEWA was at its finest as it presented the John Park Lee 
Award to the Rev. Matt English at lunchtime today," said Cockroft, 
pastor emeritus at Riverdale Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, N.Y.  
He made his remarks after receiving PHEWA's Rodney T. Martin Award 
for sustained service to the organization. 
     "This is one of the few places in this church," Cockroft said, 
"where someone who is dying, someone who is angry -- an anger which 
is not pleasant even without the language, which might have 
offended some people -- can have a place." 
     Cockroft, who said he "junked" his previously prepared 
acceptance speech after hearing English, continued, "Sometimes 
things cannot be done `decently and in order,' but who knows where 
the Spirit is at work?  Maybe we saw the face of Christ today.  I 
don't know.  All I know is that this beloved church of ours needs 
to be shaken up.  We need to get beyond the petty squabbles that 
seem to consume so much of our energy.  We need to learn, without 
glossing over or covering up anything, how to live together."  
            One PHEWA Network Responds with Statement 
     Also at the business meeting, Community Ministries and 
Neighborhood Organizations (COMANO), the PHEWA-related network with 
which English is affiliated, issued a statement intended primarily 
for the press.  Read into the record by the Rev. Robert Brashear 
of Pittsburgh, it said: 
     "Everything we do we do out of the daily living out of our 
ministries, ministries to which we have been called by God, 
ministries for which we offer no apology. 
     "Know that although only one of our networking groups bears 
the name `community ministries,' each and every one of our networks 
is a community ministry.  And we, together, constitute a community. 
     "Know that if some of us are concerned about mental illness, 
it is becasue there are those in our midst who wrestle daily with 
those demons and we are called for Jesus' sake to wrestle with 
     "Know that if some of us are concerned about alcohol and other 
drug abuse it is because there are those in our midst who wrestle 
daily with those demons and we are called for Jesus' sake to 
wrestle with them. 
     "Know that if there are those among us who are concerned about 
disabilities, it is because there are those in our midst who 
struggle daily with barriers, some physical and others only in the 
human heart, and we are called for Jesus' sake to struggle with 
     "And know that if there are those among us who are concerned 
about AIDS, it is not because of any agenda to ordain anyone, but 
because there are those in our midst who live and die daily with 
AIDS -- gay and straight, male and female, adult and child.  And 
we are called for Jesus' sake to live and die with them. 
     "And know that if there are any of our elected officers who 
are gay and lesbian, it is not because of any issue that we went 
looking for them but because they were already here, in our midst, 
endowed by God with ministries that we cannot give up or refuse to 
     "So when you write about us, we call upon you to understand 
what it means to live and speak within community, and if you cannot 
understand, then, for Jesus' sake, respect the integrity of our 
community and the dignity of each and every member of our 
     "For we are not here because of issues, nor are we here to 
argue about doctrine or theology, as much as they undergird all 
that we do.   
     "But we are here to encourage and expand the living out of our 
ministries -- literally ministries of life and death, whether that 
death be the subtle death of exclusion by community or church, or 
whether that death be the literal slow agonizing living death of 
AIDS, or the sudden death of children shot dead on our doorsteps. 
     "And so, for Jesus' sake, we invite you, we call on you and 
those you report to, to join with us in these ministries, either 
through your direct participation or through prayers of solidarity. 
     "And if you do not so choose, then, for Jesus' sake, remain 
silent and harass not.  Is it a witness to us Presbyterians that 
a secular blues bar here in New Orleans has as its slogan: `Heal 
Ever, Hurt Never'?" 
                       A Note About PHEWA 
     PHEWA is a voluntary membership organization of Presbyterians 
dedicated to the social welfare and justice ministries of the 
church.  It is related to the National Ministries Division of the 
General Assembly Council and is organized into 10 networks that 
focus on particular types of social ministry. 
     The 10 PHEWA networks are Community Ministries and 
Neighborhood Organizations (COMANO); Presbyterian AIDS Network 
(PAN); Presbyterians Reaffirming Reproductive Options (PARO); 
Presbyterian Association of Specialized Pastoral Ministries 
(PASPM); Presbyterian Child Advocacy Network (PCAN); Presbyterians 
for Disabilities Concerns (PDC); Presbyterian Health Network (PHN); 
Presbyterian Network on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (PNAODA); 
Presbyterian Mental Illness Network (PMIN); and Urban Presbyterian 
Pastors Association (UPPA). 
                            # # # 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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