From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
PHEWA AWARD WINNER CASTIGATES CHURCH, GOVERNMENT
05 May 1996 07:32:51
95011 PHEWA AWARD WINNER CASTIGATES CHURCH, GOVERNMENT
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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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