Poverty

MIGRANT JUSTICE AND BEN & JERRY’S REACH GROUNDBREAKING AGREEMENT TO IMPLEMENT NEW, TRANSFORMATIVE WORKER-LED LABOR INITIATIVE IN DAIRY INDUSTRY

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Burlington, VT—October 3, 2017

Ben & Jerry’s and Migrant Justice have reached an historic agreement to implement the worker-driven Milk with Dignity (MD) Program in Ben & Jerry’s Northeast dairy supply chain.  Over the past two years, the parties have worked tirelessly to accomplish their shared goal to bring together farmworkers, farmers, and dairy buyers to ensure just and dignified working conditions in Ben & Jerry’s northeast dairy supply chain. Now, farmworkers and Ben & Jerry’s are ready to go, pivoting to a new partnership to implement this groundbreaking, worker-led initiative. Work will begin this fall on a multi-year plan with the goal of eventually sourcing 100% of Ben & Jerry’s milk through the MD Program and a holistic dairy program that addresses all key aspects of dairy farming.

Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program, modeled after the world-renowned Fair Food Program, enlists the resources of food industry leaders, such as Ben & Jerry’s, to provide a premium for dairy ingredients to participating farmers who agree to work towards compliance with the labor standards in the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct. The premium paid to farmers helps offset farms’ costs of compliance with the Code, rewards farms that comply, and allows farmers to pass-through a portion of the premium as a bonus paid to workers. In the Milk with Dignity Program, compliance on the farm is achieved through a unique partnership and problem-solving approach among farmers, farmworkers, and the Milk with Dignity Standards Council (MDSC). The MDSC is an independent non-profit that works with farmers and farmworkers to understand, participate in, and achieve compliance with labor standards in the Code. 

 

A group of farmworkers, supporters and Ben & Jerry’s employees stood outside the company’s flagship store on Vermont’s iconic Church Street, where farmworker organizer and former dairy worker Enrique Balcazar shared, “This is an historic day for dairy workers. We have worked tirelessly to get here, and now, we move forward towards a new day for us dairy workers.  This is a huge step forward for us and for all workers and we appreciate that Ben & Jerry’s has taken a leadership role to source its milk in a way that improves working and housing conditions on dairy farms.”

“This is a ground breaking, historic moment not only for two organizations, but most importantly for the hard working dairy farm workers who are a critical part of our community.” Solheim acknowledged how key the farmers and cooperative are to making the next steps of program implementation possible, sharing that this program will result in a win-win for all involved. “Vermont’s farmers can continue to set the tone for the dairy industry. Today, whether it is for animal care, environmentally sound operations, and now, enhanced labor practices, Vermont’s farming community will continue to lead the nation. We are proud of our partnership with the St. Albans Cooperative and these farmers have our full commitment. We recognize the many challenges facing the Vermont dairy farmers today, and we need to do what we can collectively to support the farmers moving forward. We can’t do this without them.”

Both organizations put pen to paper at the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop in their shared hometown of Burlington, Vermont. The plan now is to put the buyer’s agreement into practice by recruiting farmers from St. Albans Cooperative to join the Program as soon as possible.  Ben & Jerry’s has committed to work towards the goal of sourcing 100% of its dairy ingredients through the Milk with Dignity Program over a period of years.  Moving forward, The MD Program will be one of the focused “pillars” of Ben & Jerry’s new dairy sourcing to address the full farm ecosystem.

For more information about Migrant Justice, Milk with Dignity, or Ben & Jerry’s follow the links below:

Migrant Justice: http://migrantjustice.net/

Milk with Dignity:https://migrantjustice.net/milk-with-dignity

Ben & Jerry’s:www.benjerry.com/

About Migrant Justice
Our mission is to build the voice, capacity, and power of the farmworker community and engage community partners to organize for economic justice and human rights. We gather the farmworker community to discuss and analyze shared problems and to envision collective solutions. Through this ongoing investment in leadership development, members deepen their skills in community education and organizing for long-term systemic change. From this basis our members have defined community problems as a denial of rights and dignity and have prioritized building a movement to secure these fundamental human rights to: 1) Dignified Work and Quality Housing; 2) Freedom of Movement and Access to Transportation; 3) Freedom from discrimination; 4) Access to Health Care.

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Connect, Engage, Grow!

By Rev. JanJay Innis

I had just graduated from Seminary. Unlike many of my peers who knew what iteration of ministry they were called to, I was uncertain. However, learning about God's preferential treatment for the poor and marginalized had transformed me and I wanted to use my faith to help repair the world.  Still uncertain about what I wanted to do with my theological degree, I became a missionary to have a nuanced understanding of how the church could better connect with society and facilitate social change on micro and meso and macro levels.

I applied for young adult mission service with Global Ministries wanting to serve in Liberia where I am originally from, but God called me to serve in the United States where I'd been living for more than half of my life. I was led to the understanding that though the US and western European countries had been at the forefront of sending missionaries to third world countries in the 21st century in attempts to Christianize them, mission had to be more about working together to restore a world broken and divided because of the failure to see all persons in the image of God and bearing gifts to bring about the changes they needed. Such ideologies had caused many social ills that led to vulnerable populations working tirelessly to survive while greed , prejudice and misused power stratified a privileged few  to the top in the name of upward mobility. The US is an eternal case study for said problems and persons of faith need to be at the full front, speaking truth to power and seeking justice with the marginalized . I'd been shaped by US politics and policies whether I was aware of it or not. So, I trained for and became a US-2 missionary to utilize my right as a citizen to shift the nation's consciousness and actions to what was right in the ways I was capable of . I became a Social Justice Advocate at Tacoma Community House in Tacoma, Washington. There, I told the success stories of Refugees and Immigrants in efforts to help transform the anti-immigrant sentiments and narratives that were circulating around the country. I helped break down policies that were pertinent to the lives of refugees and immigrants to a basic level of understanding and coordinated self advocacy visits for them at the state level. I also led voter registration campaigns encouraging newly naturalized citizens to register to vote. In addition, as social media exposed racial violence across the country, I found myself deeply committed to anti-racism work as a self interest but also as a way to open up candid dialogues in the church about America's original sin of racism.  

With faith being the primary lens through which I read the world, my theological education gave me the theory to connect  my faith to justice work and my time as a US-2 gave me the opportunity live out this theory in practice. I am currently 3 months into my first appointment as a pastor in a multicultural community where on any given day of the week, people walk into the church needing food, jobs or a shelter because they are victims of human trafficking. I am overwhelmed by the experiences thus far but I know with God's help, I have been able to connect them to resources they need and motivate the church to assist and love towards solutions to some of the problems because mission work has taught me how to do that. 

If you're a young adult between the ages of 20-30 or know such a person with a heart that is equally passionate for the abundant living of people as well as their faith,  know that the two can intersect and can be applied to all areas of interest and skill sets. Explore those intersections by applying to become Global Mission Fellow!

Rev. JanJay Innis serves as a clergyperson in the North Georgia Annual Conference and is a member of the MFSA Board of Directors. 

Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update!

Monday, March 20th, 2017
Watch a video update from the Co-Chairs of our Board of Directors: Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update
 
Dear Justice Seeking People of Faith,
 
This weekend the MFSA Board of Directors met and we want to share with you a little bit about what we’ve been up to!
 
MFSA adopted an Intersectional Organizing Principle in 2015. As Audre Lorde says, “There’s no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.” We understand intersectionality to mean we recognize that all forms of oppression are interconnected, and we have to work for liberation for everyone simultaneously.
 
So we committed to intersectionality in 2015, and in 2016 at General Conference, in response to incidents of racism, we released a statement confessing and condemning the sin of systemic racism within our church and progressive movement. 
 
That day, we committed to increase racial diversity among our leadership and to educate ourselves about anti-racism, bias, and white privilege.
 
Since then, recent events in our nation have reminded us that white dominant institutions (like the United Methodist Church and the progressive movement!) have consistently chosen to ignore the continued reality and consequences of white supremacy in our society.
 
All of that brings us to this snowy weekend outside of Philadelphia, where our board met with facilitators from Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing & Training to explore together the history of systemic racism in the United States and how, if we’re not intentional about living differently, we will continue to perpetuate the white supremacy that builds the foundation of our nation.
 
We started out our weekend together grounding ourselves in scripture—stories of Jesus the rebel, tearing apart structures of domination, and stories of Jesus the revolutionary, building communities grounded in revolutionary values of radical hospitality, fierce love, and enduring hope. 
 
Then we did the hard work of self reflection and analysis about where white supremacy and racism show up in our own organization and that it’s not enough to just value diversity. The only way to be faithful followers of Jesus, the rebel and revolutionary, is to resist and dismantle white supremacy by building anti-racist communities. And that’s what we’ve begun to do.
 
This commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization requires us to be really intentional about how we understand leadership. Last year, we made a strategic decision to hire Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck as a full-time intentional interim executive director to partner with us on this journey. And we look forward to taking this year to discern what kind of staffing model will allow us to take this transformative step. 
 
So stay tuned. Follow us on Facebook. We’ll be sharing resources and opportunities to learn and be a part of this work.
 
Seeking Justice Together,
Co-Presidents, MFSA Board of Directors

In This Moment…

Monday, January 30th, 2017
Beloved Justice Seekers,
        
In this moment, it is hard to not let darkness of despair and fear overcome Epiphany's light. There are days when it seems that we are in a perpetual state of lent – lamenting the realities we are facing with the new presidential administration. I think back to hearing the news of our presidential election. I spent the days following that news at Facing Race, the largest conference focused in racial justice, surrounded by thousands of folks dedicated to seeking justice. Over the past few days I've surrounded myself with thousands of queer and trans people organizing, dreaming, and resisting together. I can't think of a better place to be in light of what was happening and is continuing to happen in our nation. 

As I prepare for what lies ahead and the paths of resistance we will each walk, I'm grounded in the thought that our priority must be to care for our bodies and each other. We do not have to lean into platitudes of unity at the sake of our own sacred worth. Our fundamental desire to thrive and the vows we take at our baptism call us to look inward, resist injustice, and serve all! We commit to our own personal rejection of the evil powers of this world, accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist, and finally put our trust in Christ promising to serve a church for all people. As we step into this new season our welcome must be intended for those pushed from the center – the source of privilege – in our communities. We must resist the ways we are complacent in maintaining privilege. We must bring others along with us in this struggle. 

From our earliest days, the Methodist Federation for Social Action identified as a movement energizing people to be agents of sacred change in the church and the world. We believe that the root of justice lies within people of faith in grassroots communities called to engage in collective liberation. It requires storied relationships, resilience in the midst of oppression, and resistance to all that stands in the way of love. Our intersectional lens reminds us of the words of Methodist and civil rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer, who said: “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Our lived experience tells us sacred change is only possible in a movement that is boundary breaking and refuses to be silenced by the powers and principalities of our day. 

Your partnership in this movement has made and continues to make sacred change possible each and every day. We have faced difficult days in the history of our movement. We stood up and resisted when the church refused to integrate, we stood up and resisted when the government used fear to attempt to silence us in the McCarthy era, we stood up and resisted when the church said no to women’s ordination, we stood up and resisted when the government said no to women's suffrage, we stood up and resisted dangerous child labor practices. Our legacy of resistance is faithfully long. We will continue our legacy of standing up and resisting. No matter whom the powers and principalities are we will accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. 

In order to do so we need your help. In the coming year we need to increase our staff to increase our capacity to resist. Please consider making a donation to the Methodist Federation for Social Action today to help us continue our legacy of resistance.

It is our commitment to faithfully look within ourselves, our movement, and our world to renounce the wickedness we perpetuate, to resist the injustice in our world, to trust in God’s grace and to serve Christ through a church open to ALL people. Will you join me in making sacred change possible with a gift to MFSA!

Seeking justice,
Joseph Lopez
He, Him, His
Nominations and Governance Co-Chair
Board of Directors
 

 

Being the Good Samaritan Isn’t Enough

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Being the Good Samaritan Isn't Enough

By Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div.

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This Sunday at my church, the Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, preached for our Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. His words were prophetic and courageous, I quickly took notes and there is one part of his sermon that struck a nerve with me. He talked about the Good Samaritan, that it was a good first action, but not the last step in seeking justice. Powery brought up that we needed to know why the road was so violent, what was the systemic reasons behind this. How come the others didn’t stop, why did the Samaritan have to pay so much out of pocket to heal the man? He opened up the parable for me and as I sat down to write about the ACA and how it affects women’s reproductive health, I can’t get it out of my head.

Last week we learned that 91% of the 115th Congress identifies as Christian thanks to the Pew Research Center. The religion of the prolific healer, Jesus Christ who healed those who needed him. Yet, in the same week in the dead of the night last week, the U.S. Senate begun its work dismantling the Affordable Healthcare Act and taking us backwards from the Gospel. In a space of Christian majority, the Gospel did not flourish.

We also know now, there are ten senators who identify as United Methodists and eight of them voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Johnny Isakson, David Perdue, Pat Roberts, John Kennedy, Richard Burr, and Rob Portman. (It is worth noting, two United Methodist senators voted against: Elizabeth Warren and Debbie Stabenow.)

Some of our United Methodist siblings voted against our neighbor. Those we are in communion with, who verbally join in our baptismal covenant, yet do the opposite. What are we to do? Our neighbors who are about to lose their healthcare are hurting at the hands of our siblings.

The stories have flooded our news feeds of people who will be directly affected by the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. They grow by the day. You may even have your personal story. As I listen, it’s hard not to lose hope. The ACA was not perfect, it was a first step like the Good Samaritan caring for the man on the side of the road to Jericho. Repealing the ACA is walking by one of God’s beloved children in pain and not doing a damn thing.

Instead of repealing it, we should be addressing it and the systemic issues regarding health care. Why profit comes before people. Why a group of overwhelmingly Christians are ignoring Jesus’ words and actions. A group who knows that the most vulnerable is disproportionately affected by these changes.

I think another part of the parable’s lesson for me is that we also need to call to task the priest and the Levite who walked past the injured man on the road to Jericho. We need to hold those in our communion, who join our baptismal covenant to our Wesleyan heritage of radical love, grace, and justice.

As we move forward into the fight to maintain the ACA, instead of strengthening it, I will leave you with The Social Principles section on Right to Health Care:

Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.

Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost.” As a result all suffer. Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines. We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.

We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.

We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary health care to all people regardless of their health-care coverage or ability to pay for treatment.

Being the Good Samaritan isn’t enough, moving backwards from the Gospel is also not acceptable. As people of faith, we must protect our siblings who are on the precipice of losing their healthcare. All hands are needed on the road to Jericho. It’s time to stand up and act.

Call the United Methodist Senators who are actively trying to repeal the ACA today!

Senator Jeff Sessions: (202) 224-4124

Senator Tom Cotton: (202) 224-2353

Senator Johnny Isakson: (202) 224-3643

Senator David Perdue: (202) 224-3521

Senator Pat Roberts: (202) 224-4774

Senator John Kennedy: (202) 224-4623

Senator Richard Burr: (202) 224-3154

Senator Rob Portman: (202) 224-3353

 

Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div. is a feminist, lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, and former MFSA intern who advocates for women’s health through a faith-based lens.

Justice-Seeking Mothers

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

“Justice-Seeking Mothers”based on 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Luke 1:46b-55

A sermon delivered to the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady, NY

December 11, 2016

Rev. Sara E. Baron

It has been said about Mary, “No woman in scripture is more honored, blessed as she was ‘above all women’ (Luke 1:42), and she holds an iconic status shared by no other woman in Christianity. Through the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, Mary is one of the first biblical characters many children encounter. Along with Eve, Mary is integral to shaping how Christians understand the nature of womanhood and motherhood.”1 What is said is true.  Mary, along with Eve, has both shaped how women are understood in Christianity AND the inverse: perceptions of Mary (and Eve) are indicators of how Christianity is understanding women.  How Mary is seen is a bell-weather for how women are seen. Cary Gibson, the author of the opening quote, also says, “Mary is a container into which we pour ideas of what it means to be a woman. In turn we then draw from her image ideas about our own womanhood.”2

Most commonly, Mary is said to be meek and mild.  Usually, it is her subservience that sets her up as the ideal woman.  The pedestal of womanhood that Mary most frequently occupies as the ideal woman is the pedestal of the selfless mother, the one who exists simply so her son can exist.  She’s faithful, sweet, and biddable.  There is, however, one issue with this common perception Mary: it completely ignores the words of Mary found in the Gospel of Luke.  

Now, I’m not saying that I really think some literate scribe was following Mary around during her pregnancy to record her insights for posterity.  However, I am saying we have a rather long monologue attributed to Mary that defies the way she is most commonly defined. The meek and mild ideal does not match the actual Gospel.  The myths around her are more about what Christian women have been told to be than they are about the actual stories about and words of Mary.

Therefore, it seems worth exploring the words attributed to Mary.  Whether the words are what Mary said, or something Mary could have said, or simply what it made sense to someone that the Mother of Jesus WOULD have said, they are attributed to her.  Since the general perception of Mary is based on 20 centenaries of trying to put women in their place, and I’d prefer to get to know Mary as presented in the Gospel. It may be that we can take a look at Mary-the-ideal-woman and get a different answer about what it means to be an ideal woman.

For starters, these words are not meek, nor mild.  In fact, Cary Gibson says Mary, “voiced a defiant and righteous hope in the face of violence and injustice.”3  It is true.  These words express a HARDCORE faith and a great ideal for women to seek to live up to. :)  Men too.  This is the sort of faith we can all aspire to!

First of all, Mary’s song is deeply rooted in her faith tradition.  It echoes Hannah’s song of celebration after Hannah fulfilled her promise and brought her son Samuel to Eli to serve him as a priest. It also echoes with phrases from the Psalms.  The version of this song that we have is a work of theological and scriptural brilliance and sophistication.  Hannah’s song is powerful, but reflects a less mature faith.  Hannah yearns for God to smash the powerful, deride her enemies, and break the mighty.  In her mind the powerless are lifted up BY making the powerful small.  There is violence in her imagery, even as there is celebration of the goodness of God and of her sense of becoming more significant in the world.

Mary’s song, though, is not vengeful.  She also speaks of lifting up the poor and lonely.  Like Hannah she speaks about God’s power, but she also adds God’s mercy.  Mary speaks of lowering the mighty, but the lowering isn’t violent or dangerous for them:  the proud are “scattered in the thoughts of their hearts” which sounds like a way to be more humble; the powerful step down from their thrones (but she doesn’t suggest they’re harmed afterward); the rich are sent away empty – as if they don’t need any more.  Hannah had the the formerly “full”  “hire themselves out for bread.”  Mary is interested in lifting up the lowly and removing their oppression, not in oppressing the oppressors.  She is a actually meeker and milder than Hannah, Hannah’s is pretty rough.  Mary is simply less violent!

Hannah speaks of her victory, Mary speaks of being treated with God’s favor. While both are grateful for the child they are able to nurture, and while both express incredible gratitude to God and deep theological reflections, they have different energies.  The insertion of material from the Psalms into Hannah’s original poem changes it into a more gracious piece.  One scholar found that in addition to the source material of Hannah’s poem, the song of Mary includes 7 pieces of different Psalms, as well as a quote each from Deuteronomy, Job, Micah, and Isaiah.  By that scholar’s reckoning all of the words of Mary’s song are attributable to Hebrew Bible quotations.4

Mary’s song starts in the specific.  She is grateful to be useful to God, humbly aware of her status as a poor woman in her society, and attentive to the change of her status because of God’s favor.  She attributes her life change to God’s greatness, and she praises God. She expresses who God is: merciful, consistent, strong, and powerful.  She talks about a God who cares about the lowly, and feeds the hungry with GOOD food. Her song makes another journey outward, celebrating God’s care for all of the Jews and then attributing God’s care to God’s merciful nature and God’s promises.  She moves from celebrating God’s work for her, to celebrating God’s work for the vulnerable, to celebrating God’s work for all her people.  It is as if she is expanding her gratitude in increasingly wide circles.

While it is unlikely to be factual, this text suggests that Mary knew her scriptures well enough to combine them creatively into a truly beautiful and majestic song celebrating God WITHOUT demeaning anyone else.  It suggests that her humility was real, but it wasn’t a form of self-deprecation.  It says she was genuinely honored to be able to serve God and be useful in forming the world in God’s kindom of shalom.  She was delighted and amazed to be chosen.  She recognized the depth of the blessing she received, seemingly without thinking that it made her more important than others.  She said she was blessed, and was amazed that people would remember her as blessed. That indicates she didn’t think she’d done anything right or worthy, it was God’s choice not her worthiness that mattered.  Her gratitude was expansive and celebratory and still focused on lifting up the lowly and attentive to the hungry.  She kept her head!

The Mary of this song is wise, strong, compassionate, creative, humble, and grateful.  She knows and celebrates a God who is a fierce advocate of justice.  John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, in their book “The First Christmas” point out that each of the Gospels start with a “Gospel in miniature” (with the possible exception of Mark which starts at a gallop and just keeps going!).  Luke 1 and 2, which likely do NOT represent authentic memories of things that really happened, DO represent themes of the Gospel, understanding of Jesus, foreshadowing of things to come, and ways to see how God is known in the Gospel.  Luke pays particular attention to women – as we can see here where Mary gets a prolonged monologue – as well as to the poor and vulnerable.  We can also see that here in the words Mary speaks.  The writer of Luke, and/or the Christian tradition, and/or the editors who came later attribute these words to Mary largely to help those of us who came later to understand her son.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m disparaging Hannah’s song.  Her song is FIERCE and profound, and reflects an era one whole millennia before Mary’s.  Hannah, as well, sought justice.  She sought it for herself and she sought it for all of God’s people. She understood God to be one who cares about the poor, the hungry, the feeble, the barren, the low, and the needy.  That is a reflection of the unique tradition of Judaism, from a pretty early time.  Other ancient peoples believed in god and goddesses.  The Israelites were unique, however, in believing in a God who cared about how they treated each other, and in a God who cared about the people who had the least power and influence.  There is a constant tension in the Bible between this belief – in a God who cares for the poor and lowly – and the human tendency to prefer the rich and powerful.  Hannah reflects the God who cares for the poor and lowly without being pulled toward the rich and powerful at all.  Then Mary manages to take it a step further and acknowledge a God who cares for everyone. They sought justice, and believed in a God who wanted justice.  This is our radical tradition.  This is the wonder of worshiping a God of compassion.

Those sons of those women took their justice-seeking natures and their understandings of the God of Compassion, and changed the world.  We mostly know about the mothers because of the sons.  Samuel anointed kings.  Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, ate with sinners, and told parables that still confound us today.  Both sons changed the world.  Both mothers are presented as sources of wisdom for their sons.  Their stories are preludes to their sons stories, and yet I am so grateful that the Bible gives them voices and songs and stories! They are not ONLY vessels through which their sons come to be, they are interesting in their own right.

I do wish for all of us to be able to be a bit like these justice seeking mothers.  And if we are going to hold up Mary as the ideal, then I hope it takes the form of being moved to sing our  gratitude to God and celebrating the wonder of God’s good work in the world.  I hope we can become so steeped in our faith tradition that we can use it in creative ways that bring more caring, compassion, and justice to our tradition.  I hope that we can see and name the goodness of our lives without taking ourselves too seriously.  And I do hope that when push comes to shove we are more like Mary than like Hannah, and that we can hope for the transformation of oppressors – not the oppression of them.  I hope we too can always remember the people of God who are struggling the most, and find ways to help lift them up. I hope we can be part of our tradition that remembers God as a God of compassion for the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.  

If Mary is the ideal, and she seems to be well set up to be the ideal, then let’s seek to be like her:  fierce, grateful, and brilliant. Amen.

1 Cary Gibson, “Mary, Jesus’ Mother” in an email from The Common English Bible send by Abingdon Press on December 2nd, 2016.

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4Joseph A. Fitzmeyer “The Gospel According to Luke I-IX” in the The Anchor Bible Series (Doubleday and Co.: Garden City, NY, 1981) p 356-357.

MFSA Statement on Recent US Election

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Dear Justice Seekers,

For 109 years, MFSA has been a prophetic voice for justice-seeking people of faith in The United Methodist Church, in our nation and the world. We will continue to be that voice. We are a voice for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. We are a voice working against racism and white privilege. We are a voice for reproductive health and justice. We are a voice for a healthy planet. We are a voice against colonialism, militarism, and misuse of power. We are a voice of inclusion for all God’s children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are a voice that welcomes our migrant neighbor. But most importantly, we are a voice at the crossroads where these concerns for justice intersect.

We believe the recent decisions made by President-elect Trump with respect to leadership in his administration speak against the very foundation of our justice seeking faith. We are alarmed. We believe these individuals have not shown the necessary skills for leadership and whose past words and actions have not represented the values of civilized society. As justice-seeking people of faith, we stand opposed to not only one individual, but the emerging pattern that President-elect Trump is building a cabinet founded on white supremacy, fear, and bigotry.

MFSA calls our church to expand its understanding of the radical call of the Gospel to be an inclusive, justice-seeking, risk-taking Body of Christ. We live out our belief that to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be involved in the transformation of the social order. Therefore, we call The United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops, congregations, and its members to join us in taking active steps to publicly “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

Experiences of injustice do not happen in a vacuum, and therefore it is imperative to: develop the most effective strategies to create space for understanding privilege; organize in an intersectional framework led by marginalized communities; and build effective systems of resistance and cooperation to take action for justice. We invite you to join us in this work.

We invite United Methodist leadership including our bishops, clergy, and lay leaders to join us in signing the “Faith Leaders Call on Republican officials to reject Mr. Trump’s Cabinet of Bigotry” letter distributed by Faith in Public Life. You can find the link here: https://goo.gl/J9zXSx

We call on all Justice-Seeking People of Faith to join us by:

  • Contacting your legislators to express as a justice seeking person of faith your concern that the leadership of our nation must reflect justice for all people.
  • Speaking and working against the narrative that privileged communities are being oppressed when they are asked to acknowledge the ways their privilege perpetuates bias and injustice.
  • Committing to create opportunities for education and advocacy to publicly and actively resist white supremacy, white privilege, and implicit bias in your communities.

If you are so moved, we invite you to support the work of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, so we can continue to be a voice for justice for all people.

Seeking Justice Together,

The Staff and Board of Directors, Methodist Federation for Social Action

What’s at stake in this election?

Monday, November 7th, 2016

What’s at stake in this election?

Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck

Interim Executive Director

 

Families. Families are at stake in this election. Families that look like my quirky, non-traditional, Jewish-Christian interfaith family and families that look quite a bit different than we do.


Families with a member living with a serious medical diagnosis that depend on the elimination of the pre-existing diagnosis clause in the Affordable Care Act to ensure the continuation of life sustaining health care coverage.


Muslim and interfaith families who fear for their safety with a rise in Islamphobia in this nation.


Working class families who fear for the loss of jobs that pay a fair and living wage with benefits that protect their futures. Families struggling to make ends meet even when working full time.


Families that fear the loss of income when a child is born without access to paid family leave.


Families with Dreamers that fear the loss of the only home they have ever known without access to just immigration reform.


Families that fear for the lives of their black and brown children each and every time they leave the house in the face of police related violence. Families who fear going to church on Sunday morning and bible study on a weeknight for fear gun wielding hate fueled racism will walk through the door.


Families that fear a rise in gun violence and question their children’s safety at school, in movie theaters and at the local shopping mall.


Families that fear the poisoning of their water from lead, oil and fracking.


Families that depend on the legal right to marry the person they love. This legal right protects them, their children and their spouses and extends health care coverage, health proxy and adoption. Families who serve this country with honor and distinction in the armed forces and were extended the same protections of law following the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Transfamilies who fear their safety as there is an increased attack on the lived equality of LGBTQ people by state governments throughout the U.S. These laws create a culture that has contributed to the death of more than 20 transgender people of color this year alone.


Have you asked your local, state and federal candidates what they believe on economic justice, racial justice, climate justice, gender justice, reproductive justice, peace in Israel/Palestine, immigration reform, LGBTQIA justice? If not, you still have time. #mfsavoices #votesmatter #christiansvote




Common Good, Collective Liberation

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Common Good, Collective Liberation

A sermon delivered at Arch Street UMC

Philadelphia, PA 

October 9, 2016

By: Rachel Ternes, Global Mission Fellow US2

Jeremiah 29 1, 4-7 (NRSV)

“29 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

We’ve been hearing for many of the past weeks, scriptures from the book of Jeremiah, a prophet who lived in the time leading up to and during the exile of God’s people from Jerusalem into the unfamiliar wilderness of Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that the people would be exiled as a punishment from God for their disobedience. Other supposed prophets had been assuring the people and the king of Judah that God would not let them be overcome by the Babylonians, just as God had protected God’s people so far in the story. Unfortunately for them, Jeremiah was right. This scripture starts the first letter that Jeremiah sends to the people in exile, sharing with them God’s instructions on how they should live purposeful lives, even after having been kicked out of their homes and sent to a strange land.

The instructions are strange. Jeremiah tells the exiles to invest in their new city. To build houses and live in them. To plant gardens and eat what they produce. Basically to settle in, and love the city as if it was their own. God, through Jeremiah, goes as far as to say that the exiles should seek the welfare of the alien city and pray for it to flourish, because the exiles’ welfare will be determined by the welfare of the city.

How strange it must have been to the exiles to be told to pray for and invest in a city that they did not consider home. It wasn’t their home– it represented the people who had uprooted and overturned their lives. The welfare of this new city must have been a very low priority to the exiles. They had no emotional connection to the city, no history there. They did not identify with it in the way they identified with their true home of Jerusalem. And yet, here God is, telling the exiles that their own destiny was bound up in the destiny of this strange, alien city. On one hand, it’s not something that I would be really excited to hear, as one of the exiles. On the other hand, it makes sense because it sounds like something our God would say. Our God is a God of relationships. Our God wove all of creation together in such a way that our decisions and the way we live our lives have impacts that reach far out into the rest of creation. Our existence was formed in such a way that the flourishing of a seemingly separate part of creation contributes to my flourishing. Isn’t that beautiful? Seek the welfare of this city, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.

This concept that God is sharing with the exiles in Babylon, the idea that their welfare is bound together with the welfare of a city that they don’t identify with, is similar to the concept of collective liberation, a philosophy and way of working followed by many activist movements today. To describe collective liberation, I have to first talk about intersectionality, a term coined by the legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Intersectionality describes the way that all our individual identities and our systemic oppressions are interconnected and complex. That racism and ableism work together. That sexism and homophobia feed off one another. That classism and environmental degradation are intimately connected. Once you know that, and you want to do something about it, collective liberation is the response. When we fight for good jobs and fair wages, we think about how how race and gender impact that fight. We don’t put on blinders and say, this is about labor, not racism! We coordinate with groups that work for racial justice and gender justice. Because we know that our liberation from all the intersecting forms of oppression is going to be a collective liberation, and the work to get there is going to be collective work. As the civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” The liberation of every part of God's creation hinges on the simultaneous liberation of every other part.

In the scripture, God instructs the people in exile to “build houses and live in them.” I can think of a building project that lives into the idea of collective liberation. I live at Serenity House, our church's ministry in North Philadelphia. The story of this building project started a few years ago, when a group of environmental studies students began working with Serenity House to do environmental projects, like reviving the back yard garden, and installing a solar panel. What was special about their approach was that they recognized that environmental justice work is intersectional, and they made that intersectionality a focus in their work. Because God created everything to be in relationship, when you work for the welfare of the earth and the green things on it, the humans automatically benefit. These students and the community members they worked with made that concept a part of their model. When a solar panel was donated to the group, it became an opportunity for new learning and empowerment for the Serenity House men’s group, through a series of lessons about solar energy and how solar panels work. That grew into a project that you may have heard about: Serenity Soular, spelled SOULAR, has gone through the process of raising money, connecting with a local North Philadelphia solar installation company, recruiting and training two young people from the neighborhood, and involving them in the solarization of Serenity House. God calls us to invest in our communities by building houses and living in them. This house that’s being solarized is already built, but we’re adding onto it, building the infrastructure, making it more liveable. The Serenity Soular project seeks the liberation of God’s natural creation by reducing energy consumption and emissions, but it doesn’t stop there. It seeks the liberation of the people of North Philadelphia from racism-impacted poverty and disinvestment, by believing in and investing in its young people and helping them develop the skills and tools to flourish in their own lives. The first two young people who were recruited have since been hired by the local solar company, and Serenity Soular is preparing to engage two more apprentices to be involved in solarizing a church down the street. This project seeks not just the environmental welfare of the earth, not just the economic welfare of the people, but the collective liberation of humanity and all the rest of creation. As Jeremiah would say, it seeks the welfare of the entire city.

In the scripture, God instructs the people in exile to “plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Guess what? The Serenity House neighborhood is following this instruction too! The collective liberation seed that those students planted branched off into another project that I’ve been very involved in. There is a vacant lot around the corner from Serenity House that for years had been good for nothing but dumping trash and being a dangerous eyesore. Before I started serving here a year ago, some neighbors and community members decided that something needed to be done about that lot. They started dreaming of a space where North Philly neighbors could grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, where children could play and learn and feel safe, where elders could sit and relax, and where everyone could cultivate community and a sense of neighborhood pride and self-sufficiency. A year later, we now have The People’s Garden, a beautiful space around which a diverse, intergenerational community has formed. As people came together to plant the seeds of sunflowers, tomatoes, collard greens, carrots, they were also planting the seeds of new friendships. The children, who are some of the most dedicated gardeners in the neighborhood, helped the fruits of the earth grow, and in return they had the experience, very unique and special for urban kids growing up in a food desert, of knowing where some of their food came from, and feeling the empowerment of helping to create a plate full of carrots and tomatoes from some tiny seeds. “Plant gardens and eat what they produce.” I think the prophet knew that when a community comes together to plant a garden, they can’t help but begin to think intersectionally. My neighbors know that by investing in the flourishing and welfare of the People’s Garden, they are investing in their own flourishing.

The world we live in today can sometimes feel like hopeless Babylonian wilderness. The terrible incidents of racist violence seem like they will never stop, and the white supremacist cultures and structures seem determined to make People of Color live like exiles in their own lands. Women are treated like objects and subject to violence and discrimination, and our culture defends and celebrates the men responsible. Native people with a deep understanding of the connectedness of the welfare of the Earth and the welfare of humanity, are seeing their sacred land ripped out from under them to be turned into a pathway for the dangerous products of dangerous oil extraction processes. Queer and trans people are experiencing physical violence, spiritual violence, psychological and emotional violence, often at the hands of our own Christian church. The greed and shortsightedness of corporations, governments, and organizations (including the United Methodist Church), are prioritizing profits over people, and contributing to global climate change, and the results include increasingly severe natural disasters that have the most impact on the the world’s poor people, and People of Color. Almost 900 people have been killed in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew in the past few days. [Edit: as of 10/11/16, the death toll is 1000 and counting.] The same greed and shortsightedness are fueling war and destruction all over the world. Is this what wilderness looks like? Is this what exile feels like?

Some other prophets around at the same time as Jeremiah were prophesying a victory for Judah, saying that Babylon would be defeated. They were wrong, and Jeremiah called them out as false prophets. We would like to believe that some prophet, or politician, or church leader will appear and solve all these problems, end all this oppression, but that’s not going to happen. God says that it’s up to us to work together like neighbors facing a hostile world, to think not only of ourselves and the issues that affect us clearly and directly, but to seek the welfare of the entire city. The collective liberation.

Serenity Soular and the People’s Garden make it look easy. But it’s not always easy. Just like the exiles probably didn’t like being told to invest in a city they didn’t identify with, to be honest sometimes I don’t like being told to invest in an issue that doesn’t seem to impact me. We fail sometimes. An example: I recently read an article on how the new policy platform of the Movement For Black lives, (a movement that for the most part can teach all of us a lot about collective liberation, with their understanding of the way racism is in cahoots with capitalism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia), how their platform is lacking in disability solidarity. This is a huge oversight, as the majority of people who have been murdered by police in the US were disabled or deaf. The struggle for liberation from white supremacy must happen hand-in-hand with the struggle for the welfare of people with disabilities. Even the Movement for Black Lives will have to stretch in that regard.

There is another example of a failure to seek the welfare of the entire city, going on here in Philadelphia. Later today, many of us will be walking over to the Gayborhood for Outfest, a block party in celebration of National Coming Out Day. While we are dancing and celebrating, we cannot ignore the stain of racism that exists in the Gayborhood, and that had been getting more attention in recent days and months. Last week, a video surfaced of the owner of a popular Gayborhood bar addressing customers of color with racial slurs. It has sparked a lot of anger, for good reason, but many queer people of color have said that they are not surprised. That racism is the standard in many parts of the Gayborhood, and that for decades certain clubs and bars have enforced dress codes that are meant to subtly exclude Black people. This stain is made so much uglier by the fact that it’s white LGBTQ people, who know what discrimination feels like, who are guilty. Maybe they somehow don’t know that queer justice is bound up together with racial justice. But now we know. We know that, if we are to seek the welfare of the entire city, we cannot accept racism anywhere.

It can be a difficult mental shift, to live into collective liberation. Our culture teaches us to be obsessed with getting ahead, with being a winner instead of a loser. It teaches us to care only about the issues that we think directly impact each of us, and even to compete with other causes, other movements. But God teaches us that we are all one body, and if we don’t work together, across lines of identity, for God’s justice, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

There is a lot of violence and injustice out there. The wilderness can seem overwhelming. But we do not need to lose hope. God is with us. God has provided a way for us to overcome the oppression, and God has even given instructions. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Working in solidarity with groups we don’t identify with can be difficult, but what’s even more difficult is trying to change the world alone. We can’t do it alone. But victory over racism and sexism and homophobia and environmental degradation seem so much more possible when I know that it’s really all one struggle, and we are all working together. In your welfare, I will find my welfare, and our liberation will be collective.

Rachel is a young adult missionary serving through the United Methodist Church's Global Mission Fellow US2 program. She serves at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia, PA, and at Serenity House, where she also lives. She is halfway through a two-year term in the program. Rachel served as one of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition scholarship recipients monitoring legislation during General Conference 2016. Check out her blog

Memo to Justice-Seeking People of Faith: Make a Mark on Your Jurisdictional Conference

Friday, July 1st, 2016

What is a Jurisdictional Conference?

Every four years The United Methodist Church in the United States meets to elect new bishops and select members of general boards and agencies. Our bishops and general boards and agencies are tasked with shaping the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church. We are divided into five areas known as jurisdictions: Northeastern, Southeastern, North Central, South Central and Western. This July 11-16, jurisdictional delegations elected by each Annual Conference will gather at their quadrennial meetings to engage in this important work.

Bishops play an important leadership role in ordering the life of the church and helping set the direction to fulfill its mission in the world.  All bishops share in teaching, equipping, and encouraging mission and service.  All bishops are members of the Council of Bishops, which collectively is charged with the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church. (The bishops elected this year may take part in convening a special session of General Conference that will deal with queer discrimination and, possibly, restructuring the church.)  Bishops are specifically assigned to preside over the work of an Annual Conference.

General boards and agencies are created by the General Conference and administer or carry out the programs and directives adopted by General Conference.

What can we do as MFSA?

As justice-seeking people of faith we believe the ministry of the church must be intersectional in nature fulfilling our baptismal covenant to accept the freedom God gives us to resist evil, oppression and injustice in whatever form they present themselves. To do so we need leaders at every level of our denomination from our local churches to our episcopal offices who seek to fulfil that covenant. Below are some critical guidelines from MFSA for justice-seeking leadership (You can find a formatted printable version here.). Here are three ways you can use these guidelines to help make your own jurisdictional conference more just:

  1. Find out who are members of your annual conference’s delegation for jurisdictional conference, and email (even better, hand deliver) to them a copy of MFSA’s Guidelines for UMC Leadership.
  2. Find out which of your delegates are on the “Nominations Committee” of your Jurisdiction. These are the people who actually make the nominations for boards and agencies. Email (even better, hand deliver) to them a copy of MFSA’s Guidelines for UMC Leadership.
  3. Find out who is running for bishop in your jurisdiction. Consider using these guidelines within your own local MFSA group to make endorsements of these individuals. Then make sure voting delegates know about your endorsements!

May we be agents of sacred change, God being our guide!

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Guidelines for UMC Leadership

We need bold prophetic leaders that are Christ-centered.

We need leaders who will prayerfully follow our radically loving, fully inclusive, justice seeking, and boundary crossing God even in the midst of fear and uncertainty. 

We need leaders who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of great struggle, challenged the oppressive powers and principalities of his day, overturned the tables in the temple to call out exploitation and corruption, and called children to his side to share sacred stories of faith and hope, justice and courage, love and community.

We need leaders that are led by the movement of the Spirit. Leaders who will answer the gospel call to love our neighbors even when it’s in opposition to the Book of Discipline.

We need bold prophetic leaders who will serve with us as co-creators of justice, and co-sharers in a sacred story of hope and change. We need culturally competent leaders who seek racial, gender, and economic justice. We need leaders who seek a fully inclusive church, one that includes our LGBTQIA siblingswelcomes our immigrant neighbors, and seeks to eliminate the colonialismwoven into the very fabric of our institutional structures. We need leaders who care gently for creation and seek peaceful non-violent resolution to the world’s conflicts.

We need effective leaders, administrators and communicators.

We need leaders with the capacity for adaptive change, the ability to listen with openness and compassion, and who approach leadership with humility and grace.

We need leaders who are effective communicators, who serve with openness and transparency embracing new technologies and ways of connecting in mission and ministry.

We need creative, visionary leadership who see the church for who we are called to be not who we are in this day.We need leadership who mediate conflict assertively and are disciplined not disciplinarian.


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