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.
Seeking Justice Together,
The Staff and Board of Directors, Methodist Federation for Social Action
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
A sermon delivered at Arch Street UMC
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 siblings, welcomes 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.
April 4, 1968: a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was the day that put Memphis on the map, and not for a good reason. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Memphis, TN for a sanitation strike. As he stood on the balcony of his hotel, the day after delivering his famous mountain top speech, a shot rang out in the night that put an end to his young life. He was only 39 years old.
Growing up in Memphis, I heard this story so many times that I got bored by it. Every year my class would visit the National Civil Rights Museum and spend at least 2 weeks, talking about Dr. King, his civil disobedience movement, and his assassination. I honestly began to dread going to school on these days. I never wanted to tell my teachers or classmates my disinterest with this topic for fear of what they might think of me.
Since being in seminary, I have come to see Dr. King in a very different light. My background is that of a middle-class, white girl who has been provided for comfortably her entire life. Yet, as I get older and my eyes are opened more fully to the struggles of the world around me, I have begun processes for challenging my own experiences and putting myself in King’s shoes. I can now fathom the lengths to which someone would go to in order to see dreams for their children fulfilled. I have begun to feel how wanting, hoping, and wishing for change can move even the shyest person to action. I am starting to realize that, in many ways, we are not far beyond the world in which King lived. We have not come that far and for that I am ashamed It makes me weep that all of God’s children are not loved, protected, and treated as the glorious creations we all are.
Everyday we are bombarded with stories and images of the injustice and inequality. I wonder what Dr. King would say today? His quote from his mountaintop speech still rings true today. “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”
What would Dr. King do today? He would stand up and speak out. He would seek to effect change in systems and in the hearts of people. I often wonder what I can do to be more like Dr. King. Am I standing up for inequality? Am I speaking out about injustice? Would I have the courage, like him, to face those who perpetrate injustice? Martin Luther King Jr’s last speech was titled “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” and it is one of my favorite speeches given by King because it sums up my call story. He says, “We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tells it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.’”
Jesus has anointed all of us to be preachers, teachers, and healers of this world. We are all called to speak up and speak out about the desperation and desolation we see around us every day. So on this day of remembrance I choose to honor Dr. King’s death by carrying of his legacy. I will speak out about injustice and do my best to walk with those who need it the most. Won’t you join me?
Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.
Putting on ashes is a practice that goes back dates to the very earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible: Job sat amongst the ashes and covered himself in them to show his sorrow before God; Abraham expressed that he was like dust and ash before God’s majesty; Mordecai put on ashes and sackcloth when he heard the plan by Haman to exterminate the Jewish population in Persia; and the people of Nineveh put on ashes to show their repentance to God. The use of ashes throughout the scriptures is complex. It shows our mortality before an immortal God. It shows that we were created from the dust of the Earth and, in the end, we will return to our origins. The putting on of ashes also serves the purpose of showing repentance.
Today on Ash Wednesday we participate in this ancient practice. We put ashes on our heads, but what does this symbolic act mean for us today? We have often associated Ash Wednesday with the acknowledgement of our own mortality, but repentance, one of the key meanings of this practice, is becoming has become lost to us. “To repent” means “to turn” or “to take a different path.” As Christians today, it is easy for us to see the sin in our lives or in our world, and to keep right on stubbornly trudge along the path that we are on. It is very easy for us to ignore people freezing out on our streets. It is easy to ignore the inherent sin in the systems that make us comfortable, that keep us warm, fed, and safe. There is a big difference between recognizing that there is sin in this world and that we are participants in it, and turning our backs on these sinful systems in order to take a new path.
On Ash Wednesday, we must remember that God is calling us to a new path. This path, however, will not be easy nor will it be comfortable. Love of God and love of neighbor never put us in easy or comfortable situations. The practice of putting on sackcloth and ashes was not meant to be a comfortable activity. It draws attention to us and the sackcloth and ashes were itchy dirty and discomforting. It draws the attention of the crowd to our dirtied bodies as we itch under rough cloth. Putting on ashes is not a fad, but a communication event that sends a message to us and to God. When we put on the ashes and make the uncomfortable decision to call out to God in repentance, God turns us in the direction of a new path. When we repent God does not send us back to our old path of security and prosperity, but instead sends us into the wilderness.
The connection between repentance and the pathway into the wilderness is the very reason why Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Repentance is always the gateway to new opportunity. The Israelites had to first submit themselves to God by heeding Moses’ directions for Passover, before they could be led from Egypt into the wilderness. The wilderness is not a bleak, desolate place of hopelessness. It is a place where our relationship with God can be both strengthened and put to the test. Repentance brings us reconciliation with God, but the work is not yet finished. Venturing into the wilderness is hard for us to comprehend in a culture of plenty because we are taught by the culture to find the path that makes us comfortable. But this culture is not God’s culture. God calls us to a path that makes us uncomfortable.
Our culture calls us to all-you-can-eat buffets and Black Friday sales. God calls us to ask the question of why some people have so little to eat and so few resources compared to us.
Our culture calls us to celebrity obsession and quick judgment of an oddly-dressed stranger on the bus. God calls us to humility, in which the dignity of every human being is respected.
God calls us to change while our culture calls us to stay the same.
Change is never comfortable. Marking ourselves with ashes not only symbolizes that we are creatures standing before a divine God, but also that we are willing and able to change, to no longer participate in the sinful systems and powers that have made us so comfortable.
The wilderness transforms us into a people who seek God’s justice and God’s Kingdom in this world. The wilderness is a place from which we leave no longer the same people that we were before we entered it. We become a community that asks the hard and troubling questions like, why are so many young black men being killed in our streets? Why are 500,000 women raped every year in our country? Why is HIV/AIDS a scary yet treatable disease for most Westerners and a death sentence for an African mother? We become a church who puts action behind these questions and responds to these questions with action to change the very systems that brought us comfort, plenty, and security through sin.
To put on ashes is to step out into the unknown, to go on to the new path that God has set before us.
Matt Knonenborg is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary and an intern with the Methodist Federation for Social Action. A graduate of Shenandoah University, Matt served congregations in rural Virginia prior to coming to MFSA. He's a passionate researcher and hopes to continue this studies to one day become a professor. (Photos provided by Creative Commons and Matt Knoneborg)
When your boss tells you that as part of your job you get to attend your first House of Representatives hearing, I, of course, pumped my fists and began to plan my outfit and daydream about what an adventure this was going to be. This particular hearing was referencing aid to Palestine and Palestine’s authority in the International Criminal Court (ICC), held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Walking into the room on Wednesday, I was overwhelmed by the opulence and grandeur. Once we took our seats I was finally able to take a look around the room. There were members of Congress along with tons of staffers in all their fine suits and attire. Along the back wall were seated what I recognized to be the general public. They were sitting peacefully, some of them silently holding up signs, and being a beautiful witness to end the occupation of Palestine. The room began to fill quickly with people in support of Palestine. There were a sea of pro-Palestinian t-shirts, signs and keffiyahs. After about five minutes the small room was completely packed. While cataloging the room, I notice, to my alarm, there are quite a few police officers. I began to wonder if something was going to happen. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see more than 4 officers in a small room I don’t feel safe. I begin to feel intimidated.
As the hearing begins, I settle in and listen to the committee as Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) began to outline the reason and procedure for today’s hearing.
The Chairwoman took her time in introducing herself, those in the committee, and those she had invited to participate in the panel. I, for one, was excited about this part. The United States government has always fascinated me. I love reading and watching about bi-partisanship and seeing how our government functions to bring about law and order. However, I was to be disappointed. Almost immediately it was evident that every single member of the committee who spoke was extremely pro-Israel. I heard Congressmembers speak about Palestine as if they were terrorists fighting against Israel, who had done nothing wrong. I began to wonder “if everyone on the committee is on the same page then why in the world were we even here?”
During these introductions and speeches a woman with her three children silently came in from the back. Since there were not enough seats the woman and her children stood in the back against the wall with pro-Palestinian signs. These signs were hand written and had quotes like, “#ICC4Israel – Genocide is not ok.” Another read, “ I’m here for the children who will never grow up in Palestine.” Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen paused the proceedings to remind everyone to sit down and that signs were considered a disruption. I will admit to being puzzled by this considering the chairwomen took the time to also state that graphic designed t-shirts were perfectly okay during proceedings. The woman and her children began looking for seats. The people behind me were nice enough to scoot together so that they could all sit down.
Now it was time for the panelists to give their testimony. I hoped once again that now I was going to see both sides presented and debated like I had seen on TV time and time again. Sadly, this was not the case. One by one as the panelists began speaking, all were clearly stating a pro-Israel position. I could tell the mood in the room was shifting as one by one all of the other observers began to realize, just as I had, that these proceedings were biased and that nothing, not even our presence, would actually help a positive position for Palestine be achieved.
While for the most part the observers, like myself, had remained calm and quiet with only a few huffs and loud sighs. That was until Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich compared Palestinians to terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. As one can imagine, this caused quiet an outrage among not only the protestors but myself as well. I knew that politics could be dirty but I was disappointed in such blatant exaggerations. After this the audience erupted in cries of outrage. It was at this point that Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen put the proceedings in recess until the courtroom could be cleared of those who were disrupting the proceedings. Now, I thought this meant that only those who had spoken were going to be asked to leave. How I was wrong! The capitol police began to clear out the room. A woman sitting in the center section among those who had signs and t-shirts, tried to clarify if she was to leave when she didn’t say anything. The police tell her “everyone has to go.” This is when I begin to notice that my row is not being cleared. I again checked to make sure my colleague and I were not sitting in the staffers section. We were not.
I started to pay attention to who exactly was being made to leave. The police were clearing out anyone with signs or wearing t-shirts and keffiyahs. While not everyone who was asked to leave was Palestinian, if you were not white and in a suit or a dress, you were being made to leave. It was after clearly ignoring our row that my colleague, MFSA executive director Chett Pritchett, calmly asked an officer whether or not “everyone” meant all of the public? I believe at this point the officer realized that he had been leaving out a chunk of the audience. The officer then escorted my row of white, well-dressed participants out into the hallway through a crowd of clearly upset protestors, who crying “Shame” at the Congressmembers. After Chett and I left the proceedings, I began to think about my experience while on the Metro ride back to campus.
I will admit I have never felt, before these proceedings, that I really had any right to have an opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict, since I am neither Israeli or Palestinian, nor am I an authority on eithers history and living situations. However, on my Metro ride home, I continued to think about I would feel if I was demonized in an official proceeding like that? How would I, if I was that woman, explain to my children why they were being kicked out of a room by police officers for not doing anything? The only answer I could come up with is that it doesn’t matter what side anyone is on. As citizens of this country, or just people who live and work in the United States, it is our duty to hold our government officials accountable for their words, deeds, and actions. We must hold them to a higher standard. We must reach these members of Congress that no matter their personal opinions, that allowing our legislative system to become narrow minded and to allow hearings like this again are a slippery slope that lead us away from democracy and toward the authoritarianism and tyranny that we constantly call other countries to account for everyday. As for me, I will continue to pray, vote, and witness at other hearings for a more honest and equal representation in our legislative system and for all the violence and war to cease.
On that Metro train, I reflected on why I was there and what would make me go back to another hearing like that. I continued to think about the one woman’s sign. Whenever I am asked why I am present in the struggle I will say. “I am here for ALL of the children who will not be able to grow up or have had to grow up too fast because of violence all over the world.” They need a voice, too.
Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.
The movie “Selma” confronts a dark past that mirrors the present in a poignant way that is almost too close for comfort. It follows the people who played key roles in what led up to what we know as Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named after Confederate General and KKK leader) in Selma, Alabama, and the marches that followed to enable the creation of the Voters Rights Act of 1965. While we are aware the past and present are very different parts of history and take comfort in how our society has made dramatic changes, we know all too well that there is much more work to be done. The film expertly resonates much of what we have witnessed since that fateful day in Selma, Alabama where the Civil Rights Movement took a radical turn.
When watching Oprah Winfrey’s depiction of Annie Lee Cooper attempt the humiliating process of voter registration, I can’t help but hear, “black lives matter.”
As people are beaten on the streets and suffocated by the tear gas of police in gas masks, I hear echoes of voices screaming, “I can’t breathe.”
As an unarmed young black man by the name of Jimmie Lee Jackson is killed by the police after trying to protect his family, I hear a plea of, “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Throughout the movie, I found myself questioning whether this movie was shot forty years ago, or in the past few months. The problems marchers faced in Selma have not ceased to exist, but have gone under the radar as marginalization and systematic oppression continue to be the norm. That is, until recently. We have returned to the struggle of fighting to not respond in anger, but instead by being strategic in how we encounter oppression and inequality through diplomatic means.
As a first year seminarian, I continue to struggle with the thought that I continue my day-to-day activities in our nation’s capital surrounded by so many injustices against people of all shapes, colors, and sizes. It is not recent news that people are being marginalized, but we all need to remind ourselves of our roles as Christians in a world filled with a dearth of the love and peace that we long to have as children of God.
People may critique the historical accuracy of the portrayals of President Johnson and Dr. King, but there is something phenomenally sacred in experiencing the emotional turmoil of the discussions that take place within The Oval Office. Instead of focusing on the inaccuracies, let’s set our minds on reestablishing the Voting Rights Act that these individuals worked for, which is being eroded before our very eyes.
Like those who marched in Selma and protested against discrimination across the country, we are at a pivotal crossroads of our society. When we may get frustrated when our world seems to be dealing with situations of racism, grief, hatred, anger, and sadness, looking to a film like “Selma” enables us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, where our greatest fears become our strength to seek and make change. We see Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explore the woes of leadership and search for his own empowerment and meaning in a greater cause. He finds support in a then young John Lewis, who reminds him of his courage and thirst for righteousness.
In the words of the rapper Common, an actor in the film and the writer of the movie’s Golden Globe winning song, “Glory”, “'Selma' has awakened my humanity.” We are called to action and awareness to care for this right to be human that people have struggled to protect. The marches in Selma were not standstill moments of history, but were momentous inspirations that remind us of our integrity and pursuit of justice. We continue to sing that we shall overcome someday, but as Christians we are called to bring the reign of God to the here and now of our world through God’s grace and love. May I perhaps suggest a new hashtag? #WeShallOvercomeTODAY
Emily Pickens-Jones is a first year Masters of Divinity student and Missional Fellow at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. She hails from the Bay Area of California and is the daughter of two United Methodist Clergy. She graduated from University of California, Davis with a B.A. in International Relations, focusing on the cultures and religions of Africa. She studied abroad in Tanzania and served on the staff and lived at her university’s campus ministry, CA House, which is also home to a Multifaith Living Community, an interreligious intentional and inclusive living environment. She has attended countless UMC conferences and has served as a youth and young adult leader in a variety of capacities. She has a strong calling to working for social advocacy through the United Methodist Church especially concerning interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Exactly 50 years ago this month, a voting rights campaign began in Selma, AL resulting in a non-violent, peaceful, 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery, to the steps of the state capital building on March 25, where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd estimated at 25,000 or more. This event built on previous gatherings: an earlier march attempt that would become known as “Bloody Sunday”, where many were attacked and many severely beaten, even run down by state police and sheriff officers on horseback. An even earlier march, in nearby Marion, AL, had resulted in the police shooting death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, as he tried to protect his mother from a policeman’s nightstick. The new movie, “Selma”, depicting these historical events opens with four little girls walking down the steps of a church when a sudden, horrific, screen-filling explosion blows away those four innocent little girls, once again giving those who lived through that period the emotionally gut-wrenching, tear producing awfulness that we experienced then. That bombing happened in Birmingham, AL in Sept. 1964, only two months after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. That bombing would serve as a deeply motivating tragedy for the civil rights movement, and certainly was on the minds of the people gathered in Selma. We too easily see such heinous bombings as mere historical facts, thinking that such god-awfulness happened “way back then” but surely not now as we have made so much progress in race relations, even electing an African-American president—not once, but twice.
But just last week a bombing occurred outside the NAACP office building in Colorado Springs, CO. While local news reported the event, national media almost completely ignored it until it went viral on Twitter, and some other social media. The employees had just returned from a holiday period, and it was known they would be returning that day. The bomb did very little damage, even though the FBI is now calling it an “improvised explosive device” (IED), and is investigating the incident, with a white male seen by some witnesses being sought for questioning. But damage is not the issue, since the very fact that this can happen 50 years after a bombing caused horrifically tragic deaths, should alert us all to the reality that some people in our country want to reopen the violence of the past to intimidate and/or injure, perhaps even kill, others simply because of the color of their skin. Any who doubt this should simply read, though no one should ever have to read such vitriolic awfulness, the comments posted on the TV stations’ comment lines (like KKTV), blaming the NAACP for the bombing, and/or saying they deserved it (all under the cover of anonymity, of course).
When that “Bloody Sunday” happened Martin Luther King, Jr. appealed to religious leaders all across the nation to join them in their peaceful, non-violent march for freedom. The response brought many such leaders and lay-people from across the nation, so that black and white marched together. Two whites who responded, Unitarian pastor James Reeb, and Michigan housewife, Viola Liuzzo, were killed—he by local whites who beat him so severely one night that he died two days later; she shot to death by four KKK members as she drove marchers back to Selma after the conclusion of the march (three of those four from the KKK were later prosecuted, though only for conspiring to violate her civil rights). Such a response is now needed from religious leaders and lay people, as well as anyone else of good ethical and moral thought and motivation, in Colorado Springs, and anywhere else such attempts at intimidation or injury are taking place. That NAACP will have its annual All Peoples Breakfast on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19, and as many as can possibly make it most certainly should, to show solidarity with our human brothers and sisters in this organization—and anywhere else in the nation that such a gathering is scheduled. Or we should join the NAACP to show our support, or any other means that might demonstrate that we will not stand idly by while human beings and fellow citizens are being attacked and/or threatened.
It is popular among some commentators to state often that every generation must win essential freedoms once again. That such a basic political right as voting in this democracy, and the basic human right of living without being judged by the color of your skin, have to be won again and again is sadly pathetic. Yet giving the realities that actually exist, it seems true that this is so. Yet it is essential that this be done not just by certain people of color, but by all people of all colors. As Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us all: racism is as damaging and destructive to the racist as it is to the people against whom the racism is pursued. He also stated that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And it is precisely such injustice we must stand united against, so as to establish real justice for us all.
Back to “Selma”: The movie is exceptionally well done, even though it takes some slight liberties with actual historic events for appropriate and good dramatic effect. It is well worth every penny to see it, most especially in this current era of racially charged realities, because it demonstrates visually and graphically the kinds of realities we have already lived through as people in this nation, and what we need to remember as we seek to go forward being better in our race relationships as people living in this nation. It is exceptionally well acted and well written, even including the “new” speeches (though the movie is not speech heavy) since, for whatever reasons, the King family did not sign-off on his speeches being used for the movie, though the ending of the speech on the steps of the capital building in Montgomery does end virtually the same as the actual speech, in which he said:
“The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all of God’s children. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that allows judgment to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.” Then later added, “And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.” Then he finished with a stirring quoting of lines from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Our God is marching on. Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! His truth is marching on!”
Martin Luther King, Jr., at another time and place, also said the following: “I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.” Hate is the reality of those who bomb churches within which walk little girls. Hate is the reality of those who put bombs outside the offices of the NAACP. Hate is destructive and too often deadly—and hate cannot be allowed to be the final word! It wasn’t 50 years ago, and it cannot be today, 50 years later! It is love that had the final word then and must have the final word now! Let’s make it so! Amen and Amen!
Rodney Noel Saunders is a United Methodist clergyperson living in Alberquerque, NM where he serves as the Wesley Foundation Director at the University of New Mexico.