Archive for June, 2012

Leading for Justice = Using Your Voice!

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

I am a life-long United Methodist who didn’t practice what I preached until I was given an amazing opportunity with Bread for the World to become a Hunger Justice Leader earlier this month.  I have always known about the United Methodist Social Principles and our call to serve the least of these, but I was convinced my voice would not make a difference, so I said nothing.  I am ashamed that my silence on so many issues has been taken for approval when I far from approve of hunger, poverty, injustice, homophobia, and all of the ills that plague our denomination, communities, and world. 

Through Bread for the World, I was given an opportunity to come together with young adults from so many different denominations from all over the United States to learn how we can use our voices to advocate to decision makers on behalf of our brothers and sisters in our communities and across the world to affect real change.  Until recently I never took my dual citizenship in the Kindom of God and as a citizen of the United States seriously.  At times I have been more focused on one than the other—or simply not at all.

As Christians, and as United Methodists, we have an amazing legacy to live into to serve the least of these through the example of Jesus Christ and even John Wesley.  We are called to stand up for and with our brothers and sisters who live in the margins, who are hungry, who despair, and who cannot see the light in the darkness.  We are called to break down these walls of despair and to be beacons of hope, not just because it is the cool thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.

Being an advocate for all of God’s children is somewhat scary, and I can attest to that fear, but recognizing that fear and having the courage to go anyway is exactly what the Gospels proclaim time and again.  It is shameful in the year 2012 that we have starving people in our communities and in the world.  It does not have to be like this—no one has to go to bed hungry or suffer from food insecurity. 

We must stand up and use our voices to advocate to our representatives in Congress.  We must call on them to create a circle of protection around programs such as SNAP, WIC, School-Based Nutrition Programs, and Foreign Aid, which is vital to hungry and poor people in the US and abroad.  We must ask our Congressional Representatives to work together and to put aside partisan issues to ensure that no one is hungry.  We need to open our eyes and see the face of Christ in everyone we encounter and stop turning a blind eye to these basic human needs.  

Use your voice.  Write, call, or email your Representatives.  “Do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with our God.”

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Maggie Edmondson is the Minister of Congregational Care and a member of Hillview United Methodist Church in Boise, Idaho.  She is a graduate of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University where she earned her Master of Divinity and also holds a degree in English from West Liberty State College.  She is a 2012 Hunger Justice Leader with Bread for the World.  

On Interning: Reflections from Mercy

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

This summer I am serving as an Ethnic Young Adult intern with the General Board of Church and Society.  Coming to Washington, DC is such a huge blessing to my life, I have to pinch myself sometimes to realize that it is not a dream. I am starting my third week of my placement with the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).

My first day here showed me the beginning of a great exciting and learning process   Both the executive director of MFSA and my internship supervisor are helping to make this experience relaxed, insightful, and an all-around great experience to prepare me for my future in ministry. On my second day, I had the opportunity to participate in the MFSA Board meeting, but thankfully my first week was pretty relaxed, getting over the jet lag, getting used to the climate.

My supervisor tasks me with things to work on and trusts me enough to complete them in a timely manner without having to micromanage me.  Being a theological student, this has opened my eyes to understanding the work of social justice much better. Being at MFSA has helped me figure out how I would like to engage myself for social action in the future.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on the topic of religious liberty with very prominent panelists at Center for American Progress. The first topic of discussion was equality for marriage, including equality for LGBT persons. I have learned so much in regards to this issue and I continue to embark on this journey to understand different perspectives on it and hopefully reach at a graceful conclusion. This morning I read a book, by Walter Wink “Homosexuality and the Bible’ and watched a DVD “voices of Witness Africa” to help my understanding.

It also struck me when it was said that marriage is a civil union and that the work of religious part is just to bless it. I had never thought that way previously.

Another issue mentioned was contraception and the fact that some religious institutions do not provide for health care insurance that covers for their employees contraception care.

Finally, we talked about religious liberty and the fact that some minority religions might be denied the ability to create more space for worship or be able to enjoy freedom of worship. As a Kenyan citizen, I reflected on what this means in my own country. According to the current Kenyan constitution, it states that there shall be no state religion which means that Kenya allows for freedom of worship. This led me to think of the memorandum in which some Kenyans object to the current constitution because it accepts the existence of Kadhi courts which deal with Sharia law. However, the court only deals with issues of marriage, such as bride price, and inheritance.

In thinking about religious liberty in my current context of living in Washington, DC, I then posed a question to my supervisor about the phrase “God Bless America.”  How do those people who profess there is no God feel about this?

Finally, I also had an opportunity to meet with two very inspirational leaders, Rev. Mary Kay Totty of Dumbarton United Methodist Church and Rev Ken Hawes of Hughes United Methodist Church.  I shared with them my story and it was a chance for me to know how they get to involve their congregations in social justice.  I am also learning the importance of the church to be more conversant with the issues that affect the global church including those in Africa.

I have this sense of belonging and feeling that this is the right place at the right time. MFSA is such a great place for interning.  I look forward to how the rest of the summer will unfold as I seek opportunities and find myself being sought by the same.

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Mercy Rehema is an Ethnic Young Adult Intern through The United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society, placed at MFSA. Mercy is originally from Kenya and is a student in the Faculty of Theology at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Immigration decision praised by United Methodist Interagency Task Force on Immigration

Monday, June 18th, 2012

United Methodists across the country are celebrating President Obama’s decision today to direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stop deporting undocumented immigrant youth and allow them to obtain work permits if they arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have no criminal record, have been in the United States for at least five consecutive years, graduated from a U.S. high school or hold a GED, or served in the military.

The young people affected by this policy are known as “DREAMers” after the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAM Act-eligible students. The DREAM Act passed the Senate in 2010, but came up five votes shy of overcoming a procedural filibuster which prevented its passage. Although most Republicans voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, there has been recent openness by a few of the leaders in the party. The decision announced today by the President shows a bold step forward and many United Methodists across the country stand ready to support this important and long-awaited decision.

In the past three years, United Methodist congregations have, in many ways, led faith communities in advocating for just and humane immigration reform, including the DREAM Act. Just a few weeks ago, the United Methodist Immigration Reform Grassroots Journal was released, which illustrates United Methodists' grassroots work in support of just and humane reform.

United Methodists have engaged in over 570 events of public witness over the last three years, including public prayer vigils, meetings with members of Congress, and 250 DREAM Sabbath services in the fall of 2011 alone. This means an average of almost 200 public witness events each year, or one event every 42 hours.

In addition to the direct services that hundreds of United Methodist churches provide immigrant communities such as Justice for Our Neighbors, legal clinics for low-income immigrants, United Methodists are advocating for legislative reform that upholds the dignity and defends the basic civil and human rights of our immigrant brothers and sisters. United Methodist boards and agencies have come together to work in a unified effort to defend and support the rights of immigrants through the Interagency Task Force on Immigration, led by Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Phoenix area and Bishop Julius Trimble of the Des Moines area.

In response to the decision made by President Obama today, Bishop Carcaño and Bishop Trimble both commented on the fact that in states like Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Arizona, Texas and many others across the nation, United Methodists have publicly testified to the need for reform because United Methodists witness the impact of a broken immigration system every day. Seeing families torn apart through raids and long waits due to family backlogs, and seeing how that impacts our congregations who readily serve immigrant communities, has compelled United Methodists to make their voices heard.

While today’s decision protects DREAM Act students from further deportations, this does not yet provide the long-term solution needed to guarantee DREAMers full citizenship in a timely manner. Bishop Carcaño stated, “Congress must step up, as President Obama has done, and provide the necessary leadership to pass the DREAM Act and ensure that justice is done for DREAM Act eligible students. These are students who serve in our communities and congregations. These are not just leaders for tomorrow, they are our leaders today and they deserve every right that every citizen of the United States enjoys. This is a much-needed first step and one that we will celebrate until we see the DREAM Act signed into law.”

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Methodist Federation for Social Action is a member of the United Methodist Interagency Task Force on Immigration, a coalition of United Methodists committed to grassroots immigration reform that upholds dignity and advocates for basic human and civil rights of all people.
 

Business As Usual: A View of Annual Conferences

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

I’ve attended three Annual Conference’s this month (the fourth will be next week when I travel to the Pacific Northwest), and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an outsider in the midst of the family so many of us call the Church.

It started at the Annual Conference where I am a Lay Member. Running late, I needed to slip into Opening Worship to get my pastor’s signature so that I could get my laity credentials and nametag. A gracious guardian of the door let me slip in and I stood in the rear of the hotel ballroom until the sermon was over. When the Conference took to their feet to applaud the good words of Rev. Zan Holmes (“check your ego at the door!”), I quickly made my way to where my pastor was sitting. One row from my destination, an usher stopped me and told me I needed to display my nametag. When I explained that I was going to get my pastor’s signature and then make my way to the registration desk, she took me by the arm and said I needed to leave. When I explained that I would be but a moment and continued to my destination, she followed me continuing to say I would need to leave the room.  Despite the well-meaning usher’s persistence, my pastor signed my form and explained to the usher that I was her Lay Leader. Unsatisfied with my pastor’s response, the usher escorted me out of the ballroom, stating that “the Bishop had given express directions not to allow anyone in the Conference space without a nametag.” Upon exiting the room, I went directly to the registration area, received my credentials, placed my nametag around my neck, and returned to the ballroom. All of this took place during worship. Worship! Yes, you needed to have a nametag around your neck in order to participate in the act of worship! But that’s not all, friends: Holy Communion was served at the end of this worship service. Not only was a nametag needed to come into the Conference space, it was needed to come to worship and participate in the sharing of the bread and cup. Was that an open table?

At two other Annual Conferences, there were clear demarcations of where visitors could sit.  At one, guests were separated by a visible bar and invited to sit on metal bleachers. While this practice of “setting the bar” is understandable for the business of the Annual Conference, it was disturbing that the bar was not lifted during times of worship. To do so sets a dichotomy of insider versus outsider and limits the work of the Holy Spirit to those whom are blessed enough to be members of Annual Conference.  Is it any wonder our congregations can often be seen as cold and unwelcoming, when our Annual Conferences are structured to create false boundaries for the simple act of worshiping a God who loves and welcomes all? As we dream of a new way to be The United Methodist Church, let us remember the strangers in our midst, not only in our sanctuaries, but in all the ways we see ourselves being salt and light in the world.

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Chett Pritchett is Development and Communications Associate for MFSA. He is Lay Leader at Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. A passionate advocate for LGBTQ inclusion, he's also a self-avowed practicing Church Nerd.

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