Archive for June, 2013

US Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA and Prop 8

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

CHICAGO, IL and WASHINGTON, DC – June 26, 2013 – The Supreme Court of the United States released two historic rulings today, affecting the lives of millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons and their families. In a 5-4 decision, the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), paving the way for legally married gay and lesbian couples to receive an estimated 1,100 federal rights and benefits. Also, in a 5-4 decision, the Court overturned Proposition 8, enabling gay marriages to resume in the state of California.

Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) applaud the announcement by the United States Supreme Court. Both organizations work for justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of The United Methodist Church.

“The tide is turning across America in support of LGBT people and their families,” stated Matt Berryman, Executive Director of RMN. “The Supreme Court’s decisions underscore just how far we have come since Stonewall forty-four years ago this week, but our work is not done. The Court’s affirmation of gay marriage is but one more step forward along the arc of the moral universe. As Justice Kennedy announced in the majority opinion from the landmark case, Lawrence v. Texas, "…times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress."”

“The Court’s decision to recognize same-sex relationships must not be seen as the end of a justice movement,” stated Chett Pritchett, Interim Executive Director of MFSA. “The struggle for LGBT equality cannot be separated from experiences of racism and sexism. People who identify as LGBT still struggle to make ends meet in a struggling economy; they are affected by immigration reform movements and seek access to reproductive health care that is affordable, safe, and legal. We cannot stop working for the ultimate goal of justice for all.”

While The United Methodist Church continues to officially state “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” RMN and MFSA support the work of faithful United Methodists who believe they are living out their baptismal vows by standing against evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

While United Methodist doctrine declares that clergy shall not perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, more than a thousand United Methodist clergy, laity, and congregations across the world have signed statements committing themselves to fulfill their vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their gender. In the face of these conflicts, clergy are making conscientious decisions for ministry rather than exclusion.

“These Supreme Court cases enable gay and lesbian couples to marry and receive all the civil benefits awarded to such unions. But in our tradition, marriage is a covenant between God, the couple, and the Christian community,” says Berryman. “Faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus, a gospel centered on love of God and love of neighbor, necessitates that we be in ministry with and for all God’s children throughout their lives, including the marriage covenant. At RMN, we encourage clergy, laity, and congregations to profess their willingness and commitment to serving in ministry with and for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

To show your support for marriage equality, consider visiting Reconciling Ministries Network’s “Altar for All” program: www.rmnetwork.org/act-now/altar-for-all

Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love. RMN envisions a renewed and vibrant Wesleyan movement that is biblically and theologically centered. As committed disciples of Jesus Christ, RMN strives to transform the world by living out the Gospel’s teachings of grace, love, justice and inclusion for all of God’s children.

Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.

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Don’t Mess With Texas Women: Reflections on a Filibuster

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

It’s 4:20 am and for the second night this week, I’m awake with adrenaline pumping. Early Monday morning my partner and I returned from a night at the Texas State Capitol where we witnessed the passage of SB5 after hours and hours of important amendments tabled one after another without care or concern. Although being in the gallery among a sea of orange supporters during the speeches was indeed empowering, the grief eventually won over when we watched the passing of the bill to the Senate and witnessed so many smiles over something that would cause many women very serious harm.

That was early Monday. This morning, however, I am awake with very different feelings. I have spent my night and early morning shoulder to shoulder with thousands of folks standing for women in Texas. We collectively cheered on Wendy as she exhibited incredible perseverance. We ate pizza, donuts, cookies, salads and other food donated from people all over the country. We groaned together as we listened to the attempts to end the filibuster as we watched in the overflow rooms. And when the Point of Order was called on Wendy for supposedly going off topic by speaking about the sonogram bill, we rushed in masses to the rotunda.

Once settled, we sat down for a while in the rotunda and filled the balconies from top to bottom. Cecile Richards sat in the very center, encouraging us every now and then to remember that this was far from over. As the clock got closer and closer to midnight the anxiety rose quickly. There was confusion over what was happening. It seemed it could go either way and with 20 minutes to spare, that’s a nerve wracking experience. We held onto hope that discussion of procedure would fill the time. However, with 12 minutes to midnight, the roll-call for vote began. Democratic mics were being cut off. Procedure was becoming questionable at best. Word spread immediately from the gallery, through the halls, and into the rotunda that it was finally time to release all the noise we had been holding back. For the next 15 minutes we screamed, we stomped, we chanted. The noise was so loud that the vote could not occur and we became the citizen filibusters. We knew they were waiting on us to quiet down, we heard about troopers told to get us out, we heard the capitol doors were locked, but more than anything, we heard the voices of women – women who are tired of the government telling us what is best for us and our bodies. The noise made my ears ring. It was wonderful.

In the last few hours all we could do was wait. There was great confusion about the fact that they had forced the vote after midnight. We heard that it would count and we heard it wouldn’t. Finally, after the Senators caucus met for what felt like forever, Cecile had our attention again with a message from Wendy: We did it. We killed the bill. The women and men who have lived at the Capitol this last week, the Representatives and the Senators who fought tooth and nail, every person who stood in that building screaming at the top of their lungs to prevent a vote – we did it.

Folks who have been a part of the TX Legislature for 30 years said they have never seen anything like what happened tonight. It was beautiful and it was powerful. I am especially reminded of Alice Walker’s famous quotation, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” We remembered tonight that we have power – and we used it.

My hope is that this will act as a great reminder of what we can accomplish when we mobilize around issues of injustice. We stood strong for Texas women tonight in the state capitol, but the same sort of passion, perseverance, and overall being fed-up with policies that cause people harm is also needed within our church walls. Just as the Senators and the Representatives were elected by us to represent us and our voices so that the government can reflect its constituents, so too is the church supposed to reflect its people. When it doesn’t, we need to remember the power within each of us individually and with us a collective group.

As people of faith, as United Methodists, it is our theological responsibility to stand against injustices made in the name of God, our denomination, or our government. We are not to sit by idly, but to continue making our voices heard and a vision of the Kindom seen. It’s so easy to drown in cynical thought or to give up on these institutional bodies, but tonight reminded us that it’s up to us to believe we have power and then to choose to use it.

God has given each of us strength for the journey.

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Mary Ann Kaiser is a recent graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She has a passion for working in the intersections of church and society. Her love for religious approaches to questions of ethics, particularly in the realms of race, gender, and sexuality, led her to internships at WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) in Silver Spring, MD and Texas Freedom Network in Austin, TX. She has also worked for the Wesley Foundation and as a hospital chaplain. She currently serves as Youth Director and Justice Associate at University UMC in Austin and is pursuing ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church.

A Neo-Colonial Church?

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Map of Philippines, indicating main regionsI spent much of the second half of 2012 in the Philippines.  Commuting from my base at a family property south of Manila, I would pass by a significantly large church that runs its own school for pre-school and elementary-aged children.  It used to belong to the United Methodist Church and was the biggest one in its Conference.  Not anymore, as the new signage shows. 

About two years ago, a significant number of United Methodists in the Philippines left the denomination and formed a new one.  They call the new denomination, Ang Iglesya Metodista ng Pilipinas (AIMP), or in English, The Methodist Church of the Philippines.  Many left the UMC as individuals but some left as whole congregations, staying in the same property, like the sanctuary, for worship and other regular local church activities.  Such properties are now the subject of litigation over ownership.  I have heard reports that certain individuals have donated generously to the new denomination, which has recently established, based on the same reports, its own seminary headed by a former professor at a partly-owned United Methodist seminary. 

It is of course not surprising for people to leave a denomination in the same way that others join it.  That a group within a denomination decides to break away and form a new one is also not unusual.  It happens many times.  For those who care it is the reasons for breaking away that interests them.  In the case of the Philippines Central Conference the trigger was the perceived unjust handling of a case against one of the bishops.  That bishop was charged with sexual immorality and was expelled after a controversial process.  Many of those that supported that bishop believed he was innocent.  Many of those who are ambivalent about his guilt nevertheless felt that the process was rigged, regardless of whether or not they like the bishop personally.  Those that broke away simply felt that the present structure is not serving the church at present.   It is not a coincidence that most of those that bolted the church also advocated autonomy for the church.  To them the way the case was handled was the last straw.  They feel that the current structure makes endemic the kind of episcopal politics through which they had just gone. 

It will help us understand how things ended up this way if we have a basic background of the history of the Philippines, and the current social context which is the product of that history.  Philippine social, economic, and political institutions and culture have two major characteristics: colonial and feudal.  Colonial because on the whole Philippine society is oriented towards following the basic direction of the United States, a former colonizer that nevertheless wields considerable clout to this day.  Feudal because of the inculcation of the patron-client, or patronage, system, among other things, that was fostered under Spanish rule and which the succeeding American colonizers found useful in implementing colonial goals.

Spain (1565), United States (pre-WW2), Japan (WW2)

For those who don’t know it yet, the Philippines was directly occupied and colonized by three foreign powers (Spain, 1565-1898; United States 1898-1946; Japan 1941-1945).  Of these, it is the United States that has kept the greatest and most pervasive influence up to the present,  so that any aspirant to the highest post in the Philippines has to earn the nod of the incumbent US President.  The economic interests of the Philippine elite are closely intertwined with many US companies.  Just about all of them, too, have investments and properties in the United States.  The most powerful politicians directly come from the ranks of the elite, while those who are not are nevertheless bankrolled by a faction of the elite and beholden to it.  Many of them are educated in the US and/or perhaps Europe and Japan.  Considering the close relationship of the Philippine elite to US interests, it is logical for their politicians to court US approval, especially when seeking the highest post of the land. 

The colonial aspect manifests in the way the economy and politics are oriented but, for the purposes of this article, we shall focus mainly on the realm of consciousness, or culture, which is the realm where the colonial aspect is most enduring in the first place.  Colonial education enabled the perpetuation of inferior attitudes and behavior towards the colonizer, especially the dominant White culture, so that by extension, anything Caucasian is superior in all spheres.   In fact, the last government agency turned over to Filipinos under direct colonial rule was that charged with education.  By the time the Philippines was granted formal independence in 1946, the colonial system of education was well entrenched and its effect is still being felt strongly today.  One must precisely reflect critically on the word ‘granted.’  It implies an orderly transition, not a discontinuity, of a colonial presence from a direct one to one that is more subtle.   So, when a colonizer ‘grants’ independence to a colony it simply means it dictated the basic terms of that ‘independence.’  The ‘former’ colonizer still gets what it wants from the ‘former’ colony but with the appearance of the latter as a thoroughly independent nation.  It may not be precise to say that the Philippines is still a colony of the United States.  The term neo-colony may be more appropriate.

One of the more enduring negative aspects of colonial consciousness is the patronage system, which is of course a colonial legacy itself.  It was fostered under Spanish rule and was so effective in implementing colonial policies that it also suited the goals of the new American colonizers.  In this system one seeks the favor of powerful patrons, either to respond to a need or for social, economic or political advancement.  After receiving the favor one becomes beholden to the patron and become associated with the interests of that patron.   Aside from economic and political mechanisms, religious justification also ensured its viability.  It’s a long story, but the Catholic Church in the Philippines from the 16th through the 19th century was a Spanish church, a result of the agreement between the Spanish crown and the Vatican.  Colonial Filipinos did not see any non-Spanish priest because it was the Spanish monarch that made the appointment.  But the bottom line here is that the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines during those times was insulated from developments within Roman Catholicism as a whole, and hence remained medieval in orientation all throughout Spanish rule.  There was no separation of church and state and the church definitely encouraged the patronage system.  Though recent official positions of the dominant Roman Catholic Church no longer encourages the patronage system, neither does it actively campaign against it.  Thus, it still reigns to this day. 

Campaign-Button Shaped FlagIn Philippine elections, at least half of the votes are patronage votes, votes dictated by patrons, which of course are the wealthy elite.  Even those not directly bound by this system nevertheless have acquired that value as a result of centuries of inculcation and reinforcement.  People look to either the elite or the wealthy foreigner as their superiors in every way.  Incidentally, it is not surprising for first generation immigrant Filipinos to side with White racism when they come to the US.  This attitude is the direct result of being nurtured in this patron-client system and culture and it infects most Filipinos, even many among the highly educated.

The Philippine case may provide some sort of a template with which to analyze the situation of the Central Conferences in Africa, which have also gone through European colonialism and arguably have neo-colonial characteristics to this day.

At any rate, given the strongly colonial and feudal elements of Philippine society and culture we may want to reflect on a number of questions and situate them within the context of such a society given its characteristics.  For instance, in this kind of society and culture, what do we expect from the kind of structure and polity in which bishops of the Philippines Central Conference receive remuneration that’s half (1:2) of their US counterparts but where the exchange rate of the dollar to the local currency is 1:40?  How is that translated in practice when one aspires to the episcopacy?  What can one expect of the episcopal elections during the Central Conference meeting?  When the patronage system is deeply ingrained, what then do we make of the bishop’s power to appoint clergy, especially in a context in which some local churches are rich while many are impoverished?  And what about projects that seek funding from church agencies that require the bishop’s endorsement? 

The structure itself may not be inherently flawed but the context in which it operates may subject it to a kind of abuse that the available accountability mechanisms via the polity to check it may not work, since such mechanisms can be co-opted by the patronage system itself. 

Many of those that left the church in view of the controversy surrounding the expelled bishop think precisely like this.  The intervention of the Council of Bishops was seen as counterproductive and for good reason.  Whoever the Council of Bishops may send does not necessarily know what’s going on and the lack of cross-cultural sensitivity could make the situation worse, which is what, in fact, many of those who left believed. 

Many United Methodists in the Philippines complain that much of the energy of the church is wasted on episcopal politics.  This is actually a sentiment even of many of those that have decided to stay within the denomination.  There is of course a significant segment within the church that is part of a greater movement within the Philippines that seek basic changes in Philippine society, and particularly aiming at removing its colonial and feudal features.   In terms of the denomination, this is translated into a desire for autonomy for the Philippines Central Conference. 

How should United Methodists in the United States look at such a development?

 

Haniel R. Garibay, Haniel is a home missioner and Cross Culture Common Witness Coordinator for MFSA. Born and raised in the Philippines, Haniel earned a BA from Philippine Christian University and an MA in international development from the University of Sussex, UK. His other involvements in the church include memberships in the boards of the Virginia Conference Board of Church and Society, the National Association of Filipino-American United Methodists (NAFAUM), and the General Board of Church and Society.

Beyond Marriage: Debating Privileged Relationships

Monday, June 17th, 2013

One of the biggest fights my friends ever had, in my master of divinity program, erupted over same-sex marriage. The question was not if it should happen—all were fierce advocates for equality—but how and when. On one side were strategic minds worried that a case brought before the Supreme Court too soon could set equality back. On the other were persons from less friendly parts of the country where the lack of equality for all would continue to mean equality for none.

It’s challenging to be radically progressive and pragmatically strategic. We in The United Methodist Church know this well.

But here we are, just a short time away from finding out how this Supreme Court will deal with the questions of marriage equality before it and, beyond what my friends or I could have imagined just a few years ago, there are social and political indicators to suggest the U.S. is “ready” for a sweeping ruling (whether or not these justices will be so bold is another matter).

Even still, while I celebrate the progress and the potential in this moment, I also warily wonder what and, more importantly, who it is “victory” on marriage would represent. While an ostensibly effective strategy for allaying fears and winning popular approval of marriage equality might be to present same-sex couples as “just like us” (notice the continued privileging of the heteronormative position), it is important that we consider who is in view, who is not, and what is given up to appear “acceptable.”

Being strategic toward very particular change isn’t necessarily being radically progressive toward thoroughgoing justice.

We would do well to pay attention to the subjects put forward as acceptable, as not too threatening to the status quo: to notice their social-economic status, gender, race, ethnicity, abilities, etc. And if we are concerned for justice, we ought to pay attention to the persons and issues not addressed or served all that well (or at all) by marriage equality as it has been conceived, who are in fact obscured and left behind by relatively elite and conservative interests in perpetuating a nominally expanded institution of marriage.

This present iteration of marriage equality still creates and sustains its own sets of exclusions. Some relationships are still privileged over others, with significant implications for access to health care and an array of other economic, social, and religious benefits. How might we better support mutually supportive relationships, from friends who serve as one another’s primary caregivers to blended families to adult children caring for their parents and so forth? (See beyondmarriage.org for such an agenda.)

Moreover, if we turn toward those who do not pass the acceptability test, whose concerns are not as sexy as marriage, whose very lives challenge our comfortable complacence, how might we better direct limited resources to address urgent, often life-and-death issues faced disproportionately by LGBTQ persons: issues like homelessness, sexual assault, racism, and inadequate access to health care?

Taking up these questions while also hoping for marriage equality is not an either/or proposition. Indeed, the view beyond marriage calls us to a more expansive both/and political and religious consciousness.

To be sure, should any part or the entirety of the two Supreme Court rulings be favorable, it will be a moment to celebrate, and I do anticipate that day will be a joyous one (whether this year or in the future, for the day will come). Though I am challenging here the primary focus on marriage to the exclusion of what are arguably more pressing matters, there is indeed value in marriage.

It is not the only form of exemplary relationality, yet marriage at its best can signify ways of living and loving that press beyond specificities of gender and demonstrate how mutual care between intimate partners can engender further a whole web of relationality grounded in radical love, hospitality, and commitment to justice.

In these ways, I celebrate what marriage can teach us. At the same time, I yearn for a movement that can look underneath and beyond marriage to the persons and relationships whose urgent concerns are yet to be served adequately by our social, political, and religious structures.

Whether or not the Supreme Court deems loving partnerships between two persons of the same gender legally “acceptable,” may we strive for justice movements mediated not by acceptability but concern for the unaccepted, the marginal of the marginalized, the ones whose needs are not yet addressed by this version of equality. May the rolling river of justice lead us, yes, to marriage equality but beyond it toward a more fulsome, far reaching vision of justice.

 

Tyler Schwaller, Doctoral Student at Harvard Divinity SchoolTyler Schwaller is a doctoral student in New Testament and Early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, as well as a provisional deacon in the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. Not quite the marriage hater he might seem, Tyler is thrilled to have the honor of officiating for his first two weddings later this summer and fall. You can follow his blog at tylerschwaller.wordpress.com.

Through the Door: Thoughts from an Ethnic Young Adult Intern

Friday, June 14th, 2013

A thing I’ve learned about DC: Metro doors and elevator doors are not the same. You can hold an elevator door open. Once on an elevator, you can smoothly arrive at your destination. Metro doors are very different. The metro waits for no one. If those doors are closing, you won’t be able to open them back up. If you don’t move fast enough, you miss your train and have to wait for the next one.  Once you’re on the metro, you may have to wait a little while to get to your stop. If there is maintenance prepare to wait a while longer. Make sure you’re holding onto someone or something because any sudden stop may land you on the ground or in a strangers lap.

I’ve only been in DC for about a week now but this lesson has been quite valuable to me. Not only for my safety and well-being, but it also provided a great life lesson. Much like the Metro, life waits for no one. If you don’t hurry and hold on to an opportunity, you can’t be sure when the next one will come around. This summer, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to intern at MFSA as I take part in the Ethnic Young Adult Intern program through the General Board of Church and Society. I am so very grateful to have received these two opportunities!

The Ethnic Young Adult intern program brings together 12 young adults from all over the world. Myself included, we have interns from California and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and representing places ranging from North Carolina, to Liberia, and Fiji.  Many of us are experiencing DC for the first time─ and for others it is their first time in the United States. The internship lasts ten weeks, it is organized by GBCS and through them each of us has been placed at a different social justice organization.

I am in awe of the prophetic and powerful voices I have been blessed to hear throughout the last week. I am also grateful to get to know the owners of these voices. It has been such an experience to get to know my new Intern family: we are each so very different. Across the languages we speak, the tones of our skin, as well as the different opinions, cultures, and world views that we have brought with us, we each possess this commonality, despite our differences, which is the hunger to learn. I find that it is so important to engage in holy conferencing with people who are different from you because it is how we learn.   Whether we are learning from each other, our leaders at GBCS, our different internship placements, or  learning a bit from ourselves and the spiritual and prayerful relationships that brought us here, we have been given this divine opportunity to live, learn and empower one another this summer; I have never been more grateful!

Deuteronomy 16:20 says “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the lord your God is giving you.”  This is a verse I will be holding close to my heart this summer as I navigate my way through the DC metro system and my internship here at MFSA.

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Julia 'Ali' Santiago: EYA Julia "Ali" Santiago is a rising junior at Meredith College in North Carolina and active in the UMC. Ali is working with MFSA this summer as an Ethnic Young Adult intern through the General Board of Church and Society. EYA's serve at agencies in Washington, DC and develop skills for service to the church and world through Friday seminars.

 

Immigrants are my Neighbors

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Here in Georgetown Texas, many of my neighbors are Hispanic.  The truth is I have a heart for Hispanic people and that comes naturally. After all, two of my daughters were born in Mexico. Patricia Francis and Cynthia Xochil were born in Mexico City during the 1960s. I have fond memories of my Mexico City neighbors including this story.  Because my daughters were typical blond, bald headed ‘anglo’ babies, my friends endearingly called them ‘little Jicamas’.

That Mexico City CONNECTION and the teachings of Jesus lead me to be supportive of the Dream Act, teaching in ESL classes at FUMC, and participating in quarterly JFON (Justice for our Neighbors)   immigration clinics at FUMC.  MFSA helped make this clinic a reality with the support of JFON. Because of these activities, I am in contact with specific immigrants seeking to learn English, and seeking help with Citizenship, Green Card and Dream Act situations for themselves or a family member. 

My heart is touched when meeting these neighbors and hearing their stories.The hearts of all those who help with our clinics are touched when clients  come out of the session with our JFON lawyer rejoicing in the assistance they’ve been provided via this free and confidential activity.  

On  April 23, we held our 8th  Immigration Clinic.  Eight clients were served. Carolina came for her second and final conference and left knowing that she has all the documentation to officially apply for citizenship.  I remember her first visit.  A client failed to come for his appointment and I called the first name on my backup list. When Carolina answered the phone, I asked her how quickly she could get to the church.   She said: “I’m in the parking lot, and will be there in a minute.” Carolina was so eager to talk to our lawyer that she was willing to wait all day in the parking lot just in case there was a no show.

This is the kind of need, determination and then subsequent joy the people whom we serve via our immigration clinics express at the opportunity provided by MFSA/JFON. Our immigration policy should not  separate families or deport children who have lived in this country for most of their lives. Thankfully, our clinics have helped more than 10 students apply for the Dream Act and acquire the chance to work legally after  H.S. or college and, in time, apply for citizenship.  

Unfortunately there is much that is broken with our Nation’s immigration system. I hope for good reforms from our current congress, but wonder if the proposed waiting periods like 10 years for citizenship are not overly  burdensome. As an example, in a recent  clinic we met a woman married to a citizen, she herself lives here legally.  Back in 2007 she received an official document from our government that said her two daughters in Mexico could at that point apply for visas.  Our government system was to then process the actual visas. This has not yet occurred due to the backup of applications. Our lawyer told this woman that they are still processing  applications from the late 1990s, and it is likely her daughter’s visa applications will not  be processed for another 8 years. 

I hope the future proves to be better for immigrants and that we call upon our leaders to make things right.  It is imperative to seek better solutions and opportunities for immigrants to work legally, for families to stay together, for children who only know this place as their home to be able to live and work here productively…all this is called RADICAL HOSPITALITY. This is the call of Jesus to love our neighbor and to work for justice FOR ALL. 

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Julie Fuschak lives in Georgetown Texas. She and her first husband served as missionaries in Mexico City for 7 years.

Racial Injustice in North Carolina is a Threat to National Justice

Monday, June 10th, 2013

I love the Old North State. This is the land of the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils, the Wolfpack and the Demon Deacons. North Carolina has a diverse and eclectic history; whether Blackbeard at Wilmington Port or Daniel Boone in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this state is a wonderful place to call my home. However, the North Carolina Legislature has taken the state in a direction it dare not go and people here in this land known for being first in flight are not happy about it.

This past Wednesday, the State Legislature acted to continue the march towards social backwardness with the removing of the Racial Justice Act, a measure enacted to protect racial minorities from being wrongly convicted and put on death row. The measure allowed for minorities to use jury make-up, statistics and other means to commute their death sentence. The Legislature in the past 6 months has denied federal funding for Medicaid that covers 500,000 people; they have taken unemployment benefits from 165,000 people, and raised taxes on 900,000 low-income families. To complicate measures the Governor and Speaker of the House along with the majority of the House and Senate are pushing to roll back early-voting, re-instate the death penalty and take money from public schools and give them to private schools. All of this is being done in the name of democracy.

Honestly, I love my state but I join with the voices coming from religious and non-religious organizations across this beautiful land to say that enough is enough. Recently, in a conversation with the Reverend Dr. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP, we were talking of the grave injustices that our state is committing and Dr. Barber remarked that people are scared. He went on to say that this is history repeating itself, members of the African American community along with those in other socio-economic, racial and ethnic minorities are terrified of what is happening. There are rumblings of Klan meetings cropping up again; there is talk of ‘those people’ and ‘the other.’ This bleak realization of racial degradation and prejudice is terrifying, but we can stop it.

Clergy from across the state are joining together to protest these measures. United Methodists from both Conferences in North Carolina, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Cooperative Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, and Presbyterians are all coming together to join hands on the steps of the State House and say enough is enough. These are protests that say that we as people of faith cannot stand idly by as Jim Crow seems to be rearing its ugly head again.

I can’t help but be reminded of Victor Hugo’s iconic book that later became theatrical and cinematic masterpiece, Les Misérables. In the book one line sticks out, Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. We should fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices the real murderers. The great dangers are within us. Why worry about what threatens our heads or our purses? Let us think instead of what threatens our souls.” The very soul of a state I love is threatened. While money is thrown around like child’s play in Raleigh, people are suffering and our souls cannot allow this to happen.

So what can you do? Pray for those in North Carolina. There are countless organizations working within the state to change the course of this terrible journey, they could use your support and presence. Call a pastor who is supporting this movement and encourage them to involve the laity of our churches as well. This is the time that we can reverse what has happened. Otherwise it may be too late for the land of the Outer Banks and the Appalachian Mountains.

Finally friends, I am ever more inspired by what is going on here. The Spirit of God is moving amidst the people, even if the State Legislature is ignoring that movement. Denominations and people who are ardently different theologically are joining hands to protect that last and least of these. People are bound together in an effort to say to our state leaders that justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Even if we have to bring the waters of justice all the way to Raleigh, God is standing with the oppressed and equality will be accomplished.

When I was in middle school I had to take a class on North Carolina history, I can still remember the last stanza to our State Anthem, ‘The Old North State':

               Then let all those who love us, love the land that we live in,

As happy a region as on this side of heaven,

Where plenty and peace, love and joy smile before us,

Raise aloud, raise together the heart thrilling chorus.

Hurrah! Hurrah! The Old North State forever!

Hurrah! Hurrah! The good Old North State!”

North Carolina, the nation is watching. Are we going to take this message to Raleigh? Are we going to change the tides of racial injustice and prejudice? Are we going to reclaim the Tar Heel State? The task looms large before us but we can be thankful that God goes with us.

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Rob Lee is a Religious Studies student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, with plans to attend seminary. A delegate to the 2012  General Conference, where he engaged others on a variety of social justice issues, he has been published with Reconciling Ministries Network, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and the Huffington Post. He currently writes a column for western North Carolina newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @roblee4 or on his blog, www.robleetheology.blogspot.com

Annual Conference Isn’t for the Poor

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Last week, I attended the Annual Conference to which I am a Lay Member. I’ll admit it; I’m an Annual Conference geek. Worship, bible study, legislation, ordination – it all can make a heart strangely warmed. But there’s something about this time of year that makes me uneasy: the price tag.

You see, it’s a costly endeavor to be a Member of Annual Conference. First, there’s the registration fee ($159). Then there’s the meal options (ranging from $19-$42 if you eat on-site; the “best deal” meal plan is $140). Rooms at the host hotel are $169 a night. The lowest parking rate is $26 a day. The least amount one could spend this year for my Annual Conference –with no meals and no parking and sharing a room for 2 nights – is a whopping $328. Add on $10 per meal for 5 off-site meals (and that’s inexpensive), the total becomes $378. This doesn’t include transportation costs or parking (I took the train and a cab to Conference, for a total of $50). My math totals out at a conservative amount of $428. If I want a Conference Journal, that’s another $22. And you always need a little spending money for Cokesbury, right?

I don’t consider myself poor by any stretch of the imagination. And I’m blessed that my congregation is able to cover costs of registration, housing, and a couple meals. But for many smaller or struggling congregations, $428 is a good chunk of change. I’m certain that for some congregations it is the expectation that the Lay Member would cover these expenses from his or her own finances.

Assuming a Lay Member is able to finance their participation in Annual Conference, most will have to take 2-3 vacation days from work. If you’re a minimum wage earner ($7.25/hour), you’d need to work almost 60 hours (pre-taxes) to pay for going to Annual Conference!

I realize this is only one example of my specific Annual Conference. Many Annual Conferences have taken an opportunity to meet on college campuses instead of in expensive hotels. Special meals are often held at local congregations. Carpooling, room sharing, and staying in the homes of friends are often creative options for cost savings. But as The United Methodist Church continues to talk about our growing need to diversify membership, we seem to have forgotten that poverty is still a reality in our communities and in our congregations. If Annual Conference is a costly endeavor, the cost is reflected in the membership of Annual Conference. Often young adults are unable to participate fully because of costs; economically disadvantaged persons don’t even see participating as a possibility because of the price tag.

Our Annual Conferences must begin to see our witness holistically. Annual Conferences that cost over $400 per individual send a message that The United Methodist Church is a place for the upper- and middle-classes. But John Wesley, founder of Methodism, rallied against a church that didn’t have poverty as its central focus. And Jesus reminds us, “the poor will always be with you.” But will they be with us at Annual Conference?

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Chett Pritchett is Interim Executive Director for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

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