Archive for September, 2013

MFSA Mourns the Passing of Civil Rights Leader Evelyn Lowery

Friday, September 27th, 2013

The Methodist Federation for Social Action joins with so many other United Methodists and civil rights advocates who today are grieving the death of Evelyn G. Lowery, founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Women, Inc. As a sister organization to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC/WOMEN was founded to champion the rights of women, children, and families, and respond to the needs of disenfranchised people.  Mrs. Lowery was the creator of the “Drum Major of Justice Awards” which are held annually in Atlanta, GA, and the Evelyn G. Lowery Civil Rights Heritage Tour, a two-day tour retracing the events of the civil rights movement throughout Alabama.  Mrs. Lowery was responsible for getting 13 monuments erected paying tribute to many of the icons of the civil rights movement.  Our prayers and condolences go out to Evelyn’s husband and United Methodist clergyperson,The Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, and the entire Lowery family.  In a statement yesterday, Rev. Lowery shared these words of tribute: 

"My beloved Evelyn was a special woman, whose life was committed to service, especially around the issues of empowering women. She was a wonderful mother and wife and I thank God that she didn't suffer any pain and that I was blessed having her as my partner, my confidant and my best friend for close to 70 years. I will miss her each and every day, but as a man of faith, I know that she is with her God. My entire family has been overwhelmed by the continuous outpourings of love, support and prayers that have come from across the country and we ask for your continued prayers over the next few days."

Today, our hearts are heavy, but our faith reminds us that “joy comes in the morning” and that even in the midst of grief, we can give thanks. Our gratitude flows because we trust that “when the battle is over” (the life of faith, hope, and work of justice for all people), “we’re going home.”  Thank you Evelyn Lowery, good and faithful servant of Christ and inspiration to us all!  We trust that God's wide arms are welcoming you home.

 

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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.

Removing the Screens: reflections from last weekend’s conference in Arlington

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

The Statue of Liberty Weeps for Handala

Through my co-workers at the Wi’am Center, I received a feet-first education on Palestinian solidarity: my shoes were dirty from Bethlehem’s streets before my perspective solidified. I reconnected with a Wi’am Center volunteer (a Palestinian-American), this weekend, at a conference in Arlington, VA hosted by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. In the midst of trading travel stories, she asked if Israeli Border Security “made you an activist for life.” Of course it did, yet the driving force the reawakening impetus  is not a lingering grudge with particular personnel but the Christian Call to wash the camouflage from systemic oppression.

“Israel Firster” is a game of screens and the justice movement strives to cut through the blinds. The Friday evening plenary focused on the driving economic forces of Israel’s continuing presence in the West Bank and Gaza, often obscured by panic around ethnic and religious prejudice. The panelists placed Israel in the constellation of military-industrial power-players who profit from war & repression technology and techniques. Palestinian villages are the laboratory where devices are tested before sale—historic buyers included terrible regimes in Latin America and Africa. Corporations in and outside Israel, with US government support, are helping the current regime sustain and aggravate distrust in the Levant to generate the fear used to justify preemptive violence and mass surveillance. Radical and religious inflammation is a convenient symptom—a distraction from the guns and money agenda.

At a session on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, a presenter mused that it was difficult to attack the “beautiful” face of ‘Brand-Israel’ but that the tactic was useful for exposing the ugliness beneath its mask. Arms and surveillance gear are developed at Israeli universities. It is neither desirable nor necessary to fatally undermine ALL of Israeli fine arts and scholarship but planned boycotts on select targets create opportunities to expose those programs as whitewash for institutions complicit in dispossession. Powerful ministries in the government, invested in its military prowess, provide the outpouring of funds that promote Israel’s arts globally. They make the most beautiful camouflage!

Refugee Girl Uses Laser-sight to Destroy WallNaturally, corporations and financial institutions are finding creative ways to profit from the occupation. That fact is well-documented and increasingly known.

Progressives must be aware of the screens that work against Palestinian Rights movements, themselves. Wit and diligence can defuse many of the discrediting tactics employed by zionist sympathizers, so long as justice workers are no divided among themselves.

Curtains will rise between us if we gloss over our privileges, as those unrecognized senses of privilege continue to operate unguided. A break-out session on Saturday afternoon created a space for participants to talk about the diverse voices within our movement in order to discover overlaps where we still lack complete understanding. For example, because mainstream media may privilege Jewish voices in discussions of Israel (and because of still-existing anti-Semitic sentiments in society) disambiguating the place of Jewish voices in a Palestinian Rights movement is a regular task. Conversely, everyone in attendance took time to think about which voices were not represented. Rather than turning our backs to differences, we must take strides to braid those differences into a concerted, self-aware movement.

An especially touching session took place on Sunday morning, when panelists from the African American and Indigenous American communities shared their respective views alongside a Palestinian BDS strategist. Two issues became salient. First, any sense of complacency among us about the position of historically oppressed groups was dashed and we faced the long-term consequences of practices that dehumanize and dispossess. The second screen only partially cleared; other rights movements cannot merely blow away the fog of problems that already surround them. One panelist commented that solidarity had to go beyond being “transactional” to become “integral” for all groups in coalition. Personally, I believe that only a movement that is both inclusive and rooted in the voices of those most affected will be worth brandishing on Capitol Hill, when ears finally open, and it needs to be grown and honed in the media before that day.

A holistic, comprehensive solidarity movement difficult to build and I cannot diminish the necessity of creating a spread of practical milestones to accompany the needed cultural shift. We can do that. Yet there is a danger of falling into a fragmentary culture of nonprofit “benchmarks”, where the success paradigm calcifies at a non-analogous point in history and objectives fail to connect with present needs. If maintaining relationships is valued equally to meeting goals, then I think we can look forward to a long, arduous, but rewarding justice journey.

A final comment on justice and movement building for Palestinian Rights: though we should be track the many threads in this movement, I realized that each of us cannot be involved in every aspect nor responsible for even one facet, alone. Ideally, this movement is made of many people operating within focused roles without slipping into ‘silos’. The only fatal screen is one put over the mirror. Just now, I noticed all the times I say “we” in my article and questioned if I earned that collective pronoun. Though my role may never be as a leader, I celebrate saying “we” because the struggle for a just society belongs to everyone and at all times.

[Top] The Statue of Liberty weeps for Handala, as painted on the Annexation barrier slicing through Bethlehem. [Right] A cartoon girl offers to destroy the Annexation barrier, adjacent to the Wi'am Center. Photos by J.D. Gore

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JD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. JD is a product of the Michigan State Wesley Foundation and of greater West Michigan. He aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue, both in higher education and the general public.

Welcoming the Migrant Worker Ministry

Monday, September 16th, 2013

A coffee mug, marked with a heart-shaped Philippine flag!It is not unusual to casually bump into Filipinos while going around European cities.  Just this past summer, I met them in the Metro trains in Paris and Madrid and at the airport in Frankfurt– as well a at the currency exchange counter in Vienna, where a kindly Filipino woman changed my dollars into euro at a discount (most likely because I was a compatriot).  Aside from my looks, she noticed my accent when I spoke English.  I used the latter because I wasn’t sure she was Filipino and there are easily others, especially other Southeast Asians (Thais, Indonesians, etc), who look like us.  My accent gave me away and soon enough we spoke to each other in Tagalog.  The conversation would have gone on indefinitely if not for the arrival of another customer.

The most unforgettable, of course, was my encounter at a restaurant in Vienna, where I met a Filipino couple with their young granddaughter. They were from the island of Mindanao, where I was born and bred, so the conversation became more intimate as we used our own regional language.  Another pleasant surprise was that we had mutual friends.  But surprise it should no longer be, especially in this day and age– and to think that I was not even in those parts of the world where Filipinos are much more numerous, like the Middle East and North America. 

That’s why it heartens me to see on Facebook the post announcing the launching of a migrant workers ministry of the Philippines Central Conference of the United Methodist Church.  It is a new and recent program.  Not that there had been no migrant ministries involving United Methodists prior to that.  But they were all unofficial. 

While indeed I am elated by this ministry for overseas migrant Filipino workers I still sigh at the fact that it took long in coming, especially since the labor export policy of the Philippines has been around for almost 40 years.  The money remitted by overseas Filipinos is largely responsible why the Philippine economy is still afloat, but at a stiff price.  Many workers have suffered abuse, especially the women, many of whom have been raped and committed suicide rather than be abused indefinitely. 

The United Methodist Church in the Philippines could have made a difference all those years.  Now this fledgling ministry is providing, given its meager resources, the most minimum services, mainly attending to the needs of the families of migrant workers with an advocacy component in the offering.  We hope to work on making this a vibrant ministry with enough resources to make a significant impact, not just in the lives of migrant workers and their families but also in terms of influencing government policy to prioritize developing the domestic economy to the point that it no longer relies on remittances from abroad.

Central Conferences in the United Methodist Church can of course, theoretically, create programs on their own, i.e. not waiting to be approved at the General Conference.  But what has prevented for a long time the Philippine Central Conference from developing a program that deserves a high priority program such as that for Filipino migrant workers?  Is there something in the present global structure that creates the kind of politics in some Central Conferences that directs energies into ‘more important’ matters? 

Just wondering.

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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.

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington & The United Methodist Church

Friday, September 6th, 2013

The Rev. Joseph Lowery was one of the speakers at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, August 28th, 2013. I wondered as I listened to him what new or continuing ministries will the UMC engage in to respond to the 2013 March on Washington events? Joseph Lowery, as most persons know, is a retired United Methodist minister who was in one of the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with Dr. King.
Some thoughts:

One; Martin Luther King said this:

"When the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, 'There lived a great people — a black people — who injected new meaning into the veins of civilization."

I, as a member of the Board of the African American Methodist Heritage Center, as well as one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, believe the United Methodist Church has an opportunity as never before to embrace and enable the history, past and present, of Black Methodists, to shape the present and future of the denomination.

Two; the 2013 observations of the 1963 March on Washington represented, in word and practice, the intersections of the justice struggles that too often have been viewed as being completely different and therefore separate: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (-Martin Luther King) is a statement of fact that we as United Methodists have known. Now is the time for us to allow our mission and ministry to reflect that understanding.

Three; our Jewish sisters and brothers, in their Passover observances, remember their journey from captivity in ancient Egypt. We as United Methodists have the opportunity to create a liturgy that could be used by all of our Churches that reflects our "Passover" journey as it has been intertwined with the Justice Journeys of Native Americans, Blacks, Latino/a/Hispanics, Asians, Women, Gays and Lesbians, Whites and the Poor of all these groups, who remind us that classism is the challenge we must meet in the 21st Century.

Four; It is more than foolish when we in the United Methodist Church reflect the divisions, "gridlock", and inability to move forward legislatively that we observe taking place in governance, whether at the Federal or Local level. An airplane requires a left and right wing to fly. It may be overly simplistic to use this as an illustration… but I will. The United Methodist Church at its best, is a blending of the best that is to be found in liberal, conservative and moderate perspectives.

Five; scripture; when I attended the 1963 March on Washington, I was 29. I am now 79, as I leave Washington following the 50th observance of "The March". I, in my "old age" have a deeper appreciation for the Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason as never before. Scriptures are "alive" within me because I have abandoned the literalism that I once thought was crucial to the supremacy of Scripture. Years I ago I reached the conclusion that, if we viewed the Bible as being literal and not living, we limited the intrinsic power to speak to the present and the future, that is at the heart of the Biblical message.

I wrote in another one of my epistles these words:

"The 2013 March on Washington 'set the table' as it made visible for the nation and the world to see what the banquet table of the United States of America ought look like and be. It is time for all of us to sit at the Banquet Table."

The United Methodist Church throughout history has sought to, in our life together, to make manifest what "God's Table" must be. It is time for us to engage in "21st Century Table Making". The 2013 March on Washington has provided an example for us to follow.

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Rev. Gild CaldwellRev. Gill Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy living in Asbury Park, NJ. He is former Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race and one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.  As a long-time MFSA supporter, Gil's ministry of writing challenges the United Methodist Church to be the best it can be.


The State of the Union & Labor: Organized and Mobilized for a Better Tomorrow

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

(part 4 of 4)

Did organized labor (unions) play an important role in the past economic successes of the United States of America? 

Do labor unions have a significant role now and can they be an important part of what is needed in the future? 

You’ve probably already answered these questions with a resounding “no!” if you are someone who believes that the forces of a supply-side, free market economy, combined with trusting in the reinvestment and expansion promises of a trickle-down approach to wealth distribution, are the only things needed to produce a robust capitalism and economy. However, if you’re not part of the ownership or management class in America, these questions might have you wondering where to place your hopes in today’s economy.

Whether you have ever belonged to an organized labor union or not, you, as a worker, may owe a debt of gratitude to labor unions.  Rhode Island Public Radio political analyst, Scott MacKay, sums up the labor movement’s historical importance quite well in his recent Labor Day article, Unions and the Future of America’s Middle Class:
“Organized labor was crucial in the battle to end child labor in Rhode Island and to establish the 40-hour week. If you enjoy your weekends off, well, thank the unions. Labor unions were at the forefront of the civil rights revolution and other movements to give ordinary people dignity, health care and the full rights of citizenship.” 
The same could be said for every state in the union.  Let’s not forget the important role the labor movement has played in forcing government regulations and safety standards to protect workers and improve work site safety.  For these reasons and more all of us who consider ourselves part of the American workforce owe labor unions a tremendous amount of thanks!

Journalist, Harold Meyerson, writing for the Washington Post tells us that “from 1947 through 1972 - the peak years of unionization — productivity increased by 102 percent, and median household income also increased by 102 percent. Thereafter, as the rate of unionization relentlessly fell, a gap opened between the economic benefits flowing from a more productive economy and the incomes of ordinary Americans, so much so that in recent decades, all the gains in productivity — as economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have shown — have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. When labor was at its numerical apogee in 1955, the wealthiest 10 percent claimed just 33 percent of the nation’s income. By 2007, with the labor movement greatly diminished, the wealthiest 10 percent claimed 50 percent of the nation’s income.”

What about now, since the great recession hit in 2008?  It seems that the trends are continuing:  “In 2011, American CEOs saw their pay spike 15 percent… after a 28 percent pay rise the year before, according to a report by GMI Ratings cited by The Guardian. Meanwhile, workers saw their inflation-adjusted wages fall 2 percent in 2011, according to the Labor Department.” 

Graphic demonstrating earnings increases and inequitiesIn fact, since I was a senior in High School (1978) until the end of 2011, according to the Economic Policy Institute,  CEO pay has increased 726.7% as compared with workers pay increasing 5.7% (please see graphic).  Combining the continuing fall of labor union membership (11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011 (as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports), along with the continued erosion of the power of unions (collective bargaining rights) by corporate sponsored governmental influence groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), it's making it even more difficult for labor unions to survive, let alone thrive.

So to answer the questions originally proposed.  Yes, the labor movement and the influence of early religious social activist groups (like the Methodist Federation for Social Service and GBCS today) played a significant role in improving both the economic strength and the quality of life for American workers.  Do labor unions have a significant role to play now?  To answer this, I would direct your attention to the current struggles of Fast-Food workers trying to organize across the country.  In a Labor Day article, Rachel Burstein, points out the impact of what it means to be a laborer without the protection of unionization in today’s fast food industry.  Not surprisingly, she shows how this greatly impacts the ideas of a living wage and is intricately tied in with all of the issues we’ve already talked about in the previous posts*, in addition to corporate exploitation.

So yes, unions and the hopes for them are still vitally important even though they have been and continue to be undermined by anti-union or union busting policies and legislation in state houses and in legislative offices in Washington, DC.

What about labor unions as a source of hope and economic stability for tomorrow?  First, we have to come to a fundamental realization that workers/laborers are not a mere commodity of supply and demand.  They are at once the heart of productivity for a company and a consumer of the goods produced by their company and by so many other workers at other places of employment.  If we are ever going to slow and even reverse the growing divisions in wealth and frustration between the ownership/management class and the production class we must learn to value not only the profit margins of companies but the way all stakeholders are sharing in and benefitting from those profits.  Benefits and free time are essential to health, productivity and personal growth. I believe this is the only way we can rebuild the sense of loyalty and job security that once existed between companies and their workers.

Yet yesterday we heard from the Department of Labor that paid leave has been on the decline in the private sector for the past 20 years.  We need to find ways to reward companies that value their employees and see the benefits of a happy and healthy work environment as a good investment for their stability and future.  They are out there and some of them, like Costco and Trader Joes, are even non-unionized.  Take a look at Costco’s labor relations website and see how it can be done.  However, in many industries like the fast-food and most big box stores (Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot to name a few), unionization is the best hope to counter the corporate greed that is crippling our hopes for economic prosperity and longevity.

Finally, we are all consumers in America and have got to become more actively involved in understanding where, how and by whom our products are produced.  Putting our economic clout where our mouth is, is the quickest way to be in solidarity with workers and to help reverse the obscene trends of greed, exploitation and disenfranchisement in this country and around the world.  I believe the American dream can become a possibility again, but it will never happen unless we all wake-up, get educated and most importantly; get involved!  Work to make labor unions and the National Labor Relations Board (who provide governmental oversight) strong in the areas they are needed and support the companies who are doing the good work of sharing their prosperity with their workers with or without the guidance of unions.

*State of the Union & Labor (full series):

1) Setting the Stage
2) Race & Gender
3) Child Poverty, Exploitation and Access to Education

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Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.

National Office:212 East Capitol St., NE,Washington, DC 20003 * tel: 202.546.8806 *email: mfsa@mfsaweb.org