Archive for November, 2013

Wadi Fouqin Finds an Audience: Thoughts at a Capitol Hill Briefing

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

I needed a special pass to access the space in the Capitol Visitors’ Center, buried in the guts of The Hill. At first, I was munching on catered sandwiches with a dozen familiar faces from groups like Churches for Middle-East Peace (CMEP) and US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation but, less than ten minutes before the beginning of the program, the briefing-room flooded with congressional staff. We ran out of chairs. People were eating on their feet, ready to listen to four gentlemen speak on behalf of Wadi Fouqin village: Ahmad, Fahmi, Da’ed, and a Hebrew University professor named Yahuda (Dudy, for short).

A man surveys Wadi Fouqin with his little sonAttendees learned that Wadi Fouqin’s springs made it famous for high quality vegetables until the Nakba – great tragedy – displaced the farmers from most of their lands in 1948. The community spent more than a decade in Al-Daheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem but, incredibly, farmers walked hours every day to tend the storied fields despite the threat of violence from Israeli soldiers. When they rebuilt their village only a stone’s throw from the ‘seamline’ or ‘greenline’ – the internationally recognized border – they discovered an Israeli community called Tzur Hadassa had appeared on the other side during the 1950s.

Dudy recalled vacationing there during his childhood and how impressed he was with the harmony between the two towns. “I thought that Arabs hated us but in Wadi Fouqin I met the most hospitable farmers!” Now, he and his family often walk across the boundary to buy vegetables. His children like to ride donkeys with their Palestinian friends…

Bitar Illit looms over Wadi Fouqin's fields & springs…this is the point at which Washington stops listening. Congress typically doesn’t want to hear what happened in the years following the assassination of Yitzik Rabin, when “the right-wing machine  took power” (said Dudy). US diplomats want to lift Wadi Fouqin and Tzur Hadassa up into the light as an example of why and how Israelis and Palestinians can work together while ignoring the blight to Wadi Fouqin’s East: Bitar Illit Settlement. The current regime in Israel creates incentives for the residents of such Jewish-only settlements, not for caring neighbors like Tzur Hadassa. The construction of this illegal settlement pinned Wadi Fouqin against the boundary line, a short decade ago, swallowing more land and disrupting the flow of more water sources. Furthermore, intermittent sewage dumping contaminates the remaining fields and springs. Their agricultural reputation is ruined. Elements in our governments and churches want to absolve themselves of culpability for unqualified support of Israeli policy.

Ahmad, Fahmi, & Da’ed – the mayor, the community-center director, the regional council chair – know they are the bearers of unwanted news. They are gracious and even-tempered; they know they could lose what little audience they have. UMC minister, Michael Yoshii, helped start a non-profit called “Friends of Wadi Fouqin”, which went to great lengths to bring these three Palestinians to the United States for a briefing. We feared they would feel ‘jilted’ – stood-up, shut-out, stone-walled. I expected a family-reunion dynamic: a briefing populated with faces from the solidarity movement. Instead, the room filled with staffers! Though the gears of military-industrial exploitation had not jammed, every inquiry during the Q & A was genuine. They came to listen.

Wadi Fouqin is unique only for its near-perfect generalizability: the typical occupation elements are all present. Staffers wondered how many other Palestinian communities were similarly afflicted; literally dozens are. In Yanoun village, for example, a World Council of Churches team stays 24/7 to ensure someone can report any aggression. Wadi Fouqin’s vulnerable position by the boundary created the opportunity for a partnership that villages deeper in the West Bank don’t have. My former supervisor (Zoughbi Zoughbi) once told me there were three pieces to accomplishing Justice in Palestine: The Palestinian non-violence movement, the solidarity community, and the peace-camp in Israel. Tzur Hadassa is the final piece but the ‘right wing machine’ makes it impossible for those relationships to form elsewhere in the region. Dudi and company were able to defeat plans to build a separation barrier between the two towns, a project that would have ended all agriculture there. If more of the second ‘piece’ were in place—a strong solidarity community in the United States—our guests would be better positioned to subvert the drivers of this conflict.

Unfortunately, mainstream US News Media is an extension of the entertainment industry (and its vices) and our schools are dismally funded. In a climate of general ignorance about global human rights and movements for self-determination, United Methodists could heed Christ’s beatitude and become blessed peace-makers: children of God. As our guests thanked the UMC for facilitating the trip, I wondered if they knew what a small fragment is helpful or knowledgeable, really. Could they know how much of our capacity is spent elsewhere, in matters of self-made-law with little missional substance— even working against that substance for fleeting stability? Is it not time to look at the price of our internal struggles and ask “how have we parasitized a witness of compassion and illumination?” Are we listening to what is happening elsewhere in the world and responding with due momentum?

Meanwhile, Israel’s leading coalition will show its true nature: terrible friend. Not a mortal enemy but something more fatal—an ally with decaying ethics. Dudy knows that but he believes his country could and should change; I so admire that. I want to be like that, for my country. I want the UMC to be like that and cry for a cultural shift. Young leaders are ready to at least HEAR that cry.

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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. He aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue, both in higher education and the general public.

PRESS RELEASE: The United Methodist Church Continues to Inflict Spiritual Carnage

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

POTTSTOWN, PA – November 19, 2013- Last night, a trial court of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) has found Rev. Frank Schaefer guilty of officiating the marriage of his son, Tim, to another man in 2006. Tonight, that same trial court returned a verdict in the penalty phase. Rev. Schaefer will be placed on a 30-day administrative leave. During that leave he is instructed to discern his ministry with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and report if he can follow the denomination’s Book of Discipline in its entirety or surrender his clergy credentials.

“Once again The United Methodist Church has inflicted spiritual carnage on LGBTQ persons, their families, and those who are in ministry with them,” states Chett Pritchett, Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).  “Through a method that seeks to do harm at every point in the process, the UMC has chosen retribution instead of the biblical concepts of transformation, wholeness, and shalom.”

Speaking on his own behalf, Rev. Schaefer informed the court of his evolving calling to be in ministry with LGBTQ persons: “I cannot go back to being a silent supporter. I must continue to be in ministry with all people.”

After the trial court was dismissed, Rev. Schaefer’s supporters began a visual witness by turning over metal chairs and singing hymns. Within minutes communion elements were prepared, blessed, and shared among those who remained in the camp gymnasium.

“May this be a sign to LGBTQ persons everywhere that beyond the harmful words of a trial court decision, there are faithful United Methodists who will continue to be in ministry with you,” Pritchett states. “And may this be a sign to clergy who seek to be in ministry with LGBTQ people that your ministry is supported by faithful United Methodists.”

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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Is There a Doctor in the House?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

The body is sick, friends. Sick and tired. For over 40 years, our beloved United Methodist Church has suffered with an illness called bigotry and homophobia. Not even the doctors (of the Church) and our Episcopal leaders can seem to heal us our institutional maladies.

Today began the “church trial” – two words that should never be seen together – of Rev. Frank Schaefer at Camp Innabah near Pottstown, PA. It’s a lovely camp and retreat center and I’m certain some great young people grew in faith and love at this hallowed place over the years. Some of them may have even come to recognize their own sexual orientation or gender identity in these rolling hills. 

For many faithful United Methodists, however, Innabah has become synonymous with being a triage unit for a church with a gaping wound. For years I have seen my friends and colleagues leave The United Methodist Church in droves because of the denomination’s stance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. The very community which nurtured and called them into ministry has become their adversary in ministry, and so they find other places to live out their call: Metropolitan Community Church, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, even some progressive American Baptist Churches.  Our loss has been their gain.

Rev. Frank Schaefer testified today that “he was like the Samaritan on the road and he couldn’t cross to the other side like the Levite and Priest.” Frank was willing to bandage the wounds of those, like his son Tim, who had learned that being gay was not to be affirmed, especially in the Church. And what was the balm given to him to share with the world? Two guilty verdicts – one for officiating at his son’s wedding to another man, another for knowingly violating the part of the Book of Discipline which prohibits such pastoral care.

That wasn’t the only harm inflicted today, however. Sitting amongst the 100 or so of “the public” who were “allowed” to view the proceedings, I listened to Counsel for the Church, Rev. Christopher Fisher, finish his closing argument by condemning Frank Schaefer by stating that a loving father would never condone a son’s sexual orientation and love of another man, “supported” by a reading from the Book of Jude, recalling the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Queer United Methodists were visibly shaken. In solidarity, Sue Laurie and I stood to show them they weren’t alone and to make a visible witness that this was unacceptable. As we stood, over 100 other stood with us, and for just a moment, the triage ward became a place of healing.

I know tomorrow will likely be a long day as the “penalty phase” begins– one of bandages, salves, and temperature taking. I pray for the members of the trial court who feel this is their sacred duty; I pray for the Presiding Bishop, Al Gwinn, that he does not allow for harmful language to be spoken by witnesses and counsel; and I pray for a world that is watching to decide if they want to hear good news from the lips of The United Methodist Church or to seek healing and hope elsewhere, like so many of my friends and colleagues have been forced to do.

Good physicians know the first rule of medicine is always this: Do No Harm. Today’s events have proven this -the body is sick, friends. Only Christ’s healing can bring the comfort we truly need.

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Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of 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.

United Methodist Council of Bishops Statement is ‘Questionable, Harmful, and Life-less’

Friday, November 15th, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – November 15, 2013 – The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops has spoken. They wish to charge one of their own for being obedient to scripture and the vows he took at baptism, confirmation, ordination, and at his consecration as a bishop.

In a statement read this morning by Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. of the Oklahoma Episcopal Area, the Council of Bishops requested that Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council, and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference file a complaint regarding Bishop Melvin Talbert’s action, for “undermining the ministry of a colleague and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple.”  Talbert officiated at the blessing of marriage of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince in Birmingham, Alabama in late October. The ceremony did not take place in a United Methodist Church, but many United Methodist clergy and laity were present to celebrate the marriage of the couple. In doing so, Bishop Talbert provided pastoral care to a couple with whom he was acquainted by celebrating the love of God present in their relationship.  Such pastoral care was an extension of Bishop Talbert’s obedience to Scripture and the covenants he previously affirmed.

The Council of Bishops has asked that the complaint be filed in Bishop Talbert’s home area, the Western Jurisdiction.  But in July 2012, the Western Jurisdictional Conference went on record stating they support the concept of Biblical Obedience:  “We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in Para. 161F (“homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”) does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.”

“The Council of Bishops statement raises some very important questions,” states Rev. Steve Clunn, Love Your Neighbor Coalition Coordinator. “How did Bishop Talbert undermine the authority of Bishop Wallace-Padgett? Did she engage in acts of pastoral care to Openshaw and Prince? Was the Bishop allowing clergy under her care to extend acts of grace and compassion to longtime church members? Or, is the complaint only about Bishop Talbert not heeding a request to ignore the pastoral care of members within the bounds of the region in which Bishop Wallace-Padgett presides?” 

“The idea of forcing a region of the Church so deeply committed to inclusion of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities to file charges against Bishop Talbert is preposterous. In essence, the Council of Bishops has begun to cannibalize themselves, rendering their leadership questionable, harmful, and life-less,” states Chett Pritchett, Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. “This is spiritual carnage, not just to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, but to the Bishops themselves and the entire United Methodist Church.”

The Council also voted to initiate a task force to lead conversations about human sexuality, race and gender in a global perspective. “While this initiation is laudable, I wonder if the Council has forgotten that the 1988 General Conference commissioned a task force to study human sexuality – a task force which recommended the phrase ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ be removed from our Social Principles,” Pritchett states. “The time for study has passed. It’s time for our Bishops to be prophetic!”

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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Thanksgiving by Another Name: Supporting Black Friday Actions by WalMart Workers

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Patch from Interfaith Worker Justice Website


You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

(2 Corinthians 9: 11-12)

Each year in November, we celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, and the next day, many of us spend the day shopping on Black Friday. Can we as people of faith try something different this year?

Thanksgiving Day is a time to be with our families, friends and our communities to share a bountiful meal around a table and honor what we’re most thankful for. In the U.S., it’s a national holiday to reflect on the many blessings we have received and remember those who are less fortunate. We remember those individuals locked in the prison-industrial complex, those suffering in our neighborhoods, our schools, and many others around the country and world. We say our prayers of thanksgivings; fill up on all food in sight, rest and sleep. The following day (or early morning hours) we wait in long lines to shop for the best Black Friday sales and deals. Sometimes shoppers wrestle, fight and struggle to get the best sale items.

This year, I challenge you to do something different.

Thanksgiving should provide our families with a renewed understanding of why it’s important to act on behalf of the poor particularly those workers who are treated unjustly. I’m talking about the workers who long to spend time with their family during the holiday season but they are left working without a living wage. The ones who stock our retail stores and tirelessly stand at cash registers barraged with both inconsequential questions and occasional insults.

I am talking about supporting Walmart workers as we move into this holiday season. Walmart is the largest private employer and the world’s largest retailer; with almost 1.4 million “associates” who work along their supply chain. Unfortunately, nearly one half of Walmart’s store associates earn less than $25,000 annually and need to rely on public assistance and social services to survive. Walmart is forcing taxpayers to supplement this corporate greed. The government, other organizations and church programs should not subsidize multi-billion dollar corporations to provide the bare minimum to any worker.  

Walmart’s slogan, “Save money, Live better,” is in direct opposition of the poverty facing many Walmart workers because of the corporation’s poor wages and sporadic hours. Walmart cut hours and make their workers part-time so they do not have to provide them benefits. Healthcare is not even affordable. Often times, other than not being provided a livable wage, workers are not given dependable, predictable schedules so workers have to be on-call unable to schedule other job opportunities or work other jobs. 

Many Walmart workers are standing up and calling for the dignity and respect they deserve on the job. The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (made up of current and former Walmart workers), community, and national groups like Interfaith Worker Justice where I work are leading actions, rallies and prayer vigils on Black Friday at stores all across the country to pressure Walmart to treat their workers better. I urge you to live out your faith on Black Friday by joining or leading a Black Friday action or prayer vigil in your community. Together let’s tell Walmart executives and managers know that we care about the way they treat their workers more than we care about special Black Friday deals and savings! Learn more about Interfaith Worker Justice’s campaign for Dignity and Respect at Walmart  and to get involved!

It’s time to act, and show our thanks in a different way.  Let’s use this holiday season to honor the needs of God’s people, be generous in support, and aid in their struggle for justice. Let’s act in thanksgiving for our gifts by helping Walmart workers earn better wages, better benefits and working conditions. It’s the abundance we receive that calls us to be a blessing to others.

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Mistead Sai is a US-2 missionary for the United Methodist through the General Board of Global ministries. Mistead Said serves at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) as their Worker Center Network Assistant providing support to worker center affiliates nationwide. Mistead received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Maryland. He enjoys intellectual conversations, likes documentaries, and has taken a liking to investigating issues surrounding environmental racism, biopolitics, and identity politics in recent months.

Same-Sex Benefits: Thanks, But…

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Last week’s announcement by the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) of The United Methodist Church has major implications for our denomination. Indeed, it is a step in the right direction. But it is only a step on the journey toward justice. I applaud the staff and board of GCFA for their willingness to consider such a proposal which would align them with the civic legal authorities in many of the state governments in which The United Methodist Church is engaging in vital ministries. I pray for the Judicial Council as they begin to consider if this decision falls within the bounds of our Book of Discipline (likely next spring). But let me be clear: this decision is not enough.

It is not enough because this policy, in practice, will only extend benefits to lay employees of The United Methodist Church. While the policy change would theoretically extend to clergy as well, applications for the extended benefits would indemnify clergy under ¶304.3 of the Discipline. This cannot be considered an act of justice until we banish the idea that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lift a ban on clergy who are not heterosexual.

Likewise, the GCFA policy only extends to those who are married in states where marriage equality has become the law of the land. While I celebrate these civil victories and pray for the spirit of inclusion to pervade every law-making body, is it not odd that The United Methodist Church is following the civil and legal authorities of governments instead of leading the way for those powers and principalities to become agents of grace and peace and justice? Some of us remember a time when Methodists were a prophetic voice to civil society, not the other way around. If the goal of this new policy is to create a more just and fair culture within the Church, then the policy needs to be extended to the whole denomination, not just in those places where marriage equality is recognized.

It could be, however, that GCFA is being more prophetic than they realize. I hope this small step encourages more and more United Methodist lay professionals to enroll their partners in the benefits program to make a loud statement: “We’re part of The United Methodist Church. We make connectionalism work. We care for your buildings and lead mission teams and plan worship and create educational programs. We’re here and we’re not going away.” And in some small way, I hope this decision motivates faithful United Methodists in small towns and big cities to share the message that love isn’t for just a few progressive states, or even just for The United Methodist Church – indeed, it’s for the whole world.

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Chett Pritchett is Executive Director at 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.
 

All Saints’ Day Reflection: Saja Corić

Friday, November 1st, 2013

In the spirit of All-Saints Day, MFSA asked friends to reflect on the people who continue to make an inspiring imprint on their lives as leaders. Rev. Shannon Sullivan wrote to us about Saja Corić:

In her office at one point, there was a drawing of a woman with a veil covering her hair. The woman in the drawing holds an infant and is standing behind barbed wire. Her hand is uplifted, fingers tentatively touching the wire between the barbs, and her sleeve falls to reveal a tattoo of numbers on her arm. Numbers to replace her name, to deny her humanity, and mark her as an inmate at a concentration camp. This drawing is in the office of a Muslim survivor of a camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. It serves as a reminder of all she went through, and connects her horrific experience with past genocides, showing the importance of breaking cycles of violence.

Shannon & Saja hold hands and gesture to a painting on the wall.I first met this survivor, Saja Corić, when I was sixteen years old. I was on a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and she was our hostess in the community we were serving, and remains one of those saints who has taught me about God's call to create just and joyful communities. It is hard for me to picture her without a cloud of cigarette smoke enveloping her and the clank of tiny espresso cups underscoring her words. It is even harder for me to picture her without a group of women or children gathered around her to share stories or tears or laughter. Saja is a passionate advocate for justice in her community, and it is her advocacy that fills her with a vibrancy that overcomes the hell she has faced throughout her life.

Saja was detained in a camp in Vojno, part of the surrounding area of Mostar in Bosnia. The camp was run by a man named Marko Radić, who was in charge of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) during the war. It was one of the worst camps in the area at the time, where the work was hard and beatings were frequent. Many of the girls in the camp who were minors at the time were sexually abused. Saja was released from Vojno on December 2, 1993, weighing only seventy pounds. Her own mother did not recognize her. She continues to suffer from physical health problems because of her time in the camp.

Survivors of the camp had to wait fifteen years for justice, living in a city where war criminals still taught children in school settings, as Radić had done before he was arrested in 2006. People like Saja who were abused in the Vojno concentration camp could not afford to wait for government action to begin healing. Saja convened a group of survivors for support, and encouraged them to testify at Radić's trial despite the very real risk. Her office was targeted by vandals and she said she would not take me to Vojno because she was afraid it would be too dangerous. Saja herself testified against Radić without witness protection, though she helped other women in her group get into witness protection programs. She said that she had nothing else to lose, so her choice to appear in court without witness protection was her way of standing up to her abusers.

But her work does not end with helping the women speak out against their abusers. She staffs an organization that offers children a safe space to play and learn; she often connects people in her community with services they need. Her work on breaking the silence around gender-based violence in concentration camps connected her to working with children to create brighter futures for them.

Saja inspired my drive as a pastor to transform violence and hopelessness in my community. She showed me courage, speaking out despite the risks, and despite years going by without it looking like anything has changed. Her dynamic presence has shaped my idea of what the vocation of truth-teller looks like. Yet at the same time, seeing her speak about her own experiences in the camp reminded me that sometimes my role is that of an ally, encouraging and supporting the Sajas in my community who want to lead. Too often, non-profit and church structures have evolved to favor the privileged in hiring, meaning that allies are often in positions of power when they would better serve in supporting roles. 

But perhaps the greatest thing that Saja has taught me is that seeking justice brings so much joy, in spite of all the obstacles. When we walked around the community together, everyone knew her and would smile. Children would run up to her for hugs. Her support group became the family they chose for themselves. She has the joy of a saint, knowing that she is doing God's work and that God is with her always.

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Shannon SullivanRev. Shannon Sullivan is the pastor of Presbury United Methodist Church in Edgewood, Maryland. She is passionate about social justice, particularly around issues of peacebuilding, and is an MFSA groupie. 

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