Archive for May, 2014

Baptismal Vows and Old Sparky: When TN Brought Back the Electric Chair

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Tennessees infamous "Old Sparky" electric chair is rebuilt for 'action'The state of Tennessee is in the death business. This year, several inmates are scheduled to be executed in the name of justice and for the good of the people of Tennessee. With the recent work of the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Bill Haslam, the state of Tennessee is set on a path of evil and torturous death dealing with the reinstatement of the use of the electric chair.

There is no way to confuse this barbaric form of execution with the establishment of justice. The legislation is a regression for human rights, it undermines the work of seeking wholistic justice, and it is a disgrace to people of faith in this state. Governor Haslam is making all Tennesseans culpable for the state sponsored murder in the false name of further protecting the common good. It is an outright lie.  

The work of the General Assembly has already made it feasible for the state to withhold critical execution information including the manufacturing, procurement, and use of lethal injection drugs. We are witnessing that death dealing is significantly easier when it is empowered by legislative authority and veiled from the eyes of critical inquiry and protest. When light breaks into the darkness, Tennesseans may begin to see the insidious, hidden, and torturous methods by which the state abuses its dictum to seek out the public good at the cost of human life.

The use of the death penalty for the work of justice is despicable. It is the antithesis of life. It is the antithesis of beauty. It is a distorted and twisted attempt to establish justice. It should be opposed on moral, theological, and sociological grounds because it does not lead to manifestations of justice. It is an abuse of power, a bankrupt act of state sponsored violence, and a clear manifestation of evil.

I ask you, people of all faiths and good will, to write and call Governor Bill Haslam. We are asking for an immediate moratorium on all state executions in Tennessee. Each one of us has a sacred duty to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

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Rev. Adam Kelchner is campus minister at Belmont Wesley Fellowship and pastor for Mission & Outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN.

May 23rd State by Pastors about Sewol Ferry Tragedy

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Prayers for the families of Sewol ferry wreck victims

A Statement by Pastors about the Sewol Ferry Tragedy in South Korea
May 23, 2014

We repent of our sin, for not living in the world as children of light but of the darkness, colluding in the greed and spiritual blindness of the world. We repent of our sin, for not working towards attaining the kin(g)dom of God/reign of God where justice flows like a river but, rather, being drawn into the drift of the world. We repent of having not spoken prophetically while witnessing our mother country South Korea sinking deeper into political authoritarianism, materialism, and protectionism.

We remember the victims of the recent Sewol ferry disaster and continue to pray for their grieving families. A human being's life is nobler than anything in the world, as God's creation. We earnestly pray that God will wipe away the tears from the eyes of victims' families at the loss of their loved ones and comfort their mourning hearts.

We must not forget those who lived honorable lives — like the stars in the sky — who sacrificed their own noble lives to save others in the midst of the catastrophic sinking of the Sewol ferry. These names will be remembered forever: Crew Members Park Jee Young, Jeong Hyun-seon, Kim Ki-woong, and chief officer Yang Dae-hong; teachers of Danwon High School Nam Yun-cheol, Choi Hye-jeong, and Jeon Soo-young; and Danwon High School student Jeong Cha-woong.

The pain and suffering of families who have lost their beloved ones to the ferry tragedy can be neither easily forgotten nor healed. We demand the Park Administration consider its citizens with higheest significance and fulfill its responsibility to comfort their pain and relieve their suffering and that both the Park Administration and the commercial interests operating the ferry company be held responsible for their malfeasance.

We ask for the unlimited liability of President Park and that she resign from the presidency for failing to fulfill her duties and responsibilities, entrusted by the people, in the aftermath of the ferry tragedy. At this point, President Park ought to concretely admit her responsibilities and apologize for the governments' incompetence and irresponsibility.

We demand the resignation of the Cabinet for failing in its duties and responsibilities in the aftermath of the ferry disaster.

The recent tragedy was a result of an evil social structure which protects selfish groups who seek profits solely for themselves and their company, while dishonoring human lives. Furthermore, the tragedy was made worse by wasting plenty of rescue opportunities, lacking adequate emergency protocols, inadequate training of shop personnel, and prioritizing profits over human lives. We demand the truth to be told about this incident. We demand changing the thoughts and behaviors of the bureaucrats of the South Korean government, businesses and leaders of the Korean society, so that our society will be restructured to be one that prioritizes the sanctity and security of all human lives. 

We request an immediate end to the Park Administration's control over the media, press control, and all actions intended to manipulate the public opinion and suppress the public's freedom of speech, and to ensure the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Constitution.

Signatures

Rev. Jung Sun Oh & Myung Park, Rev. Jong Sun Lim & Eun Young Choi, Rev. Shinhyung Ahn & Sukhyang Kim, Pastor Yunki Kim & Hyoeun Song, Rev. Sang Churl Bae, Rev. Seok Cheol Shin, Rev. Byungmoo Lee, Rev. Yoo Cha Yi, Rev. Jong Wook Hong, Rev. Sunmin Cho, Rev. Jaegil Lee, Rev. Hyuk Seonwoo, Rev. Donald Rudalevige, Suzanne Rudalevige, Rev. Vicki Wood, Rev. Robert Moore & Evelyn Johnson Moore, Rev. Eric Dupee, Rev. Leigh Dry, Rev. Jane Lawrence, Rev. Dr. Laurel Scott, Pastor David Martin, Rev. Christina Wright: Co-President of Methodist Federation for Social Action: MFSA (Washington DC), Chett Pritchett : Executive Director of Methodist Federation for Social Action : MFSA (Washington DC), Rev. Kim Kie, Rev. Wesley Williams, Rev. Sara Ewing –Merrill, Rev. Allen Ewing –Merrill, Rev. David Purdy, Pamela Chatterton-Purdy. (34)

Clergy from the Korean diaspora and friends reflect on the tragedy, its causes, and the brave souls lost.

Witness Against Violence: What WE Gotta Do

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

On May 23rd at 11 a.m. EDT, in the park by The White House (and to the chagrin of the police), I will represent Methodist Federation for Social Action at a rally to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Facilities. I will read a poem by one of the detainees held there for over twelve years. Reenactments in orange jump-suits, chants of “shame”, rituals borrowed from both faith and protest tradition: it’s both a bonding experience and a stress-filled spectacle. This is not our first rally together, either…

Difficult as it is to believe that the Guantanamo Bay facility has been open for more than a dozen years, it is not surprising that President Obama’s latest promise to close the facility aged a year without significant progress. I sympathize with the impulse to let it slip from all our minds; I really do because none of us can digest every sorrow simultaneously. Jesus called his followers in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned (and never qualified that support with assertions of guilt and/or innocence). Our solidarity might not be 100% steadfast but it remains Holy in spite of our inner conflicts and misgivings. We forget for a while, then resume the struggle. Additionally, compassionate people of faith must contend with pernicious, apologist arguments for torture and the assimilation of brutality into our culture. 

Scene from Chicago-PD; threatens to stab suspect's eyes.“Do what you gotta do” reads a twitter meme for the television program “Chicago PD”,  where police characters use physical cruelty to extract information from perpetrators. The show exemplifies what my Mass Media instructor described as the “Dangerous World” syndrome, which might merit explaining another time. Among the show’s numerous problems are the twin suggestions that A) cruelty can be an intelligence gathering tool and B) the use of violence by authority figures has net positive effects, which is also to say that more is better. To be clear: NO. These practices worsen community divides and fuel the designs of detractors – some reformers {*raises hand*} and some rivals. Anecdotes of abuse from Guantanamo and Abu Gharaib detention centers became the basis of “do what you gotta do” rhetoric among anti-US militant groups. For example, we severely under-estimated al-qaeda’s guile: they safely banked on US aggression to boost their recruiting stream. Did we really believe that their strategists were just majnoon (crazy)? Or did it matter to private defense contractors, anyway?

It’s the same game: instill desperation, justify violence, keep selling – entertainment, ideology, or 130 million dollar toys like the F-30 fighter-jet. Something visceral in our nature still believes we can punch, shoot, and otherwise kill-our-way to harmony.

A person in an orange jump-suit being water-boarded ~ near drowningWe create false benchmarks for brutal acts, too, as if water-boarding wasn’t soullessly gruesome enough because no one bleeds. Whether “enhanced interrogation” or a Sarah Palin “baptism”, these acts of abuse are incompatible with Christian teaching dating all the way back to Jesus. Yet it is not enough to refrain from torturing the incarcerated. Recall Jesus’ insistence to visit the imprisoned, regardless of guilt. Any time that a person’s self-determination is taken from them, they are at risk. Every time a guard enforces cruelty they have to lock-out a part of their humanity, too. There is nothing about dehumanization that restores safety to communities, even if the removed person is a threat. Too often, our ‘demons’ insist to us that there is a threshold at which it is permissible to cause suffering and that, somehow, coercion will open an easier way – to information, to correction, to whatever end is imposed. Torture, humiliation, and prolonged isolation are short-cuts through a bog; once mired, we will be unable to move toward peace as a whole community. Beyond privately condemning torture and mass incarceration, we need to keep being a witness of Matthew 25 to our culture — keep being the leavening agents.

We at MFSA keep joining NRCAT and other partners at Close Gitmo rallies in order to keep humanizing the prisoners, setting an example for how our society should treat people. Period. Conducting humane and internationally lawful investigations is not ‘soft’ or missing opportunities to instill justice. Every act of violence creates the temptation to indulge the cycle of violence; it is essential to minimize acts violence and alienation on the way to ending them. In addition to solidarity with the mistreated, we also must carry the banner of accountability. The extend of US-sponsored torture abroad was masked by the personnel that authorized those operations, undoubtedly breaches of the UN’s conventions on detainee treatment. As long as dark corners remain in this nation’s history, Americans will be puzzled by the virulence of anti-US sentiment, much of which takes root in the atrocities which the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report will reveal as long as it is not redacted beyond recognition.

Signs laid on the ground at Close Guantanamo Rally, 2013Experiences of torture do not necessarily flow from incarceration – but are not possible without some kind of detention. Every time a human being into custody, whether through law-enforcement or the military, we who compose the society that sustains those institutions become responsible. People of faith in a society must lead the process of sustaining principles of human dignity and resist all processes of dehumanization as well as demand accountability. I would encourage all of you to make your own Close Guantanamo or End Torture signs out of poster-board and take pictures. Post images to social media and share articles. If we all do our part to keep raising awareness, it will cause enough righteous disruption to rival the barrage of violent messaging which we are far too comfortable absorbing.

Consider downloading this Torture-Awareness Month Tool-Kit from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It contains information, graphics, and links to faith-based resources for multiple religious traditions.

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JD Gore; Cherry BlossomsJD (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.

Tear Down the Walls

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Graffiti on the West Bank annexation barrier shows a rhinocerous smashing through concrete...As a student at Wesley Theological Seminary (WTS) I have the added advantage of being able to register for some courses at the adjacent American University (AU).  At our class in Peace Paradigms we had the pleasure of having Israeli activists Rana and Avner talk to us about joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts for peace. Rana is an educator while Avner is an archeologist.  Rana runs an alternative school in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley teaching mainly Palestinians, though young Israelis also periodically come to learn from their situation. 

The school trains students how, among other things, to take care of the environment.  Of particular concern is the use of a vital resource – water.  Much of the aquifers being harnessed for use in Israel are found under Palestinian land, yet all Palestinians' access to water depends on the Israeli authorities.  As an archeologist, Avner is aware of the underground resources in Palestine and one of his tasks is to make everyone aware of this and to bring to the Israeli public’s attention the need for them to share, rather than dominate, such resources.

Rana’s and Avner’s activities are of course something that is not pleasing to the Israeli authorities and the more politically conservative sector of Israeli society.  However, an increasing number of Israelis, particularly young people, find their way into Palestinian territories to express their solidarity with Palestinians.   More and more micro-level collaboration on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians is being established all over the West Bank and even Gaza.  It is when people, long nurtured on negative portrayals of each other, meet face to face that they begin to realize they are just as human as the other.  But what is one reason they cannot see each other face to face?

Walls.

Graffiti on barrier reads "love and kisses, nothing lasts forever"I find it a little funny that every time I go to attend my class at AU, even though I have a key to allow me to get in through the wall that separates the AU and WTS campuses, I still feel, somehow, the barrier.  It’s like saying ‘hey we are different from you.’  What more the walls (higher than the Berlin Wall) that enclose the various Palestinians, not just separating them from the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank but also from each other?  Part of it of course is to make life hard for them as to compel them to leave the place altogether.   But probably just as intentional is to also discourage Israelis from interacting with them. 

Graffiti on the separation barrier reads "Rest in Pieces" and "Divine Justice"But as Rana and Avner say, they are slowly but surely, both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as international sympathizers, breaking down those walls.  That reminds me.  At the height of the movement for German reunification, one world leader urged his rival to “tear down this wall,” referring to the wall dividing what was then West and East Germany.  When are we going to hear the same call as regards the walls in Palestine?

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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.

UM Coalition Decides Against Atlanta, Citing Racist Mascot

Thursday, May 8th, 2014


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: UNITED METHODISTS DECIDE AGAINST ATLANTA DUE TO RACIALLY OFFENSIVE PRACTICES

 

 

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 8, 2014 – The Love Your Neighbor (LYN) Coalition, consisting of ten “official” and “unofficial” caucus organizations of The United Methodist Church, announced today they have changed plans from holding an event in Atlanta, Georgia due to racially offensive practices of the Atlanta Braves organization toward Native Americans.

For several months the LYN Coalition has negotiated with the Georgia Institute of Technology about hosting their event in the summer of 2015 (with an expected attendance of 700 participants) in Atlanta.  In a letter to Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, the LYN Coalition states that “Atlanta was the top location on our list.  The costs, easy transportation to and from the airport, and the convenience to local restaurants, businesses and tourist attractions seemed to make Atlanta an ideal location.”

However, the Native American International Caucus of United Methodists, an LYN Coalition partner organization, reminded them of The United Methodist Church’s past commitment to not hold events in cities whose sports teams have names, mascots and/or practices that are demeaning and offensive toward Native American peoples.  As a result, the LYN Coalition is now looking toward another city and has informed not only Atlanta’s Mayor, but also the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Braves organization that they “will not be able to bring (our) business and tourist dollars to the city and businesses of Atlanta.”

In their letters the LYN Coalition states, “While we give thanks that the Atlanta Braves organization has changed its mascot from ‘the screaming Indian, Chief Noc-A-Homa’ to ‘Homer,’ we also note that they have not done anything to remove the offensive caricature of “Chief Noc-A-Homa” from screen savers and Facebook pages that still connect it directly with the Atlanta Braves.  If recent news stories about racism within sporting organizations have shown us anything, it is that organizations can attempt to outwardly placate the public while systemically continuing to promote prejudice and racist attitudes through their words, actions and deeds.  The use of the name Braves and the symbols of the tomahawk and ‘tomahawk chop’ do nothing but offer up racist and demeaning images and stereotypes of our Native American citizens and friends.” 

They further state, “It is our hope that the Atlanta Braves organization will consider a different name and symbols for its organization and team.  We, the LYN Coalition, will ask others to avoid holding events in cities like Atlanta until they acknowledge that their storied traditions have been built upon racist portrayals of others and forego the continued use of images, mascots, symbols and/or actions that perpetuate and encourage prejudice.  It is our further hope that the good and caring people of these cities will speak out within their communities and local governments to encourage positive and respectful change.  Once these changes occur we will be more than happy to consider bringing our business back to Atlanta!

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About the Love Your Neighbor Coalition

LYN Coalition GraphicThe Love Your Neighbor Coalition was formed in the summer of 2011 and has grown to include representatives from ten United Methodist-related partner organizations.  We are United Methodists committed to the embodiment of God's love and justice within and through the people and mission of The United Methodist Church.  Our goal is to assure The United Methodist Church is fully open to the presence, love and grace of God offered to all people. 

The Love Your Neighbor Coalition is made up of Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns; Black Methodists for Church Renewal; Love Prevails, MARCHA: Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos; Methodist Federation for Social Action; National Federation of Asian American United Methodists; Native American International Caucus of United Methodists; Pacific Islanders Caucus of United Methodists; Reconciling Ministries Network; and, United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities.

Post-racism, Privilege and the NBA

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

ACLU imageWe live in a “post-racist” society. The educated and evolved populous of the United States are beyond racial epitaphs or slurs.  We are beyond the insidious practices that marginalize and convict those who look and act “different.”  We have even moved past the place of prejudice reflected in the admissions practices in our institutions of higher education.  That is what I am told.

At least that was the implied message, sent by the highest court in the land, when the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 decision (with Justice Elena Kagan not taking part) that the voters of a state, in this case Michigan, may bar the use of race in admissions to public colleges.

I was also told our society was beyond prejudice as I prepared for General Conference in 2012, when a resolution was proposed to subsume the Commission on Race and Religion and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women into The General Board of Church and Society.  Referring to the placement of office in the United Methodist building in Washington, D.C., one of my colleagues commented to me, “Why not? They’re all just right down the hall from each other?”  How silly of me to have missed that my parish, which is the world (thank you, John Wesley), has rid itself of all matters of racism and sexism! The fact that office doors are within feet of each other leads to the natural conclusion that the offices should be combined.  The issues we grapple with behind those doors no longer require the concentrated efforts of individual committees.  Racism and sexism are dead.

Except that racism and sexism are alive and living.  They are not hiding under a rock anywhere, but out in the open, breathing the air, and using it to pontificate hateful views in our society.  In quick succession, we heard from Cliven Bundy who suggested that African Americans might be better off to reconsider slavery over freedomthen Clippers' Owner Donald Sterling, whose racist remarks have been spewed all over the sports world and earned him a lifetime NBA ban.

Sadly, there are plenty of people in our society who agree with them.  Some folks still believe oppression is a good idea.  There are people who still think that blatant bigotry is okay.  Crosses are still burned on front lawns.  You can still hear the voices of discrimination in barroom banter and Sunday dinner with the family.  You can still see it in our nation’s practices around hiring, incarceration, and, yes, college admissions. 

Moreover, these opinions aren’t limited to racism, but spread like a virus to gender bias and homophobia as well.  And to those who might think any one of these is a “single issue” problem, this sickness easily morphs into economic injustice, immigration intolerance, and violence. 

Why not, they’re all just right down the hall from each other? 

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Rev. Leigh Dry is the pastor of Lexington United Methodist Church in Lexington, MA.  She is the president of the New England MFSA chapter, and serves on the national MFSA Program Council.

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