Archive for June, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: Supreme Court Contraception Ruling is a Slippery Slope

Monday, June 30th, 2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Chett Pritchett, chett@mfsaweb.org
202-546-8806

Supreme Court Contraception Ruling is a Slippery Slope

WASHINGTON, DC – June 30, 2014 – “Today’s ruling on contraceptive coverage in the Hobby Lobby case from the Supreme Court sets a dangerous precedence for corporate abuse over the religious freedom of individual persons of faith,” states Chett Pritchett, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).

This morning’s 5-4 ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby allows the owners of some secular, for-profit companies to deny their employees access to birth control on the basis of the religious beliefs of the company owners. The religious exemptions provided in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) previously extended to faith-based organizations, but not to secular, for-profit companies. While the heart of this case was the issue of religious freedom, some state that allowing for the religious exemption of corporations is also a violation of religious freedom.

In January, 2014, MFSA joined 26 other faith-based groups in an amicus curiae stating the Plaintiff’s arguments would undermine, not promote, religious liberty in the United States, especially when many employees in a growing religiously diverse workforce hold differing moral and religious views on contraception.

Ultimately, the Hobby Lobby ruling creates a slippery slope of injustice which could be applied to an individual owner’s religious beliefs surrounding sexual orientation, psychological and emotional well-being, and economic status.

 “The concept of free will is central to many Protestant theologies,” says Pritchett. “For the Supreme Court to not allow individuals the ability to implement the right to contraception through the Affordable Care Act is a direct violation of the religious freedom of those seeking to exercise their free will.”

While the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health and family planning information, MFSA was the only organization within the United Methodist family to sign the amicus.

“We continue to stand with those for whom family planning is a prayerful, moral decision grounded in free will and religious conviction,” states Pritchett.

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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I was there: Frank Schaefer is Reinstated

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

A close-up of Frank Schaefer wearing a stole of dazzling colorsThis past Friday, I had the incredible opportunity to attend Frank Schaefer's appellate trial hearing with the Methodist Federation for Social Action. It is doubtful you are unfamiliar with Schaefer's story: he is a reverend with four children, three of them being gay. One of his sons got engaged to another man and Schaefer decided he wanted to officiate the wedding despite the United Methodist Church's rules against it. Schaefer was reported by someone within his church family. On November 19, he was tried and found guilty of officiating a same-gender marriage and disobeying the Book of Discipline. His punishment: suspension for thirty days which was to be used as a "grace period" for him to decide whether or not he could uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety. If after these thirty days he said he would not, he would be defrocked. Having become an advocate of LGBT rights in the church, Schaefer felt that he could not uphold the unjust parts of the Discipline and therefore had to surrender his credentials as a UMC minister. On June 20, an appellate hearing took place.

Around a hundred people filled the hotel conference room, creating a burst of color from the rainbow stoles, stickers, and buttons. The support for Schaefer was pervasive, while there was no one to be seen from an opposing position. The question of the hearing was whether or not Frank was given a fair punishment. Was it reasonable to give him a quasi ultimatum and punish him for something he said? Can someone be punished for potential actions? Rev. Scott Campbell, Schaefer's counsel for the hearing, pleaded that the second part of the punishment be ruled illegal, and that Schaefer only be suspended for thirty days. Additionally, he asked not only for Schaefer's reinstatement, but also for payment for the past six months in which Schaefer could not work.

The verdict came in on June 24 in Schaefer's favor. He was 're-frocked' and is to be given compensation for the loss of salary and benefits. However, the Judicial Council can still overturn this decision if the case is brought to them and they decide to hear it. It is still uncertain (as of this writing) whether or not this will take place. What I hope we take away from this—and this is just my opinion—is that even though we may have some victories here and there, there is still a great deal of work to be done. The UMC is still enforcing its strict and discriminatory rules and people on all sides of it are getting hurt. The fact that Schaefer was punished at all for presiding over his son’s marriage is inherently wrong and needs to be changed. If love is the overarching message of Christianity, there should be no penalty for acting on it. Within The United Methodist Church, we must continue to advocate for equality in the church. Becoming a more open person, being a reconciling church, and supporting LGBT rights are all great starts, but that's all they are: places to start.  Real change comes from action and unrelenting faith and belief.

In Macklemore’s song “Same Love,” he rightfully states that “there’s no freedom until we’re equal.” Reverend Schaefer’s case is the wake-up call that members of The United Methodist Church need to stop the church from becoming a reservoir of hate and hurt. Let's all remember that church is a place for love, acceptance, and worshiping God, who loves everyone unconditionally.

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Jackie SpangJackie Spang is a student at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, MD. A member of North Bethesda United Methodist Church, her interests include music, theatre, soccer, politics, community service, and of course church, where she worked to help them become a Reconciling congregation. Jackie's email is jackie@mfsaweb.org

PCUSA Divests: is the UMC listening?

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

On Friday the 221st General Assembly (GA221) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 310 to 303 in favor of divesting from three companies known to be profiting from occupation infrastructure in occupied Palestine: Hewlett-Packard, Motorola-Solutions, and Caterpillar Inc. This assembly was also historic for changing their definition of marriage to “between two people”. Youth, seminarians, and mission personnel had the privilege of voice and were polled prior to each vote; I liked that. Now, I am tasked with explaining why United Methodists of all stripes should be paying attention.

The main reason is to show support to our Presbyterian neighbors: they may experience a temporary, undeserved drop in popularity. Yet I should state that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of MFSA or the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church; they do reflect my commitment to truth-telling.

Support our PCUSA neighborsAs I wrote and rewrote this analysis I returned in my memories to a pizza-restaurant in a valley neighborhood best known as “al-balled” in Amman. Two years ago I was serving in the Levant (Palestine, Israel, waiting for a visa in Jordan), so I met a Presbyterian counterpart and mentor for lunch and to discuss GA220 (and UM General Conference 2012). At that time, the PCUSA missed divesting by merely two votes. He and I already knew it was time to divest, knew from the oppression and impunity we witnessed. Three years earlier, the Christian leadership of Palestine called for divestment in “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth [2009]”. Five years prior to that, Israel ignored a 14-1 ruling by the International Court of Justice (a United Nations judicial body) calling for the destruction of the West Bank separation barrier. Knowing the enormity of the contracts at stake for these companies and the investment of political will by the Likud Party and its ethnocentric coalition, missionaries already understood that “shareholder engagement” would be fruitless. To whom should the UMC listen?

GBPHB struggles to understand "success"If the UMC and PCUSA are listening to one another it is because they are determined to remain peers, which causes me mixed-feelings. Dissenters to the overture parroted our General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. A gentleman stated that his Methodist contacts reported “success” in shareholder engagement, aptly demonstrating that GBPHB struggles to understand success outside of monetary terms. Saccharine company policies do not constitute "success" if companies still profit from systemic oppression. The Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) of PCUSA testified at GA221 to the continual evasiveness of all three corporations, who were glad to dialogue about anything other than their illicit activity in the West Bank. That was taboo: to whom should the UMC listen?

Before 2012 was over, Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) divested first from Caterpillar Inc and then from Hewlett-Packard and Veolia. Roughly six months later the board of directors of the Mennonite Central Committee US, in consultation with their sponsoring denominations, eschewed all companies on AFSC’s (American Friends’ Service Committee’s) screen-list. These so-called ‘Peace-churches’ are not structured similarly to the UMC and PCUSA, it’s true. They might be called peers to one another in that both have longer, deeper, wider connections to the region – the MCC Jerusalem office predates the state of Israel and the Friends School in Ramallah is respected by both Christians and Muslims throughout the West Bank. Two bodies with deep roots in the Levant and well-known commitments to nonviolence and humility both divested. To whom should the UMC listen?

FFC & MCC divested ~ to whom will the UMC listen?Mark Tooley, of the (in)famous Institute on Religion & Democracy, said Friends’ divestment “reflects a long continuum of unwise political advocacy”. It takes a strong search-engine to find a deep, discolored cesspool of regression like the “Juicy Ecumenism” blog (cited with the help of donotlink.com to prevent traffic to their page). FFC representatives declined to comment to Tooley’s IRD, which libeled that Quakers have no interest in curbing violence against Israelis, but consider this: modern mainline denominations appear later on the justice adopters’ bell-curve. The “silly, little” peace-churches put principle before popularity and, thus, do not attract the bulk of the societies to which they witness yet in hindsight these very acts are often celebrated as quintessentially progressive.

Friend and Mennonite disengagement is hardly impetuous, more than ten years after the Oslo accords expired. There is a sort of spiritual “white-noise” that accompanies money; resources are not inherently evil but too much of them makes discernment difficult, sluggish. It is no wonder that Jesus challenged the rich young man to sell all his possessions and follow The Way with total abandon.

Yet the principle stumbling block of mainline denominations is self-aggrandizement, not greed. A wise Presbyterian wisely noted at GA221 that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not interested in PCUSA’s attempts to aid reconciliation and that churches were over-estimating their influence in the world. Rather than following Palestinian Christian leadership (via Kairos Palestine) or joining forces with deep-rooted peace-partners (the MCC or AFSC, for example), mainstream churches doubled-down on one-anothers' misconceptions, as well as delusions about “share-holder engagement”. Western institutions struggle to recognize that values alone do not make them appropriate partners: the Savior-Industrial-Complex, in essence.

A Savior-Industrial-Complex, in essenceIn order to sustain this fantasy, they stage performances for an Israel that is not real – either because it’s an idea of Israel preserved from the Labor-Party-led government that died with PM Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in the mid-nineties or a fantasy taken from collective beliefs about what ‘Jews’ deserve. Not incidentally, Jewish groups of conscience like Jewish Voice for Peace recognize Israel’s drift away from democratic ideals and constantly call for divestment to ‘right the ship’ in Israel. To whom should the UMC listen?

Contrary to popular myths, the 21st Century Israel is a neo-colonial enterprise cloaked in religious over-tones with a manifest-destiny regime at the helm via the Likud-led coalition government. The words “Likud Party” never even entered the discussion at GA221. Neither the UMC nor the PCUSA, as collected bodies, possess the knowledge to be effective intermediaries but their investments are a powerful witness, indeed. Ultimately, I discourage Methodists from looking too deeply into PCUSA divestment because of BDS-phobic rhetoric in the overture. Some Presbyterians were spooked by the idea of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement; again, this showed a lack of familiarity, not a moderate stance. At this point, BDS is THE moderate stance.

UMC/PCUSA should join BDS, not eschew itWith the Palestinian Authority government hobbled by double-standards, disgraced, the BDS campaign creates a well-known movement offering a nonviolent hope for all Palestinians and an alternative to militant groups. Jewish Voice for Peace explicitly affirmed their place in the larger BDS movement, which speaks volumes. The UMC and PCUSA should join and percolate into Global BDS to achieve a high-level of engagement. As it stands, mainline churches are all generic “Evangelicals” in the mid-East. This is a case where two big denominations could do something right: explicitly join Global BDS and tip its mass Christ-ward, understanding BDS will tip Christians into ‘political advocacy’—a healthy challenge.

Bishop Tutu, smiling; purple shirtYet if you want to keep pace with society, UMC, feel free to be just one step behind the PCUSA ~ especially concerning marriage equality but soon with divestment as well. Tip-toe slowly until the moment the Earth shifts beneath your feet then dash ahead and extol justice. When it is popular enough you will divest, UMC – just like South Africa. Famed South African religious leader Desmond Tutu has already condemned the infrastructure in Israel and joined the call for BDS on Palestine’s behalf. To whom will the UMC listen?

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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 begins an MA in International Training & Education at American University this Autumn.

 

Marcus Wellons: More than Many Sparrows

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

On Tuesday night, Georgia murdered Marcus Wellons.

The news reporters delighted in labeling him as nothing less than a murderer, a killer, an inmate. However, I knew him as a friend of a friend of mine in Georgia. She had these words to say about Marcus after his execution:

"Marcus Wellons was my dear friend and mentor. Although his body was imprisoned by the state of Georgia, he was completely free through his strong Christian faith and through his unrelenting service to other death row prisoners. For 25 years Marcus gave God glory through being a model prisoner and a peacemaker. I first came to know Marcus out of my work to abolish the death penalty. We became members of one another's families. He asked for forgiveness for his crimes against India Roberts and her family every day, and his remorse was real and palpable. He was murdered at the hands of people whose identity was kept secret from him, and with drugs from an unknown source, filled through a prescription written by a doctor who has taken an oath to do no harm. I can only take comfort in the knowledge that Marcus is finally with Jesus, whom he loved so very much."

The state of Georgia did not see Marcus as a friend—or really a human, for that matter. They saw a crime record of rape and murder of a teenager.  They saw a case docket. They saw a poor black man and reduced him to the worst thing he’s ever done. A last resort, Marcus pleaded for his life with the United States Supreme Court. They showed no mercy and saw no friend. “Blind justice,” indeed.

Matthew 10:26I knew another man who was executed once. He was a homeless immigrant who traveled by foot with a dozen good friends. He spent his time healing and loving people. He was wrongfully accused of insurrection, did not have a fair trial, and was executed. Just like Marcus, the state reduced Jesus to a law to interpret and found loopholes to get rid of the one they saw as undesirable. Just like Pilate washing his hands of the crime, so does Georgia by keeping details of executions a secret. Nobody has to know it was you.

The lectionary gospel this week proclaims truth to our collective situation:

So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your [Creator]. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:26-31)

God weeps over Marcus’s conspired death. Even if states like Georgia cannot see the humanity in people like Marcus, God sees them as her children. Even if we cannot see the faces of the people cloaked in secrecy laws conspiring to kill our friends, God sees and will bring the truth to the light. Even when the Supreme Court reduces our friends to crimes, Jesus says, “The hairs on your head are numbered! You are worth more than many cheap sparrows.” Abolition is coming but only if the Church rises up and proclaims, “No more! Not in our names!” Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Church, have mercy.

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Autumn DennisAutumn Dennis is a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, active with Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and a member of the UMC. She is engaged in ministry with the children of God who live their lives on streets and in prisons. She blogs at inspire2conspire.wordpress.com.

Andrea Rosal and the State of Human Rights in The Philippines

Monday, June 16th, 2014

An 8-month pregnant Andrea Rosal was arrested by the Philippine military for supposedly being a member of the rebel New People’s Army.  She was kept in a cell with 30 other inmates under conditions not exactly appropriate for a woman about to give birth.  About a month later she gave birth to baby daughter Diona, who lived only two days.  Andrea was separated from her baby after she gave birth, reunited only after Diona’s death, and only briefly at that.  Not even two hours passed and she was whisked away, back to her hospital bed, under heavy guard.  She was later allowed to attend her daughter’s funeral wake, for only two hours.  She was not even allowed to see her daughter buried.  Then after just a few days, she was dragged out of the hospital and put her back into her detention cell.  The authorities ignored all pleas from her doctor and human rights advocates to give her even just a few more days to recover from child birth and the accompanying trauma of her daughter’s death.

The dismal conditions in her cell, and the fact that she was completely denied pre-natal care and check-up for the whole month prior to giving birth just about ensured her daughter’s death.  What warrants such a treatment of a prisoner, even assuming that the charges against her are true? 

The Philippines is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, both landmark documents that seek to protect the rights of individuals in war and/or peace.  As such, the Philippine government, no matter who is at its helm, is expected to uphold the provisions in the said documents.  In the case of Andrea Rosal (and countless others) the government didn’t act accordingly, even  if she indeed is a rebel, for which there is no evidence (except, if it counts as evidence, for her being the daughter of a late rebel leader, Gregorio Rosal). 

There’s more to this story, though.  Current President, Benigno Aquino III was educated at the most prestigious Jesuit university in The Philippines, and when we were school kids in The Philippines, we were taught to take pride to be living in the “only Christian nation in Asia.” As a child, my attitude to that statement, even then, was ambivalent.    Now, I feel ashamed if such a statement is supposed to be an indicator of moral ascendancy. 

Human rights violations run rampant in The Philippines.  Even more galling is the fact that offenders among the upper classes tend to be given VIP treatment, even if they are charged with far graver crimes, like corruption and plunder.  One such special case is that of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who just about everyone in The Philippines knows as guilty of many counts of corruption.  She never experienced prison and instead spent her time in a hospital, after she fell ill, strangely enough, when she was about to be arrested.  Another former President, Joseph Estrada was convicted of plunder, but was detained in a safe house whose amenities and conveniences I can only dream of having.  Then President Arroyo then pardoned and released him.  Now, Estrada is the mayor of Manila.

The double standard and the contempt toward ordinary folk by the current administration is just among the factors that is fueling the armed opposition, not just to the current administration, but against the Philippine state, especially when the succession of leaders mostly pay  lip service to peace negotiations. 

There are, of course, Christians that have been advocating for human rights and peace talks.  Among Protestants, there is the National Council of Churches and some of the member denominations under it.  It is also pleasing to note that a good number of United Methodist clergy and laity are active in such endeavors.  Among the Roman Catholics, there are significant congregations of priests and nuns that advocate for and provide assistance to victims of human rights violations.  In a country where 80 percent of the people are Roman Catholic, we hope for a future in which their bishops become more active in the pursuit of justice, peace and human rights.  May we continue to work for the day when “the most Christian nation in Asia” is also one in which peace and justice flourish.

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Haniel R. Garibay is Cross Cultural Coordinator with MFSA. Born and raised in The Philippines, Haniel is a home missioner and serves on 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. Currently, Haniel is also a student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

Voices from Mississippi: Religious Freedom Cannot Equal Discrimination

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

The recent passage of The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MRFRA) is an attempt to place a wedge between Christians and LGBTQ rights in current public discourse. Yet these two things must not be opposed to one another according to our own social principles as United Methodists. We as the church must serve as a model of what Christian freedom looks like: the freedom to be and act contrary to our own selves – loving with such boldness and fearlessness that it shocks and disarms those who would make themselves our enemies (Matthew 5:38-48). In one such act of love, I, and over one hundred Mississippi United Methodists have written, supported, and submitted a resolution to expand, within the Mississippi Conference, a voice for social equality in our church, state, and country.

The original language of the Religious Freedom Act, before it was heavily amended, reveals intent to support discrimination. Furthermore, several statements from Mississippi leaders in government and religion demonstrate affirmation of such intent. The Religious Freedom Act is intended to direct the courts of Mississippi to favor claims of religious freedom over other civil rights claims, such as LGBTQ rights, gender equality, race, and other traditionally under-protected classes of people. We, the signers of this resolution, urge the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church to reexamine the purpose and usage of our Church’s power and responsibility. We must not give into fear but urge our society to adopt more equitable practices.

The original federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act from 1993 was born out of a long history of constitutional religious freedom and developing judicial review that truly sought to protect religious freedom from tyranny. Religion, race, national origin, ethnicity, and poverty are afforded the highest form of judicial preference through the level of strict scrutiny in our court systems.  The LGBTQ community deserves to receive this same level of protection when legal conflict arises. Yet, because of the MRFRA, there is now an imbalance in protecting people of differing classes. There exists a reasonable fear that the Act passed by the Mississippi legislature and signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant to go into effect on July 1 of 2014 will be interpreted by the citizens and courts of Mississippi to support discrimination on religious grounds.

We offer this resolution with the express purpose of giving the United Methodist Church in Mississippi a strong voice in pointing out this judicial imbalance within our beloved state and country. If we are truly to become a church that affirms “all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God” (Paragraph 162, United Methodist Book of Discipline 2012), then we must work towards a stronger society and church that recognizes the value and worth of all persons. Local, state, and federal governments are the most common medium for redress against discrimination and inequality. And our social principles as United Methodists compel us, the church, to urge governmental entities to refrain from enacting any more laws that would further codify this unequal balance. We seek also to compel our governments to pass anti-discrimination policies that protect all people, but especially those who do not have equal protection under the law. True Christian freedom, then, is when we turn away from our own selfishness and social enclaves for the sake of Christ, not when we use law to turn away others who challenge our views.

 

Rev. Austin Hoyle is an associate pastor at Parkway Hills United Methodist Church in Madison, MS. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary with an M.Div and is a Ph.D student at The London School of Theology, where he is currently writing his research thesis in the area of Philosophical and Systematic Theology.

 

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