Archive for November, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: United Methodist Justice-Seekers: Ferguson Cannot Be an End to Conversation of Power and Privilege in the Church

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – November 25, 2014 –A St. Louis County (MO) Grand Jury has potentially deepened the chasm of racial injustice in the United States in the 21st Century with their decision to not charge Officer Darren Wilson with the shooting of Ferguson, Missouri resident Michael Brown.  After hearing from more than 70 witnesses, the grand jury claimed there was not enough physical or scientific evidence to charge Officer Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the young, unarmed African-American man whose body laid at the scene of the crime for four hours following his murder on August 9, 2014.

The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) stands with the people of Ferguson as they struggle to understand the decision of the Grand Jury and join with the Brown family in seeking peaceful ways to engage anger and frustration. “Indeed, Ferguson reflects the confusion, emotion, and struggle of a great portion of Americans, no matter our race or political affiliation,” states Chett Pritchett, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.  Historically, MFSA has stood with minority communities in the struggle for civil rights. Today, this work continues through focusing on power and privilege in all its forms.

“Last night’s decision makes clear that we cannot believe the lie that we live in a post-racial society. When black men are killed and their bodies are left in public for hours, when communities are automatically assumed to be violent because of the color of their skin, when militarized police forces use the same force against participants of civil disobedience that would be used in acts of war, we cannot stand idle to the machinations of injustice,” says Pritchett.

MFSA implores The United Methodist Church at all levels to engage in open and honest conversations about race, class, and power.  Pritchett reminds, “As the Church begins to enter the season of Advent, themes of power and privilege are illuminated in the story of God becoming incarnate among a marginalized people. The opportunity is before us to not allow Ferguson to be a ‘hot-button’ topic, but a catalyst for action and transformation of a people called to be world-transforming disciples.”

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, K-Mart, and Methodism

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

When the Methodist Federation for Social Action was established in 1907, our founders worked to write the first Methodist Social Creed, based in economic principles of living wages, fair employment practices, and safe working conditions. These commitments are the basis for the ways in which The United Methodist Church lives out our commitment to personal holiness and social holiness: The Social Principles.

For over one hundred years, Methodists have taken a variety of positions on social issues affecting church members and the whole of society. For example, Methodists have been notorious teetotalers, supporting the full prohibition of alcohol for many years, recognizing the affects that alcoholism has on domestic violence, birth defects, and employment and economic opportunities.

Sebastian S. Kresge was a noted businessman, the founder of what is now known as K-Mart, as well as The Kresge Foundation. For more than eighty years, his mandate to promote human progress was realized through the support of fundraising campaigns to build capital projects – libraries, hospitals, schools, museums, community centers and the like – that, over the years, have contributed to the creation of the nation’s nonprofit infrastructure. Kresge and his wife were members of Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit and heavily influenced by their faith to give generously for the betterment of society. They were no strangers to Wesleyan theology or the Social Creed. Their values of a better world were echoed in their family life, as well. Their son, Stanley, was a member of the board of the Kresge Foundation, a staunch supporter of prohibition, and for a brief time, chairman of the board of the Kresge Company, the forerunner of K-Mart. Before his death in 1985, he expressed deep concerns over the selling of beer and wine in K-Mart stores and stores being open on Sunday.

Today’s United Methodist Social Principles expand that original Social Creed. “We support social measures that ensure the physical and mental safety of workers, that provide an equitable division of products and services, and that encourage an increasing freedom in the way individuals may use their leisure time” (Book of Discipline, Par. 163.C).  The Social Principles further state, “We believe that persons come before profits. We deplore the selfish spirit that often pervades our economic life.”

I can’t help but wonder how Sebastian and Anna Kresge and their children would feel today if they knew that not only was the legacy of their stores going to be open on Thanksgiving, a holiday often associated with faith and family, but that employees were not being notified of holiday schedules and in some cases threatened with termination.

Granted, K-Mart isn’t the same place it was under Kresge leadership. In 2002, K-Mart declared bankruptcy, and then in 2004 K-Mart somehow had the capital to acquire Sears. Today, the stores operate separately under the name of Sears Holding Company.

It’s true, K-Mart isn’t alone in the retail world when it comes to shady dealings and maltreatment of employees. Twelve national retailers are planning to be open on Thanksgiving Day, as well as many Starbucks locations. Some of these retailers firmly commit asking for volunteers – a common practice in retail in which staffing hours are provided to those who desire extra work. (Hint: Some people who want extra spending money at the holidays love this option, like college students or seasonal employees). But for many, the ability to have a day off while working for near minimum wage, is a perk.

Society has become so enamored with the desire for immediate gratification that a day for faith and family and food has become secondary to corporate profits, poor employment practices, and unhealthy (physically, mentally, and emotionally) work environments.

I hope you’ll join with me in a commitment to not shop on Thanksgiving Day.

I won’t be shopping on Black Friday, either, but if you do, I hope you’ll take the time to show gratitude to those workers who sacrifice time with family and friends, whose financial need to work extra shifts is related to our problematic economic system, and whose livelihood is threatened because of their desire to share sacred time with those they love.

I think the Kresge’s would agree.

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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.

Returning to Jerusalem

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

I went to sleep last night with honking horns from a traffic jam outside our hotel. The traffic here is worse than Washington, DC at rush hour. The new highways in, around, through and under Jerusalem are so inadequate that one little incident paralyzes the city.

Fatigue finally resulted in a full eight hours of sleep last night. We have been touring and learning at a furious pace. Yesterday was spent in Bethlehem; it is no longer a little town that it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Every visit here, I have seen growth and this time I didn't know where I was until we reached Manger Square. The lines at the Church of the Nativity were modest. The "exact place" marked with a star was just inside the exit door and another priest cleared the way for me to kneel down and take a picture with the other camera. He seemed unhappy as I left and I'm not sure if it was because I didn't kiss the star or because I failed to tip him.

Our tour with Interfaith Peace Builders provides us opportunities to engage with those working for peace and justice. The speaker from BADIL said Palestinians are the largest population of refugees in the world and have been refugees the longest of any refugee group in the world.

Nora Carmi from Kairos Palestine said we were in the “Holey Land” not the Holy Land not only from the bombs and bulldozers, but also the holes in human lives.

The evening got windy and very cold as we visited the Tent of Nations outside Bethlehem. One family has owned a large olive grove there for several generations. The Israeli government has tried to take it for twenty-three years asking for more proof of ownership. The family even went to Turkey to copy old deeds from the Ottoman Empire to show in court. At the hearing an Israeli settler said their deed was no good, as he had the land from God. The Nassar family lawyer asked the settler to see the signature from God. The case is still pending.

So when I awoke from my sound sleep yesterday morning, my roommate said she couldn't believe I slept through the fireworks and all the commotion an hour after I went to sleep. I learned a little later it was gun shots she heard from the Dome of the Rock, a couple of blocks from here. You can see from  the attached map the Holy Land Hotel, where we are, and the Dome of the Rock, where the shooting took place. The area was closed yesterday and tensions are high.

I covet your prayers for our group and the people of this land.

(Photos by Ginny Lapham)

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Ginny Lapham is a former board member of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and a volunteer in our Washington, DC office. From 1959 to 1969, Ginny and her family lived in the Middle East, specifically working with Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Ginny's professional work upon return to the United States focused on social work and education. Prior to her retirement, Ginny served as the director of the Human Genome Education Model Project at Georgetown University.

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