Posts Tagged ‘justice’

In This Moment…

Monday, January 30th, 2017
Beloved Justice Seekers,
        
In this moment, it is hard to not let darkness of despair and fear overcome Epiphany's light. There are days when it seems that we are in a perpetual state of lent – lamenting the realities we are facing with the new presidential administration. I think back to hearing the news of our presidential election. I spent the days following that news at Facing Race, the largest conference focused in racial justice, surrounded by thousands of folks dedicated to seeking justice. Over the past few days I've surrounded myself with thousands of queer and trans people organizing, dreaming, and resisting together. I can't think of a better place to be in light of what was happening and is continuing to happen in our nation. 

As I prepare for what lies ahead and the paths of resistance we will each walk, I'm grounded in the thought that our priority must be to care for our bodies and each other. We do not have to lean into platitudes of unity at the sake of our own sacred worth. Our fundamental desire to thrive and the vows we take at our baptism call us to look inward, resist injustice, and serve all! We commit to our own personal rejection of the evil powers of this world, accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist, and finally put our trust in Christ promising to serve a church for all people. As we step into this new season our welcome must be intended for those pushed from the center – the source of privilege – in our communities. We must resist the ways we are complacent in maintaining privilege. We must bring others along with us in this struggle. 

From our earliest days, the Methodist Federation for Social Action identified as a movement energizing people to be agents of sacred change in the church and the world. We believe that the root of justice lies within people of faith in grassroots communities called to engage in collective liberation. It requires storied relationships, resilience in the midst of oppression, and resistance to all that stands in the way of love. Our intersectional lens reminds us of the words of Methodist and civil rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer, who said: “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Our lived experience tells us sacred change is only possible in a movement that is boundary breaking and refuses to be silenced by the powers and principalities of our day. 

Your partnership in this movement has made and continues to make sacred change possible each and every day. We have faced difficult days in the history of our movement. We stood up and resisted when the church refused to integrate, we stood up and resisted when the government used fear to attempt to silence us in the McCarthy era, we stood up and resisted when the church said no to women’s ordination, we stood up and resisted when the government said no to women's suffrage, we stood up and resisted dangerous child labor practices. Our legacy of resistance is faithfully long. We will continue our legacy of standing up and resisting. No matter whom the powers and principalities are we will accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. 

In order to do so we need your help. In the coming year we need to increase our staff to increase our capacity to resist. Please consider making a donation to the Methodist Federation for Social Action today to help us continue our legacy of resistance.

It is our commitment to faithfully look within ourselves, our movement, and our world to renounce the wickedness we perpetuate, to resist the injustice in our world, to trust in God’s grace and to serve Christ through a church open to ALL people. Will you join me in making sacred change possible with a gift to MFSA!

Seeking justice,
Joseph Lopez
He, Him, His
Nominations and Governance Co-Chair
Board of Directors
 

 

Being the Good Samaritan Isn’t Enough

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Being the Good Samaritan Isn't Enough

By Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div.

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This Sunday at my church, the Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, preached for our Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. His words were prophetic and courageous, I quickly took notes and there is one part of his sermon that struck a nerve with me. He talked about the Good Samaritan, that it was a good first action, but not the last step in seeking justice. Powery brought up that we needed to know why the road was so violent, what was the systemic reasons behind this. How come the others didn’t stop, why did the Samaritan have to pay so much out of pocket to heal the man? He opened up the parable for me and as I sat down to write about the ACA and how it affects women’s reproductive health, I can’t get it out of my head.

Last week we learned that 91% of the 115th Congress identifies as Christian thanks to the Pew Research Center. The religion of the prolific healer, Jesus Christ who healed those who needed him. Yet, in the same week in the dead of the night last week, the U.S. Senate begun its work dismantling the Affordable Healthcare Act and taking us backwards from the Gospel. In a space of Christian majority, the Gospel did not flourish.

We also know now, there are ten senators who identify as United Methodists and eight of them voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Johnny Isakson, David Perdue, Pat Roberts, John Kennedy, Richard Burr, and Rob Portman. (It is worth noting, two United Methodist senators voted against: Elizabeth Warren and Debbie Stabenow.)

Some of our United Methodist siblings voted against our neighbor. Those we are in communion with, who verbally join in our baptismal covenant, yet do the opposite. What are we to do? Our neighbors who are about to lose their healthcare are hurting at the hands of our siblings.

The stories have flooded our news feeds of people who will be directly affected by the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. They grow by the day. You may even have your personal story. As I listen, it’s hard not to lose hope. The ACA was not perfect, it was a first step like the Good Samaritan caring for the man on the side of the road to Jericho. Repealing the ACA is walking by one of God’s beloved children in pain and not doing a damn thing.

Instead of repealing it, we should be addressing it and the systemic issues regarding health care. Why profit comes before people. Why a group of overwhelmingly Christians are ignoring Jesus’ words and actions. A group who knows that the most vulnerable is disproportionately affected by these changes.

I think another part of the parable’s lesson for me is that we also need to call to task the priest and the Levite who walked past the injured man on the road to Jericho. We need to hold those in our communion, who join our baptismal covenant to our Wesleyan heritage of radical love, grace, and justice.

As we move forward into the fight to maintain the ACA, instead of strengthening it, I will leave you with The Social Principles section on Right to Health Care:

Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.

Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost.” As a result all suffer. Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines. We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.

We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.

We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary health care to all people regardless of their health-care coverage or ability to pay for treatment.

Being the Good Samaritan isn’t enough, moving backwards from the Gospel is also not acceptable. As people of faith, we must protect our siblings who are on the precipice of losing their healthcare. All hands are needed on the road to Jericho. It’s time to stand up and act.

Call the United Methodist Senators who are actively trying to repeal the ACA today!

Senator Jeff Sessions: (202) 224-4124

Senator Tom Cotton: (202) 224-2353

Senator Johnny Isakson: (202) 224-3643

Senator David Perdue: (202) 224-3521

Senator Pat Roberts: (202) 224-4774

Senator John Kennedy: (202) 224-4623

Senator Richard Burr: (202) 224-3154

Senator Rob Portman: (202) 224-3353

 

Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div. is a feminist, lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, and former MFSA intern who advocates for women’s health through a faith-based lens.

Weeping with Rachel

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

“Thus says YHWH: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and bitter weeping. Rachel, weeping for her children, refuses to be comforted, for her children are no more.”  

- Jeremiah 31:15 (The Inclusive Bible)

Beloved MFSA Family,

Our hearts mourn acts of violence committed against black and brown bodies; our prayers join Rachel’s, and we too cry out into the wilderness refusing to be comforted for our children are no more.

In recent days we are once again in anguish but, cannot and will not let ourselves be paralyzed by our fear and feelings of helplessness. This is a time when we are called to listen more, learn more and lead more. We recall and reaffirm our baptismal vows to “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We must continually live into our commitments and move to make justice ever more real in our own lives, congregations and communities.

Audre Lorde once said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master's house.” We need a new narrative and a new structure.  More importantly we need a new set of tools for us to build new houses.  The racism within our houses of worship, our houses of government and even the houses our movements reside within cannot be dismantled with the same tools we’ve used for centuries. It’s time to have a new conversation — a conversation that looks within our own movement first at the ways we continue to perpetuate a racist system. Only then will we be able to build a new house, one where the beloved community can call home.  

“Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system.” (Par 162.A 2012 Book of Discipline)

MFSA calls upon ourselves and our progressive partners, along with local churches, annual conferences, and all denominational bodies, to confess and condemn the sins of systemic and personal racism, and to engage in the hard work of repentance and reconciliation.  To assist in this, we recommend the resources and work of the General Commission on Religion and Race.

As an organization, MFSA will continue to educate our board and member leadership in anti-racism, bias, and white privilege. As we seek to increase racial diversity among decision-makers and prioritize anti-racism in our programs and ministry, we also will call The United Methodist Church, its general boards and agencies, and its leadership to join us in sacred change. In doing so, we hope to embody the beloved community to which Christ calls us.

The work for racial justice must go deeper than statements and endless pastoral letters. James Cone once said: “sympathy does not change the structures of injustice.” We invite you to partner with us in committing to listen more, learn more, and lead more. Linked here are resources to help you and your communities begin and continue to have conversations about race, racial justice, and white privilege as well as organizations committed to racial justice that you might consider partnering with locally.

 
Seeking Justice,  
Your Staff and Board of Directors
Methodist Federation for Social Action

MLK: Remembering and Transforming

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

April 4, 1968: a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was the day that put Memphis on the map, and not for a good reason. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Memphis, TN for a sanitation strike. As he stood on the balcony of his hotel, the day after delivering his famous mountain top speech, a shot rang out in the night that put an end to his young life. He was only 39 years old.
Lorainne Hotel, Memphis

Growing up in Memphis, I heard this story so many times that I got bored by it. Every year my class would visit the National Civil Rights Museum and spend at least 2 weeks, talking about Dr. King, his civil disobedience movement, and his assassination. I honestly began to dread going to school on these days. I never wanted to tell my teachers or classmates my disinterest with this topic for fear of what they might think of me.

Since being in seminary, I have come to see Dr. King in a very different light. My background is that of a middle-class, white girl who has been provided for comfortably her entire life. Yet, as I get older and my eyes are opened more fully to the struggles of the world around me, I have begun processes for challenging my own experiences and putting myself in King’s shoes. I can now fathom the lengths to which someone would go to in order to see dreams for their children fulfilled. I have begun to feel how wanting, hoping, and wishing for change can move even the shyest person to action. I am starting to realize that, in many ways, we are not far beyond the world in which King lived. We have not come that far and for that I am ashamed It makes me weep that all of God’s children are not loved, protected, and treated as the glorious creations we all are.

Everyday we are bombarded with stories and images of the injustice and inequality. I wonder what Dr. King would say today? His quote from his mountaintop speech still rings true today. “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”

What would Dr. King do today? He would stand up and speak out. He would seek to effect change in systems and in the hearts of people. I often wonder what I can do to be more like Dr. King. Am I standing up for inequality? Am I speaking out about injustice? Would I have the courage, like him, to face those who perpetrate injustice? Martin Luther King Jr’s last speech was titled “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” and it is one of my favorite speeches given by King because it sums up my call story. He says, “We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tells it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.’”

Jesus has anointed all of us to be preachers, teachers, and healers of this world. We are all called to speak up and speak out about the desperation and desolation we see around us every day. So on this day of remembrance I choose to honor Dr. King’s death by carrying of his legacy. I will speak out about injustice and do my best to walk with those who need it the most. Won’t you join me?
___________________________________________________________

Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.

A Visit to the House of “Representatives”

Friday, February 6th, 2015

When your boss tells you that as part of your job you get to attend your first House of Representatives hearing, I, of course, pumped my fists and began to plan my outfit and daydream about what an adventure this was going to be. This particular hearing was referencing aid to Palestine and Palestine’s authority in the International Criminal Court  (ICC), held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Walking into the room on Wednesday, I was overwhelmed by the opulence and grandeur. Once we took our seats I was finally able to take a look around the room. There were members of Congress along with tons of staffers in all their fine suits and attire. Along the back wall were seated what I recognized to be the general public. They were sitting peacefully, some of them silently holding up signs, and being a beautiful witness to end the occupation of Palestine.  The room began to fill quickly with people in support of Palestine. There were a sea of pro-Palestinian t-shirts, signs and keffiyahs. After about five minutes the small room was completely packed.  While cataloging the room, I notice, to my alarm, there are quite a few police officers. I began to wonder if something was going to happen.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see more than 4 officers in a small room I don’t feel safe. I begin to feel intimidated.

As the hearing begins, I settle in and listen to the committee as Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) began to outline the reason and procedure for today’s hearing.

The Chairwoman took her time in introducing herself, those in the committee, and those she had invited to participate in the panel. I, for one, was excited about this part. The United States government has always fascinated me. I love reading and watching about bi-partisanship and seeing how our government functions to bring about law and order. However, I was to be disappointed. Almost immediately it was evident that every single member of the committee who spoke was extremely pro-Israel. I heard Congressmembers speak about Palestine as if they were terrorists fighting against Israel, who had done nothing wrong. I began to wonder “if everyone on the committee is on the same page then why in the world were we even here?”

During these introductions and speeches a woman with her three children silently came in from the back. Since there were not enough seats the woman and her children stood in the back against the wall with pro-Palestinian signs. These signs were hand written and had quotes like, “#ICC4Israel – Genocide is not ok.”  Another read, “ I’m here for the children who will never grow up in Palestine.” Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen paused the proceedings to remind everyone to sit down and that signs were considered a disruption. I will admit to being puzzled by this considering the chairwomen took the time to also state that graphic designed t-shirts were perfectly okay during proceedings. The woman and her children began looking for seats. The people behind me were nice enough to scoot together so that they could all sit down.

Now it was time for the panelists to give their testimony. I hoped once again that now I was going to see both sides presented and debated like I had seen on TV time and time again. Sadly, this was not the case. One by one as the panelists began speaking, all were clearly stating a pro-Israel position. I could tell the mood in the room was shifting as one by one all of the other observers began to realize, just as I had, that these proceedings were biased and that nothing, not even our presence, would actually help a positive position for Palestine be achieved.

While for the most part the observers, like myself, had remained calm and quiet with only a few huffs and loud sighs. That was until Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich compared Palestinians to terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. As one can imagine, this caused quiet an outrage among not only the protestors but myself as well. I knew that politics could be dirty but I was disappointed in such blatant exaggerations. After this the audience erupted in cries of outrage. It was at this point that Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen put the proceedings in recess until the courtroom could be cleared of those who were disrupting the proceedings. Now, I thought this meant that only those who had spoken were going to be asked to leave. How I was wrong!  The capitol police began to clear out the room. A woman sitting in the center section among those who had signs and t-shirts, tried to clarify if she was to leave when she didn’t say anything. The police tell her “everyone has to go.” This is when I begin to notice that my row is not being cleared. I again checked to make sure my colleague and I were not sitting in the staffers section. We were not.

I started to pay attention to who exactly was being made to leave. The police were clearing out anyone with signs or wearing t-shirts and keffiyahs. While not everyone who was asked to leave was Palestinian, if you were not white and in a suit or a dress, you were being made to leave. It was after clearly ignoring our row that my colleague, MFSA executive director Chett Pritchett, calmly asked an officer whether or not “everyone” meant all of the public? I believe at this point the officer realized that he had been leaving out a chunk of the audience. The officer then escorted my row of white, well-dressed participants out into the hallway through a crowd of clearly upset protestors, who crying “Shame” at the Congressmembers.  After Chett and I left the proceedings, I began to think about my experience while on the Metro ride back to campus.

I will admit I have never felt, before these proceedings, that I really had any right to have an opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict, since I am neither Israeli or Palestinian, nor am I an authority on eithers history and living situations. However, on my Metro ride home, I continued to think about I would feel if I was demonized in an official proceeding like that? How would I, if I was that woman, explain to my children why they were being kicked out of a room by police officers for not doing anything? The only answer I could come up with is that it doesn’t matter what side anyone is on. As citizens of this country, or just people who live and work in the United States, it is our duty to hold our government officials accountable for their words, deeds, and actions. We must hold them to a higher standard. We must reach these members of Congress that no matter their personal opinions, that allowing our legislative system to become narrow minded and to allow hearings like this again are a slippery slope that lead us away from democracy and toward the authoritarianism and tyranny that we constantly call other countries to account for everyday. As for me, I will continue to pray, vote, and witness at other hearings for a more honest and equal representation in our legislative system and for all the violence and war to cease.

On that Metro train, I reflected on why I was there and what would make me go back to another hearing like that. I continued to think about the one woman’s sign. Whenever I am asked why I am present in the struggle I will say. “I am here for ALL of the children who will not be able to grow up or have had to grow up too fast because of violence all over the world.” They need a voice, too.

—————————————————————————————————–

Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.

Wondering About Supreme Court Decisions

Monday, August 18th, 2014

I suspect more than a few wonder if members of the Supreme Court ever wonder if some of the decisions they have made were very poor ones, no matter how reasoned and rational they believed their “arguments” were for their “legal” position, though their “arguments” often go against anything most would accept as common sense.  Every now and then you hear or see something about some retired Justice who has reservations, or even criticisms, about what is happening with the Court, but I suspect few of us read their books.  I think John Paul Stephens was the latest to write such a book (though it may have been someone else), which even had some specific recommendations to fix what are Constitutional legal issues that plaque us at this time in our history—like the Second Amendment. 

 

 

I specifically wonder if the “five old white guys” who carried the vote on the Citizens United decision have ever wondered if what they did is as much a major mistake as many of us think it certainly is.  The amount of money is unquestionably far greater than Justice Scalia seemed to think was all that significant, with his well publicized question at the last hearing on the issue, that led to another decision that even further widened the door to all the corporate funds now allowed to be spent for elections.  And it isn’t just the amount of money being spent that is threatening the essence of “freely” decided democratic elections, it is also the amount of money each side thinks/knows it has to raise to even possibly have the chance to get elected—thus making being a House or Senate elected “public servant” nearly a full time fund-raising profession.  The emails that hourly flood most of our email accounts asking, even begging, for money certainly demonstrates it is a full time occupation for at least the aids of such elected officials.  While I’m glad to know it at least means a nice paycheck for some folks who work in elected officials’ offices, the idea that all this money simply represents “freedom of speech”, with no connection to how these elected officials vote on issues that matter to those who have given them the money, is so absurdly ridiculous that it is completely and totally nonsensical.  How anyone supposedly intelligent enough to rise to the level of even being considered to be nominated to become a Supreme Court Justice, let alone actually becoming one, can make any rational or reasonable defending argument for this decision and its effects is silly to anyone with even a minor level of common sense.  That they supposedly made this decision on the basis that a corporation is equivalent to an individual only makes the whole thing grotesquely worse, and even more ridiculously illogical and irrational.

I also specifically wonder about the decision of these same “five old white guys” (who happen to all be Roman Catholic), in regards to the Hobby Lobby decision.  Will they ever be sorry that their decision changed the entire understanding and definition of religious freedom and rights, so that now a corporation’s religious beliefs can be used to overrule and overrun the religious beliefs of an individual who works for that corporation, going against the rational and reasonable understanding of individual religious freedom from the time of this country’s very beginning?  A nation whose founding leaders had the deeply wise idea that a republic of democratically elected representatives could best exist without the kind of religious allegiances and laws that almost always ended up imposing someone’s religious beliefs on someone else, and also, too often, led to serious tensions and/or violent conflicts between at least two groups of supporters of differing beliefs that each claimed were so sacred as to “have to” be believed by all, so that they became willing to kill and die in order for that to happen.  Those founders well knew that religious wars were far too often causing far too much destruction and death to any nation’s and its peoples’ lives to be something they wanted to cause any reason to happen in this “new” attempt to begin a new nation.  So they accepted the notion of individual religious freedom with no law ever to be made that would, in effect, create or respect any one religion or religious perspective.  That these “five old white guys” have now come along and changed this at least 90 degrees, or perhaps even 180 degrees, in the opposite direction is also irrational and unreasonable, and again ignores anything that can be understood as common sense.  While they tried to make it seem that this was a limited decision available for small, closely held “family” corporations, the immediate appeal by many other religious groups asking for exemptions based on “religious beliefs” to avoid paying insurance costs for people they do not “believe” are worthy of their financial support (or even to exist as they are)—like same-gender oriented people—means that the effect of the decision simply immediately opened the door to legally accepted, religious belief-based discrimination.  Exactly the kind of thing the founders knew was exceedingly problematic, as does anyone with even an ounce of common sense and tolerant decency toward others whose religious beliefs differ from their own.  A Supreme Court that is supposed to be above political partisanship appears, pathetically, sadly, not to be.

Now all this wondering on my part, or any one else’s of similar thinking, doesn’t solve anything at all, and cannot under our current political

situation—the gridlocked mess of maximalist partisanship that now “rules” the nation’s governing bodies.  But I want to think and believe that such wondering might lead us to decide to do more than wonder, and begin to demand something different of our elected officials, so that some solutions might actually be accomplished.  It’s possible—it’s doable—if we will make it so!  I certainly hope so—how about you? 

———————————————————————————————————

Rodney Noel Saunders is a United Methodist clergyperson living in Alberquerque, NM where he serves as the Wesley Foundation Director at the University of New Mexico.

When Citizens Become the Nail

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

**Originally Posted at wheneftalks.com. Re-posted with permission**

Ferguson is a mess. If journalists can be arrested for no reason whatsoever, (hauled out of a McDonald’s, with their press credentials clearly visible) just imagine how average citizens of Ferguson are being treated.

Mistrust is at the heart of all that is happening there. Police are unwilling to answer even the most basic questions about the Michael Brown case. Only three of Ferguson’s 50-plus police officers are African-American. Seventy-percent of the population is African-American. You do the math.

Yes, the police do have a higher burden on them…to act responsibly, to de-escalate tensions whenever they can. Why can’t the police understand that their failure to release the officer’s name makes every officer, in riot gear, look like an accomplice? Why can’t the police understand that the very presence of these SWAT teams are escalating the problem? There’s no reason for a SWAT team member to aim rifles into a peaceful crowd, or to point it at the chest of a journalist. (Both happened yesterday…)

Yesterday was a day of peaceful protests in Ferguson. It was a de-escalation on the part of the citizens there. The police could have responded in kind, by de-escalating the scope of their SWAT-like response. They did not do this.

So, yes, there’s a racial component to what’s happening in Ferguson. But everything happening there is greatly exacerbated by the militarization of local police. First, the federal government gave grants to fight the “War on Drugs.” Then, they gave grants to fight the “War on Terror.” Police forces in peaceful suburbs now routinely train and use SWAT-style weapons for the hordes of Islamic terrorists descending upon them (turn your sarcasm detectors on).

I point you toward this excellent summary from Newsweek. Here’s the golden nugget in this story, which makes the point I am trying to make here:

    “Given the proliferation of military weapons and military training among America’s police departments, the use of military force and military tactics is not surprising. When your only tool is a hammer, after all, every problem looks like a nail.”

I point to these two additional resources. First, this report from the progressive ACLU. Then, a similar report from the conservative Cato Institute.

The militarization of local police in America brings fear to everyone. It’s a big part of what’s driving the fear of African-Americans on the streets of Ferguson. However, it’s also a big part of what drives the fear of White people espousing “Open Carry” here in Texas. Militarized police raise fear and anxiety in a cross-racial way.

The hostility and anger on all sides is palpable. Here’s an excellent essay from Salon, on the entire situation, that focuses on Black Anger:

    “Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us.  They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.”

Ferguson is not Baghdad. It’s not even Cairo. Our citizens have rights. Our police have responsibilities. The police have made many tactical mistakes in these past few days.

And, most importantly, our citizens are not nails to be pounded by a SWAT-team hammer.

————————————————————————————————————–

Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001.Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest.

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.

____________________________________________________________
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

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.

________________________________________________________

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.

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.

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

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