Faith leaders see how minimum wage hike will improve lives

Faith leaders see how minimum wage hike will improve lives

Aug. 25, 2017

Article from The Star web page

We are four leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian faiths. Earlier this year, together with 200 other religious leaders from across Ontario, we released a public statement in support of a $15 minimum wage and fair working conditions.

As faith leaders we see firsthand the stress experienced by workers who are juggling more than one part-time job. Too many of our congregants rely on food banks, despite working long hours. They worry about not spending quality time with their children or being unable to participate in community activities. The parents’ struggle for paying the bills and putting proper food on the table creates unhealthy and unnecessary family strife.

Increasingly, scheduling constraints and economic necessity are preventing our congregants from attending their houses of worship. Parents say they are anxious that their children are not finding full-time jobs, especially ones for which they have trained, and end up moving back home. Decisions to get married or start families are being postponed.

This is why we were heartened when the government tabled Bill 148: the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act as a means of addressing workplace inequality.

First, the increase to a $15 minimum wage is long overdue. As it stands, the current general minimum wage of $11.40 leaves those working full-time more than 17 per cent below the poverty line. Bill 148 proposes to implement a $15 minimum wage by Jan. 1, 2019. We support this and hope it can be extended to all workers. There should be no further delay in ensuring that workers can earn at least enough income to rise above the poverty line.

Another crucial step forward initiated by this government is the provision in Bill 148 to extend wage equality to workers in part-time and temporary employment relative to their full-time and directly-hired counterparts. This measure has the potential to significantly address the equity wage gap for women and workers of colour who are overrepresented among the part-time workforce, often involuntarily. However, in order to be meaningful, the language in Bill 148 must be strengthened. As it stands, the language in Bill 148 provides far too much leeway to employers to use minor variations in duties to escape their obligation to provide equal pay.

While we applaud the government for taking historic first steps to ensure paid personal leave days that can be used in the case of illness, we hope it is not too late for the government to extend it further to seven paid leave days. One doesn’t have to be a doctor to know that illnesses can strike for more than two days annually. And let’s not forget that the cost of providing paid sick days pales in comparison to the costs of sick employees infecting their co-workers and creating public health risks, sending sick children to school or having to leave sick elderly parents alone at home.

Finally, we support measures to make it easier for workers to join unions so that they can, themselves, take the action necessary to bargain collectively with their employers. We support the initiatives included in Bill 148 that start to address the power imbalance between workers and employers by easing workers’ access to unionization. Still, we hope the legislation will go even further by expanding to all workers the card signing option for unionizing, regardless of the sector or occupation.

As faith leaders, we are inspired toward justice by our faith. The Qur’an affirms that the socio-economic welfare of the individual and of society depends on the degree of justice and equity in the distribution of wealth.

The Jewish sage Maimonides stated over 800 years ago, the highest form of Tzedakah — righteous living — commonly referred to as charity, is to help the disadvantaged become self sufficient.

The Sikh gurus’ teach us to fight against injustice and support the repressed by all means, for example, Kirat Karo (honest earning) and Vand Chakko (share and consume) are core teachings of Sikhism along with others.

Similarly, Christians are inspired by the biblical mandate to call for justice for all, including a warning to rich oppressors not to cheat labourers out of their wages.

For all these reasons, we are hopeful that the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act will mark a turning point for Ontario where the working poor are empowered with the tools they need to effect change at work and in doing so, to improve their own lives and to strengthen and grow the local and spiritual communities.

Rev. Dr. Susan Eagle is a Minister at Grace United Church. Imam Abukar Mohamed is a faith leader at Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque. Rabbi Shalom Schachter is the Employment Working Group Lead of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition. Bhupinder Singh Ubbi is the chairperson of Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwara Council.


Christian leaders call for criminal justice reform

Christian leaders call for criminal justice reform

Article from Baptist News Global web page written by Bob Allen

June 21, 2017

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter joined 96 other Christian leaders supporting a campaign for criminal justice reform announced June 20.

Spearheaded by Prison Fellowship, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, National Association of Evangelicals and the Colson Center for Worldview, the Justice Declaration seeks to rally evangelicals and other Christians against mass incarceration and for alternative sentencing for criminals who don’t pose a significant threat to society

“We have a criminal justice system that does not stop crime but in many cases actually furthers crime,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in comments at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington quoted by the Washington Times, “making criminals out of those who are not yet criminals [and] ignoring those who have been victims of crime.”

“I think most of us in American life can agree our criminal justice system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to,” Moore said. “We should fix it. And, as evangelical Christians, we should be among the first to say so.”

The 10-point declaration urges Christians to:

  • Affirm that the God of the Bible is a just God: justice flows from God’s very character, and the works of God’s hands are faithful and just;
  • Treat every human being as a person made in God’s own image, with a life worthy of respect, protection, and care;
  • Foster just relationships between God, fellow human beings, and property, which will lead to human flourishing;
  • Redouble our efforts to prevent crime by cultivating the “seedbeds of virtue,” including families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, and other sources of moral formation;
  • Care for the physical and emotional wounds of survivors of crime, ensure their safety, and support their meaningful participation in the justice system;
  • Take up the cause of the poor and vulnerable, ensuring fair access to education, economic opportunity, the social safety net, and, for those accused of crimes, the instruments of justice;
  • Advocate for proportional punishment, including alternatives to incarceration, that protects public safety, fosters accountability and provides opportunities to make amends;
  • Preach the good news of the gospel and proclaim that true freedom in Christ is available to all, including prisoners, recognizing that His atoning sacrifice covers all sin;
  • Invest in the discipleship of incarcerated men, women, and youth, protect their safety and human dignity, and minister to the needs of families and children with incarcerated loved ones;
  • Celebrate redemption in our congregations and communities by welcoming back those who have paid their debt to society, and by providing opportunities for all persons to reach their God-given potential.

“Because the good news of Jesus Christ calls the Church to advocate (or ‘be a witness’) for biblical truth and to care for the vulnerable, we, His followers, call for a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all,” says a white paper accompanying the declaration drafted by Union University professor Ben Mitchell. “The Church has both the unique ability and unparalleled capacity to confront the staggering crisis of crime and incarceration in America and to respond with restorative solutions for communities, victims, and individuals responsible for crime.”

According to the paper, nearly 2.2 million people are behind bars in the United States, 3.7 million are on probation, another 870,000 on parole and an estimated 65 million Americans have a criminal record. The rate of violent and property crimes, meanwhile, has decreased by half since the early 1990s, mostly attributable to reasons other than incarceration.

Over-incarceration disproportionally affects minorities and youth, the paper says. African Americans are significantly more likely to be arrested for a drug crime, even though rates of drug use and trafficking are roughly equal across all races, and if convicted face tougher sentences. Juvenile court caseloads have nearly tripled since 1960, even though the number of crimes committed by youth is about the same.

“As a society, we have turned to prisons as the one-size-fits-all response to public safety concerns,” Moore and Prison Fellowship CEO James Ackerman said in a blog announcing the initiative on Politico.

“Meanwhile we have allowed our centers of moral formation to erode, we have enacted draconian sentencing policies based more on fear than on evidence, and we have failed to imagine or enact effective alternatives to prison time. In an effort to secure law and order, we have lost sight of justice based on the God-given value of each human life.”

The two leaders said some churches and denominations have long sought prison reform, but the broader Christian community, and particularly evangelicals, is just now waking up to the problem. A recent Barna poll reported 87 percent of practicing Christians agreed to some degree that caring for prisoners is important based on their values.

“The time has come for Christians and churches to apply those same values to advance a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all,” Moore and Ackerman said.

Signers of the declaration include Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Allen, dean of the school of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; and John Mark Yeats, dean and associate professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and College.

The presidents of Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College and Union University and executive directors of the Missouri Baptist Convention and Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas are among signatories. Pastors include David Crosby, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, and James Merritt, lead pastor at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

While most of the names supporting the declaration identify as conservatives, the list also includes social progressives such as David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and Ron Sider, founder and president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action.

Christian Leaders Announce Unprecedented Initiative To Reform ‘Devastating’ US Criminal Justice System

Christian Leaders Announce Unprecedented Initiative To Reform ‘Devastating’ US Criminal Justice System

12:45 PM 06/21/2017

Article from the Daily Caller web page written by Joshua Gill

A coalition of Christian ministries unveiled a declaration Tuesday, calling on all Christians to combat what they call the U.S. incarceration crisis.

Leaders from 95 Christian organizations led by Prison Fellowship, a ministry devoted to outreach and rehabilitation for imprisoned criminals, pledged Tuesday to uphold the Justice Declaration, an initiative for churches across all denominations to take a stand for reforms .

The declaration specifically called for Christians to oppose mandatory minimums, advocate for alternatives to incarceration, and for churches and ministries to care of victims of crime and engage in educational and rehabilitative services for those members of their respective communities who are incarcerated or who are transitioning from prison back into normal life.

“The Justice Declaration is an effort for us as Christians to unify around our values,” said Craig DeRoche, senior vice president, advocacy and public policy for Prison Fellowship, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. Christians involved in the coalition can advocate for criminal justice reform more effectually under the unifying vision provided in the declaration, Craig added.

Prison Fellowship describes the current U.S. criminal justice system as “a misguided response to crime” that has resulted in a “crisis of over-criminalization.” Nearly 2.2 million people were incarcerated in the U.S. by the end of 2015, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Prison Fellowship said that number accounts for “a quarter of the the world’s prison population.” But it isn’t just the number of people incarcerated that has inspired the church to action — it is the manner and length of prison sentences as well.

“The time has come to fix our criminal justice system,” said Dr. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “And the reason is, there’s too much injustice in America’s criminal justice system.”

“We know there’s a problem. There are too many people in prison, there are racial inequities, mental illness, children without parents, high costs, and more,” Anderson added.

Anderson and others at the unveiling of the Justice Declaration called for specific reforms and listed among them drug courts, mental health courts, alternatives to incarceration, proportional sentencing, and employment training. Members of the coalition present with Anderson collectively condemned mandatory minimums as an ineffectual policy that robs judges of the ability to actually make fair judgements in criminal cases.

The coalition’s focus is as much about reforming incarceration as it is about reforming laws that place restrictions on the lives of those who have served their sentences in full, according to James Ackerman, president and CEO of Prison Fellowship. Ackerman said the current criminal justice system restricts former convicts from finding jobs and becoming productive members of society despite having already paid their debt to society.

 “What we’re doing is we’re hurting ourselves,” Ackerman told TheDCNF. “We’re hurting our own communities. We’re growing government dependence. We’re contributing to the breakdown of the family in America through public policy and that, many times, those are public policies that conservatives actually advance.”

While conservatives have in the past advocated for heavier penalties for crime, the issue of criminal justice reform has bipartisan support today within Congress.

Still, the idea of pursuing harsher sentences and being “tough on crime,” remains popular with conservatives like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump. Sessions announced in May that the Trump administration would repeal an Obama era directive that instructed federal prosecutors to avoid pursuing harsh mandatory minimums except in cases of violent or drug related crime.  According to Sessions, pursuing harsh sentences for “the most serious, readily provable offense” is a core responsibility for prosecutors. Prosecutors may gain approval from the attorney general or assistant attorney general to vary from the mandatory minimums in certain cases.

Members of the coalition visited Capitol Hill during the afternoon to bring the Justice Declaration before Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other members of Congress to ask for their support as well.

Religious leaders of different faiths honor victims of mass shooting, call for change

Religious leaders of different faiths honor victims of mass shooting, call for change

1:49 PM EST Feb 16, 2018

Article from the WWII web page written by  Steve King

Religious leaders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths gathered at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro to honor the lives of the people killed in the mass shooting in Florida and make a call for change.


Religious leaders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths gathered at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro to honor the lives of the people killed in the mass shooting in Florida and make a call for change.

The memorial service was held on Thursday night. Rabbis, pastors and an imam spoke at the event and prayed.

“I woke up this morning and I really felt that God had commanded us to come together as various religious faith traditions to bring forth this issue and I also feel that the souls of 17 people who were murdered also commands us to say, ‘Do something to try to prevent this from happening,” said Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel.

“Whether or not it can be totally prevented I don’t know, but we can do things to prevent things from happening as much so there’s a sense of religious obligation to honor their memories.”

Religious leaders who spoke at the memorial urged people in attendance to contact their state and federal lawmakers in order to ask them to enact laws that could prevent mass shootings from happening again.

Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott and Guilford County Schools officials also spoke at the memorial service. They talked about the need for everyone in the community to work together in order for gun violence to end. While Chief Scott says that while anyone with information about criminal activity need to contact police in order to help end gun violence, law enforcement is only part of the answer.

Not an Act of God: Ministries Respond to Surge in Mass Shootings

Not an Act of God: Ministries Respond to Surge in Mass Shootings

February 15, 2018 11:21 AM

Article from Christianity Today written by Kate Shellnutt

Chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) arrived in Parkland, Florida, within hours of Wednesday’s school shooting that killed at least 17 teens and faculty members.

This is the fifth deployment this year for the ministry’s rapid response team, trained to provide emotional and spiritual support amid crises.

Each 2018 deployment has been gun-related.

“Our hearts break for the parents who sent their children to school, and are now with them in the hospital, or living a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, in a statement.

“So many lives have been forever changed by this evil act. As we pray for the students, faculty, and families, we know God can bring hope and comfort, in Jesus Christ, in the darkest hours.”

At times of tragedy, Christian churches and ministries rally to remind survivors of a God who the Psalms tell us “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

For decades, they have been among the first on the scene to care for people in the wake of hurricanes, tornados, fires, and other uncontrollable natural disasters. In recent years, ministries increasingly find themselves consoling victims of manmade violence: shootings and terrorist attacks.

BGEA president and CEO Franklin Graham first formed the rapid response team in the wake of 9/11, and its chaplains have since responded to hundreds of crisis events, including last year’s major shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Of the 26 shootings that BGEA chaplains have responded to in the US, more than half have taken place since 2014—including the 5 so far this year. Gun violence now makes up about a tenth of the incidents the rapid response team has addressed in America over its history.

Last month, the BGEA sent 14 chaplains to Benton, Kentucky, where they set up outside a barbeque restaurant to hear from and pray with families impacted by a January 23 shooting that killed two high school students. The ministry currently has two teams deployed to respond to recent police shootings.

In many cases, BGEA chaplains partner with local churches to reach out to community members and ensure they have ongoing support even after the team leaves.

Parkridge Church, which met for seven years at the high school where yesterday’s Parkland shooting took place, has teamed up with fellow churches in the community to host a vigil today.

“I’m praying that our churches, our church specifically, and other Bible-believing churches in our area, that we will point people to Jesus,” pastor Eddie Bevill said in an interview with CT blogger Ed Stetzer.

“He’s the only hope we have. He’s the only thing that provides a future. He’s the only one who can bring peace where there is nothing but lostness and struggle and anger and fury and confusion … We just want to see Christ in the forefront of all of this.”

The Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College reflects the new scope of disaster ministry, which now includes responding to mass shootings alongside the more traditional relief efforts that surround natural disasters.

HDI researchers have found that such forms of religious support help victims of mass shootings in similar ways as they have been shown to help victims of natural disasters. Recent studies indicate that people connected to churches and religious communities fare better in their recovery.

Several Baptist churches in the Parkland area have been involved in the initial wave of grief and outreach to the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, particularly those with students in their congregations who attend the school.

Less than 10 minutes away, Church by the Glades lost one member of their church and another was injured, the Baptist Press reported. The church’s lead pastor, David Hughes, raised the question: “Do we let fear and cruelty, violence and hatred win, or do we continue to fight against the darkness and continue to bring the message of hope and light that comes through Jesus Christ?”

With every shooting, Americans become more vocal in their heartbreak and outrage, demanding more from people of faith than blanket statements about “thoughts and prayers” with whatever city suffered the latest incident. Questions inevitably arise over “where was God during the tragedy?”

“People will be turning to Christian leaders for guidance in the aftermath of the senseless violence that happened yesterday,” said Jamie Aten, HDI founder and executive director.

“One of the biggest challenges pastors will face is the pressure to explain why someone would do something like this. Yet, no answer will take away the pain and heartache,” he said. “What will be most helpful to those struggling is to meet them in their suffering by creating space for lament, providing comfort, encouraging community, and reminding others of the hope we have in Christ.”

Such efforts have been shown to reduce the severity or longevity of trauma following a mass shooting.

Even Christian leaders far from Parkland are grasping for an adequate way to address the latest attack, which happened to take place on Valentine’s Day and on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

“My heart, thoughts, and prayers are for and with the families and friends of shooting victims in Parkland, Florida,” tweeted Johnathan Alvarado, a Pentecostal pastor in Atlanta. “This tragedy on Ash Wednesday reminds us of how marred and diseased we are by sin. I'm still wearing ashes on my head and heart.”

Pope Francis declares death penalty never a morally admissible punishment

Pope Francis declares death penalty never a morally admissible punishment

October 11, 2017

ABC News reported:

During an anniversary ceremony at the Vatican, Francis repeated his insistence that capital punishment is “inadmissible” under any circumstance. He said the death penalty violates the Gospel and amounts to the voluntary killing of a human life, which “is always sacred in the eyes of the creator.”

According to a Catholic News Agency report, the Holy Father stressed

that God is a Father “who always waits for the return of the son who, knowing he has erred, asks forgiveness and begins a new life.”

“No one, therefore, can have their life taken from them, nor the possibility of a moral and existential redemption that goes back in favor of the community.”

All news accounts are making it clear that Pope Francis is teaching that “It’s necessary to repeat that no matter how serious the crime, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolable dignity of the person.”

After St. John Paul II’s homily on January 27, 1999 in St. Louis offering a new understanding of the use of the death penalty, the Catechism was updated to reflect this new teaching. It is reasonable to conclude that the Catechism of the Catholic Church may soon undergo another revision in this area to reflect that the death penalty is never a moral option and should be abolished.

Pat Delahanty

Religious groups demand Congress take action on gun violence

Religious groups demand Congress take action on gun violence

By Jacqueline Thomsen - 11/12/17 05:18 PM EST

Article from The Hill

Fifty religious organizations sent a letter to congressional leaders Thursday demanding lawmakers take action on gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at a Texas church last week.

The groups, which make up the Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence Coalition, called for Congress to “take immediate action to curb the onslaught of gun violence plaguing our nation.”

The coalition noted shootings that have taken place at houses of worship in recent years, including the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., in 2012.

“It is horrifying that innocents were massacred in a house of worship once again, a terrifying reality for all people of faith in this country who believe that their congregations are sanctuaries of peace, safety, life, and love,” the letter reads.

The groups urged Congress to take action to close loopholes that allow domestic violence offenders to own and buy guns, implement a universal background check system and pass an assault weapons ban, among other demands.

“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss our coalition’s legislative priorities with you. All people in our beloved country deserve to feel safe in their houses of worship and their communities; inaction is immoral and wrong,” the letter reads.

“The message that we deliver today is urgent – lives are on the line and there is no time to waste.”

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence is composed largely of liberal-leaning religious organizations.

The group formed in the aftermath of the 2011 Tucson shooting, which left then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) severely wounded and six others dead, and has partnered with other gun control groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, according to its website.

The letter comes as Democrats demand Congress take action to prevent gun violence after a mass shooting at a Texas church last week left 26 people dead.

Charlottesville congregations once divided by segregation now chart healing path together

Charlottesville congregations once divided by segregation now chart healing path together

October 18, 2017

David Paulsen

Article from the Episcopal Church web page

[Episcopal News Service] Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia, has begun growing into its new name. Its website homepage is updated.  The stationery is new. And perhaps more consequentially, the annual stewardship appeal has been sent to members under the new church name.

A month ago, the vestry voted to remove Robert E. Lee from the name of the church he once attended, changing it from R.E. Memorial Church back to its previous Grace. That move ended two years of sometimes tense debate over the Confederate general’s legacy, both as a prominent member of the congregation’s past and a symbol of racial hatred in contemporary America.

At least one couple has formally left the congregation in protest of the name change. At the same time, the congregation faces a change in leadership: The Rev. Tom Crittenden announced this month he plans to step down as rector after Nov. 5.

Despite the recent upheaval, some parish leaders who had disagreed over whether to remain as R.E. Lee Memorial now express a mutual desire to move forward together as Grace Episcopal.

“There’s still some hurt feelings, but [the congregation] seems to be pulling together,” senior warden Woody Sadler told Episcopal News Service this week by phone.

Sadler had long opposed the name change and voted against it Sept. 18, partly because the vestry hadn’t polled the full congregation.

The vestry’s 7-5 vote adopted a change recommended in April by a Discovery and Discernment Committee of vestry members and parishioners. A more recent and direct catalyst for the Lexington vestry’s decision was the Aug. 14 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hate groups had gathered in Charlottesville to “unite the right” in support of a Lee statue that the city had slated for removal. Clashes with anti-racism counter-protesters left one of the counter-protesters dead.

Doug Cumming, one of the Lexington vestry members who supported removal of Lee from the church’s name, said he thinks resolving that issue last month has put the congregation on the path to spiritual renewal.

“We’re coming back together. We’re now in a period of real healing and reconciliation,” Cumming said in an interview with ENS, and he already senses that people who had shied away from the church during the debate over the name have started returning to Sunday services.

The changes have been difficult, though, for those who felt the congregation’s identity was closely tied to Lee.

“I think it just hurts some people so much to see the name changing and to see things happening so fast,” Cumming said.

As fast as change is coming, it is hardly complete. The website that advertises services at Grace Episcopal Church is still hosted on the domain A new domain is in the works, Cumming said.

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia. Photo: Doug Cumming

Grace is the name on the outdoor sign listing worship times and on a banner advertising an upcoming bazaar. But the main sign out front has not yet been replaced and still welcomes passersby to “R.E. Lee Memorial Church.” Cumming, as chair of the church’s History Committee, presented the lowest bid on a replacement sign to the vestry at its most recent meeting, Oct. 16. The cost will be $930.

Sadler said he signed off on that expense the following day. The new sign should be installed in a few weeks.

Deeper change in the congregation may take time and require more than a new name and sign. Crittenden is personally well liked, Cumming said, but his resignation reflected the congregation’s desire for new leadership as it looks to the future. Its Discovery and Discernment Committee’s report identified “a loss of confidence in the ability of the current rector to lead the parish forward.”

Diocese of Southwest Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas met with the congregation, vestry and Crittenden in the months leading up to Crittenden’s decision to resign, and Bourlakas plans to attend the November vestry meeting to discuss calling an interim rector while Grace recruits someone new to the role permanently.

The Discovery and Discernment Committee also singled out the vestry as part of the leadership “vacuum” in the congregation, including but not limited to its role in the debate over the church’s name. The committee recommended the vestry focus on coordinating its vision, mission and long-range planning and communicate better with parishioners.

The vestry will have several new faces leading those efforts starting in January. The congregation on Oct. 15 elected five new vestry members to the 12-member body, out of 10 people who were interested in serving, an unusually high number, Cumming said. (He was one of the vestry members who chose not to return when their terms expire at the end of this year.)

The new vestry members appear to support the name change, Cumming said, but it is more difficult to gauge the change’s effect on the larger congregation. Cumming sensed increased attendance since the name change, due to the return of families who had stopped attending. Sadler, on the other hand, said he hadn’t noticed Sunday attendance swell in the past month.

The Oct. 15 service was well attended, but it also was unique: The congregation combined its 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services for a special joint service that will be repeated every three months.

“There’s a lot of reconciliation and healing that has to go on,” said Bourlakas, who had encouraged changing the church name. He told ENS he is pleased by the progress. “People seem to be trying to work together. I know it hasn’t pleased everybody but there seems to be some acceptance and voices for moving forward.”

Cumming, despite voting to remove Lee from the church name, doesn’t think the church is erasing history. His committee is discussing other ways of highlighting Lee’s historic role.

While serving in Lexington as president of Washington College, later renamed Washington and Lee University, the former Confederate general spent the last five years of his life, until his death in 1870, helping the struggling congregation survive. There is no record, however, of why the congregation chose to rename the church for Lee in 1903.

One suggestion received by the History Committee was to rename the parish hall after Lee, but Cumming said the committee also is looking for ways to highlight other historical figures’ ties to the church.

An interpretative historical marker might include info on Lee, but also on Jonathan Daniels, a civil rights worker who was killed in 1965 while saving the life of a black teenage girl. Daniels attended R.E. Lee Memorial Church while a student at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. He was class valedictorian when he graduated in 1961.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Removal of Robert E. Lee from church’s name was just start of healing for Virginia congregation

Removal of Robert E. Lee from church’s name was just start of healing for Virginia congregation

September 14, 2017

Connor B. Gwin

Article from the Episcopal Church web page

[Diocese of Southwestern Virginia — Lexington, Virginia] More than 150 community members crowded a middle school cafeteria in Lexington, Virginia, Sept. 13 to hear a lecture on race and civil discourse presented by Wornie Reed, director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech and professor of sociology and Africana studies there.

The event was coordinated by the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia and co-sponsored by 10 community groups and ecumenical faith partners.

Reed’s lecture covered his work studying racial bias by police in Montgomery County, Virginia, as well as his proposed framework for discussing race.

“There is a great need to have productive conversations about race and … quite often these dialogues are uncomfortable,” Reed said. In fact, he argued, merely talking about racism is “supremely unproductive.”

Instead, Reed called for a focus on the institutionalized practice of racism. Using such an approach means “we can discuss these issues quite freely and across racial lines,” he said.

The talk was the first of a three-part series hosted by the diocese entitled “Pursuing the Beloved Community: A Continuing Conversation on Race.”

Plans to facilitate a conversation on racial division in southwest Virginia began after the last General Convention when then newly elected Presiding Bishop Michael Curry announced he would make racial reconciliation a focus of his term. The release in May of this year of the church’s “Becoming Beloved Community” resources, as well as the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, reinforced the importance of these events.

Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas recently told the diocese that diocesan staff had planned a series of events across the diocese on the topic of racial reconciliation. “The tragic events in Charlottesville have strengthened our resolve to be the hands and feet of Christ in our communities, urging one another onward in the mission of God,” he wrote. “The work of reconciliation is very hard, very necessary, and our duty as followers of Jesus Christ.”

The white supremacist rally and violence in Charlottesville Aug. 12 brought more attention to the issue of racial reconciliation and the rise in racist rhetoric in the past several years. The debate is not only about city parks and statues, but also the sanctuaries of churches across the United States.

One such church is R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, which has been in a heated debate for two years over the future of the parish’s name.

Curry highlighted the new urgency that has emerged following the events in Charlottesville in a meeting with Episcopalians in that city last week. “The bitter, painful reality of what we have called and known to be racism, which never went away, was like a scab was ripped off Aug. 12, and the whole country saw it,” he said during his visit.

This harsh reality was the focus of Reed’s lecture as he appealed to the facts of institutionalized racism over a conversation about individual actions.

“There is a widely held assumption that individual prejudice leads to racism. … But where does prejudice come from? No one is born prejudiced,” Reed said. “I would argue that we have racist orientations, activities and policies [in this country] that lead people to think a certain way.”

The next lecture, which will focus on racial profiling and police use of force, is scheduled for Oct. 25 at the Northwest Community Center in Roanoke, Virginia. More information will be posted here.

The unedited recording of Reed’s lecture is here. All the events will be edited into smaller portions for use in parish formation classes.

— The Rev. Canon Connor B. Gwin is the canon for social engagement and Christian formation in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

NYC grassroots racial reform network lives out ‘Beloved Community’ mission

NYC grassroots racial reform network lives out ‘Beloved Community’ mission

October 25, 2017

Article from the Epscipal Church web page

Amy Sowder

[Episcopal News Service] Rahson Johnson stood behind the microphone, in front of the ornate altar at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Harlem, the northern Manhattan neighborhood in New York City. He looked at more than 200 people filling the pews on the evening of Oct. 24, recalling two critical moments as a 16-year-old growing up in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

The first critical moment: His friends told him to get the gun from his apartment.

He did, and they played around, doing nothing, really. The police came by. On instinct, Johnson ran, so he was chased. He tossed the gun in a flower pot and ran more. Police tackled him, beat him up and arrested him, telling him he was no good, even though he turned out not to be the suspect they were looking for.

Regardless of his noncriminal past, Johnson fit the description.

Attendees heard and offered all sorts of perspectives at the evening’s #KnowJusticeHarlem, a film and interactive discussion brought by the Fit the Description series organized by the Circles of Support Advisory board, which is comprised of formerly incarcerated people, including Johnson. Circles of Support is a local Harlem re-entry partnership that cultivates leadership among the formerly incarcerated, their families and faith leaders to strengthen communities.

The second critical moment Johnson recalled at the event was the day he returned from a harrowing seven days at Riker’s Island Prison Complex. Those same neighborhood kids put another gun in his hand. What did he do? Johnson took it. Not long afterward, Johnson was jailed again, this time for 23 years, on armed robbery charges.

“Did I deserve to be put in prison? Yes,” Johnson told the crowd. “Did I deserve to be treated by the police the way I was? Probably not.”

Maybe if there was more support for people re-entering society after their prison release, Johnson’s repeated criminal activity might not have happened. Maybe if the relationships, procedure and accountability between police of any color and black men in particular were better, the first incident wouldn’t have happened, or the situation wouldn’t have escalated to the point of arrest.

These points were worth a deep-dive conversation.

“Think of the ways people have assumed you have fit the description, and think of the ways you fit others into a description,” discussion moderator Dawn Jewel Fraser told the crowd. Later, she said: “We realize this conversation is only a first step.”

Left to right: Rashon Johnson, the Rev. Matt Heyd, Lamont Bryant, Thomas Edwards, the Rev. Mary Fouke and Barbara Barron participated in the Fit the Description interactive film series and discussion Oct. 24, at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City’s Manhattan borough. Photo: Angela James

Many of the children and adults who attended the event have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. Several of the men from the film were there to speak to the gathering. In the film, eight men — four black police officers and four black civilians from New York City — met for the first time, face-to-face, to talk about the relationship between police and black men, sharing stories of their experiences, feelings and motivations behind their actions.

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for racial reconciliation, evangelism and creation care, sat in the first-row pew. Looking at the “awesome” crowd, Sellers was overjoyed at seeing Curry’s “Becoming Beloved Community” initiative on racial reconciliation in action.

Many Episcopal churches are engaged in re-entry programs in which the mentors and mentees serve and change each other for the better, she said. Also, the Episcopal Church is about to put together an advisory group on criminal justice ministries to help more churches figure out how to engage in these efforts.

“This is not only a chance to talk about Beloved Community, but to act on it,” Spellers said. “Unfortunately, our church has benefitted so much from systems of injustice and oppression. We have a special responsibility to dismantle those systems of privilege.”

Left to right: Thomas Edwards, Clifton Hollingsworth Jr., the Rev. Stephanie Spellers and Harold Thomas participated in the Fit the Description interactive film series and discussion Oct. 24, at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City’s Manhattan borough. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

The Oct. 24 program received support also from the J.C. Flowers Foundation, the Episcopal Charities of New York and a network of seven Episcopal churches in Manhattan committed to the kind of criminal justice reform that’s rooted in the lived realities of actual people with the highest amounts of police contact. The J.C. Flowers Foundation works with a wide range of partners to solve critical health and social problems affecting hard-to-reach communities. The foundation looks for communities often overlooked by traditional donors.

Founded by Episcopalians Anne and Chris Flowers, the organization was born after they saw the malaria epidemic up close on an Africa trip in 2004 and then started the highly successful Nets for Life program, said Susan Lassen, the foundation’s executive director. Then the Flowerses used the same model to involve churches and communities in Harlem, training people and allowing them to do the work to help themselves. “It’s a unique way of looking at sustainable change,” Lassen said.

Left to right: Dawn Jewel Fraser, Clifton Hollingsworth Jr., Harold Thomas, Thomas Edwards and Rahson Johnson participated in an interactive panel discussion at the Fit the Description interactive film series and discussion Oct. 24, at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Harlem. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Change happens on a church-by-church basis.

St. Philips Church has been working on improving post-incarceration re-entry from a number of different angles, said the Rev. Chloe Breyer, associate priest at St. Philips, as well as executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York.

Volunteers provide drinks, snacks and “cheerful conversation” for people checking in with their parole officers at the Harlem Community Justice Center. They often have to wait for hours. Missing parole is a common reason men get sent back to prison, and men 18 to 35 years old are at the highest risk of becoming repeat offenders, she said.

“Our pastors can be a listening ear and offer spiritual support, but not from a sectarian point of view,” Breyer said. She pointed to an evaluation of the Harlem center’s Reentry Court, which revealed a 19 percent reduction in re-convictions among participants three years following their release from prison.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Manhattanville hosts support network meetings for formerly imprisoned folks, offering resources for people with no place to live, no food or no medicine, plus community gardening and movie nights. The congregation has members who were formerly incarcerated.

“There’s a need in the community to get support right after they get out of prison,” said the Rev. Mary Foulke, rector of St. Mary’s. “The cards are stacked against them, and we as a church can help make things easier for them.”

— Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn.

A word about Puerto Rico and Mexico/Una palabra sobre los desastres naturales de esta semana

A word about Puerto Rico and Mexico/Una palabra sobre los desastres naturales de esta semana

Posted on September 22, 2017 at 12:41 pm.

Article from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Church web page

From General Minister and President Terri Hord Owens; Julia Brown Karimu, president of Division of Overseas Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries; Lori Tapia, interim national pastor for the Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries;  Vy Nguyen, executive director of Week of Compassion; and Angel Rivera- Agosto, area executive for Latin America/Caribbean, Global Ministries

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Selah). – Psalm 46:1-3

As our brothers and sisters across the Caribbean and Mexico have experienced devastation of their homelands through recent hurricanes and earthquakes, we join as Christians together to commit our support for immediate relief and long-term recovery. Many Disciples in the United States and Canada have family and friends in the areas affected by Hurricane Maria and the earthquake in Mexico. We have been praying fervently for those whose lives have been disrupted, for those who have lost loved ones in the storm or earthquake, and for those who now face great uncertainty in the aftermath of these disastrous events. Although the loss of electrical power and cell phone service has made communication difficult, we want to affirm our commitment to stand with those in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean with support, resources and prayers.

Given our close relationship with the Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) in Puerto Rico, several ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada are collaborating to come alongside communities in Puerto Rico who have endured the ravages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Our Week of Compassion is in touch with our ecumenical partners and coordinating between Division of Overseas Ministries (DOM)/Global Ministries, the Pension Fund of the Christian Church, as well as the Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries. Throughout the Caribbean and Mexico, Week of Compassion and the Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries are working with both international and ecumenical partners who are responding to the needs of affected communities. It is still too early to know the full extent of the damage caused by the hurricane and earthquake, but once our partners are able to assess the damage, we will work with them to provide assistance–both for immediate relief, and, most importantly, for long-term recovery to help rebuild communities.

With so many facing uncertainty amidst horrific loss of loved ones, homes and the daily necessities of life, we offer prayers of comfort and peace. We are reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God, including hardship or distress. (Romans 8:35-39). In the midst of our distress, we take comfort in the steadfast love of God: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, [God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in [God].'” (Lamentations 3:21-24).

Dios es nuestro refugio y fortaleza, nuestro pronto auxilio en las tribulaciones. Por tanto, no temeremos aunque la tierra sufra cambios, y aunque los montes se deslicen al fondo de los mares; aunque bramen y se agiten sus aguas, aunque tiemblen los montes con creciente enojo. (Selah). – Salmo 46: 1-3

Mientras nuestros hermanos y hermanas de todo el Caribe y México han sufrido la devastación de sus países a través de los huracanes y terremotos recientes, nos unimos como cristianos y cristianas juntos y juntas para prometer nuestro apoyo para el alivio inmediato y la recuperación a largo plazo. Muchos Discípulos en los Estados Unidos y Canadá tienen familiares y amigos en las áreas afectadas por el huracán María y el terremoto en México. Hemos estado orando fervientemente por aquellos cuyas vidas han sido interrumpidas, por aquellos que han perdido seres queridos en la tormenta o el terremoto, y por aquellos y aquellas que ahora se enfrentan a una gran incertidumbre después de estos desastrosos acontecimientos. A pesar de que la pérdida de energía eléctrica y el servicio de telefonía celular han dificultado la comunicación, queremos afirmar nuestro compromiso de apoyar a Puerto Rico, México, Cuba y el Caribe con apoyo, recursos y oraciones.

Dada nuestra estrecha relación con la Iglesia Cristiana en Puerto Rico, varios ministerios de la Iglesia Cristiana (Discípulos de Cristo) en los Estados Unidos y Canadá están colaborando para unirse a las comunidades en Puerto Rico que han soportado los estragos de los Huracanes Irma y María. Nuestro ministerio Week of Compassion está en contacto con nuestros socios ecuménicos y coordinando entre la División de Ministerios de Ultramar (DOM) / Ministerios Globales, el Fondo de Pensiones de la Iglesia Cristiana, así como la Oficina Central de Pastoral para Ministerios Hispanos. En todo el Caribe y México, Week of Compassion y la División de Ministerios de Ultramar / Ministerios Globales están trabajando con socios internacionales y ecuménicos que están respondiendo a las necesidades de las comunidades afectadas en todo el Caribe y México. Todavía es demasiado pronto para conocer la magnitud de los daños causados or el huracán y el terremoto, pero una vez que nuestros socios puedan evaluar los daños, trabajaremos con ellos para brindarles ayuda, tanto para el alivio inmediato como, lo que es más importante , para la recuperación a largo plazo para ayudar a reconstruir las comunidades.

Con tantas personas enfrentando la incertidumbre en medio de la pérdida horrible de sus seres queridos, los hogares y las necesidades diarias de la vida, ofrecemos oraciones de consuelo y paz. Nos recuerda que nada puede separarnos del amor de Dios, incluyendo las dificultades o la angustia. (Romanos 8: 35-39). En medio de nuestra angustia, nos confortamos en el amor firme de Dios: “Esto traigo a mi corazón, por esto tengo esperanza: Que las misericordias del Señor jamás terminan, pues nunca fallan sus bondades; son nuevas cada mañana; ¡grande es tu fidelidad! El Señor es mi porción —dice mi alma— por eso en El espero.” (Lamentaciones 3: 21-24)

TAKE ACTION NOW!!!! Oppose Discrimination and Protect Refugees

TAKE ACTION NOW!!!! Oppose Discrimination and Protect Refugees

on July 4, 2017

Article from the official webpage of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

President Trump has repeatedly denigrated our nation’s values by repeatedly attempting to grind refugee resettlement to a halt and discriminate against travelers because of their ethnicity or religion. After several lawsuits were filed to stop Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban executive orders, the Supreme Court decided to allow the administration to limit the entry of refugees, as well as travelers from Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan, to those who have a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the United States.The definition of “bona fide relationship” is broad, and yet, the administration is interpreting this ruling to discount many family relationships and disregard the relationships refugees already have with U.S. resettlement agencies. Trump’s interpretation not only violates the Supreme Court’s order, but also flies in the face of our notions of fairness, justice, and hospitality. Your Senators and Representatives need to hear that you call on them to do everything in their power to hold the administration accountable and recognize the relationships that refugees clearly have with U.S.-based resettlement agencies. Only then can we keep our promises to refugees we have promised to resettle.


Please call 3 times to connect with your 1 Representative and your 2 Senators

Sample Script: “I’m your constituent from [CITY/TOWN], and I support refugee resettlement. I strongly oppose President Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban executive order. I urge you to do everything in your power to ensure the administration complies with the Supreme Court decision and recognizes the relationships that refugees have with U.S.-based resettlement agencies. I ask that you urge the administration to change this interpretation, which clearly violates the court order.

Please also share a personal story about why refugee resettlement is important to you, your community, etc. Let them know the specific ways that refugees contribute and are welcomed into your community.

Resettlement agencies have already provided assurances to the U.S. State Department to resettle, by name, an additional 26,000 people this year. Many have church co-sponsors who have already signed documents stating their commitment to help these refugees rebuild their lives. All of this clearly demonstrates a formal relationship with a U.S. entity.

Now is the time to call your Senators and Representatives at (202) 224-3121 and tell them you support refugee resettlement and oppose any attempt to implement Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban executive order.

Disastrous consequences of the first and second executive orders against refugees are still reverberating around the world. This is not who we are as a nation. We cannot turn our backs on the refugees we pledged to welcome. As Americans and as people of faith, we must stand together and urge Congress to do everything they can to ensure the executive order is rescinded.

We need all hands on deck – please spread the word and have everyone you know share this alert!

Thank you for all your work and support!

Jen SmyersDirector of Policy and AdvocacyImmigration and Refugee ProgramChurch World

It is up to US to stop gun violence

Rev. Traci Blackmon: It is up to US to stop gun violence

October 02, 2017
Written by Traci D. Blackmon

Article from the United Church of Christ General Church webpage

Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  Psalm 73:1-3 

"The worst mass shooting in modern American history."

We’ve heard these words before. We’ve heard them far too often only to have the next mass shooting supersede the former. During the night, people attending an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas unexpectedly found themselves assaulted by gunfire from the 32nd floor of the Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Early reports indicate this violence is the work of a lone, 64-year-old, white gunman equipped with multiple assault weapons. It is too early to know whether we will ever have knowledge of his provocation for this deadly act. It is too early to know what life experiences he may have had, or what propaganda he may have absorbed, that might have moved him from hateful thought to hateful action.

But what we do already know, even if we refuse to admit it, is that this lone gunman was able to execute at least 59 people, and wound over 500 more, because our nation’s absolute refusal to enact responsible gun legislation provides easy access to high-powered assault weapons used to kill human beings.

According to data gathered by the CDC, on average there are 12,000 gun homicides a year in the United States, and for every one person killed with a gun, two more are injured. What we know is that of the guns sold in the U.S. one in five are sold without background checks.

What we also know is that soon the predictable rhetoric exhorting the false notion that guns do not kill people will begin again, and gun lobbyists will line up to offer condolences for lives lost without offering proposals of any comprehensive gun reform to lessen the probability of this type of massacre ever happening again. What we know is we will spend our time analyzing the mental health of the shooter while excusing the moral decay of this nation.

In Psalm 73, the psalmist cries out for relief from oppressors while simultaneously acknowledging the temptation to stray from those things we know to be morally just. In this Psalm we are reminded of the necessity to heed the teaching and the love of the Lord, lest we become adorned with pride and clothed in violence.

My heart weeps for those who are waking this morning to notifications of the deaths and injuries of loved ones needlessly gunned down last night. My heart weeps for a nation that will once again gather to mourn the dead without committing to the deeper work of sensible gun reform. May the groaning pains of this nation lift us up from our praying knees to call on our policymakers to demand legislative changes to gun laws in this country. May we stop wringing our hands in helpless disbelief and satiating our hearts with false narratives of lone gunmen. Because until we do all we can to prevent such mass shootings, no gunman acts alone. From Sandy Hook to Texas to Charleston to Virginia Tech to Pulse to Las Vegas…Lord, hear our cries and compel us to act.

Here are eight actions that you can begin today:

1. Start Planning a vigil to #EndGunViolence.

The victims, survivors and the families impacted by gun violence are often forgotten. Therefore, the Newtown Foundation, in partnership with Faiths United Against Gun Violence, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown Survivor Network, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Organizing for Action, States United to Prevent Gun Violence, St Marks Episcopal Church and Women's March on Washington will host the annual national vigil service of mourning and loving remembrance for all who have fallen victim to the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in America on December 6th and nationwide vigils/events from December 6-17th. 

  • Please complete this form to host a vigil or an event in your town or city and our partners at the Newtown Foundation will send you the 2017 National Vigil Tool Kit to facilitate your planning and to coordinate our collective gun violence prevention message.
  • Consider coming to DC to attend the national vigil service to support the families and survivors impacted by gun violence and renew our pledge to fight for gun violence prevention. Please reserve your seat here.
  • Direct family members of victims and survivors of gun violence from all 50 states are invited to attend the national vigil service on December 6th at St Marks Episcopal Church. There are travel stipends available. Please forward this registration form to families and survivors who may be interested. 

2. Call your Congressional representative.

Find out who represents you in Congress, then let them know that you are a constituent, that you want to make gun reform a priority and that you expect to see them take strong action on common sense gun reforms like legislation to strengthen the background check process and state/federal cooperation improvement needed to make it more effective. 

3. Facebook and Tweet your representatives.

Your elected officials are listening to what you say on social media. You can look them up now and let them know what you think.

4. Learn more about why gun violence is an issue for people of faith.

Download the UCC’s Faith vs. Fear: A Faith Response to Gun Violence. This five-part bible study is a good tool for opening up discussion in your congregation. Visit our website for more info on this and on our work to end gun violence.

5. Join a local Gun Violence Prevention group.

National groups with local chapters:

  • The Brady Campaign. Click here to find a local chapter.
  • Moms Demand Action. Click here to find a local chapter.

Local Groups at the state level:

  • States United to Prevent Gun Violence in America.  Click here to find a local state chapter.


S Secure guns in homes and vehicles.

M Model responsible behavior.

A Ask about unsecured guns in other homes.

R Recognize the risks of teen suicide.

T Tell your peers to be SMART.

7. Ask your local organizations about their gun policies and demand that they publish them.

It is important for your local community organizations to have a gun policy.  Ask your local:

  • Businesses
  • Faith communities
  • Schools
  • Libraries
  • Public spaces

8. Register To Vote and then Actually VOTE.

Your vote is your voice. Check now to see if you are registered at your current address. If not, register and make sure you have the information you need to cast your ballot.

The Rev. Traci Blackmon is a UCC national officer, Justice and Witness Ministries Executive, and Senior Pastor of Christ The King UCC in Florissant, Mo.

A word about Sutherland Springs, TX, shootings

A word about Sutherland Springs, TX, shootings

November 6, 2017 at 11:12 am.

Article from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Church Webpage

From General Minister and President Terri Hord Owens

28 I go about in sunless gloom;
    I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.

31 My lyre is turned to mourning,
    and my pipe to the voice of those who weep. Job 30:28, 31(NRSV)

How long will we allow high capacity guns to slaughter human beings? The lessons of Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Columbine – all are lost on us. And now 26 more people murdered in church on a Sunday morning. And in a quiet, small community of 400 near San Antonio. Mothers, fathers, children.

We don’t yet know why the gunman chose to attack in that place at that time, but we do know he had one thing in common with the shooters in all those other cities and towns that suffered mass casualties. He had access to a high-capacity gun.

At the 2015 General Assembly in Columbus, the Disciples gathered there passed a resolution “call(ing) on members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to demand of their elected officials that gun safety laws be enacted as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, including: an assault weapon ban, the elimination of the gun show and private-party loophole by requiring mandatory background checks and waiting periods before all firearm purchases, a ban on high capacity magazines, and requiring federally enforced safe firearm storage.”

There is a distinction here. These high capacity weapons are not tools for hunting game. These weapons were developed to inflict the greatest damage possible. There is no reason that such guns should be available to civilians.

Church – we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. One way to address the destruction is to find ways to move the conversation forward in our communities and our legislatures. Having those tough conversations about how to keep our children safe is a step toward healing the fragmentation.   As Representative John Lewis said today, it is not enough to mourn and pray.  We must act.

God, may we be agents of healing and carriers of your love and peace.

Press Release: Let’s Face Race – Legacy of the Mother Emanuel 9


January 4, 2017

Article from the official website of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

We are thankful that the Charleston, South Carolina jury rendered a just decision in the case of the heinous and cowardly murder of the nine martyrs of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015.  We honor the faith walks of Pastor Clementa C. Pinckney (41), Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54), Susie Jackson (87), Ethel Lee Lance (70), Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49), Tywanza Sanders (26), Daniel Simmons (74), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), and Myra Thompson (59).  Today, as we await the sentencing phase, let us remember it is a wake-up call for all Americans.  What are we waking up for and waking up to do?

When we reflect on the martyrdom of the Mother Emanuel 9 in bible study, we hear the voice of an Early Church Father, Tertullian, declaring that the blood of the martyrs seeds the growth of the church and the expansion of the faith.  Just as Jesus was unjustly crucified on the cross, these brothers and sisters were brutally murdered while studying the word of God and welcoming a stranger into the house of God. They modeled for us the rare and exemplary qualities of love, acceptance, and grace.  They modeled Christ in word and deed.  These martyrs lived and died for, and with their faith. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they believed that unearned suffering is redemptive.  They demonstrated that love is stronger than hate; and that faith is stronger than fear; and that life triumphs over death, says Bishop McKinley Young, Senior Bishop of the AME Church.

That sentiment and the challenge is echoed by Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, President of the General Board of the AME Church, who declares, “And I am hoping that when all of those who believe in humanity and all of those who are driven by love and not hate come together, we can make this nation truly a model for the world.  For us to speak one thing globally and live another thing locally, is a contradiction and ultimate in hypocrisy.  But I believe the nation is ready now – that our local declarations will be able to stand up to global inspection – that in this country, we will demand that everybody is treated equally.”

Bishop Frank M. Reid III, Chair of the Social Action Commission, continues, “There lingers the unmistakable need for this nation to move beyond guilt or shame about racial injustice in America to action that will eradicate its consequences and its genesis from our hearts.  We declare that healing is the order of the day. That means changing the hearts and minds of the people who have been conditioned to dehumanize/denigrate/discriminate against someone solely based on the color of his/her skin or family origin.   That means being open for a cure from unbearable pain, and willingness to bind our wounds to forgive offenders and offer a second chance.”

The African Methodist Episcopal Church believes we must move beyond talk, we must act. So, the question: what is next?

“The Mother Emanuel Nine and so many others who have died or been marginalized and suffered because of race deserve to have us create a new paradigm.  Especially as we await the sentencing trial of the Charleston shooter, let us pledge anew that we cannot have their lives taken, simply to be a footnote in history. The African Methodist Episcopal Church, which celebrated 200 years of liberation and social justice ministry in July of 2016, invites each of you to invest in this eradication process,” concludes Bishop John F White, President of the AME Council of Bishops.

There are several things we can do together.   Please see below for Initiatives in which you can play a role.  Sign up and let us know you will partner with us. You may also want to inform us of other steps you will take so that the AME Church might support you.   Let’s take action!  Let us stand together!

2017 – AMEs On the Hill –  Washington, DC

The A.M.E. Church will visit Capitol Hill to urge the members of the 115th Congress to remember the value of every life and their obligation to do everything possible to protect us. Join with us as we present a package for actions entitled, “And Justice for All,” to the bipartisan Congressional leadership.

Advocacy –  At all levels of governing, we must advocate for legislation that will require background checks and registration to purchase fire arms.

Community Engagement – We will continue to outline strategies where the nation can Act on Race.  These will include support for public education, elimination of mass incarceration, reform of gun laws, eradication of poverty, and a living wage.  In addition, visit elected officials in your local communities in multi-racial, multi-cultural, inter-generational, inter-religious and ecumenical delegations modeling the diversity of our nation.  Use old fashioned tools like phone calls and letter writing.  Share the urgency of NOW; no more deferral or acquiescing to powerful lobbies.

Linking- Initiate a social media campaign. Be relentless in reminding your network that there is work to be done to achieve equality for all. Tweet, Post and Share daily.  Begin with #AndJusticeForAll.

For more information about the Initiative and partnership, go to or call 213-494-9493.

On Behalf of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,
Its Council of Bishops –

Active Bishops
Bishop John Franklin White, President Council of Bishops
Bishop McKinley Young, Senior Bishop
Bishop Adam Jefferson Richardson Jr.
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, President General Board
Bishop Gregory Gerald McKinley Ingram
Bishop Wilfred Jacobus Messiah
Bishop Paul Jones Mulenga Kawimbe
Bishop James Levert Davis
Bishop David Rwhynica Daniels Jr.
Bishop Samuel Lawrence Green Sr.
Bishop E. Earl McCloud Jr.
Bishop Jeffrey Nathaniel Leath
Bishop Julius Harrison McAllister Sr.
Bishop Clement Willie Fugh
Bishop Reginald Thomas Jackson
Bishop Harry L. Seawright
Bishop Michael L. Mitchell
Bishop E. Anne Henning-Byfield
Bishop Ronnie E. Brailsford Sr.
Bishop Stafford J. N. Wicker
Bishop Frank M. Reid III

Retired Bishops
Bishop John Hurst Adams
Bishop Frederick Hilborn Talbot
Bishop Frederick Calhoun James
Bishop Frank Curtis Cummings
Bishop Phillip Robert Cousin, Sr.
Bishop Henry Allen Belin, Jr.
Bishop John Richard Bryant
Bishop Robert Vaughn Webster
Bishop Zedekiah LaZett Grady
Bishop Cornal Garnett Henning, Sr.
Bishop William Phillips DeVeaux, Sr.
Bishop Theodore Larry Kirkland, Sr.
Bishop Richard Franklin Norris
Bishop Preston Warren Williams II
Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry

COB Statement RE: Violence in Charlottesville, Virginia

Council of Bishops

Statement RE:  Violence in Charlottesville, Virginia

April 12, 2017

Article from the official webpage of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church condemns the violence that exploded in Charlottesville, Virginia. The “Unite the Right” march was sponsored by white supremacists, white nationalists, and the Ku Klux Klan to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. It was responded to by counter protestors.

The result was a face-off between the two groups marked with punching, kicking, water bottle hurling, racial taunting and even the deployment of chemical sprays. A car plowed into a group of peaceful protesters killing one woman and injuring about 19 others. The driver, James Alex Fields is being held on charges including second degree-murder. A helicopter monitoring the rally later crashed killing two Virginia State Troopers.

There are those who argue that white nationalists have the right to free speech, and in a democracy, we support their right. But what was on display before the nation yesterday was more than free speech. It was an unruly event designed to intimidate and provoke violence.

In a word, what happened yesterday was a hate crime and domestic terrorism. It was demonic and does not represent what the United States claims it stands for.

We are also disappointed with the response of President Donald Trump. Let us be clear, this is not a partisan issue, this is a matter of failed leadership. President Trump while condemning hatred and violence, claimed it was on “many sides”, but it wasn’t. This violence was initiated by the white supremacist. We have heard President Trump specifically call out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senator Mitch McConnell and come down hard on others, but he did not explicitly condemn white nationalist, supremacist or the Ku Klux Klan. It must be noted that hate crimes have increased since President Trump’s campaign and inauguration.

The Council of Bishops calls upon President Trump at a scheduled Monday press availability, to categorically denounce white supremacist, nationalist and the Ku Klux Klan that threatened to divide our nation. The Council wants to make it clear that he does not want or seeks their support. This would help unite and assure the nation that our president, embraces all the citizens of the United States.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church reaffirms our opposition to hate crimes, racism and anti–Semitism, and calls upon the nation, particularly our national leadership to condemn racism and hatred.

Hate never wins. It never has and it never will.


Bishop McKinley Young, Senior Bishop

Bishop Clement W. Fugh, President, Council of Bishops

Is the death penalty un-Christian?

Is the death penalty un-Christian?

Apr 28, 2017

by Mathew Schmalz, Religion News Service


The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison in California in 2010. (Creative Commons/CA Corrections)

Arkansas executed a fourth prisoner on death row last night. Three days prior to that, the state had done two back-to-back executions by lethal injections in Lincoln County, Ark. Four other executions have been blocked by court order.

As a Catholic scholar who writes about religion, politics and policy, I understand how Christians struggle with the death penalty — there are those who cannot endure the idea and there are others who support its use. Some Christian theologians have also observed that capital punishment could lead to the conversion of criminals who might repent of their crimes when faced with the finality of death. Is the death penalty anti-Christian?

The two sides

In its early centuries, Christianity was seen with suspicion by authorities. Writing in defense of Christians who were unfairly charged with crimes in second-century Rome, philosopher Anthenagoras of Athens condemned the death penalty when he wrote that Christians "cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly."

But as Christianity became more connected with state power, European Christian monarchs and governments regularly carried out the death penalty until its abolition in the 1950s through the European Convention on Human Rights. In the Western world, today, only the United States and Belarus retain capital punishment for crimes not committed during wartime.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Survey, support for the death penalty is falling worldwide. However, in the United States a majority of white Protestants and Catholics are in favor of it.

In the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 21:12 states that "whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death." In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, however, rejects the notion of retribution when he says "if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

While it is true that the Hebrew Bible prescribes capital punishment for a variety of offenses, it is also true that later Jewish jurists set out rigorous standards for the death penalty so that it could be used only in rare circumstances.

Support for death penalty

At issue in Christian considerations of the death penalty is whether the government or the state has the obligation to punish criminals and defend its citizens.

St. Paul, an early Christian evangelist, wrote in his letter to the Romans that a ruler acts as "an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer." The Middle Ages in Europe saw thousands of murderers, witches and heretics put to death. While church courts of this period generally did not apply capital punishment, the church did turn criminals over to secular authorities for execution.

Thirteenth-century Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the death penalty could be justified for the greater welfare of society. Later Protestant reformers also supported the right of the state to impose capital punishment. John Calvin, a Protestant theologian and reformer, for example, argued that Christian forgiveness did not mean overturning established laws.

The case against

The deterrence value of capital punishment remains an issue of debate. In the United States, there are also strong arguments that capital punishment is unfairly applied, especially to African-Americans.

Among Christian leaders, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of arguing against the death penalty. Saint John Paul II also maintained that capital punishment should be reserved only for "absolute necessity."

Pope Francis observes that the death penalty is no longer relevant because modern prisons prevent criminals from doing further harm.

Pope Francis speaks of a larger ethic of forgiveness. He emphasizes social justice for all citizens as well as the opportunity for those who harm society to make amends through acts that affirm life, not death.

Jesus' admonition to forgive one's enemies is often thought to do away with the "law of the talion," or an "eye for an eye" retribution — a standard that goes as far back as the prebiblical Code of Hammurabi — a law code of ancient Mesopotamia.

For many, the debate is about the relationship between Christ's call for forgiveness and the legitimate powers of the state.

Those Christians who support capital punishment argue that Jesus was talking about heavenly realities, not the earthly matters that governments have to deal with. Christians who oppose the death penalty say that being Christian means bringing heavenly realities to the here and now.

This debate is not just about capital punishment, but about what it means to be a Christian.


Joint post by Danielle CLore, KNN and Peggy Hinds, KCC

Politicians Should Look Elsewhere for Endorsements and Campaign Contributions

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For more than 60 years, the Johnson Amendment has successfully protected the charities serving you, me and our communities as a safe space free to advance our missions without the rancor of partisan politics.  The law, proposed by Senator Lyndon Johnson and signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1954, prohibits churches and other charitable nonprofits and foundations from endorsing political candidates.

Some in Congress and the Trump Administration want to repeal or weaken the protections in the law. This change would allow preachers to endorse political candidates from the pulpit, but the impact and consequences go much further.  That is why we, along with the vast majority of congregations, charitable nonprofits and foundations, strongly oppose efforts to change the law – endorsing or contributing to candidates, even if by only a few organizations, would destroy the nonpartisanship necessary for nonprofits to effectively solve problems in our communities.

Watering down or repealing the Johnson Amendment matters to all Kentuckians. When the nonprofit sector is damaged, the people we serve suffer most. For nonprofits to be safe places where people of all parties join forces to enhance the quality of life for all Kentuckians, we need your support.

The current protection applies to all 501 (c)(3) charitable nonprofits – including the homeless shelter, child care center, animal rescue organization, art museum, veteran’s aid organization, nonprofit hospital, and your congregation. Your favorite causes would be affected, and partisanship would harm each one.

Your donations to charitable nonprofits are investments in solving community problems and caring for Kentucky’s citizens. The public’s trust is vital to supporting these investments. Allowing people to make tax-deductible contributions to groups who endorse or oppose candidates would erode the integrity of the nonprofit sector. It is in everyone’s interest to keep dark money out of charitable nonprofits and congregations.

Protecting the Johnson Amendment isn’t a free speech issue – advocacy and candidate endorsement are not the same.  Protecting the Johnson Amendment isn’t a religious issue – the implications reach beyond the pulpit.  Protecting the Johnson Amendment is not even a partisan issue.  For more than six decades, the provision to maintain a neutral playing field has been respected and supported by both parties. While nonprofits may take public policy positions that are favored by one group of elected officials more than another group, candidate endorsement or opposition is detrimental to the neutrality and integrity of the sector.

Protecting the Johnson Amendment is common sense.  Kentucky Nonprofit Network, our commonwealth’s association of charitable nonprofits, and the Kentucky Council of Churches, representing eleven denominations, call on Kentuckians to stand with us in rejecting any effort to weaken or dismantle the Johnson Amendment. Send a loud and clear message to Washington that partisan politics have no place in charitable nonprofits and faith communities.

Danielle Clore, Executive Director/CEO
Kentucky Nonprofit Network

Rev. Dr. Peggy C. Hinds, Interim Executive Director
Kentucky Council of Churches

Mental Illness and the Faith Community

Many of you may know me either from our Community Clergy Event on “Mental Illness in the Faith Community” or from other venues in the faith community.  For those of you that don’t, my name is Mike Sibley and I am a Psychiatric Chaplain at Eastern State Hospital. 

 As many of you may already know, Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky is the second oldest continuously operating psychiatric hospital in the United States.  In 2013, we were fortunate to be the recipients of a brand new facility that now houses our operations.  However, a facility is just brick and mortar without its staff and volunteer base.  The population of persons living with mental illness is expanding at an alarming rate while resources are simultaneously disappearing at an equally alarming rate due to changes in healthcare and state budget cuts.  Whether we choose to recognize it or not, the future of support for those living with mental illness is on shaky ground. 

However, we are not without some untapped resources.  The faith community is poised in many ways to be able to offer a unique type of support to those living with mental illness.  My goal in the upcoming year is to put together educational resources in an effort to raise awareness within the faith community and to provide educational tools and a means of getting involved in the lives of individuals that are so desperately in need of a kind word or a hand of support.  You will find a link to a youtube channel at the bottom of this blog that will offer educational resources for those faith communities interested in learning how to engage this population in a meaningful way. 

Additionally, I am pleased to make myself available as a consultative resource to assist your church with developing programs to assist those living with mental illness.  Please take the time to view this educational video and keep a look out for additional educational resources in the near future. 

As always, if you or your congregation have a desire to become involved as volunteers at Eastern State Hospital, please feel free to contact me and we can plug you into a place of meaningful service.  It could be as simple as singing with patients, offering a listening ear, or participating in a chapel service, we would simply love to have your congregation’s involvement moving forward as we build a bridge from Eastern State Hospital into the community to erase stigma and to empower those living with mental illness.

Please help be a voice for those whose voice is so often ignored and muffled by stigma and pain.

Rev. Michael C. Sibley, M.Div., BCC

Psychiatric Chaplain

Eastern State Hospital-

Managed by University of Kentucky Healthcare

1350 Bull Lea Rd.

Lexington, Ky 40511


To Men of the Church Regarding the Women's March

To Men of the Church Regarding the Women's March

By Rev. Kent Gilbert, President of the KCC Board

To Men of the Church:

The much-noted Women’s March set for Washington, D.C. takes place this Saturday. As of this writing there are now sister-marches planned in over 600 cities, worldwide, including Lexington, Kentucky. I, and many other men from our congregation are going to these marches. Here is why I think you should consider joining.

  1. Because This March is about Women. Male support for the dignity and worth of our colleagues, our teachers, our spouses and companions, let alone our daughters, sisters and mothers, is CRITICAL in a 12-month period where the highest-ranking public official has condoned groping, verbally and physically assaulting, insulting, and demeaning women. This is not honorable behavior. It is not the behavior of men following a spiritual path. This is not the message any true man would choose to send or condone. We should show up in large numbers to show solidarity for all women and demonstrate that men of worth will never condone mistreatment of this kind. Bullies, angry weak men, and those seeking to elevate themselves by belittling others should not be the only male representatives on the national stage, and women deserve everyday allies who are visible and vocal in their support.
  1. This March Is not Just About Women. I am also marching because those who disrespect others almost never limit their ignorance and poor conduct to just one group. This year has seen unprecedented national tolerance (even celebration) of verbal and physical assault on persons of color, on people born in a foreign country, on persons who are gay or lesbian, transsexual, or consider themselves somewhere in-between. Persons who can't move around without the aid of a wheelchair or cane, people who have mental difficulties, or who have been injured have also been derided and ridiculed by the president-elect, who by his actions has emboldened others to do the same.  In the way that violence begets violence and faction begets faction, a temptation exists to think we all stand alone. We do not. Men who show up for the rights and dignity of women also stand for the rights and dignity of all men: black and white and blue and red. Men of faith and honor stand up for due, fair, and legal processes of justice, enacted without fear or favor. We all know there is precious little of that going around, so it’s important that those who have benefited most (white men, I’m looking at us) show up to throw a sandbag or two on the levee of reason and fairness for all.
  1. Because God is a God of Hope, and Visible Hope Changes History. We never know when the tide of history will turn, or upon what axis, but God has more than once used inspiration and determination of a limited number to sway and break the rod of oppressors. A strong witness to evil and injustice is often enough to blunt the cutting edge, even deflect a blow. Too many in powerful positions after recent elections are feeling the oats of their power and that there is some mandate for rich, white, men to do whatever they want. It may take the visible witness and resistance of more and more reasonable men standing together to catch their attention. This is regrettable and a sad commentary on the ignorance and small-mindedness of those who have come to power on this current tide. Nevertheless, it matters that men of privilege and anyone who knows how interdependent our fates have become join with any and all to make it clear that we will not by silence give tacit consent to ungodly, uncharitable, and unjust treatment of anyone by anyone. Jesus stood up for women; Jesus did not criminalize the poor; Jesus aided the lame; Jesus stood in the path of stupid attempts to prevent love; Jesus sacrificed his privilege for the sake of others. I’d like us to follow Jesus.

Carpools for the Lexington March will gather at the Berea Artisan’s Center at 11am on Saturday, January 21. I urge the men of this church and every church to rise and deliver the message that we stand against the tide of deliberate derision and with our sisters seeking a land infused with liberty and justice for all.

Editor's Note: People are gathering in several Kentucky towns and cities to carpool to D.C. or to march in solidarity. Check out your local news for activities near you.