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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ndzk4xQSq4k

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

(859)246-8060

michael.sibley@esh.ukhc.org

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.

 

 

COUNCIL OF BISHOPS

African MethodistEpiscopal Church

January 4, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          

CONTACT:  Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker   213-494-9493 - cell

 

LET’S FACE RACE – LEGACY OF THE MOTHER EMANUEL 9

(A Call to Action)

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 www.ame-sac.org 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                                              
 512 Eighth Avenue South, Suite 103   |  Nashville, Tennessee 37203-4119|  bishopwhite130@aol.com

Defacing the Signs of the Times: Rescuing the Legacy of Reinhold Neibuhr from the Alarming Rise of Hate

Defacing the Signs of the Times: Rescuing the Legacy of Reinhold Neibuhr from the Alarming Rise of Hate

A guest blog by Rabbi David Wirtschafter, Temple Adath Israel

~~~~~~~~~~

                In 1945 the great pastor and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr published Discerning The Signs of Times: Sermons for Today and Tomorrow. The work reflects the author’s painstaking endeavor to apply a religious and moral critique to the crises of his day. Niebuhrs’s writing inspired thinkers of every race and religion to consider the question of how a person of faith can make a difference in a political fight. Dr. King studied Niebuhr and quotes him in Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about Niebuhr in any number of his essays, including No Religion is an Island. The inspiration for the title of Niebuhr’s book comes from The Book of Matthew: “You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you, hypocrites, cannot discern the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:2-4). Human beings, blessed with the capacity of discernment, do not lack intellectual skill. What we lack is the will, the moral courage to put our intellect to good use. Can we summon up the integrity required to interpret the signs of the times with at least some of the intensity with which we analyze a weather report, a Torah portion, a concert, or a basketball game?

                Sadly, it seems that our society is running in the exact opposite direction that Neibuhr, Heschel and King dared to dream of. Rather than discerning the signs of the times, a growing number of Americans are engaged in defacing them. A few months ago, here in Lexington, the sign for the Chabad house was vandalized. Just yesterday we learned that the sign welcoming people to Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion Cincinnati campus had a swastika painted on it. It’s not just happening to the Jews. Mosques, African-American Churches, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist Temples have also been the recipients of such abuse. It needs to stop and it needs to stop now. Vigilante attacks on people’s signs one day have a bad habit of turning into violent attacks on people’s bodies the next. Vandalism is the calling card of hate. Violence is what happens when hatred visits in the flesh.

                The Book of Exodus, which we begin re-reading in just a few days, opens with the ominous words: “There arose a Pharaoh that knew not Joseph.” A society that forgets a minority community’s contributions is a society on the path to self-destruction. Omitting Joseph one day, turns into oppressing his grandchildren the next. Slavery leads to a chain of events resulting in the destruction of Egypt’s resources and the death of all its first born. As we gather together for the last Martin Luther King Day of the first African-American President’s time in office, let us be mindful of how important discernment is to democracy. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s masterpiece, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? May we honor his memory along, with that of Niebuhr and Heschel, by making sure to give King’s rhetorical question a redemptive answer. 

 

* Picture of Reinhold Neibuhr: http://www.thearda.com/timeline/persons/person_50.asp. 

Giving Thanks

GIVING THANKS

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.   1 Thess. 5:18

In all circumstances ... this is hard sometimes. In times of high anxiety, grief and worry, it is difficult to give thanks. Yet, this verse reminds us that being grateful is God's will for us. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude makes us healthier and happier. It is with this in mind that I write today to wish you all a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving! 
There are many reasons KCC members and supporters should be thankful. We have been engaged in relevant and meaningful ministry this year. We have worked together to support legislation and justice, and we have strengthened our ecumenical ties. 
Today, I give thanks for each of you who have been a part of this important work. I am also grateful to have coalitions, funders and media supporting our ministry. Here is a short, and incomplete list, of things for which we can be grateful:

  • Prayer and financial support of many individuals and congregations, and of course our member denominations.

  • Grants from Lilly, Carson Meyer, Magee and Rhodes Foundations, and the Leadership Conference.

  • Partnerships with the Leadership Conference and KY Smart on Crime to work for criminal justice reform, and provide education and information to our congregations. 

  • Op Eds published in several newspapers on juvenile justice reform and healing and reconciliation.

  • Attendance and media coverage of events like the Day of Action and Moral Revival, and partnership with Repairers of the Breach to bring the Moral Declaration to Kentucky.

  • New leaders in the Council and in some of our denominations.

  • A wonderful Assembly focusing on Living Justly, and all the people who contributed to making it a success.

  • A commitment to working for racial reconciliation in 2017 and beyond, and our partnership with Simmons College and EmpowerWest.

  • Rich conversations around the state on topics like violence, race, vitality and environment and justice. 

It has been such a busy and exciting year, the list could go on for pages. As you consider the ministry of KCC, think about how you want to be involved in the future. Looking to 2017, we will be ...

  • Gathering at the Capitol every Tuesday during the legislative session for prayer, education and advocacy,

  • Inviting everyone into a state-wide book read to encourage deep and meaningful conversation around race relations, 

  • Beginning our Triennium of Racial Reconciliation project to bring Black and White congregations together for relationship-building and mutual economic development,

  • Transitioning to our new staff model of part-time Executive Director and Legislative Advocate, giving each area of our mission (Christian unity and justice advocacy) individualized attention,

  • Listening for God's guidance on how we can best serve the mission of the Council and support our membership,

  • Gathering judicatory leaders together for fellowship, discernment and mutual support, and

  • Considering new ways to partner and engage others in the mission and ministry.

Thank you for being a part of the KY Council of Churches!

OPEN LETTER TO KENTUCKY CONGREGATIONS

November 1, 2016

With the election only one week away, my thoughts have turned towards what is next. For more than a year we have been bombarded with campaign ads, vitriol and divisive rhetoric. This election has brought out the worst in us, leading to protests, defamation, even violence.

The Church has not been immune. We have been called on to support one political agenda or the other, even at the detriment of our well-protected tax-exempt status. In Kentucky, the Governor encouraged pastors to break the law by endorsing a particular political party agenda. Congregational leaders and members participate in mud-slinging and name-calling. They fight among themselves, sometimes within the sacred halls and parking lots of our church campuses.

The Church is a historically sinful system. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation reminds us that we have often failed to live as God calls us – one body in Christ with a mission of love. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church to spur discussion and debate. He wanted to Church to examine its practices and repent of its impropriety.

Throughout our 2000+ years of Christian history, beginning with the very first churches, there has been conflict and division, and many calls for repentance and reconciliation. My own Presbyterian denomination has gone through numerous break-ups and mergers, and we are not unique in this.

However, what we are seeing today is different than church separations based on theological and ecclesial disagreements of our past. What we are seeing today is a church caught up in a national crisis of epidemic proportions. We are a nation torn by fear, hatred, racism, distrust and outlandish vulgarity.

It is time for the Church to stop participating and start healing. Our people are hurting – Christians and non-Christians alike. Jesus was a healer, and if we are to be His Body we need to be about the ministry of healing and reconciliation. Could it be that this is the American Church’s new mission? 

We are at a crossroads. No matter who wins the election next week, there will be aftershocks. Will the Church continue to join the mass hysteria? Or will we be a beacon of hope shining in this present darkness?

As Executive Director of the KY Council of Churches, I am challenging ALL congregations in the Commonwealth to choose the latter – practice the love and forgiveness of Christ that we proclaim. Hold healing services, prayer vigils, community conversations (contact me to learn more about Holy Conversations), calls for peace, etc. – anything you can do to foster a culture of love, hope, peace and charity. Our state and our country needs us to practice what we preach.

Will you accept the challenge?

Respectfully,

Rev. Dr. Peggy C. Hinds

(This letter was sent to news outlets across the state. Please share it with your congregation(s).)

Promoting Healing and Hope Among Severely Traumatized Refugees

Promoting Healing and Hope Among Severely Traumatized Refugees

 A guest post from Survivors of Torture Recovery Center, Louisville 

Tariq was a bright, energetic and outgoing person with a great future as a small business owner in Bagdad, Iraq, until one day his life was turned upside down. Iraqi soldiers didn’t like him selling American cigarettes in his shop. They beat him senselessly. They harassed him and his family. He received death threats. He was forced to flee Iraq to the United States without his wife and four children. Once in the U.S. his troubles only deepened. PTSD, major depression, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks and guilt over leaving his family behind in Iraq to face the unknown haunted him.

Tariq is a member of the estimated 5% to 35% of the world’s refugee population who have been tortured by some state apparatus within their home country for their beliefs and practices. The aftermath of such torture can linger on for a lifetime, even with the best available care after resettlement.  The physical, psychological, and social suffering endured by torture survivors ranges from chronic physical pain to PTSD, major depression and/or anxiety, as well as difficulty feeling safe around other people and a lingering struggle to feel connected to people in their daily lives. Within this backdrop, challenges abound for the newly arrived torture survivors including overcoming language barriers, navigating new and novel health and social service systems, trying to put the past (especially their torture experience) behind them, starting a new life in a new country and many other hurdles that are part and parcel of the torture survivor’s daily experience. Here in Louisville, based on self-reporting during ongoing medical and psychological screening conducted over the last four years by refugee health screening centers, 20% of refugees of the 4,322 screened have indicated that they have either been tortured or they have witnessed someone else being tortured prior to coming to the United States. 

Since 2012, to begin to address the bio-psycho-social needs of torture survivors, the Kent School of Social Work, with federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement has operated the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center (STRC) in a wing of the Americana Community Center (4803 Southside Drive, Louisville, KY 40214). Working in collaboration/partnership with the local refugee serving organizations (including Family Health Centers, Kentucky Office for Refugees, Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries), the STRC has provided holistic, integrated, individualized care for this highly traumatized population consisting of free mental health counseling, medical care coordination, case management coordination, as well as social service and legal service referrals for torture survivors in the Louisville Metro Area.  As of now, the STRC has served 230 torture survivors in Louisville (from countries as diverse as Iraq, Bhutan, Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Bosnia and Mexico) including Tariq who is now reunited in Louisville with his family. With the assistance of the STRC team of care providers (Susan Rhema, PhD, Pam Ratcliffe, CSW, Sarah Acland, MD, Giselle Mellen, MSW, Jennifer Gibson, BS and volunteers) Tariq is now on the road toward healing and hope.

In addition to direct services, the STRC offers specialized training for medical and mental health professionals and conducts outreach and education in the Louisville Metro community. Recent trainings included chronic pain management with survivors of torture. Future trainings planned include developing effective partnerships between mental health providers and language interpreters in the mental health care setting.

To make a referral for services, please contact Pam Ratcliffe (STRC Services Coordinator) at: 502-363-8606 or via e-mail at pam.ratcliffe@louisville.edu. For more information about the STRC in general or to make a financial donation or to volunteer to help at the STRC, please contact Jim Guinn (STRC Sustainability Coordinator) at 502-852-7968 or via email at james.guinn@louisville.edu.

About the Authors:

Dr. Bibhuti Sar is a Professor of Social Work and the Director of the Ph.D. Program at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. He is also Co-Founder and Director of the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center.

Jim Guinn is a Program Manager at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. He is also Co-Founder and Sustainability Coordinator for the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center. Jim is a life-long Presbyterian, an ordained Presbyterian ruling elder and deacon and worked many years ago as a research associate in Research Services at the PCUSA National Headquarters in Louisville. He is a member of Harvey Browne Memorial Presbyterian Church in Louisville.

 

An Open Letter to Governor Bevin

An Open Letter to Governor Bevin

September 16, 2016

Dear Gov. Bevin,

On September 12, one day after the anniversary of 9/11, faith leaders, activists and impacted persons marched to the Capitol steps to declare a Moral Day of Action. We invited you to attend the event, and to join us in signing the Higher Ground Moral Declaration (http://www.moralrevival.org/moraldeclaration/). A small delegation went to your office to deliver a copy of the Declaration to you. You were not there. You were in D.C. speaking at the Values Voter Summit.

The moral integrity of our country is critically important, as I’m sure you realize as a man of faith and values. My concern is that the values you have recently publically stated are dangerous for this country, and out of line with our shared Christian faith. The presence of  more than 75 faith leaders who gathered to present you the Higher Ground Moral Declaration affirm the need for correction your perceived understanding of faith values.

Isaiah 2:4 reads, “God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9) Hebrews tells us that we are to make every effort to live in peace and be holy. (Hebrews 12:14)

Your words to the Values Voter Summit were disturbing not because “we the people” are naïve to the possibility of war. It is obviously an unfortunate part of a hurting and violent world. They were disturbing because they were needlessly hate and fear mongering and well beneath someone who is meant to lead and guide all persons in the Commonwealth. Your words were a threat to anyone who does not agree with you and your political allies. They were unbecoming of a Christian, of any elected official, and certainly of Kentucky’s Governor.  

We have no way of knowing what the future holds, no matter who is elected. As Christian leaders we have a responsibility to proclaim hope, peace and Christian love to all people. Jesus read, “The spirit is upon me … to being good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (paraphrase of Isaiah 61:1 & Luke 4:18-19) He commanded his followers to continue his work of compassion, reconciliation and love. I and many faith leaders across the state hope that you will exercise such a faith as this, deriving as it does from the deepest wells of Christian teaching.

We are not interested in impeachment or apology. I am writing to invite you to prayerfully reconsider the kind of leader God is calling you to be and how it is that others will see that reflected in your public presentations. I am grateful for your support for expungement and criminal justice reform, and this shows the kind of important, compassionate, and faithful work of which I speak. Can you show the same passion for affordable and accessible healthcare for all? Can you show the same commitment to respectful civil discourse? Will you be a leader for all the people of Kentucky - particularly those Jesus called “the least of these” – the poor, the marginalized, the alien, the children, the oppressed, the hurting, and the sick? I invite you to take the time to read the Higher Ground Moral Declaration and consider committing yourself to the ways of Christ’s peace.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Rev. Dr. Peggy Hinds

Interim Executive Director

Kentucky Council of Churches

KACDL Renews Call for Moratorium on the Death Penalty

KACDL Renews Call for Moratorium on the Death Penalty

 Press release from the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

 (August 2, 2016) The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (KACDL) again urges suspension of the death penalty until the serious deficiencies with the way it is administered are corrected.

 Yesterday, we learned that a University of Kentucky Survey Research Center poll of our fellow Kentuckians found that most Kentuckians support a halt to executions until the documented problems with the administration of the death penalty are reformed.  

As the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s largest statewide association of criminal defense lawyers, KACDL’s members have represented many capital defendants across the state and know firsthand the longstanding problems and the grave, literally lethal errors that have occurred in our system. 

With this experience, KACDL in 2011 called on the Governor, the Attorney General, and other Kentucky criminal justice policy makers to fully implement the ABA Recommendations in the Kentucky Assessment Team on the Death Penalty Report and to institute a moratorium on executions until the ABA’s Recommendations were fully implemented. None of the reforms have been put into effect.

“We can wait no longer to make the system of determining whether a person should live or die right,” said KACDL President Ernie Lewis, who has represented many capital clients since 1977. “For the system to be fair and accurate, there are scores of major problems that must be fixed. These include, requiring that interrogations be recorded and eyewitness identifications be done in accord with national standards, exempting those with severe mental illness from the death penalty, requiring instructions to jurors that make sure they understand their precise responsibility in their decision on the sentence, and creating a forensic laboratory system that is conflict-free and wholly independent of law enforcement.”

“These are but a few of the many changes needed to have confidence in our system that has made critical mistakes in our state,” Larry Simon, former KACDL President, said. Simon is a former Assistant Commonwealth Attorney in Jefferson County who has prosecuted capital case and has represented a number of the 19 persons who have been wrongfully convicted in Kentucky.

“There are serious questions about the reliability of the convictions and sentences of a number of inmates facing execution, particularly in those cases that were tried years ago by unqualified lawyers lacking adequate resources, such as in the case of Gregory Wilson,” Dan Goyette, Louisville Metro Chief Public Defender and former president of KACDL, said. “We should not proceed with executions until the sound, sensible and fair-minded recommendations of this impartial, independent evaluation are assured in every case.  To do otherwise would cast significant doubt on our justice system and the propriety of imposing the ultimate punishment.  We have a fundamental responsibility to avoid at all costs the possibility of making an unjust and irreversible mistake.”

 

“The error rate in Kentucky capital cases over the last 40 years is not acceptable,” said Ed Monahan, Kentucky Public Advocate and former president of KACDL.  “The errors are pervasive. They compel a conclusion that our system is broken.  This stunningly high rate of error shows that the system cannot get it right. None of us would put our child on an airplane that returned to the airport over 60% of the time because of defective equipment. A moratorium is necessary to prevent the execution of a person whose conviction and death sentence were imposed unfairly.”

 

 

 

 

Health Care Is a Human Right

Health Care Is a Human Right

The following is a statement by Father Dan Noll made at a recent press conference on the Governor's health care plan and Waiver 1115. Thank you to Father Noll for his prophetic and compassionate comments. 

            Father Dan Noll  

            Father Dan Noll

 

The Catholic Church that I represent today teaches that “health care is not a privilege, but a right.  It’s an essential requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person. All people, regardless of their circumstances, should have access to comprehensive, quality and affordable health care. It should not depend on where they were born, what their stage of life, where they work, where their parents work, how much they earn or where they live” (as stated by the Catholic Bishops of Indiana in their March 2015 Statement Poverty at the Crossroads.)  Health care is a human right.  Period.

The Catholic community in Kentucky serves the sick and uninsured in emergency rooms, homeless shelters and on the doorsteps of our parish churches. In our hospitals we see patients whose sicknesses frequently have advanced critically because they lacked preventative medical attention.  Having no health insurance, or inadequate basic coverage, means premature death.  Kentucky cannot sacrifice people because they are poor.  We Catholics bring both strong convictions and practical experience to the challenge of health care.

Many more lower-income individuals and families in Kentucky will lack the resources to meet the financial burdens of their health care, under Governor Bevin’s health care plan. For these families, an increase of premiums, cost-sharing charges and a lock out period will be significant barriers to obtaining coverage or seeing a doctor, much less a dentist or eye doctor. 

Every proposed state budget reveals the values of the administration.  Disregard of the vulnerable indicates its moral index of the common good.  A genuine reform of health care in Kentucky should result in health care that is accessible and affordable for all, and not place more restrictions on accessing it.  

Health insurance options must protect the lowest income enrollees from onerous cost sharing, not increase their burden. The complexity of the proposed plan will discourage access to care.  Simplify access.  Insure a human right.

We invite all Kentuckians to join us in rejecting the proposed changes and work for health care that will:

  • “Promote and defend human dignity from the moment of conception until natural death;
  • Attend to the whole person (body, mind and spirit), while pursuing a genuine pluralism that respects freedom of religion and conscience;
  • Care for poor and vulnerable persons, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic or social or legal status;
  • Practice a careful stewardship of resources by restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of those who must pay for health care.” (from Poverty at the Crossroads)

 

Health care policy must protect human life and dignity, not threaten them, especially for the most voiceless and vulnerable. Governor Bevin’s proposal is not good health care policy.  We oppose it wholeheartedly! We are willing to work together for a health care plan which truly promotes the common good.

Considering Things from Another's Point of View

Considering Things from Another's Point of View

by Elise B. Johnstone, Canon to the Ordinary, Dioceses of Lexington

First appeared in Diolex Link, used with permission

In getting around to serve in the ways I am blessed to serve in our diocese, I spend a decent amount of time in the car. So, especially on Sundays, on my way to a congregation, I listen to audiobooks. And my most recent listening experience was to hear again Harper Lee's heart-wrenching story of an African American wrongly put on trial in 1930's Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird, the words of the deeply reflective father and defense lawyer Atticus Finch have been ringing in my head over the last week: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Over the last days and weeks, we have heard of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We have heard of the deaths of Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, who served in law enforcement in Dallas. For me, I cannot find words that express the sadness that I feel over these deaths that I have a problematic time getting my head and heart around in so many different ways. Why?

When I step outside of myself, I see that I am a woman: a white woman who grew up here in Kentucky in socio-economic comfort. I carry with me, without often knowing it, privilege-this privilege is purely of social construct, but it exists. I have not had to be afraid of a traffic stop, or any number of things. But it I am, just as all of us are, something else-I am a child of God-just as Alton, Philando, Brent, Patrick, Michael, Lorne, Michael, as well as Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, those who died in Orlando, and so many others who have died are children of God-we each are created in God's image. So, even though I have not necessarily had to consider the privilege that I carry with me as a white woman, because I am called in baptism to recognize the dignity of every human being, I consider the words of Atticus Finch: "until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." 

This is a heart-wrenching time in our society-and while my words feel paltry, something that I can always be doing is actively being aware not only of the privileges that I live with, but that I also can use that privilege, that power, and how I can most responsibly give that power away. For me, and I hope for all of us, our baptism calls us to climb into the skin of others and walk around in it-see how life looks from their perspective-for people of color, for law enforcement, for people who have differing levels of power, influence, or voice. We recall those words from the Baptismal Covenant: "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" (The Book of Common Prayer, 305)  In these days of confusion and sadness, in the tragedy in Nice, in the tragedy of mass shootings, and these recent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the officers in Dallas, and so many more-now, more than in days past, we must step out of ourselves, and walk around in the skin of our fellow children of God. With God's help, may we break the cycle of violence.

On Policing Reform

On Policing Reform

The KY Council of Churches was one of the signees on this letter calling for policing reform. The letter was sent to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, and House leaders Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi.

RE: Interfaith Coalition Urges Immediate Steps to Mend Divisions between Communities and Law Enforcement

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan and Minority Leaders Reid and Pelosi:

Mourning the crisis of violence in the United States and recognizing that last week’s terrifying shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas are yet another reminder of the great harm caused by unaddressed racial injustices and divisions in America, the undersigned faith organizations join in prayer for healing, love and accountability. As we continue to promote civil dialogue and work to heal community divisions, we also recognize that your leadership is critical to addressing the monumental crisis of racial injustice that has plagued this nation since its inception.

According to data compiled by The Washington Post1 , 990 fatal police shootings occurred in 2015. Surprisingly, reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have never counted more than 460 police shootings in a single year. Addressing this shocking data disparity is a crucial first step to understanding the extent of excessive use of force by police, and therefore we seek your support for the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2015 (S. 2168/H.R. 2875).The bill would require law enforcement to report data on traffic and pedestrian stops, frisk and body searches, and use of deadly force, including demographic details such as race, ethnicity, age and gender. The legislation would also provide accreditation, training and funding to law enforcement to implement best practice pilot programs.

Our organizations also urge your support for the End Racial Profiling Act (S. 1056 /H.R. 1933) to prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement and to support data collection on its prevalence. Nationwide surveys indicate that during traffic stops, black and Hispanic drivers are three times more likely than white drivers to be searched by police. Black drivers are also twice as likely as white drivers to be arrested during a traffic stop despite the fact that police generally have lower “contraband hit rates” when they search black versus white drivers. Additional studies conducted between 2002 and 2008 have shown Hispanic Americans were up to twice as likely and black Americans up to three times as likely as white Americans to experience physical force or the threat of force when encountering police.2

We now know that these acts of racial profiling can have deadly consequences. The Washington Post’s research3 found black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. In 2015, 40 percent of police shootings of unarmed men involved black victims, even though black males comprise just 6 percent of the population. Sadly, these disturbing trends are emblematic of the racial disparities that exist at every stage of the justice system, including the federal criminal justice system.

As an interfaith community, we are guided by our traditions’ foundational principles of equality, respect, love and mercy for all people, and we are committed to addressing the United States’ deep racial divisions and their consequences. We deplore violent attacks on law enforcement and desire constructive cooperation among all community stakeholders. We hope that Congress will lead the nation in this necessary endeavor to advance justice reforms that build trust between law enforcement and local communities, protect human life, and ensure equality and proportionality. Your work is vitally important and we are eager to engage with you to accomplish these objectives.

Sincerely,

Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Home Mission Societies Bread for the World, Brooklyn Zen Center, California Council of Churches IMPACT, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Church of the Brethren, Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, Clear Vision Project, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, The Dharma Foundation, Disciples Justice Action Network, East Bay Meditation Center, Faith Action Network – Washington State, Franciscan Action Network, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, Insight Community of the Desert, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, Interfaith Action for Human Rights, International Center of Chinese Buddhist Culture and Education, USA, Islamic Society of North America, Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Kentucky Council of Churches, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office, Mindful Meditation Community of Charlotte, National Council of Churches, National Council of Jewish Women, National Council of Jewish Women California, State Policy Advocates National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section, National Council of Jewish Women, Illinois State Policy Advocacy Network, National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles Section, National Council of Jewish Women, Minnesota Section, National Council of Jewish Women, New Orleans Section, National Council of Jewish Women, South Cook Section, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, New York Insight Meditation Center, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Rhode Island State Council of Churches, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Institute Justice Team, Sojourners, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Union for Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, Virginia Council of Churches

  • 1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings/ 
  • 2 http://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/race-and-punishment-racial-perceptions-of-crime-and-supportfor-punitive-policies/ 
  • 3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-blackpeople-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/?utm_term=.4e61cd3b0828

PRAYER AND ACTION

PRAYER AND ACTION

Last week I was on vacation, spending a wonderful week with family in San Antonio. We celebrated my husband’s 60th birthday and the adoption of our first grandchild. As we celebrated, the rest of the country cried. Returning to Louisville, my attention is now on the urgent matters that are before us as a nation and the Church.

I have no statement to make on the killings of two black men and five police officers. Like many of you, I offer prayers and ponder the inadequacy of my response. If you want statements, below are links to ones I found on the websites of some of our denominations. 

I am more interested in actions, however trivial or inadequate they may be.  Pope Francis once said, “Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers [and sisters] is a fruitless and incomplete prayer. … Prayer and action must always be profoundly united.” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/always-unite-prayer-and-action-pope-francis-says/)

I am still discerning what my action will be, and I do not dare to suggest what others should do. However, if we (Christians and KCC) do nothing, we may as well close our doors now. We must act, and I pray that we will act in unity – a united voice for justice, peace, reconciliation, and love.

First, there must be justice, for without it there can be no reconciliation and peace. Justice must be tempered with love if we are to rise above the vitriol of what we have been experiencing. Can KCC find a way to lead our state through a process of justice and healing that will make a significant difference in our world?

This is a call to action. I call upon every church that is a part of KCC (over eleven hundred strong) to discern what God would have you do to work for justice and begin the process of reconciliation and healing. Who are the neighbors to whom you need to go and offer the hand of fellowship? With whom do you need to stand, and stand up for? Where do you need to seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness?

Yes, let’s continue to pray – without ceasing; let’s make statements that decry injustice and violence and call for peace. And let’s DO SOMETHING for Christ’s sake and for the sake of our communities, country and world. 

Peace,  Peggy Hinds

OPEN TO NEW LIFE

OPEN TO NEW LIFE

A devotional by Rev. John Odom, Presbyter for Community Life, Mid-KY Presbytery


One of my favorite biblical stories is the story of Mary's visit with Elizabeth. It's even one of the reasons that my daughter is named Elizabeth.  Remember the plot. It's quite simple. Mary - fresh from her encounter with the Angel Gabriel - shows up unexpectedly on Elizabeth's doorstep. At the women's meeting, John the baptizer leaps in Elizabeth's womb. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, recognizes that Mary is pregnant and rightly proclaims that Mary's baby is the Lord. Elizabeth joins the long line of prophets who discern the new thing that God is accomplishing in the midst of God's people. Elizabeth cries out, rejoices and celebrates this wonderful work of God.

In the hurry to place the focus of scripture squarely on Jesus, Christians often rush past Elizabeth and her prophetic utterance. But Elizabeth's voice is the one that reminds the church universal, judicatory leaders, and indeed all who recognize the presence of Christ in their midst that in order to be faithful, you and I must always be open to the new life, the new thing, that God is calling into being and presenting unannounced on our doorsteps.

  • What new thing - or what new birth - is God causing to grow in your life, in the world, and in the congregations you lead or are connected to? Can you sense this new thing? Can you name it and share it with others?
  • And, are you grateful for God's commitment to new life? Do you join with Elizabeth in joyous embrace of the disruptive power of the Christ who comes?
  • How might our faith, our call, our leadership be enhanced with a little more attention to the Elizabeth in all of us?

I pray that scripture's witness and Elizabeth's voice might be embodied in our lives of faith, and that we, too, might find the presence of Christ in the midst of those who present themselves unannounced at our doors.

Is It Time for a Paradigm Shift?

June 14, 2016
What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails. I remember this rhyme from my childhood. It suggested that girls are made of nice things (sugar and spice, and everything nice), and boys were made for trouble.

If one were writing the rhyme today, what would it say? Perhaps guns, video games, and violence? Our society has changed in the last 50 years, from the innocence of pranks such as pulling girls’ pigtails to having a handgun tucked in your belt. Children grow up surrounded by violence, and it has had a disastrous effect on our sons.

In her documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores the descent of the male adolescent. In 2015, guns killed over 3,590 children under 18. The statistics do not include other types of violent death. Most of these were boys. Every day mothers cry in the streets over sons who have been gunned down. They are like “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more" (Jeremiah 31:15).

Lack of common sense gun laws is part of the problem, but it is much more complicated than that. Our children are exposed to violence from a very young age. As the documentary shows, society teaches boys that they are weak if they express their feelings in “feminine” ways. They learn to repress their feelings. When they internalize pain, hurt, and anger, they are like time bombs waiting to go off.

Children and teens today do not know the world without the Internet. "Today about 80 percent of teens between 12 and 17 own a cell phone, and about half of those own a smartphone," said John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud at the National Consumers League. "That's about twice the rate from just two years ago." [1] Cell phones can make our lives more convenient and keep us in touch with our children. However, smartphones can also be a child’s gateway into a world of violence and sex. The same is true for any other device that grants unmonitored access to the Internet.

KidsHealth.org reports that

·         two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day

·         kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs

·         kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost two additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games. [2]

What are our children learning from all of this exposure? They see the same things that we see. They can watch the same television programs, view the same pornography, play the same video games. If parents are not supervising their viewing, they are limited only by their curiosity and imaginations.

As a culture, we are infatuated with violence. Even while we decry and mourn mass shootings, we gather in front of our TVs and computers, grab our remote controls and video consoles, and engage in violent behaviors either as active participants or as voyeurs.

Unfortunately, many children experience violence first hand. According to an article in the Juvenile Justice Bulletin, “More than 1 in 9 (11 percent) were exposed to some form of family violence in the past year, including 1 in 15 (6.6 percent) exposed to IPV [intimate partner violence] between parents (or between a parent and that parent’s partner). One in four children (26 percent) were exposed to at least one form of family violence during their lifetimes. Most youth exposed to family violence, including 90 percent of those exposed to IPV, saw the violence, as opposed to hearing it or other indirect forms of exposure. [3]

Our favorite pastimes – sports and games – have become more violent as we seek a bigger thrill and focus on winning at all costs. Children view this form of violence on TV and in person when they attend events. It also occurs on their playing fields. Coaches and teammates criticize, bully, and verbally abuse players. Coaches and parents model behaviors that are aggressive and sometimes completely out of control.

We are out of control.

As Americans mourn yet another senseless tragedy in Orlando, we have to ask ourselves, “Is it time for a paradigm shift?” A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in thought, action, and belief. It is just such a fundamental change that we need in the United States.

Can faith communities be the catalysts for this kind of shift? Can we create spaces and opportunities for conversations, education, and resourcing to help our country end its love affair with violence? Listed below are a few ideas of what we can do. The list is not exhaustive, but a beginning place:

·         Bring communities together to view “The Mask You Live In,” and other such documentaries, followed by discussion.

·         Offer classes and resources for parents and grandparents on raising children without violence. (i.e. Besmartforkids.org and peaceeducationprogram.org) Many denominations and parachurch organizations provide curricula and resources for study.

·         Preach and teach Biblical and theological concepts such as grace, love, peacemaking, non-violence, and mercy.

·         Encourage parents to consider all the consequences of allowing young children cell phones and other Internet-connected devices.

·         Provide information on child-monitoring and blocking apps for media devices.

·         Ask parents and extended families to take a pledge to monitor their children’s exposure to inappropriate media, and refuse to buy video games and movies that contain violent images.

·         Lobby legislators for common sense gun laws.

·         Lobby media companies to offer alternatives to violent and sexual games and programming.

Faith groups want to have a prophetic and relative voice in today’s world. They struggle to find a central focus for their mission and ministry. What if creating this paradigm shift is our calling?

 

 

 

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kids-with-cell-phones-how-young-is-too-young/.

[2] http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tv-affects-child.html.

[3] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/232272.pdf, October 2011.

Blessed Ramadan Project 2016

Blessed Ramadan Project 2016

Dear Friends,

We are writing to invite you to participate in a state-wide “Blessed Ramadan” project by putting a sign or banner in your church or temple yard that reads: “To Our Muslim Neighbors: Blessed Ramadan.” Begun by the Minnesota Council of Churches, this is becoming a national call for respect and love.

The Issue:

We are in the context of increased disrespect for Muslims. From hate crimes to a presidential campaign where fear and hate speech seem to becoming more of the norm.  That is not who we are in Kentucky.  When we are our best selves, we are a welcoming, caring, respectful community and there are people of faith all over the state who want to offer their own witness to that fact.  

A Response:

By posting a sign or banner on your faith community’s campus June 5 - July 5 (Ramadan), you will make a profound statement about your commitment to peace, religious tolerance, and inclusivity. It's a simple statement, but when that message start to show up on the marquee or in the yards of hundreds of congregation and temples in the state, we could very easily see a shared narrative of respect that stands in quiet opposition to the bigotry and hatefulness.

You may also choose to produce inexpensive yard signs for members to put in their private yards. Imagine the impact of thousands of signs in the yards of Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslim faith groups. We could see a great outpouring in the faith community.

To plant a sign of goodwill will do three things:

1.       Counter balance the negative narrative in this campaign year.

2.       Give Christians, Jews and other people of faith who are longing to offer a signal of good will an opportunity to do just that.

3.       Give every faith community and every individual a chance to face the reality of hate that they know is in their community. They will know that just putting the sign in the yard offers a target for some of the hate and fear that unfortunately exists in Kentucky.

In closing

We are very concerned about the national narrative of anti-Muslim sentiment, what that is doing to Muslims (especially Muslim children) and what it is doing to the soul of the nation when we allow that narrative to stand without some kind of larger response. We invite you to be a part of redefining that narrative.

For more information about the program, click here.

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

Haleh Karimi, Executive Director
Interfaith Paths to Peace

        

Poll Finds ‘Remarkable’ Consensus Among Kentuckians in Favor of Criminal Justice Reform

From Stephenie Hoelscher, Stephenie.hoelscher@outlook.com

Majority of Kentucky Voters Support Removing Barriers that Make it More Difficult for Former Offenders to Find Jobs; Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition Working to Ease Reentry into Society at State Level

FRANKFORT, Ky. (February 17, 2016) – A poll of Kentucky voters released Wednesday finds broad, bipartisan support for reforming the criminal justice system, affirming the efforts by the Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition to remove barriers that make it more difficult for former offenders to find jobs and re-enter society.

The Tarrance Group, on behalf of the U.S. Justice Action Network, conducted a survey of voters in six states, including likely voters in Kentucky, revealing voter attitudes toward criminal justice reform. A majority of voters in every age group and both political parties agreed that the government spends too much money to imprison nonviolent offenders, that the main goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitating offenders, and that barriers that make it difficult for former offenders to find jobs should be removed.

The U.S. Justice Action Network is a broad, bipartisan coalition working to reform the criminal justice system at the national level. Responses to this survey were gathered January 19-21. The margin of error is ± 4.5 percent.

“The pollsters say the amount of consensus on re-entry and criminal justice reform is remarkable given the partisan political climate we are in today,” Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition spokesman Russell Coleman said. “Of course, given the consensus that exists among the diverse groups represented in our coalition, this only confirms what we already knew. Kentuckians of all stripes are ready for common-sense reforms that will save tax dollars, make our communities safer and help our economy.

Coleman said he is especially heartened by the percentage of voters who support removing barriers that make it difficult for former offenders to find jobs. Fifty-five percent of Kentucky Republicans and 66 percent of Kentucky Democrats surveyed believe those barriers should be removed.

“This viewpoint is why the coalition’s main priority during the ongoing legislative session is to establish a process by which qualifying former offenders who have served their time can have their records expunged,” Coleman said.

The coalition consists of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Council of Churches, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

 To learn more about the coalition, visit www.kysmartoncrime.com or follow us on social media.

Imitators Attend Conference on Pastoral Excellence

By Rev. Dr. Amariah McIntosh

Last week, Rev. Dr. Toni Hawkins and I attended the Pastoral Excellence Network Conference in Oviedo Florida. It was entitled Peer Power: Cultivating Clergy Communities of Practice and Facilitator Training.  There were about 30-40 persons from various faith traditions present representing states from New York to Hawaii east to west and North Dakota to Texas north to south.

Our first day was spent learning about how clergy peer groups can become communities of practice, and the role of facilitators in making that happen. Some of what was shared was:

  • Clergy Communities of Practice (CCOP) are places where clergy can interpret the landscape and be there for others, kindle the hope, not patting others on the back, but challenging others to take new steps.
  • CCOP are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Etienne Wenger)
  • CCOP learn in situations instead of in classroom.
  • CCOP form sustaining friendships, especially outside the church.
  • CCOP prepare for a future church we cannot yet see or imagine.

We had small group workshops where we learned the Art of Innovation in Clergy Groups and A Model for Clergy Peer Groups taught by network instructors. We also learned more about the role of facilitators and peer learning group methods.

Rev. Hawkins and I feel our gaps regarding how we manage our own peer group can be filled by what we learned at this conference. We have much to share with the HHope oversight group and our Imitators of Christ peers.

KCC, thanks for the opportunity to learn and share!

My First Day at the Capital

by Jamil Grimes, KCC field education student

 

     I should begin this with a confession. I have never been to a state capital before. As a youth, I never took the school field trip to the statehouse; and despite a lengthy career in law enforcement, limited political involvement never led me to sitting across a table from my state representative. Instead, news and popular media have mostly informed my understanding of politics. My visit to the Kentucky State Capital in Frankfort was both corrective and informative.

     Interim Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Peggy Hinds, and I braved the wintry conditions and arrived at the Capitol's annex building, which houses the offices of Senate and House personnel. We located a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, but the bills on the agenda were outside the scope of our visit. We determined that our time would be better spent walking the halls and preparing for a morning meeting with Senator Paul Hornback.

     We went downstairs to the cafeteria, which functions as a meeting place for legislative agents, advocates and the like. It is worth mentioning how any visit to the cafeteria can disclose sudden shifts in the legislative landscape: a nascent bill you should know about, or a position change of a legislator who is no longer firm on casting a critical vote. It may seem trivial, but making yourself available where this information is shared enables you to respond in the moment and be a timely voice for the organization you represent.

     After a brief stay in the cafeteria, Peggy and I entered Senator Hornback's office. The senator seemed genuinely curious about the views of the Kentucky Council of Churches and patiently articulated his own, while honestly acknowledging the differences. The conversation covered a number of important issues: e.g., the death penalty, expungement, immigration and payday lending. To our pleasure, Senator Hornback expressed reservations about the reliability of state-execution and, later, his belief that some persons with felony convictions deserve a second chance at life with a clean record. It was encouraging to see how civil discourse - something often absent from politics - can reveal common ground in unexpected places.

     Peggy and I left Senator Hornback's office and later tried getting meetings with other legislators. Sadly, with the Capitol closed the next day, schedules were full. However, we left knowing more about this session's agenda and pleased to have had the opportunity to speak for the Council.

Here's my one take-away from the visit: 

     Advocacy work at the Capital is done best with a sustained presence. Yes, there are planned appointments and meetings, but there are also many helpful introductions and conversations that happen on the fly. Being able to take advantage of these spontaneous moments often means hanging around until something happens.

 

     P.S. Before we left the Capital, Peggy and I took a selfie with Kentucky's own President Abraham Lincoln. As a Licolnite, this was definitely a personal highlight. I hope that you've seen it!

MLK Jr Celebration with Empower West

There are many MLK Jr celebrations going on this weekend, and I imagine that they are all excellent and worth attending. The one I chose to attend this year was held at St. Stephen Baptist Church in West Louisville. I opted for this one for a couple of reasons:

1. It was sponsored by Empower West, an ecumenical coalition of churches and pastors focused on improving economic development in West Louisville, and

2. Because the guest speaker was Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and my former seminary professor.

I made a wise choice. The morning was inspiring and challenging, and it was good to be with a mix of folks from the west and east ends of Louisville Metro. Here are a few highlights of the conversation (B=Brueggemann, C=Cosby):

B: "If you do not practice economic justice with ALL the neighbors, you cannot imagine that you are right with God." 

B: Police are the slave-drivers of our time.

C: Police and Polity come from the same root word. The problem is with the policy. Police are there to enforce the policy. We have to change the policy.

B: Whites are so ingrained in racial superiority, that it is a surprise to them to realize that they are privileged. Every day, Whites have to be intentional about changing their worldview. Every day Blacks have to insist on that change. Racial reconciliation can only happen with insistence from Blacks and intentionality from Whites. 

C: One of the privileges of being white is never having to think about [race]. 

B: "Whites are A race, not THE race."

 

The Ecumenical Choir was wonderful!

The presentation was followed by worship, where Dr. Brueggemann preached a powerful sermon based on Mark 7, Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman, using the metaphor of bread to talk about equality and justice. Worship was also led by an ecumenical choir from the participating churches, and included a reading of Dr. King's famous "I have a dream" speech and a couple of video clips about his life and ministry.

The gist of Dr. Brueggemann's sermon was the change that happened in Jesus when the Syro-Phoenician woman challenged his worldview. In Mark 6 Jesus feeds the 5000 in Galilee, a Jewish community. In Mark 8, he feeds a crowd of Gentiles. In between these two feeding stories, is the exchange with the Syro-Phoenician woman.

"Jesus had not fought past is own Jewishness, his racial identity," said Brueggemann. In their exchange, thewoman taught Jesus that "the wonder of God cannot be monopolized by Chosen people."

She forced the issue, and Jesus changed his worldview. "She would not let the Messiah rest in his comfortableness. ... She would not let old racial distinctions determine who would get healthcare."

Brueggemann went on to ask how this could be translated into what is happening in Louisville today. He called for confrontation and re-education to determine how "bread" would be managed in the city. He also gave a word of encouragement to those who are working for change. "No one expects the leadership of privilege to be converted, but it happens." He added that geography is not destiny. The geography of east and west Louisville does not have to define justice and equity.

I left St. Stephen with a greater appreciation of the work of the KY Council of Churches. At our table Blacks and Whites come together to work for the benefit of all the Commonwealth, particularly for those who are "the least of these." I pray that we will always keep that mission before us; that our African American churches will keep insisting on fairness, and our Anglo churches will be intentional about recognizing privilege and working for equity. 

In Dr. King's words from his speech, "Don't Sleep Through the Revolution":

"We must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. It is out of this notion that the whole doctrine of white supremacy came into being, and the church must take a stand through religious education and other channels to direct the popular mind at this point, for there are some people who still believe this strange doctrine. ...

It is not enough for the church to work in the ideological realm, and to clear up misguided ideas. To remain awake through this social revolution, the church must engage in strong action programs to get rid of the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination." (Delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, Hollywood, Florida, May 18, 1966)

On this MLK Jr. weekend, however each of us chooses to observe it, may we be inspired and challenged to share the bread and continue working for justice and equality, so that all may be fed. (literally and metaphorically).

Peace, Peggy

 

 

Message from Senator Reginald Thomas

Friends,

Several weeks ago I participated in a survey sent by Senator Reginald Thomas. I was impressed that he made the effort to survey his constituency prior to the legislative session, which began this week. I received another email yesterday giving the results of that survey. He has given me permission to share his email with you. (below)

Today I attended a press conference on expungement sponsored by the KY Chamber of Commerce. I have posted pictures and a video on our social media sites - check them out.  Peace, Peggy

From Senator Thomas:

Dear Friend,

Today marks the first day of the 2016 Legislative Session and I have already hit the ground running. I anticipate this will be a lively session. Work is underway on one of the most important duties of legislators – passing a two-year budget for the commonwealth. I anticipate this 150th regular session will be quite interesting as we also address many other pressing issues that will require much thought and debate.

I have already asked for your input on some of the topics that we will look at this session in my end-of-the-year questionnaire. Thank you for your responses. I was pleased to hear back from so many of you. For me, that signifies that you are engaged in the process and are committed to seeing Kentucky move forward. Your input is very important and I am very grateful that you took the time to share your thoughts with me.

This questionnaire indicates there is overwhelming support for such actions as capping payday lending interest rates, implementing a statewide smoking ban and legalizing medical marijuana. There were mixed responses on a local option sales tax and taxation of services.

The Legislative Research Commission compiled a report that will allow me to reference your responses on these topics anytime there is discussion or a possible vote in a committee hearing or on the Senate floor. As I have told you before, it is very helpful to me to have your input as we determine public policy.

During the session, I will keep you informed on the progress of these issues. I would also like to share with you the results of my questionnaire (below).

Questionnaire Results

1.      Would you support legislation that would prevent schools from starting classes earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 if it included a waiver for districts missing large amounts of days because of inclement weather? Yes – 41% No – 31 % Unsure -- 27% No answer 1 %

  1. Do you support legislation that would allow a school board to include a high school student on superintendent screening committees? Yes -- 66%   No -- 20%   Unsure -- 13%   No Answer -- 1%
  2. With the growing trend of ziplines, should the Department of Agriculture be required to establish requirements and standards for the operation of commercial recreational ziplines in the state? Yes -- 81%   No -- 7%   Unsure -- 11%   No Answer -- 1%
  3. Should the General Assembly enact legislation amending the Kentucky Constitution to allow local governments to impose a local option sales tax? Yes -- 39%   No -- 35%   Unsure -- 24%   No Answer -- 2%.
  4. Despite many changes in our revenue needs and the fundamentals of our economy, our current tax system has been mostly unchanged since the 1950s.  Would you support reforms to modernize our tax code if it also generated additional revenue? Yes -- 81%    No -- 7%   Unsure -- 9%   No Answer -- 3%

6.      Do you support raising the state minimum wage? Yes -- 76%    No -- 15%   Unsure -- 7%   No Answer -- 2%

7.      Do you support requiring school resource or school security officers to have basic training provided by the Department of Criminal Justice Training? Yes -- 81%    No -- 5%   Unsure -- 10%   No Answer -- 4%

8.      Do you support exempting persons, officials, and institutions with religious objections to same-sex marriage from any requirement to solemnize or to issue or record licenses for such marriages? Yes -- 23%    No -- 71%   Unsure -- 5%   No Answer -- 1%

9.      Kentucky is one of two southern states that opted to expand Medicaid and establish a state exchange website. Observers credit Kynect with insuring 15 percent of the state’s population.  Kentucky had the highest decrease in the country in uninsured residents at 5.8 percent.  Do you support dismantling Kynect? Yes -- 12%    No – 76 %   Unsure – 10 %   No Answer – 2 %

10.  To improve access to the polls by members of our military, do you favor allowing military voters to return their completed ballots via e-mail? Yes -- 71%    No -- 14%   Unsure -- 13%   No Answer -- 2%

11.  Should the General Assembly allow for the expanded use of public-private partnerships in the construction of infrastructure projects? Yes -- 48%    No -- 12%   Unsure -- 39%   No Answer -- 1%

12.  Currently, the unlawful trafficking in synthetic drugs is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense, and second and additional offenses are punishable as a Class D felony.  Do you support toughening the penalty for unlawful trafficking in synthetic drugs, making it a Class D felony punishable by one to five years in prison? Yes -- 50%    No -- 27%   Unsure -- 21%   No Answer -- 2%

13.  Should non-violent felons have their voting rights automatically restored after they have served their sentences? Yes -- 81%    No -- 10%   Unsure -- 7%   No Answer -- 2%

14.  Do you support a statewide smoking ban in public places? Yes -- 87%    No -- 8%   Unsure -- 3%   No Answer -- 2%

15.  Should electronic cigarettes be included in a smoking ban? Yes -- 69%    No -- 16%   Unsure -- 13%   No Answer -- 2%

16.  Do you favor allowing the people of Kentucky to vote on a constitutional amendment concerning expanded gaming in Kentucky? Yes -- 77%    No -- 11%   Unsure -- 10%   No Answer -- 2%

17.  If tax modernization requires a change in the state’s sales or income taxes, would you support expanding the base to include services (such as dry cleaning and physician fees) rather than increasing sales or income tax rates? Yes -- 34%    No -- 36%   Unsure -- 28%   No Answer -- 2%

18.  Do you support legislation that would permit public money to be used for public charter schools that would be granted special permits to operate outside usual state regulations?  Yes -- 20%    No -- 58%   Unsure -- 20%   No Answer -- 2%

19.  There has been research showing that marijuana has positive medical benefits for patients dealing with illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS.  Do you support legislation that would make marijuana a Schedule II drug thus legal for doctors to prescribe?  Yes -- 81%    No -- 9%   Unsure -- 9%   No Answer -- 1%

20.  Many Kentuckians get into a debt trap by misusing payday lending services.  Do you support capping the interest rates these lenders can charge and imposing penalties for violating the caps? Yes -- 93%    No -- 3%   Unsure -- 3%   No Answer -- 1%

21.  Do you support a three-day sales and use tax holiday during the first weekend in August each year to exempt clothing, school supplies, school art supplies, computers, and school computer supplies? Yes -- 61%    No -- 22%   Unsure -- 14%   No Answer -- 3%

22.  Should the General Assembly establish a regulatory structure for the manufacture and use of drones? Yes -- 69%    No -- 10%   Unsure -- 18%   No Answer -- 3%

Of course, many other issues large and small will arise before this 60-day session concludes. To help me do that work, I encourage you to stay in contact. The General Assembly has a number of ways for you to stay informed.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page (www.lrc.ky.gov) provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including our phone numbers, addresses, and legislative committee assignments. The home page also provides summaries and texts of bills, as well as information on the progress each bill has made through the legislative process.