March Forth brings justice issues to the forefront in communities throughout the country
Written by Emily Schappacher and Anthony Moujaes
March 6, 2014

From each corner of the country and everywhere in between, members of the United Church of Christ and other ecumenical partners utilized Tuesday, March 4 as a day to lift up the social justice work church members engage in every day. Whether the advocacy was a solo endeavor or part of a larger coalition, all who participated Marched Forth with the greater good in mind.

"March Forth provided a great vehicle for a shared witness to the many justice issues we care about," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's executive minister of Local Church Ministries. "As the day unfolded, we could begin to see across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that many people, groups and organizations jumped on board, within the UCC, but perhaps more notably, way beyond it. We have a great foundation to build upon for next year, because the March Forth brand is now out there and it's tied to us. That's exciting."

The March Forth initiative, which saw participation from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Unitarian Universalist Association, was more a continuous march for justice than a one-day campaign. But it was a day for people to act on those commitments however they chose.

Members of Arlington Congregational UCC in Jacksonville, Fla., were among 600 local activists who Marched Forth for justice Tuesday evening. The church was one of 38 member churches of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation, and Empowerment (ICARE) that gathered to discuss solutions to a number of the community's social issues, which they will present to city leaders during ICARE's annual Nehemiah Assembly on April 7.

"Our way of Marching Forth was to turn out with 38 other congregations to work for justice," said the Rev. Bruce Havens, pastor of Arlington Congregational UCC. "March Forth was a way to encourage our congregation to turn out, and it coincided with our action."

The group met to determine solutions to local issues, including job creation in Jacksonville communities with chronically high unemployment rates, the city's lack of mental health services for impoverished persons, and rising youth crime. For example, ICARE will propose an increased use of restorative justice for youth who commit nonviolent crimes instead of funneling them through the court and prison systems, which Havens refers to as the "criminal training system."

By utilizing neighborhood accountability boards comprised of adults, peers, and members of the legal community, Havens says these young, nonviolent offenders could be restored as part of the community for around $400 per youth, as opposed to the upwards of $5,000 it costs to send them through the judicial system. He adds that this method has been used internationally with a 90-percent success rate.

"This solution is not only better because it's more humane and, I would argue, more Christian, but it's also more effective economically," Havens said. "Our group works to identify the problems, find working solutions, and then press city leaders for implementation of those solutions at the Nehemiah Assembly."

The Rev. Chuck Currie, a UCC minister in Portland, Ore., used the power of the pen to March Forth for justice. Currie writes a monthly column for the Forest Grove Leader, a publication of the Oregonian newspaper. Realizing that his column for March would post online on March 4, and having seen the denomination's call to take action for justice issues that day, Currie crafted an op-ed on marriage equality and LGBT rights in the state as a way to March Forth for marriage equality.

He wrote the letter so people know "there are Christians who are supportive of marriage equality," and that LGBT students at Pacific University "have a friend." Currie is transitioning to a new role as director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and chaplain at Pacific University, a UCC-related school.

"I felt it was an appropriate time to use the column to lift up the issue of marriage equality," Currie said. "So much is happening around our state. We have two proposed ballot measures."

The first ballot proposal is a petition gaining traction to overturn a 2004 law prohibiting same-sex marriage. The second is an Arizona-style law that allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people based on religious beliefs.

"It made sense to me [to do this for March Forth], as marriage equality was one of the issues, so I used it to lift up how the UCC is working in Oregon to promote marriage equality," Currie said. "It just worked out that way. I knew it was coming out this week and I focused in on this issue."

Currie said he's gotten positive feedback through social media about the column, which was retweeted on the UCC's Twitter handle, and has had more than 100 shares on Facebook. He also noticed it was among the most shared op-ed pieces on the Oregonian website, oregonlive.com, despite anonymous comments left by readers that Currie said were racist, homophobic and sexist.

"The fact that people are talking about it is a good thing," Currie said.

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