Click on PLAYLIST in the window above to select a single story.
Where I'm Supposed to Be
The moment she joined the church, Sue knew she was home. The woman who admitted that she ‘used to be lazy about church’ celebrates finding a family with the UCC.
Tapping into a Source of Life
Phil left the church after his father's death, but when he accidentally found the UCC 20 years later, he tapped into a new dimension of life that he says he was missing.
More Fun than Chuck-E-Cheese
Jamie describes the United Church of Christ as a safe place to land, not the church of your childhood. In fact, his six-year-old daughter finds the church school experience more fun than one of her favorite restaurants.
Just Show Up
A skeptic of organized religion, Chris found the UCC after searching for a church home in several denominations. Hear why he sees this church as the most consistent, accepting faith community – one that honors the individuality of each member.
Exactly What I Need
A young woman shares the incredibly healing power of her church, and says the UCC has been the foundation for finding herself again.
I Never Expected That
Peggy Jo had faith, but her husband didn't – until God spoke to the unchurched man and brought him into the UCC community, to the astonishment and delight of his wife. Hear how knowing God enriches the life of the whole family.
A Liberation Church
Hear more from the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo—"When we think we are changing lives, the lives that change are ours."
I Continue to be Changed
Hear why UCC executive the Rev. James Moos, who developed his global consciousness at a very young age because of the United Church of Christ, would be a very different person if not for this church.
You're Welcome Too
Accept our offer of radical inclusivity. We insist.
I Have a Place
Loey P. continues to celebrate her spiritual home. She was despondent about finding a career in pastoral ministry, until the UCC nurtured the leader she knew she could be.
I Don't Have to Change to Be Accepted by Christ
As an indigenous person of North America, Toni B. was searching for a justice-seeking church when she accepted the UCC church into her life.
Shockingly Accepting of People of All Varieties
Teenager Jake M. feels a special connection with the United Church of Christ, a church he says changes and adapts and grows with him.
Walking in My Purpose
Naomi L. believes that God is still trying to be in conversation with us and that the UCC has inspired her to figure out what God is calling her to do and how to do it.
Feeling Whole Again
Sean F. reflects on the many ways the United Church of Christ offers hope and a radical welcome through the tale of a friend who rediscovered a relationship with "church" through the UCC.
All of Who I Am
Sonja says church is what happens after service on Sunday. She loves the UCC because it nurtures her, and helps her grow.
My Authentic Self
Lindsay doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not in the UCC. Hear why she says no facades are in necessary our churches, which reflect the times in an ever-changing world.
A Liberating Journey
Suzanne S. heard a message from God in a song. She didn't grow up in church, and was searching -- until she found the UCC.
I Would be Rudderless
UCC member James B. talks about the extravagant welcome he felt when he first found the UCC, and about the profound effect the UCC has had on his life. He also talks about the unique gifts the UCC adds to the religious landscape.
When Jimmy G. found his UCC church in Raleigh, N.C., he not only found a congregation, he became part of a partnership of friends that takes the pain away.
Room For Us
Sarah D. shares her love of her local UCC church, and how being a UCC member has shaped her journey.
So Not Jesus
A UCC pastor shares his own personal experience with extravagant welcome.
It Didn’t Seem Real
After Brice T. was ostracized by his church for being gay, he lost his religion. But after 15 years of believing he wouldn't get to heaven, Brice met a UCC pastor, took a chance on going back to church one Easter morning, and experienced an overwhelming message of love and inclusivity.
Bruce C. was a homeless man on the streets of Philadelphia, but God led him to the warm embrace of a local UCC congregation. Hear his story of how they offered him unconditional love.
Where I Belonged
Three LGBTQ young adults with very different faith journeys share the profound ways the United Church of Christ has welcomed them.
I Feel Love
Diane J. talks about the meaningful way she found her Christian faith through the United Church of Christ.
Volunteers are the backbone of disaster recovery in the United States and without their generosity many families and communities would have little hope of recovery. UCC Disaster Ministries volunteers share the love of Christ through their presence and hard work. Sign up today to serve in a community in need.
Donations to UCC Disaster Ministries enable response and recovery work in the US and around the Globe. Donated dollars are the most effective way to quickly and effectively respond to changing needs following a disaster. Consider being a monthly donor and help UCC Disaster Ministries continue meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
As a member of Church World Service (CWS) the UCC supports a collaborative effort aimed at providing material aid aid in times of disaster and human strife. Through CWS, UCC members have the opportunity to build kits that are shipped all over all over the world and distributed to families in need. What's more, UCC Disaster Ministries is offering a $250 matching grant to UCC congregations' own $250 cash or in kind investment to build kits.
Hold a Fundraiser
Consider holding a fundraiser for UCC Disaster Ministries. Fundraisers provide the opportunity to discuss the ministry they support and are a great way to connect with people in your congregation and community. These events help strengthen community and bring people of like mind together for a valuable cause.
Pray for those affected by disasters and those who respond.
Engage with others from across your conference to support local disaster response, attend trainings, and build community. Contact your Conference Disaster Coordinator today.
UCC Disaster Ministries has a long-standing tradition of collaboration and ecumenism in disaster recovery work. As a member of and partner to many disaster response organizations UCC Disaster Ministries works closely with each organization to effectively and efficiently utilize all donated funds in response to disaster. Through these networks UCC Disaster Ministries is able share resources, knowledge, best practices and respond when and where needs are the greatest.
ACT Alliance is a coalition of more than 140 churches and affiliated organizations working together in over 140 countries to create positive and sustainable change in the lives of poor and marginalized people regardless of their religion, politics, gender, sexual orientation, race or nationality in keeping with the highest international codes and standards. Members are associated with the World council of Churches or the Lutheran World Federation.
Church World Service is a cooperative humanitarian ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations, providing sustainable self-help and development, disaster relief and reugee assistance in more than 80 countries. CWS is part of the ecumenical family of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the U.S.A.
Global Ministries is responsible for nurturing relationships with international partners on behalf of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. They strive for this by living out their core values: presence, mutuality, community, justice and peace.
National Voluntary Organizations Acitve in Disaster (NVOAD) coordinates planning efforts by many voluntary organizations responding to disaster. Member organizations provide more effective service by getting together before disasters strike. Once disasters occur, NVOAD or an affilliated state VOAD encourages members and other voluntary agencies to convene on-site. This cooperative effort has proven to be the most effective way for a wide variety of volunteers and organizations to work together in a crisis.
The effects of global warming threaten to only increase the scope, scale and number of disasters worldwide. UCC Disaster Ministries is a program of the United Church of Christ that responds to natural and human caused disasters all over world and is well positioned to respond in most events.
Through our volunteers, congregations, Conferences and partnerships UCC Disaster Ministries seeks to serve the most vulnerable populations that require spiritual, physical, financial and psychological support. In times of domestic disaster, UCC Disaster Ministries office provides a platform and facilitation for much of this work while collaborating with and through UCC Conferences and a network of Conference Disaster Coordinators (download map here).
Internationally, UCC Disaster Ministries maintains direct relationships and partnerships with organizations and faith communities able to appropriately and effectively respond to emergency and long-term needs.
Sexuality and Our Faith is the faith based Our Whole Lives curriculum resources developed for each age group. These companion resources are designed to be integrated into each corresponding workshop of the Our Whole Lives Curriculum when used in United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association or other faith based settings.
Sexuality and Our Faith will put the exploration of identity, relationships, and sexuality in the context of worship and our relationship with God and scripture. The goals are to connect faith with identity, relationships, and sexuality issues in ways that lead to informed and reasoned decisions and to empower persons to act responsibly as they seek to unite body and spirit, spirituality and sexuality alienation and wholeness.
As Christians, we profess that we are created in the image of God. In this image, we make a lifelong journey toward deeper faith, faithfulness, and wholeness. As a church, we seek continually to integrate God's ongoing revelation with new knowledge and understandings of our lives and times. In our religious education, we seek to equip the faithful for this journey in all its possibilities.
As people in the United Church of Christ (UCC), we affirm that sexuality and a spirituality are intricately connected and that both are gifts from God. The actions of our General Synods, conferences, associations, congregations, and councils support this.
The following principles from the UCC's Created in God's Image: A Human Sexuality Program for Ministry and Mission, supplement the Our Whole Lives assumptions, goals, and principles, expressing what many in the United Church of Christ believe about faith, spirituality, sexuality, and justice.
Principles Guiding the United Church of Christ Commitment to Sexuality Education
1. Sexuality is a God-given gift.
2. The purposes of sexuality are to enhance human wholeness and fulfillment, to express love, commitment, delight, and pleasure, to bring new life into the world, and to give glory to God.
3. When making decisions about sexuality, the primary guide is God's call to love and justice as revealed in both Testaments.
4. From a biblical perspective, sexuality is intended to express mutuality, love, and justice. In judging whether behavior is ethical or unethical, the norms of mutuality, love, and justice are the central criteria.
5. From a biblical perspective, sexuality is distorted by unethical behaviors, attitudes, and systems that foster violence, exploitation, infidelity, assertion of power, and the treatment of persons as objects.
6. In developing a just sexual morality, we need to avoid double standards.
7. A responsible and mature sexual ethic respects the moral agency of every person. When faced with ethical decisions, each of us needs to be accorded the freedom and responsibility to choose.
8. The church, at all levels, ought to be a context for discussion about human sexuality.
9. The church ought to encourage and support advocacy with those who are sexually oppressed or the victims of sexual violence and abuse. The church can and must have a role in defining and implementing public policy.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he asks them to donate money to poor Christians in Jerusalem. He writes, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).
Paul instructs the Corinthians on the importance of a “fair balance,” where no one has either too much or too little. May we have ears to truly hear Paul’s message today at a time when, in the United States and around the world, there are a few, extremely wealthy people, far too many poor, and many in the middle who are struggling to avoid sliding into poverty. As Paul said, a fair balance is needed. One person’s abundance is for another person’s need. There is plenty for all if we share. The Church is called to work for a world where there is a “fair balance” between abundance for a few and the needs of many.
As UCC advocates, we understand our responsibility to care for the poor and vulnerable. Our General Synod has spoken repeatedly on issues of economic justice, reaffirming time and again our commitment to raising and keeping people out of poverty.
Inequality -- It doesn't have to be this way
Growing inequality is not the inevitable consequence of globalization, technological change, an aging population, or anything else. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle is disappearing as a direct result of policy decisions made by policymakers in Washington, DC, and state legislatures. Read more in this Thanksgiving-themed commentary.
Learn about Economic Inequality
A Fair Balance: Reducing Inequality in the U.S. and around the World
The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and those in the middle struggle to stay there. Rising inequality is bad for all of us. A Fair Balance: Reducing Inequality in the U.S. and around the World, a new resource from JWM, explains what is happening, describes how inequality harms all of us, and outlines how to reverse this trend. A study guide facilitates group discussion and reflection.
Two short videos give excellent overviews of wealth inequality in the U.S. and globally.
Wealth Inequality in America (6 minutes, 24 seconds)
Global Wealth Inequality - What you never knew you never knew (3 minutes, 51 seconds)
Child Poverty and Inequality Resources on inequality and children from JWM.
How Inequality Hollows Out the Soul by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. "One of the well-known costs of inequality is that people withdraw from community life and are less likely to feel that they can trust others. This is partly a reflection of the way status anxiety makes us all more worried about how we are valued by others. Now that we can compare robust data for different countries, we can see not only what we knew intuitively — that inequality is divisive and socially corrosive — but that it also damages the individual psyche."
|Articles on Inequality
from the news media
In a recent article, Pulitzer-prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston powerfully illustrates our nation’s inequality. Using analyses of IRS data made by two highly-regarded economists, he first notes that in 2011, average income among the bottom 90% of taxpayers was up just $59 compared with 1966. He represents that 45-year rise of $59 as a line just one inch long. Johnston then uses this measure -- one inch representing $59 -- to compare the gains of the bottom 90% and higher-income groups.
The gains of the top 10% of taxpayers, whose incomes rose by 84% over the 45 years (up $116,071 to $254,864), is a line 163 feet long. (By illustration, this is longer than the width of a typical 8-lane freeway with an inside median.) The difference between 163 feet and one inch is quite extreme but it gets worse. The gain in average income among the top 1% (up $628,817 over the period) is line 884 feet long. The top 1% of the top 1%, whose 2011 income averaged $23.7 million (up by $18.4 million compared with 1966) would require a line nearly five miles long. All these amounts are before-tax dollars, adjusted for inflation. Over the 45 years, the average amount of tax paid by the highest-income households has also declined.
The American Dream of moving up the economic ladder through education and hard work is largely a myth. And those who are at the top reap huge rewards, not primarily due to their talent, but to the ways in which our current political process helps the rich at the expense of everyone else. We need political reform and greater equality in opportunities for education for all. More.
Inequality is bad for our national economy. In addition to moral and ethical concerns about inequality, experts now think it is also bad for the economy. Evidence is building that inequality slows economic growth and causes less stable economic expansions, that is, we can expect slower growth of the economic pie and more recessions and economic crises like the one we are still trying to recover from. Experts even suggest that narrowing the inequality gap may be more economically beneficial than other factors – like boosting trade and foreign investment – that feature prominently on the political agenda. More.
Charts Illustrating the Growth in Inequality
Growing Inequality in Income, Wealth, and Life Expectancy [pdf 552 KB], charts compiled by Edith Rasell, JWM's Minister for Economic
A Prayer for Economic Justice
Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Voting is at the heart of the democratic process. It is the most fundamental access point for individuals to engage in the public dialogue and have a voice in the public policy decision-making process that can shape the future of our local, regional, national and global collective life.
Justice cannot be achieved unless the rules for governing the democratic process are fair to all, yet voter rights have been significantly undermined in recent years. We have seen state efforts to restrict voter rights through stringent voter identification laws and rollbacks in early voting, and last year’s Supreme Court decision eliminated key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The UCC General Synod has long supported voting rights and addressing obstacles to participation in the electoral process within the broader context of the civil rights struggle.
UCC Speaks Out
General Synod adopts statement on Supreme Court voting rights ruling
The United Church of Christ’s General Synod decisively adopted a statement brought to the floor July 2 calling on the church to publicly support voter’s rights through public statements, advocacy and actions. The approved resolution was in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional. Read more.
Learn More About Voting Rights
Race and Voting Rights
Police in riot gear, fire hoses and police dogs. These are some compelling images of what advocates faced when marching for the right to vote and an end to racial discrimination, in the streets of the 1950-60s Civil Rights Era. Today, the threats of voter suppression impacting communities of color remain real and present. (Read more.)
You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. - Deuteronomy 16:18-20
In this passage from the Scriptures, we hear the call to carefully tend to the ways we order our collective life. A right relationship with God means the practice of right relationship in human community. We are all entrusted, particularly those with power, to make decisions that impact our life together as society.
The call is to act equitably, with impartiality and integrity, and with justice as a guiding value for the common good.
The standard of justice, found over and over in the Scriptures, is the wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of our community. It is the standard by which we discern whether the laws and measures for the order of our society are just and fair.
In our public life together today, where would you say that we are according to such a standard? What are the challenges before us? What might we need to change?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement that is Destructive of God’s People and God's Planet
The U.S. is currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 Pacific-Rim nations. It is being written in secret. While the exact details of the draft agreement are unknown, its general outlines are familiar. Leaked information has revealed that it is based on, and extends, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 1994 treaty between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that has harmed all three countries. The TPP, and all other NAFTA-based trade agreements, must be stopped.
Over the past 25 years as globalization’s impact on our lives has expanded, so have national and international economic concerns. Income inequality has increased in the U.S. and in most other countries; despite great wealth, poverty entraps millions in the U.S. and billions around the world; and the degradation of creation accelerates. Economic globalization is certainly not the sole cause of any of these grave conditions but it has played an important role. In 2003, the UCC’s General Synod expressed concerns about globalization in a Pronouncement titled A Faithful Response: Calling for a More Just, Humane Direction for Economic Globalization.
In 2004 the international Church expressed its deep distress about the state of the economy and the earth. Meeting in Accra, Ghana, the World Communion of Reformed Churches – a fellowship of 57 million Christians in 214 member denominations located in 107 countries, a group that includes the United Church of Christ – approved the Accra Confession.
The Accra Confession stated, “We believe that the integrity of our faith is at stake if we remain silent or refuse to act in the face of the current system of neoliberal economic globalization.” It went on:
We believe that any economy of the household of life given to us by God’s covenant to sustain life is accountable to God. We believe the economy exists to serve the dignity and wellbeing of people in community, within the bounds of the sustainability of creation. We believe that human beings are called to choose God over Mammon …[We] commit ourselves, our time and our energy to changing, renewing, and restoring the economy and the earth, choosing life, so that we and our descendants might live (Deut. 30:19).
This document was subsequently affirmed by the UCC’s General Synod and recommended to the whole church for prayer study and discernment.
The statement recognizes that God has given the world abundant resources, enough for all if we share. We are called to manage and allocate these resources responsibly and sustainably. We are called to ensure that all God’s people are at God’s banquet table, especially the poor and marginalized. But our current form of economic globalization, shaped by “free trade” agreements, is distorting God’s world and God’s economy of life.
What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an economic agreement currently being negotiated and written, in secret, by 12 Pacific-Rim countries: the U.S. plus Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The U.S. already has trade agreements with six of the TPP participants: Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Singapore and these six countries account for most of the trade between the U.S. and the TPP countries. Japan is the one country with which we have significant trade and which lies outside any existing trade agreement.
The TPP is being negotiated in secret. The general public and the media are denied any detailed information about the issues on the table. Even Congress is excluded. So we do not know for sure what the draft agreement contains except for a few chapters that have been leaked. The democratic process has been thwarted. But some 560 advisors, many working for corporate interests, are at the table.
We do know the TPP is following the pattern and incorporating many of the provisions we first saw in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  This 1994 treaty between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. has led to rising inequality in all three countries (including stagnant or falling wages for many),rising corporate profits, and job losses in the U.S. as corporations moved plants to Mexico (and then on to China) in a search for the lowest wages, fewest regulations, and largest subsidies. NAFTA and other trade agreements like it are one important reason that corporate profits are at record highs, as even Forbes magazine agrees.
Like NAFTA, most of the TPP does not deal with trade but with other economic issues. Of the TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five address traditional trade issues. The other chapters focus on a range of topics such as environmental standards, food safety, financial regulations, protections for workers and consumers, patent law, energy policy, and even whether local, state, and federal governments can preferentially “buy American” (they cannot, as the TPP is currently written). So under the guise of a “free trade” agreement, treaty negotiators are writing and re-writing the rules of the national and international economies, behind closed doors and in a very undemocratic process.
This treaty, if approved by Congress, will exacerbate the harmful changes begun 20 years ago with NAFTA. It will contribute to the rise in inequality around the world, further enhance corporate power and profits, harm workers and the environment worldwide, and continue the erosion of democracy and national sovereignty. We must oppose the TPP.
The Content of the TPP
Regulations and Protections. The TPP will cover many topics and be hundreds of pages long. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a Cabinet-level position that is responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade and negotiating trade agreements, two of the key features of the agreement are “regulatory coherence” and “competitiveness and business facilitation.” The Office of the USTR describes these as follows.
- Regulatory coherence: “Commitments will promote trade between the countries by making trade among them more seamless and efficient.”
- Competitiveness and Business Facilitation. “Commitments will enhance the domestic and regional competitiveness of each TPP country’s economy and promote economic integration and jobs in the region, including through the development of regional production and supply chains.”
Consider “regulatory coherence.” Every country tends to have its own regulations governing things like consumer protections, banking regulations, food safety, and environmental and workplace practices. For a company seeking to do business in multiple countries, this is a problem. Keeping track of and coming into compliance with multiple sets of regulations is complicated and time consuming. So the TPP seeks to make this process easier, to make it “seamless and efficient” by making each country’s regulations cohere, that is, make them consistent with each other. But while “regulatory compliance” is beneficial to multinational firms, it is a potential problem for everyone else, especially when it happens in an undemocratic process.
The TPP negotiations involve countries at various stages of development -- from high-income (like the U.S.) to medium- (Mexico, Chile) and low-income (Viet Nam, Malaysia). Bringing all 12 countries’ relevant regulations and standards into agreement is a large task. It is also a threat. Which country’s standards will be the benchmark, written into law? Among countries at different levels of development with quite different standards and protections – as is true among the TPP countries – coherence has the potential to force large changes in countries’ laws. Countries with weaker standards could be convinced to strengthen them. Or countries with stronger, broader protections could weaken them. Or the standards could end up somewhere in the middle. A concern in the U.S. is that our existing consumer protections, workplace standards, environmental regulations, etc. – which many people view as too lax already – will be weakened further. Safeguards that consumers, workers, environmentalists, and various watchdog groups have won after years of effort could be undone as negotiators agree on new standards, behind closed doors, in a room full of people representing corporate interest.
Jobs. According to the USTR, another “key feature” of the TPP is to “promote economic integration and jobs in the region, including through the development of regional production and supply chains.” (A supply chain is the collection of firms that produce all the pieces of a final product. For example, to make a t-shirt, the cotton might be grown by farmers in one country, processed into thread by a factory in a different country, and woven into cloth at a factory in a third country. The shirt might be designed in another country, the fabric cut and stitched in still another, with the whole process (the supply chain for the t-shirt) overseen by a firm in another country.) The TPP will “promote… the development of regional production and supply chains” (emphasis added), that is, supply chains within the 12-country TPP region. In other words, the TPP will facilitate the outsourcing and offshoring of jobs. Workers in the 12 countries will find themselves competing against each other. Workplace standards may “cohere” at a low level.
Prior to the expansion of globalization that began roughly in the 1980s, firms had an interest in seeing wages rise. Low paid workers are poor consumers. In 1914, Henry Ford doubled the wages of workers in his manufacturing plants as he recognized that, to be successful as a large-scale manufacturer of cars, his workers need to be paid enough to buy one. But today, successful companies producing in Asia don’t need to pay their workers a wage high enough to buy what they produce (and certainly not a wage high enough to buy what workers in other countries produce). The firm is often producing for consumers in the U.S. or other high-income country; its success does not depend on purchases by its workers or even people in the firm’s home country. And U.S. workers don’t need high wages to support a strong U.S. economy since they can buy the inexpensive goods made in Asia (if they can even afford those). Economists expect the TPP, like our other recent trade agreements, to cause further job loss in the U.S. For more about the TPP and jobs, see the Economic Policy Institute: No Jobs from Trade Pacts.
Experts are concerned about the impact of the TPP on numerous areas of the economy and our lives. A few are listed below with links provided to more information.
Banking. The TPP is likely to further ease at least some of the already weak regulations of the banking system. It will likely restrict regulators’ ability to
- limit the size of financial institutions thus making it impossible to shrink too-big-to-fail banks;
- force banks to erect firewalls between more speculative, risky activities and their basic business of providing government-insured checking and savings accounts;
- limit banks’ investments in risky instruments like derivatives and credit default swaps; and
- rein in large, potentially destabilizing flows of money between countries.
See Public Citizen on the TPP and the weakening of already inadequate financial regulations.
Food safety. Any of our food safety regulations – for example, those setting standards for acceptable pesticide residues, bacterial contamination, or permissible additives – that are stricter than those in other TPP countries would be in jeopardy. If the standards among the 12 TPP countries differ, then the 12 must agree on a common standard (“regulatory coherence”). All the countries would then have to change their laws and regulations to match it. If the federal government or any state chose to keep its own standard that differed from the one in the TPP, then that government could be sued and forced to pay damages to a corporation that wanted to sell food under the TPP standard. See reports on the TPP and food safety from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Organic Consumers Union on the TPP and food safety.
Environment. Environmentalists have multiple reasons to oppose the TPP. It lacks basic, enforceable environmental protections; does not discourage overfishing (an important concern since the 12 countries negotiating the treaty account for roughly one-third of global fishing); does not take a strong stand against illegal wildlife products like elephant ivory or tiger pelts; and does not go far enough to prevent illegal logging. Read a joint statement from multiple environmental groups, the Sierra Club’s assessment of the environmental impacts, and Food and Water Watch on the TPP and the overturning of regulations on fracking.
Drug prices. In the TPP negotiations, the U.S. is pushing hard to extend the number of years that pharmaceuticals are under patent. This means drug companies will have more years to charge high, monopoly prices and consumers will wait longer for cheaper generics to come on the market. See Doctors without Borders on the TPP, patents on pharmaceuticals, and limits on access to needed medications.
For more about the impact of the TPP on particular aspects of our lives, see resources from the following organizations.
The TPP will also enhance the safety of investments made by multinational firms outside their home country. It is argued that this added protection lowers a firm’s risk, which would encouraging foreign investment in developing countries and boost these economies (although there is no evidence for this). The TPP, like other trade agreements, also gives multinational firms the right to sue governments over the loss of expected profits. This is one of the most controversial aspects of the treaty.
Not surprisingly, trade agreements protect firms’ investments against outright expropriation. But the trade agreements ratified during the past 20 years go much farther. They also allow a corporation to sue a government for passing laws or writing regulations that interfere with the firm’s future profits, even if the laws serve to protect the public health or the environment. This right, given to multinational corporations, exceeds the right of domestic corporations which cannot sue their own government. A U.S. corporation operating in the U.S. may not sue the U.S. government but a foreign firm may (and U.S.-based firms operating in other countries could sue those foreign governments). These disputes between corporations and nations (called investor-state disputes) that have been allowed under trade agreements passed during the last 20 years are increasing, rising from a total of 38 cases by 1996 up to a total of 450 by 2011.
Investor-state disputes would be brought in a special, secret court established by the TPP. The dispute would be heard, in secret, by a three-member panel of lawyers. Their decision is final; it cannot be appealed. According to the Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute:
Just 15 arbitrators, nearly all from Europe, the U.S. or Canada, have decided 55% of all known investment-treaty disputes. This small group of lawyers, referred to by some as an ‘inner mafia’, sit on the same arbitration panels, act as both arbitrators and counsels and even call on each other as witnesses in arbitration cases. This has led to growing concerns, including within the broader legal community, over conflicts of interest. …. Arbitrators tend to defend private investor rights above public interest, revealing an inherent pro-corporate bias. Several prominent arbitrators have been members of the board of major multinational corporations, including those which have filed cases against developing nations. Nearly all share businesses’ belief in the paramount importance of protecting private profits. In many cases concerning public interest decisions, such as measures taken by Argentina in the context of its economic crisis, arbitrators have failed to consider anything but corporations’ claims of lost profits in their rulings. Many arbitrators vocally rejected a proposal by International Court of Justice Judge Bruno Simma to give greater consideration to international environmental and human rights law in investment arbitration.
Consider the following example. It is hypothetical but would be a very real possibility under the TPP. In 2016, scientists learn that a certain chemical is harmful to the environment. Acting within its statutory authority, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enacts a regulation prohibiting its use. A multi-national firm based outside the U.S. but operating within the our country uses the chemical in a now prohibited product that they had planned to sell in the U.S. The firm sues our government over the loss of expected future profits. The firm could win the case and be awarded millions or tens of millions in damages, paid by U.S. tax payers. Even if the firm lost the case, the government would have spent millions on its legal defense. Here is a very similar real case.
The Ethyl Corporation, a U.S. chemical company, produced a gasoline additive called MMT. MMT contains manganese, a chemical known to cause severe neurological damage. MMT had been banned in California in 1977 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned it in the U.S. in 1995. The Canadian government studied MMT and, in 1997, declared it unsafe and banned the import of the chemical into Canada. Ethyl had been selling the chemical in Canada. Based on its “rights” under the North American Free Trade Agreement (which has investor “protections” similar to those proposed for the TPP), Ethyl sued the Canadian government for the loss of its future profits. After losing an initial ruling before the NAFTA tribunal hearing the case, Canada settled with Ethyl in 1998. Canada reversed its ban on MMT, paid $13 million in legal fees and damages to the Ethyl Corporation, and issued a statement for Ethyl’s use in advertising, declaring that “current scientific information” did not demonstrate MMT’s toxicity.
Tribunals established under other trade agreements have already ordered governments to pay over $3.5 billion in investor-state cases and more than $14.7 billion remain in pending claims. Today there are hundreds of pending lawsuits that could result in tax payers around the world paying hundreds of millions of dollars to multinational corporations. Read a chilling report about these tribunals from the New York Times. Read about some of the law suits here and here and here. Read about the global struggle against corporate rule.
Passing the TPP: Fast Track
The TPP is being negotiated by the White House and it will be signed by the President before it is made public. (Although at this time in mid-March, 2014, President Obama is offering to share the draft treaty with Congress after the November elections.) Once the treaty is signed, it does not go into effect until it is ratified by Congress. But Congress is considering legislation, called Fast Track, that limits the ability of our elected representatives to amend the treaty or even fully review it.
If Fast Track legislation is approved, Congress would have just 90 days to study the hundreds of pages of legislation and could spend no more than 20 hours to debate it. Congress would be prohibited from holding hearings on the treaty proposals to obtain expert opinion. Congress would be prohibited from amending the treaty.
The Fast Track rules restricting Congressional oversight of the TPP would apply not only to the treaty itself but also to its “implementing” legislation.
The breadth of issues covered by the treaty means it will touch on many aspects of our economy and our lives. Because the treaty will make the 12 TPP countries’ relevant standards and regulations consistent with each other, some U.S. laws (and laws in the other countries) will need to be changed and brought into compliance with the new TPP standards. The revisions necessary to implement the TPP, that is, to bring existing U.S. law into compliance with it, are called implementing legislation.
Fast Track legislation limits Congressional oversight of the TPP and it also limits oversight of the implementing legislation. The potentially numerous and extensive changes to our laws that will be needed must be approved by Congress within the same 90-day window and with the same bans on hearings, debate, and amendments. Because of the treaty’s breadth, touching on many aspects of our economy and our lives, the implementing legislation could potentially also be very broad.
Fast Track legislation allows Congress to specify “negotiating objectives” for the TPP, provisions our elected officials would like to see, or not see, in the treaty. But these objectives are not binding on the negotiators and they are not enforceable. Whether or not the TPP is in accord with the objectives set by Congress, approval of the TPP and the implementing legislation would still be governed by the Fast Track agreement.
If Congress approves the TPP and the implementing legislation, it becomes the law of the land. It replaces and supersedes existing U.S. law. Our current protections for workers, consumers, and the environment, and restrictions on corporate power and practices could be undone. Legislation that citizens have spent years getting enacted into law – to regulate banks, protect consumers, ensure workers’ rights, safeguard the environment, etc. – could be overturned.
Trade agreements have become a way for corporations to gain rights, repeal regulations, and expand opportunities for profit – in ways that have been denied in U.S. law. Trade agreements have become a way for corporations to write and rewrite the rules of the U.S. and global economy. Congress must oppose Fast Track legislation and vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
 Williams, Brock R. Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Countries: Comparative Trade and Economic Analysis. Congressional Research Service, January 29, 2013 http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/203883.pdf
 More information on the treaty advisory committee is available from the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/02/28/how-companies-wield-off-the-record-influence-on-obamas-trade-policy/
 NAFTA, implemented in 1994, was the template used to design the World Trade Organization, more than a dozen bilateral trade treaties including CAFTA, and the deal that opened the American market to China—which alone has cost the United States another net 2.7 million jobs. The result has been 20 years of relentless outsourcing of jobs and technology http://www.epi.org/blog/nafta-twenty-years-disaster/
 Lenzner, Robert. Corporate Profits Are At An All-Time Record Peak And Expected To Grow in 2014. Forbes magazine 11/30/2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2013/11/30/there-are-far-fewer-bears-on-the-stock-market-today-than-at-the-peaks-in-2000-or-2007/
 USTR website http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/mission
 Outlines of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/fact-sheets/2011/november/outlines-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement
 Obviously, firms could pay only what they could afford and still stay in business. But today, we no longer have what economists call “wage-led economic growth.” Workers at profitable firms typically do not share in a firm’s success through wage increases. Instead, firms buy back shares of stock or increase dividend payouts – boosting share price – and pay exorbitant salaries and bonuses to CEOs.
 Ford Motor Company, News http://corporate.ford.com/news-center/press-releases-detail/677-5-dollar-a-day
 Pia Eberhardt & Cecilia Olivet, “Profiting from injustice: How law firms, arbitrators and financiers are fuelling an investment arbitration boom,” Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute, Brussels, Amsterdam, November 2012. http://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/download/profitingfrominjustice.pdf See a list of current cases here http://www.citizen.org/documents/investor-state-chart.pdf More info http://citizen.typepad.com/eyesontrade/2013/04/un-report-reveals-record-number-of-investor-state-cases-filed-in-2012-confirming-an-alarming-trend-i.html United Nations Conference on Trade And Development, “ Recent Developments in Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” May 2013. http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/webdiaepcb2013d3_en.pdf
 Ibid. Pia Eberhardt & Cecilia Olivet.
 Public Citizen, NAFTA Chapter 11 Investor-State Cases: Lessons for the Central America Free Trade Agreement, February 2005. http://www.citizen.org/documents/NAFTAReport_Final.pdf
 Expose the TPP. How The Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Impact Corporate Power. http://www.exposethetpp.org/TPPImpacts_CorpPowerAttacks.html and NAFTA at 20: A Model for Corporate Rule. By Manuel Perez-Rocha and Stuart Trew, January 14, 2014. http://fpif.org/nafta-20-model-corporate-rule/
 DePalma, Anthony, Nafta's Powerful Little Secret; Obscure Tribunals Settle Disputes, but Go Too Far, Critics Say. New York Times, March 11, 2001 http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/11/business/nafta-s-powerful-little-secret-obscure-tribunals-settle-disputes-but-go-too-far.html?action=click&module=Search®ion=searchResults%230& version=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry53%23%2Ftheir+meetings+are+secret.+their+members+are+generally+unknown
 The U.S. Constitution stipulates that international treaties such as trade agreements must be ratified by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. But Congress has repeatedly redefined these treaties as “congressional-executive agreements” and given the executive branch the authority to negotiate them, sign them, and write the conforming legislation that is necessary to bring U.S. law into compliance with the provisions in the newly negotiated treaty. Under this Trade Promotion Authority, Congress also agrees to give the treaty and conforming legislation an expedited review. The package becomes law after receiving majority support in both houses of Congress. Trade Promotion Authority has come to be called Fast Track. For more information, see Congressional Research Service, Why Certain Trade Agreements are Approved as Congressional-Executive Agreements Rather than Treaties, April 15, 2013.
 Officially titled The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act and known as the Camp-Baucus bill after the people who introduced the legislation, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).
The United States has a long history of racism, segregation, discrimination, and legalized oppression of people based on their skin color. Even today, despite progress on many fronts, economic disadvantages persist associated with race and ethnicity. Areas where this is seen most starkly are in unemployment, salaries and wages, and poverty.
Unemployment. Unemployment among African Americans is generally twice as high as for whites while the rate for Hispanics is 50% higher. This was true before the 2008 economic downturn and it is still true today. For example, in February, 2012, the unemployment rate was 14.1% for African Americans, 10.7% for Hispanics, 6.3% for Asians, and 6.5% for whites.
There are multiple reasons for the higher rate of unemployment. The Black and Hispanic workforce is younger than the white workforce (unemployment is higher among younger workers compared with older ones) and lower numbers of Blacks and Hispanics get a college degree (unemployment is higher among people with less than a college degree). But even when these factors are taken into account, large differences persist. Experts conclude that racial discrimination in the labor market continues to play a role.
Salaries and wages. Racial discrimination in employment persists, as does the “steering” of African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color into lower-paying jobs or jobs with fewer opportunities for advancement.
Pay is tied to education levels and the prestige of the schools that someone attends. People of color are less likely than whites to graduate from college and, when they do, typically attend less prestigious schools. These differences are rooted in issues of affordability (the cost of college education has skyrocketed in recent years) and the quality of the neighborhood schools that are available to students.
But there is also discrimination in the workplace. One careful examination of whites and African Americans found that nearly 90% of occupations are racially segregated. For example, African Americans are less likely to be working in high-paying occupations, and more likely to be working in lower-paying ones, than their education and skills would indicate. The reverse is true for whites.
Poverty. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be poor than whites. In 2011, 10% of whites were poor, but among African Americans and Hispanics, 27% lived in poverty. However, among the poor, whites are the largest racial/ethnic group.
Poverty is the result of unemployment and low wages, and an inadequate social safety net. Since African Americans and Hispanics face higher rates of unemployment and lower wages, it is not surprising to find they are more likely to be poor.
It is a myth that poverty cannot be substantially eliminated. In the mid- to late-1990s, unemployment fell and wages at all levels of the income scale (not just at the top) were rising. The result was a dramatic fall in poverty, especially among African Americans and Hispanics. In just seven years, poverty among African Americans fell from 33% to 22% while among Hispanics is was down from 31% to 22%. However beginning in 2000, unemployment rose, wages stagnated, and poverty rose again.
Racism is present in the economy. The workings of the economy are often thought to be fair and rational. We assume firms hire and pay an employee based on his or her education. We assume poverty is intractable. But the outcomes we see tell a different story. Race and ethnicity matter. Unequal treatment that disadvantages people of color is common.
In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote: “Depressed living standards for Negroes are not simply the consequence of neglect. Nor can they be explained by the myth of the Negro’s innate incapacities, or by the more sophisticated rationalization of his acquired infirmities (family disorganization, poor education, etc.). They are a structural part of the economic system of the United States.”
- Racial discrimination in employment and “steering” of African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color into lower-paying jobs or jobs with fewer opportunities for advancement happens routinely today, as does discrimination in banks’ decisions about loans, insurers’ willingness to issue insurance and at what price, landlords’ decisions about whether to rent to potential tenants, and real estate agents’ choices about properties to show to clients. Is the Church called to address these problems? What can we do about them?
- Someone’s level of education – whether he or she completed high school or college, for example – is a major determinant of their pay. People with more education tend to have higher wages and salaries. Generally, two groups of people with similar levels of education and experience also have similar wages and salaries. However, this is not true when people of different races are compared. What factors might explain the lower pay received by African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color compared with Euro Americans?
- In the U.S., most people need a job to support themselves and their family. But what if there are not enough jobs for everyone? Is this a concern for the Church or is it too political? Should the nation have a policy to ensure that everyone who wants a job has one?
- We often suggest that people in low-wage jobs go back to school for more education that will allow them to get a better job. But if everyone had an advanced degree, we would still need people to do home health care, clean floors, and work in other low-wage jobs. Education can help an individual get a higher-paying job and better life, but education won’t change these low-wage jobs. Does society (do we) have a responsibility to improve, or require employers to improve, low-wage jobs? What is society’s responsibility to workers in these jobs? How can people of faith help people in low wage jobs?
The Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery
A Biblical Reflection
As part of the implementation of the General Synod 29 resolution, the joint working group of Council for American Indian Ministries (CAIM) and Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) offer this resource for our churches to take up with prayer. To download the study, click HERE. Additional video resources:
For an introduction to the topic, see the video clip "Discovered, or Stolen?" For the history of the Doctrine of Discovery, see here for a 18-min. presentation by Dr. Roxanne Gould, All Nations Church UCC, Minneapolis, MN. See the same video (starting at the 18:40 mark) for Doctrine of Discovery and being a "pilgrim" today, a 10-min. mediation by the Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries.
Many Americans grow up learning that this continent was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. The concept of discovery, as if the land was empty prior to arrival and its indigenous inhabitants were somehow “less than” the explorers is, at its heart, racism and cultural superiority.
The doctrine of discovery, a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, originated from various church documents in Christian Europe in the mid-1400s to justify the pattern of domination and oppression by European monarchies as they invasively arrived in the Western hemisphere. It theologically asserted the right to claim the indigenous lands, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom, and to subjugate native peoples around the world.
The U.S. Supreme Court used the doctrine to assert that the United States, as the successor of Great Britain, had inherited authority over all lands within our claimed boundaries. This decision allowed our government to legally ignore or invalidate any native claims to property and resources. To this day courts continue to cite this legal precedent. It is still being used by courts to decide property rights cases brought by Native Americans against the U.S. and against non-Natives.
The repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by General Synod 29 provides an invaluable teaching moment for our congregations to understand systemic and continuous impact of racism on the daily lives of indigenous peoples in the U.S.
Learn more about the Doctrine of Discovery
What is the Doctrine of Discovery?
The discovery concept has basically has two separate references. Theologically, it provided the spiritual rationale for Europeans since the times of the Crusades to conquer and confiscate other lands, including what is now the United States. There were papal documents which laid the groundwork that, later, Protestants adopted. It treated the indigenous peoples as if they were animals; they had no (European) title to the land on which they lived. Thus, the Church justified removing and killing them.
Legally, the discovery concept was written into United States law as a doctrine to deny land rights to American Indians, through the Supreme Court case known as Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823. The decision stripped American Indians from the right of their own independence, providing a rationale for taking land away from the indigenous peoples, with the support of United States federal law. As a concept of public international law, it continues to be cited as recently as 2005. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues noted that the Doctrine of Discovery “was the foundation of the violation of their (Indigenous peoples) human rights."
Excessive poverty, teenage suicides that outpaced all other ethnicities, extreme incidences of Type II diabetes, unemployment rates that rank among the highest – these are but a few of the contemporary cultural, communal, and individual damages experienced by indigenous peoples in the U.S., due to the generational impact resulted from the legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery.
UCC Perspectives on the Doctrine of Discovery
Witness for Justice: Doctrine of Discovery
July 9, 2012
The Doctrine of Discovery: Why it still matters today
November 2, 2013
Rethinking Columbus Day according to the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A
October 12, 2014