I love birthdays, probably because my mother always made sure that our birthdays were fun and festive. Our family would all dress up for dinner and, as the birthday boy, I got to determine the menu.Read more
The week before the celebration of July 4, the Supreme Court ruled on Arizona’s SB 1070 and the Affordable Care Act (Health Care Law), both of which have serious implications for the ideals in the Declaration of Independence - “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For example, the Supreme Court upheld for SB 1070 the “show me your papers” provision, thus opening the doors wide open to racial profiling. As an online comment says, “[i]f race is not a basis for suspecting somebody is undocumented, then the only way for Arizona to apply this is to ask EVERYBODY for papers.” With the decision on the Health Care Law, the implementation of the new Medicaid provisions is expected to slow down, which means that significantly fewer people than the projected 17 million, of which 75% of those individuals are people of color, would be covered under the Medicaid expansion.
If we aspire to be witnesses for racial justice, there is one more step beyond being “colorblind.” Our eyes need to be wide open to the realities of layers of racial inequity inherent in our social structures and mechanisms. Systemic inequities found in our institutions might even be validated by Christian teachings long forgotten. The Doctrine of Discovery is one such example.
The Doctrine of Discovery (DOD) is a principle of law developed in a series of 15th century Papal documents and 16th century charters by Christian European monarchs that contained a theological justification for the colonization of the rest of the world. For more than 500 years, it is legal and “moral” to seize the lands and resources of originally free and independent people, and to undermine their sovereignty.
After the 1776 Declaration of Independence, the Doctrine of Discovery continued to be expounded by the Supreme Court to support a series of decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments. The DOD still governs United States Indian Law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision City Of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.
In February 2012, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive Committee denounced the “Doctrine of Discovery” that which has been used to subjugate and colonize Indigenous Peoples, and issued a statement calling the nature of the doctrine" fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus”. The Unitarian Universalists also voted in their June 2012 General Assembly to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and to demand that the U.S. government fully implement the standards of the 2007 United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The truth that all are created equal would only be self-evident if, our inalienable rights are not built on the backs of those whose ancestors showed hospitality to our founders, and of those who build our nation in generations past and present with their ingenuity, toil and health. Let us be forever working towards the ideal that is GREATER life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ALL.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.
One: God of Love, God of Relationship,
All: God of Community,
One: When you created the world, you said, “Let Us...”
All: You modeled how to be, and who to be, together.
One: Your Holy Spirit was there:
All: The life-giving “wind from God.”
One: Your Wisdom was there:
All: “Delighting” in all the diversity of creation.
One: You are one,
All: You are many.
One: You are unity,
All: You are community.
One: You are “Us.”
Teach us to value your image of relationship.
All: Teach us to act in your image of community.
One: Re-create in us your “Us” image.
All: Let us create a safe space for shared existence and dialogue,
One: For hearing and being heard.
All: Let us create a safe space for considering the issues,
One: And for casting votes.
All: Let there be light.
One: The light of access to, and for, all.
All: Let us seek You out: In each other. For each other. In Community.
Rev. Dr. Frederick W. Weidmann, Senior Minister
Hillcrest Congregational Church UCC
Pleasant Hill, CA
Ndume Olatushani (Erskine Johnson) was released from a Tennessee prison on Friday, June 1. He served 26 years, 11 months and 5 days – most of them on death row.
Ndume was charged with a shooting death during a holdup in 1983. His palm print was found in the getaway car, and a witness testified that Ndume confessed. In fact, he was in St. Louis at his mother’s birthday party when the crime occurred, but he was convicted and sentenced to death.
After countless appeals, in 2004 the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors did not give the defense a police report showing that Ndume could not have fired the crucial shot. Ndume was re-sentenced to life in prison, and moved off death row.
Last December, Ndume’s conviction was overturned. The court found that witnesses had close ties to other suspects, which could have led them to implicate Ndume. He was awarded a new trial, and his status changed to someone charged with a crime but not yet convicted. He was moved to a Memphis jail to await the new trial, for yet another year.
At the same time, the parole board agreed to release him, but because his conviction was vacated, there was no crime from which to parole him. He was offered a deal for immediate release if he pled guilty to second-degree murder and accepted a sentence of time served. Ndume took the deal. He was finally free.
Ndume is free because he had advocates. A top New York law firm. Countless pro bono hours. Activists opposing the death penalty. National organizations that called attention to his case. People from the churches – including UCC members and leadership – who visited, fostered relationships, offered testimony, and held him in the light. A family that stood by him.
Nudume is home. He has much to do. He must learn to use a cell phone, ride unshackled in a car, walk down a city street. We hope he will continue to paint, as he taught himself to do in his long years in prison. We also have much to do. There are too many with wrongful convictions. Too many on death row. Too many incarcerated.
Ndume sends you his thanks, from the depths of his heart. Your work allowed him to believe that one day, he would be free. That day has come.
Going back to UCC Office of Commuication Inc.'s founding, we have focused on holding broadcasters accountable to the communities they serve. We made more progress this June when the Federal Communications Commission ruled that information about political advertisements, including those placed by the new Super PACs, must be made available online. These records, which are currently public but housed in filing cabinets at TV broadcast stations, should start to become available in time for the 2012 fall election season. In April, leaders of OC Inc. and the UCC's Our Faith, Our Vote initiative celebrated this important victory. In addition, UCC OC Inc. is collaborating with the Sunlight Foundation and Free Press with a pilot project in Wisconsin to ensure this information is available to everyone. The Rev. Andrew Warner of Plymouth Church UCC in Milwaukee preached a sermon asking Wisconsin residents to come together across partisan divides to support campaign advertising disclosure and seeking volunteers to help with this endeavor.
A few months ago I heard Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House, address a crowd. Speaking of the fall Presidential election she said, “This is the most important election in our lifetime,” and then in a moment of honesty she added, “Of course we politicians always say the next election is the most important; and in fact I may be back here saying the same thing again before another election.”
Tuesday, whether the candidate we personally supported won or lost, was but one election; there will be more, and with each one we may tell ourselves, “this is the most important election.” Each election does matter; and a loss in one election can have decades long effects. I still grieve the 2006 election, which wrote a prohibition against marriage equality into our state constitution. An election victory or an election loss can shape our state and nation significantly.
But there shall be more elections. And so while I have an opinion about the outcome of this last election, I am more reflective about the landscape of our state and our nation after the series of elections past and those coming in the future. How shall we move forward?
In looking across the landscape of our country, I’m struck by the ways our society is changing. My observations are not unique. Three trends catch my eye. First, the gap between the rich and poor grew every year since 1980, so that the wealthiest Americans now control a quarter of the wealth in our country, the same as in 1929. Second, increasing numbers of Americans opt out of religious communities and instead identify with no religious community; a trend especially apparent among young adults. Lastly, a broad political consensus that existed between political parties eroded as liberals became more liberal and conservatives became more conservative.
After this election I am particularly mindful of the way the third trend - partisan polarization - affects us all. On Wednesday the Pew Research Center released its study on American values. Pew surveyed American values, as it has since the 1980’s, on a variety of questions. It found political differences now divide Americans more than race, income, religion, education, or sex.
Think about that finding: in a country which enslaved people on the basis of race for 200 years, then denied basic rights for another 100, and even now practices an unspoken segregation, we are more divided by politics than by race. At one time you could predict how someone would feel about welfare programs or immigration or birth control if you knew their religion, or their economic class, or their race. But now the best way to predict their views comes down to one question: who do you support for president. Pew found that divisions according to race and class and religion are now superseded by partisan divisions.
With the recall and of these trends in mind, we turn to our reading from 1 Samuel 8. The Prophet Samuel spoke against the request of the elders of Israel for a king. Our tradition often focuses on Samuel’s critique of the accumulation of power in the hands of a king, but the debate between Samuel and the elders is what can best inform our understanding of our political situation today.
As you may recall, the Prophet Samuel lived through the tumultuous transition of the people of Israel from an collection of loosely organized tribes led by occasional charismatic leaders into a nation state governed by a monarchy. Samuel began as an apprentice to the Prophet Eli. Eli had several sons he hoped would follow him as prophets to the people of Israel; but God saw the corruption of Eli’s sons, so Samuel took over from Eli. Now the situation appeared ready to repeat itself: aged Samuel’s sons based their judgments on the bribes they received.
The elders of Israel came to Samuel upset with the situation. They said to Samuel, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” The elders wanted justice: the sons of Samuel were corrupt, abused their power, mocked the idea of the impartial judge. “We want a king to judge us instead of your corrupt sons,” they pleaded.
If Samuel remembered the corruption of Eli’s sons, he didn’t let on to it. Instead, Samuel complained to God and the elders about the request for king. At the heart of Samuel’s critique was the charge, spoken by God, that the request for a king displaced God. Samuel presented himself as someone aggrieved by the elders’ suggestion, as someone whose only interest was in protecting God’s authority. But Samuel continually overlooked the concern of the elders about the corruption of his sons. He spoke for God’s dignity but ignored justice.
God told Samuel to listen to what the people said. Instead, Samuel tried to dissuade them by cataloguing all the ways a king would abuse them, suggesting in this way that his own corrupt sons would be better than a king. The king would conscript their sons into battles, redistribute wealth, and tax the people. His words reverberated with the word take. “The king,” Samuel warned, “will take and take and take and take until you are all slaves.”
Samuel’s strong warning fell on deaf ears. The elders remained adamant, “we want a king to fight our battles.” And perhaps the people were so insistent because of the corruption of first Eli’s sons and then Samuel’s sons. The people already knew what it was like to have their property taken and taken; that was what it was like to live with the prophets’ sons.
It strikes me that Samuel and the elders were locked into a partisan battle. Samuel claimed to speak for God and tradition, but ignored his own sons’ corrupt ways. The elders denounced corruption but were blind to the dangers of their own solution. Both seemed to talk past each other.
Samuel and the elders do not line up with our political parties today. But there debate feels familiar. We’re increasingly locked in partisan debates in our country; but do we miss some truth in what the other is saying just as Samuel and the elders missed what was true because of the intensity of their argument?
Lost in their debate was the real question of justice. Who would protect the poor from corrupt judges? Who would protect people from the seizure of their property? Who would protect workers from mistreatment? Who would keep the sons and daughters from conscription in foreign wars?
Our tradition commonly takes the point of view of Samuel - kings are bad - but I wonder if we ought to pay more attention to the odd role God plays in the story. God seemed to share Samuel’s analysis of kings - “they have rejected me” - but doesn’t seem perturbed by it - “listen to the people.” Perhaps God saw what Samuel didn’t - the corruption of the prophets’ sons, the corruptions of the kings. What mattered to God was not who would rule but who would speak for justice.
This concern for justice reminded me of a favorite line in one of James Madison’s Federalist Papers. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” And by that Madison meant to remind us that neither people nor governments were angels.
Madison devised several solutions. Most famously, Madison drafted the Bill of Rights in order to protect people from the abuse of power. But he also remained focused on justice. In the Federalist papers he wrote, “Justice is the [purpose] of government. It is the [purpose] of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” One of Madison’s clearest measures of a just government was the extent to which a minority was guarded against oppression by the majority. I think James Madison might have a definition of justice we could agree on regardless of party.
Every election matters. It mattered for the people of Israel that the elders convinced Samuel to appoint Saul king. It matters who wins. But regardless of who rules, we need people who will speak up for justice.
Over the last few decades our Christian movement, the United Church of Christ, raised its voice for justice regardless of who ruled. Many of the ways we’ve done so remain unknown even in our movement. One of those stories concerns the Office of Communication. The Office of Communication was formed during the civil rights era to deal with discrimination against African-Americans in the news media. At that time southern television stations would drop the national news feed whenever it turned to the civil rights movement. One would see the briefest clip of Martin Luther King speaking and then a sign would appear, “Sorry, Cable Trouble.”
The situation was particularly bad in Jackson, Mississippi, where the local television station maintained a KKK bookstore on its property. Needless to say, their only stories about African- Americans involved crime.
The Office of Communication trained monitors to record exactly what happened on the television station, documenting all of its coverage to prove discrimination. The study became the heart of a landmark legal challenge in which the United Church of Christ sued to take away the television licence of the station. And we won. The shock of this victory altered the media landscape because no other stations wanted to lose their licence.
The Office of Communication continues to speak up for justice today. This April it achieved another victory. As we’ve all seen in the recall election, millions of dollars poured into our state, flooding our airwaves with advertisements from unknown super pacs like “Wisconsin Citizens for a Better Tomorrow” and “A Better Tomorrow for Wisconsin” and a hundred other previously unknown groups of mysterious origin. The FCC only required television stations to make information on advertizers available in file cabinets at the station. The Office of Communication successfully changed the rule. The FCC will require stations to make the information available electronically, which will allow us to begin to gain transparency to the advertising.
But the FCC plans to delay the implementation of this rule. So now the Office of Communication needs volunteers to help monitor, much as it needed them decades ago. In this case it involves taking a couple of hours to visit a television station, photocopy their files, and turn them in to the UCC. Its a small, practical way to raise a voice for justice, transparency, and fairness.
We’re often divided along partisan lines - could we come together around issues of transparency and fair debate? Could we find a common voice for justice? There will be another election; may ours always be a voice for justice. Because what will move our state forward, regardless of who rules, is people united in raising a voice for justice. Alleluia and Amen.
Contact Cheryl Leanza of OC Inc. if you live in Wisconsin and want to help with this effort.
It is said that no one can hold back the river of time, and that is true. Time does rush on. But we can build bridges across the rushing river, and today — Memorial Day — is one.Read more
The "Fiscal Cliff": Congressional Budget Office foresees Recession due to Planned Deficit Reduction
The bipartisan, highly regarded Congressional Budget Office recently released an important budget assessment. If the massive reductions in the federal government deficit go forward, as planned, CBO projects the country will fall back into a recession.
To understand the CBO report, first recall what is scheduled to happen in January, 2013. To do so, we need to go back to 2011 when Congress enacted budget cuts (the “sequestration”) that will shrink the federal government deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Under this plan, starting in January, 2013, federal spending will be reduced by over $100 billion each year compared to what it would have been otherwise. In addition, numerous tax cuts are scheduled to expire on December 31, 2012, that will raise tax payments in 2013. These include the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that primarily benefited the wealthy and the 2011 payroll tax cut enacted to stimulate the economy. Taken together, the spending reductions plus the higher tax payments will reduce the deficit by over $700 billion in 2013 compared with 2012.
Reducing the deficit by such a huge amount will further weaken an already weak economy. Less government spending means less government purchasing. It also means layoffs of workers who, at least until they find a new job, buy less. As demand for goods and services falls, firms produce less and also lay off workers. The CBO notes that the rise in unemployment and reduction in incomes – both driven by the large deficit reduction – will generate a fall in tax revenues and an increase in government spending on items such as unemployment insurance.
Overall, CBO projects that the economy will shrink in the first half of 2013 and cautiously notes, “such a contraction … would probably be judged to be a recession.” During the second half of the year the economy is projected to grow, giving an average growth rate of just 0.5% for the year. (By comparison, in 2010 and 2011 the economy grew by 3.0% and 1.7%, respectively.
To reduce the harmful short-run impact of the huge deficit reduction while also promoting the long-term health of the economy and the nation, CBO suggests a two-part strategy. First, Congress should increase spending (do fewer cuts) in 2013 and extend some tax cuts so the deficit in 2013 is not reduced so drastically. Second, Congress should enact additional policies, and maintain and strengthen those already in place, to reduce the deficit later in the decade.
But which planned tax changes and spending cuts should be delayed?
CBO does not recommend which spending cuts should be revoked or tax cuts extended in order to avoid another recession. But the choices are clear for people who care about fairness and seek a world where everyone has abundant life and shares in the resources that God provides for all of us.
Tax cuts: The people who most need their tax cuts extended are lower- and middle-income folks who have received little benefit from the past 30 years of economic growth. This means the payroll tax cut should be extended, and the Bush tax cuts should be maintained for lower- and middle-income households. The Bush tax cuts must be ended for upper-income and wealthy households.
Spending: In recent years, Congress has repeatedly cut funding for discretionary social programs and general government functions. Most of the additional cuts in these areas, scheduled to happen in 2013, should be permanently suspended. On the other hand, military spending has risen rapidly over the past decade, up 48% adjusted for inflation, to well over $500 billion per year. This figure does not even include “supplemental” funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, over $100 billion per year. The planned 2013 cuts in military spending (some $55 billion) would reduce expenditures to the level of 2007, adjusted for inflation. These cuts should go forward. Also see this excellent assessment of military spending from the National Priorities Project.
There will be enormous pressure on Congress to do just the opposite: 1) to cut the military less and continue with or even increase the planned cuts on social programs and core government functions, and 2) to preserve all the tax cuts or at least all the income tax cuts which are more beneficial to the wealthy than cuts in the payroll tax. People of faith need to pressure Congress to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Upper-income households and especially the wealthy have benefited enormously from the economic policies and trends of recent decades. They should pay more in taxes and the income tax cuts they received during the Bush administration should be ended. Cuts in payroll taxes, on the other hand, are more beneficial to lower- and middle-income workers and should be the first tax cuts to be extended. Spending cuts should target the military, the area of the federal budget that has seen remarkable growth in the past 10 years and a type of federal spending that is least effective in creating jobs.
By reducing some planned spending cuts and extending some tax cuts, the deficit will be larger in 2013 than under current law. This is good. Hopefully the country will avoid another recession and the economy will continue to gain strength. Creating a robust economy – one where people are working and wages are high – is the best way to shrink a deficit.
Also see Jackie Calmes in the New York Times: Recession possible if impasse persists, budget office says
For more than 40 years, the United Church of Christ has affirmed our commitment to improving the criminal justice systems of state and federal governments, citing our belief that prisons should be primarily institutions for the training and rehabilitation of the inmates. We base this affirmation on our call to service, justice, and restoration through faith. To sell facilities to private companies for the purpose of profit is a violation of these fundamental beliefs.
The primary source of income for private prisons is based on the number of people incarcerated. This contradicts our belief that we are all first and foremost children of God, and our bodies are not first and foremost the mechanism for corporate profit-making.
Income for private prisons depends entirely on maintaining a large and stable inmate population. Privatized prison management often demands guaranteed occupancy rates. These guarantees run counter to declining prison population trends, and they violate efforts toward early release, alternative sentencing and other forms of restitution, especially in cases of non-violent crimes.
When corporate profit is the primary purpose of prison ownership, the purpose of prisons to train and rehabilitate inmates is subverted. Rehabilitation is an expensive undertaking, and yields benefits to society as a whole, but is not profitable for shareholders. We believe that rehabilitation is an essential function of prison administration that completely contradicts the purpose of private ownership.
Private prisons have been exempted from public reporting of crimes and escapes and the Freedom of Information Act, among other fundamental legal reporting mechanisms. To privatize prison facilities or their management contradicts all initiatives for public information that can lead to necessary prison reform, and greatly reduces public accountability for the equitable and just safekeeping of convicted persons.
Private prisons have been known to maintain profit by cutting costs in the areas of training and staff remuneration, with the consequence that these prisons raise serious concerns about management, staff competence and supervision, with potential to endanger the populace as a whole.
Private prisons are most active in the incarceration of immigrants, who are often held in detention for indefinite and lengthy periods of time without public accountability or reporting.
We publicly urge that private ownership and operation of state-owned prison facilities be abolished throughout the country.
Straight talk about key issues in the midterm election season
Recorded October 22, 2014: https://pbucc.webex.com/pbucc/ldr.php?RCID=1ec6cd99f73e6749c4ce60f79d7e564c
Tired of campaign ads that don’t actually address the real issues at stake in the upcoming elections? Looking for something more than superficial soundbites about the issues that matter to you and your community? The latest in our series of Our Faith Our Vote webinars is for you! Join us on October 22 at 3 pm for a discussion about key issues facing our nation and world as we head into the midterm elections. Our speakers will highlight issues related to the economy, health care and international peace and security from a faith perspective. Join the dialogue and share your questions and concerns. (Stream recording)
Voter Registration – Make every voice heard! (Recorded)
September 23 marks National Voter Registration Day, a good reminder that there is still time to ensure that members of your congregation and community are registered to vote.
Wondering how to make voter registration opportunities available to your community? Concerned about the guidelines for nonprofit religious organizations engaging in voter registration and education? This webinar is for you!
Sign up to participate in the UCC Our Faith Our Vote webinar on voter registration, Friday, September 19 at 3 pm EST. If you are not able to join the webinar in live time, you can access an archived version through the UCC Our Faith Our Vote website.
In this pivotal midterm election year, with so many challenges ahead for our nation and the world, much is at stake in choosing our policy decision makers. You can help make sure that the voices of your community are heard.
(Recorded September 19, 2014 |http://bit.ly/1r73Ohw)
Our Faith Our Vote 2014 (Recorded)
The first Just Practice webinar focused on how members and congregations can be engaged in electoral politics. Together we explored a number of questions, including:
- Why we are involved in electoral politics and what is our unique voice as communities of faith?
- Our Faith Our Vote, a UCC campaign to assist congregations and members to be faithfully engaged in the electoral process.
- Election rules as they apply to congregations – what we can and can’t do.
- What is the Voting Rights Amendment Act? Why is it important for our right to vote and how can we support it.
- Role of “big” money in campaigns - Why this is an important issue and what we can do about it.
- Your questions and concerns
(Recorded June 5, 2014)
- Webinar Recording
- Just Practices: Our Faith Our Vote presentation (PowerPoint)
- Moving Forward on Voting Rights - Presntation by Ellen Buchman (PowerPoint)
- Government for Sale: The Crisis of Money in Politics - Presentation by Aquene Freechild (PowerPoint)
Congregations Engaging in the Elections (Recorded)
This webinar will focuses on “best practices” from the 2012 Our Faith Our Vote campaign- a time to share stories and ideas about how UCC members and congregations can and are engaging in voter registration, education, and get-out-the-vote. We also explores ways you can incorporate the Our Faith Our Vote campaign into your congregation’s fall programming. Our speakers are UCC justice advocates from congregations around the country who have been actively engaged in the electoral process. (Recorded August 29th, 2012)
When Religion and Politics Meet: A Conversation About the Role of Religion in the Electoral Process (Recorded)
Although we have heard it said that religion and politics shouldn’t mix, people of faith can and do play an important role in the public square and the political life of our nation. But what might that role look like, and how can people of faith and houses of worship engage in the electoral process in a healing, respectful and responsible way? What are some of the legal guidelines for participation by people of faith? What are some of the uses and misuses of religion in political campaigns, and how can people of faith promote civil, thoughtful dialogue across differences on critical issues of the day.
Join us for a conversation with Rev. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance, and K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty to learn about ways that you and your congregation can become involved! (Recorded: May 15, 2012)