Doing justice, seeking peace and building community are central to the identity of the United Church of Christ. We invite you to explore the breadth and depth of the UCC's justice work. Join us in building a stronger faith-based movement for peace, justice, equality and inclusivity. Our work is rooted in the teachings of scripture and the policies of our General Synod. Questions about anything you see here? Send us a message.
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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
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.
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)
Our Faith Our Vote Civility Pledge
I believe our communities, our country and our world are stronger and safer and when we treat each other with respect. I believe that my voice is important, and I believe that listening to the voices of others is important for a healthy, vibrant democratic process. I believe that insulting, attacking or demonizing people with whom we disagree is unproductive and unacceptable. As individuals and as community, we can and should do better.
As a person of faith, I pledge to participate responsibly and faithfully in the electoral process. I recognize my responsibility for supporting a free, fair and respectful democratic process, and I pledge to do my part. I commit to honoring my own voice and the voice of others. I commit to educating myself and others about the issues at stake in these elections. I commit to expressing myself responsibly, to seek to learn from different perspectives, to always offer respect to others, and to challenge hurtful, disrespectful behavior when I can.
- Realize that the Holy Spirit is present and active in the conversation and has given each participant a part of the truth you are seeking to discern.
- Follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – even when you disagree with them.
- Listen respectfully and carefully to others.
- State what you think you heard someone say and ask for clarification before responding, in an effort to make sure to understand each other.
- Speak honestly about your thoughts and feelings. Share personal experiences to help others more fully understand your concerns and perspectives on the issues. Conversations can be passionate and still be respectful, civil and constructive.
- Speak for yourself, rather than as a member of a group. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements.
- Focus on ideas and suggestions instead of questioning people’s motives, intelligence or integrity.
- Look for and lift up points of agreement as well as disagreement.
- Create space for everyone’s concerns to be spoken, even when they disagree.
- Seek to stay in community with each other even though the discussion may be vigorous and perhaps tense.
- Keep an open mind and heart. You may not hear if you judge too quickly.
- Pray for God’s grace to listen attentively, to speak clearly and to remain open to the vision God holds for all of us.
[Adapted from “Ground Rules for Conversation” (Evangelical Lutheran Church Department for Communication) and “Seeking to be Faithful Together” (adopted by the 204th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA)
Links to Additional Resources an Civility
- Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square: Ten Rules That Work
- Radio interview with Diana Butler Bass: On Civility and Graciousness
- Dialogue vs. Debate: A Guide
- UCC General Synod Resource