Contact:Keith Class, Facilities Manager
301 Menaul Blvd. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87107
Web site: www.menaulschool.com
Menaul School: originally served as a Presbyterian mission boarding school (1896) for Spanish-speaking boys from Northern New Mexico. Today, Menaul serves young people of all faith backgrounds, grades 6 through 12 - boarding and day students, both international and domestic. Menaul School, although now independent of the Presbyterian Church (USA), remains grounded in the reformed Christian tradition and has gained a reputation for producing young people with excellent values, ethics, and moral character.
Project/Focus: Menaul School welcomes church groups to campus for support of the campus. Work projects possibilities include: cleaning, remodeling, maintenance, painting, tree trimming, building, landscaping, stuccoing.
Educational/Advocacy Components: Group leaders are responsible for the group's programming. Students at Menaul School experience a commitment to the development of excellence, confidence, and integrity that are the foundation for life-long learning and ethical leadership.
Group Size: 6-60
Minimum Age: No minimum age.
Accommodations: Menaul School provides lodging for the group at no charge. The facilities include 2 kitchens and a laundry room. Group is responsible for own food (purchase and preparation). Menaul School can assist with transportation from airport and for sightseeing.
Cost: Recommended that the group purchase some of the supplies or building materials used during their mission week. Cost of fuel and meals if using Menaul School transportation. No charge for lodging.
Focus: Border Servant Corps hosts groups interested in first-hand cultural immersions focused on education about border hand cultural immersions focused on education about border issues. This program is designed for undergraduate missions, alternative spring break programs, seminarians, and church and young-adult groups.
Background: Border Servant Corps was founded in 1997 as a ministry of Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Border Servant Corps promotes and demonstrates justice, kindness, and humility through the intentional exploration of community, simplicity, social justice, and spirituality in the US/Mexico border region.
Length of Trip: Long-term (six to seven days) immersion groups typically arrive Saturday afternoon or evening and
depart Friday morning. Short-term (three to four days) immersions typically include one to two working days, plus the weekend.
Group Size: Ten to fourteen persons. Larger sized groups may be accommodated
Age: College-aged and older.
Housing Information: Participants stay at a 17-bed home located in Las Cruces, NM (linens, towels, and some breakfast food provided).
Cost: $350 per person for a seven-day immersion, which includes housing, some meals, and a program fee. Local transportation is provided by the immersion group (van rented, if arriving by air, which may be arranged by Border Servant Corps upon request).
Edith Rasell, Minister for Economic Justice
Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
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.
Inequality – U.S. and Global
In recent decades, income inequality has widened within most countries.[i] The poor have fallen deeper into poverty, the rich have gotten richer, and those in the middle have seen their incomes stagnate or decline. Between the mid-1980s and mid-2000’s, among the 73 nations for which data are available, 53 countries (home to over 80% of the world’s population) had a rise in inequality while only 9 countries (with 4% of the global population) had a decline.[ii]
Such an unequal sharing of resources has a direct impact on people’s lives including their health, access to education, and opportunities for advancement. In Bolivia and Peru, infant death rates are four to five times higher for the poorest 20% of the population compared with the richest 20%.[iii] A baby boy born in the U.S. to a family in the top 5% will live 25% longer than a boy born into the bottom 5%.[iv]
In the United States, the combined income of the top 1% of households[v] more than doubled between 1970 and 2010, rising from 9% of national income to 20%. (See the chart.) In 2007, before the onset of the economic crisis, their income reached 24%. (To be in the top 1% in 2010, a household needed income of over $352,000.) If the top 1% had received the same share of national income in 2010 as in 1970, then income for each household in the bottom 99% would have been over $5,600 larger.
As inequality has grown among people within most countries, it has also increased among countries. Rich countries have gotten richer and pulled further in front of poorer ones. For example, in 1990, average income in the United States was 38 times larger than in Tanzania. Fifteen years later, in 2005, income in the U.S. was 61 times larger.[vi] In rich countries, income per person, adjusted for inflation, has risen two- to three-fold since 1970, a much larger gain than in poorer ones. In 13 poor countries, average income today is lower than in 1970.[vii]
As the apostle Paul wrote, “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need.” The world is richly endowed with God’s abundance. Surely God must be offended and saddened by such inequality.
Inequality Affects Us All
We know that poverty is destructive of people’s lives and blocks them from the fullness of life that God intends for all of us. The poor lack basic necessities like food, quality education and health care, adequate housing, and opportunities to improve their lives. But less well known is that inequality is destructive of people’s lives and its impact is felt at all income levels: the bottom, the middle, and the top. In a country with a high level of inequality, everyone does less well than if there were more equality.
To illustrate the impact of inequality, let’s consider its effect on health. We know that longevity and susceptibility to illness are influenced by numerous factors including diet, exercise, genetics, tobacco use, the physical environment, access to health care, and quality of health care. Researchers have found than someone’s income level also affects their health. On average, poor people have worse health and shorter lives than those with middle-incomes, and middle-income people do worse than the rich. While in an individual case a poor person could be healthier and live longer than a rich one, this is the exception, not the rule.
We know income impacts our health but so does inequality (and it also affects many other aspects of our lives). Consider the health of people in the U.S. and England. These two countries are fairly similar so we might expect similar health outcomes.[viii] But there is one important difference: inequality is much higher in the U.S. than in England.
The chart shows the prevalence of five illnesses in white, non-Hispanic, 54- to 66-year-olds categorized by their income level into three sections of the income scale: the lower third, middle third, and upper third.[ix] Researchers used statistical techniques to net out the effects of age, sex, education level, income, current or former use of tobacco, being overweight or obese, and heavy alcohol use. As we would expect, each of these five illnesses was more common among people in the lower third of the income scale than among the middle third, and the illnesses were more common among the middle third than the upper third. But the chart also shows the impact of inequality. Each illness is less common in England than the U.S. in all three income groups. The higher level of inequality in the U.S. makes each of these illnesses more common at every income level – high, middle, and low. A reduction in inequality would benefit everyone, from poor to rich.
Our physical health is not the only aspect of our lives affected by inequality. In more unequal societies, people – from rich to poor – have more mental illness, shorter life expectancies, and higher infant mortality compared with people in less unequal ones. They also have more addictions to illicit substances (although they are not more likely to use them) and incarcerate a larger share of the population.
Moreover, in more unequal societies children – of all social classes – do less well in school than children in more equal ones. The chart below shows test scores for students, classified by their parent’s education level, in five countries with varying levels of inequality.[x] Sweden has the lowest inequality followed by Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and, finally, the United States with the highest. In each country, test scores rise with increases in the level of parents’ education. But the scores for each country also track fairly well the level of inequality. Children in Sweden, the country with the lowest inequality, score highest, at each level of parents’ education. Children in the U.S., the country with the highest inequality, score lowest at every level of parents’ education. In between those two extremes, at each level of parental education, students’ scores fairly closely line up with a country’s level of inequality.
Inequality matters most for children whose parents have lower levels of education, that is, the cross-country differences in test scores are largest for children whose parents had the lowest education. But even among children whose parents had a college degree or more, inequality matters. Students from families with high levels of parental education performed less well in countries with high inequality compared with those with low.
Researchers have found that countries (or states within the U.S.) with higher levels of inequality have:
- a lower level of trust,
- less social cohesion,
- a greater focus on materialism,
- heightened competition for status,
- more stress, and
- less support for the common good.
These factors are believed to account for the adverse outcomes that affect everyone in the society, whether poor, middle income, or rich.[xi]
How to Reduce Inequality
A high degree of inequality is not inevitable. Although inequality has been getting worse in the U.S. and around the world, this trend can be reversed.
Wages and salaries. Many adults receive most or all of their income from a job. Since the late 1970s, the 82% of all private sector workers in jobs classified as “production, non-supervisory” have seen their average compensation (wages and salaries plus benefits) stagnate. (See the chart on the left, below.[xii]) At the same time, compensation of chief executive officers has skyrocketed. At the largest 350 corporations, CEO pay[xiii] rose more than 725% between 1978 and 2011.[xiv]
Note the different scales on these two charts. In the one on the left, compensation goes from $0 to $60,000; in the one on the right, goes from $0 to $14 million. The one on the left begins in 1947 and shows rising pay until 1977 then stagnation for the next 32 years. The chart on the right begins in 1965; data are lacking for the prior years.
To raise wages for the majority of workers we need strong labor unions; strengthened labor protections; more supports for workers such as childcare, universal early childhood education, and paid sick days; and an increase in the minimum wage. In addition, our international trade and investment agreements need to be rewritten to level the playing field between corporations and workers in both the U.S. and around the world. Tax laws also need reform to eliminate advantages given to firms that send jobs overseas.Jobs.Unemployment exacerbates the inequalities created by the very unequal pay that workers receive. Lower-wage workers have higher rates of unemployment and are less likely than higher-wage ones to receive unemployment insurance benefits.[xv] Congress must make job creation, not deficit reduction, its priority, put millions of people back to work, and strengthen the unemployment insurance system.[xvi]
Health insurance. Lower-wage workers are less likely than higher-wage ones to have health insurance. People without insurance pay more for (or forego) health care. The lack of health insurance or inadequate coverage caused one in six people (17%) to face serious financial problems in 2011.[xvii] Benefits like health insurance which are common among higher-wage workers but very uncommon among lower-wage ones worsen inequalities due to earnings.
The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2011 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012, will extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 30 million people, reducing the number of uninsured by more than half. The Act also caps the amount that families with incomes below four-times the poverty level would spend out of pocket, protecting them from financial hardship.[xviii]
Pensions. Inequities in employer-sponsored pension plans also exacerbate inequality. Only about half of full-time workers have any type of employer-related retirement plan such as a traditional pension or a 401(k) plan. Among the one-fifth of workers with the highest pay, 64% have employer-sponsored retirement coverage but among the one-fifth of workers with the lowest pay, just 9% to 12% have coverage.[xix] Without pensions, these low-wage workers will likely be low-income retirees.
The most common form of employer-sponsored pension is a 401(k) type of plan. Currently, workers pay no federal income tax on their contributions to these plans, a tax break that costs the government over $100 billion per year. But because upper-income workers are more likely to have these plans, more likely to contribute to them, and typically contribute larger amounts, they also receive most of the tax breaks. Fully 80% of the $100 billion in tax breaks given for these retirement plans are claimed by the top 20% of earners.[xx] The tax treatment of these plans contributes to inequality.
The U.S. system of employer-sponsored pensions needs reform. The money now spent to encourage employee contributions that overwhelming aids higher-wage workers should instead be used to help lower-wage ones.[xxi]
Taxes. The wealthiest households should be paying more taxes. Between 1970 and 2010, when average income among the bottom 90% of households fell by 6%, the top 1/100th of 1% of households, some 16 thousand families, saw their incomes rise by 463% to over $23 million.[xxii] At the same time, the share of income they paid in federal taxes declined by 9.4 percentage points.[xxiii]
Taxes paid by corporations have also declined. Corporate income taxes totaled 4.0% of GDP in 1965 but fell to 2.5% of GDP in 2008 (and declined further during the financial crisis).[xxiv] In other major industrialized countries, corporate tax payments form a larger share of national income, averaging 3.0% of GDP. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that two out of every three U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes between 1998 and 2005.[xxv] Corporate tax loopholes and subsidies cost hundreds of billions of dollars each year, encourage the export of jobs, and slow economic growth.
Declines in income taxes paid by wealthy households and corporations, as well as cuts in the estate tax that is paid entirely by the wealthy, reduce tax revenues and lead to cuts in government services and higher deficits. An increase in tax revenue could make higher education more affordable; improve the quality of public schools; provide universal health insurance and early childhood education; support infrastructure investments that create jobs, boost productivity, and enhance the quality of life; strengthen the safety net; and clean up the environment.
People of faith have long advocated for many reforms that would reduce global inequality: cancellation of the debts owed by impoverished countries, making trade agreements fairer to workers and businesses in the global South, and providing assistance for development and economic growth that will directly benefit the poor. But it is also critically important for us to realize that the usual method of fighting poverty – promoting economic growth – is fairly ineffective in a world where a high level of inequality is the norm.
In poor nations, poverty is typically due to scarcity – too little food; not enough money to dig wells in all villages; too few schools, teachers, hospitals, and health care workers – so some people go without. Thus, for centuries, the standard solution to poverty has been economic growth: enlarge the economic pie, produce more things and more income, and then there will be enough for all. In this view, the end of scarcity – being able to produce enough for all – also means the end of poverty.
But at this time in history, does economic growth reduce poverty? Is poverty really due to scarcity? Do increases in national income and the amount of goods and services produced in a country preferentially benefit the poor? In both the global North and South, the answer to all these questions is, unfortunately, no.[xxvi] In nations with high levels of inequality, which today includes most countries around the globe, most (or even all) of the gains from economic growth flow to those at the top of the income ladder, not the ones at the bottom or even in the middle. In the presence of high inequality, economic growth primarily produces more income and things for the already wealthy. The only exception to this typical pattern in where countries make a concerted effort to devote national resources to education, health care, and other measures to improve the lives of the poor.
This is true in rich countries and poor ones where there are high levels of inequality. Consider again what happened in the U.S. between 1970 and 2010. In 1970, average income among the bottom 90% of households was $31,839. Forty years later, in 2010, the economy had doubled in size, per person, but average income for the bottom 90% had fallen to $29,840, adjusted for inflation.[xxvii] Over the same 40 years, average income among the top 1/100th of 1% rose more than five-fold, up nearly $20 million per household. In the presence of inequality, just letting the free market work, even though it may grow the economy, is not an effective way to address poverty or even, as we have seen in the United States, to strengthen the middle class.
Economic Growth will not end Poverty
| Policies to reduce inequality
Policies to promote a sharing of resources
Historically and still today, the primary goal of economic policy has always been to grow the economy. Producing more things and raising national income are the aims of most economists and policymakers in both the global South and North. But as we have seen, high levels of inequality mean economic growth provides little benefit to the poor or even the middle class. But at the same time, more growth means more energy use, more greenhouse gas emissions, more use of raw materials that are becoming scarce, more destruction of the environment, and more waste to dispose of. Our current use of resources is unsustainable. It takes 1½ years for the earth to regenerate the renewable resources that we are using in just one year or, in other words, to sustain our current level of global resource use requires 1½ planets.[xxviii] If everyone in the world today used resources at the rate of a typical U.S.-American, we would need four planets. Clearly we need to re-think our strategy for ending poverty and creating economic security for everyone. A sole focus on market-driven economic growth fails on two counts: it primarily benefits the wealthy, and it is unsustainable and environmentally destructive. In the global South, policies are needed to shape economic growth to benefit the poor. In the global North, growth is unnecessary but we must share our resources more equitably. What we sorely need, as Paul wrote, is a fair balance.
For the past 30 years, most countries worldwide have sought economic growth using policies designed to strengthen the “free market” (they are called “neoliberal” policies). These policies, enacted by national and state policymakers in the global North and South,[xxix] are the most important drivers of the growth in inequality and are destructive of the environment. They include reducing the role of government in the economy, deregulation, privatization, and “free trade” and “free investment” treaties. These policies must be reversed and replaced by others designed to reduce inequality and promote fullness of life for all people. Furthermore, if growth will not eradicate poverty, the only other option is a fairer sharing of resources between those with abundance and those in need. See the Box just above for a list of policies.
God created a world of abundance. If we share, there is enough for all to live in the fullness of life. Like the Corinthians we are called to follow Paul’s instructions, to find a fair balance between one person’s abundance and another’s need. The economy is not like the weather. It is created by people and can, and should be, directed by people to serve all people and the earth. Our goal is nothing less than a world where “the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
[i] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2011, New York: UNDP, 2010, chapter 2.
[ii] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2005, New York: UNDP, 2005, p. 55.
[iii] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2005, New York: UNDP, 2005, p. 57.
[iv] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2005, New York: UNDP, 2005, p. 58.
[v] A tax paying unit -- a couple or single person, with or without dependents.
[vi] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2005, United Nations: UNDP, 2005, p 37.
[vii] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2010, New York: UNDP, p. 42.
[viii] Health insurance also plays a role in outcomes. While England has universal coverage, among the people in the U.S. who were examined in this study, 6.6% lacked insurance overall: 13.1% in the lowest income group, 4.1% in the middle income group, and 2.6% in the highest income group. The difference in insurance coverage may be part of the reason for the worse health outcomes for people in the lowest income third, but the differences in insurance coverage are too small to explain the differences in outcomes for the middle and upper thirds. See Banks, James, Michael Marmot, Zoe Oldfield, James P. Smith., “Disease and disadvantage in the United States and England,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 295(17)2037-2046, 2006. Another difference between the two countries is the amount spent on health care. The United Kingdom spends much less than the U.S. -- just over half as much (56%) measured as a share of national income. This would be expected to worsen health outcomes in England compared with the higher-spending U.S. OECD, OECD Health Data 2011. http://www.oecd.org/document/60/0,3746,en_2649_33929_2085200_1_1_1_1,00.html Accessed June 12, 2012
[ix] Banks, James, Michael Marmot, Zoe Oldfield, James P. Smith. “Disease and disadvantage in the United States and England,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 295(17)2037-2046, 2006.
[x] Education Testing Service http://litdata.ets.org/ialdata/search.asp Accessed June 5, 2012
[xi] To read more about the effects of inequality, see The Spirit Level: Why greater equality makes societies stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Bloomsbury Press, 2009.
[xii] Economic Policy Institute http://stateofworkingamerica.org/charts/hourly-wage-and-compensation-growth-for-productionnon-supervisory-workers-and-productivity-1947-2009/
[xiii] CEO pay is total direct compensation: the sum of salary, bonus, restricted stock grants, and long-term incentive payouts. See Economic Policy Institute http://www.epi.org/publication/wp293-ceo-to-worker-pay-methodology/
[xiv] Lawrence Mishel, “CEO pay 231 times greater than the average worker,” Economic Policy Institute, May 3, 2012. http://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-231-times-greater-average-worker/ Accessed June 25, 202.
[xv] Fagnoni, Cynthia M., “Unemployment Insurance: Receipt of Benefits Has Declined, with Continued Disparities for Low-Wage and Part-Time Workers,” Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives, General Accountability Office (GAO-07-1243T), September 19, 2007. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d071243t.pdf Accessed June 27, 2012.
[xvi] See Edith Rasell, Unemployment is our Nation's Problem, not the Deficit, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, June 2011. http://www.ucc.org/justice/financial-crisis/U_not_deficit.html
[xvii] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Health care costs: key information on health care costs and their impact,” May 2012, p. 17. http://www.kff.org/insurance/upload/7670-03.pdf Accessed June 25, 2012.
[xviii] For more information, see Families USA, “Worry Less, Spend Less: Out-of-Pocket Spending Caps Protect America’s Families,” February 2011. http://www.familiesusa2.org/assets/pdfs/health-reform/out-of-pocket-spending-caps/National-Report.pdf Accessed July 2, 2012
[xix] Workers age 25-64. Munnell, Alicia H. and Laura Quinby, “Pension coverage and retirement,” Center for Retirement Research, Boston College, December 2009, p. 3. http://crr.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/IB_9-26.pdf
[xx] Ghilarducci, Teresa, “The Solution to the Pension crisis is more pensions,” Perspectives on Work, Summer 2010/Winter 2011, p. 36. http://lera.press.illinois.edu/POW_14.1-2.pdf Accessed June 27, 2012.
[xxi] For more information see Teresa Ghilarducci, “Guaranteed Retirement Accounts: Toward retirement income security,” Economic Policy Institute, November 20, 2007. http://www.sharedprosperity.org/bp204/bp204.pdf
[xxii] Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, Table A6, http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/saez/piketty-saezOUP04US.pdf
[xxiii] Data from Saez and Piketty. Effective tax rates from Josh Blevins, “Taxes have fallen furthest for those at the very top,” Economic Policy Institute, May 10, 2012 http://www.epi.org/publication/taxes-fallen-furthest-top/ Accessed June 26, 2012.
[xxiv] Tax Policy Center, “Corporate Income Tax as a Share of GDP, 1946-2009.” http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=263&Topic2id=70 Accessed May 4, 2011
[xxv] Browning, Lynnley, “Study Tallies Corporations Not Paying Income Tax,” New York Times, August 12, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/13/business/13tax.html?ref=opinion
[xxvi] See United National Development Program, Human Development Report 2010, New York: UNDP, 2010, pages 46-64.
[xxvii] All figures adjusted for inflation. Doubling of per capita GDP. In 2007, just before the economic recession, average income among the bottom 90% of households exceeded the 1973 level, by $300, for the first and only time. Average income declined in 2008 and has fallen further in each subsequent year. Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, Table A6. http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/saez/piketty-saezOUP04US.pdf.
[xxviii] World Wildlife Federation International. 2012 Living Planet Report. http://www.worldwildlife.org/science/LivingPlanetReport/index.html Accessed August 2, 2012.
[xxix] In the global South, neoliberal policies have often been imposed. See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, Picador, 2008.
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.
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)