Jennifer is the founding CEO of Faith in Public Life. Before leading FPL Jennifer spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations and is an ordained minister.
“Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”
For years, faith leaders across the country have invoked words such as these in the effort to reform our broken immigration system. Last night, President Obama spoke them in the East Wing of the White House as he announced his executive action plan that will provide as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants with relief from the threat of deportation.
Our movement is succeeding. While comprehensive, common-sense federal legislation is still needed, this is a moment to rejoice. The yoke of constant fear has been lifted from millions of families, workers and students.
Church World Service, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, PICO National Network, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Bend the Arc, key evangelical clergy and many other faith leaders who have led the fight for immigration reform commended President Obama’s action and renewed the call for Congress to pass bipartisan reform.
That will be difficult. This morning, Speaker Boehner (who has personally blocked the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill for a year and a half) condemned the president’s move in the strongest terms, and in recent days conservatives have called for responses ranging from a government shutdown to impeachment.
Absent from their political rhetoric is acknowledgement of the dignity of immigrants who are trapped in the shadows and the sanctity of immigrant families. We must remind anti-immigrant leaders of the human impact of this debate.
If your congregation is helping mixed-status families find out if they qualify for the new protections and safely navigate the application process, please check out iAmerica.org — a streamlined online resource sponsored by FPL, allied faith groups, labor leaders and immigrant-rights organizations.
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The election results are in, and underlying the tales of victory and defeat is a darker story about the mood of our nation. Many Americans feel neither political party speaks to their increasing struggle to make ends meet.
The exit polls paint a bleak picture. Almost half of voters reported that they expect life for the next generation of Americans to be worse. This pessimistic view is at the highest point since pollsters began asking this question in 1996. And 63% said our economic system favors of the wealthy. More than 70% fear a major terrorist attack.
While voters might have little faith in their elected leaders’ ability to improve our nation’s future, I wouldn’t interpret their disaffection as indifference toward the common good. Voters approved numerous ballot measures on Tuesday that will immediately help struggling workers and families –minimum wage increases in four states and two major cities, as well as four paid sick leave ballot initiatives.
The faith community is uniquely positioned to connect with people’s positive values and shape a new moral vision for our economy and politics. I saw many examples with my own eyes during this election cycle and heard inspiring stories from FPL staff working in numerous states.
In Georgia, which was saturated with negative ads, FPL lifted the civil discourse by enabling politically, religiously and racially diverse religious leaders to challenge the gubernatorial candidates to implement a common good agenda — and broadcast that vision statewide. In a state marred by a massive voter suppression effort, our organizers mounted a “Faithful Voter” mobilization program that equipped 150 clergy in African-American communities with best practices to encourage their church members to vote. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 30% of Georgia voters on Tuesday were African-American.
FPL’s communications team spent much of the campaign season on the road providing strategic media support for the Nuns on the Bus tour. Over their journey across dozens of communities in 11 states, thousands of Americans — clergy, lay leaders and concerned citizens — came out to hear the Sisters’ message about the importance and power of voting in an era when megadonors seek to buy elections. I was especially proud to see Sr. Simone Campbell and fellow Sisters delivering this call on local television, newspaper and radio in city after city. Even jaded reporters were moved by Nuns on the Bus’s hopeful message.
There’s no denying that fear and anger are coursing through the American electorate right now, but it’s not the whole story. Addressing this problem will take time, effort, resources and organizing. But faith leaders are already taking steps in the right direction, and it gives me hope.
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When it comes to political campaigns, what voters need and what they’re given are often very different things. The constant stream of negative ads, dishonesty on the campaign trail, and the outsized influence of big money drown out substantive discussion of the issues that affect us all.
However, faith leaders have a unique ability to offer a positive alternative and a better values debate that emphasizes justice, compassion and the common good. I saw it firsthand last week in Atlanta, Georgia, where clergy from across the state held the Georgia Faith Forum with Governor Nathan Deal (R) and his Democratic challenger, State Senator Jason Carter. Organized by Faith in Public Life and held in the beautiful sanctuary of Trinity Presbyterian Church and produced for broadcast by Atlanta’s WSB-TV, the forum featured 14 diverse faith leaders asking the candidates in-depth questions on issues ranging from healthcare to immigration policy to gun violence to criminal justice reform. These are issues that faith leaders are uniting to address — a values agenda for a new era in faith and politics.
But the first question asked of each candidate delved deeper: “You and your opponent both share the same faith, but you hold very different policy positions; how does your faith, as opposed to your political ideology, shape your views?” From then on, both candidates wove together their values and their policy positions in a way that voters don’t often hear.
I spoke with many clergy members of the Georgia Faith Forum board after the event, and while none agreed with every last thing they heard from the candidates, they remarked at how illuminating and unique the discussion was.
You can watch the Forum in its entirety here, or a brief overview of what it was all about here.
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“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
The tear gas has cleared from the streets of Ferguson, the National Guard has withdrawn, and Michael Brown has been laid to rest. But building true peace will take a long time.
Faith leaders began this process during the protests. Members of Clergy United, a 200-person St. Louis-area interfaith coalition, helped keep demonstrations nonviolent, counseled many outraged young residents, and provided a channel of communication between law enforcement and protesters.
Leaders from the PICO National Network, the Christian Community Development Association, Sojourners and numerous other groups went to Ferguson and helped the community channel heartbreak into constructive action. FPL organized an open letter from more than 300 faith leaders to the town’s police, mayor and citizens. The National African-American Clergy Network coalition released a powerful statement and set up a fund for Brown’s family.
It will take sustained effort and substantive change to achieve true peace. Independent, transparent investigations of both Brown’s killing and Ferguson law enforcement practices are necessary. Residents must become politically empowered to ensure real reform. Congregations must continue to organize disenfranchised residents and heal the wounds of racism. All of that will take a lot of work, but the leadership the faith community has already shown gives me hope.
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If you’re a longtime Bold Faith Type reader, you know FPL and a broad range of faith leaders have sharply criticized Rep. Paul Ryan for authoring federal budgets that devastate seniors and struggling families, and forcefully rebuked him for using inaccurate theological arguments to defend this agenda. So I watched with keen interest last Thursday when Ryan released a set of anti-poverty proposals.
The plan included a few good policies, such as expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and criminal justice reforms that have bipartisan support, while avoiding some of the immoral safety-net cuts for which Ryan is well known. This is progress.
But the proposal also contained measures that would harm the people Ryan says he wants to help. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns that the “Opportunity Grants” at the heart of his plan would undermine housing assistance and SNAP. These vital supports for struggling families already accomplish Ryan’s stated goal of lifting millions of Americans out of poverty. Radically overhauling them makes no sense.
And the day after unveilling these policies, Ryan voted to end the Child Tax Credit for millions of working families who make less than $15,000 per year while extending it to include some who make more than $100,000. If he’s trying to revive compassionate conservatism, he’s not off to a great start.
I can see why some faith leaders would welcome a new opportunity for public dialogue with Ryan. Neither party has a monopoly on solutions, and Ryan’s new emphasis on the humanity and unique individual needs of people in poverty is a great improvement from his “makers versus takers” rhetoric.
But we should be very careful about playing into Ryan’s hands as he tries to rebrand himself as a compassionate wonk while still pushing harmful policies. The influence of Ayn Rand is still evident in his agenda.
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