“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The tear gas has cleared from the streets of Ferguson, the National Guard has withdrawn, and Michael Brown has been laid to rest.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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The following is a guest post from one of FPL’s summer interns, Justin Massey. Justin is a senior at Wheaton College in Illinois.
“Sanctity of life” is a phrase we hear often in Christian circles. As people of faith, we believe that life is valuable and precious, and as the Bible states in Genesis1:27, we are all created in God’s own image. Yet, we sometimes fail to live up to our commitment to protect all lives, which are sacred. When tragedy hits a community outside of our own, we feel discomfort, yet rationalize inaction. We justify silence and complacency by characterizing the vulnerable as strangers. We characterize these individuals as just different enough to stifle our sense of urgency to act.
We are faced with a solvable but serious humanitarian issue in the United States, as children fleeing violent, dangerous environments in Central and South America seek safety within our borders. While there are some in the faith community who have stepped up to protect the lives of these vulnerable children, others’ fear outweighs their commitment to compassionate action. As Christians called to protect the sanctity of life, we should aspire to be more Christ-like in our response to this crisis, seeking to care for the children first, rather than criticizing our government and our broken immigration system.
As a millennial, I don’t just embrace a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse. Rather, I rejoice in it. From childhood to now, many of my closest friends, classmates and co-workers have been individuals from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds. 1 in five millennials within the U.S. are of Hispanic descent. This diversity allows for a complex cultural exchange that is worth celebrating. My generation is characterized by a pursuit of compassion and understanding despite differences. When we look at the vulnerable children entering the United States, we don’t see strangers. We see a reflection of our modern, beautifully diverse community, full of lives that are valuable and worth protecting. “Sanctity of life” refers to the sanctity of all lives. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus showed special care when he said, “Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” As we seek to be more like Christ, let us come together as people of faith to wholeheartedly commit ourselves to love and protect all of God’s children.
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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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By Ria Riesner, Senior Organizer
While lawmakers continue to debate how – or even if – government agencies will increase resources to address the influx of refugees along the U.S.-Mexico border, a broad coalition of churches and faith groups have stepped up to address the needs of new families and children arriving in the U.S., often after harrowing and dangerous journeys. The experience of Jesus, himself an immigrant, resonates deeply among the Christian faithful. The efforts of the faith community to come to the aid of these refugees are buoyed by the myriad references in Scripture to welcome the strangers among us. In Leviticus 19:34, God commands, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Last week, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and a coalition of Evangelical organizations wrote letters to Congress, opposing expedited deportation of the migrants. And last month, a coalition of 20 Jewish groups wrote their own statement in support of the refugees.
A broad interfaith group of churches and affiliated groups including Catholic Charities, orders of Catholic sisters, and several other faith traditions are working together to find solutions to current logistical challenges, like assembling and distributing food, clothing, basic medicine, blankets, and toys for children. These groups are also helping new arrivals to complete required paperwork, and to identify pro-bono or low-cost legal representation to help new immigrants navigate hearings. Several groups are recruiting qualified clinicians to address the basic medical needs of these individuals, and engaging pre-screened foster families to temporarily host children while they await judicial proceedings.
Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, a lawyer who worked for NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, traveled to Texas to work with new arrivals and help them navigate the paperwork trail. You can read about her experience working with unaccompanied child migrants here.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a resource kit to provide those interested with ideas for how to help unaccompanied migrant children.
Pope Francis, in his July 14th message, reiterated a point he had made before, saying,
“A change of attitude toward migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only cultures capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”
Below are a series of links that provide further information about how to donate/volunteer/get engaged in the effort to address the spiritual and material needs of these new arrivals in several states.
Diocese of Austin – Catholic Charities of Central Texas – http://ccctx.org/about
Diocese of Corpus Christi – http://www.catholiccharities-cc.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=182
Diocese of Dallas – www.catholiccharitiesdallas.org/immigration-services
Diocese of Ft. Worth – www.catholiccharitiesdallas.org/immigration-services
California, San Bernadino – St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church – www.stjosephfontana.com/events-1/migrationreliefasistenciaparaemigrantes
California, Fontana – St. Joseph’s Catholic Church – working with Homeland Security to house 46 individuals. http://lat.ms/1redHIF
Florida – Catholic Charities – www.cflcc.org/sidebar5
Maryland – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service – seeking qualified, cleared foster parents, donations www.lirs.org/bordercrisis/
Mississippi, Jackson – Catholic Charities, Diocese of Jackson
New Mexico – Diocese of Las Cruces, NM – seeking volunteers
Ohio – Unitarian Universalists –
Oklahoma – Oklahoma Conference of Churches – recruiting pro-bono legal assistance
Pennsylvania, Womelsdorf – Bethany Childrens’ Home – housing children, seeking donations and volunteers
Wisconsin – Catholic Conference – www.wisconsincatholic.org/charities.cfm
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A Portland group that advocates for immigrant day laborers has been disqualified for a grant from the U.S. Catholic bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign over its affiliation with a national organization that endorses cvil marriage for gays and lesbians.
The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, which has received church funding since 1994, will no longer be eligible for a $75,000 grant from the bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) because the advocacy group will not agree to the bishops’ request that it cut ties with the nation’s preeminent Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza.
NCLR, which primarily focuses on immigration reform, economic justice and a host of issues supported by Catholic bishops, also holds a policy position in support of marriage equality. As you might expect, the largely Hispanic men that Voz serves each day are not crusaders on the front-lines of LGBT rights or deep-pocketed liberal donors invited to glitzy galas at the Human Rights Campaign. We’re talking about poor immigrants, many of them undocumented, who are struggling to find jobs that put food on the table, get decent health care for their kids and learn English. As Voz director Romeo Sosa told the Associated Press: “Marriage equality is not the focus of our work. We focus on immigrant rights.”
As a tiny non-profit, Voz survives on a shoestring budget — the CCHD grant would have amounted to a healthy chunk of its total budget — so they find invaluable technical support and other resources from more established national organizations like NCLR. But even this kind of relationship is viewed as morally unacceptable by some in the hierarchy because of the specter of same-sex marriage.
Talk about a classic lose-lose. Bishops will not win any points here in their efforts to oppose a demographic tsunami that has made support for marriage equality a mainstream view even among many in the pews, and an organization that puts Catholic social teaching into practice by empowering immigrants will have fewer resources. Day laborers should not be collateral damage in our tiresome culture wars.
At a time when Pope Francis says he prefers a church that it is “bruised, hurting and dirty” because its out “in the streets,” this seems like a page from an old playbook that wasn’t working so well for Catholic bishops.
Let’s be clear. Many bishops deserve enormous credit for standing up to an increasingly aggressive network of conservative activists who relentlessly attack CCHD, which has long been a key funder of community organizing that addresses the root causes of poverty and structural injustice. Just last month, the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty campaign approved grants totaling over $14 million to support more than 200 organizations doing this essential work.
But it would be a major step backward if CCHD withdraws from the kind of bridge-building coalition work that research says leads to the most effective outcomes for low-income communities. I wrote about these trends last summer in a report endorsed by several former CCHD executive directors and retired bishops. This would be a loss for both the image of church and, even more importantly, low-income communities Catholic institutions have a proud history of serving so well.
“Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told me at the time. “Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.”
In an interview today, Dylan Corbett, the Mission Identity Outreach Manager at the U.S. bishops’ CCHD office in Washington, told me the church remains committed to building coalitions and finding common ground.
“We are not pulling back,” he said. “Our commitment to collaboration is not diminished. The money is flowing out the door.” Corbett emphasized that Voz, CCHD staff in Washington and the Portland diocese had many conversations. “We wanted to work through this and we never shut the door. We are troubled by what happened. We are deeply committed to immigrant rights.”
But he said Voz recognized that their affiliation with the National Council of La Raza would disqualify the day laborer group from the potential grant because of CCHD’s contractual guidelines. NCLR’s public policy position on marriage equality, he said,”does not square with Catholic teachings.”
“We respect Voz’s thoughtful decision to make a public commitment to La Raza and the values of La Raza,” Corbett said.
John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and a former assistant director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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