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Atlanta Clergy React to Charleston Shootings

June 18, 2015, 11:13 am | Posted by

Atlanta, GA - Today, the Outcry Interfaith Coalition issued the following statement responding to last night’s tragic events in Charleston, South Carolina.

Only a few hours ago, members of Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina entered the sacred space of their church for the spiritual uplift they receive each week on Wednesday evenings as they pray and study the Bible. But last night, the terror of violence shattered through the sanctity of life gathered in the presence of God and in the hope of prayer.

Today is a time to mourn the deaths of those who perished in gunfire last night in Emanuel AME Church. “Sanctuary” is a place to which one goes for safety and to be with a sacred community.

We, the Outcry Interfaith Clergy Coalition, pray together for the nine people whose light was extinguished, the nine families whose hearts are broken, and the community whose holy sanctuary has been emptied with violence. Life is sacred. On this we agree.

Outcry is an interfaith clergy coalition focused on ending gun violence in Georgia. Outcry has been played a key role in the campaign for common sense gun laws, including protections for houses of worship in last year’s “guns everywhere” law, and with this year’s HB 492. You can learn more about Outcry here:http://www.OutcryGeorgia.org/ 

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Catholic Analysts, Scholars to Discuss Pope Francis’ Environmental Encyclical

June 16, 2015, 1:20 pm | Posted by

Commentators will speak about the Pope’s recently released encyclical on the environment, climate and the poor

Washington, DC – On Thursday, June 18th at 1:00 p.m. (EST), prominent Catholic analysts, researchers, scholars and commentators will participate in a telephonic press conference to discuss the implications of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si.” The encyclical will be released earlier that day.

The release of the encyclical will draw global attention to the profound moral dimensions of an issue that has sparked sharp debate in the United States, where leading conservative politicians, Republican candidates for president and well-funded groups have questioned the reality of climate change even as Catholic bishops and diverse religious leaders have long advocated for a robust policy response to environmental degradation. Speakers will address these and other topics followed by a Q&A session with media

WHAT: Telephonic press conference with prominent Catholic and Evangelical commentators on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment


Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK: A National Catholic SocialJustice Lobby, Nuns on the Bus

Dr. Daniel J. Curran, President, University of Dayton

Rev. Drew Christiansen, Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Global Development, Georgetown University

Rev. Mitchell Hescox, President/CEO, Evangelical Environmental Network

Austen Ivereigh, Author, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of A Radical Pope

Vincent J. Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture, University of Dayton

Christiana Peppard, Professor of Theology, Fordham University, Author, Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis

Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network


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More than 100 Pennsylvania Faith Leaders Voice Support for Death Penalty Moratorium

June 10, 2015, 11:06 am | Posted by

Harrisburg, PA – Today, more 100 Pennsylvania religious leaders released a letter announcing their strong support for Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to temporarily halt all executions. The coalition of faith leaders agrees that the death penalty is immoral and incompatible with their faith.

“While we come to the issue of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives, we deeply value the sanctity of all human life and believe that pausing executions in order to evaluate the death penalty’s human and financial toll on our state is warranted and necessary,” the letter reads, in part.

The clergy call upon lawmakers to reexamine Pennsylvania’s use of the death penalty and support the moratorium.

The signers join a growing chorus of religious leaders across the United States that are leading the fight to end the death penalty. They plan to continue to organize and advocate to ensure that that, “our state’s leaders conclude that the death penalty, as it has been carried out in Pennsylvania, is inconsistent with the values our state wishes to uphold.”

“The Pennsylvania Council of Churches see the message of a Messiah that was unjustly executed as sufficient reason to oppose the death penalty,” said Rev. Sandra L. Strauss, the Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Outreach with the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. “The death penalty disproportionately affects people of color and the poor, and leaves no room for redemption and restoration.”

Representatives from the clergy coalition will gather with other anti-death penalty advocates tomorrow at the State Capitol to speak in support of the moratorium.

The text of the letter is below. The text and full list of signers can be found here.

We, the undersigned faith leaders, have joined together in support of the moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania. While we come to the issue of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives, we deeply value the sanctity of all human life and believe that pausing executions in order to evaluate the death penalty’s human and financial toll on our state is warranted and necessary.

We believe that those who commit violent crimes should be held accountable for their actions, and the public should be protected from those who seek to harm others, but there is strong evidence that we can achieve justice and protect our communities without resorting to more killing in the name of vengeance.

There is little evidence to suggest that the death penalty increases public safety any more than long prison sentences, and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the death penalty is applied unevenly and unfairly, even for similar crimes. Some people are sentenced to die because they couldn’t afford a better lawyer, or because they stand trial in a county that happens to seek the death penalty frequently. Approximately 65% of men and women on death row in our state are people of color. A system that is applied so unevenly should not be allowed to choose who lives and who dies.

We are also troubled by the possibility of executing an innocent person. Nationally, more than 150 men and women have been released from death row after evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged, including six from Pennsylvania. The execution of an innocent person would be an intolerable injustice.

Further, there is evidence that the death penalty prolongs the suffering of many victims’ family members as these cases involve years of legal uncertainty, scores of meaningless death warrants, additional court hearings, and frequent media headlines that can re-traumatize victims and reopen wounds again and again.

Study after study also show that death penalty cases are far more expensive than cases where a sentence of life without parole or other long prison sentences are sought due to the Constitutionally mandated safeguards that are required in all capital cases. The expenditure of the state’s limited financial resources should reflect our values, and we must ask ourselves if the resources currently being spent on the pursuit of executions could be redirected to programs that will better serve victims’ families and address the root causes of crime.

We’ve heard repeatedly that asking state workers to carry out executions in our name places an incredible burden on them, one that we may never truly understand. We must also ask ourselves whether it is ever fair to inflict this burden on another human being.

Finally, as people of faith, we believe in believe in and affirm every person’s capacity for redemption. Government should not resort to policies that cut off the opportunity to repent.

For all of these reasons, we support a moratorium on executions and encourage our state’s leaders to conclude that the death penalty, as it has been carried out in Pennsylvania, is inconsistent with the values our state wishes to uphold.


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Georgia Clergy Launch Faith-Based Campaign Against Gun Violence

April 14, 2015, 1:21 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – A broad coalition of clergy and people of faith from across Georgia gathered at The Temple on Tuesday to kick off a campaign to curb gun violence and prevent more harmful gun legislation from passing in the state legislature.

The group was a fraction of the more than 300 clergy who are a part of Outcry: Faith Voices Against Gun Violence.

“It’s not easy for all of us with this much theological diversity to agree on anything. But on gun violence, we all agree. We know gun violence in Georgia stems from many places, and won’t be solved by just one action, “ said Rabbi Peter Berg, Senior Rabbi, The Temple. “This journey will be filled with obstacles and unexpected turns, but we’re ready to begin a plan of action that will make a difference in our communities.”

Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church, said “I’m not a politician, just a preacher. But we believe that what you say on Sunday, you must live on Monday. We have metal detectors at our Statehouse. We ask our politicians who advocate for these gun laws, if they make sense in schools, why not in the legislature? It’s time to have an honest debate about this issue. It’s time to get serious. Our message is plain. The gun lobby and gun manufacturers should not own our state. So will be advocating throughout the summer and into next session for common sense gun laws.”

“This kind of violence and bloodshed we’re seeing is a revolt against love. As a father, I struggle to explain what I see on the news to my children. If you want to see if it passes a logic test, try explaining the logic of gun violence to a child,” said Bishop Robert Wright, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.

“We believe that the opposite of faith is not doubt, the opposite of faith is fear, and we strongly oppose the ways in which those who profit most from the sale of weapons prey most on the fears of our citizens,” said Rev. Dr. David Bartlett, Theologian in Residence, Trinity Presbyterian Church.

“God is on everyone’s side. As we go about our work, whatever we do, we do knowing that God’s will is that none should be lost to violence,” said Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, retired minister, Presbyterian Church (USA).

Rabbi Loren Lapidus, Associate Rabbi at The Temple said, “Through our understanding of God and Scripture, we know that gun violence is a moral issue. And our faith compels us to take action.”

Over the next year, Outcry is planning to grow their coalition, meet with lawmakers to advocate for responsible firearm legislation, and engage congregations through a banner campaign, educational events, and prayer.

Outcry has been played a key role in the campaign for common sense gun laws, including protections for houses of worship in last year’s “guns everywhere” law, and with this year’s HB 492. The coalition seesTuesday’s launch as the first step in a long, faith-centered journey toward safer communities.

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Can Francis break the US climate change stalemate?

April 7, 2015, 11:05 am | Posted by

This commentary was published in Global Pulse magazine on April 6.

A resurgent libertarian ideology drowns out authentic debate and progress

For decades now, scientists have raised increasingly urgent warnings about human-induced climate change. Headlines grow more ominous every day. Global carbon emissions are at record levels. Water shortages, including in the western United States, have reached crisis proportions. The Pentagon expects climate change to intensity global instability. The world’s poor—those least responsible for the carbon emissions in the first place—are already paying the heaviest price. Even in the face of this stark reality, a growing number of Americans say global warming is not occurring, or rank the issue low in importance. This is both dispiriting and unsurprising. A well-funded climate denial industry, politicians nestled in their pockets, casts a cloud of doubt over the overwhelming scientific consensus that our world faces a threat of existential proportions.

Enter, Pope Francis.

If anyone can help break the stalemate over climate change and reach an audience far beyond the progressive choir, it’s a global leader with approval ratings  most politicians crave and the moral gravitas they usually lack. The first pope in history to take his name from Francis of Assisi – the saint most associated with poverty and reverence of nature – is working on a highly anticipated encyclical focused on the environment, expected to be released in early summer. When it comes to the Catholic Church, Francis is not exactly a maverick on this issue.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both addressed care for the environment as a profound moral issue and called for action to tackle climate change. “The depletion of the ozone layer and the related ‘greenhouse effect’ has now reached crisis proportions,” said Pope John Paul II back in 1990. He applauded “a new ecological awareness” that “ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programs and initiatives.” Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the “Green Pope” for taking steps to make the Vatican the first carbon neutral state in the world, also warned against delay. “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers?” he asked in 2010.

While Pope Francis is clearly following in the tradition of his predecessors, he will make a much bigger splash by becoming the first pope in history to issue a lengthy encyclical about the environment. From the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has linked what he calls an “economy of exclusion and inequality” with ecological devastation. “An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it,” he told a meeting of social movements last fall. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is one of several Vatican officials helping Pope Francis shape his encyclical. “The threats that arise from global inequality and the destruction of the environment are inter-related, and they are the greatest threats we face as a human family today,” Turkson said in a recent speech.

Expectations are high.

The encyclical will be released in advance of Pope Francis’s address to the United Nations in September and before high-stakes climate negotiations in Paris at the end of the year. “We have been negotiating this issue at the political level for more than 20 years, and we look to Pope Francis to untangle this stalemate, because this issue is beyond merely a political issue,” Naderev Sano, the Philippines’ climate commissioner told Democracy Now. “It is a profound moral issue that affects the whole world.” Sano, whose country was devastated by a typhoon in 2013 that killed more than 7,000 people, thinks the pope’s encyclical will be a “game changer for the international process.”

A Wake-Up Call for U.S. Conservatives?

The first pope from Latin America will likely find his toughest audience in the United States, a country he will visit for the first time this fall. Some conservatives are already throwing punches. The pope is part of “the radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-people, and anti-progress,” writes Stephen Moore, a Catholic who is an economist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.  Robert George of Princeton University, a prominent Catholic philosopher, argues that the pope should steer clear of an area where—in his own misguided view—the science is unsettled.

Powerful Catholic politicians are climate change skeptics. Speaker John Boehner, who invited the pope to address a joint session of Congress, routinely blasts the Obama administration for “job killing” environmental policies. “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical,” the graduate of Xavier University, a Jesuit college in Ohio, has scoffed.

Prospective GOP presidential candidates are also singing from a different hymnal than Pope Francis.  Sen. Marco Rubio has denied that human activity is driving climate change and saysmeasures to reign in emissions warming the planet will “destroy our economy.” Jeb Bush, a leading GOP presidential contender whose conversion to Catholicism was recently profiled in the New York Times, concedes global warming “may be real” and took steps to protect the Everglades from off-shore drilling, but is nonetheless a self-described “skeptic.”

Rick Santorum, a 2012 presidential candidate and a likely contender in 2016 who frequently invokes his Catholic faith, thinks any human role in climate change is “patently absurd.” He strongly opposed an Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting mercury emissions from coal fired plants, a ruling lauded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as “an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who recently announced his candidacy at Liberty University – founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell — has mocked “global warming alarmists” who he compares to “modern day Flat Earth proponents.”

Some vocal evangelicals, a pillar of the Republican Party and the religious group most skeptical of climate change, are preparing for a fight. “The pope should back off,” says Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an organization that has called the environmental movement “un-biblical.” Critics of Pope Francis need a basic theology lesson when it comes to the environment. The pope isn’t cribbing talking points from Greenpeace or sprinkling holy water on a progressive agenda. His views are rooted in a traditional religious commitment to protect the gift of God’s creation, a biblical call to be good stewards, and respect for the sanctity of life and human dignity. “A Christian who does not protect creation,” Francis says bluntly, “is a Christian who does not care about the work of God.”

Environmental justice and prudent action to address climate change should not simply be a progressive cause. Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and later Richard Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency, understood that stewardship and conservation matter. After all, classic conservative philosophy begins with preserving what is good, and surely our fragile environment is an inheritance we don’t want to squander. As Pope Francis himself said, it’s not just a legacy from the past, but a loan for our children. Conservatism traditionally casts a skeptical eye on the notion of progress at any price, and rejects a view of human flourishing that is only measured by the standards of crass consumerism.

A resurgent libertarian ideology is drowning out the voice of authentic conservatism. It has made an idol of free-markets and a virtue of self-centered hooliganism. The bottom line is protecting children from deadly toxins, safeguarding limited natural resources and transitioning to a more sustainable energy policy should all be part of a pro-life, conservative agenda.

If Republicans can’t stomach listening to progressives in Washington, perhaps they might take a cue from the world’s most popular religious leader?

John Gehring is Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington. Anthony Annett is a Climate Change and Sustainable Development Advisor for the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City. 

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