Memphis People of Faith to Hold Town Hall, Prayer Vigil for Mass Incarceration Reform

February 12, 2015, 6:09 pm | Posted by

“Locked in Solidarity” to raise up voices of those impacted by unjust criminal justice system

Memphis, TN – Today, February 12th at 7:00PM people of faith and local advocates for criminal justice reform will gather  for an event titled “Locked in Solidarity,” a town hall conversation and prayer vigil.

Those personally impacted by mass incarceration will share their stories and experiences to help others better understand the issue and chart a path toward reforming this unjust system. As the issue of criminal justice reform gains national attention, members of Two by Two House of Prayer hope to build on the personal experiences of community members to better advocate for systemic change.

The event is one of more than twenty being held around the country tomorrow by the Christian Community Development Association.

WHAT: “Locked in Solidarity,” one of more than twenty town halls and prayer vigils on mass incarceration to be held around the country.

WHO: Memphis people of faith and advocates for mass incarceration reform

WHERE: Two by Two House of Prayer, 19 N. Century St., Memphis TN 38111

WHEN: Thursday, February 12th at 7:00PM

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Baptist Clergy Call on Legislators to Oppose Controversial “Religious Freedom” Bills

January 28, 2015, 1:30 pm | Posted by

Baptists from across Georgia speak out against divisive “religious freedom” legislation

Atlanta, GA  – A group of prominent Georgia Baptist clergy gathered at the State Capitol Wednesday to speak out against proposed legislation labeled “religious freedom” bills. Citing their faith, the group called on lawmakers to not pass the legislation. An opposing group from the Georgia Baptist Convention spoke at the Capitol in favor of the potentially discriminatory bills.

“Religious liberty is important to Baptists around the world and here in Georgia,” said Rev. Julie Pennington-Russellof First Baptist Church of Decatur. “But it doesn’t give us a right to discriminate. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to treat every human being the way I would want to be treated.”

“I am for religious liberty and for religious freedom, but I am not for this bill,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald III of First Iconium Baptist Church. “I believe this bill will have unintended consequences. I worked on the federal RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] in 1993. But this is not 1993.”

“No one voice, no one denomination speaks for all people of faith,” said Rev. Dr. James Lamkin of Northside Drive Baptist Church. “Georgia’s citizens and elected officials need to decide if they want to move forward or take our state back in time. As a Georgia Baptist, I do not want discrimination to happen in my name. Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, but nobody has the right to discriminate. This is Atlanta, the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We don’t teach hate here.”

The group is a fraction of the more than 160 clergy from many different denominations across Georgia who signed a letter released at the beginning of the legislative session that urged legislators not to pass these discriminatory, unnecessary “religious freedom” bills.

The press conference was part of an ongoing campaign by Georgia clergy to prevent passage of controversial “religious freedom” bills.


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100+ Catholic Leaders to House: Immigration Reform is a Pro-Life Issue

January 21, 2015, 11:42 am | Posted by

 On eve of March for Life rally, prominent Catholic leaders challenge “pro-life” members of Congress to pass immigration reform

Washington, DC – A prominent group of Catholic leaders is sending a message to their fellow Catholics in the House of Representatives who identity as “pro-life” on the eve of a national anti-abortion rally in Washington.

“As Catholics committed to building a culture of life, we write to urge our fellow Catholics in Congress to support the U.S. bishops’ efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” more than 100 Catholic university presidents, priests, nuns, theologians and immigration policy experts write today in a statement released by the Washington-based organization Faith in Public Life.

“Our nation’s inhumane and flawed immigration policies leave migrant women, children and families abandoned by the side of the road,” the letter reads.

The statement will be sent to Catholics in the House, and will also appear as a full-page ad in Politico on Thursday. Nearly a third of all members of Congress are Catholic – the largest religious denomination represented on the Hill.

While the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, the House has failed to vote on a comprehensive package, and last week voted to block funding for President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. House Speaker John Boehner supported the measure to defund the president’s action to offer deferrals to immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The president of Speaker Boehner’s alma mater, Xavier University in Cincinnati, was among the signers of the statement. Other prominent signers included Helen Alvare, professor at George Mason University School of Law, an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a former USCCB pro-life spokeswoman; Father Larry Snyder, outgoing president of Catholic Charities USA; retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston and retired Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., both former presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rev. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., President of the Jesuit Conference USA, Rev. James Greenfield, OSFS, President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and Sr. Sharon Holland, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

There are more than two dozen Catholics in the House who identity as pro-life, and some will attend the March for tomorrow in Washington. The statement directly appeals to them.

“As brothers and sisters in faith, we urge these elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages,” the letter reads. “We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child.”

“We fail a basic moral test and will never build a true culture of life if we keep turning our backs on immigrants relegated to the shadows,” said Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. “Catholic lawmakers who are proud of their pro-life record but who fail to act on comprehensive immigration reform have a particular responsibility to consider their Church’s teachings on this urgent moral issue.”

The full statement and list of signatories can be found here. The Politico ad can be viewed here. Signers’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.


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Clergy Release Letter Opposing Controversial “Religious Freedom” Bills

January 13, 2015, 4:57 pm | Posted by

Dozens of diverse Georgia clergy cite faith, call on legislators to oppose discriminatory “religious freedom” legislation

Atlanta, GA  – A diverse group of Georgia faith leaders gathered at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday to call on state legislators to oppose divisive “religious freedom” bills being proposed and introduced in the upcoming session of the state legislature.

The clergy announced the release of a letter signed by more than 60 religious leaders from across the state, warning state lawmakers about the dangerous potential for an increase in discrimination against people of all backgrounds.

“We strongly oppose giving for-profit corporations religious rights that could allow them to discriminate against employees based on any characteristic—from their religious practices to their sexual orientation. This principle harkens back to the civil rights movement and our nation’s core values of equality and justice,” the letter reads, in part.

“As a rabbi, I believe religious freedom is one of our most important freedoms,” said Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi at The Temple. “But this bill gives people the right to harm others, and to do so in the name of religion. That is not religious freedom. That is discrimination. The faith community did not ask for this bill, and the faith community does not support this bill.”

“I am for religious freedom, and I am for religious responsibility” said Rev. James Lamkin, pastor at Northside Drive Baptist Church. “And I am against House Bill 29. I believe we can do this because we stand strong together on the ground of religious freedom.”

Rabbi Berg and Rev. Lamkin both worked to help pass the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, which supporters of H.B. 29 claim their bill is based on.

“We believe that love of neighbor guides our standing today” said Rev. William Flippin, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. “This RFRA bill infringes on ethics and our love of neighbor.”

The letter is the first action in a campaign by Georgia clergy from across the state to lobby against the passage of controversial “religious freedom” bills. 

The full text of the letter is below. The complete list of signers can be found here. Signers’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

As clergy and civil rights leaders, we are concerned to hear that some elected Georgia officials plan to introduce a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), a bill that could result in discrimination and have many unintended consequences.

As faith leaders from diverse traditions, we believe freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or exclude others. 

We oppose this proposed legislation. First, it would put an individual’s religious beliefs ahead of the common good. Second, it could unleash a wave of costly lawsuits that will add burdens to both the courts and taxpayers alike. Third, it is unnecessary because our freedom of religion is already guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and Georgia’s State Constitution.

Fourth, a state RFRA could legalize discrimination by allowing businesses to refuse to serve customers based on religious objections. We believe that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms. We strongly oppose giving for-profit corporations religious rights that could allow them to discriminate against employees based on any characteristic—from their religious practices to their sexual orientation. This principle harkens back to the civil rights movement and our nation’s core values of equality and justice.

We all have different views on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples, but we are united in condemnation of discrimination and in firm support of equal protection under the law. 

We caution our elected leaders against supporting this unnecessary RFRA, which opens wide the door for exclusion and division. Instead, they must preserve the current protections already afforded to us through the Constitution.


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Faith Leaders Voice Support for Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

November 20, 2014, 4:24 pm | Posted by

Religious leaders from across the country praise President Obama’s action on moral crisis, call on Congress to act

Today, a diverse group of clergy voiced their support for President Obama’s announcement of executive action to address our broken immigration system. While executive action is no substitute for long overdue legislation, the president’s action will help to strengthen families and begin to solve this moral crisis.

The following quotes from clergy are in response to the President’s announcement:


Rev. Dr. Rodney Kennedy; Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dayton:

“I believe Scripture includes a preferential option for immigrants, and we are to love them as our neighbors. President Obama’s executive order is a much-needed first step towards fixing our broken immigration system.”

Sister Maria Stacy, SND; Director, Dayton Hispanic Catholic Ministries:

“President Obama’s action will help immigrant families to maintain their unity, and will strengthen our country by allowing us to recognize the immigrants present among us. The majority of these immigrants are hard-working breadwinners and people of faith who want to pave a better way of life for their families and who will fortify the moral fiber of our nation.”

Rev. Dr. Crystal Walker; Executive Director, Greater Dayton Christian Connections:

“As Scripture calls us to care for the immigrants among us, we are challenged by the president’s executive order to put our faith into action. I am optimistic about this first step toward repairing our broken immigration system with and putting families before politics.”


Rev. Tim Ahrens, Senior Minister at First Congregational Church, Columbus:

“We are a nation of immigrants. With God guiding their steps, our forbearers came to these shores. Now is the time for all generations of immigrant people to welcome the newest Americans. With open arms, let us take them in. Just in time for Thanksgiving, welcome home to America the beautiful.”

Cantor Jack Chomsky, Cantor at Congregation Tifereth Israel, Columbus:

“Immigration has played a pivotal role in the lives of the Jewish people in the United States, and we are grateful for the opportunities that immigration has provided Jewish immigrants for hundreds of years. We are keenly aware of the tragedy that befell Jews when the gates of immigration swung mostly closed and Jews were not welcome during their time of great need. I am hopeful that the president will at last set us on the right course with actions that he announces and begins tonight.”

Rev. F. Allan Debelak, Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Columbus:

“As the president announces actions that will allow our nation to continue to welcome immigrants into our country as we have for generations, we will continue to reap the innumerable blessings that come from being a country of diversity. People are always anxious when faced with change, but with this change comes the opportunity for growth.”

Rev. Dr. Troy Jackson, Director of The AMOS Project:

“For the past two years, the prayers, petitions and laments of immigrants and people of faith have gone unanswered by Congress. I applaud President Obama’s decision to do all he can to respond, and urge Congress to follow suit with robust and humane immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship that upholds the dignity of every human being.”

Father Michael Pucke, Pastor at St. Julie Billiart Catholic Parish, Cincinnati:

“Many people are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington and are convinced that our immigration system is broken. While an executive order is not the optimum way to initiate needed changes, the fact that the House of Representatives would not consider the 2013 Senate legislation indicates that this is the only way forward. As someone who cares deeply about all families, I am happy to see this logjam broken up.”

Sister Mary Wendeln, Sister of the Most Precious Blood, member of Nuns on the Bus Ohio:

“I am excited and optimistic for the families who will benefit from President Obama’s action. It is about time that we stop playing games with the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters – God’s chosen ones.”

North Carolina

Rev. Patrick Murphy, Spring Lake United Methodist Church, Spring Lak

“As I reflect on President Obama’s action on immigration, I remember that the God we love came to us as an immigrant child whose family was forced to flee from an oppressive government. Our immigrant brothers and sisters from have faces, names, and hopes that are no different from anyone else who calls the United States home: a chance to work, raise families, and above all, belong. I celebrate with those who have been afforded new opportunities tonight, and I continue to grieve with those whose lives still hang in the balance as they yearn for justice. May we be people of faith who welcome and stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters, remembering the compassion of Jesus Christ that extends to people from every nation, tribe, and language.”

Rev. Ismael Ruiz Millan, Director of the Hispanic House of Studies, Duke Divinity School:

“I came to the U.S. 11 years ago, and as many other immigrants my plan was to stay only for one year and go back to Mexico. I stayed because I received and accepted God’s call to serve all God’s people. It was the hospitality of many people who helped me and guided me to faithfully respond to this call. As a pastor, I have also seen the hostility that often immigrants face. Jesus Christ migrated from being in the form of God to be with and serve all humanity. The President’s announcement definitely brings relief, but a more comprehensive immigration reform is still needed.”

Rev. Edgar A. Vergara Millan, City Road United Methodist Church, Henderson

“When I reflect on this nation’s broken immigration system, I think of the thousands of desperate prayers that are lifted up before God’s throne on a daily basis asking for the opportunity to live a plentiful life here in the United States. Jesus Christ, the one who hears and is moved to compassion by those prayers was himself a stranger in a foreign land. Are we also moved to compassion?”

Rev. Lindsay Carswell, Hospital Chaplain at Duke University Medical Center:

“The American economy has heavily relied on the labor of underpaid, overworked, disrespected undocumented immigrants. The produce we eat, the buildings we inhabit, the hotel rooms we visit – they have been cared for by the hands of our new neighbors. It is time that we thank them for their service and treat them with respect.”

Rev. Brock Meyer, Stem United Methodist Church, Stem:

“During the summer months, I witness migrant neighbors from Mexico who work on local farms to support our economy without many benefits. It is startling to me to realize that much of the food that is on my table has come from the labor of migrant hands. But our legal system is not accommodating for a people who contribute to the welfare of our country. As a Christian I am moved to compassion to love my neighbor. Secondly as an American, I thought that this was to be a place of opportunity and liberty? Why do we need to continue to see a system that oppresses people for the benefit of a wealthy few?”


Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“President Obama’s decision today will free millions of new Americans from the yoke of constant fear that their families may be pulled apart at any moment. This is a moment of hope,and a step toward the day when all have a real path to pursue the American dream.”

Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Ray of Hope Christian Church:

“No parent in our nation should have to fear being deported and separated from their children. That’s why I support the president taking action when Congress has blocked common-sense reform.”

Rev. Gary Charles, Central Presbyterian Church:

“Again and again, Scripture calls us to care for the alien and immigrant. Congress seems to be deaf to these words, but I applaud President Obama for using his legal authority to protect parents and children from the needless deportations that separate families and wound our economy.”


Rev. Dr. Damon Laaker, Grace Lutheran Church, Omaha:

“After months of obstruction by Congress, we’re finally seeing progress toward immigration reform that repairs our broken system and puts families before politics. I pray that the House of Representatives takes this opportunity to get back to work on a comprehensive solution.”

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