Washington, DC – Nearly 200 Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical faith leaders and professors issued a statement calling on the Obama administration to take stronger steps to protect civilians when carrying out airstrikes in Syria. Prominent signers include Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, professor and former President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Baptist ethicist Dr. John Shelley.
The administration recently announced that it had scaled back criteria for ensuring that civilians are not harmed in strikes aimed at ISIL.
“News that your administration has abandoned the stated policy of making every effort to protect civilian lives in the course of drone strikes undermines America’s moral authority,” they wrote. “As people of faith, we see this as a grave moral issue. We urge you to put back in place your policy that no strikes will take place unless there is a ‘near certainty’ that civilians will not be harmed.”
“When you mirror your enemy, you risk becoming your enemy,” said Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, a United Church of Christ pastor and former President of the Chicago Theological Seminary. “The U.S. is now on that path and it is a profound moral mistake.”
“Our faith traditions argue that civilians must be protected in war,” said Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ pastor and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain at Pacific University. “We are at our best as a nation when we live up to our highest ideals. It is our sacred responsibility to protect the most vulnerable. The president must order U.S. forces to resubmit to his original policy regarding the use of drones.”
The full statement is below. The statement and full list of signers is available here. Titles are for identification purposes only.
Dear Mr. President:
We write with growing concerning over the air strikes in Syria and Iraq. News that your administration has abandoned the stated policy of making every effort to protect civilian lives in the course of drone strikes undermines America’s moral authority. As people of faith, we see this as a grave moral issue. We urge you to put back in place your policy that no strikes will take place unless there is a “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed.
Your stated reason for engaging in military action against ISIL was to protect innocent civilians and to bolster the security of the United States against terrorist attack. The recent deaths of civilians, which may have been preventable under your previous stated policy, will only serve to increase the fear and distrust U.S. military action in the region has produced since 2002. It is very likely that these deaths will further radicalize the population, which only serves to weaken the national security of the United States.
We join Human Rights Watch in calling for an investigation into whether the recent strikes in Idlib were unlawful and urge your administration to cooperate in any such investigation.
Many in the faith community have previously expressed reservations about the strikes in Syria and Iraq. Our concerns deepen each day. Under “Just War” criteria it is a moral imperative that civilian lives be protected. We remember your words when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize:
It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can’t aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.
Airstrikes do not offer hope, particularly when those airstrikes take the lives of civilians, including children. We expect more of you, Mr. President.
In the days after 9/11, our nation was led by fear. In the process, we abandoned some of our most cherished values as civil liberties were curtailed and an unprovoked war – a war you called “dumb” – was waged. We live with the consequences of those decisions today.
Fear of ISIL should not drive our nation to repeat mistakes.
At the United Nations, you told the world:
“The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed and confronted and refuted in the light of day. Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies — Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace.” Look at the young British Muslims who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “NotInMyName” campaign, declaring, “ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam.” Look at the Christian and Muslim leaders who came together in the Central African Republic to reject violence; listen to the Imam who said, ‘Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war, or strife.’”
You lifted up a series of non-violent but strong responses to the unjustified terror ISIL has unleashed. What will fuel the ranks of ISIL and other extremist groups are the deaths of more innocent civilians. Our job, as Americans, is to protect civilians. There is a better chance of creating a lasting just peace if we increase foreign aid, take additional steps like the ones we are taking to fight Ebola, and serve as an example to the world that our most cherished principles cannot be broken even under threat.
In closing, we urge in the strongest possible terms that you order American forces to return to your policy that no strikes will take place in Syria and Iraq unless there is “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed.
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Candidates will discuss values and issues with diverse Georgia faith leaders
Atlanta, GA – Gov. Nathan Deal and State Senator Jason Carter have both agreed to meet with faith leaders from across Georgia as part of the Georgia Faith Forum, where the candidates will field issues-focused and values-focused questions from clergy members of the Georgia Faith Forum board.
The forum will be live-streamed by WSB-TV Channel 2 and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and aired live by WSB Radio and KISS 104.1FM on October 22 from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. The event will consist of separate, hour-long discussions with Governor Deal and State Senator Carter. Moderators from WSB will facilitate, and the candidates will discuss issues of common concern to the faith community such as gun policy, criminal justice, human trafficking, immigration and the future of our children.
“Trinity Presbyterian is very pleased to host the Georgia Faith Form with Governor Deal and State Senator Carter,” said Rev. Pam Driesell, Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. “We look forward to a substantive dialogue that allows both candidates to talk in depth about their values, faith and policy priorities.”
“The faith community is vitally concerned about many current issues,” said Dr. R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. “So we are grateful that the candidates are willing meet with us to discuss issues and possible avenues of collaboration.”
“Our congregations are hungry for a substantive dialogue that focuses on the common good instead of the usual political talking points,” said Rev. Billy Honor, Senior Pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in College Park. “The Georgia Faith Forum will provide a conversation that reflects our values.”
“We are pleased to support the 45 diverse leaders of the Georgia Faith Forum board in holding this unique bipartisan forum,” said Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, which is helping to coordinate the event. “I look forward to an event that addresses the issues and priorities that bring the faith community together.”
Further information about the Georgia Faith Forum board can be found here.
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Diverse religious groups unveil plans to engage voters on common-good policies, rather than divisive culture war issues
Washington, DC – Today, leaders from prominent progressive faith organizations announced plans to mobilize voters and hold politicians accountable in this year’s midterm elections. Around the country, clergy and faith-based organizations will launch campaigns, ranging from massive voter registration drives to cross country bus tours.
Ten years ago, so-called “values voters” re-elected George W. Bush by playing to peoples’ fears and highlighting divisive social issues. Since then, progressive faith leaders have been forging new coalitions to disarm these ideological divides, and are using new strategies to amplify their voices and their agenda—an agenda that centers on addressing growing economic inequality, racial discrimination, immigrant rights, voting rights and healthcare.
“We believe that for too long, the so-called ‘Religious Right’ has established themselves as the point of view of people of faith in America,” said Gov. Ted Strickland, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Methodist minister. “The community of faith is particularly positioned to bring to light what is right in wrong in the politics of our country.”
A recent study from the Brookings Institution found that religious progressives are gaining on religious conservatives and constitute a powerful political force. That force is moving justice for the marginalized and the poor back to the heart of the political debate.
“We need to reexamine our moral compass,” said Rev. Dr. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays Movement. “The extreme ideology we see is a sign that we need to reexamine our moral compass. We believe this is a resurgence of social concerns in the public square.”
Several speakers announced plans to specifically target drop-off voters in the Rising American Electorate.
“Over the next few months, we will be reaching out to 1 million persons of faith, engaging them people to people, neighbor to neighbor,” said Rev. Alvin Herring, deputy director with PICO National Network, the largest faith-based community-organizing group in the country. “We understand that moving people from disengaged to engaged requires a new understanding of the moral components of voting.”
“Immigration reform was remained stagnant in the House, there still has not been reform to mass incarceration, and it makes no sense that in the richest country in the world, people can’t make a living wage,” said Rev. Gabe Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. “We raise these concerns not just as political issues, but as values issues. In the next few weeks, we are rallying in key states for Latino voters to raise these issues as priorities at the polls.”
For the first time, progressive religious organizations will be using state-of-the-art-technology to engage voters around social justice issues.
“Why faith matters in this election is that we can do all of the innovative, tech things, but in the end it’s all about people connecting with people and building relationships,” said Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. Sister Simone, the organizer of Nuns on the Bus, detailed plans of a new bus tour covering 10 states and 35 cities this fall aimed at combatting big money in politics.
As these campaigns grow in the coming weeks, Faith in Public Life will continue to share the work of these voices and organizations that are engaging and mobilizing people of faith across the country.
A full recording of today’s call can be heard here.
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DAYTON, OH – Today, Dayton religious leaders responded to Rep. Mike Turner’s shameful criticism of plans to potentially shelter refugee children. As tens of thousands of children flee violence in their home countries, communities like Dayton – which pride themselves on being welcoming – must not turn away these children with callous indifference.
At his press conference this afternoon Rep. Turner claimed that Mayor Whaley does not speak for the community. These and many other Dayton faith leaders disagree:
Rev. Rodney Wallace Kennedy, Lead Pastor, First Baptist Church Dayton:
“Representative Mike Turner and six other elected officials, most from outside Dayton, have declared that Mayor Nan Whaley doesn’t speak for Dayton on the subject of caring for immigrant children. When Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come unto me,’ what did he mean? Care for the children and pass meaningful immigration reform.”
Sister Maria Stacy, SND, Director, Dayton Hispanic Catholic Ministries:
“This is an issue about defenseless children. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, calls us to welcome and protect these children. The violence in these countries calls for a humanitarian response to this crisis, not a closed door.”
Rev. Dr. Perry Henderson, Pastor, Corinthian Baptist Church:
“If sending desperate, vulnerable children back into the arms of murderous gangs and human traffickers isn’t a sin, I don’t know what is. Our faith tells us that we must not turn our back on these children of God.”
Rev. Sherry Gale, Senior Pastor, Grace United Methodist Church:
“We must be welcoming to all of God’s children and do everything in our power to combat this humanitarian crisis on the border. I am proud to stand with Mayor Whaley in supporting the principles laid out in the Welcome Dayton Plan to make Dayton an immigrant-friendly city.”
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Today, faith leaders from across Virginia condemned the unethical deal struck between State Sen. Phillip Puckett and Republican leaders to attempt to block Medicaid expansion. By choosing to resign his seat in the Virginia Senate, Sen. Puckett is putting his own self-interest ahead of 400,000 uninsured Virginians, including more than 20,000 of his own constituents who lack health insurance.
Clergy and people of faith are helping to lead the fight to close the Medicaid coverage gap in Virginia. From weekly Moral Mondays prayers for elected officials to upcoming vigils across the state, religious leaders are pushing lawmakers to ensure that every Virginian has access to the quality, affordable healthcare they deserve.
The following quotes from diverse Virginia clergy are in response to Sen. Puckett’s resignation:
Rev. Marco Grimaldo, CEO and President of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy; Richmond: “Sen. Puckett has disappointed a lot of people with his announcement that he will resign from the Senate, not the least of which are his own constituents. Virginians deserve Senators who stand up for what their constituents need and for the well-being of the Commonwealth. Sen. Puckett seems to have put his own wants ahead of the needs of the people he represents, and that is truly sad.”
Rev. Jenee’ Gilchrist, Vice President of the Virginia Council of Churches; Richmond: “The 400,000 Virginians stuck in the Medicaid gap aren’t pawns in a political game. They are children of God who can’t get the healthcare they need because politicians like Sen. Puckett and Republican leaders are failing to meet their moral responsibilities as public servants. The veterans, families and working poor Virginians suffering from lack of insurance deserve better.”
Rev. Charles Swadley, United Methodist Church (retired); Williamsburg: “Sen. Puckett has forgotten that he is his brother and sister’s keeper. By resigning the high office to which he was honored to serve, Sen. Puckett forsook his moral responsibility to Virginians who need and deserve medical care.”
“I’ve seen up close what’s at stake here. I met a husband who lost his insurance when he lost his job and can’t afford coverage because his wife is still gainfully employed. He had a heart attack and a stroke while uninsured, and the family has no idea how they’re going to afford the care he needs. There are 400,000 Virginians like this hardworking couple who are deprived of the security and the dignity of health care because Sen. Puckett and the Republican House are playing dangerous politics with poor and vulnerable people in our state.”
Debra Linick, Director for Northern Virginia and D.C., Jewish Community Relations Council; Annandale: “The Jewish Community Relations Council has long believed that health coverage for all Americans is a moral imperative and human right. The 400,000 Virginians stuck in the Medicaid gap are waiting for legislators to act in good faith and pass a budget that provides them with access to quality health coverage. We need substantive, civil political leadership that serves the needs of all Virginians.”
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