Working for an organization that works on political and policy issues, I try to stay rooted in the present and always try to think to the future. But there’s definitely something to be said for looking back to the past sometimes.
This week, I’m grateful to Ta-Nehisi Coates over at The Atlantic for bringing my attention to a powerful story from America’s past, which reminded me of the power of faith in fighting for justice.
In response to Rand Paul’s comments that he would’ve been with the Freedom Riders, TNC posted this arresting photo– a mugshot– of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, a white, 19-year-old Freedom Rider from Arlington, VA, who in 1963, as a freshman student at Duke University, went to Mississippi to fight against segregation:
She is also pictured in the iconic photo of the May 1963 sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi.
Coates , who’s also been posting images and stories of other civil rights champions (like Hank Thomas, a young black Howard University student who risked his life by joining the Freedom Riders), sums up my reaction well:
“…No way can I imagine being white, nineteen, violating the law, and being sent off to jail. In Mississippi.”
Since reading about Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, I can’t get her out of my mind… her courage and bravery is astonishing and inspiring. And what is most powerful to me is how her faith was what drove her tireless fight for racial equality:
“…The church I went to, Little Falls United Presbyterian, taught that we were all equal in the eyes of God. I just felt that if we were going to teach this and say it, we should mean it. I was a member of the youth group at the church. Apparently, through the black YMCA, some of the black high school kids would come to our youth meetings. We were told by the minister to keep it secret because at that time it could cause anything from the church being firebombed to the church taking some kind of action against it. It was pretty daring at the time. This made an impression on me. I think this made me sort of ready when the chance came to do something. That chance came when I was a student in Durham.”
It really is powerful how faith can inspire such prophetic action. And as a Presbyterian myself, it especially struck me that Mulholland went to a Presbyterian church… while the media doesn’t always pay close attention to the important advocacy and organizing efforts of mainline Protestants today, the leadership of mainliners in the Civil Rights movement is hard to overstate.
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In a story FPL helped generate, Jeanne Cummings reported in Politico yesterday that an “emergency delegation” of faith leaders is coming to Capitol Hill Thursday to persuade John McCain to support immediate action on comprehensive immigration reform – a policy he championed the last time Congress took it up in 2007. Bishop Minerva CarcaÃ±o of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, a member of the delegation and a leading public voice for immigration reform, told Jeanne:
I understand the politics of his race. But the bigger picture is the legacy he can leave. He understands the border, the needs for comprehensive immigration reform, and he understands how to make it happen.
In addition to meeting with Sen. McCain, the delegation will meet with the White House and several Representatives from Arizona to explain how Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law makes federal action on comprehensive immigration reform more urgent than ever. As prominent leaders with large constituencies and direct experience with their Arizona immigration crisis, these leaders – including protestant and Catholic bishops, a rabbi, a megachurch pastor and a statewide ecumenical leader — are compelling messengers with unique political sway. The full roster of the delegation is after the jump.
Bishop Gerald Frederick Kicanas, Tucson Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church
Bishop Minerva G. CarcaÃ±o, Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church
Rev. Monsignor Richard William O’Keefe, Episcopal Vicar, Yuma – La Paz Vicariate Immaculate Conception Parish
Rev. Dr. Gary D. Kinnaman, Pastor at Large, Phoenix-area City of Grace Church, and Chairman, AZ Governor’s Council on Faith and Community Initiatives, 2008
Rev. Jan Olav Flaaten, Executive Director, Arizona Ecumenical Council
Rabbi John Andrew Linder, Temple Solel, Scottsdale, Arizona
Joseph David Rubio, Lead Organizer for Arizona, Industrial Areas Foundation
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The New York Times reported this weekend that the Ugandan Parliament’s bill making homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment or even death has stalled:
A special committee organized by the president of Uganda has recommended that a harsh antihomosexuality bill that has drawn the ire of Western governments be withdrawn from Parliament, a senior government official said Saturday.
Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has publicly shown concern about the legislation and formed the review committee in February in response to international scrutiny. Though the panel’s ruling is not the final word, analysts saw it as a strong sign that the bill would eventually be dropped.
This is great news for the people of Uganda, and also for people worldwide who stood up to the extreme injustice the bill would have perpetrated. When the legislation was announced late last year, a broad array of American faith leaders denounced it unequivocally and mobilized to defeat it. Among the condemnations of the anti-gay bill was a statement from more than 70 ideologically, racially and theologically diverse Christian leaders, stating in part:
Our Christian faith recognizes violence, harassment and unjust treatment of any human being as a betrayal of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. As followers of the teachings of Christ, we must express profound dismay at a bill currently before the Parliament in Uganda. The “Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009″ would enforce lifetime prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty for homosexual behavior, as well as punish citizens for not reporting their gay and lesbian neighbors to the authorities.
As Americans, some may wonder why we are raising our voices to oppose a measure proposed in a nation so far away from home. We do so to bear witness to our Christian values, and to express our condemnation of an injustice in which groups and leaders within the American Christian community are being implicated. We appeal to all Christian leaders in our own country to speak out against this unjust legislation.
This effort helped not only to raise awareness of Uganda’s anti-gay bill in the faith community, but also to encourage previously reluctant leaders such as Rick Warren – who wields great influence in Uganda — to speak out against it.
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Moments ago Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate bill 1070, the most virulently anti-immigration law in the country. It tasks the state’s local law enforcement with checking the citizenship status of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant (while doing nothing to ensure that Hispanic descent is not grounds for suspicion), criminalizes assisting undocumented immigrants in such basic ways as giving them rides, and authorizes private citizens to file lawsuits against law enforcement agencies for not enforcing the bill with sufficient vigor. This law will lead to racial profiling, outlaw many forms of ministry to undocumented immigrants, and create a climate of division, suspicion and fear in communities across the state.
Diverse faith leaders in Arizona and across the country have condemned the law in no uncertain terms. Their statements are after the jump.
Rev. Jan Flaaten, Executive Director, Arizona Ecumenical Council
“All the religious leaders of Arizona know and understand that this law will not solve the issue of crime along the border or in our state, but it will demonize anyone who looks suspiciously like an undocumented person leading to inevitable racial profiling. Our religious traditions ask us to treat people with dignity and respect, and we look for a more enlightened and hopeful way of working with the undocumented people who live along side us.”
Bishop Minerva CarcaÃ±o, United Methodist Church, Desert Southwest Conference
“This bill does nothing to address any border security concerns. At our borders and in our congregations, schools, workplaces and service programs, we witness the human consequences of an inadequate, outdated system. The passage of SB1070 demonstrates why America needs Comprehensive Immigration Reform: frustration with our broken immigration system is driving Arizona to make inappropriate and self-defeating efforts in this area. We want our broken immigration system to be healed through a just transformation of the law at the appropriate federal level of jurisdiction, which makes it possible to meet the labor needs of American business while making our border secure.”
Peg Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches
“Our current immigration system serves no one well: not those of us worried about our jobs and the future of our children, nor the businesses that need labor that complements our own skills, nor those who want a better life for themselves and for their children. But this Arizona law changes none of that, instead it heightens tensions, crosses constitutional boundaries, and will be intolerably costly. Comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level has never been more needed.”
Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners
“The law signed today by Arizona Gov. Brewer is a social and racial sin, and should be denounced as such by people of faith and conscience across the nation. It is not just about Arizona, but about all of us, and about what kind of country we want to be. It is not only mean-spirited – it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe. This radical new measure, which crosses many moral and legal lines, is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform. Enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable. This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel. We will not comply.”
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
“Today, Arizona stands as the state with the most xenophobic and nativist laws in the country. We need a multi-ethnic firewall against the extremists in our nation who desire to separate us rather than bring us together. Shame on you Arizona Republicans and shame on you Senator John McCain for endorsing the legislation.
We call upon RNC Chairman Michael Steele to condemn this new law or Hispanic Americans will read the silence as a de facto endorsement and a preview of what will come if the GOP takes over Congress in 2010. Second, we call upon Attorney General Eric Holder to review this legislation since it’s clearly a violation of constitutionally protected civil rights. If you are Hispanic in Arizona, you just became a suspect and open to police harassment. We call upon all Latinos and immigrants who are citizens in Arizona to defend their constitutionally protected rights.”
Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association
“The perfect storm of harsh economic need and poor immigration policy have worked together to create our current situation that threatens to not only devastate families who already live in fear of being deported, but the moral authority of our great nation.
From our founding, the United States has been a land of opportunity comprised of immigrants from every corner of the earth. While the transition from immigrant to resident to citizen has never come without trial and hardship, we have consistently welcomed the immigrant, knowing that their eventual integration into the fabric of our country would make our entire nation stronger, more vibrant, and a place of hope for the entire world.
I fear that all we aspire to be as a nation is in jeopardy with the today’s passing of SB1070 by Governor Brewer in Arizona. On behalf of millions of Christians throughout our nation, we lament the passing of this legislation and will do all we can to stand on the side of families effected by this divisive new law.”
Jesuit Refugee Service and the Kino Border Initiative, Nogales, AZ
“At the Kino Border Initiative’s Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Sonora, we are seeing increasing numbers of repatriated migrants each day. Hundreds of people come to us with blistered feet and with broken spirits. Drug violence and abuses against migrants also plague the border region of Ambos Nogales, and discourage us deeply as we respond to the great needs of deportees. Finally, to add insult to injury, the Arizona state government has passed a law that empowers local police officers to verify a person’s immigration status if they simply suspect he or she is undocumented.
We feel very strongly that this legislation encourages racial profiling and will make our communities less safe, by making people reluctant to report criminal activity to local police. We continue to support efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, which would include a path to legalization for undocumented people, as well as reform of the visa system. Such policy changes would facilitate family reunification and provide employment opportunities where labor needs exist. These steps will obviate the misguided efforts of Arizona and other states to enforce immigration law, which should continue to fall under the purview of the federal government.”
New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
“Throughout the Bible, God commands us in no uncertain terms to show kindness and hospitality to the foreigner and the stranger. The deplorable anti-immigrant legislation signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer flouts these commandments by mandating racial profiling, criminalizing ministry to undocumented immigrants, separating immigrant families, and exacerbating a climate of fear and suspicion that pits neighbor against neighbor. We join with Evangelicals and people of conscience everywhere in denouncing this wholly unbiblical and immoral law.”
Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
“The Jewish community has long called on our national leaders to reform our immigration laws to ‘welcome the stranger’ and to create an effective federal immigration system characterized by the rule of law and the humane treatment of newcomers. In the meantime, Arizonans are now living in a world where police may impound vehicles transporting anyone found to be an undocumented immigrant, which means that Arizonans who don’t check the papers of the kids they drive to Sunday school may now be engaging in illegal activity. Arizona has taken itself out of the mainstream of American life and has betrayed the proud history of a nation built by immigrants.”
John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
“We are deeply concerned about the enactment of SB 1070 as it goes beyond anti-immigrant sentiments and supports racial profiling. This legislation feels reactionary and hateful. It is a clear representation of the politics of division and exclusion. Gov. Brewer has ignored the advice of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and the Mesa Fraternal of Police to veto the bill. By this action, she has actively institutionalized racial profiling and will make Arizona less safe.
As a 63-year-old faith-based humanitarian organization working with 34 refugee resettlement affiliates across the United States, Church World Service understands first-hand the impact this legislation will have on communities. We do take heart that President Obama has strongly condemned this legislation, and urge his administration to do everything in its power to prevent its implementation and the consequences it will have for human rights.
This legislation is an urgent reminder of the necessity of enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Federal legislation fixing our broken immigration system is the way to heal our communities, reunite families, and create an effective and humane immigration system. We thus urge all members of Congress and President Obama to enact comprehensive immigration reform into law, and to rise above the politics of division and to embrace real solutions.
Rev. Jerry Dykstra, Executive Director, Christian Reformed Church
“I am deeply concerned with the direction this legislation has taken Arizona — and for the way it will affect immigrants, impede the church’s ability to do ministry, and unjustly target Latinos. Increased enforcement of our borders makes sense only within a comprehensive reform to our broken immigration system.”
Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association
“Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 undermines everything our nation stands for. Under the provisions of this law, members of my own extended family could be targeted and detained, even though we have been American citizens for generations. Thousands of peaceful, law-abiding residents will be subject to the most invasive and discriminatory abuses of state power.
Everything I hold sacred as an American and as a person of faith is repulsed by this legislation. We cannot stand by while those charged to protect us instead subject us to racial profiling, unwarranted searches, and unjust arrests. We must not let fear and ignorance cause our neighbors to be treated as lesser beings. We must not allow Senate Bill 1070 to violate our national constitution or America’s moral conscience.”
Mennonite Church, USA
“As Christians, we believe we are called to welcome these sojourners in our congregations and communities, especially as our government creates increasingly harsh immigration laws in the name of fighting terrorism. Assumptions about identity make some people more vulnerable to political biases and discrimination than others. Our concerns about the status of immigrants in this country relate to how people are treated based on race, nationality, ethnicity, and religious identity. We reject our country’s mistreatment of immigrants, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, regardless of their legal status.”
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