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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hobby Lobby Makes the Score, Christendom Church-1, Missional Church-0

A lot has been made by many people about the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court this past week and well it should. The continuing favoritism towards corporations by the Roberts-run Supreme Court – now assigning the right to religious beliefs to privately-owned corporations is radical and dangerous in my opinion. The fact that those religious beliefs by corporations trump a women’s right to full health care coverage, while men have that same full coverage (all the vasectomies and Viagra you can dream of!), is indeed disturbing, but just another step in the long journey by this Court to protect the rights of corporations over and above people. The fact that this Court protects corporations while not protecting minority access to a fair education makes the future prospects of this court deeply troubling.

Still, at the same time, I feel a certain, though limited, sympathy for the owners of Hobby Lobby who profess to want to run their business by “Christian” principles and felt that providing their employees access to certain types of contraception would violate those principles. Now, this claim is certainly contentious – claiming “Christian” principles over specific areas of business while not over others makes those primary claims specious. Further, as I will write later, I feel it was a horrible move to take this claim to the Supreme Court – horrible in terms of the missiological public engagement of the Church.

What I have found particularly troubling has been the lack of thoughtful reflection on both sides of yet another cultural divide. Hobby Lobby has gone the way now of Chik-Fil-A in that there is no neutral position. You can’t shop at Hobby Lobby unless you are making a political statement. I am not worried about the future of Hobby Lobby – religious conservatives will certainly support their business and good Lord, I know that religious conservatives like to shop! But Hobby Lobby has become another watchword in which feelings are evoked at its mere mention with no real thought as to why.

For example, I jokingly posted on Facebook the other day, “I am proud to say that I have boycotted Hobby Lobby my entire life.” That is, of course, a joke. You can’t boycott something you have never shopped at, nor ever will.  Sadly, but predictably, the two sides lined up on this post – progressives commenting “me too!” with conservatives spouting their support for Hobby Lobby and Chik-Fil-A!

So, in the midst of this kind of bumper sticker silliness I cannot help but wonder what should be the missional purposes of the Church. How can the Body of Christ be missional? In other words, how can the Church love God fully and love the world fully as well? That is what it means to be missional.

In competing justice claims as represented in the Hobby Lobby case where, theoretically, cases could be made for all sides, we are forced look at the context and also continually remind ourselves of the purpose of missiological engagement. Is missiological engagement undertaken to defend the Church or our claims, to stake our ground and, in viewing the world as the opposition, stand ready to refute all competing claims? Or, through viewing ourselves in missional service to the world, do we see where God is already present and then look to build salvific bridges between those “outside” the Body with those on the inside? I would obviously opt for the latter as the former reflects the Christendom Church, a Church fused with cultural or state-sponsored power. While the missional church exists often (though not only) on the margins, the Christendom Church sits (and “sits" is the key word) in the middle and expects others to come to it.

I would propose that when the social positioning of the Church is defensive and refuting whatever claims are made by those outside the Church; that when we stake our ground and build up our rhetorical walls viewing the world suspiciously and oppositionally, we are not being missional. We are instead the Christendom Church. There could be valid times for this social position and I admit some would argue that the Hobby Lobby case is included in just such a time. I wholeheartedly disagree of course. But when this position is repeatedly taken up by the Church in issue after issue (remember Chik-Fil-A!) it is self-defeating. Indeed, it cancels our mission of love and service to God and to the world. Christians defending their claims may legitimize those claims for certain Christians, but this is only retrenching and  is rarely evangelistic or “winning” to those who do not hold those claims prior. It might feel good to members of certain churches, but it is not missional.

A crucial aspect of being a missional church is that when we enter into the public realm we do so advocating for justice for others before ourselves. What does advocating for justice mean? I believe it means those in the Body redemptively utilizing their access to resources to gain that same access to those same resources for those whose access has been restricted or denied. This mirrors what Jesus did for us. Indeed, Jesus did it for the whole world and so must we.

So, what does this mean in the Hobby Lobby case?

It means that for missional Christians we do all we can to ensure full health care coverage for as many people as possible. The Hobby Lobby owners chose instead a Christendom model of defending themselves and their claims, no matter how legitimate they may sound to those who politically or culturally agree with them. But, in the end, they entrenched themselves within and behind their belief systems rather than living out the gospel claims of loving and welcoming others. While Christendom might force societal or political change through dominance and the use of power, this is actually triumphalism without much of a disguise. Further, for any student of Christian missions, triumphalism most often results in Christian syncretism – the minority acceptance of the dominant religious belief system on the surface while having no change or transformation in their worldview.

The missional church, as modeled by the New Testament Church, advocates for the welfare of the other above oneself, especially when we have such tremendous access to so many resources. Should Hobby Lobby cover the health care of their employees? Absolutely! The claims of valuing and respecting life can still be more than lived out through many other ways other than restricting the rights of others. But the Christendom Church is interested only in their own rights and that is why this case came before the Supreme Court.

I am constantly reminded of this as I think of adoption. Our youngest child is adopted and is biracial and when we adopted him we went through a Christian agency that worked in coordination with a number of other Christian agencies in the area. That meant there were many, many families willing to adopt children. It is of course possible that our experience was not always the case, but since we chose to adopt biracially there was no wait time. In fact, the agency could not get us through the process quick enough. The problem was, in all of the families in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex waiting to adopt children during the entire time of our adoption process – approximately six months – there were no families willing to adopt biracially.

I don’t put this forth as an indictment of Hobby Lobby or the entire supposed “pro-life movement” (and I contend that if you are against abortion but supportive of the death penalty and cuts to crucial social services then you aren’t pro-life), but I do think it opens an important window for how those so passionately opposed to abortion can more effectively socially witness their support for life. To put it succinctly, perhaps more White supposed pro-life families should be willing to adopt non-white children. Until one’s opposition to abortion becomes a welcoming, hospitable presence to all of life (from innocent baby to supposed guilty murderer in prison), the “win” for Hobby Lobby and those who oppose abortion is a somewhat futile win. It was a “win” that entrenches their belief system but transforms no one. Only sacrificial love can do that. And the missional church thrives on sacrificial love. The Christendom Church doesn’t.

So, instead of lobbing political grenades at one another – or totally abdicating our political engagement altogether in the name of pseudo-peace – perhaps we can rethink and re-engage in a way that puts the needs of others ahead of ourselves. We will avoid retrenchment, we will be attractive to others outside our belief systems and more than anything, the transformation of the world will once again be attainable and something for all of us in the Church to focus on – and maybe even agree on! Instead of Hobby Lobby winning a court case, focusing on the needs of others would mean a win for everyone inside and outside the Body of Christ. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Advice to the Newly Ordained from a Lay Person

Every May I get to watch the Facebook updates of folks who are graduating from seminary, many – though definitely not all! – also becoming ordained and for some, beginning their full-time vocational ministry through an appointment to a church or ministry. Often times the first appointments are at a small country church off the beaten path. It is exciting to see the faces in the pictures, seeing both the excitement and the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

Though I have never been ordained, I have served churches in various capacities and, much more importantly, I have attended church for all of my life. I have worked under and attended church under some really, talented, amazing pastors. My current pastor is the most amazing pastor I know in fact. I have also worked for and attended church under some pastors who were either awful or abusive. I have seen the good and the bad and I feel deeply invested in the life and ministry of the Body of Christ.

So, I want to offer my unsolicited thoughts and hopefully, exhortations to all entering full-time vocational ministry – particularly those newly ordained and beginning their ministry in the coming weeks.

First, no matter what your theological or political leanings are, your call is essentially the same: love God entirely and love God’s people (meaning everyone!). One particular encouragement I want to make will sound strange coming from someone who works at GBCS, but here it is nonetheless. Don’t try to be prophetic. Just stick to what is essentially the same call for all of us – love God entirely and love God’s people (meaning everyone!).

Why don’t try and be prophetic? Here’s why. I am quite suspicious of people or organizations who wake up one day and “decide to speak prophetically” about some issue they feel passionate about. How are you, of your own volition, able to speak with God’s mind and God’s voice regarding something God is deeply passionate about? Certainly it is incumbent on us to speak and act on what God is passionate about, but we do not have the power to be prophetic. I believe the prophetic is more gift of the Holy Spirit than a result of our own decision-making, or especially the decision of some group or agency in the church.

I also strongly believe that you can think you are being prophetic and not be loving, but you cannot fully love without being prophetic. Try loving all of God’s people in your community (and remember Wesley said the world was his parish and not just the butts in the seats of our comfortably-located sanctuaries!) without ultimately speaking out for those who are marginalized or oppressed. If you can go 2 years – heck, if you can go for a single year – without speaking to the economic inequities, or the demonic nature of racism, or the warehousing of millions of people through the criminal justice system, or the objectification of women, or any number of other issues present in your community (and I don’t care where you live, they are there) then you really haven’t loved the people in your community. You likely do not even know your community. You are probably just doing church maintenance.

More importantly than speaking, if you are loving God’s people then you will not be able to go a year without finding ways to bridge any separations or detachments that exist between your congregation and your community so that all the people in your community and congregation may not only know your love – they might know the love of the Body of Christ and hence, the presence of God. Love God’s people, just love ‘em.

My second exhortation is this: after a few years (maybe shorter for some or longer for others), you will be tempted to think the problem with the Church is with the people. But let me tell you this: the problem ain’t the people, it’s the system; it’s the institution. I know there are problem folks in every congregation and unfortunately, some congregations have more than their fair share. The Church attracts problem people like white on rice. But who did you expect to be in the church? A church full of Oprah Winfrey’s – fully actualized, spiritually self-sufficient (though is one supposed to be spiritually self-sufficient?), and extremely wealthy so there is never any problem with the church budget? The healthy don’t need a physician, the sick do, and sadly, the church is swimming with needy, enmeshed, emotionally detached, angry, racist, classist, hurting people. Sometimes it feels like the church is drowning with them. Guess what you are supposed to do?

LOVE THEM. Yep, go back and see #1.

The problem ain’t the people, it’s the system. What kind of system anoints one person to head at least one, and sometimes, unbelievably up to 4 congregations? What kind of a system circulates people around geographically every 3-5 years touting that this sole person is the fount from which all of the vital ministry of the local congregation will emanate? What kind of a system is it that calls good behavior paying the bills and adding butts in seats (and let’s face it, you could have one butt in the seat if that one butt paid all of your apportionments and the system would only sit back and smile) and rewarding that “good behavior” through higher paychecks and bigger churches just as if you were working at IBM?

What kind of a system does all this? A corporation, not a Body.

So, when you are tempted to blame the people for their odd behavior, remember, they are behaving exactly as the system expects them to. I truly believe that for the Kingdom to break through in your local congregation you are going to have to resist the strong temptation of corporate relevancy and institutional conformity and you will just have to love God’s people. #1 really is a keeper. Don’t buy in to someone else’s definition of a good church “career.” Just love God’s people and let those who climb the institutional ladder get lost in the building of their own empires. Be true and love God’s people.

Thirdly, remember that as you are called to be ordained, as God has called you to lead the Church, as you have been set apart for the purpose of serving the Body of Christ; lay people are called to ministry as well. If we have received the transforming power of God’s grace and love, then we are called by God to participate in the building of God’s Kingdom. God has significant callings on the lives of lay people. Often, it is the lay people who will do mighty things more so than those who are ordained.

Just as you resist corporate relevancy and institutional conformity you will need to resist the false dichotomy that has developed separating the ordained from the non-ordained. As a lay person I do not mean to take anything away from those who have gone through ordination. It is a high and holy calling and one I celebrate for many of my friends though not for myself personally.

But those who are ordained are not loved by God any more than anyone else. You were not created more special than others. In fact, your calling is most difficult of all for you are called to empower and lift up others, often while standing unheralded behind the stage. That can be hard!

But as soon as you see your congregation as not just a bunch of random individuals waiting for you to pour your magical words into, and instead, see us as fellow members of the Body of Christ filled with the Spirit and called to do amazing and spectacular deeds for the building up of the Kingdom of God, the sooner you will see the Kingdom moving in your community. Our churches are vital not because we have a preacher who is the best in town. We have significant ministries in our local congregations because we have churches filled with people collaboratively living out missional dreams and visions given to us by God for the purpose of building the Kingdom; a Kingdom eradicating poverty, eliminating oppression, and celebrating diversity. As an ordained leader, lead us in the articulation and manifestation of those dreams and visions.

And in a letter already too long, lastly, have fun. Too much in the church is taken WAY too seriously. There are too many battles, too many fights and too many endless debates and “conversations.” Fighting oppression, lifting up those who are voiceless, welcoming the marginalized into our communities and so much more all is fun! Live into the excitement that is the Kingdom and make folks laugh along the way.

God has called you to the most important work on the face of the earth: leading the Body of Christ in building the Kingdom of God on earth. There is truly nothing greater to do. So, work hard, pray unceasingly, take care of yourself and your family, and laugh. It’s a good life. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Imagine, Pray, Act for Change: July 31 Let's Stop the Deportations

As we prepare for July 31 where people of faith, including United Methodists, will engage in civil disobedience in front of the White House to get President Obama to finally stop all deportations, I sent several messages to United Methodist leaders in the struggle to defend and support the rights of immigrants. Here are those messages: to imagine, to pray and to act. We will need all three to stop the state-sponsored reign of terror being inflicted on the immigrant community in the United States

Monday, June 23: Imagine Change
I encourage you to think about being in DC on July 31st. Imagine marching from the United Methodist Building, surrounded by people from all faiths, visibly illustrating the mantle of responsibility for alleviating the suffering immigrants are facing from the Congress to the White House. There is joy and hope, but it only thinly veils the hard determination felt by everyone who is marching. It is a long march. It is hot. But there is a powerful Spirit present and you can feel it. Imagine yourself in that long line as you arrive at the White House. There is prayer and singing and then everyone gathers in front of the White House holding the picture of the family you know who has been ripped apart by the out-of-control deportation policies. You have been thinking and praying for them the whole time you marched. But what you didn’t expect was how powerful it was to see the pictures of families of all who came and joined you. The weight of the suffering and injustice washes over you as you see the pictures of family after family and there is no other place you want to be. You are called to be here. You kneel down in front of the White House. You sing loudly with all of the others while the police ask you to leave and instruct that you will be arrested if you do not leave. There is no turning back. You are ready. You close your eyes and you pray for God’s Kingdom to come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s Kingdom is coming. You can feel it.

Can you imagine this? Can you see yourself here?

On Monday we imagine….

Tuesday, June 24: Pray for Change
Once we have imagined ourselves there, as we did on Monday, we know that the power and effectiveness of the action will rise and fall not so much on all of the logistics – though they will be important. The power of our movement lies in our connectedness to our immigrant sisters and brothers who are directly impacted by this country’s failed immigration system as well as by state-sponsored terror through deportations, and our power lies in our connectedness to God. We must pray. We can’t start praying on July 30 when we arrive in DC. We must start praying yesterday. God has called you to follow the lead of Jesus and be incarnated among those whom the rest of society counts only as units of economic prosperity or as possible threats to a certain way of life. It is in prayer that we see the world as God sees the world, that we feel the pain as God feels it, that we celebrate the joys that God celebrates and that we dream the dreams that God dreams. Prayer empowers us and lifts us, allowing us to see a world created as God intended it. We pray for God’s Kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. If we are to live it we must catch vision of it in prayer. If we are ever to show the President and the Congress a picture of a world where all people are recognized for their inherent dignity and respect as children of God then we must catch this vision and live it out. We catch it in prayer and we live it out in incarnational presence among our immigrant sisters and brothers.

We must pray for July 31 and that the power of God will be revealed and all who are part of the action and all who witness it are invited into holiness. Whether you come to DC or stay home, pray. We must pray for not just an end to deportations and an end to suffering, but we must pray for the presence of shalom. Pray. 

Wednesday, June 25: Act for Change
And so on Monday we imagined ourselves in DC, standing up for righteousness and justice. Tuesday we prayed for God’s grace to be at work even now changing the hearts of the President and the Congress to actually work to bring about an alleviation of suffering. On Wednesday, the day we will join together at 3 pm EST on a call, we act. I am tired and worn out if imagining and praying does not lead to action. I need action not only for the salvific impacts it will have on those to whom my message is focused. I need action for my own liberation. It is no coincidence that the book about the birth and growth of the Church was called Acts. When the United Methodist Church today is mired in church trials and debates and endless discussions – when we are worn out by constant re-imaginings and calls for prayer, we could use some action. We act because we serve a God who has not stopped acting. We act because if we don’t the injustice and oppression will swallow us alive. We act because no one else is – at least justly and rightly. We must act because there is no other way for the pain and suffering immigrant families are living can be stopped other than through acting.

But ours is not spastic, mindless action. We are strategic and we have purpose. Here is what you can act on today:
  • Join the call at 3 pm to discuss the July 31-August 1 event. The number to call is 605-475-4800 and the code is 540390.
  • Urge those on your congregational and conference-wide teams to call in as well.
  • Decide to come to DC on July 31-August 1
  • Invite others in your congregation and conference to join you
  • If you cannot come, find 2 people who will go in our place. Tell them you cannot go but you want them to go in your place. You can pray for them daily and you can help raise funds for them to go.  

Join the call today at 3. Our movement has imagination and we are bathed in prayer. The question before us is one simply rooted in faithfulness. Will we act?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Being Faithful in the Midst of Pluralism

Due to yet another fake controversy stirred up by groups with some weird agendas I recently had the opportunity to have some interesting conversations with some good folks about the role Christians should play in the public sphere. This is one of those rare times when perhaps something good can come out of fake controversies.

Some of the questions I have heard seem to focus on whether church leaders should always and everywhere proclaim the name of Jesus, particularly when it comes to instances of public prayers in a pluralistic context? I have had conversations with folks who believe that we should utilize exclusivist prayers even when the listeners are not Christian. If I can paraphrase, I have mainly heard from folks that “we must not be embarrassed about the gospel we preach” and “how else will we win others to Christ if we don’t use specifically Judeo-Christian prayers?”

I personally think these are fair statements and deserve a reasonable response. So, away we go!

I think a good example for us in all of this is Paul. In Acts 17 Paul is in Athens and is “deeply disturbed to see that the city was full of idols.” (17:16) So, he went to the synagogue and debated “Jews and devout persons” there. I think it is interesting to note here that Paul does not go to the people who worship the idols to debate; he goes to fellow Jews and devout persons – people with whom he already shares much of his worldview since he himself was Jewish.

In contrast, when Paul is brought to the Aeropagus, which functioned for the people of Athens as a civil and criminal court, he no longer is trying to debate people and instead takes on a more conciliatory note. He begins his address,
Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. (17:24)

Paul goes on with a speech I won’t quote in full here, but I urge you to read it. It is Paul at his finest, moving from the general to the more specific, all the while tying the good news he is proclaiming with cultural examples they can identify with. At no time, however, does Paul mention the name of Jesus. It is more important for Paul for them to identify with God’s overarching story than to make sure he makes his favorite point. The focus is on the listener and not the speaker.

Also, note the contrast with how Paul relates with those whom he shares at least the basics of his faith with those who do not. In a pluralistic setting Paul does not slam the belief systems of others. We know from hearing Paul in other settings that he is most assuredly not embarrassed of the gospel nor is he timid. Paul is smart. He knows that it is far more important that he build bridges with those who are not yet Christians than it is for him to win theological or doctrinal debates. He begins by affirming their culture and their religious commitment. He starts with opening doors rather than slamming them shut with proclamations of God’s dominance over their idols.

The key is Paul starts with where people are and builds on what they believe to point them to God made known through Christ. Paul was inclusivist, meaning, he did not believe that we have to arm wrestle other beliefs or cultures to “win” people to Jesus. I am inclusivist because while I believe that all who want to know God intimately must know Jesus I do not believe that there is any culture that is without the evidence of God’s presence. To say that there are cultures without the presence of God is to deny God as Creator of the universe. Therefore, my task is not to walk into a pluralistic setting and start proclaiming “Jesus” at the top of my lungs while at the same time ignoring how God is already present.

If we start general, if we begin where people are we might end where Paul does after he is finished with his address to the Athenians. The text says that, “some scoffed, but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’” (17:32) What’s more, some became believers right then and there.

Too often, our sloganeering about proclaiming Jesus anywhere and everywhere is more about our own insecurity about our faith and our fear of being faithful in a pluralistic setting without insisting that our beliefs be dominant. Demanding that others who do not share our beliefs listen to them in a plural context is simply not effective evangelism. It reeks of religious triumphalism.

For those whose hope is truly in Christ, we have absolutely nothing to fear from pluralism. There is no reason why I need for my particular expression of faith to be sponsored by the government or blasted all over the place. I am not that insecure in what I believe that I have to have it maintained by the state, or that others cannot be given the kindness of being allowed to be faithful to their religious beliefs in that same context.

I am not timid, nor am I embarrassed of the gospel of Christ. In fact, it is because I believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world that I prefer that plural settings actually be pluralistic. I want to invite others into a relationship with Jesus not because I am afraid of what they believe, but because my life has been transformed by who I believe in. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Immigration Reform or Political Expediency?

After hearing this it is crucial to remember that “securing the border” is widely bipartisan and supported fanatically by DC-based, supposed “immigrants-rights” groups. Militarization is pushed hard by religious conservative groups who have as one of their core principles a “guarantee of secure borders,” and it is upheld even by a supposedly progressive coalition of religious groups. The U.S. government spent $18 billion in 2012 year alone on border militarization – more than all other law enforcement expenditures combined. And the Senate bill that everyone is clamoring for a House vote on would spend an additional $46 billion. All the while there is little accountability of border patrol agents and the hegemonic messages that immigration reform is really border security continue almost unabated.

This is immoral and inhumane. Especially when you consider that at the same time we are spending such enormous amounts of money on militarizing the border with such violence already taking place, we have elected members of Congress trying to block access to such things as food stamps and student loans for people with low-level drug violations in their past. They are spending millions on corporate welfare while denying hundreds of dollars of essential services to poor individuals. I believe this is enough to make God want to puke.

But most DC offices of religious groups seem to be in favor it, or are offering little resistance.

Listen to the first minute of the NPR story again and hear the woman screaming because of the violence being done and ask yourself if you think we need not only the status quo of border militarization, but even more if even some parts of the Senate bill goes through conferencing.

Call your Senators and your member of the House of Representatives at 202-224-3121 and tell them the Senate needs to start over. We need solutions to the broken immigration system, not political expediency. If you are a members of a religious group call their DC offices and demand they stop the inane messages of demanding the House offer a vote when that will mean more border militarization, little to no accountability of border patrol agents, and increased violence on the border.

No one – not Democrats, not Republicans, and sadly, not even very many supposed DC-based immigrants rights groups are good on this. And we should be. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Thought from the Road on Organizing

I am currently driving some of my father-in-law’s things from Houston back to Arlington as we move into our new house this weekend. I drove until I was too tired to go further last night and I stayed in Philadelphia, MS. It struck me as I my GPS got me lost late at night on some surrounding country roads with the window down that I was driving over some of the same roads that Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman drove down 50 years ago this June before they were murdered. It was eery yet so powerful to be so near their presence yet so removed.

I could not help but think about the power of these students through giving their lives 50 years ago. Giving their lives away for the sake of others - reminds us of someone, huh? 

There is still so much I learn from the history of SNCC around organizing. They refused to go through the normal institutional structures and went and found the folks who had passion and who were natural networkers. Sometimes the folks they found had titles and were natural networkers (Amzie Moore), but many times they were folks with no titles whatsoever (Fannie Lou Hamer), yet they build new, more flexible structures that were transformative. Oh, how the church, particularly the institutional church needs to learn this lesson now more than ever!

SNCC leaders were very strategic in where they went – they went where they could have the greatest impact and that is what directed their work. They went to both the hard places (like McComb) where they had to build from the ground up as well as the places where there was already networks in place and they could build on what was established. In every place they were fully present among the local people, but they were purposeful about being there and about their agenda. I saw in SNCC that presence without purposefulness was a waste of time. They didn't go places just to "bring greetings." They went to change lives, to change the world!

But the end was always the same: organizing was always about making change happen among those directly impacted by injustice. Organizing is all about – is only about – achieving concrete change. Anything less just isn’t organizing.

Anyway, I was so deeply struck and so deeply inspired tonight as I drove thinking about the heroes who have risked their lives before us and then reflecting on the organizing we are engaged in now. My prayer is that the organizing we are doing at GBCS will follow the example that Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman and the rest of SNCC set, and that first and foremost that we will see our organizing work result in concrete changes for people experiencing injustice.

Just wanted to share this, I hope it is encouraging. Now back to the road!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Remarks from a Press Conference on Ending the War on Drugs

Today, April 16, during Holy Week, faith leaders in coordination with the Drug Policy Alliance held a telepress conference to call for an end to the War on Drugs. Below are my remarks.

This Holy Week as we remember the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we remember that this weekend marks the culmination of a life of ministry which began with the words of the prophet Isaiah,
The Sprit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19

As followers of Jesus, the mantle that Jesus took on, his calling to ministry is applicable to all those who receive the gift of his grace this Easter. We too are called to proclaim release to the captives and to set free the oppressed.

Unfortunately, because the United States imprisons more people than any nation on earth, we do not have to go far to proclaim Jesus’ message of liberation. We are first in the world in mass incarceration and one of the main drivers of this sin is the War on Drugs, 40 years of failed policies that have done little to nothing to curb drug dependence and have instead broken up families, destroyed communities and cost billions of dollars.

Fortunately, just as we receive hope this week in resurrection Sunday, there are steps that we as a nation can take to extricate ourselves from our own captivity. One step is the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1401. The Smarter Sentencing Act is a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). The legislation is an incremental step towards justice reform that would address the costly overcrowding crisis in the Bureau of Prisons by cutting in half the mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses and by authorizing judicial review of cases sentenced under the old 100 to 1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity for possible resentencing.

I chair the largest and only faith coalition working to reform the criminal justice system on Capitol Hill. The Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group is made up over 35 faith organizations representing millions of people of all faiths and our primary goal this year is to see the Smarter Sentencing Act enacted. We have met with numerous Senate offices, we have activated our grassroots folks and coalition members are sending letters to the Senate every day during the month of April urging movement on this bill during the month of May.

Throughout the U.S. the members of our denominations and organizations dedicate countless hours to aiding, ministering with and advocating for people impacted by the criminal justice system. We are gravely concerned that overly punitive mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, passed by Congress nearly 30 years ago, have disproportionately and unfairly incarcerated people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has testified before the Judiciary Committee that Black and Hispanic defendants constitute the majority of people subject to mandatory minimum sentences and existing opportunities for relief from them are less often available to African American defendants. Passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would help restore fairness in our justice system by limiting this existing racial disparity. Therefore, we urge Leader Reid to make the passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act a priority during the month of May.