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September 2011 Issue

Speaking Out For Justice

United Methodist Women demonstate for Immigration justice with signs reading One Tree, One Family
United Methodist Women members rally for immigrant rights at The United Methodist Church's 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, TX.

By Yvette Moore

Resolutions on reconciliation, racial justice, climate change and peace make their way to the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

United Methodist Women’s national policymaking body, the Women’s Division is submitting four new resolutions calling for Christian social action in the areas of reconciliation, racial justice, the environment and peacemaking to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Tampa, Fla., April 24-May 4, 2012.  “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ to Transform the World” is theme of the quadrennial convening of the denomination’s highest legislative body.

The division’s resolutions are:

The resolutions reflect historic and ongoing concerns of United Methodist Women, whose foremothers organized against abusive child labor during the turn of the 19th century, against lynching in early 1900s, marched in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and worked for the nonviolent end of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.

“We remember our roots in speaking out for justice,” said Sung-ok Lee, head of the Women’s Division’s Christian Social Action section. “The issues we are bringing to General Conference are critical to the concerns and values of United Methodist Women and to the church at this time. We also remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words at Riverside Church 44 years ago, ‘Silence is betrayal.’ Inactivity still cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.” 

Speaking for Compassion And Against Hate

The resolution countering hate with compassionate speech addresses the climate of hate and racism in the United States and in other parts of the world arising from the global economic crisis. It states civil public discussion over policy has been replaced by vitriol and blaming “the other.” It calls on our Church to “challenge the misdirection of anger toward the most vulnerable” and model a different way of discussing controversial issues. “Whatever the disagreement about policy or program, this behavior is unacceptable,” the resolution states. “It represents a spiritual crisis that calls for us to respond by deepening our understanding of God’s call and filling our own deep yearnings for spiritual wholeness that can empower us to love and show compassion without giving up our  responsibility to speak out for justice.” The resolution is based on Isaiah 59:14-16, which decries the lack of voices speaking out against injustice in that society: So justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.  Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.  The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.  God saw that there was no one.  God was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so God’s own arm worked salvation. ... “We do not want God to be appalled,” the resolution states. “It is time to act boldly, and with God’s grace, truth will be found, and we will know justice.”

The resolution also cites Ephesians 4:25: And therefore, put off falsehood and speak truthfully, for we are all members of one body. The action calls for the Church at all levels to enter into a new dialogue convening conversations addressing current fears and realities in homes, churches, community meetings and the public square — creating sacred space for common prayer and community discussions that address issues of power and privilege without misusing their own. It calls for United Methodist boards and agencies to use their resources to foster this dialogue and share models and strategies for finding common ground.

Criminalization of Communities of Color 

People of color represent a minority of the U.S. general population, but they are a majority of the 2.3 million people in state and federal prisons, a number that has quintupled since the nation launched a “war on drugs” targeting communities of color for more than three decades.

The resolution on the criminalization of communities color brings together the concerns of U.S. communities who have long been the target of biased policing and sentencing laws — particularly African Americans — and the new upsurge of incarceration of immigrants of color. It looks at detention and deportation policies as part of a larger framework of mass incarceration and holds the potential for linking communities in a united effort to address the problem. “There is an increase in mass incarceration in the United States that disproportionately impacts people of color due to institutionalize racism, racial profiling and mandatory sentencing,” the resolution states. “Now U.S. immigration enforcement policies are replicating this model, increasing the mass detention of migrants of color.

“The United Methodist Church needs to actively work to dismantle current policies that depict whole groups of people as criminals and respond with profiling and mass incarceration.”

The resolution cites the Church’s ministry of reconciliation expressed in 2 Cor. 5:18-19 as the Scriptural basis for the action:  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

The proposed action outlines a series of policy recommendations for the U.S. government, the denomination’s task force on immigration, agencies and local churches. It calls on the U.S. government to:

  • Recognize international human rights law in criminal justice and immigration policy.
  • Stop racial profiling, raids and wrongful imprisonment.
  • End mandatory sentencing — especially for nonviolent offenses.
  • Investigate and end abuses in public and private corporate prisons, detention centers and jails; stop expansion of detention centers and work to reduce the number of current facilities.
  • Stop the militarization of poor communities of color by police, and end militarization of borders.
  • Enable people to work.
  • Institute legalization programs for migrants that restore and protect civil and labor rights, keep families together and strengthen communities.

It calls on the United Methodist Church to:

  • Create resources and advocacy materials.
  • Mobilize congregations to challenge private prisons and detention centers.
  • Call on states and the federal government to halt prison and detention center construction.
  • Educate and advocate for the rights of women and their children who face specific vulnerabilities and challenges as a result of the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems.
  • Build alliances between citizen communities of color and new migrant communities, particularly around police racial profiling.
  • Challenge police engagement in immigration enforcement.
  • Provide local ministries of compassion and solidarity with communities subjected to police sweeps, high incarceration rates, racial profiling, immigration raids, detention and deportation.

Seeking Peace in Afghanistan

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts.”

Zechariah 4:6

Those words from the biblical prophet undergird the proposed resolution calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan, an issue the General Conference has not previously addressed. It addresses the impact of continuing war and militarization in Afghanistan. It posits that investing resources in development instead of military spending will not only save thousands of lives but will also stimulate global progress in health care, education and community development.

“For more than 30 years, governments and armed groups have pumped billions of dollars in weapons into Afghanistan with bitter consequences for the people,” the resolution states. “United Methodists have long expressed concern that those who suffer the most in war are women and children. Indeed, Afghanistan has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates, and average life expectancy is mid-40s. … One in four Afghani children still will not reach the age of 5.

“Silence by too many of us in churches has not served the needs of the people — in Afghanistan or at home — but rather prolonged a cycle of militarism, violence and suffering.”

The resolution calls for:

  • Prompt and complete withdrawal of foreign troops and immediate unilateral cease-fire in Afghanistan.
  • The immediate end to drone bombing strikes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan with full and independent investigations of all bombings.
  • Promotion of Afghan-led peace talks that include women at all stages.
  • Empowerment of Afghan women by reallocating resources to health and education efforts.
  • Redirection U.S. financial resources from war in Afghanistan to improving the economy and providing social services that benefit U.S. and international women, children and communities.
  • Challenging corruption by cutting off the sources of foreign funds that are channeled for corrupt Afghan officials and/or warlords.
  • Support for veterans, their families and Afghan civilians suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Promotion of peace education.

Caring for God’s Creation

The resolution on caring for God’s creation is a call for strong action to alter human behavior that is triggering global climate changes and causing suffering in many parts of the world.

“We live in a time in which climate change is causing grave human suffering in many parts of the world, including but not limited to deaths due to extreme weather events, greater food and water insecurity, displacement of peoples, the extinction of plant and animal life and certain traditional cultures, and the threat of ecological catastrophe and major human rights crises,” the resolutions states. “Indeed, studies indicate 300,000 people a year are already dying due to the effects of global warming, and almost all affected are ‘the least among us’ who have done almost nothing to contribute to the problem.”

The proposed action calls for advocacy to get governments to codify reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 350 parts per million, the level needed to reduce atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. 

The resolution also recommends  expansion of the Creation Care/Climate Change Task Force established by the 2008 General Conference to include representatives from all United Methodist boards, agencies and other appropriate bodies.

The proposed action is based on Genesis 2:15: And the Lord God placed the human in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it. The resolution cites instructions for Christians to live justly and compassionately with others and to work for justice and peace that are found in Mark 16:15, John 3:17, Romans 8: 18-21. 

Yvette Moore is editor of response magazine.

Last Updated: 03/20/2014

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