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Global Justice Institute   446 W. 36th St. New York, NY 10018   (212).629.7440   info@globaljusticeinst.org

UNITED NATIONS - HISTORIC INTERFAITH DIALOGUE- THURSDAY OCTOBER 26, 2017




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A TIME FOR EVERY PURPOSE UNDER HEAVEN:


ENDING GUN VIOLENCE AND MASS SHOOTINGS IN THE UNITED STATES



After the 1,300th mass shooting since Sandy Hook, after the dead were covered in tarps and the wounded whisked away in wheel barrows and the backs of pickup trucks, after strangers waited with the dying so they wouldn’t be alone and the very, very brave shielded those they’d never met before from rapid fire shots they thought at first were fire crackers --- after 59 people died and 527 were injured, we heard a White House spokesperson say ~ now is not the time to discuss gun laws; there will be time for “policy discussions,” but “that’s not the place we’re at.”

WHERE ARE WE AT?  Columbine, Herkimer, Tucson, Santa Monica, Hialeah, Terrell, Alturas, Isla Vista, Marysville, Chapel Hill, Tyrone, Waco, Charleston, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Fort Hood, Aurora, Virginia Tech, , the DC Navy Yard, a Congressional baseball practice, San Bernadino, Sandy Hook, Orlando and now Las Vegas are a few places we’ve been.  

Depending on how we define “mass shooting,” since Orlando and the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub, at least 585 people have been killed in mass shootings; 2, 156 have been injured.  All of us have been traumatized.  .  .  .  “I’ve lost hope,” said a man on the street.  “I gave up after Sandy Hook.  If they {lawmakers} didn’t care about the deaths of first graders, if seeing children massacred didn’t change anything, what will?”

IS THAT WHERE WE'RE AT?  A place, a time without any hope that things can be different?  That we, as a people, can change the rules we live by?  The Rev. Troy Perry, founder of our movement of faith, is famous for saying:  “You can live 3 weeks without food, and about 3 days without water, and 3 minutes without air --- but you can’t live 1 second without hope.”



Where is our hope for the future being different and less violent?  Our hope for no more mass shootings or gun-related violence?  Almost every commentator on Las Vegas says the same thing:  After the extending of condolences and prayers for the dead, after the somber funeral processions and lowering of flags to half staff, after all the moments of silence and the make-shift sidewalk memorials, nothing will change.  Life will go on as always, and there will be another mass shooting and gun violence will continue and 92 people will die every single day who would not have if it wasn’t so easy to get a gun, so easy to buy a weapon of mass destruction capability, so easy to buy so many rounds of ammunition, so easy .  .  . to take a life.

Despite legislative disclaimers, NOW IS THE TIME to talk about preventing more needless and gun-related violence and bloodshed in the United States.  The only nation in the world that even comes close to the level of gun ownership by private citizens in the U.S. is Yemen, and people there are in the middle of a war. ~ Maybe we are, too.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans say they don’t think anyone needs an assault rifle or high capacity ammunition clips, yet a majority also support an interpretation of the 2nd Amendment that would make both things a right.  Does having a right to do something mean we should do it?  The first humans purportedly had freedom of choice in the Garden.  They made the wrong choice and suffered for it.

Is there a difference between having a right and doing the right thing?  People of faith and good will need to ask themselves these questions.  Almost every study on gun ownership says the more prevalent ownership, the more likely violence and bloodshed.  It’s that simple.    Stephen Paddock didn’t need the 29 guns in his hotel room or the 18 others found in his home.  No one does.  Not even soldiers in combat carry the amount of fire power he brought to a 32nd floor hotel room in the entertainment capital of the world.

There’s no way to justify civilians having access to weapons of mass destruction.  No way.  The studies have been done and they all conclude one thing:  the more guns available, the more deaths that will occur.  And no one needs a study to feel the grief and pain and despair violence like that in Las Vegas levies on all of us.

Many reading this will no doubt shrug it off ~ these sorts of things just happen now and then.  Only 1% of the gun deaths in the United States each year are the result of mass shootings. ---  Perhaps others will say, it’s a uniquely U.S. problem.  Is it?  We live in an interconnected global reality that lines on a map cannot and do not change.  Terrorism is terrorism.  Violence is violence.  Not stopping it anywhere promotes it everywhere.  Maybe it’s time for the world to call the United States to accountability.  Maybe it’s time for those of us in the United States to do that for ourselves.


Image Credit: The Daily Beast

Caleb Keeter, one of those performing at the Route 91 Harvest Festival did that when he tweeted to his fans, “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd Amendment my entire life….I cannot express how wrong I was….A small groud {or 1 man} laid waste to a city…because of access to an insane amount of fire power…this is completely out of hand.”

YES IT IS. BUT NOT HOPELESS!

We can do something if we stand together and stop allowing corporate enterprises that benefit from trading in fear scare us into not acting.  The government is no where near rescinding the 2nd Amendment.  Renounce that fear; it’s pointless.  Banning assault weapons and high capacity rounds of ammunition will not interfere with anyone’s right to own a gun.  Banning guns in public places like schools and churches and movie theaters and at concerts will not make us more vulnerable.  People who had guns at the Las Vegas concert testify that they could not use them for fear of being targeted by law enforcement as the shooter, further endangering themselves and those around them. Opposing the SHARE Act, a measure that would allow concealed carry reciprocity across state lines, is a no brainer.  It’s really this simple: common sense gun regulations will save lives.  

Now is the time to act to limit access to weapons and ammunition that has no place in our communities and serves no purpose other than mass destruction and terror.  We can do this.  Mass shootings are not inevitable.  They are preventable.

This statement prepared by Members of the Government and Policy Team of the Global Justice Institute.
 The Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner,
Executive Director.

For more information on how to become active in the fight to end gun violence or

about the Global Justice Institute, contact The Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt at

drjimmerritt@gmail.com.

 
 
September,   2017
Request for Financial Assistance – LGBTQ Justice Work in Mtito Andei, Kenya

Next major project – a well!


Mtito Andei, Kenya is a medium size city in Kenya strategically located half way between the two major cities of Nairobi, the capital, and Mombosa on the Indian Ocean Coast.  The town is economically depressed, and since it is a major overnight truck stop on the Mombosa – Nairobi route, many women (and some men) resort to prostitution as the only option to support their families.  The HIV rate among children in Mtito Andei is very high, and local churches often ostracize sex workers and LGBTQ people.

About two years ago, Metropolitan Community Church pastor Rev. Michael Kimindu relocated his ministry to Mtito Andei since he is originally from that area, and it was underserved in the area of religious and justice ministry.  With the assistance of a small number of donors, 2 acres of land were purchased, and a gazebo type structure and a small home for Rev. Kimindu and his family were built.

Currently, Rev Kimindu is building strong alliances within the community with elementary school leaders, a new local university and several community leaders also concerned with the community’s issues.  His vision includes some small scale agriculture and vocational training to provide alternatives for local residents, promoting safer sex among sex workers, addressing child abuse issues in local schools, and providing a spiritual home for those who are shunned by their churches.  To leverage the property and his resources, Rev. Kimindu has formed a collaborative ministry with Metropolitan Community Churches, Global Justice Institute, Other Sheep and the Kimer-Kamba Cultural Centre.

Early this year, we constructed a small totally enclosed classroom building which will facilitate community meetings and training, and to provide a small office space for Rev. Kimindu along with a small kitchen.  In addition, we raised funds for supplies, furniture and equipment for this building.

The next step which will help this ministry to become self-sustaining is to dig and equip a well on the property.  The Mtito Andei area is very dry with recent draughts, and often the water supply from the town is barely a trickle.  A well would not only assist Rev. Kimindu, but also all his surrounding neighbors and help him build bridges to them.  And it would allow for much larger scale gardening which can provide income to the struggling women of Mtito Andei.



A fully equipped well will cost around $25,000, and we already have $10,000 saved up toward that amount.  We are looking for all size donations, and for a $10,000 gift we would grant naming rights to the well – to name in honor of yourself, loved one or friend.


Below are photos taken from the property in late 2015 when visited by Rev Elder Pat Bumgardner and long time MCC lay leader and current Kenyan church member Stan Kimer
C:\Users\Stan\Desktop\My Documents\My Pictures\Africa 2015\Kenya\Kenya RevPat 05.jpg C:\Users\Stan\Desktop\My Documents\My Pictures\Africa 2015\Kenya\Jan update 01.jpg
Below is a photo of Rev Kimindu in his new office and family and friends celebrating the opening of the class room building
http://www.totalengagementconsulting.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Mtito-May-10-300x180.jpg http://www.totalengagementconsulting.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Mtito-Andei-Kenya-11.png
And a few photos of early gardening efforts on the next page.  And you can see water barely trickling out of the faucet.
The wonderful first fruits of first gardening project on the land. May Kenya water trickle


Thank you for your consideration of funding this crucial work in this area of Kenya, East Africa.

All donations are fully tax deductible as allowed by US Law.  Checks can be written to the Global Justice Institute, which is a US registered 501-c(3), 446 West 36th Street, New York, New York 10018 {note Kenya Well in the memo}, or a contribution can be made on line by clicking the donate button.  



All donations can be designated as “Kenya Well.”  

May God bless you for your generous support.

Global Justice Institute,
446 West 36th Street,
New York, New York 10018

 

 

August 13, 2017

The Global Justice Institute Demands Equality and Justice for ALL People



photo courtesy of wired.com
“Make no mistake, what we saw on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia was terrorism,” wrote The Global Justice Institute’s Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt on Saturday, August 12, 2017, as gangs of Nazi’s, racists, white supremacists and other hate groups descended on the city of Charlottesville.  “In addition to our shared outrage at such blatant racist symbolism, let us also realize that such despicable actions are emboldened by dog whistle language that demonizes ‘the Other’, that attacks, vilifies, or seeks to exclude people for how they look, how they identify, how they pray, or who they love. Regardless of who uses this kind of divisive and demeaning language, even if such speakers of spite otherwise share our religious or political affiliations, we must name such language for the vile, vitriolic, verbal venom that it is,” said Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Pastor of Sunshine Cathedral (MCC) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Global Justice Institute stands with all people for equal treatment, safety and full equality around the world.  We echo the words of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe who said, “Go home.  You are not wanted…shame on you. You pretended you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot.  We are stronger than you.  You have made (us) stronger.  There is no place for you here and there is no place for you in America.”


“Although many place their deadly actions under the umbrella of God and Christian faith, we say emphatically this is not the work of God, these are not Christian values, and these are not the behaviors of people of faith,” said Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner, Executive Director of The Global Justice Institute and Senior Pastor of The Metropolitan Community Church of New York.


We must stand firm in the face of evil.  Defeating evil will take prayer, faith, and action.  Accordingly, we call for these immediate actions in response to this weekend’s terrorist acts;

  1. Pray for the victims, especially for the family of Heather Heyer who was murdered in the streets of Charlottesville.

  2. Demand an appropriate response from the President of the United States specifically denouncing Nazis and white supremacists and their actions.

  3. As people of faith, demand that meaningful conversations and actions take place in our churches, in our local communities and at the National level.

  4. Stand in solidarity with minority communities who will, no doubt, be targeted further as we continue toward full equality and justice for all people.


The time for action is now.  Let us all join together in prayerful activism today, tomorrow, and until God’s beloved community is established among us.  They are necessary.  The forces of hatred and division we saw in Charlottesville are planning similar gatherings around the U.S. in the coming weeks and months.  


This statement is prepared by The Global Justice Institute.

Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner, Executive Director and Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt, Director for Family Concerns and Mr. Kareem Murphy

Contact Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt at revjim@revjim.org.


LGBTQ SOLIDARITY RALLY - STONEWALL - NEW YORK- FEB 4, 2017
WOMEN'S MARCH NEW YORK - 21 JANUARY 2017- 400,000 STRONG TURNOUT EXCEEDS ORGANIZERS' EXPECTATIONS

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, joined by celebrities and politicians, flooded midtown streets Saturday with pink hats and homemade signs to show Donald Trump they won't be silent over the next four years. People chanted "This is What Democracy Looks Like" and "Not My President" in a march that snaked from the UN headquarters on the East Side, across 42nd Street and up Fifth Avenue to President Donald Trump's home.
"Trump, although he is a New Yorker, does not reflect the values of this city," said Vanessa Weber, who marched and lives in New York City.

About 400,000 people participated in the rally and march, according to Mayor de Blasio, who thanked the NYPD in a tweet for keeping everyone safe.
Many held homemade signs with messages such as "Fight Like a Girl," and "Stop Tweeting, Start Tweeting." One sign said "Can't Comb Over Misogyny."
"I'm here to fight for families and women because all of us, our rights are being threatened," said Wendy Most, of New York City.
Rosie Perez, Whoopi Goldberg, and Taylor Schilling of "Orange is the New Black" helped kick off the march.
The demonstration started just before 11 a.m. with a rally and choral performance by the HERmonics, an informal women's choir, at One Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza. Streets started filling up about 90 minutes before the choir began.

Source: 'NBC New York


photos:Dallas Phelps New York

WOMEN'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON - 21 JANUARY 2017

Hundreds of thousands of women and men, adults and children will converge on Washington, DC the day after the 45th Presidential inauguration to both send a message that women’s rights are human rights and to continue building a global movement with full human equality as its centerpiece.  Originally focusing on the United States capital, the march has grown to include demonstrations in 140 cities in the U.S., as well as in twenty additional countries.


The March on Washington will begin at 10am EST, stepping off at the intersection of Independence Avenue and 3rd Street NW, marching west along Independence Avenue.


If you are marching in your city, we want to know.  

Please email the Government and Policy Team of the Global Justice Institute
revpat@globaljusticeinstitute.org.  

If you are going to Washington and would like to march under the Global Justice Institute banner,
text Frances at
212-390-0627 when you arrive in Washington, D.C.


For more information on local buses to D.C. go to

https://www.womensmarch.com/updates/2016/12/12/location-announcement


or visit the Women’s March facebook page.   Information on marches in countries outside the United States can be found on the following facebook pages 

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Auckland, New ZealandBarcelona, SpainBerlin, GermanyBrussels, Belgium;Copenhagen, DenmarkEdmonton, CanadaFrankfurt, Germany;Geneva, SwitzerlandHeidelberg, GermanyLondon, EnglandMalecon, MexicoOslo, NorwayOttowa, CanadaParis, FranceRome, ItalySt. Johns, CanadaStockholm, SwedenSydney, AustraliaToronto, Canada;Vienna, AustriaWellington, New ZealandJalisco, Mexico.
 
AN INVITATION TO ACTION TO COMBAT GUN VIOLENCE
The Global Justice Institute and Metropolitan Community Churches are inviting of people of faith, peace, and goodwill to rise up, raise their voices, and work to end gun violence. We believe in a world where everyone should be free from gun violence. We resolve to work toward building that world.

photo:Dallas Phelps New York
21 June, 2016

The first anniversary of the attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church (Charleston, South Carolina, USA). The massacre at the Pulse Nightclub (Orlando, Florida, USA). Newtown, San Bernardino, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood . . .

It’s not just about the list of mass shootings being too long. There should be no list.

That the Pulse Nightclub attack happened within days of the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charlestown reminds us of the common link bigotry plays in gun violence.

One attack targeted the LGBT and immigrant communities and the other targeted African-Americans in their place of worship. Through our prayers and worship services, we remember the dead and honor their sacrifices, and call out the common thread of hate in all these acts.

MCC
stands at the intersection of so many targeted and marginalized groups, providing a space for safety and healing. Joy MCC (Orlando, Florida, USA) along with several other MCC congregations have hosted or participated in interfaith prayer services and gatherings that focused on the shootings at Pulse and on ending gun violence.

We hope that your community of faith will join in the effort to prevent the proliferation of guns and end gun violence.
ADDITIONAL ANTI-VIOLENCE RESOURCES
MCC Moderator’s statement condemning the Orlando massacre.
   
Text of H.R. 4469 the Assault Weapons Ban legislation pending in the U.S. Congress
   
If you wish to text your support for commonsense gun control legislation, go to Voices Against Violence.
   
Get the facts about guns from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
   
President Obama’s Plan to Reduce Gun Violence
   
Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence Letter to Congress
   
Mother Jones Investigative Report A Guide to Mass Shootings in America
   


photo:Dallas Phelps New York
 
OVERTURN THE BLOOD BAN


The Orlando massacre reminded the nation that there is still a ban on blood donations by gay men.

The unwarranted ban highlights how men who have sex with men remain unable to provide real, immediate, and meaningful help to the victims of the attack.

Federal policy prohibits us from helping our own. The Public Policy Team, the Global Justice Institute, and Metropolitan Community Churches call on all people of faith and goodwill to actively petition the U.S. government to end the blood ban.

Our lives hang in the balance.

Read our previous statement and call to action (with resources) HERE.


May Our Activism Be Our Prayer.




International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia– Tuesday, 17 May 2016
May 11 2016

Conceived in 2004 by French activist Louis-Georges Tin to commemorate the decision of the World Health Organization (1990) to de-pathologize homosexuality by removing it from the International Classification of Diseases, May 17th has become a globally recognized day to raise awareness of LGBTQI lives and call attention to efforts to end discrimination and violence and promote equality.

This year, from China to the Congo and Canada, LGBTQI peoples and our allies in over 150 nations will sponsor conversations, festivities and events, as well as demonstrations and marches for an end to the criminalization of Queer life and the implementation of IDAHOBIT17May2016 policies that recognize and respect the diversity of God’s creation. The themes are Mental Health and Well Being. The focus is designed to ensure that everyone, including those within the LGBTQI community, receive all the supports for mental health that are necessary. This will refute the ways in which government and societal leaders wrongly characterize people of different genders, sexualities, and gender expressions as mentally ill. The goal is to create opportunities for well being and to confront/eliminate violence and discrimination.

We join organizers in encouraging people to:

Push for the depathologization of transgender identities
Oppose “conversion therapies” and specifically protecting young people
In Hong Kong, community activists will honor businesses that have supported LGBT equality. Organizers will celebrate the fifth LGBTI pride event in Albania, also gathering people from Kosovo and Macedonia. Activists on every continent will pause to remember slain LGBT journalist in Bangladesh who were hacked to death last month.

Everyone can do something to highlight LGBTQI life and our victories or address the challenges that remain before us.

The Public Policy Team invites MCC congregations around the world to mark May 17th INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA, BIPHOBIA AND TRANSPHOBIA!Here are some suggestions for you, your congregation, or your ministry:

Host a Bible Study, preach and pray about ending discrimination and promoting peace and goodwill throughout the earth.

BE CREATIVE

Organizers, encourage the use of dance and the arts in hosting the events.
Use music, host a flash mob, busk, hold street performances, be improvisational.

Advocate for full equality.


Add your community’s support to a local legislative drive to promote equality and safety for all youth.

In the United States, contact your U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative and encourage them to move the Safe Schools Improvement Act to end bullying against Queer youth out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.

Host a gathering and invite your neighbors, family and friends to the movement for equality in your location and make them aware of what volunteer or organizational opportunities are available. Invite a local activist group to speak or provide resources.
Every word offered, every event celebrated, every step taken, every prayer lifted up can and will make a difference for God’s LGBTQI peoples and a world at peace with its own diversity. You can inspire others around the world by sharing what you do. Send your stories and photos to the Public Policy Team at mccadvocacy@mcccchurch.net.

Thank you for making this world a better place.




FAITH LEADERS COMBAT CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE

14 January, 2016

Conference Call with White House
Friday, 15 January 2016, 1pm Eastern USA
A Call to Action for Faith Based Leaders:
Combat Substance Use Disorders in Your Communities

ONDCP

The White House Office of National Drug Control Polic
y (ONDCP), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships invites all faith leaders, including the laity and clergy of Metropolitan Community Churches, to join an important webinar “A Call to Action” for faith leaders and health ministers for taking action to end the opioid epidemic and increase access to health care.

The webinar will take place on Friday, 15 January 2016 from 1-2pm eastern standard time.

Faith groups play an essential role in supporting health and wellness in communities across the country; we have a demonstrated history of providing spiritual, social, and emotional assistance for persons struggling with substance use disorders and chemical dependency. Recognizing this, the Obama Administration will have selected faith leaders share their stories on how they are engaging their communities to address the opioid epidemic, building coalitions, reducing stigma and building trauma-informed congregations. Additionally, federal officials overseeing health care and criminal justice programs will highlight several government funding and programming opportunities. They will offer strategies on how faith groups can access these programs, either directly or in partnership with state and local government grant recipients.

You may register for this event HERE.road to recovery

Be prepared to offer questions when you register. This will allow the presenters to address them as part of their prepared remarks. Because of the webinar format, you will also be able to ask questions live during the webinar. The White House has asked MCC to share this information broadly, beyond our roster of clergy and lay leaders. You are invited to share this as broadly as possible, especially to our partners in recovery ministries and substance abuse disorder prevention and treatment.

For more information, contact mccadvocacy@mccchurch.net
Posted in Drugs, News, Take Action, US Action, US News

                GLOBAL JUSTICE INSTITUTE MARKS WORLD HUMAN RIGHTS DAY WITH CALL TO PRAYER AND ACTION





Part of our founding vision in Metropolitan Community Churches includes responding to the Biblical mandate to shape a world of just and right relationship. Over the years we, as people of faith, have preached a Gospel of equality, offered safe space and worked to address the intersections between homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, mass incarceration, poverty and economic inequality. With the formation of the Global Justice Institute, we have been able to expand our outreach and our work in these areas.

This year for the first time, as the United Nations marks the 67th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10th, the focus will include economic development and addressing the intersection with human rights.

The GJI has been a leader in linking economic well-being, Queer rights and the social change necessary to insure the security and freedom of human beings around the world. Our projects in East Africa, South and Central America and Pakistan testify to the change possible when people learn to work together for the common good.

This year, as we mark World Human Rights Day, join GJI in promoting peace on earth and goodwill among all by supporting our most recent project in Mtito Andei, Kenya.

Bringing water to the land of our new satellite location will enable local women currently caught in the sex-for-survival trade to have the opportunity to pursue an alternative means of securing food for their families by growing vegetables on the land hosting our new building.

It is a way to move the wider population from judgment to compassion and community.

And, please remember to pray daily for the work God has called us to embrace in this world. Join your brothers and sisters around the globe in praying that we might all act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.
Click here to make a donation      to the water project in Mtito Andei.
 

 

IT'S GIVING TUESDAY

 




Dear Friend of The Global Justice Institute:

Tuesday, December 1, is National #GivingTuesday. The Global Justice Institute is coming together with LGBT organizations around the U.S. for a day of focused philanthropy. #GivingTuesday allows everyone to honor phenomenal success in the LGBT equality movement by investing in its future. Our work is unfinished. The b) is the world’s premiere faith-based community organizing and advocacy organization dedicated to LGBT justice in the U.S. and the world. You can visit our website or check us out on Facebook and Twitter to see our work in action.

Because of your generosity, we:


Broke ground on a Global Justice Center in Mitito Andei, Kenya to provide safe space to all in need.
   

Provided ongoing funding for LGBT safe houses in Nigeria and Uganda, following the adoption of harsh, anti-LGBT legislation in those countries.

   
Marched alongside out LGBTQI siblings in the first Vietnam Pride Parade, and had talks in 15 cities across Asia.
   
Continue to forge a groundbreaking partnership in Costa Rica among HIV/AIDS service providers, LGBT-oriented homeless shelters, and a Central American refugee initiative.
   



ONE FAITH LEADER'S PERSPECTIVE ON HOUSTON VOTER'S REJECTION OF EQUAL RIGHTS MEASURE

By gjiadmin on 6 November, 2015

Dry Bones in Houston
Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz

Days later, I’m still in disbelief. One hour I want to cry out at the top of my lungs, and the next hour, I want to sit in deadening silence. As I move from frustration to tears, I remember the last time I was this emotional. Back in May of 2014, Houston City Council passed the historic Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), ensuring Houstonians have the right to access employment, housing, and public accommodations without discrimination.

I remember the courage exercised by so many friends.

Many spoke their truth like never before in front of city officials, risking the little stability found in the closet by coming out for the first time ever on public television.

I was proud of my city that day.

I feel ashamed today.


Despite our collective efforts as people of faith and equality, this week Houston voters emphatically repealed the Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. Let’s be honest. It wasn’t simply an ordinance. It was a statement about our values and how we as followers of Jesus commit to treating one another – with love and without discrimination. We had the chance to affirm the sacred value of every Houstonian. We had the opportunity to prove to the rest of the country and one another that we indeed value being the most diverse city in this USA. Instead, we sent a message of blatant disregard for people like my own mother who years ago had to endure ridicule from apartment managers not wanting to rent to an unwed mother and child. Blatant disregard for African American Houstonians who are forced to pay outrageous cover charges at establishments where our white neighbors get in for free. Blatant disregard for Latina lesbians being denied a job because of the languages they speak or the person they love. Blatant disregard for the dehumanization of children of God, our trans* neighbors.
In a year where we are experiencing record numbers of trans* people (especially trans* people of color) being murdered in cold-blood, a small minority group of evangelical pastors and right wing activists has the nerve to fear-monger, make up lies, and engage in spiritual violence towards our trans* siblings, all for political purposes. MCC’s Moderator, Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson, saw how anti-LGBT faith leaders rooted their advocacy in bigotry and hatred, “It is a sad day when church leaders use fear to enforce prejudice.”

I, too, am sad because like many of you, I feeI did all I could do and it was not good enough. The brittle bones of HERO and the brittle bones of hope-filled people were finally beaten down by hate, racism, transphobia, and oppressive rhetoric. After all of the organizing, phone banks, and volunteer hours from so many fair-minded Houstonians, it still wasn’t good enough
.
As I wrestle with this phenomenal tragedy, scripture reminds me that the Prophet Ezekiel speaks of a valley of dry, brittle bones. Notice the story is grounded in a valley, not a mountaintop. Maybe that’s where unique opportunities for transformation are supposed to take place – in valleys. Yes, positive change happens on mountaintops by way of broad coalitions of community organizations like we had in Houston. But justice-minded people must also work directly in the valleys where dehumanized Houstonians, our trans* siblings, have been made to feel like dry, brittle bones. As justice-minded people, our goal is not only to change public policy, but to transform dry bones into hopeful hearts and transformed minds.

I firmly believe the Houstonians who voted against HERO did so out of fear. After being preyed upon by vicious transphobic and homophobic forces themselves, I wonder how dry are the bones of voters themelves, especially those from communities of color. Maybe it’s time we come down from the mountaintop and and commit our work to the valleys of dry bones all around us.

Rev. Troy Plummer-Treash, Senior Pastor of Resurrection MCC here in Houston, declared that “Our struggle is not over,” and he is right. Just as Ezekiel stood among the dry bones and prophesied of their resurrection and transformation into a revived community, maybe that’s our first step as well….

Stand alongside our LGBT Houstonians, especially are trans* siblings. Speak life into dry bones, not only with our words but with our presence. Love our neighbor anew. Hug and comfort our neighbor. Allow our trans* friends to authentically share their stories, share their commitment, and share their leadership. Let’s make space for them to find and use their voice so they are not longer dry bones, but empowered Houstonians. Then, let’s engage Houston voters in the valley also. We now know more about what our neighbors think about this issue. We know that we must engage them where they are. We know that we must be true and authentic, sharing our stories of transformation, our commitment to equal protection for all people, our resolve to work toward an end of economic exploitation, racism, the sexual exploitation of young people, equal rights for women, homelessness, and so many other social justice issues. We must struggle in the valley with all people on the margins so that we truly see each one another as children of God.

I prophesy, not from the mountaintop, but from within the valley. I prophesy over dry bones, bones battered with homophobia and transphobia, bones that rest in the ballot boxes of Houston. Through our organizing and advocacy, and our love, we will make space for Spirit to breath new life into voters. They will rise up, new and transformed and we will work hand in hand in the valley. The valley will be restored. Houston will be restored. We will redeem the outcome of Tuesday’s election. We will be proud of Houston once again.
Our work and ministry continue. Let’s cause some #HolyTrouble.

Here are actions you can take to help to advance equality for LGBT and anyone who faces discrimination and marginalization:
 
Participate in the 40 DAYS OF FAITH IN ACTION campaign by the National LGBTQ Task Force (a follow up to the Faith & Family Power Summit) with resources available here.
Add your name to Believe Out Loud’s open letter to Houston voters telling them the discrimination is not a Christian value.
Use social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram) to share your story about how natural and loved by God your family is. Use the hashtags #HolyTrouble and #FaithFamilyLGBTQ
More firmly establish partnerships among your congregation, other local faith groups, and social justice organizations so you can host educational forums on religious liberty, religious exemptions, and equal rights. The Public Policy Team is available to consult and help organize.
If you would like our support send us an email.
For more information, contact mccadvocacy@mccchurch.net




JOIN THE MOVEMENT TO END MASS INCARCERATION

 

photo: aclu.org

In her bestselling book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander likened the U.S. criminal justice system to the Jim Crow caste system of the U.S. South, in which a class of Americans are subject to a basic political, economic, and judicial system of legalized discrimination. Her powerful analysis inspired a new look at the impact of the mass incarceration of African-American men and people of color on communities of color, causing many lawmakers, sociologists, and activists to conclude that “mass incarceration in the United States…is a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of social control.” Now, there is a growing consensus that something must be done to bring balance to our criminal justice system.

The statistics tell the story and highlight the challenge before us.

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, the USA has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world (794 per 100,000).

The U.S. prison population has quadrupled since 1980, increasing from approximately 500,000 to 2.2 million in 2013. President Barack Obama has taken action to address mass incarceration, helping to shepherd through Congress and sign into lawlegislation that reduced the sentencing disparity between possession of crack and powder cocaine.

In a recent speech to the NAACP, President Obama called for lowering long mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses; investing in alternatives to prisons, like drug courts and treatment and probation programs; and rewarding offenders with reduced sentences if they complete programs that make them less likely to re-offend.
The President has also advocated for “Ban the Box” on job applications for state, federal, and private employment to give ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society a fair chance to reenter society by getting and holding good jobs. Major corporations like Target and Wal-Mart have removed the criminal history box from their job applications. Amidst the startling statistics, there are glimmers of hope.
The United States Senate is now joining the effort. On October 1, Senator Charles Grassley introduced S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would permit a court to reduce the mandatory minimum prison term imposed on certain non-violent defendants convicted of a high-level first-time or low-level repeat drug offense.

It would also permit a court to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain non-violent, cooperative drug defendants with a limited criminal history.

The bill would reduce the enhanced mandatory minimum prison terms associated with high-level repeat drug offenses and those where a firearm was present. It would improve programs for non-violent elderly offenders and pre/post release programs for certain juvenile offenders.




The Global Justice Institute and Metropolitan Community Churches join with all those who seek to address the problem of mass incarceration. We encourage our lawmakers to take affirmative steps to reduce mandatory minimum prison terms for nonviolent defendants, invest in programs that help offenders become less likely to re-offend, and fund and support early childhood development and juvenile justice community-based interventions.

Here Are Some Actions You Can Take to Change U.S. Policy Toward the Incarcerated
Please contact your Senator today to urge them to SUPPORT S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015:
Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 1-800-270-0309 and ask for your Senator.
When you are connected to your member’s office these are things that you might say: I want Senator ___________ to know that it is now time to reform our criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration. Please support reducing the mandatory minimum terms for nonviolent defendants convicted of drug offenses and programs that encourage early release for good behavior. Please support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.
Contact Bill Medford (faith organizer) for the call in information.
  To learn more, please see:

 Text of S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, or the one page summary.
 Remarks by President Barack Obama to the NAACP on Mass Incarceration
 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Correctional Populations in the United States, 2013
 Polices for Ending Mass Incarceration
 Interfaith Letter Supporting the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act
 For more information, contact mccadvocacy@mccchurch.net
This statement was prepared by the Public Policy Team of Metropolitan Community Churches and the Global Justice Institute (Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner, Chair).
Posted in Incarceration, Prisoners, Race, Take Action, US Action
 

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