Happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay!

“Creation Story,” 2000. Harry Fonesca, 1946-2006. Nisenan Maidu/Native Hawaiian/Portuguese.
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian

Happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay! Today and every day we recognize the many vibrant and resilient Native American tribes and communities around the United States.

Join the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Intercultural Ministries during the month of November, Native American Heritage Month, for the Native American Challenge—30 days of daily resources and weekly conference calls to foster learning, conversation, and awareness. Go to http://www.brethren.org/intercultural/continuing-together.html for more information.

“The scriptures also call us to work alongside indigenous people to seek justice and peace on their behalf, as they are among those on our planet whose lives and cultures are most in jeopardy. The church has an obligation to join with them to protect their human and political rights, their cultural expressions, their claims to land, and their religious freedom, at any point that such efforts are in keeping with the purposes of God for human life.” —Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers, 1994 Annual Conference Statement

What you should know about #PrisonStrike2018

Image courtesy of incarceratedworkers.org

Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

On August 21, incarcerated people across the country began what has become the largest prison strike the U.S. has ever seen. “We are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform, and the end of modern-day slavery,” their website says. Their full list of demands call for these ten actions:

  1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.
  2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
  3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
  4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.
  5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.
  6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.
  7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
  8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
  9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.
  10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.

The demands of the strike place a strong emphasis on access to rehabilitation, something that the Church of the Brethren has supported through pushing for restorative justice and an end to mass incarceration. Our commitment to God’s peace is a radical one, one that we should carry to everyone, especially those in prison. The U.S. prison system is one of deep violence and trauma, and rehabilitation is a healing balm we should offer to all who seek it. 

The demands also call us to recognize that prison labor is a form of modern-day slavery, paying workers little to nothing and forcing them to work in horrible conditions. We must turn to see the most invisible laborers in our society and the injustices they so consistently endure. As we said in our 2008 Annual Conference resolution on 21st century slavery, “We commit to educating ourselves and others about modern-day slavery and initiating and supporting anti-slavery action at home and abroad. This includes measures to prevent enslavement, to end slavery, to care for those who have been victimized by slavery, and to change our personal lifestyle habits that support it.”

Furthermore, the strike laments the extreme disparity between the treatment of people of color and white people in the current criminal justice system, with many laws on the books that target black and brown people. Mass incarceration and racial injustice are two issues tightly woven together.

At its very core, the strike is calling for the recognition that imprisoned people are humans. “We must see that the denial of basic human rights and the violence and counter-violence that terrorize humanity are all related; we cannot address one without addressing the others. They are connected” (Making the Connection, A.C. Statement 1986).

Getting Involved

The strike ends on September 9 and, with less than a week left, there has been little national news coverage and an increase in punishment for the prisoners who organized the movement. This is a rare moment when prisoners themselves—not simply outsiders speaking on their behalf—are trying to make their voices heard. During the second week of the strike, organizers released a statement saying:

“Right now we know that thousands of prisoners are risking torturous repression to bring this agenda forward, and we do not take their sacrifice lightly and neither should you. Prisoners are facing repression right now as we speak and it is our duty on the outside to do whatever we can to shield them from that violence of the state.”

This is simply a call to action—with only a few days left to the strike, there is still much to be done. A list of ways to take action (as well as many more resources and information on all relevant issues) is on the strike’s website, and the strike’s statement on August 28 lists the states with prisons with known participation. Call your representatives (202-224-3121) to tell them you support the strike and the prisoners’ demands, specifically to be implemented in your state’s prisons. Follow the strike on social media with #August21 and #PrisonStrike and make your support known by amplifying the voices of those involved.

We are called to release the captives, let the oppressed go free, and when our brothers and sisters behind bars desperately ask for peace and rehabilitation, who are we to deny them?

 

2016 Christian Citizenship Seminar on Mass Incarceration

2010 Annual Conference Resolution on Torture

2008 Annual Conference Resolution on Slavery in the 21st Century

1986 Annual Conference Statement on Making the Connection

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

 

With Actions and In Truth: An introduction to OPP’s new racial justice position

New BVSer Monica McFadden joins director Nathan Hosler and current BVSer Tori Bateman at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. “ — I John 3:17

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference adopted the Separate No More statement, which challenges the church to intentionally move toward being more intercultural and ethnically diverse.

In 1994, Annual Conference adopted the statement Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers, which sought to show support for Native Americans and reckon with the role the Brethren have as a part of the colonizing power in America.

In 1991, Annual Conference received a report on Brethren and Black Americans, which carefully examines how Brethren have engaged, or not engaged, with Black Americans and how we will seek to address systemic racism in our denomination and our society.

Back during the Civil War, Brethren grappled with their relationship with this oppressed “other,” asserting that “it would be best for a follower of Jesus Christ to have nothing at all to do with slavery,” a very controversial topic in the church at the time.

While it’s clear the Brethren have long been considering these issues, adopting a number of statements discussing racial discrimination and our relationships with minority groups, these statements have yet to be fully realized. In order to pursue the goals of these statements more intentionally, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy created a new Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) position dedicated to the topic of racial justice and reconciliation as it applies internally to our denomination and outwardly to our society.

I’ve just finished up my three weeks at BVS orientation and am excited to delve into all the work this new position requires—working alongside minority communities in food deserts through Going to the Garden, teaming up with the interfaith community in criminal and racial justice working groups, leading visits and workshops for Brethren groups in D.C., and everything in between. The Church of the Brethren has a long history of standing up for justice, peace, fairness, and mercy, and this is no time to slow down.

In his book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer advocating on behalf of those sentenced to death row, says:

“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

Our nation’s complicated history with race is often tied up in how we decide who is poor, who is disfavored, or who is accused. Through Christ, “who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14), we can seek God’s justice to help break down those barriers. The beginning of this new position on racial justice stands as an open call for church members or youth interested in racial justice-oriented tours of the D.C. area, workshops, or museum visits to contact our office.

Sometimes, it is easier to look across the globe at people being oppressed than it is to look within our own communities and neighborhoods, our own states and districts, and open our eyes to the people suffering right beside us. This position is one step toward seeing our brother or sister in need and witnessing racial discrimination, and then seeking righteousness with actions and in truth. I hope that you will join hands with me for the difficult work ahead.

 

Monica McFadden is the new Racial Justice Associate at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. She graduated from the University of Denver in June with a B.A. in Political Science and Art History. Contact her at mmcfadden@brethren.org.

DACA Story: Erick

The following guest blog post was written by Erick, a DACA recipient who has been active in the life of the Church of the Brethren. An announcement regarding the future of the DACA program is expected to be made on Tuesday, Sept. 5th. 

Update, 9/5/17 11:27am: The DACA program has been rescinded, leaving a 6 month window for Congress to pass legislation like the DREAM Act of 2017 to protect DACA recipients. 

Hello, my name is Erick. I have formed part of the Church of the Brethren denomination since I was around 8 years. I am now 26 years old, and going strong. The brothers and sisters of The Church of the Brethren have formed a vital part of my identity as a Christian. I have been involved with my congregation, Principe de Paz in Santa Ana. Formerly, I was the secretary for my congregation for about six years. I have also been a part of our worship group playing the bass for about seven years. I have also been a part of the Young Adult Policy Board for about two years in the Pacific Southwest District. I graduated and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry in 2016. I am currently a first-year pharmacy student to earn my doctor of pharmacy degree at a university in Nashville, Tennessee. This is just a little background about myself.

Have you heard of the current news regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)? President Trump is being pressured into making a decision by this week on whether the DACA program remains, or not. This decision will affect more than 800,000 students and individuals like me. Like many individuals under the DACA program, I was brought to this country at an early age, at the age of 2. I do not remember anything from my country of origin. I view myself as an American; I have embraced the American culture. I want to form a permanent relationship with this country.

Some Americans argue that people like us broke the law, and we must be punished by being deported. Some Americans view us as criminals, when all we want to do is fight for our freedom, and live the American dream that many of their ancestors fought for in previous generations. Some argue that we should go through the legal route. Current laws prohibit us from gaining any sort of legal path to citizenship. I am an individual that pays his taxes. I have paid for my college education myself, because we don’t have the same privileges as American Citizens.

It saddens me that people like me have to prove our humanity. The American Culture is ingrained in me like any other American Citizen. I embrace my identity. All we ask is for an opportunity. All current individuals under the DACA program are expected to maintain a clean record in this country. DACA gives us the ability to work legally and obtain a State Driver’s license. It also allows us to continue pursuing higher education. It also means that we cannot leave the country, unless if for humanitarian or work-related reasons.

I ask you to please stand with the DACA program. Please support us. Some of us are teachers, policemen, firefighters, lawyers, etc. We are all hoping to finally obtain the American dream that many of your ancestors worked so hard to obtain. I am not going to lie and say I am not scared, because I am. Ending the DACA program has many negative implications for individuals like me. I want to continue studying to become a pharmacist. I want to impact my community in a positive manner by being a healthcare provider. I want to be a part of the change, and contribute to society. I long to be a part of this country, which is the only country I have truly known at a personal level. Ending this program might mean I may not be able to finish my studies. However, as a believer of Jesus Christ, I have maintained faith and peace. I do not hold any animosity against anyone that does not support the DACA program. I only ask them to learn more about individuals under the DACA program so that they may understand what we are going through, and maybe empathize with our situation. We are all moving forward in hopes to form a legal, and permanent place in this country, God bless America.

“God’s time is always near”: Thoughts from the African American Museum

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

“God’s time is always near.
He gave me my strength,
and He set the North star in the heavens;
He meant I should be free.”
—Harriet Tubman, 1859

The path through the museum really begins outside, waiting in line with hopeful tourists and Washington, D.C., residents in the heat and humidity to receive midday tickets into the newest Smithsonian: the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Its grand opening was back in September of 2016 and yet it’s still flooded with people. Inside, another line into the exhibition itself greets attendees—a testament to how many people surge into the museum on a daily basis.

The museum features more contemporary cultural figures and movements as well as important parts of history.

The exhibition begins underground, solemnly reflecting the beginnings of many slaves’ journeys in the bowels of a slave ship. The hallway is dark and lit only by the lights of the text and artifacts’ spotlights. Museum-goers wind their way through history, from the roots of African and European trade and the formation of the concept of race, through the American Revolution and slave revolts, and into the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, recognizing contemporary cultural figures and topics.

“This trade,
so beneficial to the Adventurers,
and important to the State;
a Trade sanctioned by the Clergy,
supported by the Judges,
and authorized by the laws.”
—Robert Norris, 1788

There’s more text and information than anyone could read in a reasonable amount of time, but everyone is trying to absorb as much as possible, surrounded by stories of prominent black Americans both remembered and forgotten:

The story of Belinda, an enslaved woman who petitioned the Massachusetts legislature in 1783 for her freedom, one of the first records of reparations from enslavement.

A sack given from mother Rose to daughter Ashley before she was sold away, pecans and a lock of hair placed inside, passed along with the promise that it was filled with love.

The Point of Pines Cabin, which stood in South Carolina from 1853 to 2013—a shelter, a home, a gathering place. The cabin still didn’t protect slaves from the assault of the slaveowners.

One wall in the museum is covered in the text of newspaper advertisements for slaves.

One wall features a few photos and artifacts from slave markets and, if you look closely, you can see the text of advertisements for slaves—countless names—covering the wall.

Processing this history reminds us what injustice and cruelty has looked like in the past and helps us to understand what it looks like today. This is the history that makes up our country’s roots, and untangling them takes specific and careful work—work that was begun by hundreds of thousands of black Americans long before the museum was built.

“We need the storm,
the whirlwind, and the earthquake …
the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed;
and its crimes … denounced.”
—Frederick Douglass, 1852

So where have Brethren stood amid these issues? What did it mean to be Brethren in this time of turmoil and cruelty in our country?

The Brethren Encyclopedia entry on slavery details that “Annual Meeting denied the legitimacy of owning slaves and insisted that any Brethren holding them must be set free in order to be a member in good standing (1797-1865). […] During the Civil War, Annual Meeting decisions dealt firmly with any minister who defended slavery. In response to the obvious problem of emancipating slaves in a slave state, Annual Meeting in 1854 reiterated that ‘under no circumstance can slavery be admitted into the church.’”

On a national level, the Brethren took a clear stance against slavery, but issues with individual members regarding slaves arose. According to 1962 Sidelights on Brethren History article:

“In the Valley there were some members of the Brethren Church who, though not owning slaves, thought that it was permissible to hire them from those who did own them. Yet from the earliest date the most of the Brethren stood uncompromisingly in opposition to this traffic in human lives in whatever form it took. The Roanoke Annual Conference said in answer to the above-mentioned query that ‘it would be best for a follower of Jesus Christ to have nothing at all to do with slavery.'”

This certainly wasn’t the only instance like this in the church, and the Brethren at Annual Meeting and at regional conferences addressed a number of problems with church members in regards to slavery at the time of the Civil War. The article goes on to say:

“In spite of all that was done by Annual Conference and by council meetings, the matter continued to disturb the Brethren as late as 1863, when a query came to the Annual Conference held in the Clover Creek church in Blair County, Pennsylvania. […] After prayerful consideration the following decision was given: “In as much as the Brethren always believed, and believe yet, that slavery is a great evil, and contrary to the doctrine of Christ, we consider it utterly wrong for a brother to justify slavery either in public or in private, and that he should be admonished, and if obstinate, shall be dealt with according to Matt. 18. […]  Slavery was ended nearly a hundred years ago, by means which the Brethren could neither approve nor support. During the intervening century the Negro has demonstrated to the world – with outstanding proof such as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, and Ralph Bunche – his basic equality with the white man. On their part, the Brethren still have a largely unused opportunity to show the colored people of the nation that their concern for them is one of deep-rooted, genuine brotherly love and goodwill.”

“We do not wish to make you angry,
but … consider how hateful slavery is
in the sight of God.”
—Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, 1794

What does this history mean for us now? Clearly, the conversation around race and blackness has changed quite a bit since slavery, and even since the Civil Rights movement. We cannot fall back on our historical opposition to slavery and assume that carries us into current day. Our job as the church to call out injustice looks different now, and these issues are many-layered and complex.

After making their way through the narrow halls about the foundations of slavery, visitors spill out into a room telling the stories of black people during the American Revolution.

As one plaque in the museum reads, “The paradox of the American Revolution—the fight for liberty in an era of widespread slavery—is embedded in the foundations of the United States. The tension between slavery and freedom—who belongs and who is excluded—resonates through the nation’s history and spurs the American people to wrestle constantly with building ‘a more perfect Union.’ This paradox was embedded in national institutions that are still vital today.” We must take a hard look at our institutions, especially the church, if we seek to bring God’s justice to our world.

The 1991 Annual Conference Report on Brethren and Black Americans states:

“Because racism is built into our way of life, it is extremely difficult to unmask it and honestly face the radical changes that need to be made in ourselves and our institutions if it is to be eradicated. Members of the Church of the Brethren face the subtle temptation of thinking that because there are not many black Americans in the denomination, or because many of us do not live in physical proximity to black people, that the problem of racism is not our concern. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of us benefit from racist practices, without being direct participants, because of decisions and policies already in place in our religious, economic, and political institutions.”

Despite the 26-year gap since this report, this statement still rings true. It still challenges us to recognize our prejudices and demand justice in an unjust society—a society wrought with the mass incarceration of black and Hispanic people; a society in which urban areas hard-hit by poverty are largely minority communities; a society with a resurgence in the visibility of white supremacy and hate groups.

The first step is simply listening to people of color talk about their experiences, without feeling the need to argue or counter their stories. Experiences cannot be false.

However, listening and empathizing aren’t enough. The second step is moving to immediate action, especially in response to violent racist attacks and the actions of hate and white supremacist groups.

The reminders of what this dangerous hatred fuels and leads to is not only in our museums and memorials, but now in current news headlines. The National Museum of African American History and Culture should not simply be seen as a home for dusty relics of the past, but as the watchful eyes of history looking at how we respond to the daily infringements on civil rights that occur all around us.

“Though our bodies
differ in color from yours;
yet our souls are similar
in desire for freedom.”
—Vox Africanorum,
Maryland Gazette, 1783

A corner of the museum where visitors are invited to “share their story.”

Here’s an idea from the museum: Tucked off to the side in a couple corridors leading to the next level, rooms stand with the door aglow and an “In Session” sign lit up—it asks passersby to “share your story.”

How can we reach out to people sharing their stories? How can we listen to our brothers and sisters in our churches and in our midst whose words have fallen on deaf ears?

A good place to start is the resources from Intercultural Ministries, the Office of Public Witness, and On Earth Peace’s Racial Justice initiative. But perhaps we need to think through more concrete processes the church can develop to to commit to dismantling racist structures.

When Harriet Tubman said, “God’s time is always near” in 1859, it was a call to action for that day and a resounding vision for the future. We have done good work in the past. It is not enough. We must do better work now in order to bring God’s time to earth.

“Let us all unite, and … declare
that we will not leave our own country …
this is our … country; …our forefathers have
planted trees in America for us
and we intend to stay and eat the fruit.”
—Peter Osborne, 1832