Jesus had much to say about the use and distribution of material resources as well as issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. From loving enemies and confronting for reconciliation in Matthew 5 and 18, to the “rich young ruler” and not being able to “serve God and wealth” in Matthew 10 and 6.
In this piece, I make the case that issues of economics/economic justice are part of a vision of peace and the work of peacemaking. This includes addressing economic systems and practices as a form of peacemaking as well as identifying the presence of economic grievance or lack of economic opportunity as a driver of many violent conflicts. Versions of this are often discussed in our work at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy; international migration caused by lack of jobs and violence which is caused by collapsed economy. Conflict caused by some mixture of politics, economic strain, environmental degradation, injustice, and identity.
The biblical understanding of shalom keeps all parts of life in view, and is not simply the absence of violence or conflict. Elsewhere, I have defined peace in the following way,
Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world).(Hosler, Hauerwas the Peacemaker?,20)
In the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace of the World Council of Churches there is a section on “For Peace in the Marketplace.” This also recognizes that peace is wholeness. And that economic realities are part of this. Additionally, the WCC statement asserts that, “Over-consumption and deprivation are forms of violence (13).” And frames a positive vision as well, “Peace in the marketplace is nurtured by creating “economies of life”. Their essential foundations are equitable socio-economic relationships, respect for workers’ rights, the just sharing and sustainable use of resources, healthy and affordable food for all, and broad participation in economic decision-making (13).1” Such thinking prioritizes the well-being of all over the profits of a few.
Should, however, Christians or the Church have a defined economic theory or position on policy details? Should we, as was discussed on a webinar on the global economy this morning, support the movement of percentage rates by the Federal Reserve from X% to Y%? While we may not have theory based on abstraction—say a mathematically beautiful symmetry (not of course discounting aesthetic value in general)—we may have a position based on developing concrete steps to address a lack of economic peace. For those of us not mathematically inclined, the terms and numbers and percentages are quite difficult to manage. However, the impacts of these are real.
We are concerned about economic peace.
Racialized economic inequality is one instance of a lack of economic peace
This exists due to policies (explicit and implicit)
While disagreement will occur on the best policy to address inequality,
Concrete decisions must be made
While churches may not have economists on staff, it is within the purview and appropriate for churches and Christians to have and express an opinion on how to move toward more just and peaceful communities, society, and world. There are many complicated theological, ethical, and philosophical questions about the role of religious institutions in relation to the state; is it or should it be subservient, dominating, acquiescing; it is “just another” civil-society organization or something more (or less), and many others. Despite these complicated questions, the Church of the Brethren has long affirmed engagement in such matters.
Economic policy and practice, like all others, is not neutral. The economic system and policies embody particular values as well as have specific impacts on individuals, communities, and nation-states. We are called to the work of peacemaking, justice, and caring for all. Seeking economic peace is one important facet of well-being for all.
“Poverty, peace, justice, and climate change are inexorably linked. There can be no hope for justice, no hope for an end to poverty, and no hope for peace if we continue on our present path. We must confront inequality while weaning ourselves from the very fossil fuels that built our economic wealth. We must work to build peace while reducing air pollution. This new path for us leads to God’s plan for a new creation.
To walk this path, we must first accept that climate change is a moral, spiritual, and human issue, and not a political debate. We must confess our role in the problem and be willing to reflect, pray, and have loving conversations about these complex challenges. We must seek and support solutions that restore dignity to the underprivileged, promote peace, and protect God’s earth.”Creation Care. 2018 Church of the Brethren Statement
Economic justice is not attainable without climate justice. Patterns of
institutionalized environmental racism within the U.S. has shown us the ways in
which communities doing the least to contribute to the rise in greenhouse gases
bear the brunt of climate fall out on their bodies and on their livelihoods.
University of Michigan Sustainability highlights that more than 50% of people living within two miles of toxic
waste facilities are people of color. Degradation of the land from toxins leads
to lower land value, which hinders upward mobility and the ability to build
wealth for members of those communities. In the face of natural disasters
exacerbated by climate change, both domestically and internationally, black and
brown communities and countries are disproportionately impacted, remaining most
vulnerable physically, financially, and mentally. From Hurricane Katrina’s
devastation of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where the majority black
population impacted were permanently displaced, to the flooding taking place in
countries such as Pakistan, Uganda, and Kenya, black and brown bodies remain at
risk, their bodies and livelihood bearing the brunt of a climate crises that
they contribute least to.
A brief interrogation of capitalism can highlight the interconnected
nature of various forms of oppression, namely the intersection between climate
justice, economic justice, and racial justice. The nature of accruing wealth in
a capitalist economy privileges profit -even profit gained via exploitation of
land, people, etc.- over the wellbeing of communities affected by the
ramifications of this economic system. Wealthy corporations often invade
communities for natural resources or cheap labor, grabbing what they can at the
expense of these communities. With little to no accountability for corporations
existing within a capitalist political economy, these plundered communities are
left doubly vulnerable: first susceptible to plundering by wealthy corporations
and nations, and then left to bare the fallout from the poisoning of the land,
air, and/or water around them, which impacts their bodies, health, and
The intersection between environmental racism and healthcare has been
magnified in the wake of the COVID-19 crises, as have various other injustices
in existence before the pandemic. Black and brown communities remain hardest hit by the pandemic, both
contracting and dying from the virus disproportionately. Reasons include
enduring disparities in wealth and income that see black and brown bodies
overrepresented on the frontlines as “essential” workers, and residential
segregation, which sees the concentration of people of color in disempowered
neighborhoods with low property values, freeways, and shipping centers. The
effects of residential segregation on air pollution with regard to toxins such as PM 2.5 , a known carcinogen emitted from car
engines and power plants, put folks in these communities at a higher chance of impaired
heart and lung function, leaving them susceptible and highly vulnerable to
COVID-19. Climate justice is economic justice, and economic justice is racial
justice. The sooner we re-orient our understanding of the different structures
of oppression as interconnected, the sooner we can address the environmental
harms that have for decades disproportionately harmed brown and black bodies in
the U.S. and all over the world.
It feels like the past few months of the pandemic have been a slew of shocking numbers thrown at me. Like the number 7.3 million- the number of COVID infections in the US. 200,000- the number of COVID deaths in the US as of September 30th. But COVID-19 is not only a health problem. It is an economic problem with consequences that are expected to far outlast the pandemic. 40,000,000- the number of people who filed for unemployment since the pandemic. 637,000,000,000- the dollar amount that billionaires added to their wealth since the pandemic. As we journey to explore and reaffirm simple living, stewardship, just dealings, and mutuality in relation to economic justice and economic peacemaking in this pandemic, this second post in a series of four, looks at the need to address economic injustice through a racial equity lens.
Addressing Racial Inequalities to Fight Economic Injustice.
The deeply rooted racial inequality in the United States presents itself in disparities in income, wealth, access to education, housing, access to healthcare, and other economic indicators. Inequality.org defines income inequality as “the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population”, and income as, “the revenue streams from wages, salaries, interest on a savings account, dividends from shares of stock, rent, and profits from selling something for more than you paid for it.” According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the last quarter of 2019, the median White worker made 28% and 35% more than the median Black and Latino workers respectively. Systemic racism and inequalities in the distribution of income present a hurdle in the accumulation of the generational wealth that is essential for economic security. (Inequality.org) Consequentially, racially minoritized populations do not enjoy the security blanket that generational wealth provides their white counterparts and are at risk of financial fallout from changes in economic conditions.
COVID 19 has exacerbated these inequalities.
In one way or the other, this pandemic has transformed all our lives. However, it is essential to note the magnitude of its impact on different racial and economic demographics. According to the Washington Post, “The economic collapse sparked by the pandemic is triggering the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history, delivering a mild setback for those at or near the top and a depression-like blow for those at the bottom.” “Historically, people of color and Americans with less education have been overrepresented in low-paying service jobs.” This overrepresentation in low-paying service jobs not only puts these groups at a disproportionately high risk of being exposed to the virus but also forces them to bear the brunt of its economic consequences. For example, Black women have only recovered 34% of the jobs they lost compared to White women who have recovered 61%. This is a major setback as it took Black Women up until 2018 to recover from the Great Recession.
The Post also found that “White Americans have recovered more than half of their jobs lost between April and February. Meanwhile, Black Americans have recovered just over a third of employment lost in the pandemic.”
If the bodies making decisions on how to respond to the economic consequences of COVID-19 are those that have suffered least and are recovering the fastest, it is difficult to imagine the responses will be equitable. In our path to recovery, the goal should not be to return to normal. Instead, the goal should be to create systems that prioritize equity for minoritized populations. We must be proactive in advocating for COVID-19 response policies that apply a racial lens when addressing issues. We must educate ourselves about systemic racism and be aware that it can present itself in subtle, seemingly unrecognizable ways. We must try to use our voices to amplify and build up minoritized voices in the fight to dismantle oppressive systems. We must be mindful that the policies we support, or not, have life-changing impacts on many others. As such, we must be more intentional than ever in how we use our voices.
Report • By Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson • June 1. “Black Workers Face Two of the Most Lethal Preexisting Conditions for Coronavirus-Racism and Economic Inequality.” Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/.
As the pandemic brings to light the injustices that were for so long swept under the rugs, one can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Perhaps these injustices were always there in broad daylight- but the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives gave us an excuse to avoid thinking about things much further. In a blog earlier this summer, Susu Lassa wrote, “COVID-19 ripped back the curtain on the various systemic problems in the U.S and worldwide, and police brutality and racial injustice were once again cast into the limelight…” This pandemic has also pulled back the curtains on the economic injustices as while over 40 million Americans filled for unemployment over the past couple of months, billionaires added a staggering $637 billion to their wealth. Looking at figures like these it seems more necessary than ever to reflect and reassess the choices we make with regards to how we live and how we consume. Over the next few blog posts, we will explore and reaffirm simple living, stewardship, just dealings, and mutuality as they relate to economic justice and economic peacemaking; especially as we go forward during this pandemic. This first post in a series of four, explores simple living in a time of consumerism and consumer culture.
Over the years there have been
numerous Annual Conference Statements on Christian living, stewardship, and
creation care -all of which, I believe, point to the importance of simple
living. A 1980 annual conference statement emphasizes simplicity as a Christian
way of life. But what is simple living?
Not to be confused with minimalism, which often refers to simplicity as it pertains to physical possessions;
Simple living refers to a mindset focused on reduced consumption, with value
placed on essentials and things that bring us joy. (Babauta) Simple living is
more than just a cleared-out closet and rejection of luxury goods. It is a
mindset in which value is placed on finding joy in our human connections, our
community, and nature. In his book Freedom of Simplicity, Richard J.
Foster argues that simplicity is “an inward reality that results in an outward
By choosing to live simply, we make
mental and financial space to develop our spiritual life. We shift our focus
from finding ways to preserve our affluent lifestyles, to working to grow our
understanding of God and all creation.
“Consumer culture denotes a social
arrangement in which the relations between lived culture and social resources,
and between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on
which they depend, are mediated through markets.” (Arnould and Thompson, 869)
Rather than being a means of reflecting cultural values, consumption has become
a culture value, contributing to the ever-expanding list of our needs and
desires. (Goodman and Cohen)
Be aware of
Consumer Culture and intentional in how you navigate through it.
things we do are a matter of habit, conditioning, training, and unconscious
imitation. We are programmed by culture, family, and media, seldom questioning
why we act as we do, or whether we are doing the things we value most. Many of
the Influences which shape our behavior – hedonism, triumphalism, cynicism,
legalism – run counter to the lifestyle of the kingdom of God which Jesus lived
and proclaimed. (AC 1980, Christian Lifestyle)
Author Kit Yarrow in her book Decoding
The New Consumer Mind writes that studies show that hidden, unconscious
cues such as scents, colors, product placement, and how words sound, are now
more influential to our purchase decision process than ever before. We are told
what we need and increasingly our ability to discern our needs from our wants
is fading -or at least it seems to be. As such, there is great power in
awareness because only when people become aware of a habit are they able to
make intentional decisions to combat it.
As I finish up writing this piece, I
realize just how all over the place it is. But isn’t that more telling of the
interwoven nature of our lives? How our choice to live simply will not only
benefit us spiritually and financially, but can also benefit the community, the
environment, and the next generation. For a BVS’er like me, on a tight budget,
practicing simple living is the only choice. But I hope I develop a way of
living that extends beyond my year here. I want to make sure that I do not take
up more space and resources in this world than what was allotted for me; so
that others who share this Earth with me and those coming after me can enjoy it
as I have.
Reading: Consumer Culture by Goodman and Cohen
The masterpiece of a simple life |
Maura Malloy | TEDxIndianapolis
Babauta, Leo. “The Simple Guide to a
Minimalist Life.” Amazon, Publisher Not Identified, 2009,
Eric J. Arnould, Craig J. Thompson, Consumer Culture Theory
(CCT): Twenty Years of Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 31, Issue 4,
March 2005, Pages 868–882, https://doi.org/10.1086/426626
Goodman, Douglas J., and Mirelle
Cohen. Consumer Culture: a Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, 2004.
Yarrow, Kit. Decoding the New
Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy. Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand,
I have done a lot of growing in
this year of service.
And no, it’s not the kind of growth that takes place with a background of sunshine and rainbows and peppy music, but the hard, achy kind of growth. Still I walk around with these growing pains, sitting with questions that push at my own personal perceptions of peacebuilding, service, and what it means to actively build the kind of peace that mandates liberation for all.
Earlier in the year, I wrote about the struggle of maintaining resolve in the face of what seems like a stagnant, and in some cases regressive, time in our political climate. In the time that since that piece, I know that my resolve has weakened, and naturally, anger was poised to take its place. COVID-19 ripped back the curtain on the various systemic problems in the U.S and worldwide, and police brutality and racial injustice were once again cast into the limelight (with the help of live social media documentation of a phenomenon that is as old as the institution of policing itself).
In bearing cognizance of my anger
and the ire that burns hot in my belly, I wondered what to do with this fire.
After getting tired of letting it burn me out and leaving me weak, through the
help of Audre Lorde, I came to realize its refining power. Through her words, I
came to see the malleability of anger and its ability to be used as a powerful
source of energy, and I utilized its energy for reflection.
Left to focus on the intent and motivation behind my work as opposed to the outcome -because the outcomes were increasingly unfavorable- I became aware of how little time and reflection I had devoted to this endeavor. As the observatory lens turned away from what change we could effect and towards the why and the how, I was awash in the light of the selfishness of my approach to service. There I sat, questioning why I was doing this work, and not being thrilled with the answers.
I noticed that my approach to this
work centered the things I thought would be beneficial to the demographics that
I was advocating for; it didn’t center their own needs, wants, and aspirations,
and this was a glaring problem. This was something that I also noticed in various
of the spaces that I interacted with while in this position, and I felt
comfortable in my criticism of these spaces but remained oblivious to my
complicit conceptualization of the very same service that I was engaged in.
It soon became obvious that I needed to look at my motivations for service, first and foremost, as an act of service to those that I am in-service of. I needed to make “basic and radical alterations in those assumptions underlining” why I serve as a peacebuilder, and in utilizing the refining fire of anger, I called out my own biases and began the process of reconstructing my perceptions and motivation around service and peacebuilding. This is an ongoing process, and I hope that it only ends with a world where ALL can grow, because we are not free until the most marginalized within our world is free.
This year has been one of
learning and aching, and I gleefully rejoice for the work that I have been able
to do on myself while actively in service of others. I came into this position
with a reservoir of resolve and energy, and that reservoir has been severely
depleted. However, I see this not as a bad thing, but as a necessary
pre-condition to the work of understanding the assumptions around why I serve,
and what the larger implications of my actions are for the well-being of demographics
in which I have an active interest.
I know that in what should be a
blog post about the work done in service of others this year, I have spoken
more so about myself.
I think that is the point.
Service is a necessary, worthwhile, and laudable endeavor, but doing the work of examining why we serve is an act of service in and of itself. This year has helped to clarify my hazy assumptions and preconceived notions about what it means to truly be in service of others, and in that way has strengthened me as a peacebuilder. This work, for me, took place within my year of service, and while I am thankful that working at OPP provided me the conditions to come to this realization, I am cognizant that this is work that should be intentionally done by all who serve others, in all avenues and capacities.
I am better peacebuilder for working at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy; its been a tumultuous year, but I believe that this refining process has instigated in me a process of discernment that is of paramount importance when working in service of others. I plan to head to Bethany Theological Seminary in the Fall to gain a Masters in Peacebuilding, and I hope to tailor my projects and reading materials to study theology from the perspective of African American Liberation Theology. Afterwards, I intend to continue in the vein of peacebuilding, because this is necessary work.
OPP Report on the Churches for Middle East Peace Annual Advocacy Summit by Galen Fitzkee
Representatives of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (OPP) tuned in to the annual Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Advocacy Summit on Monday, June 22, to become more educated about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and advocacy efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. We were soon reminded that a virtual conference is not a perfect substitute for meeting together on Capitol Hill, however technical difficulties were resolved in short order and the program commenced. The theme of the webinar was Equal in God’s Eyes, Human Rights and Dignity for all in Israel and Palestine and focused heavily on the efforts we can all take to promote a peaceful and holistic solution to the fraught situation between Israel and Palestine. Jeremey Ben Ami of J Street oriented those of us who were less knowledgeable with a brief summary of the human and political considerations involved in the fight against annexation of Palestine. He shared a message of optimism and encouraged each of us to get involved to change the course of American policy and thus the future of the Palestinian and Israeli people who both deserve a right to control their own futures. Ben Ami answered some questions about the immediate future of the region and layed out points of action that the US can take including clearly defining purposes for financial aid and making fair and balanced criticism of Israeli actions in international bodies.
COVID, Middle East, and
Next, we quickly transitioned into a panel of speakers from all over the world including Jerusalem, Gaza, Geneva, and the United States to talk about the human rights work of their various organizations. COVID-19 is making a tough situation worse throughout the Middle East and all around the world, according to World Council of Churches rep Carla Khijoyan. Jessica Montell, executive director of Israeli human rights organization HaMoked, reminded us that restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus are necessary but can be used as a pretext for human rights abuses and actually exacerbate other injustices. Bassam Nasser of CRS informed us about the current reality of life in Gaza, which has been defined by intense restrictions since before the pandemic. He noted new restrictions particularly affect access to education, which is usually a source of hope for Palestinians looking for a way to overcome their oppression. Overall, they encouraged us to get our information directly from the source and to focus on people rather than politics to both solve a humanitarian crisis and address the systems of power that undermine sovereignty and contribute to instability for all parties.
After a break for lunch, CMEP
provided us an overview of their mission and programs that work to Educate,
Elevate, and Advocate for the Middle East. Initiatives such as Pilgrimage to
Peace Tours offer a first-hand look at the conditions in Israel/Palestine and
help build relationships with local peacebuilders. CMEP also has made an effort
to bring marginalized women’s voices to the forefront in the peace movement.
Conflict resolution, even between extreme ideological groups. CMEP demonstrated
that they have meaningful connections with faith leaders all across the region
in places like Egypt and Iraq, and our very own Nathan Hosler made an
appearance in a picture with members of CMEP and the Assyrian Church in Erbil.
CMEP offers a wealth of video resources on their website as well as educational
literature and ways to get involved with advocacy for peace. They often use the
hashtag #ChurchesAgainstAnnexation on social media.
Protecting our Right to Stand
for Palestinian Freedom
In light of the current unrest due
to racial injustice in the United States, CMEP welcomed Dima Khalidi of
Palestinian Legal Aid to draw parallels between the plight of Black Americans
and Palestinians. “We are all held captive by a global system that prioritizes
profit over people” she said as she encouraged us to hold fast to the truth
about inequality and systemic realities that affect our neighbors here at home
and abroad. Once we understand our origins, there is a responsibility to
finally react to the work of black artists and organizers that implore us to
act. We must follow their lead and listen to the solutions that they require in
order to imagine an alternative society that is free of oppression. The
response to movements against oppression such as the Black Lives Matter
coalition has been and will continue to be repression and mislabeling, which we
have seen first-hand in the United States. Palestinians face repression in the
fight for their rights too. Leader reputations take a serious hit from smear
campaigns and intense legal scrutiny in Palestine just because they speak out
in favor of Palestinian rights. These threats and mischaracterizations of
Palestine as terroristic or anti-Semitic have increased as grassroots support
has grown. Pro-Israel groups have unleashed an assault on peaceful advocacy by
bogging down efforts toward progress in legislation and seeking to criminalize and
intimidate dissent strategies such as boycotting. While Khalidi wanted to make
clear that the root causes of the situations in the US and Palestine are
fundamentally different, it is amazing that we are witnessing similar
strategies from the US and Israeli governments play out in real time. So, what
can we do to stand with those fighting the uphill battle against oppression and
subsequently repression? First, we must protect the right of advocacy and free
speech rights as ways to dissent and fight for social justice. We should
recognize that bold demands will not be easily accepted by the powers that be
in either case because they have a stake in the oppression of minorities and
the status quo. Finally, we must go back to the roots of the injustice in
Palestine and the US so that reform and redevelopment can result in holistic
and lasting changes. Khalidi left us to ponder a variation of the following
question: Are we willing to listen to the oppressed and give up comfortability
in order to finally achieve the worldly embodiment of Equality in God’s Eyes?
Foreign Policy and Election
Since 2020 is an election year and
the presidential election is fast-approaching, CMEP Senior Director of Advocacy
and Government Relations Kyle Cristofalo hosted a panel of experts to address
United States foreign policy. The consensus of these experts was that the current
administration and ambassador to Israel David Friedman have been enabling Israeli
leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s far right policies by encouraging de jure
annexation and other illicit activities. They encouraged us to take a look at
writings and actions that began at the outset of the administration’s term
which include: recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, moving the US
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, discontinuing aid to UNRWA and consequently
Palestinian refugees, closing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
mission in Washington, D.C., allowing incremental annexation of the Golan
heights, failing to recognize violations of international law, and pushing a
one-sided peace plan. The pattern of action in US foreign policy has been
blatantly pro-Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and hope for a
two-state solution. Going forward, policy considerations should seek to reverse
this steep trend towards the annexation of Palestinian territory and
depoliticize the policies themselves. We were encouraged to maintain awareness
of the human rights abuses occurring in the middle east. We can expect more of
the same from a second term of a Trump administration who will likely continue
to move the goalposts when it comes to opposing annexation as they seek to make
changes irreversible. The speculation is that a Biden administration would not
take a firm pro-Palestinian stance but may reengage with multilateral
organizations and reverse extreme policy shifts that have occurred. It is
likely that if Palestinians were able to vote in the US election that they
would support a changing of the guard, however the unfortunately reality on the
ground is that the Palestinian people continue to lose freedoms and the
sovereignty of their own nation every day.
In closing, Grace Al-Zoughbi
Arteen, a Palestinian Christian and accomplished instructor at Bethlehem Bible
College, offered us a moving prayer in both English and Arabic. She reminded us
of the meaning of the beatitudes for the oppressed, of our shared humanity and
experiences, and of our hope in Jesus who offers us help, peace, and love.
This blog post was written by Office of Peacebuilding and Policy Food Insecurity Intern Priscilla Weddle.
In 2018, the current administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. The sanctions cover shipping, finance, and energy with the goal of “limiting Tehran’s ability to fund destabilizing activities and forcing its leaders back into nuclear discussion” (Piven, 2020). These sanctions have had a devastating impact on the country’s economy and its citizens. Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted an estimated 4.8% in 2018 and was forecast to shrink another 9.5% in 2019 (International Monetary Fund, 2019). Living costs have also risen as a result of inflation.
Inflation is estimated to reach 38% with rates being especially high for food items; for example, the cost of meat has gone up 116 percent (World Bank, 2019). The rising food prices and unemployment rate has resulted in many families being unable to purchase basic items. Zahra Abdollahi, the director of Iran’s Ministry of Health’s Department of Nutrition Improvement, has stated that “The eight provinces are suffering from food shortage and malnutrition problems along with other types of deprivation” (“Government In Iran Struggles To Provide Food Amid Shortages,” 2019). It has become increasingly difficult for the Iranian government to handle this situation as their resources continue to diminish as a result of the sanctions.
The Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy has strong concerns about the welfare of the Iranian people because of the ways in which economic sanctions are correlated with insecurity and deprivation. We, as people of faith, have a moral impetus to advocate for “… the ways of living that lead toward a future filled with blessing and harmonious relationships rather than with violence and destruction,” as stated in the 1996 Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention. The U.S. should end its harsh trade sanctions that target the Iranian people.
This resource is part of the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow” explains in this Ted Talk how certain laws disproportionately affect people of color causing similar discrimination as was seen during the Jim Crow laws. This video gives a look into how policies that may not seem racist can perpetuate racial disparities.
This is the fifth resource in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
One of the systemic sins in U.S. history is housing discrimination. People of color have been denied mortgages, charged higher interest rates, and have been denied access to homes in predominantly affluent and white neighborhoods. Even after the passing of the Fair Housing Act, these practices that have occurred across the last 100 years still impact the lives of people of color today. The following video includes interviews with Black Americans who share their stories of the housing discrimination they experienced in Chicago. For more information, click here to read an article that goes into greater detail about redlining in Chicago.
This is the fourth reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
Written by Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in OPP
When picking a church, people try to find a church where they “fit
in.” It may be that they attend a church that has a strong children’s program
because they are a young family. It could be they attend a church with
opportunities to share their musical talents or offers services with their
preferred style of music and worship. If your Brethren, you make sure to find a
church that has a lot of fellowship activities with awesome potlucks.
Regardless, most people try to find a church that matches their beliefs in God
and meets their needs and wants. What if one of those “wants” is that the
fellow congregants are the same race as they are?
The most segregated time of the week is Sunday morning, when many
citizens of the United States are attending church. As people choose the church
they want to attend, they choose one where they “fit in.” We tend to “fit in”
at churches where people look like us, act like us, and have similar customs.
The race of people in our congregations often influences our choices even when
we are not aware. We may feel comfortable in a congregation because of specific
practices and traditions, but those traditions come from cultures. Different
ethnicities and different cultures practice their faith and live out their
faith in unique ways. For example, I teach as a college professor, and a
student of mine from Puerto Rico shared how she was reprimanded in high school
for wearing her rosary beads around her neck. In Puerto Rico, wearing one’s
rosary was a symbol of faith! In the continental US, in a predominantly white
Catholic high school, it was a sign of disrespect. So what type of church is
she going to feel most comfortable attending? One where she can proudly wear
her rosary or one where she feels condemnation for doing so? If you were Catholic,
where would you want to attend?
Where we “fit in” at church ends up being segregated by race,
which at face value may not sound like a bad thing. However, history has taught
us that there is no such thing as separate but equal. What ends up happening is
instead of simply coexisting in different churches, we become unaware of
different churches. We become unaware of how others live out their faith. We
become unaware of other customs, traditions, and ways of knowing the Divine. We
become unaware that our way of knowing God is not the only way, and we forget
how to learn. When we stop learning, we end up being the ones who criticize a
young girl for how she wears her rosary beads.
When we practice our faith with people of different races,
customs, and traditions, we learn more about who God is. The Lord created
people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities to worship him in their own
ways. As we practice our faith with people of various backgrounds, we learn
more about who God is because different cultures connect to different
characteristics of God. As a young white woman, the images and characteristics
of God I have grown up with are different than the images and characteristics
of God that a person of color may connect with. For example, for many people of
color, the Lord is a God of liberation. God used Moses to free the people of
Israel who were enslaved and oppressed. During his life, Jesus liberated people
from oppressive forces in society: the sinners, the outcasts, the foreigner,
the poor. He gave them a
new life in a society that had pushed them to the margins. In Luke 4:18-19, we
read that Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read from Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of
the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of
sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the
Lord’s favor’…’Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (NIV).
Jesus did not choose a church because he wanted to “fit in” nor did he spend time with people he fit in with. He chose to spend his time with the marginalized and the outcasts, but it was not solely for the purpose of healing. He broke bread with, lived with, ministered to, and was ministered to by those who were marginalized in society. He lived alongside the oppressed getting to know them, who they were, and what their needs were. If those in positions of power struggle to even learn about who God is from people who are oppressed, how are they going to learn about the person being oppressed and what their needs are. If I, as a young white woman, who is in a position of power simply because of my race do not live alongside people who are oppressed, I may never learn. If I never learn, then I will continue living a segregated life perpetuating discrimination.
Segregation is no longer considered illegal, however much of the
U.S. is segregated by race including housing developments, schools, workforce,
and employment. Even though a company may employ people of different races,
quite often the jobs and duties are segregated by race. Even with affirmative action,
there are various struggles that people of color disproportionately encounter.
For example, a position that requires a master’s degree is often considered a
high-level position, and these positions are disproportionately held by people
who are white. The difficulty comes in attaining a master’s degree. Higher
education in general is costly for people in the United State, including
expenses beyond tuition such as room and board, textbooks, travel, etc. People
of color have a greater likelihood of experiencing financial insecurity than
people who are white. An undergraduate education often is a huge success and
huge financial toll for anyone. For those who experience financial insecurity,
education beyond undergraduate becomes even more difficult and may seem
unattainable. This results in predominantly white affluent people achieving
graduate level education, so the applicant pool for an upper level position
requiring a master’s degree is predominantly white. Even with affirmative
action, the monetary toll of graduate level education and the need to provide
financially for one’s family limits integration in these areas of the
How do we know money is one of the hindrances to integration? It
requires that people live and work alongside those who are oppressed, listening
to their stories and learning from them. If people do not step out of their
comfort zones and remain on the outside looking in, incorrect assumptions will continue
to be made, assuming that people who are oppressed do not have the drive for
graduate level education, or they do not desire those types of jobs. Or concluding
that they have every opportunity as everybody else, but they choose not to get
the education; they are self-segregating!
These assumptions would be wrong.
As we move about our daily lives, instead of always finding places
that we fit in, maybe we need to be looking for places that we don’t fit? Live
alongside people that are different from us and learn what it means for them to
live. What brings them joy, pain, sadness, and trouble? Celebrate with them in
the joyous moments. Mourn with them in the times of pain. Be present even when
it is not comfortable. Live like Jesus lived.
In the United States, our churches are segregated, and the average American’s life mirrors this segregation. Below are various roles people have in our lives. For each of these roles, identify how many people you interact with regularly who are of a different race than you.
______ Clients (people you
work with who are not coworkers)
What are ways that you could increase the diversity of the groups you are a part of? What are some ways you could break out of your comfort zone to live alongside people who are different than you?
of the good Samaritan is often used to explain how our neighbors who we are to
love are not just the people who are like us, but also the people who are
different than us. It is a common Scripture used when discussing race because
the Samaritan extended love and care for the person of a different race; of a
race who he was supposed to despise. By stopping to take care of the man, the
Samaritan showed love for his neighbor. He also stood up to racism in the
process by crossing the racial divide of the two ethnic groups. The Samaritan
put the needs of the person above his own comfort and above societal
What are ways that the Priest and the Levite wanted to protect their comfort over helping the person in need? Who were they “fitting in” with?
What was the Samaritan risking by stopping to help?
When is a time that you saw a “man along the side of the ride,” a time that you encountered racism, but simply continued walking? What could you have done instead?
When is a time that you were the Samaritan, and stood up against racism? How was the experience?