October 8, 2015

EDITORIAL: Francis Spoke to Me, Just as Romero Did

Like many low-wage U.S. Capitol workers who are organizing for living wages and the union, I am inspired to keep fighting for justice after Pope Francis’s speech to Congress.

I am a contract janitor who cleans tables and empties garbage cans for U.S. senators. Despite 8 years of service, I only make $11.35 an hour without any benefits. As a 67-year-old grandfather, I struggle to survive day-by-day on such low pay in America.

In the Pope’s address, he encouraged us to walk in the footsteps of prophets of justice like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King. But Francis himself reminds me of another prophet I once met.

In El Salvador, my home country, I was active in the trade union movement. We were organizing workers to demand a better life because the few lived like royalty at the expense of the many who lived in squalor.

EDITORIAL: I Am a Sinner: Don’t Forget to Pray for Me

The first thing the new Pope Francis said to the world in St. Peter’s Square when he accepted the papacy was “I am a sinner.” In a final mass of one million people in Philadelphia, the last words Francis spoke to the American people were, “Please pray for me; don’t forget!”

From the moment Francis arrived to the last event he led in the U.S., I saw something I never had before. For the first time in my life, I saw the gospel proclaimed at the highest levels of the nation — from the White House, to the Congress, to the United Nations, to Madison Square Garden, to Independence Hall, and to Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Simplicity, humility, compassion, grace, service, love, justice, peace, care for the poor, and creation itself were all lifted up in the places where such things are seldom valued or even named.

EDITORIAL: Faith Community’s Response to the Current Anti-Immigrant Wave

I am worried about the moral state of America. Rhetoric from several presidential candidates has become hateful toward immigrants, and now successful community policing methodologies, supported by sheriffs and police chiefs across the country, are on trial in the U.S. Congress.

When I served as United Church of Christ (UCC) Conference Minister in Phoenix, Arizona, for eight years, I saw firsthand how the tactics of criminalizing immigrants, employed by the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, run counter to communities’ best interests and do nothing to prevent crime. As the Department of Justice has now proven, such tactics increase racial profiling and violate the Fourth Amendment. The so-called “toughest sheriff” in America now continues to be indicted. Yet, somehow, policies like Arpaio’s that lead to racial profiling and the criminalization of immigrants have become commonplace. This is not only an unjust path; it is unworthy of a country made great by immigrants.

NCC Laments Umpqua Shooting

The National Council of Churches (NCC) laments the loss of ten lives this week in the incident of gun violence at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon this week. This school shooting, the 45th this year, and the 142nd since the massacre on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We join in grief with the families and loved ones of the dead, and in prayer for the nine injured in this senseless incident.

“It is astounding to me that there is still no meaningful effort to enact common-sense laws to stop these mass killings from taking place,” said Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, a coalition of 37 Christian communions in the United States. “Even as these events continue to take place, and as they are actually increasing in frequency, I refuse to become numb to this horrible part of our life together as American people.”

The NCC, through its partnership with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, calls upon each and every congregation to join in the annual Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath and pledge to strive toward a society in which we no longer have to fear attending a movie, a worship service, or school.

The NCC asks the National Rifle Association to work with us to urge Congress to enact meaningful legislation that preserves 2nd Amendment freedoms while dramatically reducing gun violence in this nation.

We remember the words of scripture, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away (Proverbs 11:30 NRSV).”

Justice Department Set to Free 6,000 Prisoners, Largest One-Time Release

The Justice Department is set to release about 6,000 inmates early from prison — the largest one-time release of federal prisoners — in an effort to reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received harsh sentences over the past three decades, according to U.S. officials.

The inmates from federal prisons nationwide will be set free by the department’s Bureau of Prisons between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. About two-thirds of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release. About one-third are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported, officials said.

The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive.

CHN: New Sentencing Reform Bill Introduced with Bipartisan Sponsorship

In a hyper-partisan Congress, bipartisan support for significant legislation is increasingly rare. But recognition is growing that prison terms are far too long, discriminatory, ineffective and expensive. In a significant development, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) joined with nine other key senators to cosponsor the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123), introduced on October 1. All of the cosponsors serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including the senior Democrat, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), as well as Senators Booker (D-NJ), Cornyn (R-TX), Durbin (D-IL), Graham (R-SC), Lee (R-UT), Schumer (D-NY), Scott (R-SC), and Whitehouse (D-RI).

The bill would eliminate the harsh three-strike mandatory life sentence, replacing it with a 25-year term. Under current federal law, someone who has two convictions for “serious” crimes and then is convicted in federal court of a “serious violent felony” receives an automatic life sentence. Minimum sentences for a second offense would be reduced from 20 to 15 years.

Bernie Sanders, Federal Workers Call For A Living Wage Ahead Of Pope's Visit

"Whose Capitol? Our Capitol!" The chant reverberated on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Tuesday as low-income federal workers and religious leaders gathered to kneel in prayer for higher wages and the right to unionize.

Around 1,000 low-wage contract workers from federal buildings went on strike for the day to protest their pay and working conditions. Hundreds attended the demonstration, which took place in honor of Pope Francis' impending arrival in Washington, D.C.

The pope has made the plight of the low-wage worker central to his papacy and has dubbed economic inequality the “root of social evil.”

The refrain “15 and a union” echoed in the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, as workers and religious leaders filled the pews before crossing the street to pray on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

IMF Report Downgrades Global Economy and Issues Debt Warning

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgrades global growth forecasts and warns of rising debt levels in "emerging" economies in its newly released World Economic Outlook report. The report lowers growth forecasts in low-income and developing countries from 6% in 2014 to 4.8% in 2015. The IMF releases the report twice a year before its Spring and Annual Meetings. This year's joint IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings begin this week in Lima, Peru. 

"Debt continues to take its toll on the global economy," noted Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious development coalition Jubilee USA Network. LeCompte serves on United Nations finance expert groups. "The IMF's cautious tone is well-founded and we need to change the debt, tax and trade polices that cause poverty."

In her annual pre-meetings speech, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde called global growth "disappointing and uneven" and called for policy changes to address pressing economic challenges. Lagarde specifically noted foreign debt in emerging markets as a concern. Currently almost 50 countries around the world face worrying levels of debt distress.

Moral Monday Movement Leader Receives Roosevelt 'Four Freedoms' Award

On Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Roosevelt Foundation presented awards to five laureates including the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, pastor of Green Leaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, NC, and leader of the Moral Monday Movement. Other honorees included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the Freedom Medal.

The foundation annually honors those who exemplify the four freedoms outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his historic speech to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941, as essential to democracy. Barber's award was for freedom of worship. Others include The Nation weekly magazine for freedom from fear; Arthur Mitchell of the Dance Theater of Harlem for freedom of speech/expression; Olofunmilayo Olopade of the University of Chicago's Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and Global Health for freedom from want.

The awards are presented in odd-numbered years in the United States and even-numbered years internationally.

First-Ever Poll of Workers Who Make Less Than $15 Shows 72% Support for Unions

Seventy-two percent of underpaid workers approve of labor unions, and 75 percent support a $15 minimum wage and a union—the goals of the Fight for $15 movement that has set a new standard for pay across the nation—according to the first-ever poll of workers paid less than $15 an hour.

The poll, released Monday by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), was conducted using leading survey platforms Harris Interactive and YouGov and follows on an April 2015 NELP study that found 42 percent of workers in the nation are paid less than $15 an hour. With the presidential campaign season heating up and Democrats convening next week for their first candidate debate, the poll looks at the voting preferences of this critical demographic of underpaid workers:

Organizations Call on White House to Seek Elimination of Prolonged Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

Today, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joined 126 organizations, including 39 religious organizations, in urging the White House to ensure that a national review of solitary confinement leads to concrete recommendations to eliminate long-term isolation in United States prisons and jails. In July, before his historic visit to El Reno federal prison, President Obama made his most critical statements on solitary confinement to date and announced the Department of Justice will conduct a national review of the practice.

The letter to the President comes on the heels of a study of the federal Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) use of solitary confinement, which detailed widespread abuse, the placement of persons with severe mental illness in solitary, and estimated that more than 10,000 individuals are held in conditions of isolation by BOP on any given day.

CHN: Child Nutrition Programs Continue Despite Lack of Reauthorization Bill

While the law governing child nutrition programs expired on September 30, language in the Continuing Resolution passed to avert a government shutdown means the programs will continue to be funded and will continue to operate. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act sets the policy and funding structure for all of the federal school meal and child nutrition programs, including School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Child and Adult Care Food, Summer Food Service Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and others. Many of these programs are permanently authorized (subject to Congress funding their operations), but Congress reviews the laws governing them every five years. Other programs included in the law that are not permanently authorized, like WIC, will also continue to be funded as a part of the Continuing Resolution, and the assistance from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) will continue to be issued. Funding for some of these programs could get wrapped up in the larger appropriations process this fall.

CANADA: 2015 Election Bulletin: A New Approach to Refugees

Refugees, currently numbering 20 million internationally, are among the most vulnerable populations in the world. Many of those escaping conflict and persecution come to Canada seeking safety and protection. However, changes to our federal immigration system have led to a steady decrease in the number of refugee claimants accepted in Canada per year. This comes at a time when the world is facing one of the worst refugee crises in modern history.

Refugees face unimaginable hardships. They have been forced to abandon their homes in order to save their lives and have likely witnessed and endured extreme acts of violence on their journey to safety. They arrive in Canada suffering from trauma, with little in the way of money or possessions.

President of Disciples Home Missions Speaks at Capitol Hill Press Conference

On Monday, Sept. 28, Rev. Ron Degges, president of Disciples Home Missions, spoke at a faith leaders press conference on Syrian refugees. In his comments, Degges noted Disciples' historic faith commitments to acceptance of the world’s most vulnerable, despite their religious backgrounds. Here are excerpts from his planned statement:

I am grateful to be a part of a faith tradition that has spoken again and again—over the years through denominational resolutions, in recent months in a letter to the President, and just weeks ago as a national interfaith team of religious leaders--of our key faith value of welcoming the stranger despite religious or cultural background. We must welcome without exclusion, because we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

CANADA: Social Groups Call for Federal Strategy to Eradicate Poverty

Anti-poverty activists gathered at Parliament Hill on Tuesday morning to draw attention to the country’s most vulnerable citizens — a group they say has been largely ignored during this federal election.

Similar groups took part in a simultaneous rally in more than 50 communities across Canada to call for a national anti-poverty plan.

As part of the annual Chew on This event, organizers handed out brown paper bags containing literature and a symbolic apple to spotlight the fact that 900,000 Canadians rely on food banks each month.

“I think everyone knows that two words dominated the beginning of the election, and the two words were ‘middle class,'” said Leilani Farha, executive director of Canada without Poverty. “A word that didn’t get mentioned, of course, was the word ‘poverty.'”

Yet poverty, she said, is at the centre of the issues each party has been highlighting, from the economy and health to low-wage jobs and income security for seniors.

UPCOMING EVENT: Student Christian Movement USA Fall Planning Event

At Alma Matthews House in West Village, NYC on October 29-31, 2015, the Student Christian Movement USA will hold a Fall Planning Retreat.

The Student Christian Movement-USA is a grassroots, ecumenical, and progressive Christian organization rooted in the history of US and global student Christian movements and the World Student Christian Federation, one of the oldest organizations in the modern ecumenical history. SCM-USA is dedicated to exploring and deepening the faith of engaged Christian students and young adults, welcoming those who want to explore their relationship to local, national, and international issues from a Christian perspective.

JOB OPPORTUNITY: Religious Institute Seeks Next President/CEO

The Religious Institute is looking for a dynamic, visionary President and CEO to lead the organization in its role in a changing religious, cultural and philanthropic environment. The President/CEO is responsible for developing the organization’s strategic and long-term vision. The President/CEO serves as the senior program officer for the Religious Institute. The President/CEO is also the primary spokesperson for the organization and engages supporters in the mission and vision for the work. The ideal candidate will understand the intersection of religion and sexuality, will mobilize supporters around a vision, and will exhibit a strong commitment to social justice.

JOB OPENING: AAUW Is Looking for An Associate Director, Field Services

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls. Since our founding in 1881, AAUW members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day — educational, social, economic, and political.

AAUW’s policy work connects and rallies advocates at the local, state, national, and global levels to advance our work to empower women and girls. With the member-endorsed Public Policy Program as our guide, AAUW uses lobbying and grassroots efforts to push forward policies that break through educational and economic barriers for women.

JOB OPPORTUNITY: Policy Advocate Job Opportunity with CWS/IRP

Church World Service (CWS) is a not-for-profit organization working to eradicate hunger and poverty and to promote peace and justice around the world. CWS does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability or veteran status in employment or in the provision of services.

The Policy Advocate coordinates advocacy efforts in Washington, DC as part of the dynamic, forward thinking, mission-centered IRP+ Advocacy Team. The Advocacy Team is also comprised of the National Grassroots Coordinator, Community Organizer and Media Associate, all supervised by the Director of Policy and Advocacy.

August 19, 2015

RESOURCES: Observing the 10th Anniversary of Katrina/Rita

1. Social Media sharing. 

a. Please share Creation Justice Ministries’ Facebook post

b. Please retweet Creation Justice Ministries’ Tweet

c. OR, if you have your own messaging and links to spread, please feel free to either use the attached meme/contact me about co-branding a similar meme with a different message. I’d be happy to make one for any of you this week.

2. Encourage people you know to download the refreshed version of our 2006 education, Bible study, and prayer resource: Through the Eye of the Hurricane: Rebuilding Just Communities. Download Now»

3. Forward/share the following email content: