June 16, 2016

Sharon Watkins Joins Faith Leaders Calling for Sentencing Reform

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Minister and President Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins joined faith leaders from across the country Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol to pray for victims and families of the Orlando shooting and to pray that another issue critical to our safety and security -- reform of systems that imprison 2.3 million Americans -- is accomplished through changes in federal sentencing guidelines. The prayer vigil was led by faith groups from across a wide spectrum of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, along with civil rights groups.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) has not been brought to a vote, despite receiving wide bipartisan support. Faith leaders met with Senators and members of the House of Representatives to urge that this bill, and other reforms, move forward. Sentencing reform is one issue that has been able to cut through partisan gridlock and has received support from both Republicans and Democrats.

“Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all spring from a story of freedom, of a God who liberates the enslaved and gives second chances,” Watkins said. “We believe this is a matter of faith and morality, and we urge Senator McConnell to do the right thing and bring this bill to a vote.”

The Senate bill, S. 2123, reforms the “Three Strikes” rules that can put persons in prison for life for minor offenses. It also changes some of the mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. “We have been supportive of this bill since the beginning, and still feel that it is the best chance we will have to see meaningful change for years to come,” said Aundreia Alexander, Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. “If this legislation is not brought to a vote in the next few weeks, it likely will die. Time is of the essence. We urge Congress to act now.”

The event was sponsored by the National Council of Churches, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.

June 15, 2016

What is World Refugee Day & How Can Disciples Link with Refugees?

On December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution proclaiming June 20th of each year as World Refugee Day. Since then, hundreds of World Refugee Day (WRD) educational events, food fairs, religious celebrations, and cultural festivals have been held each year across the country to provide opportunities for neighbors to engage and build relationships with their local refugees and immigrants.

Perhaps this year, as we recognize the world now has OVER 20 MILLION refugees and 40 MILLION displaced persons--more than at any point since World War II--understanding and building friendships with refugees has never been so critical! As Disciples, through Refugee & Immigration Ministries, and in partnership with Week of Compassion, there are multiple ways to build our knowledge and connections around this year's "World Refugee Day" 

June 13, 2016

President Obama on the Tragic Shooting in Orlando

"Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder -- a horrific massacre -- of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.

I just finished a meeting with FBI Director Comey and my homeland security and national security advisors. The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation, in partnership with local law enforcement. I’ve directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.

We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what -- if any -- inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days, we’ll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us."

May 28, 2016

Refugees Welcome Campaign Launch

The Disciples of Christ is among the 50 national faith and community organizations in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition that recently launched the Refugees Welcome Campaign. The campaign is a response to the increased attention around the Syrian refugee crisis in particular and the recent increase in hateful, anti-refugee political rhetoric. The initiative hopes to show that communities, businesses, faith groups, and political leaders across the United States are ready to welcome all refugees, regardless of their country of origin, religion, or ethnic group.

General Minister and President Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins said, "I have heard countless stories of congregations around the country welcoming refugees through offering donations, uplifting refugee leadership, volunteering at resettlement offices, tutoring English, highlighting refugees in worship, advocating refugee rights, and working hand-in-hand with their community leaders to demonstrate that without a doubt, refugees are welcomed neighbors. In this era of unprecedented numbers of refugees in the world, and unfortunate pushback against them in many areas, World Refugee Day--and indeed every day--provides us with wonderful opportunities to live out God's urging scripture to 'love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' (Dt. 10:19)"

The campaign will be ongoing, but special events and resources right now are building toward World Refugee Day on June 20. For more information about Disciples Home Mission Refugee and Immigration Ministries, visit the RIM home page.

May 27, 2016

EDITORIAL: Our Baylor Problem Is Bigger Than Baylor

by Marc Istook (First Christian North Hollywood; Los Angeles, CA)

“It’s easy to blame the treatment of sexual assault victims at Baylor on a collegiate football culture that’s obsessed with winning. But that’s not the real culprit. It’s merely the conduit for a larger problem. Because if we think what happened at Baylor couldn’t (doesn’t?) happen at our school, or job, or city, or place of worship, we’re fooling ourselves. It happens all the time. Every day.” Read the rest here.
Marc Istook grew up at South Hills Christian Church in Fort Worth, TX. He’s a TCU alum and now attends First Christian North Hollywood in Los Angeles. He’s currently the Host of NFL Now. Read his piece about the Baylor sexual assault scandal.

May 13, 2016

Disciples Support an End to Domestic Violence and Gun Violence

1 in 4 women in the United States experience severe physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. The presence of a gun in a violent relationship increases the risk of homicide by 500%. There is also a strong correlation between stalking and future violence: one study found that 76% of women murdered by a current or former intimate partner experienced stalking in the year preceding the murder. We need to put an end to this epidemic immediately.

As people of faith, we are called to action and we seek solutions that address the connections between intimate partner violence and guns. The Disciples Center for Public Witness has joined 500+ clergy members and faith organizations in support of The Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act (H.R. 3130) and the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (S.1520). These laws would close loopholes that allow convicted abusers and stalkers to buy and own guns. Currently, individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence who have not cohabited with their victim or who do not have a child with their victim, and individuals convicted of misdemeanor stalking, are not prohibited from purchasing or possessing guns. When convicted abusers and stalkers have guns, women’s lives are at risk.

Here's how you can get involved:

1. If you are a member of clergy: sign the letter to Congress in support of H.R. 3130 and S. 1520.

2. Join us for the National Faith Call-In Day on Domestic Violence and Guns on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Contact your members of Congress by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can use talking points from the faith letter (linked above) or from this page. Urge them to support H.R. 3130 and S. 1520!

3. Download the graphic below and share on your social media pages (or, even easier, share directly from our pages: Facebook and Twitter).

April 28, 2016

Criminal Justice Reform – One Step at a Time

By Ford Rowan

The Maryland General Assembly has voted to approve a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, the Justice Reinvestment Act. It will result in thousands of non-violent offenders being released; most of these inmates are low-level drug offenders.

A large number of religious groups – including our Disciples Center for Public Witness – have urged passage of this legislation. Reform is long overdue. Maryland’s draconian mandatory sentences for drug offenses have swelled the prison population and contributed to the mass incarceration of African-Americans.

The new law will result in millions of dollars of savings in correctional costs. These moneys are earmarked to pay for the kind of services that will help keep ex-offenders from re-offending: addiction recovery programs, mental health care, transitional housing, job training and employment assistance.

April 26, 2016

This Week On State of Belief

On this episode of State of Belief, Interfaith Alliance’s weekly radio show and podcast, Rev. Welton Gaddey will discuss the dangerous affects of state laws that let parents make critical decisions to deny their child’s medical care under the guise of “religious freedom.” We’ll then talk with a campaign veteran about important issues around the election we may be missing – or refusing to listen to. Finally, as this episode falls during Passover, Welton will speak with Rabbi Brad Hirscfeld about the lessons we can all learn from the holiday.

Department of Justice to Launch Inaugural National Reentry Week

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthening the criminal justice system, the Department of Justice designated the week of April 24-30, 2016, as National Reentry Week. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro will travel to Philadelphia on MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2016, to hold events as part of National Reentry Week with public housing advocates, legal services providers and community leaders where they will announce new efforts to improve outcomes for justice-involved individuals including youth.

Later in the week, the Attorney General will visit a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility in Talladega, Alabama, to highlight reentry programs in prison. Similarly, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates will visit a federal women’s prison in Texas and will later hold a media availability at Santa Maria Hostel, a specialized residential substance abuse, mental health and trauma facility. Acting Director Thomas Kane of the Bureau of Prisons will accompany both Attorney General Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Yates on their visits.

Announcing the DPF 2016 Peace Interns

The 2016 Peace Interns will begin their work with a training week in Indianapolis on June 1st. They will then spend the summer traveling throughout the church, serving at camps and conferences as counselors and teaching youth people about peace & justice. They will be present at the summer gatherings of the National Convocation, NAPAD, and Obra Hispana, as well as National Youth Event.

We have another exciting announcement coming out in a couple days about two additional partner interns, so watch for more information!

April 21, 2016

Pray for Creation Justice on Earth Day

Pray for Creation Justice on Earth Day

The Disciples Center for Public Witness is joining Creation Justice Ministries for a call to prayer on April 22 at noon local time.

Dear Disciples Justice Advocate, 

Today is Earth Day, and representatives from many countries will gather at the United Nations in New York. They plan to sign the historic Paris Agreement, which was made at the December 2015 COP 21 international climate negotiations. The United Nations will continue to accept signatures to the Paris Agreement through April 2017. Countries will need to adopt the agreement within their own legal systems, through ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. The agreement will enter into force when joined by at least 55 countries, which together represent at least 55% of global emissions. 

While in many ways our work is just beginning, tomorrow's signing ceremony is a reason for the Creation Justice community to celebrate. We have contributed to this moment.

April 9, 2016

The Washington Interfaith Staff Community (WISC) met for its annual planning retreat last week at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. More than 80 faithful advocates representing a wide range of interfaith justice groups met to discuss advocacy successes from 2015 and plan ahead for 2016. Last week's retreat gave special attention to Islamophobia in the United States, the toxic rhetoric and violence we are witnessing in the current campaign cycle, and what these realities mean for our work as peacemakers and people of faith.

The Disciples Center for Public Witness actively participates in many of the WISC working groups on a variety of social justice concerns. Working in a richly ecumenical and interfaith context helps to coordinate our organizing and advocacy strategy and to amplify our message on Capitol Hill. Our recent efforts have been particularly focused on anti-racism, anti-poverty, anti-torture, worker rights, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, health care, and care for God's creation. We also prioritize issues related to both religious liberty and public education.

"Injustice Anywhere" Documentary

Following the fatal shooting of young adult Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, several Disciples clergy and laypersons joined many others in community responses for justice in Ferguson and beyond. In cooperation with other Disciples, the National Benevolent Association (NBA) has supported efforts for justice and racial reconciliation in the St. Louis area by promoting and facilitating conversation, gathering, advocacy, and healing.

This documentary, Injustice Anywhere, arose in the midst of collective conversations and work of several expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), including key activist clergy and laypersons in the St. Louis area; the Christian Church of Mid-America; the Office of the General Minister and President; Reconciliation Ministry; Week of Compassion; Higher Education and Leadership Ministries; the National Convocation; and the National Benevolent Association (NBA), as well as Metropolitan Congregations United.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the Senate to Stop Poisoning Now

“I paid my taxes, and paid an awful lot for water, and they poisoned my child through the water.”

That's a quote from Luke Waid, a laid-off aerospace worker in Flint, Michigan, who was threatened that Child Protective Services would take away his baby daughter Sophia because she had high blood lead levels. That was before officials realized Flint's water supply was contaminated with lead. Mr. Waid is now suing Flint and Michigan officials, at least to assure that Sophia's medical bills will be covered.

Families in Flint, MI continue to use bottled water for cooking, bathing, and drinking. The Senate left for a two-week recess without acting to provide funding and loan guarantees towards fixing the pipes and public health measures.

The Senate will be back on Monday, April 11. Please tell your Senators to pass the Drinking Water Safety and Infrastructure Act. (Please send this easy click-and-send email right now - before you get distracted by a million other things.)

TAKE ACTION: Join our friends at NETWORK and Show Your #TaxpayerPride

There are many great things that taxes pay for, and we at NETWORK are ready to show our #TaxpayerPride. We know that when we all come together and pay our fair share, our communities are healthier, happier, safer, and stronger.

As April 15 approaches, reflect on what you are proud to pay for and take a picture with what gives you #TaxpayerPride. Need inspiration? Check out the photos people took last year.

Religious Leaders Support $15 an Hour Minimum Wage

As the nationally syndicated Religious News Service reported, the interfaith coalition issued the statement “on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. … and amid growing momentum for a wage hike and just days after state officials of New York and California acted to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

“This movement continues to build,” The Washington Post observed, “with faith leaders pressing presidential candidates to pledge to ‘issue an executive order to make sure taxpayer dollars reward ‘model employers’ that pay a living wage of at least $15 an hour, provide decent benefits and allow workers to organize without retaliation’.”

Ecumenical Advocacy Days Announces Congressional Lobby Day “Ask”

Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice (EAD) announced the 2016 Congressional Lobby Day "ask" that participants of EAD's national gathering will take to Capital Hill. The gathering will take place on April 15-18 and is titled, "Lift Every Voice! Racism, Class and Power." The Congressional Lobby Day will take place on Monday, April 18, following a morning rally on the Capitol grounds .

The "ask" focuses on two legislative issues before Congress: The Voting Rights Act and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

"In an national election year where we are seeing attempts at voter suppression and fraud, and where we are hearing much debate about the TPP from presidential candidates, it is crucial for people of faith to witness and speak out about these two justice issues," said Douglas Grace, director of EAD. "Once again, EAD is at the forefront of timely national debate and legislative concern, and we have secured top nationally known speakers to address our concerns at the gathering."

Reducing Achievement Gaps in Pre-K

Educational achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity, and income start early and increase exponentially over time. Unfortunately, many children of color and children from low-income families enter kindergarten without the academic skills and resources that they need to succeed.

A new report from the Center for American Progress explains how a high-quality universal pre-kindergarten program could help reduce achievement gaps for young children nationwide. The report notes that educational disparities due to differing socioeconomic backgrounds are stark: African American, Hispanic, and low-income children are less likely to access center-based early childhood education than their white and more affluent peers. Moreover, the quality of most early education programs attended by low-income children of color is not high enough to substantially improve academic readiness. “These achievement gaps are concerning: Math and reading abilities at kindergarten entry are powerful predictors of later school success, and children who enter kindergarten already behind are unlikely to catch up,” the authors explain.

Faith communities and people of conscience are especially concerned with improving opportunities for all children in education—and beyond. We hope that this resource is helpful for you in your ongoing efforts to build more equitable communities.

Palestinian President Affirms the Continuing Possibility of Peace

The Palestinian Authority president reached out to Israel on Thursday, saying he opposes near-daily Palestinian attacks on Israelis and suggesting the violence would stop if the defunct peace process were to resume.

Israel has accused Mahmoud Abbas of failing to condemn the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces that erupted in mid-September, and says his PA hierarchy presides over incitement to violence against Israel.

The attacks, mostly stabbings but also shootings and car-ramming assaults, have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. Over the same time, at least 188 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire. Israel says most were attackers, and the rest died in clashes with security forces.

For the full article, originally posted to Times of Israel, click here.

There's a $2 Trillion GDP Boost in Shrinking the U.S. Gender Gap

By Laura Colby

Improving gender equality would add at least $2.1 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product by 2025, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study, a boost roughly the size of the Texas economy.

“We were surprised that there was such a large economic opportunity still at stake” because the U.S. is a relative leader in gender parity, said Kweilin Ellingrud, a McKinsey partner and author of the study. The consulting firm in September said the global economy would gain $28 trillion in GDP with full gender equality.

While completely erasing the gender gap would add $4.3 trillion to U.S. GDP, Ellingrud said the $2.1 trillion represents more realistic progress. The smaller figure assumes each U.S. state improves at the same rate as the most-improved state in the previous 10 years. The study looked at 10 indicators, from the number of women in managerial and technical jobs to political leadership to violence against women. For the full story from Bloomberg, click here.