It was a packed first full day in Washington, D.C., Dear Reader, so packed today’s post comes in two parts. In Part 1, you’ll learn about our first seminars, guest speakers, and impromptu worship services. In Part 2, you’ll hear about our trip to an art gallery and our conversation with a chaplain. But for now, let’s start with a little something called The Social Principles…
“Social” Before “Social Media”
United Methodists have long taken a stand on issues impacting real people around the world. Through our Book of Discipline, we lay out all the rules and policies for our denomination: how we organize our structure (polity), what parameters there are for ordination (plenty), and there’s a place for taking a stand on justice (policy). That place is the Social Principles, a series of statements the UMC has made over the years addressing topics from war to hunger, from human rights to agriculture, from media violence to racism. Each statement names the challenge to society and goes on to offer a denominational opinion or position.
Now, not every United Methodist agrees with every word of the Social Principles. But that’s not the point. Rather, this is a series of statements we point to as a means of saying that, by and large, our church stands for these sorts of ways of God’s loving justice to enter the world and we believe it is in these particular ways. These statements belong to the church, so much like a creed, we can trust that at any given point, there are people in the church who believe in them and will go to bat for them. It’s the most malleable piece of the Discipline we have (it’s also the least binding) and if ever there was a “living document” portion to how we come together this is it. We each received a copy of the Social Principles to explore on our own to enhance our seminar experience and lucky you, you can read them online for free. It’s the basis for our discussion on issues of migration justice and anti-racism.
Historical Side Note…
Interestingly enough, the Social Principles are being revised as mandated by General Conference 2016. I remember our presenters, Neil and Clayton, expressing the importance of this when I last visited GBCS with the Young Adult Clergy Gathering in 2015. Now, it’s happening. Not only that, I got the chance to see Neil and Clayton again as they literally were in the room with the team working on revising the Social Principles in the conference room immediately adjacent to our seminar room. Also, in case you’re wondering, the next room over is where President George HW Bush sat down with lawmakers to hammer out the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Chapel down the hall is where three worship services celebrating the life of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone were held in 2002. If you want to learn more about the historic United Methodist Building, including how it was used as a space to plan the 1963 March on Washington, read on here.
These Justice Boots Were Made for Walkin’
Our two shepherds for the GBCS Seminars are Aimee Hong and Amber Feezor. We began with some theological reflection on migration though we had to end it quickly as it was already time for an impromptu worship meeting. Rev. James Brigman and his family had arrived after a 400-mile walk to Washington, D.C. from North Carolina to raise awareness for the need to preserve Medicaid. Pastor James’s young daughter, Lauren, is in need of 24-hour care and with the threat of looming Medicaid cuts, James simply doesn’t know what he and the thousands of other families like his are going to do.
When he arrived, it was clear Pastor James was tired but glad to have finally arrived. He preached, saying, “It’s easy to have faith when you can walk away.” But for him, this was a cause he couldn’t walk away from and a calling he had to walk into, by 400 miles. To Pastor James, scripture calls out to us everywhere to care for those who cannot care for themselves. He recalled how Jesus wants us to go out. For politicians, that means to remember it’s not about parties, it’s about voting to do what’s right for people. “Senators cannot take away the rights that God has given us,” said Pastor James, “They’re to help them happen.”
I was especially taken with the pastoral prayer from Pastor Jason Carson Wilson of the UCC Washington Office housed in the United Methodist Building. One standout line was when he prayed that God grant blessing on those who make just policy and a cry to God to speak to those who make policy “that keeps the vulnerable from touching the fringe of Jesus’ robe.”
Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?
Our first (scheduled!) guest speaker was Rob Rutland-Brown of National Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), a ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). If UMCOR is the UMC’s arm of compassion around the globe, then JFON is its finger concerned with just immigration policy, interaction, and hospitality. Staff and volunteers in 16 sites across 14 states to offer guests radical hospitality and an opportunity to meet with legal experts and those who can help with adjustments to new culture and living expectations. A person comes in, meet with someone about her or his status, builds a relationship, and works toward better sustainability and understanding of where they fit in our very complex system of immigration policy.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. 4,000 clients, 10,000 cases, in fact. That’s plenty to handle for 60 staff and 100s of volunteers. They are from all over the world, from all walk of life, are JFON participants. However, 43% of clients are from North America, having entered the US from nations like Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala (top four, in order). These are people, especially unaccompanied minors, who are refugees escaping gang violence, persecution, and fear of death. That’s a far cry from some reports that refugees are simply terrorist lying in wait or at least terrorists-in-training. With over 15 million refugees worldwide, many of them from Syria, all of that adds up for the 2-3 year process that’s around the block and around the corner. Rob reminded us how extreme the vetting process for refugees already exists, and in fact, “If a terrorist was going to come to the US, coming as a refugee is the worst way possible for them.” In fact, there are stats that show immigrants, particularly refugees, are less likely to cause violence and more likely than endure challenging situation.
The piece of JFON that I thought was the most intriguing was seeing how it puts advocacy work revolving around the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into action. If a woman who is an undocumented immigrant is beat by her husband, she perhaps won’t go to the authorities for fear of being deported (bad) or being separated from her children (worse). VAWA protects that woman and JFON is doing what it can to help education these women about their rights in terrible situations.
In case anyone reading is about to say Minnesota needs it’s own JFON, please know that I agree. The Minnesota Annual Conference also had a visit from one of the organizers and we went over possibilities and it’s on hold for now. In that meeting, we all felt compelled by JFON’s vision. Ultimately, there were some similar resources we’re doing along the same lines already and the priority is to link them more first, perhaps even get them linked up together.
We couldn’t let Rob give us new information without telling us what we can do to be helpful. He suggested be informed about where ideas about immigration reform are more fantasy than doing anything about reality. For example, it’s estimated that only 40-50% of those who are in the US illegally simply overstay. Friends, a wall on the southern US border isn’t going to solve that.
“Class, it’s Movie Day!”
We watched and discussed two documentary films, Harvest of Empire and No Sanctuary: Big Business and Family Detention. This may be a place I can come back to update later. For now, please know that you can watch the trailer of Harvest (we only watched the Guatemala portion of Harvest) and the entirety of No Sanctuary – both right here!
There’s plenty more to write about, Dear Reader, and Part 1 even feels incomplete, but it is beddie bye time and there’s only so much I can cover. I hope to return to the rest asap. As for now, thank you for your prayers, your comments, and your subscriptions/shares to spread the word of all we’re taking in and doing for Christ on this mission trip!
P.S. Remember to “click the pic” to see an enlarged version of the photos below: