Friday, August 27, 2010

Catch 22 of New Leadership

At the 2008 General Conference Reconciling Ministries Network and Methodist Federation for Social Action hosted the first ever young adult day. This space brought young people to speak, rally and proclaim to the church that what we want most of all is empowerment and equality for all God’s people. These young United Methodists demonstrated passion, faithfulness, idealism, and raw unbridled hope that could nourish a soul for a lifetime. Speaking with wisdom beyond their years about the call of God on their lives, they boldly declared that the change we seek has already come, because it is alive and vibrant in this new generation.

At informal youth gatherings I have heard another message as well: Being a young voice in the church can be isolating and lonely. The world tells you that people are not willing for change or new ideas. Our systems and structures at times crush the passion and vision of our young leaders. If we are to create the inclusion we desire—and be on the cutting edge of what we know our church can be—we must empower new and varied voices.

We all have a lot to learn from each other. The passion and the energy that young people have may need a direction, a task, or an outlet. We cannot just tell young people they are leaders. We have to do the work of empowerment, skill training, and mentoring while being open to new ideas and energy. Leadership development takes time, energy, and resources, and we have to be willing to prioritize it to honor new leadership.

We must remember that God told Jeremiah, “Do not say ‘I am only a youth.’” Each of us is more than our age or race or gender identity or sexual orientation or social class. We are a children of God called to do great things. All new leaders of any age or identity need guidance, instruction and support to make their dreams into a reality. As a movement, groups like MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action) and RMN (Reconciling Ministries Network) have the ability to nurture new voices and support young leaders. Those that have new vision need the skills and experience of those who have come before to create the change they wish to see.

Rachel Birkhan-Rommelfanger is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary in DC and former Chair of the United Methodist Student Movement. She spends much of her time advocating within the church around LGBTQ equality, anti-racism, and young people's ministries. She currently serves on the General Commission on Religion of Race, Division on Ministries with Young People and the Reconciling Ministries Network Board of Directors.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"God will protect us, even from Sarkozy"

Immigration is not just a USAmerican "problem"

I began to understand the importance of comprehensive immigration reform not in interactions with immigrant communities in the USA, with whom I had little contact despite living in a farming community, but in studying abroad in France and traveling across Europe. In France, I took sociology and history classes that touched on the social impact of migration of maghrébins (North Africans primarily from Algeria but also Morocco and Tunisia)--- a particularly salient issue as there have been riots in these ethnic communities that have received national attention (in 2005 mostly, but this is not new or over--- watch the film La Haine [Hate] for an artistic exploration of this social dynamic). I spoke with my host family and other French people about Islam and immigration. And I began to see how across Western Europe, immigration is a hot button issue--- from the insanity of the border security in the UK (I stood in line once as the only white person in a long line of brown men in Heathrow for "random" security checks--- I was the evidence that they were supposedly not racially profiling), to the debates over whether or not Turkey should be admitted into the European Union, to learning about Turkish immigration to Germany and initial attempts to prevent Muslims from becoming citizens. In October 2008, one of my best friends, a Bosnian woman (so a woman from the "other" Europe and a Muslim---read: not white enough), was supposed to come visit me but her ticket was revoked when it turned out she needed a visa in order to land in Germany twice (she had two layovers in Germany and would have spent a grand total of two hours in the country). So I began to study the insanity of xenophobia (fear of the foreign) in my own country (you can check out some of my reflections here).

The news today turned me back to the mess that is xenophobia in Europe. Last month, French president Nicholas Sarkozy announced mass deportations of Roma immigrants (more commonly, though derogatorily, known as gypsies--- for more of an explanation check out the Slate article called "Why do the Roma wander?").

"Hey, hey Sarkozy why don't you like the gypsies?" (VAMA feat. Ralflo's "Sarkozy versus Gypsy")

This is nothing new, of course: Italy, for example, declared a state of emergency in 2008 "due to the presence of Roma" and, let's not forget, during the Holocaust, the Nazis exterminated 220,000 Roma in its attempt to "purify the race."

And, for the French government, such despicably racist and xenophobic policies are nothing new. They are forever trying to ban the veil and blaming young men of color for everything wrong in the world. Last September, police invaded and dismantled a migrant camp in Calais. This event has stuck with me these past months because I have often wondered where those families went and what it was like to live through such a traumatic experience of loss.

Thursday and Friday, French police began the ethnic cleansing* program, resulting in the removal of some 700 people and a dismantling of 40 Roma camps, according to the BBC. Robert A. Kushen, executive director of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre, pointed out in an interview for the New York Times that "Mass expulsions based on ethnicity violate European Union law...and the failure of France to do individual assessments of each case--- as opposed to cursory examinations of papers by the police--- also violates European Union rules." Sound familiar?

If that does not sound familiar what about this story from the UK's The Guardian:
Although [an unnamed 27-year-old Romaian man] has lived in Marseille since he was child, he still has no papers, and cannot get a job. "This discrimination will not go away. France has become the opposite of liberty, equality and fraternity," he said. Asked about any friends and acquaintances among the 1040 people to have gone home "voluntarily" from Marseille to their native countries since January last year, he said he doubted they would have gone happily. "Even in Romania you had discrimination," he remembered. "No one wants us. There is no place for us. Not in Romania, and not in France."

I read these articles and am constantly reminded of the stories of refugees denied asylum in the USA, of immigrants who arrive in the USA as children and know nothing of their "home countries" and yet are deported, of USAmerican politicians who are attempting to overturn the fourteenth amendment to deny citizenship to USAmerican-born children of immigrants. Xenophobia is not exclusive to the USA, which is something we must remember as we are fighting for comprehensive immigration reform in our own country. The reason for the French government's stance on immigration is an appeal to the populist vote--- much like the increase secure-the-border furor in the USA. This is a problem across the world--- and not just in the global North: in South Africa, for example, there have been violent attacks against immigrant communities. While we do need to focus on policy and reforming immigration law step by step in the USA, we need to be thinking globally of how we can create a world in which we welcome strangers rather than demonizing them.

"Come, you blessed of my Abba God! Inherit the kindom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me; in prison and you came to visit me...The truth is, every time you did this for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did it for me."**


The title of this blog, comes from a quote in a New York Times piece from Ioan Lingurar.

* I know a lot of activists reject using the term ethnic cleansing when talking about Arizona's SB1070 and other anti-immigrant policies because its connection to the Bosnian genocide such a term brings with it. I am not suggesting that we forget that the term ethnic cleansing served as a euphemism for genocide. However, I am asking that we look at the definition of ethnic cleansing--- the forced removal of an ethnic group from a geographical area--- and use the weight of the term to name the reality of anti-immigration policies like France's.

**Matthew 25: 34-36,40, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality (Sheed and Ward 2007).

UPDATED November 9, 2010 with the "Sarkozy versus Gypsy" song.


Shannon is a seminarian at Drew Theological School. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

Romans 12:21 (A Christian Perspective on the Park 51 Community Center)

I do not remember a time when my stomach has turned so violently just from reading about a particular issue in the news. But I literally feel sick as I read about the protest by some Americans over the planned community center and mosque near Ground Zero in NYC.

What astounds me most is that some of our nation's leaders are vocally promoting this discrimination. Do we not remember the principles upon which our nation was founded? Religious freedom. People came here to escape the persecution they were facing because of their religious beliefs. How is this any different? How can we claim to be the land of the free and stand behind our first amendment rights when people are openly and publicly decrying the building of this mosque?

It infuriates me that people want to equate Islam with terrorism. That is stereotyping in its worst and most blatant form. We cannot allow ourselves to associate the actions of the very few with the intentions of the much larger group with which they identified themselves.

I understand that people are up in arms because of the new mosque's proximity to Ground Zero. However, I think we would better honor the victims by graciously welcoming the building of the mosque. If we reduce ourselves to an attitude of hate, we are acting out of the same irrational fear that motivated these terrorists. What have we learned from this terrible tragedy if we cannot choose to act differently ourselves?

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is our chance to show the world that we are not ignorant, selfish Americans. We can live up to the ideals on which we claim to stand. It is my deepest prayer that our Muslim brothers and sisters, especially those here in this country, will hear the voices that rise in support of them. That they will know that there are people who think it is sacrilegious to protest the building of a space of worship--in NYC, in Tennessee, anywhere.

I think we--people--are more than this. I believe we have the capacity to love more than we have to hate. I believe we best express our faith in God by expressing our faith in each other. I pray that this situation will be peacefully resolved, in a way that doesn't involve the Muslim community feeling pressured to back down. I pray that our country will elect and support leaders that don't actively promote discrimination. I pray that we can learn from the past as we live in the present and look towards the future.

Love wins.

(Image from

Whitney Pierce is a 2010 Beatitudes Summer Fellow alumna who served at Bread for The World in Washington DC. She is beginning her second year as a Master of Divinity student at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rosemarie Milazo: "Clandestine Journeys to the Periphery"

Here's an update from the border from Christian Peacemaker Teams:

10 August 2010
BORDERLANDS: Clandestine Journeys to the Periphery
by Rosemarie Milazo

When the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, he spoke of the humanitarian aid his group offers the broken world. As part of his acceptance speech he said “Hundreds of thousands of our contemporaries are forced to leave their lands and family to search for work, to educate their children and to stay alive. Men and women risk their lives to embark on clandestine journeys only to end up in a hellish immigration detention center, or barely surviving on the periphery of our so called civilized world.”

Working this summer with CPT partner No More Deaths, I met many who traveled a clandestine journey to the periphery.

I met more deported migrants than last year who say they simply give up. They can endure no more clandestine trips in the desert, no more frightened lives in our lan d of liberty.

Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) has become more diligent in their search…appearing in schools, noon day Mass at the Catholic Church, checking passengers in cars and appearing in work places.

One migrant spoke of the number of Homeland Security agents he had to pass through before he even saw Immigration Officials. “Who is paying all these salaries?” he asked.

Another spoke of seeing a person in the desert, not sure if he was sleeping. He called “paisano, paisano.” When there was no answer, he threw some rocks to wake him, but there was still no movement. He sadly moved on his clandestine journey, leaving a dead person behind in the desert.

One young woman sobbed uncontrollably as she told us that she had lost her husband in the desert. His feet were torn by thorns and blisters and bleeding. He could not keep up and she heard him call out “Don’t leave me”. The coyote would not allow her to go back as it was to o dangerous to delay. He assured her that the others were helping him along. When she broke loose and ran back, he was not with the group. She turned herself in to the Border Patrol and went back to search for him. He was no where to be found and she came back to Mexico without him. She told us that in her dreams, she hears him call, “don’t leave me....”

I wondered about our “civilized world” as I walked through a border crossing point, watching the U.S. agent pull aside one man. He led him into a nearby room where I watched a gloved agent move towards him, his shoes flying across the room past another young man shackled to a chair.

I touched the periphery of our civilized world in the Tucson courtroom in the judicial process where five days a week, 70 migrants are led in, hands and feet in shackles, presumably guilty before being found innocent.

How many more lives are we placing on the periphery?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Just how do we become the change we seek?

“We will not comply! We will not comply!” filled the air in downtown Phoenix on Thursday, July 29th – the day that Arizona’s harshly anti-immigrant bill SB 1070 went into effect. I was co-leading a BorderLinks delegation of faith leaders from across the U.S. who came to be in solidarity against SB 1070. We watched as small groups of people were arrested in an effort to take a public stand against the law. A few hundred people took over one city block downtown to raise their voices in protest; police in full riot gear worked their way into the middle of the crowd and gradually separated them until all protestors were pushed back onto the sidewalks. On one side of the police unit was a crowd of people yelling, “Cops and the Klan go hand in hand!” while on the other side a line of Unitarians spanned the crosswalk sporting their yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” t-shirts. The tension in the air was as tangible as the humidity.

Back in Tucson that afternoon, we joined with a crowd of people who had taken over the intersection between the State Building and the Federal Courthouse. I recognized many faces in the crowd, for this is a community that has mobilized frequently in recent months in response to the constant public attacks on immigrants. In March we organized in response to an ICE raid that shut down the Southside, where many immigrant families live. In May over 7,000 people hit the streets of Tucson for a May Day March in support of just immigration policies. We’ve seen youth leading the actions in protest of SB 1070 and HB 2281 (which bans ethnic studies programs in public schools). The voices of Arizona communities are rising in incredibly powerful ways against the strong tide of racist fears and nativism that have become the public face of Arizona.

Several young adults held signs proclaiming, “Undocumented and Unafraid”, and my stomach churned when I saw them. They may not be afraid, but I am. What if they really are undocumented and they get arrested? Will they be deported, or can they fight for their cases in court? What abuses will they suffer in the process? Do they know anyone in Mexico, and do they even speak Spanish? If they want to return to the U.S., will they cross the deadly Sonoran desert to reunite with their families? It hurts me to even imagine being forcibly separated from my family, and I know people in Tucson who live in daily fear of that happening to them. God of justice and love, we are lost in the wilderness! What have we become, that we ignore hundreds of deaths in the desert every year while our media plays on popular fears about immigrants? What have we become, that we would dehumanize people in the name of upholding bad laws? That we ignore our own complicity in the drug trade, migration, global economics, and the separation of families?

The interaction between protestors and police was relatively calmer in Tucson than in Phoenix, but it was clear in both cities that not everyone agrees on tactics or messaging. While some see the police as enemies, others see them as potential allies. Some want to talk about racism, others want to avoid that word altogether. There is no single, clear path for reaching the transformation we seek. I’ve been struggling with this question a lot recently: Should we push for smaller goals that may seem more practical and attainable, or is that compromising too much? Should we hold out for our ideals, or is that so unrealistic that it prevents any change from happening at all? Let me give you a concrete example: there’s been much debate about the border wall and border security. Some pro-immigrant groups attempt to build alliances by saying “Of course we all want to secure the border. We can all agree that we don’t want open borders.” For border communities, border security has come to mean militarization, destruction of fragile ecosystems, alienation of communities from each other, and human deaths in the desert. The border is much more nuanced than simply “open” or “closed”, and the phrase “border security” doesn’t fully communicate what happens down here on la frontera. Another example: should we be talking about NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) reform on a national level, or focusing only on reforming our immigration policies? I believe that large-scale immigration will continue as long as we fail to address how international agreements and business practices destabilize local economies and force people to leave their home communities. But some would say that talking about NAFTA reform is too big and controversial, and won’t ultimately get us anywhere.

Conflicts over how to push forward and what to push for have already been dividing our movements for immigrant justice, and part of me fears that we’ll never get it together enough to get something done. The other part of me is humbled by the multiplicity of people who are passionately working to transform the U.S.’s policies, public messages, and social assumptions about immigration. I live in this tension between differing approaches to the task before us, and here on the border we both struggle with and celebrate each other’s perspectives. I place my hope in a people who can come to recognize where our shared values meet, who continue being passionate without denying the humanity of others, who see the ripple effects of decisions we make today. I place my hope in a God who is in the midst of all this muck and chaos and beauty that we’re living in. Gracias a Dios que la lucha sigue!

Margi Ault-Duell works as a Program Organizer for BorderLinks in Tucson, AZ. Her work focuses on educating people from across the nation about the U.S.-Mexico border, the causes and effects of immigration, and the ways that power, privilege, and oppression weave throughout our lives. She's a United Methodist young adult and recent graduate from Drew Theologial School.