Thursday, October 20, 2011

Equipping Our Faith Communities to End Domestic Violence

When I was in high school I can remember watching my mom standing out in the driveway with a man our family knew as he screamed at her to tell her where his wife and kids were. I can remember being frozen in the kitchen, unable to move, just watching out the window waiting for him to hurt her. I can remember him driving off and my mom walking into the kitchen looking as though she was going to collapse from the exhaustion. And now I look back and I wonder if I was so scared for my mom just in that single interaction, how much fear did that woman and her kids live in every day?

In college, I keep writing and rewriting this story that stemmed from the image of a young girl holding her mother in her arms as her mother died from a bullet wound inflicted by her father. It was an image I have carried with me since I was very young. Our family was touched by a murder suicide when I was four, and I can still remember my mother explaining what happened to my foster sister when I asked what happened to her parents. My mother told me that my foster sister held her mother as she died after watching her own father shoot her mother and then himself. So since I was four years old, I grew up in a world where murder suicide was a reality.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month, and I thought it was really important that we ask the question of how our churches are responding to the reality of domestic violence in our communities. In my Christian Ethics class taught by Dr. Traci West, we watched a film about domestic violence and the church. And in class, I could hear the sharp intakes of breath by students upset by the statistics we were hearing, and almost enraged when we heard the story of a woman whose church elders asked her why she couldn't just go back to her abusive husband when he was so desperate to have her back. Yet how few of us can go into our churches and see any evidence that OUR church would act differently? How many of us have ever heard our pastor just mention that domestic violence is a sin in a sermon? How many of us have information for our local shelters in our bathrooms at church? How many of our UMW's lead worship services or educational programs for our churches on issues of domestic violence?

Too often we think that everyone knows that domestic violence is wrong now; yet I sat in class this week as we did a role play of what we would do as pastors if a woman came to us and told us that her husband hit her and listened to a classmate ask questions that blamed the victim! I don't think the student realized that the questions blamed the victim until Dr. West pointed it out, but such is the insidious nature of domestic violence. And so we must better equip people in the pews and create communities in which domestic violence is eradicated. In my own life, I have not experienced domestic violence in my household, and yet from the age of four I have known murder-suicide in the case of intimate partners to be a very real thing. All of us have been touched by intimate partner violence in some way, and so we are called to speak out against this injustice in the sanctuary and at home.

This post does not begin to address the complexities of domestic violence, but I wanted to start a conversation here. Two resources I find useful to begin to educate ourselves and our congregations are:
  • Nancy Nason-Clark's Rave Project (Religion and Violence e-learning), which includes games for youth focusing on identifying and resisting intimate partner violence
  • Marie M. Fortune's Faith Trust Institute

Please feel free to comment below or write on our Facebook page to share resources we can use in our faith communities to talk about intimate partner violence and ways we can eliminate it.


Shannon Sullivan is a seminary student at Drew in Madison, New Jersey, and is pursuing ordination in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is also a member of the OnFire leadership team. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Boston

by Zach Kerzee

On Monday, October 10, a group of Harvard students, including myself, met by the famous "Statue of Three Lies" to march collectively to Boston Common. There we would meet hundreds of other students from colleges in Boston to join voices with the Occupy Boston protesters who were camped out in tents in Boston’s financial district.

I came to the protest hesitantly. I had heard all of the news reports, and was not quite sure what to make of this small, but growing movement. I had heard of the movement’s lack of direction, organization, or even a clear theme. I had heard that the movement was nothing more than a liberal response to the Tea Party movement – that it was composed of whiney young people who didn’t want to find a job. What I saw when we reached the protest’s starting point, however, quickly dissolved these preconceptions.

Last Monday’s protest boasted over 1,000 participants from across Boston. The sheer size of the group absolutely blew me away – this was a highly coordinated effort that was able to inspire hundreds of people to action. In the thirty minutes or so between the time when I arrived in Boston Common and the time the protest began, I took pictures of the signs that protesters had made. People held up signs representing a vast array of different causes. Some of those causes were:
Abolishment of Capital Punishment, Prison Reform, Education Reform, Greater Teacher Pay, Forgiveness of Student Debt, Mortgage Debt Forgiveness, Redistribution of Wealth, Redistribution of Influence, Anti-Consumerism, Anti-Capitalism, The Formation of a Radical Democracy, The End of Bank Bailouts, The End of America’s Wars, and even The Legalization of Marijuana…

The protest left Boston Common at approximately 2 P.M. and marched for approximately three hours. The group chanted together:

"We are the 99 percent!"
"How do we fix the deficit? End the War! Tax the Rich!"

The protest reached its climax at approximately 5:00 P.M. when we met a police barricade at the Charlestown Bridge. Several people were arrested that evening at the bridge, and 140 others were arrested that night at the tent village as they attempted to expand the camp away from the initial site to form a second camp.

The protest was overwhelming, and so I took several days to process all that I saw before attempting to share my thoughts on the Occupy movement. So now, on Thursday 10/13, after having spent the night in tents with hundreds of other participants, I’m prepared to make some observations.

First, I think that it is important to distinguish this protest movement in from other similar movements of civil disobedience. This is not Egypt. This is not Gandhi. This is not King… yet. The Occupy movement, which has now spread to over 100 cities, lacks the unity and direction of those three movements, but it has potential.

Which leads to my second point: the movement should be seen, at this point, as less than a "movement" per se, and more as a collective expression of discontent. The movement is a soap-box – a sounding board where people who have historically been silenced are able to have their voices heard.

It is longing for unity – but not yet unified. What the movement lacks in unity and clarity, however, it more than makes up for in sheer momentum and passion of voice. This movement points, I believe, to the formation of another movement. The people’s voices have been heard – now strong leadership is required to turn discontent into constructive policy.

Several students from Harvard Divinity School have established a spiritual presence at the camp, and have coordinated with other seminarians and people of faith to host religious services which serve the needs of the protesters. These "Protest Chaplains" are there to listen to what the protesters have to say and to provide, if desired, spiritual counsel and guidance. Last night, I sat with a group of seven protesters in the "Faith and Spirituality Tent" and simply asked them why they were there. The protesters’ answers were varied, and each had her/his own reason for attending. But one thing united them. Each one of them wanted to be heard.

I see this as my Christian mission within the Occupy movement – to listen to the voices of those who desperately want to be heard. To work for justice. To hope for peace. To be a voice as well as a silent presence. To live in solidarity with those in whom, and through whom, I believe God is working to form a better world.


Zach Kerzee is a Master of Divinity Student at Harvard Divinity School from Abilene, Texas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Re-defining 'illegal'

Quick! Complete this sentence: “I was really angry about those illegal _______ we saw the other night in California.”

If the word you chose was “fireworks,” you’re thinking like me. The combustibles have been banned across much of the Southern and Western United States due to extreme drought, and as wildfires throughout Summer 2011 have proved, a wayward spark from an illegal fireworks display can wipe out acres, like the fire in California which destroyed 44 acres of the San Bernardino National Forest this past August. This incident proves just how dangerous illegal fireworks can be, with the potential to destroy millions of acres of land or, what’s worse, to threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions across the West. Such a display, especially during the continued drought, is indeed a cause for anger and alarm.

If you answered “immigrant,” I have news for you: as many as 40 percent of undocumented immigrants entered the country legally. These are immigrants who entered with tourist, student, or employment-based visas and either overstayed or fell out of status due to some technicality. To refer to immigrants who entered the United States legally as “illegal immigrants” isn’t just inflammatory and dehumanizing, therefore: it is just plain incorrect.

The mischaracterization inherent in the I-Word is frustrating for immigrants and their advocates, including Danny Upton, an immigration attorney with the Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), a program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. “Every time I turn on the news,” Upton says, “I hear this word being used incorrectly by the news media. Sometimes ‘illegal’ is the least of what they call undocumented immigrants. Often they use words like ‘immigration felons’ and ‘criminal aliens’ to describe immigrants who have never committed a crime. What’s more, by using the word ‘illegal’ as a catchall phrase, we obscure real differences among categories of immigrants. We insinuate that all undocumented immigrants must be criminals, although millions of them have never committed—let alone been convicted of—a crime. To refer to all undocumented immigrants as ‘illegals’ and as ‘criminals’ is to lie.”

Unfortunately, many continue to abuse the I-Word in ways that promote division and violence. “The I-Word,” says Upton, “is at best inexact, and at worst willfully misleading.” He believes the word is intended to slander all undocumented immigrants, to instill fear in the voting public and to skew perceptions on the immigration issue. “The term ‘illegal immigrant,’” says Upton, “is not a legal term. It is a political term devised by the enemies of immigrants to frame the issue.”

What does this understanding mean for us as people of faith in Jesus Christ? It renews our commitment to Drop the I-Word—a word which degrades, dehumanizes, and denies the image of God in us all. It refocuses our lives on our call from God: Scripture demands compassion, justice and equity for the “resident alien” in our midst (cf. Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Deuteronomy 27:19; Zechariah 7:9-10; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Ezekiel 47:22 ; Proverbs 31:8-9; Matthew 25:35; Hebrews 13:2), and demands that they be treated equally under the law. It reminds us, further, of the greatest commandment, which we find in Matthew 22: 36-40. When asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Rather than call them “illegal” or “criminals,” might we call them friends or brothers and sisters in Christ? What’s more, might we treat them as such?

To pledge to Drop the I-Word, click here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We the Generation

We the younger people of the 99 percent, of a generation that was raised on technology, media consumption and an uncertain future, in order to form a more perfect existence, establish a true sense of justice and equality, in a country we have loved since birth, love to the extent that we are willing to peacefully gather and fight for her people. All of her people. As we stand on the cusp of adulthood and childhood, we also stand on the cusp of indifference and action. Admist a culture inundated with Xbox, Jersey Shore and the latest and greatest toys, we choose to stand for justice, liberty and to uphold the ideals outlined in the Constitution for the United States of America.

I attended the Occupy DC march on Freedom Plaza and the encampment at McPherson Square. This wasn’t my first protest. I went to the Free Trade protest in Miami a few years ago, but I was ignorant of the true importance of why everyone was protesting. I was young and just following a girl I liked.

Now fully immersed in the abyss of adulthood, I fully understand what it means to be an American citizen paying into a system that seems to have lost its way. Countless friends and their parents have lost jobs leaving them waylaid by a system that once seemingly promised college graduates – or anyone who worked just hard enough - the keys to the kingdom: A decent paying job with benefits, property and ample opportunity to enjoy the spoils of a middle-class life with their family. In 2011, and possibly for the next few years, that dream seems like a mirage for even the highest-performing student from the best college.

I had a chance to talk with a few folks at Occupy DC about why protest now and what will this actually do. The response was pretty simple: We have no choice. The system is broken and won’t be fixed on its own. No one seems to care to tinker around and see what the problem is, so we took to the streets and decided to choose action over the complacency that the media seems to attach to my generation.

I was a little scared, despite the fact that Occupy DC had a permit for the initial four days at Freedom Plaza. A drunken man wanted to start a fight and called our gear trash. Weary police looked on intently as we marched past their trucks. A few protestors got pepper sprayed at the National Air and Space Museum. But I knew it wasn’t about me, but rather a higher calling, an outreach of a movement that is much bigger than my concerns and issues will ever be.

Pastor Dean Snyder at Foundry UMC in D.C. preaches that Christians are called to action and to stand against injustice even when it’s scary to do so. Back in June, Pastor Dean talked about Street Hope and how Heavin will come to us in the form of a thriving city where there is true justice and equal distribution of “wealth”. He said the said:

“Heaven is the city healed of injustice. What God is doing in human history is developing a humanity who know how to live with each other justly and who have a desire to do so. And when we learn to share and when we learn to establish just economic systems, then the city of God will come down to us from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21:2) The city is a place of great abundance.

I believe that our generation is hungry to finally see justice for all lived out in action and not words. We are hungry to see economic justice where not only the top one percent of citizens are guaranteed a good life, but the remaining ninety-nine can enjoy some of the comforts and inalienable rights that the rich are able to partake in. We are hungry to see every American, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion or economic status, treated as a full equal in the American dream and enjoy the rights of the majority without feeling like a criminal for doing so. No longer are we Generation Y, the group of young people after Generation X. We are Generation Y Not, as in why not usher in justice and equality now.

Ty is a member of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. and is passionate about human rights and equality.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"I am the 99% and so are you."

by Michael Airgood

On Sunday morning I approached the communion stewards at New Day Bronx UMC and received Holy Communion. My wrists were still bruised and sore from the handcuffs, but my soul was rejoicing.

On Saturday I had not planned to get arrested. I imagine that few of my 700 companions had planned on spending hours in a prison holding cell. I had already purchased my bus ticket out of the city for the evening, and had already planned and bought supplies to teach Sunday School in the morning.

I was careful not to step off of the sidewalk during the Occupy Wall Street protests, but as police officers stopped traffic on Brooklyn Bridge and stepped back to make more room for us to march, I joined the crowd in marching across the bridge. I heard no call to disperse and no officer informed us that we would be arrested. In the panic of the "kettle" I feared that we would all be trampled and killed as the police forced us closer and closer together.

I decided to join the protest because of my Christian faith. While the media filled pages with pictures of dirty hippies and crazed leftists, I knew that as a follower of Jesus Christ I was also called to care about the injustices in the system. This was not a left vs. right issue. We have allowed the poor and the marginalized to grow poorer and move further toward the fringe. We lose our humanity when we allow corporations to make billions in profits while millions of children go hungry every night. We cannot claim to be followers of Jesus Christ if the cries of the poor and needy go unheeded by our churches and our Christians. I decided to join the protest because of my Christian faith.

I thanked the officer that arrested me for doing his job, and I thanked every officer that helped to process my arrest. Some of the boys in blue apologized for arresting us. They squeezed 120 of us into a holding cell built for far fewer. I was not the only religious leader in the group. A Buddhist monk and an African American Pentecostal pastor were also present. We talked with people and tried to calm the anxious.

I posted on Facebook the following morning, "There are some who want you to believe that they just arrested dirty hippies and radicals yesterday; but you know me. I am your friend, your brother, a person of faith, a moderate and thoughtful person and I was arrested with hundreds like me for protesting an unjust system. I am the 99% and so are you."

Unjust systems cannot be fixed without the support of people of faith. We are the 99%. Pastors, priests, Sunday School teachers, soccer moms, nuns and the rest of us work hard to live out our faith every day in tangible ways. We must live with the consequences of our actions, and our children and grandchildren must live with the consequences of our actions.

When I was arrested my first thought was that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as I worshiped as a guest of the wonderfully inclusive New Day Church, it became more apparent that when I was arrested I was at the right place at the right time. I was raising my voice and allowing my actions to speak out against an unjust system. While the path isn’t for everyone, it was certainly right for me that day.


Michael Airgood is licensed to be a local pastor in the Western Pennsylvania Annual conference and serves with GBGM as a standard support missionary in L’viv, Ukraine. He is a graduate of Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, GA with a BS in Intercultural Studies and plans to attend seminary in the near future.