Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2011 Part 1

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2011

This is my first time being at Ecumenical Advocacy Days, and I could not be more excited about the event. I have wanted to go to EAD for a while now, but due to school and the expense it's been hard to make it out. At any rate, for those who do not know what EAD is, here is a description from their website:

"Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its recognized partners and allies, grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Our goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen our Christian voice and to mobilize for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues."

At the bottom of this entry is their logo which, if you click on it, will take you to their website where you can find plenty more information. This year's theme is "Development, Security, and Economic Justice: What's Gender God to Do With It?"

The event began yesterday evening with a Welcome and Opening Worship ceremony, led by Monique and John Nunes. Monique Nunes is the administrator at Baltimore Lutheran School in Towson, MD. Rev. John Nunes is the president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief. The worship service was very moving. We were told that there are over seven hundred people who came from over forty states and several nations, a reminder that we are not alone in the seeking of justice and peace. The worship service focused on women from the Bible, lifting up several stories, such as the Wisdom passage in Proverbs 4, the Woman at the Well, and the Hemorrhaging Woman, interspersed with a sung version of the Magnificat. After each story was told, there was a short testimony from a variety of guest speakers. The most moving of these testimonies came after the story of the hemorrhaging woman who touched Jesus' cloak and was made well. A woman from Kenya spoke about HIV in Africa, and about how many of her friends and family have died from the pandemic. She said "If we claim to be the body of Christ, those with HIV are the woman who is hemorrhaging, reaching out to touch the body of Christ. How will we respond to the people reaching out to touch the body of Christ? With justice, love, lack of condemnation, and education."

Unfortunately, I do not know who any of the people who gave the testimonies are. Another moving quote from the service was "I believe the message of Christ is a message of liberation, a message of liberation for all oppression... thus we advance in the construction of peace based in justice." And, again, "What we need is the reminder that we are not alone in the seeking of peace and justice... [Here, We are reminded] of the interconnectedness of injustice."

The service included a very exciting intercultural choir, liturgical dance, and beautiful artwork, in addition to the aforementioned testimonies and scripture passages. It was quite a moving and exciting opening to the weekend.

Today began with a plenary led by Rev. Dr. Daisy L. Machado, Academic Dean and professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and Regina L. Oldak who is a senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center. They spoke on a topic called "Women and Girls Aren't the Problem; They're the Solution!" from a domestic perspective. This kind of set the stage for the weekend, explaining the problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and economic and social discrimination, and injustice. Not only did they advocate for awareness of the issues, they called for men and women to work together to find solutions to these systemic problems.

Then came the workshop sessions. There were three workshop sessions throughout the day, with a wide variety to choose from for each workshop. The first workshop I chose was "The Future of Peacemaking and the Church: Just Peace and the IEPC," moderated by Michael Neuroth, Policy Advocate on International Issues from the UCC. The first speaker, Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith, who is the Executive Director of the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis, spoke about the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation sponsored by the World Council of Churches. In addition, she spoke about the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence. She spoke about how violence is the problem that runs deeper than just aiming for peace. She called us to name violence as a sin.

She was followed by Rev. Dr. Michael Reid Trice, the Director for Ecumenical Formation and Inter-Religious Relations of the ELCA. He spoke about how do we, together as church, continue to live in this "current state of desolation," quoting 1 Peter 2, how we are called to reshape our communities as living stones. He spoke of many emerging efforts to raise up peace-building, inviting us to participate in God's reconciling work that is central to being the church of Christ. Something striking he pointed out is how in the US alone, there are over 1000 documented hate groups, a fifty-four percent increase since 2000. I think that is pretty scary. Trice ended by saying "As the door of the decade closes, we have peace on our doorstep and lots of work ahead of us."

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, who is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, was the respondent. He said that "The ecumenical movement is most essentially a movement for peace," quoting Desmond Tutu, that the "Apartheid is too strong for a divided church," saying, "War is too strong for a divided church." Just as God was in the world reconciling the people, we must be a reconciling people, but "we continue to undercut that Christ is the Prince of Peace by not being a church of peace." He said that not just the traditionally peaceful churches are called into peace and nonviolence, such as the Quakers and Mennonites, but that "Every church is a peace church." He spoke about how there are three anti-violence statements that the WCC all agree on:
1. War is contrary to the will of God. That sometimes, war may be the lesser of two evils, but it is never the work of God, and that no church or government body ever should go to war in the name of God.
2. There are some kinds of violence that a Christian can never partake in, such as torture and nuclear weapons, claiming that not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also the production of nuclear weapons are against humanity.
3. There can be no peace without justice, but also, there can be no justice without peace. The two are inseparable. Thus, we need not just to redefine peace in light of justice, but more importantly, we must redefine justice in light of peace.
Then, Kinnamon concluded by saying that "All of this is inadequate," that without education at a local level and development of advocacy networks, anti-violence will never take hold.

The second session I went to was "The Role of Gender in Climate-Displaced Communities," moderated by Shantha Ready Alonso of NCC. The first speaker was Tonya Rawe of CARE International. She spoke about climate change generally, but then spoke about the affects of climate change on global communities. SHe said, "Those who are least responsible are most affected by climate change," and displayed a map showing how places like the United States and Europe are the main contributors to climate change while places like the Caribbean and South Pacific are not nearly as responsible but reap much of the effects due to rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns. She said that is estimated that 200 million people will be displaced due to climate-change by 2050, from a breakdown of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods, natural disasters, seasonal migration, glacier melt, and sea level rise. She said that there are four ways to help:
1. Mitigation
2. Reducing emission, most especially from deforestation and forest degradation
3. Adaption (stating that the unfortunate reality is that it is too late simply for mitigation, that now we must consider ways to help those most affected by climate change to adapt)
4. Mainstreaming of climate change into "State of Play" development through international negotiations, our own administration, congress, funding, and implementation/USAid.
She spoke about our current budget tendencies as policies that rob Peter to pay Paul, saying ""You cannot balance the federal budgets of on the backs of poor people. It's just not possible."

She was followed by Jasmine Huggins of Church World Service. Huggins spoke about climate change in Haiti. To begin with, even before climate change is taken into consideration, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is barraged by annual hurricanes, and now faces rising sea levels, saying "Haiti is the most chronically affected in the Western Hemisphere by climate change." The climate change causes frequent droughts, flooding, and a permanent loss of biodiversity. Haiti unfortunately has insufficient technology to cope with many of these problems, not to mention the severe flooding, rising sea level, and agricultural land lost to drought. And this was all before the earthquake. Now, after the earthquake, many of these problems have been exacerbated.

Not only this, but due to gender roles, women often have to absorb much more of the negative effects of climate change in poor areas than men, especially since women in Haiti's culture are the main workers in agriculture, and are often relied upon to bring food for the families and to raise the children, often going without food themselves in order to feed their family.

She mentioned several things that can be done:
1. Adapt to climate change on a community level.
2. Reforestation
3. Alternative fuels
4. Alternative energy
5. Sensitizing the population
6. National and international advocacy
7. All of these discussions must, must include both men and women

She concluded by saying that "The Us government needs to become a World Player in climate change," citing the US' lack of serious mitigation and consideration of climate change.

Unfortunately, I did not catch the final speaker's name nor what organization she was with. But she spoke on the 2010 floods in Pakistan, and the resulting displacement of more than ten million people, seven million of which were homeless and three million who lived in camps. Almost two thousand people were killed, but over twenty million were affect. As of 2011, 166,000 people were still in camps. Eighty-five percent of the people affected were women and children. Furthermore, she said, there is direct evidence linking these floods in Pakistan--the worst in recorded history--to climate change.

She said that cultural norms make it very difficult to provide aid for women in Pakistan, and there is a great increase in gender-based violence and sexual abuse in camp settings. She recommended that we support climate change policies, increase disaster preparedness, support US humanitarian assistance, and ensure that aid supports the most vulnerable, including women and children.

Finally, the last workshop session I went to was called "Gender and Faith: What's Power Got to Do With It?" sponsored by the NCC Justice for Women Working Group. This session spoke about structural and institutional power imbalance and sexism. This session also had a more conversational format, and we looked at biblical texts and a case study of Walmart to get into conversation about sexism, gender, and power. There were four representatives of the Justice for Women Working Group: Rev. Ann Timeyer, Loey Powell, Mary Streufort, and Sandy Sorenson. They began with two Rosemary Radford Reuther quotes: "Language is the prime reflection of the power of the ruling group to define reality in its own terms and demote oppressed groups into invisibility." and "All liberation theology is advocacy scholarship."

Much of what was discussed were things that, as a feminist and someone who reads tons of feminist theology, I already knew. But it was still valuable to attend. I figure I'll just share a few quotes from what was said instead of going into detail.

"There are forces still at play that keeps those gender stereotypes present, and I would say that our churches perpetuate that kind of thinking."
"Jesus named those things that were excluding and mergenalizing people, he named the unwritten rules."

"Story is important for doing advocacy work."
"If our mind stays on the blah blah blah reading of a text [only paying attention to a text on a surface level], than what happens stays invisible. But if we become aware, and name what is going on, we can get a whole new reading."

"When it comes to advocacy, we are caught in between now and not yet."
"We don't want to be mainstreamed into a polluted stream."
"Advocacy is about building relationships and telling stories."
"Listen to what's being said and what's not being said."

Building off of what Sorenson said about not wanting to be mainstreamed into a polluted stream, we discussed that the reality is simply that we are in a muddy stream: the systemic oppression means that as of right now we cannot make any progress without getting into that polluted stream. Another analogy she used was why bother getting into the room when you have to sit in the old furniture. She said, "We're going to have to rearrange the furniture at some point." Yet, where we are right now is in a situation of now and not yet--we need to sometimes make compromises, but keep our eyes on the goal of rearranging the furniture. Because what good is getting ahead if we are still in the same polluted stream?

And that was today. I still have tomorrow, in which there will be an interdenominational worship, the second part of the plenary, and another workshop session. Unfortuantly, I am unable to attend the lobby day on Monday, but the information I have learned is beyond valuable and kindled within me a fire for justice. As St. Ignatius said, I hope to leave here to "set the world on fire." It cannot end here.

Click on the picture to learn more about Ecumenical Advocacy Days.


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