We’ve asked our staff to help us unpack the complex justice issues that we’re working on. Using our General Synod pronouncements as the basis for these reflections, we hope to provide insights into the issues you care about that are rooted in our shared faith, and can inform your advocacy efforts. This month Elizabeth Leung, our Minister for Racial Justice, reflects on the Doctrine of Discovery - a theological document that originated in the early European church, and was (and is to this day) used as a legal basis for ignoring and invalidating claims to property by Native American Communities. Learn more about actions taken by General Synod 29 to address this injustice.
The Doctrine of Discovery: Why it Still Matters Today
“[T]he native people[s] were never lost and they are not lost now. They were exactly where the Creator put them; therefore, they cannot be discovered. They already know the Creator and the Creator knows them" - Adrian Maxey of the Dakota Association, speaking in his native language, reminded the delegates of General Synod.
Many Americans grow up learning that this continent was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. The concept of discovery, as if the land was empty prior to arrival and its indigenous inhabitants were somehow “less than” the explorers is, at its heart, racism and cultural superiority.
The doctrine of discovery, a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, originated from various church documents in Christian Europe in the mid-1400s to justify the pattern of domination and oppression by European monarchies as they invasively arrived in the Western hemisphere. It theologically asserted the right to claim the indigenous lands, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom, and to subjugate native peoples around the world.
In 1823 U.S. Supreme Court case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, Chief Justice John Marshall used the doctrine to assert that the United States, as the successor of Great Britain, had inherited authority over all lands within our claimed boundaries. This decision allowed our government to legally ignore or invalidate any native claims to property. To this day courts continue to cite this legal precedent. It is still being used by courts to decide property rights cases brought by Native Americans against the U.S. and against non-Natives.
In the 21st century U.S., that legacy of domination is reflected in the undermined sovereignty of our indigenous communities and through Congressional and Federal assertions of power over the tribes. We see this lived out through injustices in water rights, oil and mineral extraction on native lands, border and immigration policies which negatively affect tribal communities, and the impact of sequestration budget cuts on native communities, to name a few.
The delegates of General Synod 29 decided to speak out about this historic and ongoing injustice last June. They voted overwhelmingly for a Resolution of Witness to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. The resolution declares and confesses the doctrine to be a shameful part of our church history and that of the U.S. We resolve to not only educate our congregations about it, but also take actions to repair the relationship with American Indians, Native Hawaiians and Alaskan Natives.
Thanksgiving is an important time for reflecting and remembering our history.
The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts has erected a plaque – erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England which states: "NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING.” To many Native Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. It is a day of remembrance and a protest of the racism and oppression, which Native Americans continue to experience.
In 2008, Congress passed the House Joint Resolution 62 for the Friday after Thanksgiving to be designated as “National Native American Heritage Day.” It is a small step in our willingness to balance the misleading historical narrative of “discovery” and to recognize the true Native American history -- of thriving economies and sophisticated systems of government which existed long before many of our ancestors came to this land, something that is rarely taught to our children or mentioned in our schools.
We can struggle, heal and work together for justice for our Native American brothers and sisters.
As we learn about the doctrine of discovery: the genocide of native peoples, the dispossession that generations have sustained as their lands were stolen, their languages destroyed, and their culture appropriated by European settlers, it can trigger different emotional responses in those of us whose ancestors are immigrants, voluntary or enslaved, to this continent.
With God’s grace, may we move forward in compassion and resolve in our hearts and actions to stand in solidarity with our indigenous sisters and brothers and neighbors: learning about the histories and cultures of native peoples in the area we live and work, advocating for the public policies and social conditions that respect the sovereignty and self-determination of Native American.
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The Act Alliance of Uganda along with the help of LWF and Finn Church Aid is planning on submitting a funding proposal to provide water facilities, shelter kits and non food-items to ensure that the refugee’s needs are met within humanitarian standards.Read more
The United Church of Christ’s mission statement on Health and Human Service calls us to demonstrate and convey the compassion of Christ. Our mission statement reminds us that the whole church is itself the creation of God’s compassionate mercy in Christ, and as such the instrument of God’s intention for all humankind. Where the Church is there are those engaged in diakonia – the ministry of healing service, care, compassion and hospitality.
Cancer is a significant issue nationally and in the lives of many faith communities. There are many ways that congregations are supporting people as they deal with a cancer diagnosis and its accompanying life changes. Cancer diagnosis presents a unique spectrum of needs, feelings, pastoral concerns, and phases, impacting individuals, families and indeed, the whole community of care.
The purpose of this resource is to orient you to some of the central questions and considerations that may emerge as you journey with those in your faith community affected by cancer. The PowerPoint slides and Handbook will guide you in leading group discussions. Depending on the time and circumstances, you may choose to divide it into modules. We recommend three sections: God’s Healing Touch (slides 1 through 13); Care Throughout the Seasons (slides 14 through 25); and Y(our) Congregation: What Can We Do? (slides 25-29).
This resource is geared to facilitators of faith community health ministries(both lay and nurse led), Deacons, Called to Care Ministries, grief ministries, Clergy or any group within your congregation that practices spiritual and/or physical care and healing.
This resource comes as the result of several collaborations. In its initial form, it was the product of an independent study at Yale Divinity School in which the authors (James DeBoer and Laura Fitzpatrick) explored ways in which clergy and congregations are responding to the needs of people affected by cancer, with the guidance of Drs. Elaine Ramshaw and Janet Ruffing, OSM. The project also benefitted greatly from the wisdom and guidance of Rev. Shelly Stackhouse (Church of the Redeemer), Dean of Students Dale Peterson, and Rev. Adele Crawford, interim Dean of Chapel. Barbara Baylor, UCC Minister for Health Care Justice, subsequently provided very helpful feedback and also brought in the UCC Faith Community Nurse Leadership Team to provide additional help with editing. Rebecca Anton, Wendy Merriman and Peggy Matteson (all members of the UCC Faith Community Nurse Leadership Team) provided valuable assistance and feedback by piloting the project in several congregations and hospital settings.
For more information, contact Barbara Baylor (216) 736-3708.
Acts of Kindness and Working for Justice
Based on Micah 6:8, "God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
When the North Carolina-based textile manufacturer named Pillowtex declared bankruptcy, it shut down five NC factories and laid off 5,500 people. Without notice, workers lost their incomes and health insurance. Some faced foreclosure on their homes. Many laid-off workers could not find comparable jobs in their area.
The ripple effects of the plant closures devastated local economies. But the effects did not stop there. Local churches were impacted as well. Congregations wanted to help. Prayer services, food, and emergency funds were generously offered. But everyone realized these efforts were inadequate. Congregations could not provide families with health insurance or on-going mortgage payments. Nor could they restore lost jobs to a hard-hit community.
Economic hardship is not a rare event. Around the country, millions of people are unemployed and millions more work part time when they need and prefer full-time work. One-quarter of all jobs pay a wage so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four above poverty. Some 45 million people, predominantly low-wage workers and their families, lack health insurance.
What is the role of the church in the midst of unemployment and joblessness? When jobs pay too little? When housing, childcare, and health care are too expensive?
The church is called by God to act with kindness, to care for those in need. Congregations respond faithfully by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and helping workers who lose their jobs.
But God’s people are also called to do justice. The Biblical vision of justice requires us to move beyond charity and works of mercy. We are called to create the economic conditions and institutions that will begin to put an end to the hardships God’s people face.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to care for the immediate needs of the unemployed and to lobby Congress for better international trade policies and an improved unemployment insurance system. We are called to give food to the food pantry and to ensure that every worker has a living wage. We are called to reconfigure social programs to provide a wholesome life to those who rely on them. We are called to care and to help. We are called to be informed, to demonstrate, to organize, to lobby, and to vote.
Workers need jobs with good wages and benefits. Everyone needs health insurance and affordable housing. The country needs a strong safety net to provide income, retraining, and other services for the unemployed. Let us be about the work of living into God’s reign. With God’s help, may we create a new, more just society within in the midst of the old one.
Jesus Was a Low-Wage Worker
Based on Luke 6:20: "Then he looked up at his disciples and said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God'"
Jesus and the disciples were low-wage workers, just like too many workers in the U.S. today. Nurses aides, hotel housekeepers, farm workers, early childcare specialists, retail sales clerks, and custodians are examples of workers who provide vitally needed services but who usually receive wages so low that they cannot keep a family out of poverty.
One-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. pay poverty-level wages. In addition, these jobs are more likely to require evening, night, weekend, or rotating shifts. They are less likely to provide health insurance, a pension, or even paid sick leave. They are more likely to be dangerous and unhealthy. They are more likely to be filled by women and people of color – marginal jobs for the already marginalized. Just like Jesus.
These jobs are seldom ladders to better opportunities. And while more education can improve the job prospects for individuals, education alone will not improve these jobs. Even if all workers were college graduates, we would still need people to sweep floors and flip burgers. These jobs would still be poverty jobs. The problem is not the worker but the job.
Poverty jobs can be changed into life-giving jobs if we actively seek to make this happen. We need to raise the minimum wage to make it a living wage. We need to strengthen the right of all workers to form and join unions. We need to more adequately enforce health and safety laws.
Jesus said, blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20b). Low-wage workers are high-value children of God. They must be able to support themselves and their families, and live with dignity the life of wholeness that God intends for all. God reign does not stop at the door to the workplace but includes all aspects of life, including our work lives. Let us ask God’s help as we seek to live into God’s reign – a reign that provides abundant life and decent wages to all workers.
To order buttons saying "Jesus was a low-wage worker" or "Jesus tambien trabajo por un salario minimo" contact JWM at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 216-736-3720.
A Fair Balance
Sermon seeds for Labor Sunday, September 2, 2012
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, 13-15
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he asks for donations of money for the church in Jerusalem where many people are living in poverty. He writes, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.
Paul instructs the Corinthians on the importance of a “fair balance,” where no one has either too much or too little. May we have ears to truly hear Paul's message today, a time when in both the United States and around the world, there are a few extremely wealthy people, far too many poor, and many in the middle who are struggling to avoid sliding into poverty. As Paul said, one person’s abundance is for another person’s need. There is plenty for all if we share. The Church is called to work for a world where there is a “fair balance” between abundance for a few and the needs of many.
In the United States and around the world, inequality is growing. The poor are falling deeper into poverty, the rich are getting richer, and those in the middle have seen their incomes stagnate or decline.
- Most working age adults receive all or nearly all of their income from a job. And our wages and salaries largely determine our income in retirement as well. But in the four-fifths of all jobs in the U.S. classified as “non-professional” and “non-supervisory,” wages and salaries have stagnated since the mid-1970s. As a result, average income for the bottom 90% of households today is lower, adjusted for inflation, than in 1970. But at the very top of the income scale – the top 1/100th of 1%, some 16,000 households – annual incomes rose by an average of $20 million over that same time period.
- Inequality is also growing in most countries around the world. Between the mid-1980s and mid-2000’s, among the 73 nations for which data are available, 53 countries (home to over 80% of the world’s population) had a rise in inequality while only 9 (with 4% of the global population) had a fall.
Such an unequal sharing of resources in both the United States and around the world has a direct impact on people’s lives including their health, access to education, and opportunities for advancement. In Bolivia and Peru, infant death rates are four to five times higher for the poorest 20% compared with the richest 20%. A baby boy born in the U.S. to a family in the top 5% will live 25% longer than a boy born into the bottom 5%.
Inequality among countries has also grown in recent decades. Rich countries have gotten richer and pulled further in front of poorer ones.
- For example, in 1990, the average American’s income was 38 times higher than the income of the average Tanzanian. In 2005, the American’s was 61 times larger.
- In rich countries, income per person, adjusted for inflation, has risen two- to three-fold since 1970, a much larger gain than in poorer ones. Tragically, in 13 poor countries, average income is lower today than in 1970.
As the apostle Paul wrote, “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need.” The world is richly endowed with God’s abundance. Surely God must be offended and saddened by such inequality.
The federal poverty line in the U.S. is $23,000 for a family of four. But even families with incomes above this level struggle and suffer. Experts estimate that a meager but minimally adequate income is roughly twice the official poverty level, or around $46,000 for a family of four. In the United States, one-third of people live below this higher, but more accurate, “adequacy” line. People with inadequate incomes not only lack essentials like adequate food, shelter, transportation, quality education, and health care. They also lack opportunities to improve their lives. They suffer from poorer health, shorter life expectancy, more mental illness, and higher infant mortality. They do less well in school.
In a rich county, and in a rich world, there is no justification for a high level of inequality that blocks people from reaching their potential and bars millions (and billions globally) of God’s children from becoming the unique, special people God created them to be.
What can be done to reduce inequality? The Church is called to a very important ministry of advocacy and prophecy. The Church and people of faith must advocate for fairer public policies.
- To raise wages for the majority of workers, we need strong labor unions, strengthened labor protections, a higher minimum wage, and more supports for workers such as childcare, early childhood education, and paid sick days.
- Our international trade and investment agreements need to be rewritten to level the playing field between corporations and workers in both the U.S. and around the world, and protect the environment.
- Congress must create jobs and put millions of people back to work.
- Declines in income taxes paid by wealthy households and corporations, as well as cuts in the estate tax that is paid entirely by the wealthy, reduce tax revenues and lead to cuts in government services and higher deficits. More tax revenue is needed to promote the common good and provide opportunities for all. An increase in tax revenue could make higher education more affordable; improve the quality of public schools; provide universal health insurance and early childhood education; support infrastructure investments that create jobs, boost productivity, and enhance the quality of life; strengthen the safety net; and clean up the environment.
- Rich countries need to share more of their wealth with their poorer neighbors around the globe and enact policies that allow all nations to thrive such as cancellation of debts, promotion of food sovereignty, and fair trade and investment treaties.
- We also must protect the environment and quickly move to renewable sources of energy. Climate change will most gravely impact the poor.
The Church and people of faith must also be prophets announcing God’s intentions for our nation and the world. We must challenge cultural behaviors and values that idolize money and “things.” Greed is not good. The Church must speak in support of the common good and against consumerism and materialism. And the Church and people of faith must live out these values in our own lives. We must love our neighbors in word and deed. We must stand with the poor and those on the margins. We must use our money wisely to bring God’s vision to reality.
On Labor Sunday, we especially recognize that all workers – from those who clean hotel rooms and care for elders, to those who work in department stores, fast food chains, and warehouses – are children of God, worthy of respect and living wages.
God created a world of abundance. If we share there is enough for all to live in the fullness of life. Like the Corinthians we are called to follow Paul’s instructions, to find a fair balance between one person’s abundance and another’s need. The economy is not like the weather. It is created by people and can, and should be, directed by people to serve all people and the earth. Our goal is nothing less than a world where “the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”