Liberation

Liberation

The transcendent image of a resurrected Christ shines with liberation, even from death, with a promise of life everlasting.  This audacious promise is the heart of our faith.  It is also the heart of our mission of justice and equity for all, because life everlasting begins not after death but in this life on earth.

 Justice and witness ministry is a ministry of liberation:  to free the oppressed, to use power and wealth on behalf of the powerless and poor, and to act boldly for justice.  This ministry carries our Christian faith into the world through action, amply supported by scripture and the ages-long actions of our UCC forebears.

 This ministry, however, contains within it the seeds of its own undoing.  As we work to free the oppressed, we may assume we are free and they are not.  As we give and ask nothing in return, we may flaunt our power, separating us, the powerful, from them, the weak and oppressed.  As we fight for justice, we may focus on a furious fight against injustice, on oppression rather than liberation, and take our eyes off the prize.

 A few months ago, I came across a quotation that rings true to me for justice ministry.  It is often attributed to Lilla Watson, an Australian Aboriginal elder and activist, speaking to a missionary:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

 “Your liberation is bound up in mine.”  What a marvelous phrase.  In a few simple words, the arrogant assumption of being free, the inequitable separation from the other, and the furious focus on oppression, are all replaced by a call to work together for liberation.

 In our justice ministry we are clearly not free.  In the Rev. Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, he writes “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  We work for freedom in a mutual mission of liberation, with a handshake, not a handout.

 “Bound up…”  A profound intimacy pervades those words, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We are not separate from each other, any more than the body of Christ is dismembered.  A Jew, Martin Buber, expresses this best for me.  His “I-Thou” relationship is warmly intimate, as is the Bible.  Today, we see the Biblical use of “thou” as formal and stiff, but in the England of King James “thou” was a term used for friends and relatives, bound by kinship and friendship.

 This intimacy is empowered in forgiveness.  The oppressed, and those fighting oppression, are often angry, outraged.  The justness of the cause becomes a justification for anger that can blind us to each other.  Forgive us our rages, as we forgive those who rage against us.  Liberate us to love one another.

 “Let us work together.”  We work together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with our eyes firmly on the prize: liberation.  Of course we fight oppression, but as a gardener fights weeds, as a part of growing a finer garden.  Gardeners of justice work together not for a final prize but for a recurring cycle of sweet, savory prizes that nourish and grow through constant, careful tending.

 Christ did not die for our sins; he rose from death for our salvation.  He came because his liberation is bound up in ours.  As we work together for justice, may we follow Christ.

Will Fuller – Kairos-Milwaukie UCC

Abolishing The Death Penalty in Oregon

By Jim Ruyle, Hillsdale Community Church UCC, Portland, OR

At the Spring Assembly of 2009, the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ adopted a resolution that the death penalty should be abolished. It urged all local churches and affiliates to preach and conduct education to inform their congregations and others of related issues and join in cooperation with the Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty or other groups to lobby the Oregon Legislature for a ballot measure to abolish the death penalty. This followed a long and consistent history of opposition to capital punishment by the United Church of Christ, which helped start the movement in 1969. Since our own resolution, more states have ended or suspended capital punishment. In Oregon, Governor Kitzhaber suspended capital punishment subject to action by the legislature and the voting public. Building on this momentum, Oregon can also eliminate capital punishment with help from the United Church of Christ and other members of the faith community.

But Oregon has an obstacle, shared by two other states, that allowance of the death penalty is in our state constitution. Elimination of the death penalty will require legislative action to provide for a vote of the public and then a vote in favor by the public. This requires ongoing education to persuade the people of Oregon that the death penalty should be eliminated.

PARDON OF WILMINGTON 10

by Brenda Kame’enui, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Eugene, Oregon

You’ll find the United Church of Christ (UCC) frequently on the right side of peace, justice, and equality events, from the defense of slaves on La Amistad to the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. The UCC has a proud history of being a witness for peace with justice.

The New Year’s Eve declaration of pardon by outgoing North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue of the Wilmington 10 was a long-overdue welcome to everyone related to civil rights in the South since the 1950’s. The sentences of the Ten, who were wrongfully convicted of a 1971 fire bombing of a grocery store, were commuted in 1978 by then-Governor Jim Hunt, but the governor did not issue a pardon for the Ten. In 1980, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions, but still no pardon.

While the United Church of Christ was long active in civil rights demonstrations and voter registration efforts, Benjamin Chavis was in North Carolina as a UCC justice worker in 1971. He was both a minister and civil rights community organizer for the UCC’s Commission for Racial Justice, working to ensure schools in the area were desegregated fairly. Chavis was one of the Ten, and when the Ten were convicted, the UCC was outraged and raised $1 million in bail to free them. This set in motion continued UCC racial justice efforts, from then-UCC president Avery Post to the General Synod. For four decades, the UCC and the Central Atlantic Conference continued the tireless efforts of seeking justice for the Wilmington 10.