Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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Young Ones Fleeing Central America

July 16, 2014

by Patricia de Jong, Senior Minister

migrantchildrenMany of us having been reading and hearing stories about the wave of children and youth from Central American who are crossing over the boarder into the southwest of the United States, many of them unaccompanied. But First Church member Jennifer Fisher has taken the next step—encouraging our congregation to take concrete action to address the needs of these young immigrants. And she will get in a truck full of supplies and drive if that is the right thing to do.

Jennifer’s desire to respond has been galvanizing and a meeting has been set up for Wednesday, July 16 at 7:00 pm in the Sunburst Room. Anyone who is interested in learning more about this challenging situation and to discern the best way for First Church to respond are invited to attend.

Although this surge has ignited much political debate, Jennifer has her eyes squarely on the human story:  “Everyone can argue both sides of the immigration issue, that does not matter. What matters is these kids have traveled hundreds and perhaps thousands of miles on a rough road to get here and many are victims of violence, upheaval and economic hardships in their country. People willing to make that kind of hazardous, unsafe, dusty, dry, and arduous trip are usually doing it to save their lives. ”

In testimony before Congress administration members described the situation this way: “We face an urgent situation in the Rio Grande Valley Last fiscal year, Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 24,000 unaccompanied children at the border. By mid-June of this fiscal year, that number has doubled to more than 52,000. Those from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras make up about three quarters of that migration…[T]his is a humanitarian issue as much as it is a matter of border security. We are talking about large numbers of children, without their parents, who have arrived at our border—hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared and vulnerable. How we treat the children, in particular, is a reflection of our laws and our values.”

This wave of immigration has excited strong feelings. I heard on the radio that at one rally protesting the arrival of these children a woman held a sign that said “Not our children, Not our problem.” I must emphatically disagree. Jesus clearly calls us to care for the hungry and the thirsty. We are all neighbors and when our neighbors are in need, we are called to act.

Join Jennifer and I on Wednesday night and be prepared to respond to a special call for funds to provide relief for at least some of these children.

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Here are some online resources about the wave of young immigrants coming to the US from Central America:

•   A comprehensive article called “Life Ended There” by Susan Terrio, professor of anthropology at Georgetown University, author of Whose Child Am I? Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody: http://tinyurl.com/lifeendedthere

•   An article about how social service agencies that work with the immigration community in San Francisco are being stretched by this situation: http://tinyurl.com/agenciesstretched

•   Transcript of testimony by administration officials at a hearing titled “Challenges at the Border”: http://tinyurl.com/challengesattheborder

•   A clear picture of the increase in this sort of immigration based on data from Customs and Border Protection: www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children

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More about First Church Berkeley…

 

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Human Trafficking: Ten Ways to Respond

October 2, 2012

On Sunday, September 30, 2012, Shelly Dieterle, Young Adult Minister at First Church Berkeley, preached a sermon at the 9 am service that included an exploration of the US and global issue of human trafficking. It was part of a series of sermons under the theme “Caring for Each Other, Caring for the Earth.” The subject for the morning was “Seeking Justice and Reconciliation.”

In the sermon, Shelly offered 10 different ways one might respond to this troubling issue:

  1. Learn more at slaveryfootprint.org and talk with others about what you learn
  2. Speak up and insist that the clothes you wear, the food you eat and the products you buy are made free of forced labor
  3. Shop responsibly. Learn what companies to avoid and which ones are moving toward economic, social, and environmental responsibility
  4. Become a pen pal to the girls in Mark Pham’s Bocochiem Project, emchi.org, in Southern Vietnam. Mark is the nephew of Louise Halsey and visited with us that Sunday. The Em Chi Initiative prevents young girls in rural southern Vietnam from exploitation.
  5. Openly and actively endorse Proposition 35, A Ban on Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery, and work towards its passage in November
  6. Support Mark’s Bocochiem Project, EmChi, through FCCBs Alternative Gifts catalog this Christmas
  7. Pray for the girls, the women and the boys and men who are held captive in bonded labor throughout the world, and for their oppressors
  8. Join the Not for Sale campaign e-distribution
  9. Become a Big Brother or a Big Sister
  10. Review, support and circulate petitions on change.org

Watch a video of Shelly’s sermon…

First Church member Barbara Grady-Ayer has also written a series of articles on the local aspects of human trafficking right here in the East Bay that appears on the Oakland Local website.

More about First Church Berkeley, United Church of Christ

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President Obama and Marriage Equality

May 10, 2012

First Congregational Church of Berkeley celebrates the personal stand that President Obama has taken on marriage equality. First Church has been an “Open & Affirming” congregation (welcoming all people including those of different sexual orientations) in the United Church of Christ for over 15 years and has taken public positions in favor of equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

First Church celebrates marriage equalitySenior Minister Patricia de Jong adds, “Marriage equality is more than an issue of legal rights, as important as those are. It is also about love, commitment, deep caring and human dignity. I was moved by the lines of people who wanted to get married in California during the brief time it was legal. I have performed same-sex marriages for over 28 years. We recognize the importance that the support of a faith community can have in marriage and family life.”

First Church took a clear stand against Prop 8’s ban on gay marriage and worked to defeat it. The hope of the church is that the personal positions of elected officials will translate into policies and laws that protect the rights of all people.

First Church includes members who are directly affected by the lack of marriage equality.  In a service during the anti-Prop 8 campaign, the church celebrated and affirmed the same-gender relationships among its members and friends. Rachel Bauman, who has just recently been called as First Church’s Minister of Community Life says, “One of the reasons that I was so interested in being part of the First Church community is that it so clearly welcomes families of all shapes and sizes. I think it is crucial that faith communities support loving relationships in a world that is full of challenges.”

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The Tragic Death of Trayvon Martin

March 29, 2012

by Phil Porter
Minister of Art & Communication

Trayvon MartinLast Sunday, a photograph of Trayvon Martin and a “hoodie” were placed on the communion tables at both services at First Church. Trayvon was a 17-year-old African American who was shot by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. The man who shot Trayvon was not arrested based on his claim that he fired in self-defense. Public attention and outrage has grown steadily in the month since the shooting.

This case has touched a nerve for many, inviting us to look not only at instances, but at patterns. This situation is not just about the tragic death of one young man. It is about perceptions of young African American men. Though some may see the murder as out of the ordinary, many are seeing it as something that could easily happen to them or someone they love. Thousands upon thousands of parents are now even more concerned and apprehensive about the safety of their sons.

Philadelphia AP writer Jesse Washington talks about having to give his 12-year-old son the talk about the “black male code.” He gave his son this advice:

“Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.”

(Read Jesse Washington’s full article “Trayvon Martin, my son, and the Black Male Code”.)

Trayvon is both a victim and a symbol. The tragedy of his death stands alone, but as we mourn him, we are also mourning many lives lost. We have an opportunity to stop and call ourselves and our culture to account for the ways that young lives are cut short or derailed because of race or class.

One of the things that church can offer is a place where the family is extended. In so many ways, teenagers and their parents need the support of the wider community. We can help hold the lives of our young people during a period that is often fraught with challenge. Perhaps Trayvon’s death can spur us to take even more seriously our opportunity to spread our collective wings over our young ones—those right next to us, those we pass on the street and those we only hear about through the news.

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The Rights of Women

March 16, 2012

by Patricia de Jong
Senior Minister, First Church Berkeley, UCC

Senior Minister Patricia de JongThe Women of the World Summit in New York City this week celebrated the gifts of women and girls throughout the world. Keynote speaker Hillary Clinton spoke about the responsibility of the US as a role model for women around the world by standing up for women’s rights here and throughout the world. She reminded the audience that women should always have the right to make their own choices about what they wear, how they worship, the causes they support and, finally, “the right to control the decisions we make about our own health and our own bodies.”

Her message reemphasized the importance of our nation’s role in the rest of the world, especially with regards to how governments treat women.

At the halfway mark in this extraordinary season of Lent, it is good to remember that Jesus took a similar stand when it came to the role and rights of women in his time. He publicly included women as his disciples, infuriating religious leaders. He healed women as readily and powerfully as he healed men and he even took on the issue of divorce, announcing that men and women had the right to divorce the other.

Walter Wink asserts that Jesus violated the mores of his time in just about every encounter with women that are recorded in all four of the Gospels. Do you remember who was standing at the foot of the cross on Good Friday? And to whom Jesus first appeared after the crucifixion? The Gospels present us with a prophet who turned the expectations of the world as it was upside down, pointing toward liberation for all people, especially the poor, who were often women.

Our Lent journey touches on matters of life and death, not just for ourselves, but for the difficult issues confronting our world and the people who live in it. For women and girls in this country and in all countries, the respect, care and right to make our own decisions about our health and our bodies is fundamental, not only for individuals, but to the life and livelihood of the world.

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The Use of Religion in Political Debate

February 23, 2012

Changing Lives at First Church BerkeleyFrom First Congregational Church of Berkeley, United Church of Christ:

As progressive Christians we are concerned about the way that religion is being used in the current political debate on several counts:

1. Statements are being made that suggest that one religious point of view is superior and others are being disparaged. We are a Christian congregation and we recognize that there are many ways that people practice their faith. We also understand and accept that many do not claim a spiritual tradition. In the public sphere many different points of view about religion must be honored.

2. Certain policy decisions are being debated as if they dramatically infringe on the religious freedom of some Americans. We consider this to be a misleading overstatement.

3. We are concerned that messages both overt and covert rooted in racism and sexism are being used as a wedge to divide us as a people. We believe in straightforward and honest debate and respect for differences.

4. Although our faith informs our politics, we recognize that if those two strands are too intertwined they strangle diversity and debate. We honor the long tradition of the separation of church and state and resist impulses to shape government policy based on a single religious point of view.

We call our politicians to civility, honesty, respect for diversity, and open-mindedness.

We invite your comments below.