PPFers Engage in Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2017

As we do annually, many PPFers attended Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. in April. This year’s theme was “Confronting Chaos, Forging Community: Challenging Racism, Materialism and Militarism” with an “ask” to Congress grounded in Martin Luther King Jr.’s anti-Vietnam speech, given 50 years ago, on the triple threat facing the US then and still today: racism, materialism, and militarism. Here are the reports from some of the Activist Council members who attended.

Melinda Thompson from Delaware: 

EAD was awesome! The place was packed. Great plenary speakers – my favorite was, of course, J. Herbert Nelson, but others were also wonderful and so informative. I loved that the leadership – the people at the podium- were so diverse – men, women, black, white, native American, Korean – two south Korean men who urged us to get the US out of their business so they could get to the work of reuniting – young, older- 28 denominations represented. Everyone seemed excited about what was going on. We had a vigil on the Pentagon property.

I had great visits on Capitol Hill with aides for all my Congress people – both my senators are Presbyterian and my new representative is the first black person and the first woman from Delaware. The people I went with were also all PCUSA – 3 from the same church in Wilmington, and I from Seaford – two different parts of the state. I was a bit bummed that there were not more people from Delaware and a more diverse mix of denominations – this is UMC-land. Our jam packed weekend followed an all-day session at New York Avenue PC with Compassion, Peace and Justice. There was a large group gathered for dinner Saturday night in the restaurant. Good to see Fritz and Mary and some new faces.

Art and Mary Hunt and Ralph Jones from Connecticut:
We met with staff of Senators Blumenthal and Murphy and Representative DeLauro to advocate for criminal justice reform, immigration reform and a moral budget that provides robust funding for “common good” programs like health care, nutrition and diplomacy and especially does not sacrifice people to pay for increased military expenditures. At the highest level, we used Lobby Day to call on Congress to robustly fund human needs in the United States and abroad and to reject increases in Pentagon spending, especially at the expense of human needs. For more details, read this.

Also on Monday at noon, EAD held a Prayer Vigil outside the United Methodist Building. The Reverend Traci Blackmon was among several faith leaders who spoke on the implications of the proposed budget.  She asked “How Are the Children?”, a traditional greeting of the Maasai in Kenya. In an impassioned testimony she spoke of the hardships and injustices that rain down on poor and marginalized children in the United States and around the world. Our call to action is to ask what could the world be like if everyone – our politicians, our faith leaders, our business leaders, parents, teachers, ourselves – started every conversation with “How are the Children?” Our answer today is “The children are not well.” How can we change our personal, local, state, national and international priorities to be able to answer if “our children are well?”

The speakers were powerful voices for action in ways small and large. The videos of the plenaries are online. Some of particular interest:

  • Tamika D. Mallory, National Co-Chair, Women’s March on Washington; Former Executive Director, National Action Network
  • Eric Mitchell, Director of Government Relations, Bread for the World
  • Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk, General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Bishop Dwayne Royster, Political Director, PICO
  • The Rev. Traci Blackmon, Pastor of Christ The King UCC, in Florissant, Mo and acting executive of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries

As one example, Mary participated in a Climate Justice Simulation sponsored by the United Methodist Women’s national office.  Climate Justice is one of their four social justice priorities.  The simulated experience is based on real situations faced by three U. S. communities in their struggles to contend with and organize around environmental injustices. Through the course of the role-playing, participants gained knowledge about the local conditions that aggravate climate change, move toward more informed advocacy in solidarity with local communities, and are introduced to the work of three community organizations addressing these particular climate justice issues. The simulation curriculum is available for download online and could be considered for a joint adult  / young adult education session.

CPJ is the Friday morning “prequel” to EAD. Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, who is the first Native American to serve as a synod executive in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and serves the Synod of Lakes and Prairies presented a workshop focused on the Doctrine of Discovery and the Propagation of the Christian Empire.

Did you know that beginning in the 1450s, papal bulls authorized Christian monarchies to vanquish and place in perpetual slavery/servitude any heathens, pagans, Saracens, or other non-Christian peoples? With that authority, the Portuguese developed the slave trade along the west African coast. Other Christian nations soon joined in the effort to bring all lands not Christian under church dominion. Military conquest was the authorized means. Slavery was the result.

American Indians were very susceptible to European diseases. That’s key to the successes of our early New England Puritan ancestors. Those who survived were often held as slaves. The “peculiar institution” developed, in part, because so many Indians died. The almost forgotten Indian history of this country needs to be heard if we are to understand the Christian roots of much of the injustice in today’s world.

Timothy Wotring from New York:
I sat in on talks ranging from the nonviolent work and the Earth honoring practices of Tent of Nations in Palestine, to the outrageous US Border Control budget and use of militarized suppression. The weekend’s talk prepared us for our meeting with Congress. On Monday, I met with the staff of Representative Nadler, Senator Gillibrand, and Senator Schumer. They all were very receptive to what we had to say. We advocated for a moral budget: one where money was not spent on the military, but on the people; one not spent on a huge border wall, but on better legislation for those escaping the nightmares of their nations; and one where Earth’s voice will not silenced, but for regulation that upholds life. Traveling back on Monday night I thought, a peaceful world is possible, we just need to expand our political and theological imaginations. I plan to take the lessons I learned at this year’s EAD with me as I move forward with peace work.

Thank you to the EAD organizers who make this happen every year!

The 2018 dates have been announced: April 20-23. To be a part of PPF’s work, including our advocacy at EAD, join the Activist Council.