Anti-Racist vs Non-Racist

I came across the following article today:  “I don’t trust white people, even the liberals, and science backs me up.”   It is a good article that exposes the difficulty white people have after 400 years of white supremacy immersion to behave in ways that are non-racist.  The good news is the science this author is citing is behavioral science and not science like the immutable laws of science, such as the law of gravity. This means that white people can change their behaviors and become non-racist.

Non-racist?  I do not see too many people in the anti-racism work talking about being non-racist.  They mostly use the term anti-racist.  So what is the difference?  Actually there is a huge difference.

My taking action as a white ally in a Black Lives Matter protest is an anti-racist action.  I am standing in solidarity against the racism that has been institutionalized in our criminal justice system. (If this statement is new to you; there is a whole body of work out there that documents our criminal justice system as racist, so I am not going to spend time here justifying that statement.)

My reading and researching about institutional racism in the United States of America is equipping me with information to bolster my ability to recognize racism as it has been displayed and continues to be displayed in this nation.  This reading and researching is anti-racism work.  But this work still does not make me non-racist.

As the article points out, there are still unconscious racist messages embedded into my culture that I practice without even batting an eye even as I proclaim anti-racist statements with my mouth and body. To be non-racist in my behaviors means I need to be willing to examine my behaviors in the context of racism. It means that I need to have a wider frame of reference in which to place my behaviors and decisions.

I will give an example.  And it is easier to look at someone else’s behavior than it is my own.  Alabama’s Governor Bentley recently made the decision to close down department of motor vehicles in the most rural counties of the state.  He stated this was for financial reasons because of shortfalls in the state budget. Governors have the unpopular task to make the hard decisions even though it will affect people’s lives. If state budget was the only factor behind this decision, this might seem like a difficult but reasonable decision to make.

However, in the wider context, this decision affects people of color in greater numbers than it does white people.  In the wider context, this decision was made after the state of Alabama passed the requirement that people have to have state issued photo IDs in order to vote in elections. In the wider context, this decision will force people to take time off from work to travel 3 or 4 hours away to wait in line for several hours to get their license and photo ID. In the wider context, the majority of people living and working in these counties do not have positions that pay for personal leave or sick time, so a day off from work is a day’s pay lost.  This may translate in not being able to make rent that month or place food on the table that week.  What first appeared as an unpopular and hard decision to balance a state budget, now begins to look like yet another means to oppress and disenfranchise the poor who also happen to be predominantly people of color.

Now Governor Bentley has stated this decision was not done for racist reasons. On the face of his statements, I believe him. But intention does not negate impact AND look at where he lives. He lives in a state whose state constitution of 1901 was created for the sole purpose to promote and sustain white supremacy. His actions are in line with 114 years of white supremacy codified into the Alabama constitution.

In order for Governor Bentley to be acting from a non-racist place, he needs first to be aware, consciously aware on a daily basis, how the constitution that he swore to uphold is first and foremost a racist document written in such a manner to prevent people of color to fully participate in the governmental process. He also needs to be aware, consciously aware on a daily basis, how his actions affect all of his constituents along racial lines. If he wants to truly be seen as non-racist, then he needs to change his behaviors when making decisions that will negatively impact people of color.

Let me attempt to give a more personal example to distinguish the two terms. I recently shared a sermon with my minister colleagues at our fall retreat entitled:  For Such a Time As This. It was the sermon I gave at the installation of another colleague. In it, I challenge our Unitarian Universalist denomination regarding racism within our faith.  Afterwards, one of my African American colleagues thanked me for stating things that he could not have stated then added ‘with such words comes great accountability.’ My sermon was anti-racist. My accountability to that sermon needs to be non-racist behavior.

It is easier to be anti-racist because that is merely pointing out the splinter in our neighbors’ eyes. The harder work, the aspirational work is to be non-racist, the plucking out the log within our own eye so we can see our own behaviors and change them to be increasingly non-racist. Undoing the ingrained behavior of a 400 year plus white supremacist culture will take concerted effort on all of our parts.

Those who are dedicated to this work need to be both anti-racist and non-racist. The willingness to stand in solidarity with people of color against racism and the willingness to do the hard soul-searching work to change our own behaviors so they no longer oppress others.

 

 

 

Alabama Lives Matter!

Alabama lives Matter!  But you wouldn’t know this to be true if you consider the actions and behaviors of our state legislators or governor.  It is time for the people of Alabama with a united voice to rise up and tell our state legislators and our governor that their behaviors and actions are placing Alabama lives in harms way.  Case in point is the continual blockage of medicaid expansion by the State’s Senate and House Republicans as well as Governor Bentley, who ironically is a medical doctor who should know his Hippocratic oath.  The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, allows for the expansion of Medicaid to cover those individuals who 1) do not qualify for current medicaid provisions in their state by raising those eligible for Medicaid to 133% of the federal poverty level and 2) covers those individuals who although are working do not meet the eligibility threshold of the Affordable Care Act.  In Alabama that would cover an additional 300k lives.

The Senate recently passed a resolution forbidding Governor Bentley from expanding Medicaid in the state. It is now before the House and it is presumed it will come up for a vote this coming week.  Governor Bentley has opposed Medicaid expansion since the passage of the federal act against the best interests of the people he is elected to serve. However, in recent months he has indicated that he may finally expand Medicaid because doing so would increase revenue into the state and help meet the budgetary shortfall.  Notice however, he is not thinking of doing this because it would save Alabamian lives but rather his administration.

Every year up to 700 lives, that is 3 lives every two days, are lost because they were unable to get timely treatment for medical conditions resulting in their death.  It has been argued by Governor Bentley and others that no one will be denied health care in Alabama. However, Emergency rooms are not treatment centers for devastating diseases like cancer or diabetes.  Women cannot get mammograms in an emergency room visit. Emergency room care is not preventative treatment. And Governor Bentley of all people should know this; his behaviors in response to this life and death crisis is unconscionable.

The cost of providing emergency room services as treatment centers is causing hospitals in poorer economic regions of Alabama to close.  Since 2011, the first year that Governor Bentley could have expanded Medicaid in the state, 10 hospitals have closed.  There are 12 additional hospitals in the state that are expected to close in the next 12-24 months.

Bullock County in Alabama is one location under the threat of losing their only hospital.  This county has 33% of the population below the federal poverty level and the average income for a family of four is $23k.  It has the highest illiteracy rate in the state at 34%. Its unemployment rate is currently at 7.1%, not the highest in the state per county but significantly above the state rate of 5.8%.   The actions of the State Senate reveal their attitude that the individuals and families of Bullock County are throw-away people, regardless of race. Their lives are not worth saving to our elected officials.  This is the same Senate that passed a resolution declaring the personhood of the human fetus (they have been moving towards legislating this theological and religious doctrine into law). We need to tell them their actions regarding Medicaid Expansion are immoral and violate their own self-professed values for the sanctity of life.  With poverty this high, the people living here are not going to be able to travel an hour plus to a hospital in a bordering county for emergency care let alone treatment for life threatening diseases.  Alabama Lives Matter and it is high time that our state legislators not only know it but act accordingly.

Governor Bentley has campaigned on a promise to create jobs in Alabama.  He has spent millions of dollars courting international businesses to set up shops in Alabama and has marginal success but not as much success as Medicaid Expansion would have. According to a study by the University of Alabama, 30,000 new jobs would result from the expansion of Medicaid.  The Federal government would pay 100% of the expansion cost for the first three years and then reduce that support to 90% in 2020 and thereafter. 30,000 new permanent jobs, not temporary jobs with no benefits like Mercedes is offering in Vance, AL but permanent jobs that have a huge impact on our economic viability as a state. It is projected that over a period of six years the states gross domestic product would increase by $17 Billion and workers’ earnings by $10 Billion.  Job creation through Medicaid Expansion literally saves lives but apparently Governor Bentley doesn’t understand because he has refused to expand medicaid.  Alabama Lives Matter!

Governor Bentley does not need the approval of the State Senate or the State House to expand or deny Medicaid Expansion.  He could begin saving lives today by signing the executive order to expand Medicaid.   He could do the right thing even if the motive is ensuring his party’s continued control of the legislature and not  for the least of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He is going to need encouragement to do so and needs to know that Alabama Lives Matter regardless of their religious convictions.

What can you do?  If you are able come to the State house on Tuesday, April 28.  Moral Monday is having a rally outside the State House at 12 Noon and SOS is having a press conference and prayer vigil on the 3rd floor at 12:30 PM.  We need you to voice your desire to save lives in Alabama by expanding medicaid. People are dying because our state legislature prefers playing political games rather than addressing the needs of the people of this state. This needs to stop now.  Our silence on this issue is condemning lives to death.

Bring this issue to social media. Social media today has become a viable means to create news stories in the mainstream press.  This is a life and death issue that needs to be on the minds of every Alabamian.  Repost this blog on your Facebook pages and Twitter. Post other stories about medicaid expansion on Facebook and Twitter as well. If you or a loved one are among the 300K in Alabama falling in the gap without medical insurance tell your story of emergency room visits not being a mode of treating illnesses like cancer and diabetes.

Tweets can be sent to @GovernorBentley with the #AlabamaLivesMatter and #ExpandMedicaid  and #alpolitics .  The #AlabamaLivesMatter will track how many  the tweets this campaign sends out.  The hashtags ExpandMedicaid and alpolitics will place these tweets before those who are following this issue in Alabama and elsewhere.  Here are few examples:

@GovernorBentley save 700 lives this year by signing on to #ExpandMedicaid #AlabamaLivesMatter #alpolitics

@GovernorBentley Create 30K jobs #ExpandMedicaid #AlabamaLivesMatter #alpolitics

@GovernorBentley #ExpandMedicaid and save 12 rural hospitals from closing #AlabamaLivesMatter #alpolitics

You can also tweet House Speaker Rep. Hubbard  @SpeakerHubbard using these same hashtags and encourage him to  do the right thing regarding medicaid expansion and not pass the Senate resolution to block Medicaid.  Look and see if your state senator or representative is on Twitter or Facebook and let them know that Alabama Lives Matter.

Lives are at stake. We need to send the message loud and strong that Alabama Lives Matter and we will not be silent any longer.

 

Perhaps Love

“Perhaps love.”

“Perhaps love is like the ocean full of conflict, full of pain**.”

It is, isn’t it?  We like to think, oh, no! That is not love.  Love is happily ever after.  Love is all roses and sunshine.  Love is all that and a bag of chips.

We need to face the reality … love contains conflict.  Love contains pain.

Now before I go too much further with this line of thought, let me clarify what I am talking about when I mention conflict and pain as being within love.

Let me separate out the pain and conflict experienced as the result of emotional/mental/physical abuse.  The sort of conflict and pain that arises from abuse is not about love, that is about power—control over another human being. Love is not about power over another person.  So when I state love contains conflict, love contains pain; I am not referring to abusive relationships.

I am referring to the pain that arises when someone is hurting, physically/emotionally/mentally.  I am referring to when a loved one is sick.  I am referring to when a loved one is being harassed.  I am referring to when a loved one dies—regardless of circumstances.

On a larger scale—I am referring to when there is injustice against people.  People who seek to love one another face conflict and pain when there is injustice.  I am referring to when pain and conflict arise because of a systemic condition of the hardening heart in the collective hive.

This has been a tough summer for those who believe that Love wins. I know for me it has made me seriously reconsider my calling as a minister who longs for the day when justice runs down like a mighty stream.  What am I doing here in Alabama?  What am I doing here in the United States? If I, as a minister, am not on the forefront of justice standing on the side of love with the people who are in pain, what am I doing?  I cry for justice to reign in this land.

Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson was only the tip for me.  I listened to my relatives defend his being shot and became nauseated.  His senseless death is an abomination to all of America’s ideals and principles.  But his death is not the only one, and we don’t really know how many others because our police and government do not track violent encounters[i] between police and civilians. A law was passed by Congress in 1994 requiring the Attorney General to collect and track such events and give an annual report[ii].  No such report has ever been submitted in 20 years.

There were at least 4 other deaths of unarmed black men in the month of August—their names must not be forgotten:  Eric Garner—Staten Island, NY; John Crawford—Beaver Creek, OH; Ezell Ford—Los Angeles, CA; Dante Parker—Victorville, CA.  How many more deaths are needed before America wakes up to the evil it is perpetuating?

This is the pain that love contains. The pain is greatest at the epicenter, with their loved ones who grieve senseless deaths at the hands of a corrupt system militarized by fear and racism. But it is a pain that radiates out like an earthquake and is felt far away by those who are sensitive to it.

How does a family live with such pain?  Where is their comfort to be found?  How do we respond to such an earthquake of pain?

There are other pains that love contains.  This past week Save OurSelves hosted a daily Jericho March around the capitol regarding the pains that our current state administration is enforcing on the people of Alabama—in total disregard of the pain and grief it causes their citizens.

These daily marches focused on Immigration Rights, Education & Youth, Women’s Rights/ Equal Justice, Worker’s Rights/Living Wage, Criminal Justice/Due Process, Medicaid Expansion and Health, and Voting Rights.

These issues all intersect with one another. There is a coordinated effort in our state to hold people down from their great potential by denying the ability to organize in the workplace, by removing funding from our educational budget, by taking away a women’s right of agency to address her own needs, by creating laws that unjustly increase incarceration and slavery in our prisons, and the grief experienced by loved ones who died because of no healthcare—when healthcare could be afforded to them with Medicaid Expansion.

Love is like an ocean, full of conflict, full of pain.  What does one do with the ocean so that Love wins?

We expand the ocean.  We support one another when pain occurs. We cry out together.  We let our wails be heard like the mothers in Ramah. We place our lives on the line when others are threatened.

Many of you know that I was arrested within the capitol building on Thursday for attempting to participate in a 24 hour prayer vigil for the expansion of Medicaid.   I spoke with our board president before I made my decision to do this but it was obvious that this was where my heart was leaning.  Too many deaths have occurred that could have been avoided if our governor, a doctor by profession, had agreed to expand Medicaid.  I could no longer be silent on this sanctioned death by denial of healthcare any longer.

The pain and grief he has caused 700 families this past year alone is unconscionable, not to mention the 300,000 people who are struggling and praying that they will not need medical intervention to save their lives.  My heart this summer has broken open and I am compelled to speak out in a way I have not before.

I see his refusal to expand Medicaid to be an evil act against the people of this state, people he was elected to serve.  Many of whom he defined as his brothers and sisters in Christ, since he has made it clear he does see non-Christians as his brothers and sisters in humanity[iii].  With brothers like that, who needs enemies?

Our Governor is a victim of his own lies and deceptions.  And like Governor Wallace before him, he must be convinced of his betrayal against the people he was elected to serve.  The only way I know how to reach him and save him from his own deception is to rip the veil off on white privilege and supremacy which this administration has fought to preserve and strengthen and to fill the capitol with hundreds, even thousands of people demanding to see Medicaid expansion now.  And to insist laws put into place that expand rather than contract a person’s ability to reach their full potential.

This must be a concerted effort and a coalition of people broad and deep.  It means we must be motivated more by love than by fear of the stigma of being arrested. As the Rev. Kenneth Sharpton-Glascow said to me in the Montgomery County Jail, Jesus was arrested for his civil disobedience.  So was Gandhi, so was Martin Luther King, Jr. so was Annie Pearl Avery, who is one of the original SNICK participants in the 1960s and who joined me in being arrested on Thursday.

Ms. Avery is now 79 years old and told the police at the Montgomery jail that it was partly her actions in the 1960s that enabled them to have the jobs they have today. She enjoined them to recognize that we are fighting again for rights that are being denied Alabamans and join us in our struggle—not fight us by locking us up.

But these people I mentioned by name are all people of color.  We live in a nation where people of color are disproportionately arrested even though all people share equally in the crimes committed.  I realize that as a white person, I have been conditioned to believe that only bad people are arrested.  And in this country, bad people are conflated with being people of color because that is what White America is taught to believe.  There should be no shame in being arrested for justice.

I am also aware that in our Unitarian Universalist movement, the temptation is to make an arrest for a just cause to be some sort of an elite status symbol.  Across our denomination clergy arrests thus far have resulted in no time served, a small fine, and some court costs.  In Washington, DC, the arrests of 112 clergy and faith leaders were an orchestrated show against deportation of immigrants.  We knew in advance that we would be released with no further court cases, no threat of prison time. The risk was minimal. It gave us media publicity.  If we are serious in our quest for justice, we need to take larger risks that place our lives on the line, a few hours being arrested is not a personal risk.

While there was some media present at the rally on Thursday, the arrests that happened were no media stunt.  The Governor’s office did not want to arrest us and pleaded with us to leave. We stated we needed to pray for the governor to expand Medicaid and therefore would not leave.  We were charged with trespassing in the second degree which carries a $ 500 fine and /or up to 90 days in prison.  We could have been charged with trespassing in the third degree which carries a small fine.(In delivering this sermon, I misstated the penalties based on a website I found regarding these terms.  It is corrected here to Alabama criminal codes.)  My court date is Sept 15. I cannot predict the outcome.  Our governor does not want to become the next North Carolina with thousands swarming the capitol and over 900 arrests.  He is hoping this will deter others to follow.

We must not be deterred. Love does not stand back in the face of evil actions. It stands firm.  It holds the pain felt and assimilates it into more love.

I am committed to justice for the people of this state and therefore I must be willing to sacrifice the white privilege I am afforded.  If need be, to be arrested and bear the consequences.  The consequences I face do not even compare to the lives painfully lost because of denial of healthcare.

The evil that we face today is the same evil that Martin Luther King faced in the 1950s and 60s.  My actions are not the seeking of a status symbol, they are a call to action, to be willing to put our heart and soul into the belief that people need to be free to reach their full potential.

I realize some of you may not agree with the actions I have taken.  I understand. I have said this before and it bears repeating, I do not desire a congregation that follows their minister blindly. I do desire that this congregation will be informed of the issues.  Study them.  Read up on them.  Consider these issues a matter of faith development importance because they are indeed a serious matter of faith development. The future of our faith is dependent on how these issues play out. There are forces that seek to take away our freedom to practice our free and liberal faith.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the billboard out on University Blvd entering Cottondale.  It is a huge sign displaying the #Secede.  This group wants to recreate the confederacy in the form of a White Supremacist Christian Theocracy.  I have talked with some people who have experienced this group firsthand and they are a vicious and hateful bunch.  They are feeding off this country’s and state’s current hatred for our President. Be forewarned, there is very little difference between this group and the white elected officials in Montgomery with their declarations of a specific Christian theology that places women back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant and laws that place black and brown men into slavery through incarceration.

Perhaps love. Perhaps love is like the ocean full of conflict, full of pain.  The ocean is wide and deep. There are many ways to hold that conflict and pain. Some will grieve and wail uncontrollably.  And that witness of love is essential.  Some will share their stories of injustice committed against them. And that witness of love is essential. Some may do so by supporting those who stand on the vanguard. And that witness of love is essential.  Others may march, wave banners, and shout slogans.  And that witness of love is essential.  Others may stand with hands raised in silent protest in front of the guns and tanks pointed at them. And that witness of love is essential.  And others may choose to engage the pain with civil disobedience, risking their livelihoods, their freedom to enable others to be free.  And that witness of love is essential.

Peace is not the absence of violence.  Peace is the ability to remain centered and grounded while the world is raging threatening storms.  It is the ability to move forward in love because of the inner conviction that justice is the victor already. Love ultimately wins.

Love is large enough to contain the conflict and the pain on the journey towards justice.

Blessed Be.

This sermon was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on August 31, 2014 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond.

** This quote is from John Denver’s song “Perhaps Love.”

[i] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-ferguson-police-killing-african-americans-20140819-story.html

[ii] http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/12/dispatches-tracking-us-police-brutality

[iii] http://www.towleroad.com/2011/01/alabama-gov-elect-bentley-tells-non-christians-hes-not-with-them.html

Arrest is a Minor Inconvenience

In the state of Alabama, over 700 people die each year because they lack the resources to afford medical care.  They fall into the gap between eligibility for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.  Venus Colley-Mims was one such person.  Unemployed in 2007, she didn’t have medical insurance and she discovered a lump in her breast.  She went to the Emergency Room, which is where many without medical insurance go to receive treatment.  It is often the only place that will see a patient who does not have insurance. There she was told don’t worry about it.  Six months later the lump had grown and had become painful.  She again went to the Emergency Room and was given medication for the pain. This went on for two years, when finally a doctor took one look at her breast and sent her to oncology.  She had stage four cancer. Treatment came too late for Ms Colley-Mims.  She died in 2013.

 

Venus Colley-Mims life could have been saved if she had access to health insurance.

Venus Colley-Mims life could have been saved if she had access to health insurance.

This past week, Save OurSelves: A Movement for Justice and Democracy held a Jericho March and rally at the capitol of Montgomery in solidarity with the Moral Monday Movement of events in five southern states.  The seven day event focused on a different area where justice has been thwarted by the current State Legislature and Governor Bentley. The areas covered were Immigration reform, Women’s Rights, Education and Youth, Prison reform, Voting rights, Medicaid Expansion, and Worker’s Rights/Living Wage.

Governor Bentley, a doctor by profession, has refused to expand Medicaid because he opposes President Obama. In a state where the unemployment rate has risen in sharp contrast to the national trend, Medicaid expansion would have brought in 30,000 living wage jobs into Alabama in addition to saving lives and heartbreaking grief. This callousness towards the welfare of the people of Alabama for the sake of political posturing is evil, plain and simple.

On Thursday in an attempt to get Governor Bentley’s attention to the plight of the citizens he is elected to serve, I joined six other attendees of the final Jericho March and entered the capitol, before closing to hold a 24 hour prayer vigil for the state.  Within ten minutes after closing, we were asked to leave.  We thanked them but stated we needed to remain and pray for the governor to change his heart on the matter of Medicaid expansion. He is killing people with his refusal.

Faya Touro (aka Rose Sanders) Leading us in song: "There's a River Flowin' in My Soul" in the Capitol Building of Montgomery.

Faya Toure (aka Rose Sanders) Leading us in song: “There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul” in the Capitol Building of Montgomery.

The Secretary of the Governor eventually came down to speak with us and pleaded with us to leave the building.  We stated we would not leave unless Governor Bentley expanded Medicaid and saved people’s lives.

We were arrested.  And in what appears to be an act from the Governor’s office, instead of receiving a trespassing charge in the third degree ** which is unlawful presence and carries a small fine, we received a trespassing charge in the second degree which carried a $500 bond.  Court date is set for September 15.

When the stake is the potential of saving 700 lives annually by demanding Medicaid Expansion to cover the 300,000 people in the state who fall in between the current eligibility and the parameters of the Affordable Health Care Act, a little inconvenience of being arrested is nothing in comparison. I will choose to stand on the side of love, every time.

 

**Corrected from an earlier post.  Second Degree Trespassing is a Class C Misdemeanor which if sentenced in full is a $500 fine and/or up to 90 days in prison.  Third degree Trespassing is a violation and up to a $200 fine.

 

From left to right:  Alecha Irby, John Zippert, Faya Touro (aka Rose Sanders) Rev. Fred l Hammond, Annie Pearl Avery, Rev. Kenneth Sharpton-Glascow, Augustus Townes

From left to right: Alecha Irby, John Zippert, Faya Toure (aka Rose Sanders), Rev. Fred L Hammond, Annie Pearl Avery, Rev. Kenneth Sharpton-Glascow, Augustus Townes

Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!

The state of Alabama is considered one of the poorest states in the nation.  Governor Bentley in his state of the State address brought home the point that Alabama has the poorest county in the nation.  Yet, he refuses to allow medicaid expansion because after three years of full Federal funding, the state would gradually be required to pay 10% of the tab by 2020.  A price tag that he believes is harmful to the people of Alabama–despite the 435K additional lives Medicaid expansion will save–despite the 12,000 jobs created to the health care field by 2016–despite the additional creation of jobs that a billion new dollars coming into the state annually would generate.  This action by the governor does not serve the people of this state even though he feigns concern for the citizens in Wilcox County, the poorest county in the nation with double digit unemployment rate in post ‘Great Recession’ America.  He is doing nothing to ensure these people have access to health care despite his protests of care and concern.

His stance is unethical.  At best he is being penny wise and pound foolish, but his disdain for the federal government is made complete by his total lack of compassion and concern for the people of this state.  There is another word for people who voice 100% disdain for the federal government–unpatriotic.  Now I am not one who insists on flag waving to show patriotic sentiments nor do I believe in the mantra ‘my country right or wrong.’  But when attempts to help people in dire straits such as the good people ofWilcox County and elsewhere in the state, and he refuses to accept that help solely because he is against the President of this country, then he is unpatriotic and a hypocrite.  A governor worth their salt would graciously accept the federal government aid and seek to find ways to implement it in ways that show innovative ways to empower the citizenry as well.

His leadership is being followed by the state legislature with bills that are equally unethical and immoral. The current HB31, the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act is exhibit A in a list of ill conceived and immoral attacks on the people of Alabama.  This bill is aimed at preserving the rights of people of conscience in the health care field to refuse to treat people whose life choices they disagree with.  The bill is specifically aimed at those who are seeking “abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization.”  And the services are the full continuum from admission to treatment care.

This act has language that hints at  later expansion of conscience to other religious objections.  Our state still criminalizes homosexuality for example and is already a target by conservative religious groups.

The bill reminds me of an earlier time in the nation’s history when in the 1980s and 90s hundred of thousands of people living with AIDS were denied health care because the staff at hospitals and hospices were opposed to homosexuality and fearful of the disease.  It reminds me of an even earlier time when people struck by polio were denied services because it was believed they had done something wrong to incur God’s wrath.  This bill is only different in that this bill legalizes such refusal based on questionable theological grounds.  I do not recall anywhere in the Christian Scriptures where Jesus said to heal the sick unless your conscience dictates  to disagree with their life choices.

This bill increase stigmatization and is intended to bring shame on those who for a myriad of reasons have come to the decision to abort a pregnancy.  Such a bill is immoral.

This is not the first time this state in recent history attempted to legalize discriminatory practices against people disapproved of by the State Legislature.  As if the State Legislature has the moral authority to make such proclamations.  HB 56 passed into law a few years ago had several provisions in it that would force citizens of this state to discriminate against immigrants.  The sections deemed immoral by leaders across the religious spectrum were eventually permanently struck down by the 11th circuit court.

Exhibit B is SB 194 which would fast track the appeals process in capital punishment cases. This fast tracking would increase the risk of putting wrongly convicted people to death.  The governor and the state legislature have made clear their desire to eliminate abortions in the state and their actions to date show the need to show utmost prudence when making a decision to abort a pregnancy. While I personally believe it is ultimately the woman’s right to choose the fate of her body, I agree that prudence in making such a decision is of utmost importance. It is not one that should be made in a cavalier manner.  This same prudence should be shown for people convicted of crimes judged to be worthy of the death sentence. Insisting that such prudence be made at the end of life is also of utmost importance and also should not be made in a cavalier manner.  Fast tracking death sentences shows disdain for life just as much as fast tracking a decision to abort a fetus.  This bill shows the hypocrisy and the lack of moral aptitude of the state legislature.

The state legislature is facing an election year.  They are wanting to get bills passed in double time so they can spend their time campaigning.  The people of Alabama need to make clear that their actions have hurt the people of Wilcox County and no amount of using their name in vain will persuade us that they have any other intentions then to continue doing so.   If these and other bills of questionable moral standing pass as have other bills in the past few years, then we the people must make our voice clear at the election booth and vote out such people who are more concerned for their own self interests than they are for the people of this state.   We need to slow down the State legislature this year in making their hideous laws.  One way to do so is bring the Moral Monday Civil Rights movement in North Carolina to Alabama. We need to act now.

Published in: on January 18, 2014 at 10:21 am  Comments Off on Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!  
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Alabama’s Shame Deepens

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Yesterday, the hearts of state legislator’s decided that immigrants are not human beings worthy of fulfilling their dreams in this country like others but rather a threat to America.  The legislature chose to ignore the increased pressure from religious leaders to turn away from injustice towards justice.

They passed the substitute bill of HB 658 written by Senator Beason which included what is being called a scarlet letter provision where any undocumented resident who is arrested on any charge and appears in court would have their information posted on a public online forum searchable by county and judge.

This was not in Rep. Hammon’s  proposed version of HB 658 which was passed in the house before it went to the Senate. When on the last day of the session the senate version passed and went back to the house, Rep. Hammon in telling the house the changes to the bill failed to mention this drastic addition to his colleagues.  The house did not have time read the bill  before Rep. Hammon explained the justifications for the changes in the bill.  After Rep. Hammon gave his justifications for the changes, there was a call to have the bill read again to enable the representatives to hear again how these justifications related to the bill.  This request was denied by the Speaker.  It is therefore very likely that once again the representatives did not know what they were passing.

Governor Bentley said he would not sign this bill. He has ten days to veto or sign the bill, if he does not it becomes an automatic veto. He has placed immigration back on the agenda for a special session that still needs to address such issues as redistricting and bonds.

He specifically stated he dislikes the scarlet letter provision calling it a public relations problem.    The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice calls it a “public safety problem” because there can be only one purpose of such a provision: The implicit permission for vigilantes to take matters in  their own hands and cause emotional and physical harm to people living in this state.

During the day yesterday there were cries for non-compliance to this law.  Seven of my friends, part of a group I belong to called Alabama’s Conscience,  were arrested for their attempt to block legislator’s from making this vote.  They prayed and sang songs. They were charged with disorderly conduct.

When hearts have grown so very cold to see no violation of human dignity, no violation of moral ethics in breaking apart families in these laws, then the conscience must step up and intervene. It becomes our moral duty to not comply with this law in the quest to break open the hearts of others to see what this law is doing to all Alabamians in order for justice to prevail.

After the vote, our own hearts literally broke that our own leaders would seek to cause violent harm against another.  And while their actions may not be in the form of physical violence, their actions are committing emotional and spiritual violence, not only to immigrants, documented and undocumented, but also to their very souls.

We pray for the salvation of Alabama and for all of America. We are even more  resolved to continue being Alabama’s Conscience and we will continue doing all that we can  to non-violently show the pain this law is causing all of us. It means we will not comply with this law. We will not allow hatred to proliferate in our state.

How we will be in non-compliance with HB 658 and HB 56. Photo by ACIJ

 

Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm  Comments Off on Alabama’s Shame Deepens  
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Love Does No Harm to a Neighbor

“If they read what I read in the Bible, the Bible says you always obey the law,” said Alabama Governor Bentley in response to Alabama’s Conscience act of civil disobedience against HB 56 on May 3, 2012, National Day of Prayer.

(photo by L. Robledo)

Governor Bentley is in need of some Bible lessons.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have healed on the Sabbath because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true then the Boston Tea Party in 1773 by the colonists would not have happened because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statements are true, then the Declaration of Independence would never have been written or signed because the law must always be obeyed.

If his statements are true then Alabama’s Governor George Wallace’s statement of “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation forever” would still be the law of Alabama because the law must always be followed.  Thank God for people of conscience who recognize an unjust law and deliberately disobey to overturn that law.

If his statement is true then Paul, who authored the text that Governor Bentley is referring,  would never have confronted the emperor regarding Christianity because the Christian faith was considered illegal, an act of treason.   So even Paul did not believe one must always obey the law.

This statement of Bentley’s reveals that he has no understanding of his own faith tradition of Christianity.  His own faith as a Baptist came about because people of conscience disobeyed the law.  It was illegal to be of any other faith than Anglican when John Smyth declared his Baptist faith.  But if Governor Bentley is correct that the Bible says you always obey the law, then his own faith is illegal, twice over because John Smyth broke the English law decreeing the Church of England as the one faith and the Church of England broke the law when it severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church over the doctrine of divorce–another law that according to Bentley’s argument must be obeyed.  Remember that church law and civil law were one and the same in the time of the reformation.  There was no separation of church and state.

The context of Romans 13 which Bentley refers also includes Romans 13: 6 and following: This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor.   No harm.  That is the criteria in which to obey the laws of government, the Bible states. Yet, HB 56 does do harm to our neighbors.  Our Immigrant neighbors are working hard, paying taxes, building up the community, creating businesses which strengthen the economy.  Immigrant neighbors with the same expressed dreams for a better life for their children.  This law seeks to rid our communities of people who are doing no harm, who are loving and caring for their community.  Governor Bentley noted this in his commemoration speech regarding the anniversary of Tornado recovery efforts in Tuscaloosa when he referred to the status of citizenship of those who were first responders.   Governor Bentley loves undocumented people when they are of usefulness to him but otherwise he has disdain for his neighbors who seek to make Tuscaloosa a better place for all to live.

This law has encouraged people to express their bigotry and prejudice against their neighbor.  Therefore any law that causes harm to their neighbor, using Bentley’s argument of always following what the Bible says, is not a law that is to be obeyed.  Such a law must be disobeyed. It must be broken time and time again because it goes against a higher law, which is the law of Love.  I choose to stand on the side of Love.

Alabama’s HB 56 becomes law: Where is Justice?

This morning at 8:30 AM, Alabama Governor Bentley signed the controversial and harshest to date anti-immigration bill into law.  One portion of the law goes into effect immediately and that is the hiring of additional personnel to help enforce the law with Homeland Security.  The remainder of the law goes into effect September 1st.

After the Governor’s intent to sign the bill into law was announced late yesterday afternoon, I have been thinking about justice.  Where is Justice?  How does Justice come about?

It occurred to me that justice does not occur by simply speaking truth to power such as the many testimonies given at public hearings  and the letter writing campaigns. Though this could be a part of the development of justice.  Justice does not occur by marching through the streets  waving banners and yelling catchy slogans.  Though this, too, could be a part of the development of justice. And Justice does not occur by signing multiple petitions on this or that issue, though even this could be a part of the development of justice.

None of these by themselves brings about justice.  At best they are fragments of a larger whole but they themselves are not the underpinnings of justice. These were the activities that I and many others were involved in these past many months as we sought the defeat HB56 and these activities have not resulted in Justice.

The underpinnings of justice is in the relationships that are on equal footing.  Justice is ultimately reducing the suffering of others through personal, communal, institutional, and governmental relationships.

I can bring one level of justice to another person by being present in their pain, validating their injury as real. When I spent time with the immigrants in Laurel, MS after the ICE raid on Howard Industries, I listened to their stories. My presence as local clergy brought a sense of  justice to them.   I symbolized something greater than myself in my willingness to stand with them in their pain as they sought to receive their final paychecks.  This was personal.  It was a very real presence in time of help as the psalmist wrote.

When members of my congregation suffered loss in the Tornado of April 27 and then faced the degrading responses from the bureaucracy, I was able to stand with them.  Hearing their pain, hearing their frustration with a system that was meant to help, and encourage to plug away even when despair sought to engulf them whole.  Justice was in our relationship.  I sought to reduce their suffering. I listened.  Our denomination sought to reduce their suffering.  The denomination’s representatives listened to their stories and in listening, the seeds of justice were sprouting. This was justice unfolding in the personal and in the communal contexts. This was happening to our people.

I remember my home town of Danbury, CT following the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  It was the Jewish community that stood vigil and alert outside of the local mosque to ensure their neighbors safety as they worshiped. It was the Jewish community that escorted the Muslim women to the shops to ensure their safety from those whose anger might be misguided against them.  The Jews of this community knew what it was to be targeted and harassed for simply being identified as a Jew.  And they wanted to ensure that their Muslim neighbors would be safe in the land of liberty and justice for all.

From this relational action, justice was served and the larger community as the result of witnessing this act of solidarity did not respond with hatred as other communities did during the days following September 11th or even in the past recent months.  The community was reminded of its humanity in the prophetic witness of solidarity with a targeted minority.

They sought to ensure justice for people by recognizing that this Muslim community’s experience resonated with a similar experience their community experienced in another context of history.  In the process they developed new friendships and new relationships with people whose culture, whose religion,  whose history is very different from their own.  But they were saying even louder; our community reaches out to protect our people from violence.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Martin Luther King stated,” you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.  (Taken from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963,)

To change the hearts of people in power, we need to share our stories.  We need to continue to share our stories over and over again.  We need to establish relationships with our allies in the state house and senate so that these stories can be shared with ease because these are personal and intimate stories.  These are stories of great pain.  These are stories of great injustices.

But the injustice is not one-sided. There is a grave injustice that has occurred to the people who believe this law is just.  The injustice is the false belief that there is not enough to go around.  The injustice is the false belief that they must be ever vigilant in protecting what is theirs. The injustice is the false belief that if they protect the wealthiest that one day they will be welcomed to that elite club of the top 1% in the nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  This is never more true than in the injustice that has been committed against the people who believe HB56 is the right tact to take in protecting America. Because an injustice  has been committed against them that another injustice is created against the immigrants.  And they are blind to see how these injustices have hardened their hearts against one another.

The preamble of our Constitution reads as follows:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Ultimately, the laws that we pass in this country, the behaviors we bestow upon our neighbors, the morals that we use as our guides in living our lives ought to reflect back to this covenant in which we established our Constitution.   And where HB 56 is concerned; how does it establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, and promote the general Welfare within the state of Alabama?

It does not.  Legislation needs to benefit our people, all of our people who claim Alabama as home.  And I ask again, where is Justice?

 

 

UU Alabama Ministers send Gov. Bentley Message on HB56

Late last night, Alabama sent substitute bill HB56 to Governor Bentley to be signed. This morning, the following letter signed by the Alabama Ministers was sent to Governor Bentley urging him to veto this bill.

3 June 2011

State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130

Dear Governor Bentley:

When the Legislature presents its substitute bill for HB56, I hope you will veto it. There are many reasons why this bill needs to be vetoed this year. But the major reason is it is simply not good for Alabama.

Governor Bentley, you recently sent back to the Legislature the proposed budget because there were bills that have not yet been passed that would place the budget out of balance and therefore make the budget unconstitutional. This bill will also make the budget unconstitutional in Alabama. Sections 22 and 23 require an increase in the state budget but because this bill falls under Amendment 621, a cost analysis is not needed to be established. But there is a cost that will be added to the state budget; and since Alabama is struggling to balance the budget in these dire economic times, this unknown cost will place the budget out of balance.

The act of criminalizing a whole group of people has costs associated to it that the state legislature has refused to seriously acknowledge. The arguments against these increased costs are based on assumed cost savings that are speculative and not based on real numbers of undocumented immigrants. We do not know how many immigrants are undocumented in the state but the Legislature is assuming that all Spanish speaking citizens are undocumented. This bill, therefore, targets anyone whose first language is Spanish and who looks like they come from south of the border.

Despite all arguments that racial profiling will not be permitted, human nature will dictate the occurrence of racial profiling. Our law enforcement personnel will not be able to be adequately trained to determine reasonable suspicion when language and ethnicity are part of the mix. But even if they were adequately trained, this bill also requires schools to determine if students were born in this country. Federal law requires that all children be given a public education regardless of national origin. This bill increases racial profiling in the schools.

This bill states the presumption that undocumented immigrants are causing economic hardship and an increase in lawlessness. There is no proof that this is the case. The legislature has come up with spurious anecdotes but nothing is found in the documentation. There is documentation that immigrants (undocumented and documented) have increased the state’s revenue in taxes and increased economic development in their respective communities. In fact, the state has had a decrease in violent crimes over the last decade even while the immigrant population has increased. This presumption is therefore a biased statement.

Governor, I urge you to veto this bill when it comes across your desk. It has components that in Arizona have cost that state millions of dollars in litigation. It has components that are blatantly prejudiced and demonize a hard-working segment of our population. This is not a job creation bill unless Alabama is seeking to increase the private for-profit prison industry in the state by criminalizing a whole population. Is this the Alabama you want to create as a legacy of your administration?

Sincerely,

Rev. Fred L Hammond, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Rev. Diana Allende, Minister, Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Rev. Lone Jensen Broussard, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

Rev. Paul Britner, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery

Rev. Alice Syltie, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville