Category Archives: Justice and peace

Moral vs. immoral banking

In an article titled “Where’s Your Church’s Money? : Banking for the Common Good,” in the September 21 issue of Christian Century magazine, Scott Bader-Sayre quotes John Calvin as saying that “Usury [i.e., lending at interest] almost always travels with two inseparable companions: tyrannical cruelty and the art of deception.” Calvin was willing to allow lending at interest, however, as long as such lending adhered to moral principles; thus, Calvin said that if you lend money to the poor, you should not get interest.

Calvin’s words seem prophetic in light of the recent banking crisis, which exposed the immoral and predatory practices of the banking industry. Bader-Sayre then asks, What can we do about this? He believes that part of the answer is that local congregations should place their money in places where it will do good, e.g., in banks that invest locally:

Few … have any lingering questions or qualms about usury. Perhaps we should still worry that interest as such fails to serve a good human economy. But given that there are faithful precedents for brokering just loans in service of real need and given our practically inescapable participation in an interest-based economy, the relevant question may not be “Should Christians* loan at interest?” but “What would it look like today to participate in lending and borrowing in such a way that it served human good and benefited all parties involved?’ Such a question might, in fact, lead us to more radical proposals for social change than would come from simply rejecting capitalism from the sidelines.

* Obviously, this statement also applies to religious liberals who are not necessarily Christians.

Bader-Sayre points us to an organization called Move Your Money, which is encouraging people to move their money out of the six biggest banks into local banks. Here’s a video from Move Your Money, featuring George Bailey and Mr. Potter:

The problem with local congregations moving their money into locally owned banks is that many congregations have become overly dependent on receiving high rates of interest in order to fund their operating budget. If our congregations are going to use their money responsibly, maybe we’ll all have to start giving 5% of our gross income to our congregations to support our moral goals.

It’s all about religious tolerance

Joe Volk of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) just sent out an email message encouraging all Quakers to “state publicly that you stand with our brothers and sisters in the American Muslim community” in the days leading up to September 11.

I heard about this from my friend E, a Quaker and a yoga teacher, who writes on her blog: “It has been heart-rending for me to read about the growing rancor and bigotry about religion and race…. My great grandparents fled the pogroms, and my parents felt free to become members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)….”

We’re not quite at the level of pogroms yet, but Rev. Meredith Garmon, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida, writes in a blog post today that anti-Muslim hate crimes are increasing; in addition, “Here in my home of Gainesville, Fla., a local fringe church known for its anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT rhetoric has been getting national media attention for their planned ‘Burn a Qu’ran Day’ on Sept. 11th.”

Whatever you may think of the proposed Islamic cultural center in downtown Manhattan, I know you’re not going to burn a copy of the Qu’ran, or pee on a mosque, or stab a Muslim taxi driver. Whichever side of the issue you’re on, I know you’re not going to spout increasingly inflammatory rhetoric in the days leading up to 9/11 (which this year are the final days of Ramadan). Nope, we’re all going to show the best of religious liberalism, and spend the next two weeks thinking peace and publicly supporting the principle of religious tolerance.

Below is the text of the FCNL email message. Continue reading

We’re happy, but…

This afternoon, federal judge Vaughan Walker of the Northern California District Court released his decision: Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

This evening, the mood at the rally outside San Francisco City Hall was ebullient.

Sign at tonight’s rally at San Francisco City Hall

There was also a serious undercurrent. Everyone present knew that Walker’s decision would be appealed by the supporters of Prop 8. Everyone knew the odds are that this legal battle will be fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Everyone present knew that there is a good chance that supporters of marriage equality won’t wait for a Supreme Court decision, and that we’ll try to have an initiative on the ballot in 2012.

The rally ended fairly quickly (and it would have ended earlier but for some long-winded clergypersons; boy, people in my profession do like to hear themselves talk). I was just as happy it ended fairly quickly; it was a typical San Francisco summer evening, cloudy, with a chilly damp wind. My favorite quote from the evening: “There is nothing more delicious than being a love warrior today.”

Prop 8 court decision tomorrow

From a U.S. District Court announcement dated today:

Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger et al
Challenge to “Proposition 8”
Chief Judge Vaughn R Walker
United States District Court for the Northern District of California

On August 4, 2010, the court will issue its written order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law following the court trial held in January and June of this year. The order will be e-filed in the court’s Electronic Case Filing system, and will be immediately available thereafter through ECF and PACER. There will be no court proceeding associated with the publication of the order.

Read the full announcement here. The decision is supposed to be released between 1 and 3 p.m. Pacific time.

In my area (Bay area, the Peninsula), I know there will be a rally of celebration or recommitment here in San Mateo tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Pacific time, corner of Fifth Ave. and El Camino Real. There’s also one being planned for Mountain View, 6:00 p.m., City Hall and Caltrain station. And of course, San Francisco: march stepping off from the Castro 5:00-6:00 p.m., rally at City Hall at 6:45.

Gayapolis lists some nineteen rallies in California, and a few others across the country, including several places in Texas, as well as Denver, and Rochester, New York..

There’s another, longer, listing of rallies on the Prop 8 Decision Ning site. Note that there will be a Prop 8 rally in Phoenix!

For my friends back in Massachusetts, Join the Impact is going to have a rally at Copley Square, Boston, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, and you can find details on their Facebook page.

If you attend one of these other rallies, I’d love to hear about it. I’ll be at the rally in San Francisco, and will report back in a couple of days.

New Orleans: Final day

On the last day of our New Orleans service trip, we had a short work day. One crew went off to Green Light again; another crew to the Animal Rescue League of New Orleans; and Dave and I stayed at the Center for Ethical Living to finish up one last project.

The Green Light crew went off to St. Bernard Parish to install compact fluorescent bulbs. They discovered that in St. Bernard Parish, swampland comes right up to the road in many places. At the one house they managed to work at, the owner told them that that area was under ten feet of water after the hurricanes in 2005. Our crew saw bare foundations where houses were simply washed away by the flood.

This afternoon, most of our group went in to the French Quarter of New Orleans for a walking tour, though a few of us stayed behind to take a nap. Then all but three of us went to get dinner and hear live music in the French Quarter. We get up at five tomorrow morning, so I’m staying behind in the dorm so I can get enough sleep to make sure we get on the flight and make our connections; two other people who are particularly tired are also staying behind for a little sleep.

Later note: The three of us who stayed behind went for dinner at Pyramids Cafe, just five blocks from the Center for Ethical Living, for a good inexpensive dinner; then we went to The Camellia Grill to get a banana cream pie and an apple pie to bring back to share with everyone else.

Last post in the trip diary.

Excellent suggestions

“Safety Net,” a ministry of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, Tennessee, has made excellent suggestions for changes to the professional guidelines of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). Of particular note is a suggested revision to a clause of the guidelines that asks ministers to “strictly respect confidences given me by colleagues and expect them to keep mine.” This clause is legally and morally indefensible, for it means that if another minister came to me and told me “in confidence” that s/he had engaged in sexual behavior with a legal minor, I would violate the UUMA guidelines when I reported him/her to legal authorities. To state the obvious: in California, I am a mandated reporter and would be legally required to report any suspected child abuse, whether or not I was prohibited from doing so by UUMA guidelines — more importantly, as a human being, I am morally required to report any suspected child abuse, again regardless of UUMA guidelines.

This and the other revisions proposed by Safety Net are excellent. The UUMA should adopt them as soon as possible. You can read the full text of the revisions here, and an explanatory open letter to the UUMA here.

New Orleans, day six

We split into three crews today, on our sixth day of our New Orleans service trip. One crew went to Animal Rescue of New Orleans (ARNO), the local no-kill animal shelter. It turns out ARNO has only one paid staffer, and relies on volunteers for just about everything else. In a city where volunteers are already maxed out, it must be tough to be so reliant on volunteers. And we’ve all heard how animals had to be abandoned by those fleeing the city, so working at ARNO feels like we’re supporting the overall volunteer effort.

A recent issue of Christian Century magazine carried an article on short-term service trips. Many people who go on service trips feel strongly that they must see tangible results, regardless of what the community they’re serving happens to need:

Noel Becchetti of the Center for Student Missions tells of a local pastor in Mexico who tries to get visiting teams to help with his mission of outreach to men. Some teams, however, are dead set on building something: they want to see some (literally) concrete results. So the pastor has a wall that he has such teams work on. He has no idea what the wall will ever be or become, but building it keeps the visiting teams busy and out of his hair, and at the end of their time they can rejoice and be glad that they accomplished something tangible…. [“Misguided Missions: Ten Worst Practices,” by Mark W. Radecke, 18 May 2010 issue]

I think that many volunteers who go to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding effort think that they should literally be rebuilding, and they are disappointed if that’s not what they do. But in a stressed city like this, there’s so much to do that what’s most important is to ask the people who are in the place you’re serving what they need done — and then do it, cheerfully.

Our second crew went back to Green Light today to install compact fluorescent bulbs in people’s houses. I was on the third crew. We went back to help out the Growing Homes program, finishing up the planting that we had started yesterday. It took us all morning to finish, and when we got done Mrs. Washington fed us hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch (our vegans had to eat potato chips and wait to eat lunch). Several members of Mrs. Washington’s extended family, along with her two sons, sat down while we ate, and we had a good time talking.

After lunch, we came back to the Center for Ethical Living and did some repair work here. We also began putting mattress covers on the foam mattresses in the home-made bunk beds in our dorm rooms; we will complete that task tomorrow.

The Center staff did a final debriefing session with us before dinner. They asked us each to say a high point and a low point of the past week, and then say what we’re going to bring back home with us. What I said was this: my high point was the people, both the New Orleans residents like Mrs. Washington whom I got to meet, and the other relief workers whom I met here (Americorps volunteers, people who moved down here to help rebuild, etc.), and also the people in our group whom I got to know better; my low point was the day I didn’t drink enough water and got overheated; and what I’m going to bring back with me is ideas of what we can do where we live, considering how bad the finances of the state of California are, and how many state-funded services (schools, etc.) are being cut.

Tonight, everyone else is going to the French Quarter to eat begniets and see the sights. I’m going to head off early to bed; I’ll be getting up in the middle of the night to drive one of our people to the airport because she has to leave a day early.

Next post in the trip diary.

New Orleans, day five

We were assigned to two different jobs today, on our service trip to New Orleans. One crew went to work at Rev. Josie’s food pantry, bagging groceries for people in need to pick up. The second crew went to work for Growing Home; I was part of the second group.

Growing Home is a non-profit agency that helps people claim vacant houses next door to them. According to their Web site: “Buy the lot next door, beautify it, and we’ll deduct money off the purchase price. The Growing Home program of New Orleans would like to help. Through Growing Home you can receive up to a $10,000 discount off the cost of a qualifying Lot Next Door for landscaping improvements that you make to the property.”

We went to the house of a Mrs. Washington, who was improving the lot next to hers with the help of Growing Home. Abigail, a landscape architect who works with Growing Home, had designed some nice plantings, and we began digging out plots for the plantings. After we had been working for about two and a half hours, a thunderstorm moved in, and after waiting half an hour we decided to take our lunch break. It just poured buckets of rain, maybe three inches in an hour. When the rain finally stopped, all the areas we had dug out were filled with water.

We figured out a way to keep working, which meant getting incredibly dirty. (Some of our crew took pictures of us at the end of the work day, and I will try to post some of them here eventually so you can see just how dirty we were.) Abigail had to get a truck load of soil for us, then some drainage gravel, and by the time moving the dirt and gravel it was 5:30 and past time to knock off work. We promised her we’d go back tomorrow morning for a few hours to finish the last remaining plantings.

Unfortunately, Rev. Josie’s food pantry had so many volunteers that they only had three hours of work for our other crew. They came back here and basically had nothing to do, which was disheartening. We’re going to have a meeting tonight to see if we can figure out a way to become more effective.

Next post in the trip diary.

New Orleans, day four

Today we split into three crews on our service trip here in New Orleans. One crew, with eight people, went back to Blair Grocery, where they put in a border around a garden plot to keep out weeds. One crew, with four people, went to work with Green Light, installing free compact fluorescent bulbs in houses where the owners had requested them. The third crew, with four people, stayed here at the Center for Ethical Living to help out with some much-needed maintenance work here where we’re staying. I worked on this third crew.

The Center for Ethical Living is definitely understaffed, and basically all staff time goes towards supporting the volunteers who come to stay here. That means that the volunteers who stay here do most of the custodial work, so the first thing we did today was to give all three bathrooms a thorough scrubbing, scrub the floors, and so on. We moved a broken freezer down from the second floor to the curb for pick up, reorganized the linen storage, and did some other miscellaneous tasks the Center staff asked us to do. The four of us — Alexa, Sam, Jo, and I — worked our butts off. I was even sore at the end of the day.

Tonight after dinner, most of our crew went off to take the St. Charles Streetcar, which is apparently the oldest street railway in continuous operation in the United States; it began running in 1832, is now powered by electricity, but the cars were originally drawn by horses. They rode the line from its terminus at Claiborne and Carrollton to Camilla’s, a popular eating spot.

Next post in the trip diary.