First Plenary

The theme of this years’ Ecumenical Advocacy was Troubling the Waters for Movement Building. We were reminded that faith communities have been troubling the waters for social justice throughout our histories as well as recently. Last year, Methodists troubled Jeff Sessions about immigrant family separation and Presbyterians advocated against modern day debtors prisons last summer in St. Louis. We were encouraged to continue the work by Inspiring hope in order to transform communities.

Rev. Adam Taylor of Sojourners Magazine spoke to us about creative maladjustment and getting into “good trouble”. He described our work as Five smooth stones to still the waters & heal the world:
1.         Persistence – ongoing relationships and relentless persistence w/ legislators and community
2.         Perseverance
3.         Pragmatic Solidarity – advocate not just for but with others.
4.         Be Pastoral – recognize humanity of politicians. Don’t use tactics that break relationships.
5.         Be Prophetic – don’t shy away from truth or confrontation. Be “the way.”

With persistence it is essential to mobilize people for change by taking control of the public narrative, in essence, weaving stories of our values through the public mind. Those stories must include stories of ourselves and our communities and they must convey a sense of urgency to our audiences.  Guiding the public narrative is both an artform & a science.

Rev. Taylor went on to explain that social movements require providence and intervention. Movements need both legislative advocacy and deep, local leadership development. In addition, there must be headway into institutional structures and mass disruption – civil disobedience must be included. #goodtrouble.

Throughout the conference we were reminded to always be mindful of the intersectionality of movements. We must combine disparate campaigns into the broader movement. Rev. Taylor reminded us to root our organizing in a faith rooted response:
a.         Build a compelling and moral vision
b.         Name the spiritual lie that is at the heart of injustice. Have the                            conviction that we are made in the image of god.
c.         Embrace the redemptive power of suffering.
d.         Take the long view while urging the short term urgency of our campaigns.
e.         Tap into Kairos (how god interprets time). Summon god to work in and                             through us.

Anna Garcia-Ashley of Gamaliel National Network ( implored us to recognize that every moment is an opportunity to organize. That every person can be an activist and we are destined to be activists. Every minute we have an opportunity to change the world. She suggested that we need to do this by building relationships, education and training. Ms. Garcia-Ashley reminded us that our faith needs to be at the center of everything we do. That by being true to our faith & values we will be able to love enough to agitate every individual as a potential activist.

As part of a panel discussion the following Movement Builders shared their stories:
Valery Nodom – Presbyterian Hunger Program.  Started as an attorney in Cameroon. Became an activist with local communities helping them prove their citizenship.
Myrna Oronco – Church World Service, Movement Voter Project, first action was as a dreamer, getting arrested to save the program, got her green card 1 week before the event!
Rev. Robin Tanner, National Faith Team Leader, Poor People’s Campaign
Rebecca Heimbrock, HS Sophomore, Gun Control Activist
Kieran Ooman, Our Children’s Land Trust Lawsuit (climate change lawsuit), Seattle area college student

Below are the responses to the 2 questions asked of each Movement Builder:

What are your most effective tactics?
1.         On twitter/social media particularly for direct action (i.e., sit-in, protest, etc…). Best for youth.
2.         Town Hall discussions for educating adults.
3.         Local, national & international structure. Starting with building power at the local level. Build coalitions, particularly among faith communities.
4.         Direct action, showing up & making sure that they “see you.” Keep the cause alive in the vernacular. Sanctuary movement is huge in the past couple of years. Build coalitions around issue intersections.
5.         “Fusion” – creating communities between those that are “willing & able” and those that are impacted. Help people understand that those impacted (ex., the poor) are all around us, not just those in the ghetto’s or living in car.
6.         Listen to the youth, especially in their confusion and indignation.

What do you do for self-care/self-encouragement?
1.         Watch others and their participation. Look for connections made and families created. Honor the magic. Find hope.
2.         Leaving and entering the movement aren’t really options. Movements are within us. We can rest, process our actions or look outside ourselves, but we should all contribute to society as activists.
3.         Therapy. Give yourself time & space however you need to. Don’t let guilt overwhelm you. Sit with and accept your emotions.
4.         Focus on family.


There was a detailed discussion about the challenging realities of climate change and what’s at stake in regard to justice issues:
1.         6th Mass Extinction Phase with a distinct increase in extinction rates
2.         Extreme weather events, most common = floods.
3.         Access to clean water sources
4.         Impacts are greatest on women and people of color.
5.         Changes to the food system.
6.         Changes in human relationships and interactions

The presenters lifted the theory that white, European, male centered theology got us where we are today. A dualistic and binary worldview developed over time and as Sallie McFague argues: “Western culture and religion have a long, painful history of demeaning the female by identifying her with the body and with nature, while elevating the male by identifing him with reason and spirit”. There was lively conversation around such cultural norms as:
b.         Natural Theology – Aristotle & Aquinas
c.         Hierarchy
d.         Colonization – serving the interest of white European men
e.         Enlightenment – built on scientific justifications for structural oppression
f.          Exclusively transcendental view of God (wholly other) & personal salvation.

But, in order to get back to an ecological theology we must advance an ethos of human rights & ecology & right relationships. That ethos is embodied in Ecofeminism which combines social feminism and holistic ecology and Ecowomanism which applies womanist intersectional analysis. Common characteristics of these social structures include:
1.         challenging binary systems
2.         makes connections b/w oppression of women and oppression of earth
3.         knows god through relatedness.
4.         Knowledge rooted in experience.
5.         Reflects real life of local communities
6.         Values bodies and embodied wisdom/experience.
7.         Does not hold a utilitarian view of creation but honors intrinsic value/dignity of every     part of creation
8.         Post-colonial thought and recovery of indigenous wisdom.
9.         Lifts up stories and traditions of women and earth.

But there are characteristics unique to Ecowomanism:
1.         Examines particularities of women of color
2.         Recovers other histories and cosmologies.
3.         Includes the paradox of working the land and holding respect for it.
4.         Brings in a more critical lens.

Further Reading:
The Christian Imagination,Willie Jennings, author, Yale
Ecowomanism, Harris


Jurisdictional Discussion Questions:
1.         What social justice work & issues are we doing?
Angela:  In Seminary, Intern at GBCS working on issues about women & children including domestic violence, health & reproductive health.
Gail: Oil Pipeline/Environmental Justice, Native American rights, voting rights, limited polling on reservations.
Kristina: District UMW Vice President focusing on Interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Also working on gun violence prevention & reproductive choice.
Cody Wiswasser: In Seminary, Intern @ GBC&S – Living Wage, eco-justice
2.         What is the most critical issue that we can work on together?
Human dignity, racial division, economic & environmental.
3.         What resources & capacities can we bring to the work?
Being allies & showing up for each other. UMW website & materials. GCORR Implicit bias workshop. Art, narrative, urging the telling of stories. Keep level of commitment up (the 5 P’s!).

n.b. 6 Conference Peace w/ Justice Coordinators were in attendance


Marcia Johnson- Blanco: Voting Rights Project

I.          DOMESTIC ASK

We were given a very detailed history of the voter restrictions since the adoption of the 15th amendment.
1965 Selma march to register to vote, beatings were televised. The extent of the violence shocked the nation which led to signing of the Voting Rights Act by LBJ.

The Voting Rights Act:

Sec. 2 – mirrors language of 15th amendment. Cannot restrict or dilute vote.
Sec. 5 – looks at jurisdictions w/ history of voting change has to be submitted to congress before enactment. In effect between 1965 – 2013.
Sec. 203 – minority language provision. Requires minority language materials available to voters.
Sec. 208 – requires assistance of choice for disabled (includes foreign language speakers not included in 203.)

2005 challenge to 2006 VRA reauthorization. Dispute over Sec. 5. Founding of National Commission on Voting Rights created 10,000+ page documentation of voting discrimination. VRA reauthorized until Shelby, AL sued (Shelby County v. Holder – 2013). “Equal Sovereignty of the States” used by Supreme Court to justify repeal of Sec. 5. Still looking to Congress to fix the Shelby County Decision.

Legal Challenges After Shelby:
1.         Texas photo ID – passed before Shelby. Required specific ID including license/ID, concealed carry gun, etc… but not student ID. Knocked down under Sec. 5. Implemented again after Shelby. Kept over 6K voters from voting. In 2017, trump administration reviewed the discrimination claim and found the temporary remedy sufficient.
2.         NC Voter ID – Elimination of registration procedures as well. 4thCircuit determined that the law was enacted w/ “surgical precision” to suppress votes.
3.         GA Exact-Match Law – can have no discrepancies between registration forms & ID’s & SS records. 2018 – 53,000 eligible voters had “pending” registrations because of the law. 2019 GA legislature allowed limbo registrations to cast ballots.
4.         Voter Purge
a.         OH – removal for not voting. Hustead v. APR, allows the law because they are only “in the process” of removal.
5.         Absentee Ballot Match
a.         GA

Procedural Problems:
1.         Polling Place Closures & Consolidations (particularly AZ TX LA MS AL SC NC) – disproportionate impact on communities of color – lines, ability to get transportation
2.         Polling Place Changes & late openings – lack of notification & access inhibits working people from getting to the correct place.
3          Poll Workers & voter assistance – we need workers that are pro-voter, sufficiently trained and compassionate. Also need oversight of polling places & access to provisional ballots.
4.         Voter Apathy
5.         Voter Intimidation
6.         Felony Disenfranchisement laws

Addressing the Problem:
1.         HR-1 – For the People Act – to secure a democracy that is reflexive, responsible & accountable. also includes campaign finance & financial ethics
a.         This is not a partisan issue
2.         HR-4 – Voting Rights Advancement Act
a.         Not partisan, it is in support of democracy
3.         Election Protection Hotline (866/OUR-VOTE) to confirm voting registrations, polling and rights.

Laura Strawmyer – Alliance for Peacebuilding
Global Fragility Act– the idea that a state’s level of fragility relates to its inability to recover from “shocks” (violence, disaster, famine) i.e., a breakdown in the social contract. Does not necessarily translate to economics. Includes global poverty but not exclusive.
1.         Why – There has been no comprehensive policy developed since the Rwandan genocide. Larger programs focus solely on economics as opposed to including national security, natural and man-made disaster.
b.         most migration is caused by flight from violence.
c.         responses are targeted toward immediate humanitarian issues and rarely include conflict resolution programs or address root causes of violent conflicts.
d.         Advancing the values of human dignity.
2.         How:
a.         Establish the Agency
b.         Pilot Programs to mitigate and prevent foreign conflict.
1. Understand root causes & prevention. Change the narrative from (terrorism, gang violence to isolation, marginalization)
c.         Reporting
d.         Authorizing Funds already earmarked. Make sure this program is tied to them.
1.         Prevention is more cost effective.
3.         Misc:
a.         Bi-Partisan support. Have 11 sponsors in Senate and 6 in the House.
b.         Passed the House last session. Hopefully for markup on Tuesday.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding this issue. I spoke to some people that saw it as merely US intervention again, where it’s not needed. On the other hand, I spoke with someone whose Guatemalan wife is wholeheartedly in favor of the program for a wide variety of reasons. Because I was not knowledgeable on the subject and because of the amount of controversy surrounding the issue, I chose not to address this with my legislators.

WORKSHOP 3 – DISMANTLING THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX*** This session left me most unsettled. First because it was clear, even before she admitted it, that she was mining the group for information as opposed to actually teaching us or offering information. Second, she was clearly a prison abolitionist but was more focused on what a future system would look like as opposed to the theme of the workshop which was dismantling what we already had.
The human rights issue of our time AND it is a spiritual issue. 1994 Crime Bill added to/solidified our history. US is 5% of the world population but 25% of incarcerations.

Angela Davis – reforming the system itself exacerbates the problem. There are plenty of prison abolitionists.

Prison Policy Initiative: Mass Incarceration “The Whole Pie”,

Spiritual Advocacy:
We need to pull away from revenge as justice and look at the root problems causing crime. We need to address issues of racism & class.

Until We Reckon, Danielle Sered

German prisons are apparently significantly more humane than ours.

African-American victims also have resentment against the State acting in loco parentus (i.e., criminal cases are brought by the state – the state has been harmed.) There is no trust that state actually has the best interests of African Americans in mind.


IMG_1578A small but mighty army of women descended on The Ohio State University in Columbus and Wendy’s National Headquarters in Dublin, Ohio on Thursday, November 15, 2018. At issue was Wendy’s unfair wage and labor practices and Ohio State’s complicity in the problem. United Methodist Women from our National Office, and our New York, East Ohio and West Ohio Conferences were joined by representatives from the National Farm Worker Ministry, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Fair Food Program and OSU’s Farmworker Alliance. I was there representing the East Ohio Conference Board of Church & Society and Bishop Tracy Malone.


Our first stop was to OSU’s monthly Board of Trustees Meeting. Back in August, OSU signed a contract with Wendy’s for an on-campus restaurant and food services. Despite student’s fasting and protesting at the time, OSU signed the contract stating that if “more students came forward to object” the contract would be reconsidered.

Unfortunately, many of the student leaders graduated, leaving only a handful of young women to move the cause forward. Those few students organized UMW, CIW and FFP to help them with Thursday’s action event. The students gave flyers to attending trustees while UMW held a prayer vigil outside the building.

Next, it was on to Dublin for a protest and rally in front of Wendy’s headquarters. Wendy’s is the only major fast food or grocery chain that has not signed on to The Fair Food Program. The program is a farmworker and consumer driven initiative consisting of wage increases supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchases of tomatoes, and a human rights-based Code of Conduct throughout the tomato industry. Initially developed for Florida tomato growers and workers in Immokalee, the Program is being expanded to include farm workers throughout the country.

Initially, a meeting with Chairman Todd Penegor was requested by UMW to deliver over 5,000 postcards, signed by UMW members asking Wendy’s to sign on to the Fair Food Program. The campaign was a part of UMW’s Economic Inequality initiative. Denied the ability to meet with staff or present a letter to Penegor, UMW had the postcards delivered by mail and a giant replica postcard became part of the march. The letter was read aloud publicly by both UMW Ohio Conference Presidents.

Through our Social Principles and Resolutions, United Methodists are called to support the rights of all workers and especially farm workers. I feel honored to have been able to participate in this direct action in support of our farm workers with the bold and courageous women of UMW, CIW, FFP, OSU and NFWM.

The Morning After

Posted: September 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

obamaI’m not usually one to be star-struck however President Barack Obama is my exception. He is my hero. He is a reminder to me that there is good in the world, that our country can be great, and that power used for justice is the strongest power there is. Ever since I got my ticket to last night’s rally for the Ohio Democratic candidates I have been riding high with anticipation. In the end, the rally was a powerful motivator to help get out the vote.

But here it is, the morning after being in the presence of greatness – my hero, my idol, my motivator, and I am left with melancholy. I am afraid to read the news for fear of sinking into despair over how low we have fallen as a nation. I turn the radio off at the first syllable uttered by our current President and retreat, anywhere to get away from the hatred, bigotry, lunacy, fearmongering and outright injustice that is our current administration.

I was very recently reminded of my privilege, my ability to tune out, take a break from and rest from struggle. Reminded that so many in our world, our country, our communities are not able to “take a break.” I do however work through my church and the United Methodist Women to effect change on behalf of women, children and youth around the world. I have been called to action by forces of both evil and greatness. I began my advocacy in the wake of the terrorist attack on children at Sandy Hook and was motivated to continue the work by the promise of greatness ushered in with the election of Barack Obama. I am a white, privileged, wealthy woman in a bubble of suburbia that seeks justice in the world and looks to my government to be inspiration and catalyst for change.

So, I will finish my coffee, be grateful for all I have and all I love, and move forward, maybe a little grumpier, but oh so struck by the star that is Barack Obama.


Fitting My Mood by Jennifer. Thank you my friend.


United Methodist Women Assembly
Columbus, OH

May 18-20, 2018



Over 5,000 women gathered for the quadrennial United Methodist Women Assembly in Columbus to find strength, courage and communion. The theme, “The Power of Bold” was lifted over 3 days with messages about our call to be bold, to have bold dreams, to recognize the cost of being bold and to finally, commit to bold action. We were motivated to action on behalf of women, children and youth around the world, to create change for justice, to recognize the power of our sisterhood and to be fearless motivators for that change. United Methodist Women are courageously challenging systems around Climate Justice, Income Inequality, Maternal and Child Health and Racial Justice.

Our keynote speakers were extraordinary women with solemn yet encouraging words of wisdom and inspiration. On Friday evening Leymah Gebowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work in ending the Liberian Civil War in 2003, held us captive with the story of her life as a child in a war-torn country, her struggle to find direction as a young woman and her rise to activism. The message I heard from her was that no matter what your beginnings, no matter what your path we all have strength and possibility within us and we can achieve great things together. Ms. Gebowee encouraged us to have bold dreams.

Our gathering on Saturday morning was a highlight for me. While many around the world were glued to their televisions and enamored with the Royal Wedding, I was in the convention auditorium listening to two of my idols, rock stars in my world of advocacy and change. Marian Wright Edelman (founder and President of The Children’s Defense Fund) and Michelle Alexander (Professor and author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”) spoke to us about the school to prison pipeline, its devastation in communities of color and the power of commitment, engagement and advocacy. I was star struck and inspired. I was fueled to advocate against the criminalization of persons of color and to particularly interrupt the school to prison pipeline in our country.

We also heard from young rock stars about the power and costs of being bold. The Reverend Hannah Bonner, recognized as one of the “16 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2016,” talked of sacrifice, fear and bold action as she became the catalyst for the “Say Her Name” movement when she stood as a faithful ally for a voiceless victim. For 80 days Rev. Bonner got up from her Houston apartment and drove an hour southwest of Houston to Hempstead, Texas. There she held daily vigils in front of the Waller County jail for Sandra Bland, a twenty-eight-year-old black woman found hanging by a trash bag in a cell July 10, 2015, just three days after being stopped for failing to signal when changing lanes.

Tamika Mallory, one of the 4 co-chairs of the 2017 Women’s March and a nationally recognized activist in the new civil rights movement talked about the intersection of civil rights, social justice and feminism. She told vivid and heartbreaking stories of the costs, both personal and professional, of being bold and gave us old-timers some insight as to how to bring young leaders into the fold of United Methodist Women.

At Assembly I attended two town hall style meetings that enlightened me with several viewpoints on important topics.

Climate Justice Town Hall

Katharine Hayhoe, Professor of Public Administration and Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas. Tech. University, spoke about Christians, Climate and our Culture. Ms. Hayhoe, internationally acclaimed scientist known for bridging the gap between scientists and Christians, tied science to faith with the premise that God’s 2nd greatest gift is our planet and creation care is indicative of a respect for that gift. We are called to care for this amazing planet and we have not only dominion over it, we have a responsibility for vigilant stewardship for the health our planet.

She described how exponential population growth in the 19th and 20th centuries are due to the benefits of the industrial revolution. She implored us to recognize, acknowledge and be grateful for the benefits we have received yet be acutely aware of the costs of these developments (i.e., mountaintop removal, oil spills, poisoned water, air pollution, soil pollution, etc.…).

Ms. Hayhoe explained our current problem of “Global Energy Poverty” where millions of people are without electricity and access to energy sources and how the most vulnerable have done the least to affect the climate. This poverty is predominantly seen in Africa and southeast Asia. First world countries are keeping these areas in poverty and debt by extracting fossil fuels and offering those resources back as energy for sale, maintaining a vicious cycle impoverishment.

Of great value was her discussion of how to challenge climate change deniers. Scientists have been studying natural cycles beyond just earths current temperatures and have resoundingly concluded that we are seeing an exponential rise in global average temperatures. Beyond actual temperature there are approximately 26,500 indicators of a warming planet. They include bloom times, storm intensity, melting glaciers, tree rings, etc.

Scientists today study natural cycles more than human behavior and according to those studies, as temperatures increase, we should get more energy from the sun. But currently the opposite is true, we are actually seeing less solar energy. And according to our natural calendar the next natural cycle should be an ice age, not a warming like the one we are having.

Ms. Hayhoe explained how climate change is a threat multiplier because it exacerbates so many of the risks we have already today, creating climate disasters. Climate Change makes heat waves more frequent & severe, it causes increased precipitation and hotter and dryer conditions.  Climate change makes hurricanes more intense. In fact, the chance of a hurricane such as Harvey (in 2017) was once 1 in 800, now it is 1 in 100.

Ms. Hayhoe concluded by telling us the most important thing we can do is talk about climate change at every opportunity. Here is her list of some of the most powerful actions we can take:

  • Acknowledge climate change as a real problem
    • We must talk about real people, their stories and our missions,
  • Be aware of our own impact
    • Use a carbon calculator
  • Sign up for – a Christian community committed to action on climate change
  • Talk about what churches are doing
  • Talk about what cities are doing – green roofs, solar fields among wildflower farms
  • Talk about what corporations are doing
  • Talk about what the world is doing
  • Work to end energy poverty
    • Install solar in Africa
  • Be hopeful
  • Unite in Resistance, and
  • Stop financing of fossil fuels

Jacqui Patterson, Director of Environmental & Climate Justice Policy at the NAACP discussed the fact that there is a disproportionate response to disaster in communities of color and poor neighborhoods. Destruction and mass displacement does not happen in industrialized, white communities. For example, in New Orleans, the Army Corp of Engineers determines where levees will be placed based in part on where the largest economic impact will be (i.e., nicer neighborhoods get levees.) She advocated that change must be systemic. However, there are things that we can do individually and directed us to the NAACP site that promotes activism and advocacy for change. It can be found here:

Sarah Augustine, Executive Director of Dispute Resolution, Ctr. Of Yakima & Kittitas Counties, WA and Co-Founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund talked about the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples.

Her main theme was that the conversation is always about who holds power and where power lies. Indigenous peoples, those at great risk from exploitation by foreign governments, multi-national corporations and colonialized power, are among the first to face the impact of climate change with immediate threats to clean water, food security and massive risk of internal displacement.

We learned about how UMW is responding from Cecelia Williams, the UMW Northeast Jurisdictional Guide for the Be Just. Be Green. Program. The 13 Steps to Sustainability can be found at:

Maternal Mortality Town Hall

Dr. Cynthia Shelhaas, Dir. Of OB GYN, The Ohio State/Wexler Medical Center defined the issues involved with “maternal mortality” in the United States as pregnancy associated mortality whereby a woman dies during a pregnancy or any time during the first year post birth. Associated issues involve “severe maternal morbidity” which are pregnancy related illnesses which render a woman close to death, but actually survive.

In the early 20th century there was a dramatic drop in Maternal Mortality in the US, predominantly due to improvements in medical procedures. However, since 1987 there has been a consistent rise in death rates. There are many causes for the change, including: better record keeping, a change in definition of maternal mortality to include one-year post birth, dramatic rise in obesity rates, a significant rise in cesarean-section surgeries and an increase in older women getting pregnant. In addition, severe maternal morbidity rates have increased 75% in the US of the past decade.

Statistics are startlingly clear: higher educated black women have a higher mortality rate than any other demographic. Stress related cardiomyopathy, artery disease and hypertension are distinct causes.

Dr. Shelhaas went on to discuss “Maternal Mortality Review Committees” which United Methodist Women are advocating are the best tool we have to research and address the rising rates of mortality and morbidity. Used in the early 20th century the number of committees declined as mortality rates were reduced. Now that rates are on a rapidly rising, there are only 35 review boards in the entire 50 states and most of those have been created in the last 35 years. More data means better informed action, learn more about these committees and how you can help at Review to Action at

In 2010, Ohio re-established a maternal mortality review board as mortality rates began creeping up even higher than the national average. The graph below shows initial findings of that review.


Jessica Roach, Founder & CEO Restoring Our own Through Transformation (ROOTT – in Columbus expanded on the rapid rise of mortality and morbidity rates among women of color. Statistically, white women have a mortality rate of 12.7 deaths per 100,000 births, whereas the rate for black women is 43.4 per 100,000 for black women (she pointed out that the same appalling disparity is found in infant mortality rates.

Ms. Roach identified structural and social determinants of health. Structural racism placing an impenetrable barrier to access and adequate care which leads to a web of causation of social determinants in the rates of maternal mortality. She explained that our most important actions are to address the structural determinants in order to eventually get to addressing social determinants and thereby shift the rising tide of mortality and morbidity rates.

Erica Clarke Jones, Celebrate One, Franklin County, discussed advocacy and action. Sadly, Ohio ranks 40th in the nation in infant mortality and most mortality issues happen in redlined neighborhoods.

Ms. Jones implored us to turn our privilege into action through four concrete actions for effectiveness. First, we must be intentional. We can create community partner teams with specific and focused reports and recommendations. We must lead with data. The data exists from review boards and we must use it. Then we can build awareness. If we know our audiences, we can identify media related partners and involve trusted messengers in design. Finally, we must build trust which will allow us to take a coalition approach to guiding and influencing the narrative and actions.

I also attended two in-depth workshops over the weekend:

What do Race & Class Have to Do with Climate Change?

In this workshop, led by Jacqui Patterson (noted above), we explored the proposition that Human and Civil Rights are directly linked to access to the commons (i.e., air, water, land, food, shelter, clothing, energy, education, work, health, safety and culture) and how rampant extraction and exploitation of human and natural resources sacrifices communities and.

We dove into specific impacts on communities of color such as mercury poisoning and dust irritants from coal fired plants, predominantly located in low income, urban neighborhoods. We discussed how sea level rise has disproportionately affected indigenous peoples in Louisiana as tribes are rapidly being displaced. Shifts in agricultural yields are compounding food insecure communities and weather disasters are impacting communities with little ability to evacuate and little right to return or ability to recover.

Ms. Patterson shared the NAACP outline of what is required of us to change the course for climate justice:

  1. Conscientious & educated voting
  2. Reforming utility shut-off policies as if human rights matter –
  3. Shift in power and decision making during disasters
  4. Change racist characterizations in publications, media, and conversation
  5. Urge representatives to remove exemptions for fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  6. Call out climate change deniers
  7. Allow frontline communities to lead the decision making

Ms. Patterson shared a funny video which shows a possible new way to name extreme storms after climate denier politicians. What a perfectly poetic way to call out those fools. Produced by it can be found here:

Ms. Patterson closed with a poem read at the 2014 United National Climate Summit Dear Matefele Peinam by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, which can be found here:

The Doctrine of Discovery, the Acts of Repentance Working Group (ACRWG) & the Four Priority Issues

The other workshop I attended was led by Sarah Augustine (mentioned above). She described the Doctrine of Discovery as a body of law and policy based on Christian doctrine which legalizes and codifies theft of land, labor and resources from indigenous peoples. It originated with the early Christian church and was based on scripture – covenantal people being justified in taking possession of the land as described in Exodus.

There are two foundational premises ascribed to the Doctrine of Discovery. First, the notion of “Empty Land”, i.e., the idea that discovered lands are devoid of human beings if the original peoples, defined as heathens, pagans and infidels, were not ruled by Christian power. And second, the presumption of “Manifest Destiny”: the presumption that a covenantal people are given a divine mandate to pursue the Great Commission.

The Doctrine of Discovery has been used historically to start wars and to colonize and evict indigenous peoples. The Doctrine was established in the United States in 1823 by Justice John Marshall in Johnson v. M’Intosh and has been the basis of land rights in the US since.

The most recent legal sighting of the doctrine was in 2005 in an opinion authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York ( In this opinion, the Supreme Court held that the repurchase of traditional tribal lands did not restore tribal sovereignty to that land.

The Doctrine of Discovery has had a disastrous impact on indigenous peoples, particularly in the four priority areas being addressed by United Methodist Women. Infant mortality rates are lowest among indigenous Americans who have the least access to prenatal care. Reservations are on the worst land in the country and are as far away as possible from urban areas, making good health care inaccessible.

The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 has led to mass incarceration of indigenous Americans. Its purpose was to move people off the reservation into urban areas for the governmental purposes of recapturing land, discouraging tribal enrollment, and to avoid providing mandated services to tribes. As a result, tribal homelessness, substance abuse and dislocation have led to large rates of incarceration.

Economic inequality has had an adverse impact indigenous peoples basic human needs and rights.  Food insecurity is rampant as arable, productive land has been taken from communities. In relocation, tribes have lost rights to farm.

Indigenous people are heavily impacted by erosion in the arctic, desertification in Africa, and deforestation in the Amazon, making them most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

Good policy is possible as written in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ( Adopted by the UN in 2007, there were four votes against its approval: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and The United States). Since then, those four countries have since reversed their position and support the Declaration. I wonder what Justice Ginsberg’s opinion would be today in light of international law.


Led by President Shannon Priddy and Chief Executive Officer Harriet Jane Olson, UMW Assembly was a thought provoking, intellectually stimulating, powerfully creative, transformative event for me. I feel challenged, motivated and committed to turning faith hope and love into action. I feel honored to have attended the event.

N.B. – We were told that a large number of our sisters from around the world were not granted visas to attend Assembly because of our current immigration policies. That was heartbreaking news

History of the Death Penalty in the United States

         The first recorded execution in the US was in 1608 when Captain George Kendall was executed for being a spy for Spain. In Virginia, in 1612, the death penalty was punishment for such minor offenses as stealing grapes, killing chickens and trading with Indians.

The abolitionist movement in the US gained a foothold when Tomas Jefferson introduced a bill to revise Virginia’s death penalty laws by proposing the death penalty be abandoned for all crimes but those of murder and treason. This bill was defeated by only one vote. These early arguments for the abolition of the death penalty were based on challenging the belief that it serves as a deterrent to crime and that argument continues today. The abolitionist movement gained strength in the mid 19th century as states reduced the number of capital crimes and built state penitentiaries. In 1834, PA became the first state to move executions away from the public square and carry them out in their penitentiaries. In 1846, MI became the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason. On the other hand, other states were expanding crimes punishable by death, especially to include those committed by slaves. After the civil war the means of executions expanded and the first electric chair execution was in 1890.

In the early to mid 20th century the use of the death penalty continued to wax and wane with states abolishing it then reinstating it in the wake of WWI. The first attempt to gas someone to death was in 1924 when the state of Nevada sought a more humane way of executing its inmates. The state tried pumping cyanide gas into an inmates cell while he slept. This didn’t work and the gas chamber was subsequently constructed. Between the 1920’s and 1960’s public support for capital punishment and numbers of actual executions still went up and down with the most executions taking place in the 1930’s and the fewest in the 1960’s.

In 1972, in the case of Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238) the US Supreme Court knocked down Georgia’s death penalty statute which gave the jury complete sentencing discretion, as cruel and unusual due to the fact it was arbitrary in nature. This case effectively voided statues in 40 states and suspended the death penalty around the country.

In 1976, the Supreme Court reviewed the statutes of three states which included sentencing guidelines aimed at removing arbitrary and discretionary sentencing and held that the new statutes, which allowed for the introduction of aggravating and mitigating factors in determining sentencing, were constitutional. In addition to sentencing guidelines, procedural reforms were approved by the court. Those included bifurcated trials where guilt and sentencing phases are separated, automatic appellate review of convictions and sentencing and proportionality review where the state appellate court can compare the sentence in a case being reviewed with other cases within the state.  The death penalty was thereby reinstated in Georgia, Texas and Florida and these cases are collectively referred to as “The Gregg Decision.” More states soon followed with procedural reforms of their own.  In 1977, the 10-year moratorium on executions ended with the execution of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in Utah and in 1982 the first lethal injection was used on Charles Brooks in Texas.

But, starting in 1977 the US began establishing limitations on the use of capital punishment. The first was when the Supreme Court decided that the death penalty is an unconstitutional punishment for the rape of an adult woman when the victim was not killed. Subsequent limitations include: where there is mental illness and/or intellectual disability, when there are patterns of racial disparity in application of the death penalty and when offenders are juveniles.


The Death Penalty in Ohio

        Until 1885, executions were carried out in Ohio by public hangings, which were conducted by individual counties. In 1885, death row and executions were moved to the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. The electric chair was first used in Ohio in 1897 and was used to execute 312 men and 3 women. The last execution by electric chair was in 1963.

Ohio’s death penalty statutes have a checkered history. After the trickle down effects of Furman in 1972, Ohio’s death penalty was re-instated in 1974, only to be struck down as unconstitutional again in 1978. The current statute went into effect in 1981, however, Ohio did not resume executions until 1999. And in fact, in 1991, Governor Richard Celeste commuted 8 sentences of inmates on Ohio’s death row citing a “disturbing racial pattern” in sentencing. Nonetheless, Ohio executed 438 people before 1976, and 53 since. There are currently 141 men on death row and 1 woman. There have been 9 innocent people freed from death row and 18 clemencies granted.

Currently, Ohio’s only means of execution is lethal injection and the program has come under fire. Gov. Kasich halted all executions in 2014 when Dennis McGuire was put to death for the murder of a pregnant woman. The 2 drug process took 26 minutes, and witnesses said McGuire seized and gasped for 15 minutes. The injected cocktail was to blame for the delay and the apparent pain. Governor Kasich then delayed all executions until January 2017. Execution by lethal injection is scheduled to resume with a new “3 drug cocktail” in January, however this method is also being reviewed as federal public defenders have filed suit claiming multiple problems remain with the way the state prepares and carries out the executions resulting in cruel and unusual punishment.

Other problems with Ohio’s death penalty program were revealed in a 2016 study which found “vast” inequities grounded in race, gender and geography in the state of Ohio. The data showed that Ohio was 6 times more likely to execute a prisoner convicted of killing a white female victim than if the victim was a black male. Although 43% of Ohio murder victims are white, 65% of Ohio executions involved the murder of white victims. And, while only 27% of Ohio murder victims are female, 52% of all executions involved cases with female victims. In addition, more than half of the state’s executions were concentrated in just 4 counties (Cuyahoga, Lake, Franklin and Hamilton), while more than 3/4 of Ohio counties have not produced any executions. Lake County had an execution rate that was 11 times the statewide average. Although the state’s three most populous counties (Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Hamilton) have similar murder rates, Hamilton’s .60 executions per 100 homicides was more than double the rate in Cuyahoga and nearly 9 times that in Franklin.


Currently, public support for the death penalty is in decline. More than half of the US population prefers alternatives over the death penalty as the best punishment for murder. There are many additional factors contributing to the abhorrence of state sanctioned killing.

The first, written about throughout the history of capital punishment debates is the arbitrary means of conviction and sentencing.  Race bias, inconsistent punishments, political factors and geography all play a role in random outcomes and unrestrained use of authority. In terms of race bias, it is easy to break it down by the numbers. The 10 states that practiced slavery do 80% of the executions. 42% of inmates on death row are black, 43% are white, 13% are Latino. Black people are only 13% of the US population.

From initial charging decisions to plea bargaining to jury sentencing, African-Americans are treated more harshly when they are defendants and their lives are less valued when they are victims. Since 1977, the overwhelming majority of death row defendants (approximately 77%) have been executed for killing white victims, even though African Americans make up about half of all homicide victims.  In addition, all white or virtually all white juries are still commonplace in many localities around the country.

Another problem recognized by those against the death penalty is the fact that the risk of executing someone that is innocent can never be eliminated.  Since 1973, 140 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to wrongful convictions. There are many factors leading to wrongful convictions. They include:

  • Inadequate legal representation
  • Police and prosecutorial Misconduct
  • Perjured testimony and Mistaken Eyewitness testimony
  • Racial Prejudice
  • Jailhouse snitch testimony
  • Suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence
  • Community and Political pressure to solve a case

The problem of wrongful convictions has recently garnered significant press in light of the advancement of DNA technologies. In fact, in 2000, amid massive media coverage, Gov. George Ryan of Illinois enacted a moratorium on executions because of doubts about the justice system when it was determined that 13 men in that state were wrongly condemned. In 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn totally abolished the death penalty after concluding that a system “free of all mistakes, free of all discrimination with respect to race or economic circumstance or geography” was not attainable.

In addition, there is great concern that a significant number of death row inmates are mentally impaired. Although the execution of the insane is unconstitutional, the determination of sanity is left of to each state and there are minimal protections for other forms of mental illness such as schizophrenia. The National Association of Mental Health estimates that 5-10% of those on death row have serious mental illness.

Because all states with the death penalty and the federal government currently use lethal injection as their primary method of execution I will spend quite a bit of time on this topic. Unfortunately, lethal injection has the highest rate of botched executions among all methods. Out of 1,054 total executions, 75 were botched. That is 7.12% of those executions went wrong. Firing squads had the lowest rate of botched executions at 0% and electrocution next lowest with 1.92% botched. As states changed their methods of execution from hanging, to electrocution, to lethal gas, then lethal injection, there was always a promise that the new technology would be safer, more reliable, more effective and more humane. Sadly, the statistics do not seem to bear this out.

Horrifyingly, the cocktail of killing drugs, particularly the paralyzing agent most commonly used is not considered a humane mixture for euthanizing animals. Because of the potential for masking pain, the American Veterinary Medical Association has rejected the use of paralyzing agents like pancuronium bromide in animal euthanasia. In fact, at least 2 states have banned its use on animals yet continues to use it on humans. In the last several years the manufacturers of the drugs used in lethal injections have objected to such use and discontinued sales for execution purposes.  In 2015 Utah passed a law allowing the use of a firing squad if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. Today there is considerable debate as to whether 1, 2 or 3 drug protocols are acceptable means of execution.

Furthermore, doctors are put in precarious positions in some states that require medical personnel to either assist with, or carry out executions. Although all codes of professional ethics which consider the death penalty opposed health professional participation, in many states health professionals are required by law to assist executions and some cases have carried out the killings. In other states, prison personnel insert the IV’s and administer the drugs inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering and increasing the length of the execution.

Contrary to popular belief, the greatest costs associated with the death penalty occur prior to and during trial, not in the appeals process. Almost all death row inmates cannot afford their own attorney at trial and are assigned court appointed attorneys who often lack experience, are overworked and/or underpaid. Bifurcated trials, sentencing reviews and other trial phase procedures and costs are complicated, astronomical and often divert resources from genuine crime control efforts. Even if post-conviction proceedings (appeals) were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences.

One justification often used to support the death penalty is that the severest of punishments acts as a deterrence to violent crime. However, the FBI data shows that the 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate, putting a hole in that argument.

There are many other issues that demonstrate problems with the death penalty including the execution of Foreign Nationals and juveniles and instances of prosecutorial misconduct that I will not be addressing at this time.


         Today fundamentalists and Pentecostal churches generally support the death penalty on biblical grounds. On the other hand, the Catholic Church and most protestant denominations oppose the death penalty. The Church of Latter Day saints regard the question as a matter to be decided solely by the process of civil law and neither actively promotes nor opposes capital punishment.

 The United Methodist Church

For 60 years, the UMC has stood against the concept of Capital Punishment. As one of the first denominations to speak out against the Death Penalty, the Church, at General Conference in 1956, proclaimed “We stand for the application of the redemptive principle to the treatment of offenders against the law, to reform of penal and correctional methods, and to criminal court procedures. We deplore the use of capital punishment.”


The Social Principles are specific (160 V. The Political Community):

(G) The Death Penalty

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

In short, the United Methodist Church sees the execution of citizens as an overall devaluing of human life. The church does not support the premise that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime. And finally, the arbitrariness and discrimination rampant in the administration of capital punishment is also of great concern to the church as it is generally applied unfairly and unequally on minorities.

On this particular point it warrants a look at the next Social Principle:

(H) Criminal Justice and Restorative Justice

… “In the love of Christ, who came to save those who are lost and vulnerable, we urge the creation of a genuinely new system for the care and restoration of victims, offenders, criminal justice officials, and the community as a whole. Restorative justice grows out of biblical authority, which emphasizes a right relationship with God, self, and community. When such relationships are violated or broken through crime, opportunities are created to make things right. Most criminal justice systems around the world are retributive. These retributive justice systems profess to hold the offender accountable to the state and use punishment as the equalizing tool for accountability. In contrast, restorative justice seeks to hold the offender accountable to the victimized person, and to the disrupted community. Through God’s transforming power, restorative justice seeks to repair the damage, right the wrong, and bring healing to all involved, including the victim, the offender, the families, and the community. The Church is transformed when it responds to the claims of discipleship by becoming an agent of healing and systemic change.”

The national Board of Church and Society has called capital punishment an “act of barbarism, which has no room in a civilized society, nor in a country that prides so much on its Christian heritage.”  It also is abhorrent to a criminal justice system based in restorative justice.



Death Penalty Information Center,

A clearinghouse of information used to educate the public and assist the media to shape educated conversations about the death penalty.

Amnesty International,,

United States Census, Quick Facts,

Ohio Ready to Resume Executions With New Drug Combination, October 3, 2016, USA Today,

Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Lawyers: Ohio Execution Plan Like Burning Inmates at Stake, Associated Press, October 27, 2016,

Baumgartner, “The Impact of Race, Gender, and Geography on Ohio Executions,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, January 28, 2016

A. Johnson, “Study finds racial, gender bias in Ohio executions,” The Columbus Dispatch, January 28, 2016.

Illinois Abolishes The Death Penalty, NPR Staff & Writers,,  March 9, 2011


Further Reading

The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All, Death Penalty Information Center, October 1, 2013

Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty-Five Years After its Reinstatement in 1976, Death Penalty Information Center, June 22, 2011

The Death Penalty in Black & White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides, Death Penalty Information Center, June 4, 1998

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson

“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation.”—Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

“As deeply moving, poignant and powerful a book as has been, and maybe ever can be, written about the death penalty.”—The Financial Times






Seminar Program, General Board of Church and Society

The United Methodist Building, Washington DC

November 14 – 16, 2016

Report to the East Ohio Conference

Church and Society Committee


The 2016 United Methodist Book of Resolutions calls us to act for justice in Resolution #3428, “Our Call to End Gun Violence.” Specifically, we are called to convene workshops, educate our communities, advocate for regulation, discourage the promotion of gun usage, assist victims of gun violence and provide gun free zones.

I have been involved in gun violence prevention (GVP) advocacy since January 2013 after my world was rocked by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed twenty 6 and 7-year-old children and six adult staff members. In 2012 I left my comfortable home two days after Thanksgiving to travel to New Jersey for my first ERT experience in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation, despair and confusion that I experienced during that trip set a mellow tone to the beginning of the Christmas holidays that made me want to soften the festivities and be more reflective and appreciative of all that I had. Then on December 14 Newtown, CT was rocked by devastation, as was I. I was barely able to celebrate Christmas that year. I had been concerned about gun violence for years but never acted on my concerns. I felt I could no longer be passive about the devastation that guns inflict on our communities.

I have been active with many organizations in my advocacy including God Before Guns, The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action. I was the Social Action Chair of the EOC United Methodist Women where I raised gun violence prevention as my key issue and have since remained on the EOC Church and Society Committee as the gun violence prevention advocate. So, when GBCS National Office presented this forum I was more than eager and grateful to attend.

Below I will summarize some of the key concepts and ideas that I took from the program.

Engaging Faith

The root problems that proliferate gun violence in our communities are as diverse and unique as our congregations. In our urban areas economics, divestment, unemployment, housing policy and other myriad of social ills and policy failures contribute to feelings of despair and hopelessness and disadvantage. In rural areas isolation, poverty and lack of opportunity can have devastating effects. In all communities there is rampant idolatry which seems to place the 2nd amendment above that of the 1st Commandment.  Regardless of the environment there are too many people hurting in our country and it is our imperative to be the light of God where there is darkness. To engage faith communities we must commit to congregational care in all communities and address places of power.

Changing the Narrative

Today, fear is the language of power. But a burning question in many people’s mind is whether the issue is an internal fear or the need to instill fear in others. “I keep a gun for safety, to defend myself.” “Those kids would have been safe if the teachers had guns.” “I believe in open carry.” Sometimes it is hard to tell the motivation.

In addition, the current narrative places an individual’s right to have and carry a gun over the rights of the safety of others. In this scenario, I exclude law enforcement, but consider the news, how many “good guys with a gun” have turned out to be the bad guy? Every one that used that gun to kill. The statistics just don’t bear out the premise that having a gun keeps you safer.

We must educate and have faith in the gospel as THE counter-narrative. We are called to preach, to advocate, to live out our faith by disrupting the idolatry, by easing fear out of the narrative and bring the kingdom of love and peace to the earth. Faith Communities are the last bastion of morality and as such it is our duty to advocate for a perfect world.

Language Used

The NRA has been so wildly successful in their lobbying in part because of the language they use. They volley the words “freedoms” and “rights” in almost every sentence to great effect. We were given some practical advice on messaging our ideas; about how to use our value based rhetoric as opposed to policy based.

First, we should be sure to follow every NRA use of the word “freedoms” with a reminder that with freedom comes great responsibility. Also, to appeal to the safety aspect of those in fear we need to stand for the premise that we are a nation of laws, laws that’s protect individuals and punish criminals. While no single law will get rid of all gun violence, those preventive laws make a huge difference in a lot of lives. We must be vocal about the legacy we wish to leave behind for our children and the world. This “new normal” of daily violence, suicide and child access to firearms is not acceptable. We can never surrender our values for the sake of a firearm.

We also spent a significant amount of time discussing the best ways to address issues with government employees, and local and federal politicians. This was basically a very useful mini-course in persuasive speaking. I found these ideas particularly useful when I lobbied both Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressman David Joyce’s office.

GVP as a Public Health Issue

The public health approach to GVP is a proven method of curtailing the problem of gun deaths. The approach is a four-fold method of addressing an issue which involves:

1.)        Defining the problem;

2.)        Identifying the Risk

3.)        Developing and Testing Prevention Strategies;

4.)        Assuring Widespread Adoption with Ensured Access to Programs

We spent a considerable amount of time exploring programs that have been proven to work such as Group Violence Intervention, The Cure Violence Strategy and Hospital-Based Intervention Programs. In addition, several urban communities have implemented comprehensive public health strategies that have worked in reducing gun violence.

At the federal level, it is unfortunate that the gun lobby has successfully gutted funding for research on gun violence at the CDC. There has been no research on the causes or effects of gun violence from the CDC since the mid-1990’s when the NRA complained to Congress that the CDC was using the results of its research to advocate for gun control. Basically, the NRA didn’t like the statistics being found to show the likelihood of death dramatically increased based on the presence of a gun.

But statistics are still available. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has found that 57% of suicides are committed with guns; that the decrease in homicides on a state level is attributable to better gun laws and that better social services reduces the incidence of homicide. There are a plethora of statistics that show guns do not make us safer and in fact the presence of a gun significantly increases our chances of being killed.

We also spent a considerable amount of time learning about and discussing race, domestic violence and human trafficking issues associated with gun violence and the programs successfully targeting those issues.

Lobby Day

For those attendees that were interested, the National Office arranged visits with their representatives. I met with aides from Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative David Joyce. Ideally I would have been able to speak at length about considering specific gun violence prevention legislation that would possibly come up through the legislature. Unfortunately, considering the recent election results GVP advocacy will be predominantly defensive (this conference took place a week after the national election setting a distinctly different tone to our conversations that many of us would have liked.) There will be little ability to further legislation for background checks, to protect victims of domestic violence or to prevent suicide deaths or child access prevention. In fact, what is expected to be the first order of business for the Gun Lobby is Concealed Carry Reciprocity legislation.

Having spoken to an aide of Rep. Joyce in the past and equipped with the knowledge that he gets a good amount of campaign contribution from the NRA, I knew that he preferred to dodge any talk of gun regulation. His past answer on the issue was that he “preferred to work on the mental health aspects” of the issue. Therefore, at this meeting I was able to thank him for his recent vote on a comprehensive mental health bill. I also told the aide that as my representative I strongly urge Rep. Joyce to vote against any CC Reciprocity legislation, reminding him that in 2012 there was a school shooting in his district where 3 boys died and that gun violence prevention is an important issue in his semi-rural community.

My visit to Senator Brown’s office was decidedly different than my experience with Rep. Joyce’s aide. There I was in the space of a GVP ally. We discussed many of the bills that had died in the legislature and what the aide felt was possible in the future (practically speaking, not much for GVP).


Along with the amazing information imparted and conversations had, I had the opportunity to screen the movie Newtown. It is a particularly chilling and sobering account of the shooting, aftermath and subsequent advocacy on the part of some of the parents and survivors of victims.

I have materials for Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend to take place in December 2017 and a gun violence bible study called “Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities” which I hope to distribute and facilitate throughout the conference.

Although this report barely covers the amount of information learned and work done at the seminar, I am now armed with a tremendous amount of insight and knowledge, tools and sources to continue my advocacy on this important issue. I feel privileged to have been able to attend this program and meet some amazing people.  I look forward working with the national office in the future.



2016 begins a new quadrennial for United Methodist Women and with that change come new areas of focus for social action. I had the privilege of attending National Seminar in Chicago this past July and through worship, workshops, site visits and local action about 200 United Methodist Women learned about Mass Incarceration, Income Inequality, Climate Justice and Maternal/Child Health. Now I am fired up, ready to learn, inform and advocate.

Mass Incarceration. According to the Sentencing Project, the United States leads the world in incarcerating its citizens with nearly 2 million people currently in prisons or jails. This reflects a 500% increase in inmates over the past thirty years. Privatization of prisons, a failed war on drugs, blatant inequalities in the criminal justice system and brutal immigration policies have all contributed to this horrific trend.


At National Seminar we heard four perspectives on the issue. Bishop Sally Dyck (Episcopal Area, Northern Illinois Conference, UMC) discussed restorative justice in the context of faith communities. Page May (We Charge Genocide/Village Leadership Academy, Chicago, IL) charged up the conference with discussion about her grassroots organization and their on-the-ground efforts to bring about change and accountability for police brutality. Lissette Carstillo Vizcarra (Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America) informed us of the inhumane effects of our national immigration policies, specifically the incarceration of refugees/immigrants in detention centers. And, Dr. Iva Carruthers, (General Sec’y, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference) emphasized that those who are oppressed, criminalized and marginalized among us are worthy of our service, our compassion and our care.

Over the next four years UMW will advocate for a criminal justice system that is accountable to all communities equitably and work to reconcile and restore dignity and hope to those that Dr. Carruthers lifted up.

  • Recommended Reading:
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • Dear White America, Tim Wise

Income Inequality. The United States has seen a major shift in the concentration of income and wealth in recent decades, making life harder for the majority of its citizens. While real incomes for the top 1 percent have grown 185 percent over the past 35 years, incomes for the rest of the population have increased an average of only 13 percent. (

In other words: “Between 1979 and 2012, the top 5 percent of American families saw their real incomes increase 74.9 percent, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth saw a decrease in real income of 12.1 percent. This sharply contrasts with the 1947-79 period, when all income groups saw similar income gains, with the lowest income group actually seeing the largest gains.” – See more at:

At National Seminar we were involved in hands-on activities demonstrating the dramatic shift in income inequality over the last 40 years. The numbers are staggering and the effects are not only predictable but also devastating: millions have lost homes, pensions and jobs. In addition people have less economic security due to low wages, student debt, increased food and housing costs and health care expenses.

This next quadrennial we will be facilitating workshops and seminars and advocating for public policy changes.

Maternal & Child Health. “About 289,000 women died in 2013 of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths can be avoided as the necessary medical interventions exist and are well known. The key obstacle is pregnant women’s lack of access to quality care before, during and after childbirth.” 10 Facts on Maternal Health, World Health Organization,

At National Seminar, Dr. Richard David discussed his work at Chicago’s John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital) and his findings about stress as a contributing factor leading to higher incidences of premature birth, health and development issues, as well as maternal and fetal deaths He emphasized the effects of racism and sexism on women as root causes of poor outcomes for mothers and babies. Dr. David then told us that plans were underway to close the pediatric inpatient unit at his hospital that serves a low-income community of color and therefore the most vulnerable of patients. Dr. David intimated that the closing was a direct move to end public healthcare in Chicago. A vote on the closure was scheduled for the following day and immediately a group of United Methodist Women from the Seminar had mobilized. They protested in front of the hospital garnering national news attention and attended the board meeting to make the case for justice over dollars. Their presence was heard and acknowledged yet there is no decision about the closing as of yet.IMG_0141

Climate Justice. The effects of climate change fall disproportionately on poor people around the world making climate justice about human rights and discrimination. Hurricanes, heat waves, tsunamis, flooding, wildfires, disappearing islands and ice caps – the ravages of climate change effect mortality and health. “Climatic conditions affect diseases transmitted through water, and via vectors such as mosquitoes. Climate-sensitive diseases are among the largest global killers. Diarrhea, malaria and protein-energy malnutrition alone caused more than 3.3 million deaths globally in 2002, with 29% of these deaths occurring in the Region of Africa.” Climate and health Fact sheet, July 2005, World Health Organization,

The plenary session on Climate Justice at National Seminar had us role-play a scenario involving all the players in an Appalachian Mountaintop Removal setting. We met in town hall style meetings to address all those affected in the area. The community organization model that was used was informative, enlightening and at times frustrating. All interests were considered and a plan of action was made. At the conclusion of the activity we were informed that 1.) The scenario was not fictional and had in fact taken place; and 2.) Both state and federal representatives were on the take from the coal companies. Needless to say, it was a fascinating and frustrating exercise.

  • Recommended Reading:
  • Moral Ground, Ethical Action for a Planet In Peril, Moore & Nelson, Editors
  • Finding Higher Ground, Adaption in the Age of Warming, Amy Seidl

While at National Seminar I also attended a workshop on Anti-Oppression where we discussed many pertinent issues. In addition, I toured Chicago’s Little Village with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. This predominantly Hispanic neighborhood was once in the shadows of one of the filthiest coal burning plants in the country and has organized to build a sustainable community. I also participated in a community action event with the Community Renewal Society where we gained commitments from some Southside Aldermen and Commissioners for their Reclaim Campaign and Chicago Police Accountability Platform.

IMG_0949National Seminar was an amazing, energizing and enlightening experience. I was challenged intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. The experience was sometimes hard, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful and sometimes painful. But I made friends, heard the call and will now begin to answer.

Much of the work we will be doing over the next few years deal specifically with issues of anti-oppression, the celebration of diversity and the inclusion of all God’s people (i.e., the full and equal participation of all.) Too often in our churches we are focused on charity and not justice. Addressing people’s personal problems through charity creates an instant band-aide, eases immediate suffering and certainly makes our giving congregations feel good. On the other hand, as United Methodist Women we are called to work to bring structural changes to our communities, our nation and our world. We are addressing inequities in our society, we are challenged to be activists for justice on behalf of women and children, we are called to educate and advocate for social change.

I encourage you to visit the topical webinars that were required of us before Seminar. They can be found at:

I also ask you follow, like and share our Conference Facebook page: East Ohio Conference UMW – Social Action: And please stay informed by regularly checking the UMW Website at