(RNS) A coalition of African-American clergy is calling on churches to serve as sacred spaces for healing in the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville, Va., and as the nation grapples with racism and other bigotry.
“We urge churches across the country to create safe and sacred spaces for prayer, healing, dialogue and honest conversations about the history and reality of racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and white supremacy in this nation,” the black clergy said in a Friday (Aug. 18) statement.
“Our youth and young adults especially need a place to process this assault on their being and the very soul of this nation.”
The group, which spearheaded the first-ever “African American Clergy Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill a month ago, also denounced the hatred displayed recently in Charlottesville and the “subsequent inflammatory and detestable words of President Donald Trump supporting the hateful actions of the KKK, Nazis and white supremacist groups.”
The 10 initial signatories include leaders of the National African American Clergy Network, the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative and the National Council of Churches, as well as officials of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ.
The black clergy called on Congress, denominational leaders, and particularly white evangelical church leaders to speak out against the “evil” of white supremacy.
They also took issue with President Trump’s assertion that “many sides” were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville.
Declaring, “No, Mr. President. There are not many sides,” the group questioned his contention that “fine people” were among both sides in the protests that turned violent and left three people dead.
“These ‘fine’ people intimidated churchgoers, attacked clergy and threw bottles from the tops of steps into the crowd of counter protesters — those who were standing against their hatred, bigotry and white supremacist values,” the online statement said.
On July 18, members of the clergy group protested the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts affecting programs including food stamps and Meals on Wheels; 16 people were arrested. A week later they joined others in a protest of the Senate’s unsuccessful efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; 31 people were arrested.
The Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune who drafted the statement, said the group plans to return to Capitol Hill in September to urge members of Congress to be more outspoken against white supremacy. The clergy also plan to visit five states represented by Congress members who hold key roles in considering the proposed budget.
(RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton says his thousand-minister march is all the more urgent now than when he began planning it months ago.
The Pentecostal-turned-Baptist minister says the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., has sparked more interest and a greater need for clergy of many faiths to speak up at the march set for Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The march will begin at the Washington memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and end at Justice Department offices to protest increased hate crimes, discrimination and mass incarceration.
The 62-year-old president of the National Action Network, a predominantly black, Christian organization, talked with RNS about his plans. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you sum up your reaction to the events of Charlottesville over the weekend?
Charlottesville was a very startling and repulsive reminder to us of the issue of hate and the issue of racism and anti-Semitism that is still alive and practiced in the country. It seems now to have been revived and, in many ways, given moral equivalency with those that protested by the president of the United States. We need a president that’s clear that anti-Semitism and hatred and the kind of public display of bigotry that we saw is unacceptable.
How do faith leaders need to respond to President Trump’s series of comments about the violence in Charlottesville?
We had already called for 1,000 ministers of all faiths — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim — to meet at King’s memorial and march to the Justice Department, saying we do not want to see the moral authority of Dr. King’s dream undermined no matter who the president. And we’ve had several hundred ministers already sign. After Charlottesville happened — and then the president’s reaction — it has intensified and we’re getting calls from all kinds of ministers from all faiths saying we must make a statement.
Our hope is that when you looked at those Nazis carrying torches talking about “You will not replace us,” we can contrast that with rabbis linking arms with Baptist ministers and Muslims marching in the spirit of Dr. King. They went to Robert E. Lee’s monument. We’re going to King’s monument and marching to the Justice Department. I heard growing up that the best way to expose a dirty glass is put a clean glass next to it. Faith leaders must stand up and show a dignified, nonviolent way.
Have your plans for the Ministers March for Justice changed in light of Charlottesville, whether in numbers or logistics or security?
Our security concerns have grown ’cause we always now have to be concerned about whether some people will try and do a counter thing — I’m talking about from the right. I get up every day facing death threats. That’s normal when you’re high-profile. So our security concerns increase although we’ve had no direct threats.
As I’ve talked to a lot of the ministers that have called and joined in now, a lot of them said that, yes, we always agreed with the idea of a march but I think we didn’t understand the urgency until we saw that footage on Saturday night. I think what that has done is brought back, into everyone’s living room, why we need to keep marching. This is much worse than we thought in terms of a spirit of hate and immorality.
How does this march compare to some of the previous ones you were involved in – including the march just before the Trump inauguration and the one on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington?
This one is for faith leaders. We’ve only asked for ministers. Now, others might come but it will be led by — and the program will be — rabbis, clergy members of the various parts of Christendom, Muslims and Hindus. Because we want to make a statement that hundreds of faith leaders came to Washington on the day of Dr. King’s dream. That is a big difference from us bringing tens of thousands of people — we want to make a clear statement from the moral and the faith leaders of this country.
Don’t forget Dr. King’s organization was named the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was very specific that it was religious-based and National Action Network is that as well. We’ve not heard from the faith community in a very public, united way and that’s the difference this march is.
What does it say to you about where we are as a country, or about its people of faith, that ministers are going to gather this way?
It gives hope that there are people that are willing to stand up. We’ve gone through rough periods in our history before and faith leaders lead us through. What do we remember about the ’60s? We remember when Rabbi (Abraham Joshua) Heschel joined Dr. King in Selma. We remember how it was a rabbi that was the speaker right before Dr. King at the March on Washington. When we all started coming together and raised the high moral questions, it set the climate for change. And you will always have other things going on, but when people know that those whom they go to on their Sabbath to get guidance are standing up, it brings it to another dimension. And I think it is extremely important that we do this, particularly at this time.
What do you think clergy and other people of faith should be doing at this time beyond sermons and marches?
I think that they’ve got to get into the community. They’ve got to get into the schools. They’ve got to get into the local gatherings, the town halls, the planning board meetings. And we’ve got to beat back this spirit of hate. We’ve got to go and do the work. Faith without works is a dead thing, the Bible says. And I want to lay that challenge out at the march: We’ve got to come off our pulpits and out of our cathedrals and save the soul of this nation.
Copyright 2017 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.
by Fredrick Nzwili
(RNS) A retired Anglican bishop in northern Uganda is agitating for restorative justice – which emphasizes forgiveness and truth-telling over punishment – in a region where the wounds of a brutal war unleashed by the Lord’s Resistance Army persist.
Bishop Macleord Baker Ochola II, 84, has been responding to community concerns that the modern court system may not deliver justice for the people who suffered in the complex conflict.
In 1980s and ’90s, the LRA rebels, led by Joseph Kony, terrorized civilians in northern Uganda, abducting children and forcefully recruiting boys as soldiers and girls as sex slaves.
Kony turned child soldiers into killing machines against their own community.
By 2005, the LRA had abducted over 60,000 children and killed more than 100,000 people, while displacing 2.5 million people.
Ochola buried the dead, walked with returning child soldiers and at one point was forced into exile.
The conflict took a toll on his family. His wife died in 1997 after a land mine blast hit a car she was traveling in. Ten years earlier, his daughter committed suicide after being gang-raped by the rebels.
But Ochola has refused to remain bitter, choosing to promote peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation among his people.
“If there is no process of reconciliation, there is no healing, and if there is no healing there is no restoration and justice,” said Ochola, who served the Diocese of Kitgum. “Healing and restoration brings transformation of life for those affected.”
The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted five top leaders of the rebel group in 2005.
Last month, it put on trial Dominic Ongwen, a 41-year-old former rebel commander who was abducted at age 10. He faces 70 charges, including murder, attempted murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery and forced marriage. He is the first former child soldier to appear before court.
“In the name of God, I deny all these charges,” Ongwen said in court.
Dominic Ongwen, center, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, sits in the courtroom of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Peter Dejong/Pool
Ochola has been urging the court to carefully reconsider the circumstances under which children-turned-commanders were trapped in LRA captivity.
While he does not deny the court’s charges, he fears the court may not offer restorative justice but is seeking punishment or retribution. He is also concerned it will divide the community, which is in dire need of unity in the aftermath of LRA atrocities.
Like many other cultural and religious leaders in Uganda, he stresses a traditional justice system known as “Mato Oput,” which he thinks is more holistic.
Centered on forgiveness, it involves truth telling, compensation and a ritual in which food is shared and the accused drinks bitter herbs.
“It brings restoration to broken human relationships, transforms lives and heals the hearts of those involved,” said Ochola. “The court system, which is retributive, promotes polarization, alienating both sides.”
Mato Oput mirrors many of the forgiveness and reconciliation efforts central to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa and the Gacaca courts used in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.
Mato Oput is the justice system of the Acholi people of northern Uganda, the community most affected by the LRA conflict.
The LRA left northern Uganda in 2005 and is now believed to operate along the border region of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The LRA is still at large and they are still fighting … so we must continue with the work,” said Ochola.
In 1997, Ochola was one of the founders of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an interfaith organization led by cultural and religious leaders that sought to peacefully end the LRA insurgency. ARLPI has been facilitating grass-roots and intercommunal reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
One aspect of that is trying to help the government and LRA go through a process of truth telling.
“This would involve accepting full responsibility and making public acknowledgment of what one has done,” said Ochola.
One problem, he said, is the government’s lack of political will to dismantle the LRA.
In the case of Ongwen, Ochola had hoped the former rebel would be brought to the community for truth telling. Since that did not happen, Ongwen will likely refuse to accept responsibility.
“As a victim, he continues to be punished twice,” said Ochola.
Sheikh Musa Khalil, a northern Uganda Muslim leader and the ARLPI vice chairman, backs Ochola, saying that with Ongwen, the traditional system could have achieved more.
“It mirrors what is in the Quran and Bible,” said Khalil. “It’s based on forgiveness. We feel he should have been brought to us.”
The bishop believes a change is needed in the general wordview that when a child is abducted — as in the case of northern Uganda — he or she must take full responsibility in adulthood for any crimes committed while a captive.
“For northern Uganda,” he said, “this is wrong because the children had their humanity destroyed.”
(Fredrick Nzwili is a reporter based in Nairobi)
Last week, we published an article entitled “Christianity and Yoga: Is It Really O.K.?” Since publishing the article, we have received lots of positive and negative feedback on the topic and wanted to be sure to offer you, our readers, another perspective. The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird has written a great blog on the topic entitled “Yoga: More than Meets the Eyes,” and we’ve included an excerpt from the blog below for your convenience:
You may find this a stretching article in body, mind and spirit. I have intentionally avoided writing this article for years, because I knew that it might be unavoidably controversial. To be honest, I have been waiting for someone else to write this article instead of me. Like most pastors, I want people to like me. With genuine reluctance, I eventually faced my conflict avoidance, obeyed the Lord and read hundreds of yoga books in our local public libraries. In preparing this article, I have not read one book which warns against yoga. All book citations in this article are from yoga advocates and practitioners.
To many people, yoga is just the hottest new exercise fad for younger women. Twenty million North Americans are now doing yoga, including around four million men. These twenty million people are currently being trained by over 70,000 yoga practitioners in at least 20,000 North American locations. Many people confuse yoga with simple stretching. Stretching and calisthenics are good things which I participate in weekly at the local gym. The term ‘calisthenics’ comes from the combination of two Greek words ‘kallos’: beauty and ‘sthenos’: strength. Calisthenic exercises are designed to bring bodily fitness and flexibility of movement. Yoga has not cornered the market on healthy stretching and calisthenics. Physical fitness does not begin and end on a yoga mat. I am convinced that we do well when we take care of our bodies as part of our Christian stewardship. God wants us to be healthier in body, mind, and spirit. We all need to get back to the gym on a regular basis, whatever our views of yoga. Your body will thank you.
Read more of Rev. Hird’s blog entry here.