February 14, 2021
Barbara Dinius – UMW
Issues of Social Justice
Good morning, we are so glad you have joined us for UMW Sunday. This morning’s service has been planned by the ladies of Nampa FUMC.
This morning we would like to give you an idea of what our unit will be working on this coming year. As always, the UMW organization determines our direction and for the next quadrennium (4 years) our focus will be on two issues of social justice that affect people across our globe.
The first of these is climate justice. For many years, our focus has been on this issue but it continues to plague our world in ways most of us have little idea about. Of course, in this country we are familiar with the wildfires that have ravaged, especially California, over the past several years. Nasty storms of greater strength and longer duration have also created serious problems for people in many parts of the land. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the devastation that the river of water in the sky has caused clear across the continent from record snow levels in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to a nor’easter that dumped snow on the northeast and all parts between.
The most harmful emission that causes changes in the climate is the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, electricity, and heat. Thankfully, many US industries and cities have recognized the danger and have pledged to convert to renewable energy. We are making progress but there is much yet to be done.
Our second mission focus is the incarceration of people of color that builds on the bishop’s call to work on racism and the many ways it creates hardships for people of color in many parts of the US. People of color are arrested and charged in numbers that are not commensurate with their population numbers. Far too many are stopped for resembling someone who was accused of a crime. It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of people of color who spend time incarcerated for crimes of which they often knew nothing.
Over the last 40 years, incarceration rates have increased by 500%! Unfortunately, laws written to help prevent drug use have disproportionately resulted in people of color being jailed at much higher rates as cheaper drugs bring much longer sentences. Distressingly, in schools, which often are the entry point for children and youth of color, statistics have been even worse. Girls have been suspended at an even higher rate than the males and suspension leads to juvenile detention and from there to jail and/or prison. African American males have increased by 3X while girls have been jailed at 6X the rate of Caucasian girls. UMW continues to work to examine policies within the schools that make some girls more vulnerable than others.
Throughout the coming years, we will study books and have programs around these issues to learn more and to discover ways that our actions may be changed to help alleviate the root causes as well as advocate for changes in laws that relate. Just last week, some of us participated in the second session of the Idaho Legislative Event that raises our awareness of issues before our current legislature that impact people’s daily lives giving us opportunity to speak with our legislators to help influence their votes in the directions that we feel will be best for the most of us. In two more weeks, we will have the last of three zoom events that will help us be more effective advocates for issues of concern to us. That is a yearly effort we make to keep current on local issues.
United Methodist Women at the national level puts out regular email alerts to keep us abreast of issues at the national level where we can also express our concerns to Representatives and senators that represent us in Washington.
Each year, UMW also puts out a list of current books that relate to spiritual growth, nurturing for community, mission, social action, and leadership development. Books from the lists for the past five years are on the bookcase outside of the library and are available for all people of the church to check out and read. All are chosen to challenge and help us grow in many ways. We invite you to feel free to borrow a book or books at any time.
Let’s go back to the scripture for this morning. In Matthew, we have an interesting story of a woman, an outsider, who sought help from Jesus for her daughter who was seriously ill. Initially, Jesus ignored her, made no response to her plea and the disciples sought permission to drive her away. She was a double outcast: 1) she was a woman without a man to stand up for her; and 2) she was a Gentile, a person with neither power nor standing.
Though not being Jewish, she recognized Jesus as Messiah and knelt before him. She took her faith seriously. Being a Gentile, having no standing with the Jews, she still cried out, “Lord, help me!” There was nothing that would have led her to believe there would be any help for a woman of her ilk.
But, having heard of Jesus, she had faith that he had the power to heal her daughter. She was desperate! This is one of the most troubling stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. Messiah, kneeling, Lord (she acknowledged his authority) and still Jesus turned against her; even suggesting she is like dogs who at that time were despised. To call someone a dog was the most offensive insult. She did not own that image, she persisted, reminding Jesus that even dogs get the crumbs from the table. Her persistence paid off. Jesus understood the wisdom of her argument and gave her the mercy she sought.
Her strong faith combined with her strength to speak up for herself and therefore her daughter. Jesus was persuaded to give her the mercy she sought. Her example encourages us as women to do the same. Our faith gives us the foundation; we then need the courage to speak up and speak out for justice for all.
As we consider climate change, we see how it has affected the US and for us, except for the southwest that has had long drought periods making the forest vulnerable to fire, we have had far too much moisture while much of the world has far too little causing serious drought in the poorest parts of the world. Africa has had the most serious loss of crops and millions of people are suffering starvation. We’ve seen waves of immigrants fleeing north to Europe. Many in South America are also suffering crop losses. While we have the infrastructure to transport food from one location to another, many countries lack such infrastructure, not to mention the food resources to provide for their needs. At this time, some 2 billion people go hungry each and every day. Climate change is driving that trend in the wrong direction. United Methodist Women support people in mission around the world that are working to provide wells and agricultural methods to improve production in difficult places. Helping people provide food for themselves that will grow where the people live is far superior to moving masses of hungry people across the globe to increase the pressure on food resources where they move to. At the same time, we work to advocate for changes in policy that address the root causes of human pollution in the atmosphere that causes growing hardship for so many.
News in the past year has made it clear that people of color are being arrested and, in some cases, killed at numbers higher than the percentages of their population would suggest. Over many years, our laws have been written in ways that put people of color in greater jeopardy for incarceration. When the war on drugs began, it targeted those who used the cheapest drugs while overlooking those who used more expensive drugs. As a result, the population in the prisons across the country house many more people of color than the population would anticipate. There is need for laws to be rewritten to make the system of justice truly a just system. Often prisons become holding places for people needing mental health services and prisons are not equipped to treat those kids of prisoners, making their situations only worse. Changes are needed and United Methodist Women are advocating for those changes; finding ways to provide support for women coming out of prison; helping them to find employment and housing; to become established as productive members of society while supporting their children and offering services to smooth the reintegration of those women and children into meaningful families.
There are 98 mission institutions across the US from which UMW serves especially women, children, and youth. One of those is in Cedartown, Georgia at the Murphy Harpst Children Services, which serves the most viciously abused children across the state. In the residential housing and specialized foster care placements, the children live with full services providing therapy, spiritual development, life skills training, education, recreational development for lifelong activity, and more with trained, caring adults. In a loving faith community, these very damaged children are able to live in safety with as much support as they need to grow into productive adults with the opportunity to heal from their horrific wounds.
Many other communities offer extended services for the most vulnerable. Idaho, unfortunately, has none but there is Crossroads in Salt Lake City that provides services to the homeless and those in extreme poverty. At the Tacoma Community Center, immigrants are taught English, learn job skills, find employment, and support as they build new lives in the US as they flee hardships in the countries from which they have come.
There are so many ways in which we serve as United Methodist Women to help our communities. Each year, we support a variety of ministries serving others in this valley. Were we not dealing with COVID, this unit would have had a cookie sale this week to raise money for a local charity serving people in our community.
We meet the first Saturday of each month, now via Zoom, to learn more about services available for people in our community. This month we learned about the services provided at the Chrysalis House in Boise that assists women who have been incarcerated and are reintegrating into the community. They assist by helping these women access treatment services for drug and alcohol addiction if needed, job skills development, training and placement in appropriate employment, and locating safe housing. We invite any woman who would like to join us or you’re welcome to just drop by to see what we do. Rochelle Killett and Sharon Vasel have the link to join by Zoom or a few (not more than 10) can meet and social distance as we do the Zoom meeting in the Fireside Room. Men are always welcome as well.