Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Quakers need the Christian Community Development Association, and vice versa

Michelle Alexander, author of "TheNew Jim Crow,"
with two former inmates at CCDA
Jill and I just returned from the annual gathering of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in New Orleans. This is my third CCDA gathering, and I look forward to attending on regular basis, just as I look forward to our national Quaker gathering, Friends General Conference. As a Quaker peace activist, I am inspired as well as challenged by CCDA.

Each year between three and four thousand  Christians gather to worship, take workshops and hear speakers address a broad range of social issues ranging from immigration reform, housing justice, violence prevention, prison reform, etc. The mission of CCDA is

"to inspire, train, and connect Christians who seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities....Following the example of Jesus, we commit to the work of reconciliation, seeking the shalom of our communities and world. This calling is radical but in line with the Biblical prophetic tradition. To help create a Kingdom reality that is already accessible but also 'not yet, we cultivate our prophetic imaginations and draw on spiritual sustenance for the journey."

Noel Castellanos, CEO of CCDA, explained its mission through a circle that has four quadrants (like the cross):
  • compassion for the poor
  • proclamation of the Gospel and spiritual formation
  • restoration through community development (bringing God's kingdom to earth),
  • confrontation, dealing with issues of justice.

Most of the participants come from an Evangelical background, but you can find Christians from many denominations, including Mennonites and members of the Bruderhoff community. Conspicuously absent are the Quakers. I can understand how liberal, unprogrammed Friends might be uncomfortable with the enthusiastically Christocentric approach of CCDA, but where are the Evangelical and pastoral Friends?

As someone committed to building bridges between Evangelical and liberal Friends, I feel we could learn from each other and find common ground for a number of reasons:

1) CCDA is one of the most diverse gatherings of Christians I have ever encountered. There are blacks, Latinos, Asians, young and old, middle class and the poor, formerly incarcerated, etc. They are not only present but are given a voice and positions of leadership. We could learn a lot from CCDA about creating diversity in our own Quaker circles.

2) CCDA is deeply committed to social transformation and justice, particularly at the local level. Members of CCDA practice the 3 r's: relocation (moving into or remaining in an under-resourced community),  reconciliation (between races and classes, and also reconciliation with God through Christ), and redistribution (moving the wealth around so that all members of the community can be self-sufficient--not only teaching someone how to fish but making sure they have access to and ownership of the fish pond). One of the basic principles of CCDA is "asset-based community development," which means looking not only at the problems but also the assets (leaders and other resources) already present in the community." This focus on community empowerment is similar to the Quaker idea of "answering that of God in everyone."

3) CCDA is a deeply spiritual and transformative movement. This is evident not only in the enthusiastic praise music, the passionate sermons, but also in calls for silent prayer. "Coach" Wayne Gordon, one of the founders of CCDA along with Dr. John Perkins, urged us to practice Sabbath by turning off our cell phones and computers one day a week and devoting ourselves to bible study, prayer and hanging out with family and friends. He also encouraged us to practice the "3 s's and 2 p's": solitude, silence and scripture and prayer and praise. His words were music to my ears as a Quaker!

I also was pleased to learn that the CCDA's prayer room included a spiritual director since I have just begun a spiritual direction program. I was drawn to this room and had a wonderful time of silent worship with Delia Realmo, the spiritual director.

Jill and me with Pastor Camellia Joseph in the French Quarter
This year's CCDA session touched me deeply as a Quaker because of its fervent commitment to reforming our criminal justice system. The two most famous speakers were Father Greg Boyle (the LA priest noted for his amazing work with gangs) and Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow," a scathing indictment of racism and mass incarceration. Equally powerful were speakers who had served time in prison and are now doing work around Restorative Justice and helping former inmates.

There were workshops with groups like PICO, who have been working to organize former prison inmates to help them gain their rights.

Here are the titles of some workshops to give you a flavor of what this conference is about:

Jill presenting a workshop on affordable housing
  • "From Gangs to God"
  • "Black Brown Partnerships: Challenges and Future Opportunities"
  • "Developing Housing Solutions in a Challenging Context"
  • "Standing in the Justice Gap: Can Public Defender Partnerships Help Reduce Recidivism?"
  • "Current State of US Immigration Laws and Opportunities for Service"
  • "The Basis of Cross Cultural Ministry"
  • "Cultivate Affordable Housing that Transforms Your Community"
  • "The Church's Response to Mass Incarceration"
  • "Understanding and Serving Homeless Youth and Young Adults"

Many of CCDA's concerns dovetail with what Quakers are doing; and we could learn a lot from them, and vice versa. I shared with CCDA members Laura Magnani's important work "Beyond Prison: A New Interfaith Paradigm for a Failed Prison System." No one had heard of this work, or of the work of AFSC and FCNL, but were excited to hear what Quakers are doing around prison reform.

History shows us that the most of the great social movements in America have involved collaboration between the Quakers, Evangelicals and other Christian denominations. We need each other if we are going to help bring God's kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven."


1 comment:

  1. I hope more evangelical Quakers become involved with CCDA. It's not exactly been zero, so far, especially if you include Voice of Calvary in Mississippi--several Northwest Yearly Meeting Friends have served there at one time or another, including me. I wrote about that here and here. Other Friends from Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends have been involved with Evangelicals for Social Action, Washington DC's Church of the Saviour, the Mennonite Central Committee, and various Sojourners projects, all of which overlap with CCDA's concerns.

    But I agree with your main point--there should be many more such connections, and we could learn a lot from each other.