Wednesday, November 16, 2016

ICUJP and FCNL: Working Together For a World Free of War

[This is a reflection I gave at ICUJP in November, 2016, after returning from FCNL's Annual Lobby Day.]

It’s good to be back here with you, my friends, after being in DC. During the past week over 350 Friends and friends of Friends lobbied our elected officials and made over 170 lobby visits.
I could talk for hours about this visit but let me simply say that our stalwart band lamented the tragic election results and worshiped together. We heard inspiring speakers like Jim Wallis, who spoke about America’s original sin of racism. We heard reports and stories from enthusiastic young activists.  And we began planning our strategies for dealing with a Trump presidency.
It’s hard to believe that almost 50% of voters fell for this con man and have entrusted their future to someone with no governmental experience: it’s like trusting someone to do brain surgery who’s never been to med school. But that’s what we have to deal with. I was inspired by the gracious concession speech of Hillary Clinton, who quoted Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Do not weary of doing good, for in due season, you will reap, if you don’t lose heart.”
It was heart-breaking for many women, and men who respect women, to see someone like Trump defeat a woman of Hillary’s caliber. I was very moved hear Kate McKinnon of Saturday Night Live do an impersonation of Hillary Clinton singing Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelejua.” The final words of this song seemed painfully appropriate and brought me to tears:

I did my best, it wasn't much 
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch 
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you 
And even though 
It all went wrong 
I'll stand before the Lord of Song 
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah 

As Kate McKinnon finished singing these powerful lyrics, she looked up to us and said with great conviction, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.” See Hallelujah
I know that we are not giving up at ICUJP. We began in a dark time, right after 9/11, when the world seemed poised on the brink of endless war. We had an incompetent President who, like Trump, lost the popular vote but was filled with a sense of self-importance and entitlement. We endured years of futile war, bad policy, and finally, the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Realistically, we can expect similar outcomes from a Trump Presidency. I’m not here to fool you.
But I am not in despair. I believe, as the Apostle Paul did, the “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” These were not Pollyannish words. They were written by a man who served time in jail for his religious beliefs, endured torture, and was eventually executed. But he had grounds for hope. He knew that the movement that Jesus started could not be stopped. I feel the same way about the movement that we are part of, the interfaith peace movement. We are called by God to be agents of peace and justice and to transform and heal this broken world.

This is the also goal of FCNC, which is summed up in this mission statement:

We seek a world free of war and the threat of war
We seek a society with equity and justice for all
We seek a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled
We seek an earth restored

They are not unlike ICUJP’s core principles:

·  the power of love to overcome hatred;
· the power of mercy to conquer vengeance;
· the celebration of our common humanity and the sacredness of human life;
· and our calling to build a just, equitable, and peaceful world. 

ICUJP has been meeting faithfully every Friday morning and organizing events and campaigns since 2001. FCNL has been doing faith-based lobbying since 1942. Both groups are committed to the long haul, no matter how rough it gets. The past week was hard emotionally and spiritually, but I'm glad we came together during this dark time. I was especially happy and inspired to see so many young people who are passionately committed to this work and are getting excellent training from seasoned activists. FCNL employs nearly fifty lobbyists and interns, most of whom are under 30 years old. On Spring Lobby Day, 400 young adults come to DC to meet with elected officials; a third of them are people of color.
It is a great privilege to be your liaison to FNCL. FCNL and ICUJP have similar goals and much in common.
I am pleased that Carolfrances has encouraged us to support Black Lives Matter and our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. These are concerns that many people of faith take to heart. We need to be in solidarity with those who are taking action. We also need to take action ourselves.
That’s why I'd like for us to consider supporting the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) which takes an important step toward restoring judging authority to judges, reducing mandatory minimum sentences, and lowering the population of federal prisons. This is FCNL's focus right now. Since this bill has bipartisan support, we feel we have a chance to move the needle towards justice and compassion. For more info see Sentencing reform
Senator Grassley of Iowa and eleven bipartisan cosponsors introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, S. 2123, on October 1. This bill is the product of negotiations among Senate Judiciary Committee members and with other keenly interested senators.
I hope some of us can plan and take part in lobby visits over the next few weeks. Even though this is lame duck session and the clock is running down, our elected officials could pass this bill if there is enough pressure from constituents like us. They certainly would appreciated hearing from us at this difficult time. When we visited our California representatives in DC, they were happy to see that we had their backs. They told us we are needed now more than ever.
So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. I’d like to end with this prayer of Dr. Martin Luther that was shared during our time together in DC:

Eternal God, we thank you for [this beloved community] that challenges us to do more than sing and pray, but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon you. Help us to realize that humanity was created to shine like the stars and live on through all eternity. Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace. Help us to walk together, pray together, sing together, and live together until that day when all God's children -- Black, White, Red, Brown and Yellow -- will rejoice in one common band of humanity….

  • Legislative Associate for Domestic Policy
José Woss is the Legislative Associate for Domestic Policy. He leads FCNL’s work on criminal justice reform/mass incarceration and campaign finance reform. He co-Chairs the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, an alliance of more than 50 national faith groups advocating for a more just and humane justice system.

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