Ohio2006 Blog

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Wednesday, May 17

Religious Leaders Launch "We Believe - Cleveland"

Late this morning an SRO crowd of clergy and laity packed the Brooks Theater at The Cleveland Play House to witness the launching of "We Believe - Cleveland," an extension of Columbus-based We Believe Ohio, described as a faith-based movement for compassion, inclusion and social justice. Dozens of Cleveland-area religious leaders, including pastors, priests, rabbis, cantors, imams and active lay leaders, surrounded the principal speakers during the program. Although the movement is said to have its origins in discussions among faith leaders that have been going on for many years, it has moved into the public spotlight in reaction to the activities of the Ohio Restoration Project, founded by Columbus-area right-wing evangelical ministers Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson, whose stated intention is to recruit hundreds of "Patriot Pastors" to encourage hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians to vote according to conservative positions on certain social issues, particularly abortion and gay marriage.

The event was led by Rabbi Richard Block of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, who said that the gathered clergy represented "diverse faiths, traditions, and backgrounds," but "share an understanding of God as One who loves, unites, and embraces, not as one who rejects, divides, and excludes." He cited religious diversity as a source of strength and vitality, and declared that freedom of religion must be protected. "The separation of church and state is not hostile to religion, but guarantees that religion will flourish in all its rich variety." It is not a coincidence, he continued, that America is the leading defender of separation of church and state, and is the most religious country in the world. He also said that the group is not aware of any major religious tradition that is not concerned about the plight of the underprivileged, or that tolerates indifference to their suffering.

Rev. Tim Ahrens of the First Conregational Church (UCC) in Columbus described the movement as beginning with certain religious leaders asking themselves whether the Christian church that is being presented in the public square is the one that they revere, to which the answer was a resounding "No." The first decision they made was that the movement should involve not just the Christian church, but other faiths as well. "We need to enter the public square focused on the moral issues of poverty, jobs, education, and health care for all Ohioans."

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, who was once co-pastor with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, linked the launching of We Believe-Cleveland to the struggle for civil rights, noting that May 17 marks the 52nd anniversity of the unanimous declaration by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education that "segregation or apartheid has no place in the field of education," and to opposition to the Vietnam War by clergy in the 1960s. He said that the nation is drifting back into segregated, isolated, and inadequate public education, and needs to recommit itself to decent public education as the cornerstone of a free and democratic society. Every American deserves comprehensive health care, he continued, "not just some complicated, difficult to interpret, hard to understand set of regulations that is set to expire at midnight one evening in May." The fact that fifty million Americans are without health insurance, he said, is a kind of weapon of mass destruction. Patriotism is a "quest for a more perfect union," not "a demand that you agree with me, and if you disagree then you are unpatriotic." He called for a theology of love, of justice, of inclusion, of non-violence, of forgiveness, and of reconciliation, closing by invoking the words of Dr. King:
"Vanity asks, is it popular? Cowardice asks, is it safe? Politics asks, is it expedient? But there comes a time when we must be prepared to say and do that which is not popular, which is not necessarily safe, which is not considered expedient, but which is right."
Rev. Tracey Lind of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle of the Antioch Baptist Church, both of Cleveland, then led the gathering in a responsive reading of the movement's mission statement, which expresses support for justice for all, for diverse religious expression, for the common good, and for the voice of religious traditions informing public policy, but opposes prosperity for only a few, self-righteous certainty, "discrimination against any of God's people," and crossing the lines that separate the institutions of religion and government.

Rev. Dr. Joan Campbell of the Chautauqua Institution and Rev. Dr. Ken Chalker of the First United Methodist Church followed by announcing the movement's "action steps," which include educating congregations on the moral and social issues of education, child welfare, poverty, health care, inclusion, regional equity and housing, "engaging members of our congregations in the democratic process, including voting," working with other communities to build a statewide movement, and promoting civility and respect, especially during the electoral season. Under the heading of educating congregations, the movement pledges to support the upcoming NOAH Regional Equity Summit on May 26 and InterAct Cleveland's Forum on Pluralism and Civility in June, and promises to "host an educational event on the TEL/TABOR amendment" in the fall. At this point in the proceedings Rev. Chalker departed from the carefully circumspect rhetoric of other participants and said that he was there to "kick butt and name names," referring specifically (for the only time in the event) to the Ohio Restoration Project and Patriot Pastors. He stressed the importance of letting people know that "their vote is so important for issues about which we all care - our kids, education, health care, equity in housing, and accepting diversity," and of standing "against voices saying that if you believe in God, there is only one way to vote - that is wrong!"

During the Q and A, representatives of the group denied any intention to endorse specific candidates, saying that they will "address policies" and that "policies will determine the leaders"; resisted the idea that the movement sprang up solely in reaction to the Ohio Restoration Project; denied that the movement would contribute to the nastiness of election campaigns; disputed the claim of right-wing religious leaders that their opposition to abortion and gay marriage is no different from past clergy's opposition to slavery or support for civil rights; and acknowledged as a boundary to their activities that they would not explicitly, or by obvious implication, endorse any particular candidate for office. In connection with the last answer, Rabbi Block made the point that "God is not affiliated with a political party," and that "religion should not be the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state, and the state should not be the tool of any sectarian group."


At 10:38 AM, Blogger Jill said...

Anyone who is a parent who worries about child placement issues at school knows that you never name names when you want to get your child into a particular class. You describe the child's needs and the type of teacher and environment within which that child best functions and learns.

That is what this gathering is saying: we're not going to tell you who to vote for. We're going to discuss and educate and learn about policy and policy implications. Then you decide for yourself who you think best embodies what you want to see happen.

I, for one, like that approach.

At 3:56 AM, Blogger Dave Hickman said...

“Uniting Diverse Religious Voices to Achieve Social Justice” http://www.webelieveohio.org/

I attended the debut for “We Believe” Ohio in the Columbus neighborhood of Old Town East last March. I found this group inspiring even though I’m not religious.

Since then, I attended a potluck, at Rev. Eric William’s Northwest Columbus church, for a screening of PBS “NOW” show featuring Ohio Patriot Pastors Russell Johnson and Rod Parsely as well as Rev. Williams who spoke on behalf of progressive pastors who filed an IRS complaint against Johnson and Parsley’s religious political organizations.

Because this show aired prior to Ohio’s primary, Ken Blackwell and Jim Petro, the Republican primary candidates for Governor, were also featured to show the division within Ohio’s Republican Party between moderates and conservatives. (via Brad Blog)

I spoke with Eric Williams at a Downtown Columbus reception after a debate between Russell Johnson and Jim Wallis that had seated nearly 400 people at Capital Theatre. (Incidentally, a promotional folder that I picked-up here, regarding Johnson’s Ohio Restoration Project was sent to PBS “NOW” producers prior to taping the above show)

Also, I sat across from Rev. Tim Ahrens during The Free Press Annual Awards banquet in Columbus. Rev. Ahrens received an award for “We Believe Ohio” and other causes

I believe “We Believe” is more about Social Justice than being partisan. But, from my observations, “We Believe” has many “progressive” issue supporters

“We Believe” mission below

“Since November 2005, a group of over 100 pastors, priests, rabbis, cantors, and actively committed lay leaders from Roman Catholicism, two traditions of Judaism, and over fifteen Protestant denominations have met to discuss what we as people of faith can say as one voice speaking on behalf of the poor and on behalf of those who have a wide-ranging viewpoint on the intersection of faith and public policy

We are racially diverse. We are men and women. We come from a range of theological diversity as well. We are conservative, moderate, and liberal on the spectrum of faith and public policy! We serve urban, suburban, and rural people in our houses of worship. We hold in common a deep and abiding love of the God whom we serve

We also share in common our strong belief that we must act and speak in public ways to support the poor, the children, and those who are voiceless and un represented in our times. We will speak with love to power as we serve God in these times”

Next meeting for “We Believe Ohio” will address
“voter turnout for the November 2006 elections”
among other important Social Justice topics.

Thursday, May 25th at 9:00am

First Congregational Church
444 East Broad Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215

Rev. Tim Ahrens

(more on May 25th meeting below)

At 4:02 AM, Blogger Dave Hickman said...

News and responses to expansive momentum of “We Believe Ohio”
Report: Cleveland’s daily newspaper,
The Plain Dealer

“More ministers enter politics”
(with links to audio excerpts of the event)

“More than 100 religious leaders from Northeast Ohio threw themselves into statewide politics Wednesday with the launch of a campaign to counter the influence of religious conservatives.

At an event punctuated by praying, singing, and cheering from hundreds of people, the assembled ministers, rabbis and other clergy kicked off We Believe Cleveland, a coordinated effort to promote discussions among their congregations on issues such as housing, health care and education, rather than gay-marriage and abortion.”
Follow-up: Cleveland’s daily newspaper,
The Plain Dealer

“Right reacts to left”

“Evangelical church leader Russell Johnson of the Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster responded late Wednseday to the launch of We Believe Cleveland, a campaign to counter the influence of Johnson and other religious conservatives who want to keep cultural issues at the center of political debate.

‘We Believe represents a small group of liberal congregations who are activating special rights for deviant behavior instead of Biblical truth,’ Johnson said in a statement. ‘This same vein of toxic theology has decided to stand with Planned Parenthood rather than protecting the dignity of the unborn.’”
From “We Believe Ohio” website:
“We are not a freight train steaming our way through Central Ohio rather we are… more like a passenger train deliberatively organizing in order to pick up others along the way that value a diverse religious voice. We seek to be a voice that does not demonize and divide rather one that represents religion at its best as a binding
Washington Post - Front Page - Saturday, May 20, 2006

“Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility - A Different List Of Moral Issues”

By Caryle Murphy and Alan Cooperman - Washington Post Staff Writers

“The religious left is back.

Long overshadowed by the Christian right, religious liberals across a wide swath of denominations are engaged today in their most intensive bout of political organizing and alliance-building since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, according to scholars, politicians and clergy members.

In large part, the revival of the religious left is a reaction against conservatives’ success in the 2004 elections in equating moral values with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Religious liberals say their faith compels them to emphasize such issues as poverty, affordable health care and global warming. Disillusionment with the war in Iraq and opposition to Bush administration policies on secret prisons and torture have also fueled the movement.

‘The wind is changing. Folks — not just leaders — are fed up with what is being portrayed as Christian values,’ said the Rev. Tim Ahrens, senior minister of First Congregational Church of Columbus, Ohio, and a founder of We Believe Ohio, a statewide clergy group established to ensure that the religious right is ‘not the only one holding a megaphone’ in the public square.”

(story continues)

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