Board focuses on U.S., global justice issues|
Board member Willard Robinson votes on a proposal at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society meeting in Washington. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
May 1, 2007 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)
A criminal justice system that focuses on healing instead of incarceration, a plea to stop the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and a commitment to justice ministries were among the concerns addressed at the spring meeting of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
The board, the church's international public policy and social advocacy agency, is calling for Congress to repeal the mandatory sentencing provisions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which it said "treats addiction as a crime instead of a public health concern."
The 1986 act established harsh penalties for low-level offenses involving crack cocaine. Defendants are subject to a minimum five-year sentence for possession of five grams of crack cocaine while the same five-year sentence is given for the sale of five hundred grams of powder cocaine.
The statement on the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine came during the board's April 26-29 meeting.
Fred Brewington poses a question to
the board's leadership.
"This sentencing unfairness and the mass use of incarceration of mostly poor and minority people cannot be maintained by faithfulness to scripture," the statement said. "Locking up minor drug offenders for long prison terms is not only ineffective, it is inhumane."
The statement calls for Congress to pass legislation that equalizes cocaine sentencing to 500 grams for both crack and powder cocaine and offers treatment to those with addictions.
The statement refers to an American Civil Liberties Union report that African Americans make up only 15 percent of the drug users but 37 percent of those arrested for drug violations, 59 percent of those convicted and 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense. The report also states that although two-thirds of crack cocaine users are whites and Hispanic/Latinos, 80 percent of the crack cocaine defendants are African American.
"We urge all people of faith to cry out until the U.S. criminal justice system reflects the true intentions of biblical justice: to bring healing to the world," the board said.
Human rights in Philippines
The board also released a report and statement on human rights violations in the Philippines and the need for urgent solidarity and action.
"The Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church remains alarmed by the unabated egregious violations of human rights in the Philippines. Such violations continue to take the form of extrajudicial killings and summary executions, abductions and torture, arbitrary political detentions and disappearances."
Recently, Chief Justice Reynato Puno of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, the first Filipino United Methodist to hold this position, said in a commencement speech: "The rich and the powerful should not consider the protection of the rights of the poor and the powerless as peripheral problems just because for the moment their own rights are unthreatened."
More than 800 extrajudicial killings have been reported in the Philippines since 2001, during the tenure of President Gloria M. Arroyo. In March, a human rights delegation from the Philippines testified at a U.S. Senate hearing and asked the United States to review military aid and development assistance being sent to the country to make sure the assistance was not being used to violate human rights and further extrajudicial killings.
"We must question the growing gap between the rich and poor and advocate for fair trade and government priorities that care for the last, the least and the lost," Jim Winkler says.
Bishop Beverly Shamana, president of the board, led a fact-finding mission from the church's San Francisco Area to the Philippines in February.
"The apathy of those who can make a difference is the reason why violations of human rights continue to prosper," Puno said. "The worst enemy of human rights is not its nonbelievers but the fence sitters who will not lift a finger despite their violations."
The Board of Church and Society endorsed and called for action on a report released by the ecumenical and nongovernmental community in the Philippines led by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. The board led in producing and distributing "Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action."
'Living Faith, Seeking Justice'
The board will sponsor a conference, "Living Faith, Seeking Justice," Nov. 1-4 in Fort Worth, Texas.
"We want to hold a different type of event rather than a legislative briefing in order to lift up justice ministries in local churches and annual conferences, with the expectation this can provide support and encouragement to others," said Jim Winkler, top executive of the board, in his opening address.
"This kind of help is needed. I've known churches where the switch from Styrofoam cups to paper cups at coffee hour was denounced as pandering to 'tree-huggers' and the removal of a pew in the sanctuary to accommodate wheelchairs resulted in protests.
"However, we can point to wonderful examples of our churches moving from mercy to justice." Information about the conference can be found at www.umc-gbcs.org/livingfaith.
The board also adopted "A Commitment to Unity in Mission and Ministry," a common proposal by the general agencies of the church emphasizing four areas of witness and mission: leadership development; congregational development and new church starts; ministry with the poor, with particular attention to caring for and protecting children; and global health, especially confronting the diseases of poverty and advocating health care access for all.
Said Winkler: "We must question the growing gap between the rich and poor and advocate for fair trade and government priorities that care for the last, the least and the lost."
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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