N E W S L E T T E R
MAY 2017
Churches and society are confronted by many issues such as poverty, the environment, immigration, education, health, and criminal justice. By working together, individuals, churches, and communities can share information, organize efforts, and share resources. The OCC Social Justice Ministry Network gives us a vitally important tool enabling us to do this.


How does it work? Each representative is kept informed by OCC of important issues, including the work of the OCC  
IMPACT 
Committee as it tracks Oklahoma legislation. Where appropriate, we will produce relevant statements and recommend responsible action. Network representatives will then determine how best to disseminate this information to members of their own congregation and other interested persons. To join the Social Justice Ministry Network, send an e-mail to SJMN@okchurches.org.
 
Click on the embedded links in the paragraphs below for more in-depth information on each topic.
As the Oklahoma legislative session draws to a close, there remain questions and concerns about the budget shortfall and the funding of essential services. It is important that caring Oklahomans speak up by calling, e-mailing, or writing their legislators and Governor Fallin to express their opinions regarding issues of concern, particularly budget issues.

As we close out one session, we immediately prepare for the next. What can we glean from this session that will help us be ready for next year?

LOBBYING VS. ADVOCACY

In a representative democracy, all people and organizations can lobby or advocate for their positions on any legislation. Lobbying is designed to influence policy decisions and especially proposals for legislation. For federal tax purposes, to retain tax-exempt status, nonprofit agencies cannot lobby. Such organizations are allowed to  conduct
educational meetings, prepare and distribute
educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.
 
Advocacy involves pleading for a cause through sharing pertinent information and defending concerns by argument before civic leaders responsible for laws, policy, or regulations. The Oklahoma Conference of Churches' Social Justice Ministry Network advocates for public policy related to theological statements regarding Criminal Justice, Education, Environment, Health, Immigration, and Poverty. Our goal is to provide information to public officials and our members, enabling them to make informed decisions regarding these issues and for members to express their concerns as individual citizens to their elected officials.

POVERTY

This year the SJMN strongly expressed concern regarding HB1913, which was designed to authorize an annual interest rate (APR) of 204% for new small loans of up to $1500. We were not alone in our advocacy. Most groups, concerned about the poor, provided information about the harmful effects of such legislation. It is hard to imagine any group of private citizens supporting a bill authorizing a major increase in interest rates for any loans and especially those primarily impacting the poor. Those who financially benefit the most from the passage of that bill lobbied hard, and it passed both the Senate and the House. Such action increases the importance of citizen participation. Want to know how your legislators voted? Look it up at HB1913 .  If you agreed with the way they voted, you might like to send them a thank you note. When the bill passed, OCC wrote to Governor Fallin, imploring her to veto the bill--which she did! We also wrote to thank her for doing so. 

EDUCATION AND RACE

A bill passed the legislature and signed into law by Governor Fallen revises the grading system previously in place for evaluation of schools. HB1693  requires each school's grade be determined on a multi-measures approach based on certain indicators. The legislation includes a requirement that the state complies with the federal requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)  A controversial multi-measure not mentioned directly by the bill but hanging like a shadow all around it is race. The time is now for people of faith to deal with the disparities in basic common educational attainment for all children caused by centuries of racial and ethnic injustice in our society. During this interim period, we might become more familiar with the issue by becoming better informed ourselves. The seminal book regarding education and race is most likely  Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk About Race and How to Do It,  2nd Edition, by Shelly Tochluk. A theological search for answers about race in our society, in general, might start with a reading of Will Willimon's recently released book,  Who Lynched Willie Earle?

HEALTH AND RURAL OKLAHOMA

Health care in rural Oklahoma is in peril. Last year three rural hospitals closed and nine filed for bankruptcy.  Getting to the hospital in a reasonable time to have a baby, get a broken leg attended, or remove an inflamed appendix is becoming more and more untenable. More specialized care means driving even further, often to Oklahoma City or Tulsa. All hospitals are required to treat life-threatening situations brought to their doors.
Too much of that care goes uncompensated. Having a shortage of medical professionals further complicates the problems. If you live in a rural area, do you know the status of health care in your community? Are there existing groups trying to find solutions? Can you become a part of one of these groups? Should you start one? You might want to acquaint yourself with the work of the Oklahoma State Unversity Center on Rural Health 
where you might find some ideas for advocacy.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

With state questions passed in 2016 and some headway with bills in the current legislature, progress in restorative justice began. ( Watch the IMPACT webpage for information on bills passed.)  What is available in your community to help those impacted by drug addiction remain in their communities while receiving treatment? Oklahoma has the highest level of incarceration of women in the United States. Who is taking care of their children? How is your community wrapping its arms around them and all at-risk children to break the pipeline to prison? Does your local court have a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)  program for children entering the court system. Should it? Are you being called to volunteer at CASA? There is nothing like direct engagement with the least of these to help us clearly define public policies designed to promote their Common Good.

IMMIGRATION

Immigration primarily remains a federal issue, but it is sure to garner much attention this year. What is your faith group's stance on immigration? How does it influence your work toward our government's actions in attaining the Common Good? While we search for fair and just immigration reform, how can we love our neighbors who came to our country because of its promise of freedom and justice, just like most of our ancestors? These are important questions to ponder. 

On May 11, 2017 OCC's newly formed Immigration and Refugee Committee conducted an "Evening of Listening" on issues affecting immigrants and refugees. For ten practical steps we can take to address these issues, that were developed that evening, click here.

ENVIRONMENT


Here comes the sun! On March 30, 2017, the ribbon was cut in celebration of the opening of the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative's Solar Garden, located on Interstate 35 in Norman.This is the first solar garden to operate in the immediate Oklahoma City metro area and is generating a lot of excitement. Patrick Grace, OEC Chief Executive Officer, said that "We are thrilled to add power generated from the Solar Garden into our already-robust mix of renewables," (Oklahoma Electric Co-op News, May 2017). Because of these efforts, members can reap the benefits of this renewable energy without the high cost and maintenance of owning their own equipment.To read the article from the Oklahoma Electric Co-op News, May 2017 edition, click here. Interested in touring the facility? The organization is thrilled to offer tours!  

Does your faith group have a program related to care of the earth and its people dependent on it? Are you and your congregation actively engaged in understanding the issues related to the environment? This legislative session the tax credit was taken away from the wind energy industry to free up money for the budget. Law was changed to allow municipalities to waive the requirement that a concentrated swine feeding operation must be setback at least three miles from a municipality. Have you taken the time to study the materials provided through your faith group or other similar sources regarding the environment? Is your voice being heard regarding this important topic?

For those embarking on Vacation Bible School or other summer-time
educational programs for children, we recommend
emphasizing an  environmental theme. Pat Hoerth, Spiritual Director of Turtle Rock Farm  Retreat Center and a member of the OCC Committee on the Environment, has written just such a curriculum for children. In God's Extravagant Garden: A Children's Study on Climate Justice, author Hoerth provides a learning experience for children ages 5-12 in four sessions.  Children are encouraged to learn more about God's creation through experiencing it first-hand during each of the sessions. Every encounter leads them into a deeper understanding and appreciation of the delicate balance of our environment and how our actions impact others. Children can develop their own action plans for caring for God's extravagant garden where they live. to view and purchase  the children's curriculum on climate justice ( God's Extravagant Garden) : click here
Credits for Pictures:  Lobbying  - Can Stock Photo -  zaganDesign,  Rural Health - Can Stock Photo-g ina_sanders, Norman Solar Garden - Oklahoma Electric Cooperative
OKLAHOMA CONFERENCE OF CHURCHES
301 N.W. 36th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73118
www.okchurches.org    (405) 525-2928
  The Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director