N E W S L E T T E R
JUNE 2016
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.
MEDITATION

The 2016 legislative session and the frantic pace of tracking legislation has ended. The OCC Social Justice Ministry Network now enters a time of reflecting and studying, making plans, and doing justice in preparation for the next session. Those of us who follow a lectionary celebrated Pentecost on May 15, which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit and then we immediately move into what is described as ordinary time by some. I like to call it "Living in the Spirit." It is the time when we go about the everyday business of building a world ruled by love and characterized by justice and peace. It is time to renew our commitment to our calling, be renewed and nurtured in God's love, and prepare ourselves for the work ahead. To that end, the SJMN invites all from now through Advent to individually and collectively:

·  Pray for guidance to address our six identified areas of concern
· Become more knowledgeable about these areas
· Engage in some way with real people facing real problems in each of these areas--hear their stories      ( If  you are one of those caught in the problems of these areas, share your story)
· Fully participate in voting as a well-informed citizen

A common theme of Jesus's teaching runs through all six of the areas of concentration on which the OCC Social Justice Ministry Network focuses: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40 NRSV). The following paragraphs contain excerpts from our six theological statements regarding Criminal Justice, Education, Environment, Health, Immigration, and Poverty. You can read the full statements at http://okchurches.org/what-we-do/impact-committee/. Also included are summary statements of just a few of the impacts of legislation, or lack of legislation, to give you a feel for what we are facing. Over the next several months, we will be sharing other resources to help you along the way. Start today with prayer.

Marilynn Knott, Volunteer Coordinator
Social Justice Ministry Network

EDUCATION

We affirm the vital importance of education for all people, particularly for our school-aged children. Education...promotes respect for the world we share and peace with the brothers and sisters of the great human family. Education offers the skills and knowledge needed for meaningful work, which allows people to support themselves and contribute to the larger society. A reverence for education is woven through the whole biblical story of the People of God. The word Torah means, at its root, "instruction." The passing of wisdom from elders to the young is a constant theme of the Scriptures. The followers of Jesus were called disciples--those who learn from a master teacher.

Some relief from testing requirements was achieved but, again, funding (or lack of funding) is crippling our educational systems throughout the state. Of grave concern is the Legislature's move to cut Higher Education by 18% as a counter measure to the state question that would raise the state sales tax to provide for increased funding in education.

ENVIRONMENT 

"The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it," declares Psalm 24. To God, all creation, "everything God had made," is "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27), humanity is given a special charge by God: to "till and keep" the garden of God's creation (Genesis 2:15). We are not owners but stewards of God's good earth, "tenants" of what belongs to God (Leviticus 25:23). Jesus exhorts us to be students of the created order, to consider "the birds of the air" and the "lilies of the field" and "from the fig tree learn its lesson" (Matthew 6:25-30; 24:32).
 
SQ777 on the November ballot is called the "Right to Farm" by its proponents but the "Right to Harm" by its opponents. If passed, SQ777 would prevent legislators in the future from introducing any bills regulating farming unless they can prove a "compelling state interest."     
HEALTH

Jesus dedicated much of his ministry to making people well, from outcast lepers (Matthew 8, Luke 17) to the servant of a Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10). He was concerned about restoring wholeness to those with physical disabilities, as he did for the blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus dealt with mental illness, still misunderstood today, with love and compassion by healing the man named Legion (Luke 8:30) and Mary of Magdala (Luke 8:2). In his description of judgment (Matt. 25:36), the author of Matthew's Gospel makes clear that taking care of the sick is a service not only to those in need, but to Christ himself.

Sadly, we are primed to face a statewide health care crisis:  rural hospitals closing, many people unable to afford health care if it were available, mental health care woefully lacking throughout the state, and local state health departments cutting services. Although many faith-based organizations are stepping up to help fill the voids, they cannot do it all.  
IMMIGRATION

Care of the stranger and the ministry of hospitality are central to the activity of the people of God. In Leviticus, it is written: "The stranger who resides among you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the lord your God." Each day in our congregations and service ministries, we witness the consequences of the current system. We see and hear the suffering of immigrant families who have been separated by deportation, who have experienced exploitation in the workplace because they have been unable or fearful of seeking protection.

Two bills negatively affecting refugees and immigrants were defeated in Oklahoma this session, but immigration and refugee settlement remain critical issues which will surely also be in the forefront of the campaign for the federal election.
POVERTY

The gospel stories depict Jesus repeatedly at the side of the outcast--the poor, lepers, women, tax collectors, prostitutes, and foreigners--all those c alled "sinners." The one miracle repeated through all four gospels is one of generosity and sharing--the feeding of the multitude--in which Jesus' response to the crowd's need is to tell his disciples, "You give them something to eat" (Luke 9:13). And while Jesus calls for all to repent, he stands with those on the fringes and those who are oppressed, particularly the ones oppressed economically. He reminds his followers that how they treat these people is the mark of their faith.

This legislative session has treated the poor unfairly in balancing the budget by taking away important tax credits from them.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

We believe that restorative justice is a far more faithful reflection of God's will than our current system of retributive justice. We believe that every offender, and every victim, should be involved in the legal process and dignity accorded both. We believe that punishment is not the biblical currency of justice; rather accountability, restitution, compensation and public safety are biblical outcomes. The "eye-for-an-eye language" in the Bible is a law of equivalency. It means nothing should be done to the offender that is more severe than the offender did. The outcome calls for restitution in simple theft or damage cases and compensation in cases of personal injury. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus went even further by interpreting this provision as meaning we "turn the other cheek," commanding us to love our enemies and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

While we were able to get some positive changes in sentencing for non-violent crimes this year, the failure to provide adequate funding for basic services within our prison systems is still a major concern. OCC has partnered with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, which managed to get State  Questions 780 and 781 on the ballot. These state questions, if passed, will reclassify certain minor offenses as misdemeanors and invest in community rehabilitation and reintegration programs for people leaving prison. Voting "yes" on SQ780 and 781 are votes for positive criminal justice reform. 

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