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  • “Justice Is What Love Looks Like in Public,” Justice Mary Yu

    Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu’s Keynote Address at FAN’s Annual Dinner

    November 19, 2017

    We were honored and empowered by WA Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu’s keynote address at our Annual Dinner on Sunday. Now, we are overjoyed to be able to share with you excerpts from her speech:

    “Thank you for the invitation to join you tonight and to share a few remarks as you celebrate the power of community and the opportunity to create a narrative for justice.  It is heartwarming and truly a privilege.

    Let me begin by saying that as a person of faith, I find strength and courage in knowing that the Faith Action Network (FAN) exists; that there are people like you who understand that each one of us is called by our Creator/God to secure justice, to defend and to protect the vulnerable, and to stand up for the belief that the dignity of each human person is worth fighting for. Thank you for giving voice in the political arena to that mandate.

    While we are diverse in our religious traditions, we share the universal belief that love of God, means love for one another –

    And we know, love of another, means having the ability to see suffering and to feel compassion and genuine empathy/ such that we are moved to outrage when the dignity of another is diminished or trampled upon.  As your theme for tonight commands – Justice is what Love looks like in Public.

    As inhabitants of this great country, we also know that this core belief in the inherent dignity of the human person, has come to be embedded in our constitution and in our identity as a nation.  We have not been perfect in its application and our history is indeed checkered in our treatment of minority groups.  And yet, we have a history that has been progressive in our journey towards moving past these historical errors.  We have come to recognize our interdependence on one another and the value of inclusion and diversity.

    But, My dear friends, now more than ever, we need to make sure that we never falter from that conviction.  I have confidence, and hope you do as well, that our union as a nation, is more durable than the forces of divisiveness.  We have come this far as a nation, in our progress towards the realization of full human dignity for all because we have not allowed our challenges and failures to define us.

    As President Obama once said in a commencement speech before he left office, “Because throughout our history, what has distinguished us from all other nations is not just our wealth, it’s not just our power. It’s been our deep commitment to individual freedom and personal responsibility, but also our unshakeable commitment to one another — a recognition that we share a future; that we rise or fall together; that we are part of a common enterprise that is greater, somehow, than the sum of its parts…”

    He so wisely reminded us of our duty to foster the common good – to keep an eye out for nurturing and sustaining that commitment to one another. We are optimists because of our fundamental belief in the human person and our innovative capacity to overcome challenge.

    As I prepared for tonight, I thought about the host of issues or challenges that are ever more important to me and to our court.  Working in a building named the Temple of Justice and having the privilege of using the title “Justice” before your name places a burden that I assure you we do take so seriously.  The Temple of Justice makes us pause as we do our work given the gravity of what we do.  And I want to assure you we do care and we take the job ever so seriously…

    We do care about our constitution and its promise of education for every child in the State of Washington.  We do care about our role in the maintenance of a criminal justice system that is unfair in its treatment of black men; we do care about the economic burdens of legal financial obligations, and we certainly do care about reentry after prison and a person’s ability to have a second chance.

    And while I could list a host of other issues that are important to me like income inequality, homelessness, and mental health which also deserve our attention, I won’t.  Not because they aren’t important but because they all point to something broader —   a tear in our safety net that is greater than any one issue.  That tear is the erosion of our belief in the common good and our commitment to foster that ethic in the broader society.  A common good that measures our success by asking how the least among us is doing; the idea that I personally share responsibility for making sure that economic progress is measured by how every person is faring at the end of the day and not just by how well my investments are doing.

    Thus, my friends at Faith Action Network, I believe the mandate for us today is to be visible and public like no other time in history.  I believe each one of us is being summoned by historical events that cry out for our presence and voice at every level of life – in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in every gathering, and at every demonstration or march, and from every pulpit.  We must build a broader movement for social justice that is visible; one that builds the optics for the world to see that We refuse to be isolated.  We refuse to be divided; we must refuse the invitation to embrace hatred.

    People of good will – people of faith – – must show up with a voice in the here and now because those optics matter for each of us, our children and for the future.  Visibility matters.

    And when we are engaged, we must do so with clear conviction but with love and civility –civility means we respect the rules of peaceful engagement; that we will be thoughtful in how we speak — but indeed we must speak and we must affirm out loud that we shall not be divided – we shall not hate our neighbor; we shall overcome this trend towards hatred and nationalism.

    As I conclude – –  let me ask how many of you have either seen Hamilton or listen to the sound track?   I am convinced that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius – not only because of his musical talent but because of his call for social awakening in this country at this time in history.  There is a scene where Washington is talking about his failures and both he and Hamilton realize the significance of what they are doing — Washington is reflecting on his losses but knows where he stands is important because he knows history has its eyes on him  —  He reminds Hamilton and says – “I know that greatness lies in you, but remember from here on in – history has its eyes on you”  – History Has its eyes on us —

    Be visible – Justice Is What Love Looks Like in Public.”

    *The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of an individual and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Faith Action Network. FAN is an interfaith organization, committed to celebrating and embracing the diversity of faith traditions. If you have questions about FAN’s position on any public policy issues, please feel free to contact the FAN office at (206) 625-9790 or [email protected].
    To learn more about contributing to this blog, click here.
  • Of Football Fields and Pulpits: Doing Justice, Loving Hesed and Walking Humbly

    A sermon by Rabbi Ruth A. Zlotnick at Temple Beth Am, Seattle WA, on Yom Kippur, September 2017

    This week, our country has been embroiled in a national debate. Are the football players who take the knee during the national anthem exercising their constitutional rights to protest racial injustice, or are they unpatriotic professional athletes who should focus on their job and leave politics off the field?

    Maybe you caught the poignant Op Ed in The New York Times by Eric Reid, the San Francisco 49er, who explained why his faith led him to join his teammate Colin Kaepernick early on. Reid felt compelled to act after speaking with Kaepernick about systemic oppression against people of color. As he wrote, “We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

    There’s a culture clash at the center of our national conversations and we are all caught up in it. In our divided country, there’s very little space for impartiality. Do politics belong on the football field? Yes or no. You either believe it does or it doesn’t. There’s very little in between.

    Far be it from me to compare myself to a professional football player, but, in truth, rabbis
    attempt to “tackle” this same question, and people feel equally divided about the answer. This spring, Rabbi David Wolpe opened a debate in the Jewish press declaring that politics should stay off the pulpit. He believes that when rabbis raise political questions during sermons we do disservice to Judaism’s tradition of deliberation and compromise; it’s too easy, he suggests, for rabbis to use Torah to support personal opinion. “All we hear all day long is politics. Can we not come to shul for
    something different, something deeper? I want to know what my rabbi thinks of Jacob and Rachel, not Pence and Pelosi.”

    Many rabbinic colleagues disagreed, and suggested that Rabbi Wolpe paints too blunt a picture. They assert that it’s possible to preach about socials ills for which there are differing political solutions without undermining the pulpit or our sacred texts. After all, they argue, our central sacred myth, the Exodus, is inherently political. How else would you characterize an enslaved people who rise against a tyrant and demand freedom? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the leader of our Reform movement, put it this way: “I want to suggest that although one can certainly love Torah and follow different political paths, one cannot claim to be a lover of Torah and not care about how our society treats those in need, the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger and the oppressed.”

    The athlete on the football field, the rabbi on the pulpit—what is the cost of speaking up? What is the cost of silence? I believe history has proven that the cost of silence is too high.

    In 12th century Spain, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra taught, “The status of those who observe oppression and remain silent is equal to the status of those who commit the oppression themselves.”36 times—more than any other commandment—we read in Torah that we must care for the stranger, the widow and the orphan, because we were strangers in Egypt. To care for the vulnerable in society is the moral imperative of Judaism. If we speak up, we fulfill our eternal obligation as Jews. However,
    if we are silent we bequeath a legacy of shame to future generations.

    For example, as a Jewish community, we’re horrified by the Christian leaders who were silent in the face of Nazism in Europe. Kristalnacht, the night of shattered glass, occurred on a Wednesday evening; no moral outrage was heard from the pulpits of German churches the following Sunday. As historian Robert Ericksen has written, “Support of the Nazi regime was common among Christian [leaders], and the vast majority failed to raise any objection to Jewish persecution. Silence, in this case, speaks loudly.” We can imagine what our world might look like today, if only those faith leaders and their congregations had resisted the injustice of their world and protected the Jews of Europe.

    Our congregation is rightly proud of Rabbi Emeritus Norman Hirsh for his civil disobedience during the Civil Rights era. By doing so, Rabbi Hirsh put his physical safety and his professional success on the line, because not everyone favored his activism back then. Today we have the luxury of hindsight to know that Rabbi Hirsh was on the right side of history. Sadly, he was also in the minority—how would American history look different if more religious leaders took the same risk and spoke out on behalf of racial justice in the 1950’s and 60’s?

    From a Birmingham jail cell, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. urged religious leaders in Rabbi Hirsh’s generation to take a stand and he was met with resounding apathy. In Dr. King’s words:

    “I [thought] when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership that white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, a few have been outright opponents…all too many others have been more cautious than courageous, remaining silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows. [They] stand on the sidelines and mouth pious irrelevancies…[committing] themselves to an otherworldly religion which makes a strange distinction
    between the sacred and the secular.”

    I believe some moments are so dark they require the light of moral leadership. These examples from the recent past beg us to remember that it takes courage to speak up, to resist, to be a gadfly to the status quo. Judaism obligates us to awaken our conscience and work toward a fair society for all, especially in service to those who are most vulnerable. We do this in every generation, in every political context. In 12th century Spain. In 20th century Europe. And in 21st century America.

    These first decades of this century have been a time of heartbreak and volatility for most Americans, regardless of political leanings. We are a nation in pain. Currently, our polarization feels insurmountable. On one side of the political divide, there’s profound fear of systemic racial injustice which endangers the lives of people of color; of Islamophobia which threatens the well-being and individual rights of Muslim Americans; and of increased discrimination and hatred against members of the LGBTQ community. On the other side—there has been anguish over the economic insecurity of Americans squeezed out of a job market impacted by globalization; over the lethal opioid plague that has become a health and crime epidemic; and over the rise in world-wide terrorism creating a need for safe and protected borders. Where we stand on the divide determines how we view our current presidential administration, our media, our prospects for the future.

    And yet, for many of us, regardless of political affiliation, Charlottesville was a watershed moment; a boundary that was breached. To have Nazis marching in an American city seeking the death of Jews and people of color, culminating in the actual murder of a young woman, was, for many of us, beyond the pale. What made the experience especially hurtful was the inadequate response of the President in the days after the violence. For rabbis of all stripes, it was a decisive moment. The
    professional rabbinic organizations of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, plus some independent Orthodox rabbis, boycotted an annual call with the President. Rabbi Wolpe, the Conservative rabbi who questions bringing politics into the synagogue, condemned the President from the bima: “How could we live in a nation whose leader would wait; finally condemn; then equivocate, insisting that some who marched alongside Nazis are “very fine people”? In this dark moment,” Wolpe preaches, “we needed to hear a leader’s voice. And for that failure, the Trump administration should perhaps consider the Jewish mitzvah of teshuva, repentance.”

    Rabbi Wolpe’s change of heart is a reminder that all who are connected to Jewish life—clergy and congregants alike—must wrestle with the same issue: how do we bring Torah to bear witness on this chaotic national moment? Judaism offers a counter-cultural critique, a prophetic voice. And that is what politicians need. At our annual rabbinic conference, the Mayor of Atlanta, Kassim Reed, spoke to a ballroom full of Reform rabbis and challenged us: “Politicians, regardless of political party, need faith leaders for the moral framework. Justice is simple. Justice is clear. Love your neighbor as yourself. You faith leaders have the opportunity to give us moral boundaries and then to let us know when we’re out of bounds. We need you to remind us what is unacceptable. Justice requires clarity and this moment in history requires clarity.”

    For Reform rabbis, something extraordinary happened after the events in Charlottesville. We heeded Mayor Reed’s challenge and created a unified message that scores of us are sharing from our individual pulpits across the country. We’re calling it our One Voice 5778 Message. I will share some of that message with you now. Please know some of it has been edited to reflect our Seattle experience.

    “As rabbis we are, from sea to shining sea, speaking to our congregations in every accent of America to declare in unison: acts of hatred, intimidation and divisiveness will not be tolerated in these United States. Today we speak words of protest across the nation in fulfillment of our sacred obligation. We will not be silent. Something crumbled inside us when we watched Charlottesville’s streets become filled with hate-spewing marchers. [The wound reopened here in Seattle when our friends at Temple De Hirsch Sinai and the Muslim Association of Puget Sound were victims of vandalism, and when white supremacists marched in the streets of our downtown.] How many more incidents of vandalism, how many more clashes, which other cities? We cannot become inured and believe this is “normal.”

    Let our pain fuel our vows to respond – with peaceful protests, and with public calls for healing, and by speaking in unison with other minorities and faith communities. Jewish leaders must be dedicated to equality, engaged individuals must be advocates for enduring kindness between diverse peoples, and political leaders; progressives and conservatives alike, must rigorously uphold the values brilliantly articulated in the founding documents of our country.” Then we will fulfill the prophet’s
    call, tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue. I’ve been eager to share this statement from the Reform rabbinate because I believe it supports our learning theme, olam hesed yibaneh, the world is built with loving-kindness. In 5778, Temple Beth Am will be a source of hesed to each other and to the world around us.

    Within our congregation, we’ll work to ensure that all our members feel seen and heard and valued, no matter who you are. Our congregational family includes folks across ethnic, racial, gender, religious, sexual, economic and, painfully given this polarized environment, political lines. To help us walk the talk of honoring differences, we have invited April Baskin, the Reform
    Movement’s Vice President for Audacious Hospitality to be our Scholar-in-Residence this year. Baskin’s expertise is in guiding communities to enhance their inclusivity so that no one feels like an outsider in their own congregation. As a young Jewish woman of color, Baskin’s personal story is compelling and the wisdom she’ll share from her professional work is profound.

    Outside of our congregation we’ll bring acts of loving-kindness into the public arena. It has been said that justice is what love looks like in public. This year, we’ll focus our energies on building alliances, welcoming the stranger, and educating ourselves about groups who’ve been targeted with hate and discrimination.

    I’m so proud to say that thanks to the tireless work of some lay-leaders and the moral vision of our Board of Directors, our Board has unanimously endorsed renewing our 35-year-old commitment as a Sanctuary congregation. We’ll join with other churches and synagogues in the North End and participate in protecting undocumented and at-risk individuals in need of safety and support. We also have several initiatives to help us deepen our relationships with and understanding of our
    Muslim neighbors. Finally, I’m very excited to announce that in late June, I will lead a multigenerational Civil Rights tour of the American South to help us glean lessons for combating racial injustice in our own day. To seal our commitment, we’ve signed the Religious Action Center’s Brit Olam, a covenant with the world, which creates a network of Reform congregations working together to pursue justice. Information about all our activities will be on the website.

    The prophets of ancient Israel warn us that our most sacred rituals lose their sanctity if they aren’t coupled with ethical actions. It all boils down to the words of the prophet Micah: We know what’s good and we know what’s required of us and it is remarkably simple: Asot mishpat, ahavat hesed, v’hatz’neiah lechet eem elohecha. We are required to do justice, to love hesed, and to walk humbly with God.

    I believe, regardless of how we may interpret the politics of the football field, the intent of the players and their supporters who take the knee is to accomplish just this: doing justice, loving hesed, and walking humbly with God.

    And this is our task, too: on the bima and off; within our congregation and beyond; between ourselves and with others—in the year to come, let us do justice, love hesed and walk humbly with God. Then, when we gather next Yom Kippur, perhaps our prophetic hope will come to pass, bayom hahu yiheyeh echad—on that day our congregation, our country and our world will be one.

    *The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of an individual and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Faith Action Network. FAN is an interfaith organization, committed to celebrating and embracing the diversity of faith traditions. If you have questions about FAN’s position on any public policy issues, please feel free to contact the FAN office at (206) 625-9790 or [email protected].
    To learn more about contributing to this blog, click here.
  • My Powerful Case for the Black Jesus

    Chasity Jones
    September 11, 2017

    A written copy of the reflection/sermon that I preached, while Giavonna White performed liturgical dance, at Columbia City Church of Hope on 9/10/17.  The following draws a lot from God of the Oppressed by James Cone as well as my own experiences.  To listen along, click here.  The month of September is themed ‘Hard Questions for God’ and on this Sunday I reflected on the following question:

    Is it possible that we have created God in our image, not the other way around, and if so, what implications does it have?

    So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. – Genesis 1:28-29

    As a black woman from Southeast Louisiana, I can say with full confidence- YES- God has been created by a specific group of people into their own image.

    I can only speak from my experience.  Now, my experience is one that has been invalidated and ignored for centuries, BUT today is a day to lift up my experience with the intention of educating all of those who have never been blessed to be exposed to it and to honor everyone with the same or painfully similar experience.

    Truth cannot be separated from the people’s struggle and the hopes and dreams that arise from that struggle.  As black theologians, who have been grasped by the truth, we are accountable to black people. James Cone

    Gigi and I practicing to collaborate for the first time.


    James Cone emphasizes, in his book God of the Oppressed, that all the experiences of black life (upbringing, racial discrimination, brutality, exclusion, internalized inferiority, trauma, etc….) are a part of us and all form a lens through which black people see the world that is different than people who are not black.

    Genesis 1:26

    Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

    Anywhere that has its own distinguished values/experience/culture has a different version of God.  I sometimes wonder at how different aspects of God are emphasized by different groups of people, but sometimes I question the lack of consistency from group to group.

    One’s social and historical context decides not only the questions we address to God but also the mode or form of the answers given.   Another way to say the same thing is : Human speech about divine revelation is conditioned by cultural and historical relativity. Because of this reality, religion, spirituality, tradition, theology, what we believe is important to God, how we view God can be heavily informed by Whiteness- Here is the problem with that….

    Unfortunately not only white seminary professors but some blacks as well have convinced themselves that only the white experience provides the appropriate context for questions and answers concerning things divine.  They do not recognize the narrowness of their experience and the particularity of their theological expressions.  They like to think of themselves as universal people.  That is why most seminaries emphasize the need for appropriate tools in doing theology, thought of white people.  They fail to recognize that other people also have thought about God and have something significant to say about Jesus’ presence in the world.

    This past year, I’ve challenged the church in my own way alone, but it was an incredible honor to have my sister and friend with me this time.

    When does the Church cease to be the Church of Christ?”

    HERESY: Heresy, any activity or teaching that contradicts the liberating truth of Jesus Christ.  The refusal to speak the truth or to live in the truth in the light of the One who is the Truth.

    Any interpretation of the gospel in any historical period failing to see Jesus as the Liberator of the oppressed is heresy.  Any view of the gospel failing to understand the church as that community whose work and consciousness are defined by the community of the oppressed is NOT Christian and is thus heretical. So… I pose the question

    Can the Church of Jesus Christ be politically, socially, and economically identified with structure of oppression and also be a servant of Christ?” JAMES CONE THINKS THE ANSWER IS NO, AND I AGREE.

    What has the gospel to do with the oppressed of the land and their struggle for liberation?  Any theologian [theology] who fails to place that question at the center of his or her work has ignored the essence of the gospel.”

    So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

    The same way that the perception of God can be informed or determined by whiteness, it can also be influenced by blackness (to a small degree).  The black sermon arises out of the totality of the people’s existence – their pain and joy, trouble and ecstasy. (REPEAT)  We are who we are and it is manifested and evident in our faith experience.

    Truth is also disclosed in the way passion changes the environment when a song is sung.  Truth is found in shout, hum, and moan as these expressions move the people closer to the source of their being.

    Genesis 1:26

    Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

    I do not believe that any one person can articulate an experience this perplexed alone, that burden is too heavy.  Because of this, I am sure that the black experience currently or historically may not ever be fully and universally known, which is an injustice in itself.  What I can do is try to make sure it’s represented and with my words, actions, and through my life validated.

    The long light brown or blonde haired and blue eyed Jesus that plagues the western hemisphere with its inaccuracy and deception represents an attempt at changing history to favor white men, conditioning black people to kneel or bow to white male energy, and for young black children this serves as a disconnect between them and a God who does not look like them, reinforcing that they are inferior.  Jesus was a man of color and this needs to be addressed.

    In my Christian walk, mercy, forgiveness, grace, honor, submission, blessing, repentance, peace, purity, and love were not only concepts repetitively explored, but emphasized to the degree of idolization sprinkled with bits and pieces of hypergrace (the idea that you are saved by grace no matter what as long as you believe in Jesus) and prosperity gospel never once challenging the church to stop perpetuating the Euro-centric messiah- reinforcing that black people as well as others are not made in the image of God.

    Genesis 1:26

    Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

    So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 

    Our skin is not evidence that we are cursed, but blessed.

    Submerged in the black infinity from which everything came.

    Resilient, self-determined

    Embodied divinity

    Kings and Queens unrecognizable

    Tattered clothes and weary souls

    You cannot imagine the journey, or the pain that the soles of these black feet have endured.

    Inherited nothing but a legacy of whips and chains

    Magic circulating through veins

    And as the ashy rain is evident that the world is aflame,

    It is also evident that the black infinity and divinity are the same.

    -Chasity

    The point of this sermon isn’t to prove that Jesus is black, although He would have been a melinated man in reality.  This was an attempt to tear down the thought patterns and beliefs that we have that are framed by racism, sexism, and capitalism.  Everything that we know has been shaped by a very privileged and white perspective and held as the standard for everyone.  Although there were many metaphors and ironies in this sermon, I would encourage us to not forget this point- the inaccurate myth or farce that Jesus is white has negative implications for all people who are not white, and even if it didn’t, one perspective CANNOT reflect the diversity of God.

    Genesis 1:26

    Then God said, ‘Let Us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness;

    So God created mankind in God’s own image, in the image of God he/she/ they were created.

    Prophetic symbolization of a revolution within the church as well as reclaiming Christ as well as truth.

    To read the full blog post, click here.

    *The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of an individual and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Faith Action Network. FAN is an interfaith organization, committed to celebrating and embracing the diversity of faith traditions. If you have questions about FAN’s position on any public policy issues, please feel free to contact the FAN office at (206) 625-9790 or [email protected].
    To learn more about contributing to this blog, click here.