Archives For social justice

By Rev. Susan Mullin

Rev. Susan Mullin is a Minnesota Conference deacon and a member of the six-person United Methodist Creation Care Team. Mullin represents North America on this new team, created by the General Board of Global Ministries.The group represented the international United Methodist Church at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2015.

Our Global Creation Care Team had the opportunity to travel to Paris the first week of December to participate in the civil society events surrounding the climate talks. We are a team of six United Methodists from around the world, including representatives from the United States, Argentina, Switzerland, Liberia, Fiji, and Cambodia.

Susan Mullin (second from right) meets with people from around the world at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Susan Mullin (second from right) meets with people from around the world at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Members of the team have powerful stories of what is happening in their countries as a result of climate change. Jefferson Knight from Liberia talked about returning last year to a village along the Suakoko River, where he grew up, and finding that the tree-lined river he remembers is completely dry and the trees have been cut down. He was shocked. Another member, Sotico Pagulayan, shared that in 2015, 13 (out of 24) provinces of Cambodia experienced crop failure. Extreme drought and flooding have combined to threaten the livelihood and food security of farmers.

As a team, we are committed to energizing local churches to take action on climate change and other environmental crises. This was only our second opportunity to meet together, so about half of our time in Paris was devoted to discussing how we can best work in our own regions and with the General Board of Global Ministries.

Highlights of our time in Paris included a round-table discussion on the intersection of faith, race, and climate and a conference devoted to women on the front lines of climate change that included powerful, passionate indigenous women leaders from the U.S., Canada, Ecuador, Sweden, and the Maldives.

How many lives are we willing to sacrifice?

Thilmeeza Hussain, founder of Voice of Women, told us that the Maldives “might be a small group of islands, but our lives are not small.” She pointed out that for her people, food security, clean water, and housing are all impacted by climate change. “Climate change is not distant,” she said. “People are dying. How many lives are we ready to sacrifice?”

Meanwhile, Josefina Skerk, vice president of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, also said that her country is seeing the effects of climate change. If the earth warms an average of two degrees Celsius, it will mean an increase of eight degrees in her northern lands. “We are not white strawberry jam,” she said. “We don’t want to be preserved: We want to guide our own development.”

Eriel Deranger, communications manager of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation of Canada, reiterated what many poor and endangered peoples have said: “Our voices are left out of the discussions.” She added, “We are people of the delta. Our entire system is threatened.”

Worshipping and sharing a meal with the members of Resurrection United Methodist Church was also a powerful experience. Most members of the congregation immigrated to France from Ivory Coast, and both their worship style and the wonderful meal they provided reflected their cultural heritage.

We met with the team from the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) on multiple occasions. This team was credentialed to enter the blue zone, where the actual climate negotiations were taking place. The feeling from the team was cautiously optimistic throughout the negotiations. They worked very hard lobbying leaders from the U.S. and around the world to make sure there would be adequate financial provisions for countries that have not contributed significantly to the problem of climate change but increasingly will suffer loss and damage. They recorded daily videos of their work that are available on the GBCS Facebook page.

The final accord is worth celebrating. For the first time, we have a worldwide agreement with a goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures. Nations also agree “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius” (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). These goals are much more ambitious than many people expected to see in this accord. But…this is only an agreement! Now we have to actually achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

Climate change exacerbates all injustices

If there is one thing that I take away from this experience, it is the many ways that climate change intersects with issues of social and economic justice. After hearing the pain in the voices of sisters and brothers from all around the world, after learning how their ability to provide food, housing, and water for their families is threatened and disrupted by climate change, it is no longer a matter of facts and figures, or computer models that predict the future. Climate change exacerbates all injustices, including race, poverty, gender, and age. As United Methodists, we say that our task is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our team reflected on the vision of Ezekiel (47:7-12): a river of fresh water flowing from the sanctuary, bringing life where there is no life. We challenge ourselves and all United Methodists to look for places where the waters of God are bringing life where there is no life, and to join in the healing of our world.

Rev. Susan Mullin is a deacon who serves as minister of faith formation and community outreach at Faith United Methodist Church in St. Anthony, Minn. This article is reprinted with permission from the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which initially published this reflection.

By Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson

Many thanks to the Board of Higher Education and Ministry for the financial help I received toward attending the DOTAC 2015 meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil! What a rich experience it was!

Lois Rogers-Watson

Lois Rogers-Watson

Highlights of the Conference for me were several. First of all, the worship was deeply spiritual. It was well planned and executed. Our music leader was exceptionally fine and the chosen music was not only beautiful and easy to sing but it was theologically sound, in my humble opinion. Naturally, we servant leaders identified with the call to serve and to work for justice about which both the music and the liturgy spoke.

The evening worship services led by Lutherans were truly beautiful. We United Methodists could learn from the liturgies of other denominations. Our Anglican heritage speaks to me and I yearn at times for the orders of the day. In our personal devotions, my husband and I have a somewhat “order of the day” that is both challenging and satisfying.

Another highlight was the fellowship. To sit at a table with the same people for the entire conference was very special because one felt that you became a community and I appreciated each of my tablemates very much. They were diverse and yet we had so much in common. I came to love these people! Each is obviously a devoted disciple of Christ and each works in different but wonderful ways in their home communities. We only had one Portuguese person at our table and it would have enhanced our fellowship to have another but our dear sister was so lovely and I came to identify with her at a deep level.

Likewise, to interact at meal times with conference participants was special as well. Those of us who did the site visits together also had the opportunity to develop relationships through our shared experiences there.

The site visits were, indeed, a highlight. Our first site was similar but not the same as Ronald McDonald Houses in the USA. This site was more modest but certainly faith-based and that came through in several ways. Operated on a shoestring, it is providing housing for those awaiting transplants and/or checkups following transplants. The director is loving and enthusiastic about her work. The second site was the “Bread Project,” which is also exciting. Youth from distressed neighborhoods spend half a day three days a week at this project. They learn to bake and they learn computer skills. In addition, they take far-reaching field trips which expand their horizons beyond their neighborhoods and city. The staff at this site is very fine and well-skilled. They receive government funding and I pray that will continue because it is making a huge difference in the lives of these young people. While we were there a mother came to enroll her child because she has seen the results of the program in the lives of youth she knows. It, too, is faith-based and it is located in a church which gives not only space to it but also spiritual support.

The speakers were also inspiring. It happens I have not been in many situations where I needed translation and I found that to be an excellent experience. My language skills, despite some language study, are very, very poor outside the English language and I am humbled by those who are fluent in various languages beyond their native ones.

Lois Rogers-Watson stands by the UMC Deacons banner used in the opening processional at the DOTAC conference.

Lois Rogers-Watson stands by the UMC Deacons banner used in the opening processional at the DOTAC conference.

The content of the talks by these able speakers spoke to my heart. They underscored readings that I have recently done and just reaffirmed my commitment to justice activities. So many are eating bread crumbs in our world today! So many don’t even get the crumbs. We must take back the Kingdom in our churches and help our churches see that our call is to be counter-cultural. Fortunately, my current pastor gets that to some extent and I know I am looked to as the speaker for social justice. But, I need to be even a stronger voice and this conference helped equip me in that role.

It was my privilege to present a workshop on Israel and Palestine at the conference. Though attendance was light at the workshop, I pray that attendees saw the injustices of the occupation of Palestine and left with a determination to learn more and to speak out for the Palestinian people while at the same time praying for the Israeli government to change its ways.

Finally, while in the country of Brazil, friends and I took advantage of some travel after the conference. We went to Iguacu Falls, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro. Since Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, we hardly saw a speck of it but nonetheless we learned a great deal from the various guides we had and the other people with whom we interacted. It was our privilege to meet Diana, a lovely young Methodist woman, in Salvador. All with whom we talked were discouraged by the corruption of their government and some of the stories they shared were not unlike things happening in the United States. It is time for the crumbs to become full communion in Brazil, the United States, and the world at large!

Many thanks again for helping make my pilgrimage possible. It was deeply spiritually, culturally, and socially enhancing and I thank God for it.
Rev. Rogers-Watson is a retired deacon and retired home missionary serving in East Lake United Methodist Church, Palm Harbor, Florida. She is a Stephen Minister and is involved in justice ministries on the local level and also an active advocate for ending the occupation of Palestine. She is a member of the Indiana Conference and an associate member of the Florida Conference.