As members of a small progressive church, it is daunting to ponder how we can do anything significant to alleviate the growing and increasingly problematic inequality in our society. A stimulating seminar held mainly at South Main Baptist Church from September 18-20 and co-sponsored by an impressive contingent of religious and secular organizations, including Covenant Church, provided motivation, encouragement, practical instruction, and reason for optimism. The title was “Houston Confronting Poverty from the Heart of Faith—A three-day organizing event to unite religious progressives, academics, and justice activists to act in solidarity to promote economic justice.”
Since 2004, the D. L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, and led by David and Debo Dykes, has held “Faith and Reason Seminars” that feature such progressive theologians as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Joan Chittister, similar in nature to events produced by the local Foundation for Contemporary Theology. In the early stages of planning for the Houston event, members of the host committee pressed for moving beyond description and diagnosis of the various aspects of poverty to ways of taking concrete action to alleviate the physical, psychic, and political pain associated with inequality.
The schedule of the seminar reflects that intention. The Thursday sessions were devoted largely to laying out the myriad dimensions of poverty and their effects on both those who suffer poverty, those who benefit from it, and the damaging effects on society as a whole.
The Friday sessions focused on what prophetic religion has to say about these crises, how congregations can empower members to become effective advocates for change, and how religious progressives and secular justice activists can work together most effectively. In these and the Saturday session, “Bringing It All Together: Building Community Power,” panels included veteran professional organizers from the Texas Hunger Initiative, Fey y Justicia Workers Center, the Workers Defense Project, Jobs with Justice, and the AFL-CIO, told of dramatic successes in curbing the prevalence of wage theft, providing hundreds of thousands of meals to the hungry, and making significant headway against payday lending and human trafficking. As in most of the earlier sessions, speakers stressed that good motives and desire to effect change are not enough. It is essential also to organize for effective action.
DVDs of the seminar should be available around November 1. Since most members of Covenant were not able to attend all sessions, it should be possible to show some of the sessions in the adult sanctuary class or at other times.
By Bill Martin
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an ecumenical liberal baptist congregation
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