Social Justice Initiatives at St. John’s
Racism: The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.
“The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks . . . We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”
—America’s Original Sin, by Jim Wallis
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. —Edmund Burke
We all know about George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Breonna Taylor. But most of us are unaware of the laws in place that give police the latitude to use deadly force; laws that allow person’s bias to enter into the equation. These laws are intentional, and systematic within the entire United States. They are designed to keep people of color in their place – a place of fewer opportunities.
Systemic racism (think Israelites/ Moabites/ Canaanites) has been the rule in this world since before the time of Abraham! In this country it is not just the Black people who were targeted by racism, though they have borne the brunt of the racism, it is everyone who is different. Even the recent events including the attack on the Capital on January 6 was largely a case of “us” versus “them.” It was a clear case of people who had been fed lies reacting in fear of losing their “White Privilege.”
Here’s an old American Indian story: A grandfather was teaching his grandson about good and evil. He explained to his grandson using this metaphor: there is inside each person two wolves, a good wolf and a bad wolf. They are constantly fighting with one another. Sometimes the good wolf wins, sometimes the bad wolf wins. The grandson then asks, what determines which wolf wins?” The grandfather answered, “The one you feed is the one who wins.”
Let us stop feeding the bad wolf and start feeding the good wolf. We can stop listening to the hate talk and try to really listen to the underlying problems and issues that caused it. Let us find ways to connect with not only people who are different than we are, but with people who feel disenfranchised and left behind for whatever reason. Let us extend the hand of friendship and help to all who need it.
The Bag ’n Hand Food Pantry
Right now, St. John’s UMC has a thriving mission to feed the hungry through our Bag ’n Hand food pantry. The pantry has been operating at St. John’s since 2001. It began as a small supply of non-perishables in a closet that were given to those who came to us for help and evolved into a mission involving 60 plus volunteers who gather, sort, package, and distribute food to about 170 families from northern New Mexico each week. During the pandemic the pantry had to change the way it worked to keep from spreading COVID-19. It now runs a drive-through distribution that keeps people safely social distanced. This past Thanksgiving we distributed the fixings for an entire dinner to over 300 families. Visit the pantry’s web page.
A Reconciling Ministry
St. John’s has had a long history of advocating for social justice issues. Among the many issues addressed has been full inclusion into our church fellowship of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, or gender identification. Six years ago the Nephesh class joined the Reconciling Ministries Network by becoming a “Reconciling Community.” A part of the Nephesh Class mission statement reads, “In celebrating the diversity of God’s creation, we respect and welcome all people, regardless of age, economic status, faith history, ethnicity, gender, mental or physical ability, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identification. In the words of John Wesley, ‘If your heart is with my heart, take my hand.’”
The Nephesh Class was the first Reconciling Community in the State of New Mexico. Out of the Nephesh Class’s leadership, several other St. John’s Sunday school class leaders joined together to form a Reconciling Ministry Committee. The goal of the committee was to encourage our congregation to join the 43,397 United Methodist Churches throughout the United States by becoming a member of the Reconciling Ministry Network. After a year long study, planning, and all-church gathers, our congregation was set to vote on becoming Reconciling Congregation as a part of the Reconciling Ministries Network. That vote was to take place in early May this past year.
Now, as we all sadly know, because of the pandemic, like so many of our in-person gatherings, that meeting and vote never was able to take place. Hopefully, as we get past this deadly pandemic, we will be able to hold this vote. Our church’s Reconciling Ministry committee is still in place. However, we have lost our outstanding committee-chair Jan Jahner who recently moved with her husband Bob Jahner to Colorado to be closer to family. Our committee is currently in a holding mode, waiting to move forward with a vote of the congregation as we are able to safely hold an all-church-in-person meeting. As that time approaches our committee will regroup and set up a plan so that St. John’s can move forward into the new future.
—Rev. Dick Smith
Somos Un Pueblo Unido (We are One United People)
Many of us have moved from one place to another for economic opportunity or simply for a better living situation. We move from violence-prone crowded areas to less densely-populated areas in search of a peaceful existence for ourselves and our families. We move for employment and safer and better schools for our children. We move for health benefits ̶ cleaner air and water, fewer pollutants, a climate that suits us better and ready access to good medical care. We move for beautiful scenery and the privilege of living among sympatico people. I know my family did.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido (Somos), founded in 1995, is a New Mexico-wide community-based and immigrant-led organization that promotes worker and racial justice. With an active membership of 2,500 people in eight counties, Somos:
- Offers community education about rights and remedies
- Forges leadership opportunities for immigrants and low-wage workers
- Provides legal services to wage theft victims and initiates impact litigation to defend workers’ rights
- Engages Latinos in the political and electoral process, and
- Leads and supports grassroots campaigns for local and national policies that strengthen our communities.
The mission of Somos is: “Because we believe that every person should have the freedom to move in order to pursue a better life, Somos Un Pueblo Unido works to build a community that does not discriminate against people based on their national origin, that institutes humane migration policies, and that protects the human rights of everyone irrespective of where they are born or what documents they carry.”
Somos is most active in areas of New Mexico with high rates of employment in tourism and the extraction industries. While these industries provide good middle income employment for many, and very lucrative employment for some, the vast majority of the workers supporting them receive low-wages with few or no benefits. Contrary to popular belief, these low wage workers pay federal, state and local taxes into programs for which they are not eligible to receive services or relief.
In New Mexico, where the majority of immigrants are from Mexico and Central American countries, Latino-focused organizing groups, such as Somos, consider financial assistance a public health issue, particularly during the current pandemic. Like other frontline workers, immigrants without legal status face unpaid furloughs while awaiting tests or have to decide if they can take time off work after testing positive for COVID-19. Somos un Pueblo Unido has been instrumental in lobbying for direct cash assistance at the state and city government levels throughout the state to encourage sharing of relief funds with families and individuals excluded from the federal relief. However, many will still be left out.
Other Somos campaigns include addressing racial profiling and deportations, driver’s license support, census support, voter registration, a citizenship program and assistance in situations of wage theft. Followers of local news are likely aware of occurrences of some local businesses paying workers less than the minimum wage, not paying overtime, requiring workers to work off the clock or, in some cases denying workers their final paycheck.
Somos partners with many community organizations and works with all levels of government to help immigrants take their rightful place in our community. Their website offers much more information. You may also tune in to the weekly radio show on KSFR FM 101, hosted by Executive Director Marcela Diaz and Elsa Lopez, every Tuesday from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m.