University United Methodist Church Delivered at Press Conference on Fair Housing April 17, 2014
Whenever I, or one of my colleagues from Austin Interfaith, speaks in support of an issue of consequence before the halls of government, I can almost guarantee that someone will say, why don’t those preachers stick to spiritual stuff, stick with the Bible. Why do they have to stick their noses in politics?
In the western Christian tradition, it’s Holy Week. Today is Maundy Thursday. Over the next several days, in powerful and dramatic worship services, each of our faith communities will recall the final days of Jesus’ life to discern meanings for life in our own time. Whenever I return to these readings from our sacred texts, I’m struck not by how spiritual they are, but by how earthy and political they are.
Jesus, who could not remain quiet, who spoke up against empire and the powers that be, was arrested, tried, jailed, beaten, tortured and executed. It doesn’t get much more physical than that.
And his crime?
Proclaiming a vision of a new world, an egalitarian world where the poorest among us are lifted up, where everyone has a place at the table, where every family has their own vine and fig tree, which means everyone has what they need for a life of dignity and purpose and no one lives in fear.
It doesn’t get much more political than that.
Jesus was executed for daring to talk about the way the world might be, the vision of God’s desire for the world, what the gospels call the kingdom of God.
When the pastors of your city get together before the halls of government, as Pastor Joseph and Pastor Katie and Bishop Vasquez have this morning, to talk about discrimination in housing in our city, to talk about the need to open up more housing for folks who live and work in our city and are the poorest in our community—when we do that, we are speaking from the very heart of our faith. When we advocate for legislation that has a direct impact on getting more families off the streets and out of shelters and into housing, we are speaking from the very center of our historic religious traditions. I believe that the mark of a great city is not how it cares for those who have wealth and power. That’s easy. The mark of a great city is whether that city cares for everyone, and especially for the ones who have nowhere to lay their heads. I hope that our city council will vote to support amending the language of the fair housing ordinance to prohibit blatant discrimination and provide more housing for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Reverend John Elford of the University United Methodist Church asserts that politics and faith do mix when it comes to social justice. In an editorial for the Austin American Statesman he reveals that "A couple of years ago, with the help of Austin Interfaith, we had several meetings with folks who are homeless. We listened to their concerns about life on the streets. I vividly recall one meeting..." He goes on to describe how congregations from Central Austin came together to support the recent passage of the affordable housing bond.
Austin Housing Bond Heads Towards Approval, Austin American Statesman
City councilmembers will vote Thursday on a long-debated initiative requiring that corporations that receive public subsidies pay the prevailing wage or at least $11 per hour (the City and County established living wage) -- something that "groups such as Austin Interfaith and the Austin-based Workers Defense Project have been seeking for years."
Economic incentives has been a key issue in prior elections. Austin Interfaith has been working on this issue since 2008.
City May Set $11 Wage for Tax Deals, Austin American Statesman
"Central Health is building a 70,000-square foot facility called the Southeast Health and Wellness Center. Slated to open in fall 2014, the center will cost Travis County taxpayers about $8 million. It will have exercise classes and nutrition counseling, aimed at combating some of the area’s biggest health challenges. But one of its strongest critics is Ofelia Zapata..."
[Photo Credit: Felipa Rodriguez for KUT News]
Public Calls for Health Organization To Be More Open, Austin American Statesman (08/07/13)
In a prayer service and press conference organized by Austin Interfaith, Central Texas Bishops and clergy from six religious denominations “pressed Tuesday for reforms centered on keeping families together and allowing unauthorized immigrants to earn legal residency with a path to citizenship….[stating] such principles are key to what they called just and humane immigration reforms.”
Central Texas Religious Leaders: Immigration Change Must be Just, Humane, Austin American Statesman [Printable version]