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.
With 9 out of 10 apartment owners turning away Section 8 voucher users, single mothers like Evita Cruz have few options about where to live. This affects what school her daughter attends, how far she travels for work and how safe she feels in her neighborhood. During Holy Week, Austin Interfaith clergy and lay leadership stood up for people like Evita to demand that the council advance a resolution that would prohibit discrimination based on Section 8 vouchers. Council responded with a 6-0 vote, directing the City Manager to draft language for a formal policy proposal. In photo, Evita Cruz tells her story. More photos here.
Council Approves Voucher Ordinance, KVUE-ABC
Council Could Ban Landlords from Section 8 Discrimination, Time Warner Cable News
Council: Getting a Round Tuit, Austin Chronicle
Policy Austin City Council Says Landlords Can't Discriminate Against Housing Voucher-Holders, Austin American Statesman