Social justice work and public witness are the means by which religious communities and individual people of faith express their values to the world. Such outward action is the natural compliment to inward reflection, and the two together make for a balanced spiritual life. Just as thoughtful reflection informs action in our individual lives, so too the internal programming of the church should serve to guide and direct our collective religious work outside the walls of the church. The values we celebrate each Sunday find their fullest expression through committed service not just to the beloved religious community, but also to our larger human family and the environment which sustains us.
As the minister of a congregation, my responsibility is to focus attention on issues of justice, inside and outside the church, and to examine those issues under the light of our religious values and heritage. To that end, I issue calls for action from the pulpit, support members of the church in their on-going actions of social witness, personally invest myself in outreach projects and acts of public service within the larger community, and sometimes gently introduce questions of justice into communal discussions and meetings. The work of social justice begins with how we think of and view the world, so reflection is always the first step toward action.
My personal experience has made me passionate about the issue of homelessness and hunger in our nation. As a lay person, my service to the homeless in Tampa, Florida through the Metropolitan Ministries was a pivotal experience in discerning my call to ordained ministry. During my ministry to the Central Unitarian Church in Paramus, I served on the Interreligious Fellowship’s Break the Cycle Scholarship Committee, which awarded financial aid for schooling and training to homeless citizens in the local shelter system. These scholarships allowed numerous individuals to transition from homelessness to full employment and self-sufficiency in the community. Upon arriving at the Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, I encouraged that congregation to join the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a local group of congregations that shelter homeless families on the Main Line.
The elimination of handgun violence has been an area of personal focus for me in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. From protesting Congress’ failure to extend the federal ban on assault rifles while in New Jersey to supporting the work of Heeding God’s Call to eliminate the “straw buyers” of handguns in Philadelphia, I have regularly witnessed for a safer, more peaceful society.
I have consistently championed marriage equality and was pleased to be able to speak in support of this important justice issue at the Pennsylvania state house in Harrisburg. (A video of that public witness is posted below.)
My commitment to anti-racism is rooted in my own experience of growing up in a racially integrated community overseas and then living for years in a racially separated environment in the American South. I was proud to have the congregation I served in New Jersey create the Teens Talk About Racism program that annually gathered over 150 high school students in a day-long program to discuss ways to overcome racism. In 2008, I was honored to be the first speaker of European extraction to address the annual Bergen County Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration.
My experience meeting with prisoners at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay has made me a committed opponent of torture and I have attended rallies and met with lawmakers to express my views on this subject.
I co-founded the Bergen County Sanctuary Committee, a group which helps immigrants seeking political asylum to gain parole from the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey and assists them through the judicial process that leads to the granting of political asylum.
As senor minister at the Main Line Unitarian Church, I instituted the Offering Outreach program through which half the money collected during the offering on Sunday mornings was given away each month to a non-profit organization the work of which reflected Unitarian Universalists values. In the Offering Outreach program’s first year of existence, gross plate receipts increased from $12,000 to $48,000 and the congregation’s funding for social justice increased from less that 1% of its operating budget to 2.5%.
I was honored to have been asked by Planned Parenthood to testify before the Judiciary Committee of the Nebraska Legislature on March 18th, 2015 alongside representatives of the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in opposition to bills (LB114 and LB187) aimed at further restricting a woman’s right to have an abortion in Nebraska. As a consequence of this well-organized and effective public opposition, neither of the two bills was voted out of committee.
While serving the Montclair congregation, I have supported the congregation’s ministry to the homeless and hungry through the Montclair Emergency Services to the Homeless (MESH), worked closely with the Undoing Racism Committee, and I am looking forward to participating in the Women’s March on Washington with members of the congregation on 21 January 2017.
Social action is the outward expression of, and necessary balance to, our inward spiritual reflection. As people and communities of faith, we must look in (reflection) and reach out (action); to do one without the other is to be spiritually out of balance. I will always remind the congregation of the spiritual necessity for social action and will strive to model for them responsible public witness and participation in social justice efforts.