Statement of Opposition to Constitutional Amendments
Approved unanimously on September 11, 2018 by the Governing Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches… Continue Reading
The experiences of landowners in other states indicate that hydraulic fracturing can have profound negative impacts on rural communities. The Rural Life Committee of the North Carolina Council of Churches supports the current ban on hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. The above concerns need to be addressed with careful attention to landowners’ property, landowners’ rights, and the care for creation’s gifts. Furthermore, we call on our member bodies and faith leaders to share reliable information about hydraulic fracturing with their communities. We believe that we are called by God to be good stewards of the good gifts of community, health, water and soil. Trusting in God, we refuse to trade this bountiful inheritance for the empty promises of energy that may be cheap in terms of dollars but which we know will be costly in terms of our livelihoods.
The issue of overweight and obesity has been well-publicized in recent months. In the United States, more than 23 million kids (nearly one-third) are overweight or obese. In North Carolina, 65% of adults and 36% of children and youth age 6-17 fall into one of these alarming categories – alarming because of the adverse effects on one’s health resulting from carrying excess weight as well as the financial impact on the individual, his/her family, employer and the overall health care system.
The North Carolina Council of Churches represents 6,200 congregations in 17 denominations statewide. The North Carolina Council of Churches condemns all religious violence. As people of Christian faith, we value a teaching common to the Abrahamic faiths, which in the Christian tradition is expressed as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As Christians in a nation largely founded by religious refugees, we value the freedom of religion guaranteed by our Constitution and proudly proclaimed worldwide as a foundational principle of United States government and society. For freedom of religion to have substance and integrity, it must extend to people of all faiths.
God gives people plants and seeds for farming as a gift in the first chapter of Genesis. Genesis tells us God created plants and their seeds, “each according to its kind,” called them good, and gave to humans to eat. For generations, farmers and gardeners have honored this gift, tending and improving their crops.
We, the members of the Rural Life Committee of the North Carolina Council of Churches, celebrate God’s gift of agricultural diversity and the good stewardship of that gift by generations of farmers. We support just and fair options for farmers and a secure food supply for those in need. We recognize that our actions affect people across the globe.
When addressing the concentration of ownership in agriculture and the development of genetically modified seeds, we consider: Who benefits? What are those benefits? What are the true costs? Who will pay them? Are there more sustainable, appropriate, cost-effective and just alternatives?
Like the patriarch Noah, humanity stands responsible for ensuring that all nature continues to thrive as God intended. Men and women are charged with preserving the beauty, diversity and integrity of nature as well as fostering productivity. Stewardship requires careful protection of the environment and calls us to use our intelligence to discover earth’s productive potential. We believe that stewardship of God’s creation is a moral responsibility that affects the lives of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. As people of faith, as individuals, as institutions, as a nation, we must commit ourselves to preserving and protecting the planet for generations to come.
In the wake of failed attempts by Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, states and localities have increased their own efforts to enforce current immigration laws and, in some cases, to implement new programs designed to reduce immigration. In North Carolina, these recent efforts have created a more hostile environment toward immigrants. Many immigrants – both documented and undocumented – today live in fear of arrest and possible deportation. Even though recent studies have shown that crime rates among immigrants are significantly lower than those among U.S. citizens, enforcement-only anti-immigrant measures are increasing across the state. These steps continue to generate fear within immigrant communities and hostility towards immigrants in non-immigrant communities.
The North Carolina Council of Churches unequivocally affirms the essential, inherent, and universal dignity of all persons, for “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.” This means that the value of any and every individual – all equally cherished by the Author of Life – must not under any circumstances be compromised, diminished, or infringed upon. At all times and in all way, the Council seeks to protect and promote the dignity and flourishing of the human person.
As people of faith we proclaim our belief that our world is God’s creation, that God sees it as good, and that it is ours to protect and maintain. We also recognize that the quality of life for all of us depends upon its health and well-being. Yet today air and water pollution, desertification, loss of species and climate change are increasing at an alarming rate. God’s creation is threatened by serious, complex and interrelated problems that are the result of human behavior.
It is important that the religious community respond to the immigration crisis by offering advocacy and welcome in the face of rising anti-immigrant sentiment. Religious communities must also look to our scripture and faith traditions which call us to welcome the stranger, promote hospitality, and seek justice. Congregations should call for legislative reforms which are fair, humane, and address the root causes of migration.
The poor, the oppressed, the captives and the blind—those our tradition deems worthy– are increasingly invisible and unheard in our state and national political systems. Signs abound that our republic is not democratic. “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord,” according to the book of James, but those cries often are muffled in the halls of our North Carolina General Assembly.
Even in 1984, the Council’s report suggested that there were “harmful effects . . . to those non-smokers exposed to the side-smoke of smokers.” Today, an increasingly strong body of research points to the fact that secondhand smoke (that which is inhaled by non-smokers in a smoking environment) does indeed pose serious health hazards. This risk is associated not only with long-term consumption but also with secondhand smoke breathed in for as little as thirty minutes.
Today we again reaffirm our support for the public schools as one of society’s primary vehicles for social, racial, and economic justice. Today we also voice our concern about the dangers of resegregation in the public schools and of a return to separate and unequal education. Current figures show that 40 of the 44 low-performing high schools in NC are made up primarily of students of color, while 43 of the 44 top performing schools are made up primarily of white students.
The North Carolina Council of Churches has a long history of stands regarding our nation’s warmaking. Since 1935, we have called for political leaders to resist from entering wars, to follow international covenants and treaties while engaged in war, and to end conflicts that have begun. In keeping with this history, we now reiterate our opposition to the current war in Iraq and to the use of torture as an instrument of war.
The scriptures instruct us to love one another – to create mutually respectful relationships in which there is shared responsibility, negotiation and fairness, trust and support, honesty and accountability. When violence is present in a relationship, it is a violation against the image of God in which we all have been created. Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior that one person uses to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner or ex-partner. This behavior includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse (a form of which is economic coercion).
While particular religious leaders have stepped into the fray of company/union conflicts in our state, the church as a whole has remained distant from the controversy of collective bargaining and unionizing. Often, mainline churches are host to corporate executives who may be community leaders and major donors, whom clergy are loathe to offend. Some churches remain aloof from so-called worldly or political concerns, imagining workplace struggles as beyond the domain of the spiritual.
The North Carolina Council of Churches opposes a Marriage Amendment to the federal or state constitution because it would enshrine at the constitutional level discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, we find it to be a highly charged, politically motivated, divisive measure.
The faith community, when true to its founding principles, has historically advocated for the common good over those of special interests. The faith community has also sought to be a voice for and a defender of “the poor, the orphaned and the widow”… A cap on medical malpractice damages would harm the common good because it would bring greater suffering upon those who have been the victims of medical malpractice. It would have its deepest impact upon the poor, who can least afford to have artificial limits placed on the compensation that might be paid to them, and it would do so to the benefit of individuals and companies of much greater financial power.
The question of raising the tax on cigarettes appears to pose a conflict between positions taken by the North Carolina Council of Churches in previous years. On the one hand, the Council has warned of the health risks associated with cigarette smoking, supported measures leading to better health and providing more accessible health care, and called for steps to limit youth access to cigarettes. On the other hand, the Council has long supported a more progressive tax structure and opposed regressive taxes.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, mark a watershed in American history. Never before had such terrible events struck so many people within our national borders. Within weeks, the President had proposed and the Congress had overwhelmingly adopted the USA PATRIOT Act as a means of preventing future such terrorist attacks. At the time, some faith groups (including several with denominational ties to the member bodies of the North Carolina Council of Churches) voiced strong concern about the scope of the PATRIOT Act. The impact of subsequent Executive Orders has only increased this concern
Because early use of alcohol is such a causal factor in teen death and injury, there is reason for the faith community’s involvement in this issue. All faiths recognize the importance of one generation training and seeing to the needs of the next. Whether it is through the family or the “village,” the care of children and youth is a universal responsibility. The Hebrew Scriptures (for example, Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 78:1-8; Proverbs 22:6) reflect the importance of the older generation teaching the younger. Jesus’ words also reflect the importance of parents caring for their children. When he was looking for a stark example of God’s care for God’s children, Jesus asked, “If your child asks for bread, will you give a stone? If your child asks for a fish, will you give a snake?” (Matthew 7:9-10). Reducing underage drinking is consistent with the faith community’s long-standing concern for the well-being and full development of children and youth.
According the Jesus, welcoming the stranger will determine how we are judged on the last day (Matthew 25). He abolished distinctions between Jews and outsiders (Ephesians 2:13-17) and illumined the core of hospitality: in the stranger, it is Christ himself who is welcomed (Matthew 10:40; John 1:11). In the United States today, immigrants are the preeminent outsiders, and Latinos are chief among them. They bear the image of God that Jesus invites us to welcome.
In each year of budget shortfalls, efforts have been made to fix the problem solely through cuts in spending. These proposed cuts have seemed most draconian and inhumane in programs to help people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse problems. But they have also impacted education, environmental protection, health care, abused children, and, in fact, virtually the whole spectrum of vulnerable people assisted by the state. While advocates for these people have succeeded in protecting some services by persuading legislators to raise revenues, many of these revenue-enhancers have been regressive in nature, falling disproportionately on people of low income.
Since the morning of September 11, fear and anger have been redefined, inviolate boundaries have been crossed, the unimaginable has become the reality of our daily lives. Even the most measured and peace-loving among us have found our beliefs tested since we watched as the endless horrors of that day piled one upon the other. Our hearts are broken for all who suffered personal loss in this great tragedy, and we pray for our nation and world as we navigate an uncertain and unsettling future.
In less than ten years, North Carolina’s national rank in hog production has catapulted from sixth to second. This rapid growth has been stimulated by the opening, in 1991, of the world’s largest hog slaughterhouse, located in Bladen County. Much of the growth in hog production is concentrated in the five surrounding counties. In the raising, butchering, processing, transporting and marketing of hogs, a livelihood has been provided for thousands of persons, and additional nutritious meat products have become available for the people of our nation and abroad. However, when the slaughterhouse began operating, the state was unprepared for this exponential growth and lacked a regulatory program for factory farms. Counties could not direct the growth since a 1991 amendment to state zoning law prohibited counties from exercising their zoning authority over factory farms.
From the shadows of banking towers of Charlotte and Raleigh to the small towns and hamlets far away from the bustling Piedmont, the much-ballyhooed economy has not lifted all boats. Many people are working hard but are not earning enough to make ends meet in today’s economy. For this reason, a “living wage” movement is gaining momentum around the nation. This movement seeks to educate policymakers and the community about the true costs of making ends meet and to require that local governments and their contractors pay a living wage to their employees.
North Carolina faces a financial situation that is easy to summarize: Tax cuts during the last half of the ’90’s have left the state with a revenue stream inadequate to provide the services which are expected by the state’s citizens and to respond to unexpected emergencies. However, because the state’s political climate is less than hospitable towards tax increases, solutions to this situation will be more difficult to implement.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once stated that “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” In order for a civilized society to thrive, taxes at all levels of government must be sufficient to meet the legitimate needs of society, especially the modern equivalents of the biblical widows and orphans.
In North Carolina, over 1,000,000 people are directly affected by mental illness, developmental disabilities, or substance abuse. In recent years, the state and area agencies responsible for providing assistance have been plagued with a host of problems, including woefully inadequate funding, unconscionable delays in services, and appearances and allegations of mismanagement.
Providing the needed supports and services for vulnerable individuals is a critical role for state government and society in general. Without needed resources, people with disabilities and substance abuse problems go unserved or untreated. Not only does this create untold suffering amongst the individuals and their families, but it also places enormous strain on other institutions and systems (prisons, hospitals, homeless shelters, etc.). Proper support, service, and treatment can and will change the dynamics of our families and communities.
Over the past two years, increased attention has been focused on the issue of child abuse, both because of a few highly publicized cases in which children died and because of a bill debated in the General Assembly which would have made it a misdemeanor not to report suspected child abuse. While that bill did not pass, it raised the question of what duty church employees and laity have regarding child abuse. And it raised the issue of whether clergypersons must report information gathered in confessions or other confidential settings.
Whereas the U.S. Army School of the Americas has trained 60,000 Latin American soldiers who have consistently returned to their countries to murder, torture, rape, and intimidate the poor and those who work for the rights of the poor, the Executive Board of the NC Council of Churches supports the closing of the US Army School of the Americas.
North Carolina’s state government is engaged in a debate that is occurring nationwide: should we restructure our electric utilities? This is an extraordinarily complex issue which will affect the daily lives of many people across the state, yet is almost completely unknown outside the halls of the General Assembly.
Understanding this issue, even in the broadest of terms, requires a step backward to look at the big picture of electric power and how we receive it. Currently, electric utilities are monopolies. There is only a single company from whom you can purchase your power, and it controls the entire process of producing and providing electricity. The rates charged are controlled by the government, ensuring that the utilities earn a reasonable profit without taking advantage of their position to overcharge customers.
The plaintive cry of the Psalmist, “Cast me not off in the time of old age” (Ps. 71:9), demands renewed attention by the church as the number of older citizens escalates in American life. North Carolina’s 65 and over population is estimated to reach 1.2 million by 2010, more than 14% of the population. In 2011, the first of the “baby boomers” will reach retirement, with the percentage of older people in our population soaring to between fifteen and twenty percent.
Several times in the past decade, we have spoken out about the proliferation of guns and gun violence. In 1994, we noted why this is of concern to people of faith.
Gun violence, especially handgun violence, has increasingly become a cause for alarm in our nation and state. As Christians, we especially are disturbed. The way of Christ is a way of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love for enemies. The spirit of Christ is sharply opposed to the spirit of violence and the instruments of violence. It is also opposed to the law of retaliation or responding to injury with injury. Christ rejected the use of violence in the pursuit of his mission, and when one of the disciples drew his sword in defense of Jesus, the Lord said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:51-53).
In a letter to a friend in the spring of 1776, John Adams said, “We may please ourselves with the prospect of free and popular governments, God grant us the way. But I fear that in every assembly members will obtain an influence by noise rather than sense, by meanness rather than greatness, and by ignorance and not learning, by contracted hearts and not large souls. There is one thing, my dear sir, that must be attempted and most sacredly observed, or we are all undone. There must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for persons of every rank, or we are undone. In a popular government, this is our only way.”
Religious liberty is sometimes called the “first freedom.” While this is not the place to debate the relative worth of our many freedoms, the simple fact is that, when you begin to read our Bill of Rights, what you read first are the religious liberty clauses of the First Amendment. Many of us in the religious community feel that religious freedom is a hallmark of American liberty and that it has made possible a vibrancy and diversity in religious life unlike that in most other countries, without the religious turmoil found in many parts of the world.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of “special provisions” in the state budget. While special provisions are not new, their increased use to bypass parts of the legislative process and to weaken the voice of the people is troubling. Special provisions are items included in the state budget that go beyond the mere allocation of state money. Some special provisions are clearly relevant and appropriate in the budget (example: a requirement that certain independent groups receiving state money report back to the General Assembly on how they spend it or a requirement that part of an appropriation be spent in a specific way). Other special provisions have only minimal relationship to the budget (example: increasing the penalties for drug crimes).
Disagreements about the proper role of religion in public schools divide local communities and fuel national controversies. Across North Carolina and the United States battles are being fought over school prayer, the celebration of religious holidays, sex education, Bible courses, evolution and creationism. The voucher movement is fueled, in large part, by the opposition of religious conservatives to public education. Many members of Congress are pressing for a constitutional amendment that would permit organized prayer in public schools.
Four years ago, the Council of Churches issued a policy statement on health care that expressed concern about the large number of North Carolinians without adequate health insurance and about the high and increasing cost of health care. Our concern is especially great for those most vulnerable in our society: the poor, children, people of color, and the elderly. At that time, we called for a national health plan that would guarantee universal coverage for health care, coupled with effective cost control, broad-based and equitable financing, and assured quality of services.
The biblical prophet Amos declared “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, conm1unity responsibility for the poor was built into community structure. Landowners were required to leave a portion of their crops in the field, and the poor and needy were entitled to glean fields for food God’s disapproval falls not on those who are poor, but on the kings, the unjust owners, and the oppressors: “God will defend the poorest, God will save the children of those in need and crush the oppressor God will free the poor man who calls on him, and those who need help. God will have pity on the poor and feeble, and save the lives of those in need” (Psalm 72).
The condition of children in our society must be a special and urgent concern for churches. From a biblical point of view, children are a blessing from God (Genesis 15:1), and poor children are seen as objects of God’s special care (Psalm 68:5). In the gospels, Jesus is presented as one who welcomed and treasured children (Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48).
The church has a direct responsibility to nurture children of the family of faith and to provide services for children and families in special need. But the church also has a concern for the children of the entire society and, thus, for social policies that affect them.
Fifteen years ago the N. C. Council of Churches’ House of Delegates adopted a statement on the subject of Christians, churches, and politics. This statement is an update of that earlier one, repeating some of the same points but also elaborating on some new ones. Once again we raise the question, should church groups be involved in politics? What is appropriate or inappropriate in this area?
The statement sets forth some guidelines on some aspects of religion and politics which reflect the perspective of the N. C. Council of Churches and which we commended to the denominational bodies which comprise the Council’s membership. The guidelines offered do not cover every aspect of the subject, but touch upon several which seem urgent at the current time.
Violence cannot be ignored by those who stand in the prophetic tradition of justice and peace and in the gospel tradition of Jesus Christ, who came “to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Violence is evil. Intolerance cannot be tolerated. Silence and passivity by the churches allow hostility, and are unfaithful responses to the Christian gospel. Justice, respect, and freedom must be claimed and pursued for all persons in the service of the justice and peace of God’s sovereignty in history.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the House of Delegates of the North Carolina Council of Churches work with State Government in the following ways to help North Carolina farmers and consumers:
Encourage the State to expand the “Goodness Grows in North Carolina” program with an emphasis on labeling products by their origin. Such labels will help consumers know that they are buying locally produced products, thus helping create markets and increasing the economic viability of farmers.
We must rethink and rework not only the unjust and unwise practices of energy and capital-intensive, centrally-controlled and wealth-concentrating agribusiness production, but also its goals and assumptions, if we are to be true to creation theology and a just, participatory, and sustainable agricultural production system. Specifically, we must use more appropriate regenerative technology and alternative farming methodology in North Carolina if there is to be a future on the farm for many small and medium-income farmers who have survived in the past primarily by growing tobacco. Indeed, without the institution of a regenerative agricultural production system, future generations on all continents will risk the loss of even more of the scarce arable land, forests, species, aquifers, and energy sources at a time when the global population will be doubling every generation.
RT @NCInsuranceDept Do you have unused or expired medication in your house? Safely dispose of them at one of our many Operation Medicine Drop events next week or find a permanent drop box near you! @SafeKidsNC ncdoi.com/OSFM/safek… pic.twitter.com/z1vr…
RT @NCIPLYL Students across the world have advocated for #climateaction, and @NCIPL Youth Leaders agree that World Leaders need to make strong changes and soon to protect the #environment and our #future. #faithinaction #sustainable #energyefficiency pic.twitter.com/Mlsd…
RT @SustainingWay The perfect accessory for St Patrick’s day! Last week Sustaining Way staff participated in and completed the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps training. #leadonclimate @ClimateReality pic.twitter.com/TRxt…
RT @yeampierre Im having trouble with term “selfcare” in a country built on the needs of the “individual “ Historically ppl of African & Indigenous ancestry each benefited by practicing collective care-lets’s embrace that. Climate change demands intergenerational frontline led collective care🌻