Oct 27 2014

PACT’s Community Covenant with the Next Mayor

Published by at 10:04 pm under Minister's Musings

PACT’s Community Covenant with the Next Mayor

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones (with input from other PACT faith and community leaders)

 On Monday, October 13, PACT—People Acting in Community Together—organizes a bus tour of East San José, bringing together a diverse group of faith and community leaders with San José’s two mayoral candidates, Dave Cortese and Sam Liccardo. The evening’s theme: “Hear us, see us, act with us for the good of ALL.”

We begin with an interfaith blessing (which, as the Unitarian Universalist, I get to write) and a statement of purpose. “Tonight we ask you candidates to work with us, and to prioritize actions that address the toll that San José’s disparities of income and opportunity take on our community,” I say. “We ask you to hear, see, value, and act on behalf of those who are marginalized.”

We board the bus, and in the gathering twilight it makes its way through this part of town. It stops at the site of the murder of a young man; at a community center that offers hope to a troubled neighborhood but that now desperately needs funds; at a charter school where young children jump on the bus to offer the candidates bright yellow T-shirts, proclaiming their hopes for their future. At each stop, we hear testimony from members of the community about the impact on their lives of violence, homelessness, quality of education, and lack of access to decisionmakers. At the public forum following the bus tour, the candidates respond to questions about how they intend to govern and lead on these issues.

No one is stumping for one candidate or the other at this event. Instead, we clergy and community leaders are looking for a shared commitment to leadership based on values held in common by our diverse religious and cultural traditions—values that nurture meaningful, productive lives freed from undue suffering. My colleagues—other PACT clergy and lay members—have come to consensus on these four values:

  • Interdependence: Healthy communities know that when all thrive, the whole community thrives. For such health to exist, all must have the opportunity and power to share in the community’s prosperity. When only a few prosper, there is a false appearance of prosperity, but the truth of dis-ease shows through in the lives of those left in poverty.
  • Distributive Justice: The flourishing of the land and the community is to benefit all, not a few. The radical inequities that exist in Silicon Valley call for what the Catholic bishops and others term “God’s preferential option for the poor.” The suffering of the poor must be a priority for people of faith, and for anyone, for that matter, who has a heart of flesh and not stone. The good news of faith, and of justice, must be good news specifically for the poor.
  • Compassion and Advocacy: The community is called to care for and to create structures that address and heal suffering wherever it occurs.
  • Leadership: All religious traditions teach about the importance of leaders who stand alongside the disempowered and oppressed and who use their power to stand for the marginalized.

Based on these values, PACT’s Community Covenant calls on public officials to provide leadership for the well-being of ALL by:

Leading and developing policy in a way that consistently upholds the values of interdependence, distributive justice, compassion and advocacy, and leadership for the marginalized;

  1. Leading and developing policy in a way that consistently demonstrates that you hear, see, and value the participation and the voices of those economically marginalized in our community;
  2. Leading and developing policy in a way that consistently demonstrates that dismantling disparities and reducing inequalities are a top priority.
  3. Developing and approving budgets that consistently demonstrate these values and that provide equitable distribution of resources.

We faith leaders and community members sign the covenant before we get on the bus. By the end of the evening, both mayoral candidates have added their signatures, too. Then, in an op-ed piece published in the San José Mercury News in late October, I join with other PACT leaders once again, as we promise to continue our work with the new mayor and with other public officials, holding all of us accountable in honoring and implementing this shared Community Covenant.

A Note About Ministry in the Public Square

We ministers call events like PACT’s Mayoral Candidates’ Bus Tour and Public Forum our “ministry in the public square.” Ministry in the public square includes our participation in acts of service and justice-making that take place beyond the walls of the congregation or agency we serve. To be worthy of our time, such ministries must speak powerfully to the urging of our own conscience and ministerial call, and/or they must help establish a meaningful public presence for our congregation in its local community and beyond.

Ministry in the public square belongs to congregants as well as ministers, of course. Every month when First Unitarian members and friends serve a meal at the Julian Street Inn, and every time you show up in Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts at a march or rally, you are participating in a vital ministry in the public square. Such ministries are part of our mission to “make Love visible in word and deed.” They put our faith into action; they let our neighbors know what we stand for; they attract others who share our values and commitments. They have always been part of FUCSJ’s history.

Still, some congregants may find it confusing when I show up in the public square, especially if I am taking a stand on a controversial issue with which some of you disagree. After all, you have called me to be your Senior Minister, and we are in covenant with one another. What does my ministry in the public square mean for our relationship?

First, here are the facts, as I understand them: According to FUCSJ’s revised By-Laws, as well as the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association Guidelines, I may speak and act as an individual faith leader, expressing my own deeply considered conscience and commitments. That’s exactly how I signed PACT’s Community Covenant—as the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones.

But I cannot represent our congregation as a whole—I cannot sign for our congregation—unless we have held a congregational vote on a Moral Position. “A Moral Position states a moral issue and a general course of action based on Unitarian Universalist principles,” our revised By-Laws say. To act on such a Moral Position, a congregant, a group of congregants, or a minister must ask the Board of Directors to approve a specific Statement on that Moral Position. The statement responds to a specific pressing issue in a timely manner. First Unitarian has a Moral Position that supports marriage equality, for example. We can make specific statements on behalf of the whole congregation for marriage equality—say, on the national level—with a simple endorsement from the Board.

This process is new. Up until recently, we had to have a congregational vote on every single specific statement. But as we grow into this new process, we will find ourselves better equipped to show up in the public square in timely and effective ways.

So: those are the “facts” about the boundaries and requirements for my ministry in the public square. But the covenantal relationship between you and me, dearly loved community, involves more than just the facts. It also calls on us to hold each other in our minds and hearts as we speak and act. We want our actions to support one another, not harm each other. We may sometimes disagree, but we are called to stay at the table with each other, to listen and learn from each other so that we can all grow and change. These considerations underlie my participation in ministry in the public square, every time.

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