Brother and sister tie religion, globalization
Feb. 1, 2007
NOTE: Photographs are available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Report By Greta Gloven*
DENVER (UMNS) - Rising from humble beginnings as children of sharecropper farmers to become leaders in health care and the church, a brother and sister used their national platforms to explore how God is calling the church to respond to increasing global challenges.
The Rev. Chester Jones, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, and his sister Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general, declared "shalom is our mission" during the Jan. 22-24 Leadership Conference at United Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology.
Elders is the oldest and Jones is the youngest of eight children in their family from rural Arkansas. Both served as leaders in the conference focusing on religion and globalization.
"Religion is at the heart of many of the world's tensions today, so it is fitting that we explore the topic of globalization in relation to it," said the Rev. MarKeva Hill, director of the Iliff Institute.
The conference was designed to explore "a more excellent way" to globalization - a path characterized by hope, vibrant community, mutual appreciation and sustained commitment to relationships.
"Together, we have learned a lot," said Jones, reflecting on his own family's journey.
The siblings said their circle of influence - family, teachers in their segregated schools, the local mid-wife and Sunday school teachers - instilled the importance of getting an education. As a family, they picked cotton to earn the bus money to get Elders to United Methodist-related Philander Smith College in Little Rock. They also looked to the church for scholarships.
Elders recalled that Jones, who was only 5 when she was saving for college, asked his parents excitedly at the end of a long hot day in the fields, "Do we have enough? Do we have enough to send Joycelyn to school? Is this enough?"
Today, said the siblings, the church needs to ask "is this enough?" a bit more often. They also encouraged listeners to work for change through their faith communities.
"I owe a lot to The United Methodist Church," said Elders. "I couldn't have done it without them. I couldn't have done it without the United Methodist women who gave me a scholarship to go to college when I didn't even know what college was. I thank them every day."
Jones' outlook on the world also is rooted in his upbringing and early experiences.
"My first memory of international issues had to do with my uncles returning from Europe at the end of World War II," he said. "There was a clear sense of the external world and its dangers, and that Americans must be vigilant and alert to other parts of the world."
"It was my first understanding that in many ways the world is a global village, although that term had not yet been developed. Nevertheless, I grew up in a global village and under the Cold War threat of the Berlin Wall and communism," he said.
Churches everywhere are called to care for the global village. However, Jones said many local churches have failed to develop biblically based global outreach strategies to take the Gospel "across the street" and "across the sea."
"As the richest country in the world, we are the only industrialized nation that can't afford health care for all Americans," added Elders. "There is no choice for the 47 million people who do not have access to health care."
Global racism is another issue of concern. "When personal prejudice is mixed up with economic, political, military and institutional power, the result has been and continues to be racism," Jones said. "Racism equals prejudice plus power. Power is the ability to define reality and have others accept it."
Elders decried the existence of the "the 5H club" for poor children in America. "In the richest country in the world, we have millions that go to bed hungry. Many of those are children - children who are healthless with no access to health care, that are homeless, hugless with no one care about them, and hopeless," she said.
"When hope dies, moral decay is not far behind. As a church, we must reduce the poverty in this country and address the issues created by this poverty, so that we can move ahead."
Elders and Jones urged conference participants to adopt strategies such as:
* Building healthy relationships among people around the world * Ensuring that global actions work for all people * Improving the understanding of all religions * Growing the church by encouraging young people to come * Getting involved and supporting common-sense educational goals * Encouraging comprehensive school-based health services in schools * Educating parents * Pushing for health care for all people - as a right * Forming alliances, partnerships and cooperative associations
"The church needs to be a catalyst to make change happen. If we are going to transform our society, we need to change," Elders said. "We need to have the courage to change."
"It is the role of the faith community to help the world understand that we are all people made in the image of God and are part of a universal family and global village," said Jones. "When one person suffers from racism, all people suffer."
*Gloven is the director of marketing communications at Iliff School of Theology.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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