Archive - March, 2010

Tea Party Protester Spits on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver

A statement from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s office reports that as he walked into the Capitol on Saturday afternoon to vote a Tea Party protester spat on him. The statement says it’s not the first time he’s faced such behavior. Rep. Cleaver is also The Rev. Cleaver. An ordained United Methodist pastor he has been a leader in the civil rights movement and an articulate voice in the church for social justice.

Rep. Cleaver is not pressing charges against the protestor. In a statement he expresses his dismay that the national dialogue in the 21st century has devolved to this level.

So should we all be dismayed.

The statement from Rep. Cleaver’s office follows in full:

In response to an incident earlier today, Congressman Cleaver’s office has issued the following statement:

For many of the members of the CBC (Congressional Black Caucus), like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the others Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the “n” word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in this years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow’s vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today’s protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.

Danny Rotert

Communications Director

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver

Making Global and Local Work Together–Part 5

I believe local and global support for poverty reduction can work together. I believe in scale and community-based local development.

Recently I experienced a conversation in Congo that reinforced this belief. It also stimulated thoughts about scale. Here’s how. If the resources of a major denomination such as The United Methodist Church were focused, coordinated and applied to community-based development and public policy, they would be potentially transformative.

I heard local interfaith clergy, UMC bishops and hospital administrators from across Africa call for assistance for education, communication, health and economic development. It occurred to me if in-country expertise at the grassroots, volunteer mission teams from outside, the skills of general agencies and financial resources from various contributors were coordinated in a focused effort to reduce poverty and improve health, it would bring a wealth of experience, expertise and financing together in an unprecedented way.

If an integrated educational effort were conducted in which volunteers were informed about policies that would further poverty eradication and provided with action steps to support them, it would create a platform for citizen accountability for humanitarian assistance among experienced, informed people.

And if the church had a global trade specialist in its General Board of Church and Society tracking humanitarian assistance and monitoring it to influence policy-makers and keeping this citizen constituency informed and actively supporting policies for good governance and accountable use of humanitarian assistance, it would complete the connection between local and global.

There’s no lack of critique about the failure of humanitarian aid and piecemeal, siloed application of development assistance. From William Easterly to Paul Farmer , Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDun to Paul Collier the experts have spoken. A consistent, integrated approach connected from the grassroots to global policy combining skills and commitment at every level could be a powerful force for change.

Global and Local Development–Part 4

Community-to-community partnerships provide a remarkable opportunity for creating global awareness and citizen advocates for policies for accountable government and effective social change to lift the poor out of poverty. In The United Methodist Church, my own faith community, we have many partnerships like this. Local congregations sponsor mission teams to communities in the developing world and many of these return consistently to the same location. Similarly annual conferences, which are regional entities incorporating local congregations, partner with counterparts in the developing world. A relationship develops and continues over time.

These partnerships put a face on poverty. They build relationships. They provide an occasion for drawing connections to public policy and good governance in order to build advocates in the developed world for responsible use of foreign assistance and accountable government among the bottom billion. However, this intentional education at a deeper level does not always happen. Volunteers motivated by genuine goodwill and humanitarian concern do not connect with policies that trap their friends in survival-level existence.

Collier suggests goodwill and concern are insufficient. In fact, he’s critical of heart-felt motivations in the development community. I view it differently. As we care about people in the bottom billion and we are motivated by good intentions, it seems sensible to structure mission team experiences to include an understanding of the causes of poverty and the policies that allow it.

Volunteers can be briefed about how trade and economic policies, structural issues and corrupt government  keep people trapped in poverty. As they put roofs on humble health clinics, they should be informed about how misappropriation of aid assistance keeps health systems under-funded and poses global threats to general health. As they put mortar in simple school buildings they need to understand why education systems go underfunded with no books and underpaid teachers. And when riots, coups and violent revolutions erupt they need to know why military assistance is not necessarily a pathway to security for these nations and the world.

In a direct sense these various factors are among the reasons volunteers travel around the world to assist others who live in less favorable circumstances. Do you agree that volunteer experiences can be a platform for advocacy? Is this a worthwhile goal?

More tomorrow.

Scaling up to Accomplish Development–Part 3

Millennium Development Villages won’t scale. That’s the criticism.

I’m a great believer in scalability.  In development, the term is used to describe comprehensive application of techniques or methods to achieve widespread change. To scale up to national distribution of bednets to prevent malaria, for example, is a common use of the term. It sounds like goobledy gook, but it’s not. It’s very important, necessary and valuable. I’m a believer.

But I wonder if we get caught in a zero sum analysis referring to one methodology to the exclusion of another.  This analysis creates tension between local and national. For example, some development specialists are saying long-term partnerships between groups such as local congregations or a combine of congregations and villages elsewhere are proving beneficial for long-term, lasting change. These are usually facilitated by organizations with development skills such UMCOR or LWR.

These are not scalable as are national programs implemented through coordinated efforts across a country or a region, and initially they don’t address the problem of corruption. I believe, however, they’re an alternative to small-scale, one-off projects in different places which dilute effectiveness altogether. And they are relationship-based, an important part of any development effort. They can create deeper, comprehensive change over time, and they can be an entry point for creating advocacy for policy-based large scale intervention.

So the question is posed: Should a partner concentrate on a long-term relationship that results in comprehensive change in one place or support small changes in many places around the globe?

The criticism must be acknowledged that this model does not address en masse the needs of the billion people who live in the nations with the lowest standard of living. These countries continue to be unstable, corrupt breeding grounds for disease and violence. They represent a global threat that must be addressed, and the model I’m describing doesn’t adequately do that. But it could be helpful. More in the next post.

What do you think about small-scale, long-term development in contrast to large-scale efforts?

Introducing Change in Development Projects–Part 2

One new theory about community change says it doesn’t happen by asking villagers what’s wrong with their village. A criticism of the Millennium Village model is that it doesn’t rely on standard assessment procedures such as comparing control groups to test groups to measure the results of active inputs.

The Millennium Village model brings multiple inputs, recognizing that health, income and education are interrelated and require attention simultaneously. This comprehensive approach is changing lives.

Another interesting model tackles problems by identifying a village’s strengths and organizing people around them. Rather than talking about how to introduce change at a theoretical level or assuming that a step-by-step implementation strategy developed elsewhere applies across the board, this action-oriented method of problem-solving focuses on grassroots strengths and builds upon them. Heath and Heath illustrate how Cambodian mothers improved their children’s nutrition by following the practices of mothers with healthy children in a nearby village. They learned how “successful” moms selected and prepared locally available food that was not normally considered appropriate for families to consume. This is organic, community-based change that resulted in changed behavior.

It did not rely heavily on a community survey to identify a range of problems. It is solution-based. It identifies a problem and applies community knowledge to it, supplementing it as needed. Among its strengths is sensitivity to the unique context of the village. It addresses specific needs within this context and does not apply solutions conceived from outside based upon methodologies that are theoretically strong but unrelated to the local culture.

It’s pragmatic “Larry the cable guy” development theory–“Let’s get ‘er done.”

I think there are other advantages I’ll address in the next post but I’m interested in what you think. Is it necessary to use traditional measurements to assess development progress? Is not doing so a weakness?

Millennium Development Villages and Social Change

Even as it demonstrates success , a Millennium Development Village model project draws criticism. Sauri, Kenya is improving health care, creating income, saving lives, educating children and achieving other positive outcomes. But critics contend it isn’t scalable and isn’t measuring outcomes effectively. Apparently, it’s just working.

The program tests the idea that focusing multiple development inputs on a specific village can lift people out of poverty and improve their lives quickly. It appears to be accomplishing that result.

But critics say it doesn’t address scalability—the idea that methods can be replicated nationally or regionally across a broad area and applied to many other villages. It doesn’t address corrupt governance at the national level. And it doesn’t establish “control” villages without inputs so that changes in Sauri can be measured against them. Therefore, its successes are minimized and the methodology is being critiqued.

In fact, it may be exactly what is needed and replicable. It may also demonstrate that traditional measurement practices need updating as well.

I think the success of Sauri and the criticism reveal something more helpful about development and change than the critics recognize. And I think the criticism itself turns the spotlight on development practices and change measurement that we can learn from.

In the next few posts I’ll comment on these thoughts and ask what you think.

Getting Outside the Bubble

In “They Like Jesus But Not the Church,” conservative author Dan Kimball contends that some of his colleagues live in a bubble of Christian subculture. As a result, they use insider language and presume that values they share within their faith communities are more broadly accepted in the wider culture than they truly are.

Kimball says emerging generations know little of the religious values that shaped older generations. In fact, some have no understanding of organized religion and those who do are often skeptical or reject it outright.

Studies by the Barna Group confirm the bad reputation of organized religion among emerging generations.

As bad as this is, Kimball says the reality is even worse. Because they live in the subculture bubble, these church leaders are unaware of negative perceptions about them, and they don’t hear the many conversations about organized religion occurring outside the bubble.

I suspect we are all subject to living in bubbles and I’m not rushing to judgment. I doubt it’s unique to the conservative leaders Kimball is addressing.

Important conversations about religion and spirituality are occurring in various places relevant to local congregations and mainline faith communities that we aren’t aware of because we can’t keep up with all of them, and we’re not present in some of the media where emerging generations are living their lives.

This is one reason I think being a pastor of a local congregation today is among the most difficult vocations in the church. Managing multiple expectations about values, priorities, perceptions and judgments about what it means to be a person of faith in the fragmented and polarized dawn of the 21st century is an extraordinary challenge.

It’s a daily, ongoing feature of our media-driven lives. It occurs at the intersection of faith and culture. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of that intersection I feel caught between irreconcilable differences, and occasionally I’m lambasted by one critic and then another, and they hold opposing views! In a two-sided debate I’m wrong on both counts!

And I’m not charged with delivering a word of hope every Sunday in front of a flock with such disparate expectations. To do so is an act of courage I deeply respect.

Communicating isn’t easy

Going beyond the bubble is a challenge we are trying to meet at United Methodist Communications.

The past few days have reminded me that we live in an unfettered environment of judgment and critique, affirmation and agreement. We’ve had some invigorating theological discussions at United Methodist Communications as we’ve considered how to partner with local churches in public media to communicate about the church and faith.

We’re considering messages to be delivered through external media such as television, print publications and the Internet. We contend with issues of language and values that push the edges of institutional constraints and traditional religious language.

This isn’t merely because we want to test limits, but because communicating today is no easy task. Simple phrases like “organized religion” carry negative connotation among those in the United States who’ve been burned by experiences with a church in the past or who only know organized religion by what they see on television or read in news stories.

In a media-saturated environment, religious perceptions are shaped by televangelists and the religious right. But people who don’t know us lump us into the same category.

And that’s only part of the challenge. Some congregations are more willing and able to push the edges of language and messaging than others.

Then there’s the absence of mainline voices in mainstream media. Lack of significant presence in media-digital and other forms-only adds to the misperception of irrelevance, or worse, unconcern. It leaves the presentation of values from the Christian tradition to celebrity megachurch pastors and other media-savvy religious entrepreneurs who are not representative of the whole diverse community of faithful Christians.

Add to this generational, cultural, racial and ethnic considerations, and communicating with those who don’t know the language of the church becomes even more complex.

Seizing opportunities

Stepping outside the U.S. bubble, we at United Methodist Communications don’t assume that what works in the United States will apply to Europe, Asia or Africa, and we consult with persons in various global contexts to gain perspective about communication in their unique circumstances.

We learn a lot from local churches around the world. They help us to break through our own bubbles, and we hope we partner in a helpful way in a reciprocal learning process.

After writing about these challenges, I must also say there could hardly be a more exciting time to be a communicator in a faith community. The tools and the opportunities have never been greater.

At United Methodist Communications:

  • We’ve expanded our global engagement with people through social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • We offer online training in various skills relevant to local church ministry.
  • We produce a weekly webinar on using technologies to get outside the bubble.
  • In non-church media, we invite people unfamiliar with The United Methodist Church to come to 10thousanddoors.org to learn more about the church.
  • We’re frequently updating the front page of UMC.org to keep it fresh.
  • We publish a digital edition of Interpreter magazine.
  • We’re using more videos and blogs on several Web sites.
  • Increasingly, we’re publishing in nine languages and striving for consistent global coverage of church stories.

We’ve seen conversations grow and take flight. We’ve seen visitors to the Web sites increase, and more pages opened and read. We’re continuously monitoring what people are interested in and how long they stay on various sites, and we adjust content to attract them.

And it will come as no surprise that we’ve received accolades and taken criticism.

God’s love: Too big to contain

We may not have broken the bubble yet, but we’re working hard to expand it. We work from a premise that The United Methodist Church is concerned about the conversations occurring around it, especially about spiritual concerns and organized religion, and that we as a church can be more expansive in our outreach and sensitive to those with whom we want to communicate.

We work from the conviction that the teachings of Jesus about the love of God cannot be contained in any bubble. God’s love breaks through our isolation, fragmentation and division, and embraces all who seek it.

And we follow the lead of John Wesley, who said more than 200 years ago, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”

BBC Claims Ethiopia Famine Aid Misused

The BBC is reporting that 90% of money raised in 1985 to alleviate famine in Ethiopia went to Tigrayan rebels to buy arms in the struggle for independence. Musician Bob Geldof, founder of Band Aid, which raised $100 million is demanding the BBC provide evidence of abuse of funds.

The claims are made by two individuals who were part of the rebel movement and who are opponents of the current president of Ethiopia with whom they were once affiliated. He stands for re-election in the spring. The report also says the CIA alleged some money was misused.

In an effort the magnitude of the famine response in Ethiopia there is a risk that food or funds will be misdirected. But not at the scale alleged in this report.

The claims sound preposterous. The two say rebels posing as businessmen sold bags of sand to aid agencies rather than grain. And they claim that most of the funds went to purchase arms.

Aid agencies operating in Ethiopia at that time were not newcomers. Many had long experience in the country. They were there long before the famine and were among those who attempted for several months to make the world aware of the suffering that was underway. They struggled to gain attention.

The ecumenical agency in Ethiopia responsible for distributing some of the food was headed by an Irish priest who had lived in Ethiopia for many years and was well-known across the country. It’s unlikely he was misled by imposters selling sand. That experienced aid agencies were fooled in this way is difficult to believe.

It’s also difficult to believe misappropriation could have occurred at the level alleged under the control of a heavy-handed military dictatorship that was hardly likely to allow diversion of resources to the same rebels it was fighting. The Ethiopian government was led by a Marxist military junta heavy on control.

I traveled extensively in Ethiopia during the famine and afterward and witnessed distribution of food and medical care under extreme hardship. While I wouldn’t argue that the effort was flawless, nor that some leakage of funds is possible, the response abated the worst effects of the famine and saved millions of lives. The war continued long after and, in fact, aid agencies resisted the use of aid for military advantage by either side in the struggle.

The BBC must produce the evidence Geldof is calling for. Otherwise, reasonable people should reserve judgment about the accuracy of the report.

Internet Access A Fundamental Right?

A survey of several thousand people in 26 countries says Internet access should be a fundamental human right.

Pakistan, Taliban and Jobs

In an intriguing BBC report on Taliban tunnels in Pakistan the point is made that people in the Bajaur region need jobs. If not, the deposed Taliban could return and re-capture control of the region.

It’s a persistent theme in the region. The breeding grounds for the seeds of Taliban terror are fertilized by poverty and its related branches, unemployment, lack of health care and education and desperation exploited by Taliban organizers.

This points to the fact that military actions are not sufficient. After successful military intervention even more important steps must be taken to create effective, sustainable development, provide children quality education and create effective, reliable governance. These are easily stated but difficult to achieve.

It’s easier, apparently, to fund military activities than to fund these softer community development changes, yet security is equally dependent upon such functions.

I note that Church World Service is carrying out  long term development in Pakistan, not necessarily in the Bajaur region, but in places with similar need. Security and social instability are directly related to poverty. The work of community development may be the most significant action the world can take to stem terrorism and recruitment of young people to carry out acts of terror.