Eastern Washington Legislative Conference 2019
Faith teachings bridge political divides, stir awareness of connection
Opening the 2019 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, Mike Graef, pastor of Spokane Valley United Methodist Church, quoted John Wesley, founder of Methodism, "The Gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social, no holiness but social. Faith working by love is the length, breadth, depth and height of Christian profession."
Miriam Berkman of Congregation Emanu-El in Spokane then commented that "religion embraces both faith and action. Action lays the foundation for faith. The more we do good, the more we grasp the meaning of life," she said, adding "As we obey God, God's goodness enters our lives and we can change the world."
In a panel discussion on the conference theme, "Inform, Inspire, Involve," four area faith leaders discussed how religion can bridge political divides.
• Pastor Walter Kendricks, president of the Spokane Ministers Fellowship, is pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church and an advocate for justice.
• DR Michel, executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, has 36 years forestry and natural resource management experience, including eight on Colville Confederated Tribes Business Council and Natural Resources Committee.
• Bishop Gretchen Rehberg was ordained and consecrated as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane in 2017. She grew up in Pullman, was a professor of organic chemistry and served the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Lewiston.
• Bishop Emeritus William (Bill) Skylstad of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane grew up in the Methow Valley, was ordained a priest in 1960, was the fourth bishop of Yakima, and was bishop of the Spokane Diocese from 1990 to 2010. He was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2004 to 2007.
Walter said he was at a Boy Scout meeting on April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. With tears in his eyes, his white scoutmaster told the boys to hurry home because "there might be trouble."
Walter said he is impatient.
"We have progressed by sending men to the moon and made technological advancements, but we are morally bankrupt," he said. "How come we continue to have to talk about the same issues King and other civil rights leaders raised 50 years ago?"
Nonetheless, Walter continues to push to make the world better.
DR asserted that "tribal issues are issues for everyone. They are the ecosystem, care for the environment and restoring fish passage. We coordinate efforts to benefit all.
"The tribes have experienced a rebirth of values related to land, water and fish. Love gives us strength to bridge political differences," he said.
"Tribes see everything as part of creation," DR said. "Part of our spiritual tradition is to challenge structures that harm nature."
UCUT works to restore fish passage at Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams, he said, because "the first salmon came up the river to honor humans. The return of salmon is morally right for all," he said. "Our culture respects others. It's the first step to bridge the political divide."
Gretchen described people's innate connection.
She was raised to understand that "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything." Also raised to value education, she thought that if "you did not know the truth, you should be silent." She also believed if she could explain something slowly and simply, the world would work.
Gretchen began in the worlds of both chemistry and the church. In post-doctoral studies in Switzerland on why DNA is the way it is, she learned life exists because of hydrogen bonding.
"Without connection, there is no life," she said.
Gretchen ties that scientific understanding with the Apostle Paul saying, "We are members of one body." For her, electrons connect people on the cellular level.
"God created all and called it good. We are connected," Gretchen said. "We are also differentiated beings. White blood cells know what is them and not them, but if they are not connected to other cells, it may lead to an autoimmune disease. I'm aware, because I take medicine for an autoimmune disease, so my cells don't fight each other.
"Faith teaches us we are deeply connected, but we resist deep connections. It's easier to walk away than to respect and learn from each other," Gretchen said "If I think others' beliefs are wrong, I need to follow a conversation with respect and humility, aware I might be wrong so I can learn."
Gretchen believes it's important to stay in conversation and turn to community, because "someone else may be able to do what I can't, and I may be able to do what they can't."
Bill called for challenging the political divide.
"Pope Francis in 'The Joy of the Gospel' talks about the crisis of community," he said. "We are bucking up against the headwinds of individualism, narcissism, me-ism rather than we-ism. Isolation is the residue of control and fear."
He said Pope Francis speaks against anti-immigration sentiments and building walls.
"Fear makes us do crazy things," Bill said. "We need to be open. Humility is an antidote. We need to go back to loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
"We are not close to measuring up to demands of changing, as Ezekiel talked of turning 'hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.' God's Word is like a two-edged sword. If we hear God's Word, we should soften, not harden our hearts."
Bill said it's easy to give "lip service" to the call to love God and neighbor, but the microcosm of family, friends and church can be the start of the beloved community.
"We struggle to give witness. On the macro level, we are in social relationships with everyone. No one is excluded. Everyone is our brother or sister," he said.
Bill said there's a political role in how a community treats people who are poor or homeless.
"The political situation has disintegrated from a lofty position of seeking the common good, withdrawing into the present power struggle," he said.
"At best, political power promotes rights and obligations," he said. "It challenges us and gives a sense of hope, calling for just peace and right relationships.
"When we hurt and feel pain, we are not in right relationships. Peace builds relationships. We need to fulfill our political responsibility to make the community good," he said.
Jim CastroLang, panel moderator and member of the Faith Action Network board, said each spoke of different experiences, but each "connects with the spiritual understanding that all are connected even though we live in a world that pushes us apart."
He asked the panelists to discuss the tensions of these times.
Gretchen said, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it, but not for a lack of trying, because there are forces that try to bend the arc of the moral universe away from justice. Sometimes, we go backwards, but ultimately love wins. Despite forces that would move us backward, our job is to move forward, so those forces do not succeed."
Bill said today people can see on social media immediately when something happens—like Rodney King's beating or what is happening in Venezuela or Myanmar—and can contrast that "to what we are to do to further God's kingdom." He called for using media to spread what is life-giving.
DR said that as a citizen of the Colville Tribe and of Washington State he lives in two worlds.
"As a tribe, we are sovereign, but we depend on the federal government that formed reservations and limited our access to our homelands," he said. "Politicians today focus too much on the right and left, not middle Americans. We are not just Republicans or Democrats.
"Elected representatives often forget their job is to represent us. They should not push their beliefs on us. Being conservative, liberal or moderate is fine, but they should not talk against others," DR said. "We are all different and need to be able to express ourselves without ridicule.
Fascinated by Gretchen's biology lesson on being connected, Walter said, "We forget that, but as a child of the 1960s, I remember the Three Dog Night song, 'The Family of Man' that referred to King's dream that we not see each other as black or white, straight or gay, male or female, but see all as connected. So if we attack someone, we attack ourselves.
"The Word of God is true or God is not God. From one man, God made all nations, appointed boundaries and set all in place, but it's terrible now. If we look back to 1990, where were we then economically and racially, it's clear that progress is slow. I'm impatient, but God exists through time," Walter affirmed.
Questions and Discussion:
During a question-and-answer time after the presentations, Jessica Zimmerle of Earth Ministry and Washington Interfaith Power and Light then asked, about interreligious unity and people finding the least common denominator between their faith traditions.
Bill said, "We need to put first things first. We let the color of skin, ethnic diversity or political divisions come in the way. Politicians respond from the culture."
Gretchen said, "If it's not about love, it's not about God. The majority way may not be right for all. We should not water down faith."
Walter asked, "Why are we so afraid to reach out to people who are different? Jesus had no fear of talking with anyone any time. It's like living in vacuum chambers, not open to those who are different. Too often people act as if they can only teach others, not learn from them."
Sr. Pat Millen, OSF, asked how to move congregation members to be understanding on immigration.
Walter referred people to Jesus; words: "When did I see you naked, hungry in prison. When we do it to the least of these, we do it to Jesus."
DR said, "That's an interesting question about immigrants."
A pause was filled with laughter, and then he asked, "Does anyone have ancestors from here? Mine are."
He said politicians want Americans to fear immigrants, but the caravan is mostly women and children fleeing rape and violence.
"When Lewis and Clark came, we did not turn them back. That's who we are as a tribe. We fed them. We're all people and all created equal," he said.
Gretchen said that for "followers of Jesus, there is no wiggle room, and as Americans, "we are drawn to ideals America was founded on. I have no choice. We can fail to live as Christians or Americans, but if I fail I do not hear the inspiration to rise to the Gospel and American ideals."
To see videos of the Panel statements and discussion click here.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2019