Gamaliel Network is thrilled to announce the Rev. David Bigsby Religious Leaders’ Development Fund, which has been established to honor Bigsby as he approaches retirement and acknowledge his commitment to developing effective religious leaders.
For more than three decades, Gamaliel has successfully trained men and women to build deep relationships with their wider communities. Hundreds of religious leaders have gone through Gamaliel’s training and attested to its power and efficacy. Many of them have come to recognize that the attitudes, arts, disciplines, and spirituality of community organizing are key in making their congregations and the wider faith community relevant.
At a time in our nation’s history that is characterized by disruption, uncertainty, and profound division, religious institutions like those that make up the base of our Network have an opportunity to reimagine themselves: To ask the hard questions of what it means to be a community of faith in this time and place; to act with courage; and respond to the needs of millions of people crying out for purpose, for hope, for connection, and for the power to transform their communities. It is our hope that the Rev. David Bigsby Religious Leaders’ Development Fund will foster this hunger for transformation in a new generation of religious leaders.
Rev. David Bigsby is a courageous pastor who has served in a variety of capacities across the Gamaliel Network for more than two decades. As President of Gamaliel of Metro Chicago, President of Gamaliel of Illinois and Iowa, Chair of the Gamaliel Council of Presidents, and Member of the Gamaliel Board of Directors (just to name a few positions he has held), Rev. Bigsby has advanced the need to develop religious leaders in the attitudes, arts, disciplines, and spirituality of community organizing.
“Rev. Bigsby is one of Gamaliel’s brightest north stars,” said Ana Garcia-Ashley, Gamaliel’s Executive Director. “In the Bible, hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised and its strength is in His faithfulness. Rev. Bigsby is hopeful. He has always reminded us that Gamaliel’s ministry is of God, and no matter how difficult things get, our hopes are going to come to pass. Thank you Rev. Bigsby. You make us a better Gamaliel.”
We hope to seed this fund is $5000 by the close of our virtual fundraiser, We Are Gamaliel: Passport to Power on February 27. We will also honor Rev. Bigsby during the event.
Supporters may invest “seed money” in this fund through March 15 here.
Reparation. Responsibility. Reconciliation: Gamaliel Transformational Justice in Action Platform 2021
The following is Gamaliel’s Transformational Justice in Action Campaign’s 2021 Platform, which was released publicly during the Transformational Justice in Action meeting on January 22. This is a living document that was last updated on January 23, 2021.
Download the platform document here: Gamaliel Transformational Justice in Action Platform 2021
As people of faith and good will, we believe that fully inclusive community, which treats every human being with dignity and respect, is the sacred principle by which we order our lives together. It is essential, therefore, that the practices we engage in and the systems, structures, and institutions that we construct for ordering community must be restorative and life-giving. Because our lives are intertwined, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that people with conviction histories and their families do not experience punitive social, political, and economic repercussions too often associated with our current justice system.
As people of faith and good will, we are uniquely positioned to shape a public policy agenda that is transformative rather than retributive. It is our responsibility to challenge the criminal justice system—as well as other relevant systems—to bring together people impacted by crime, people with conviction histories, and their networks of care in meaningful exchange and decision-making in order to obtain reparation, take responsibility, and achieve reconciliation. Transformational practice emphasizes welcome, inclusion, and healing for all parties.
To that end, Gamaliel prioritizes the following national issues and calls for:
1. The United States Congress to pass a significant Justice Reinvestment Act in 2021
- The Act can begin to repair some of the damage done in past legislation, especially the federal 1994 Crime Bill.
- Previous legislation has provided resources to states, counties and municipalities to expand prison capacity, to acquire military equipment for law enforcement, and to increase arrests. This must end, and resources need to go toward re-building people and communities.
- The Justice Reinvestment Act needs to provide resources for jobs (whether private or publicly created), housing and other supports for people returning from incarceration,
- It must provide for alternatives to incarceration including mental health and Substance Use Disorder treatment, Treatment Courts, etc.
- It must provide resources to rebuild the communities that have been most harmed by mass incarceration. This could be for schools, youth programs, jobs programs, and the like.
- The Justice Reinvestment Act needs to create an oversight board that will oversee efforts to reduce incarceration and re-build communities.
2. The federal and state governments to fully restore the voting rights of people convicted of felonies other than treason
- There is no requirement in the US Constitution that people convicted of felonies should lose their voting rights at any point. As a matter of fact, there are some states where those rights are never lost. The decision to disenfranchise people because of felonies is mostly a post-reconstruction political choice.
- The eventual goal should be for voting rights never to be taken away (except for treason). People in prison are still stakeholders in our society. Many have children in schools, and other ways that they have direct interests in decisions made by elected officials. And, of course, elected officials have enormous power over incarcerated people. It is only just that they should have a role in electing those officials.
- A first step in a full restoration of democracy could be to make uniform the practice of restoring voting rights to individuals immediately upon their release from prison (even if they still have to be on extended supervision, or if they owe restitution or fines). Once released, these people are paying taxes and participating in all other aspects of our civil society.
- Additionally, incarcerated people should be counted in the census as residents of the address that was their most recent residence before conviction.
Sacred Texts and Theological Frames
Note: Our work is rooted in the values of our various and diverse faith traditions. As you can see from the “why” statement above, community is the primary value or principle lifted up for shaping systems like the criminal justice system. This is a beginning collection of some of those texts/frames. It is not an all-inclusive nor static set of texts/frames. As additional texts/frames are provided by more religious leaders, they will be added to the list.
From Judaism, with a bit of commentary added from the Union for Reform Judaism social justice agency called the Religious Action Center, more closely connected to criminal justice reform:
Maimonides lists five transgressions for which people do not repent. One of them is mistakenly suspecting an innocent person of doing wrong. One will justify his suspicion by saying, “I haven’t sinned. What did I do to harm that person?” He doesn’t realize that he commits a sin by considering an innocent person a transgressor (Hilchot T’shuvah 4:3). The racial bias in the criminal justice system means that, all too often, people of color face a presumption of guilt for crimes they did not commit.
“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his life and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). In the Jewish tradition, the sanctity of all human life is a primary value. Our definitive goal should be rehabilitation—not punishment. Our criminal justice system should effectively assess individuals who violate the law and ultimately prepare them to reenter society.
“You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or defer to a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness” (Leviticus 19:15). As we are told, we must not favor certain people in the justice system. We want to work together for a criminal justice system that acts from righteousness for the benefit of all.
From the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living (Christianity), paragraph 33
Because we hold that all people are God’s creatures (Genesis 1:27) and that he has made of one blood all nations (Acts 17:26), we oppose any discrimination based on color, race, creed, or land of origin and declare that we should treat everyone with love and respect.
From Roman Catholicism (Christianity)
In the story of the “Woman caught in Adultery” in the Gospel of John (Jn 7:53 – 8:11), the woman is about to be stoned to death for her crime and Jesus intervenes. He diffuses the situation and then says to the woman “Has no one condemned you?” She replies “No one, sir.” Jesus replies “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”
Pope Francis has commented on this:
“Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversion . . . God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient . . . .”
Jesus restores the woman to her previous life and through this hopes to convert her to a better life. According to Jesus, condemnation and punishment are not the ways to restore her but mercy and patience are.
From Armenian Orthodox Church (Christianity)
Regarding those who are oppressed by drugs (fourth bullet point in #1 of national issues above), those who are in grinding poverty (fifth bullet point of #1)
Jesus inaugural proclamation of his purpose. He quoted the Hebrew scripture when he declared:
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind
to release the oppressed
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Regarding any of the points about prisoners, poor, sick . . . we must remember who they are at their core.
Jesus praised those who fed him when he was hungry, visited him in prison, looked after him when he was sick, welcomed him when he was in need. And they asked him: when did we feed you when you were hungry, care for you when you were sick, visit you in prison and the Lord replied, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
(See Matthew 25:34-40)
And general, those of the Christian tradition are called to love.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God . . . . since God so loved us, we must love one another.” (I John 4:7a and 11)
Gamaliel Responds to Targeted Attack Against Civil Rights of Immigrants Press Conference: “We Will Not Be Silenced”
The following is a statement issued on Thursday, January 21, 2021. You can download our press release here: Gamaliel Statement on Zoom Bombing Attack
During a scheduled press conference by our Civil Rights of Immigrants campaign on January 21, 2021, the Gamaliel Network was the target of a Zoom bombing attack. We believe this was a premeditated, targeted attack intended to silence us as we called upon the Biden Administration to enact comprehensive immigration reform in his first 100 days in office.
We’d like to thank the speakers who bravely shared their testimonies and spoke out for immigrants’ rights at our press conference: Miguel Rodriguez, Ben Ramirez, Reverend Nelson Rabell-González, Walda Lanza, U.S Representative Lou Correa (CA-46), Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, Lydia Camarillo, Jennifer Perez and Diana Perez.
But these cyber criminals have only succeeded in proving how powerful our message truly is. We know that immigrants, undocumented persons, and their allies are under constant attack by those who fear true social, political and economic equity in our country. Gamaliel and our affiliates are not afraid of such attacks. We will not stop pushing for a complete inclusive immigration reform until all people have an attainable path to citizenship and all people, regardless of citizenship status, are protected under the law. Our work is especially urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic; while undocumented immigrants have always been essential to the United States’ economy, those essential workers are now even more vulnerable to dangerous working conditions and disparities in access to government relief efforts. We will not stop working to bring attention to this vital issue.
“I was horrified by the hateful nature of those who perpetrated this Cyber attack. As a member of the clergy, and as an Afro-Caribbean Latino, I felt victimized by this hateful intrusion into our press conference,” said Rev. Nelson H. Rabell-González, M. Div., STM, and BSME. “We are advocating for millions of marginalized migrants whose voices need to be heard. I pray that we may not be discouraged by this hateful attack, and continue our work of advocating for a comprehensive immigration reform, so that the new Biden Administration and the US Congress may pass a bill that grants justice to the more than 11 million essential workers, who are undocumented immigrants.”
Even now, Thursday’s attack has spurred action from Gamaliel’s leaders. Many leaders who witnessed the Zoom bombing were convinced that if our message was important enough to merit attack, it required immediate action. Those leaders immediately called their representatives to demand that they act on our call for Complete Inclusive Immigration Reform. We urge all who are upset by the attack and who read this message to do the same.
“Today, our community, a training called Community Organizing for Transformative Ministry, witnessed and listened to the stories of immigrants. Unfortunately for us, this event was disrupted by a toxic Zoom Bomber. As a class and a community of people who care about justice, we are undeterred. We will make calls to our Representatives. In total, we represent 17 of states and 23 Congressional Districts,” said Mary Lim-Lampe, a Gamaliel trainer and organizer, on behalf of the training cohort.
Our vision for Complete Inclusive Immigration Reform includes the following urgent demands upon the Biden Administration:
- Moratorium on all deportations.
- Free all detained immigrants who have no history of violence and/or who are at high risk from COVID-19.
- Expand COVID-19 relief to include all undocumented immigrants.
- Provide ALL undocumented essential workers protective status and work permits.
- Expand and create permanent protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
- Create a pathway to citizenship.
- Reverse Trump’s racist immigration policies.
- Remove the Public Charge Rule.
- Remove practice of family separation at the border.
- Restore family reunification as a priority in evaluating family petitions.
- Reinstate Temporary Protection Status (TPS).
- Remove the “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers.
- Restore application costs (Citizenship, LPR) to pre-Trump costs.
- End the funding of private prisons that incarcerate undocumented immigrants. Close all detention centers.
- End militarized funding of immigration enforcement.
- Hold ICE CBP/ agents accountable for abuses of power and include a quarterly accountability report.
- Abolish ICE from local law enforcement.
- Address root causes of migration through financial inclusion and empowerment of remittances.
- Mobilize low cost remittance for savings bonds for development
- Invest in Sustainable employment in high migration sending communities
- Focus on development to address climate change roots of migration
The following is a statement issued by the Gamaliel Network and Congregations United to Serve Humanity (CUSH), our affiliate in Kenosha, Wisconsin. You can download the statement here: Gamaliel Statement on the Exoneration of Rusten Shesky
The members of the Gamaliel Network stand with our brothers and sisters in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Once again, a victim of police abuse of power is on the wrong side of justice. For Jacob Blake, his judgment is lifetime paralysis after being shot in the back seven times, and two years probation after pleading guilty to lesser charges. The officer who shot Mr. Blake avoided charges after the Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley refused to file charges against the officer. For far too long African Americans have been the victims of inhumane treatment by law enforcement who are shielded by qualified immunity, biased prosecutors or both. We cannot, and we will no longer tolerate unequal protection under the law. Everyone deemed culpable should be held accountable in this heinous form of domestic terrorism also known as police brutality–from mayors to police chiefs, prosecutors and judges. This imprudent decision by the District Attorney further supports the need to call for the dismantling of qualified immunity.
As people of faith, united in the Abrahamic tradition, the image of God is not distributed discriminately to where people of color have been left out. The image of God is just as present in Black bodies as it is in White bodies and until this country agrees to stand on the principle of one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all, we will continue to live among the unbalanced scales of justice.
We share here the statement issued on January 6, 2021 by Gamaliel affiliate Congregations United to Serve Humanity (CUSH) in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“TO THE COMMUNITY OF KENOSHA ––
Kenosha District Attorney Graveley expounded Tuesday on the legal and factual reasons that neither officer Rusten Sheskey nor his colleagues would face charges for their involvement in the paralyzing shooting of Jacob Blake. While we understand the basis for the decision and we recognize that the law was on the side of the officers, we are troubled by the forces that caused this tragic situation.
We have seen, time and again, law enforcement committing crimes more egregious than those they were trying to prevent, protected by statutes and policy that insulate them from accountability for their actions. The recent dismissal of charges for officers responsible for the murders of Tamir Rice and Breonna Taylor were apt prelude to the decision in the Jacob Blake case and only add to the frustration and grief we in the Kenosha faith community feel for all who have been denied justice.
As religious leaders committed to pursuing peaceful ends through peaceful means, we implore all who protest to do so responsibly and without violence. Further, we are all the more steadfast in our belief that laws and policing policies that legitimize what happened to Jacob Blake are unjust and need to be rectified.
We believe that, while the actions of the officers involved in the incident on August 23, 2020 have been deemed to conform to the letter of the law, there were other options open to the officers that would have caused less harm to Mr. Blake and less trauma to the witnesses, including children. We call for disciplinary action against all three officers involved in the incident of August 23rd, 2020 for not taking those other actions.
We are further concerned about the actions of law enforcement in the days that followed this incident, specifically the welcoming of armed citizens to our city and the disregard of their violations of the law while protestors and others out after curfew were subject to arrest and treated harshly. We call for an examination of these actions and ask that Chief Miskinis and Mayor Antaramian take responsibility for failing to address these deficiencies and inequities. These oversights show complicity in perpetuating a culture of fear and the suppression of citizens’ voices which privileges property over people.
Furthermore, we call for a commitment to divest 20% of the city budget currently allocated to law enforcement to invest in black and brown communities in Kenosha, including but not limited to areas affected by the protests in August, ensuring that current residents are able to remain through expanded affordable and subsidized housing even after redevelopment has been completed.
Finally, while the Mayor has established task forces to examine some of the racial issues that persist in Kenosha, we call (yet again) for a reestablishment of the Human Rights Commission in order to better supervise and direct inquiries into human rights abuses by municipal authorities. Until such a group exists and has the resources necessary to perform their duties, no positive change will be lasting.
It is our utmost hope and most sincere prayer that we might take this moment of great pain and use it to fuel a more just and equitable Kenosha for all who live here.
Religious Leaders Caucus,
Congregations United to Serve Humanity
Rabbi Dena A. Feingold, Beth Hillel Temple
Rev. Paul Petersen, St. Mary’s Lutheran Church
Rev. Matthew Buterbaugh, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church
Pastor Patrick Roberts, First Baptist Church Kenosha
Pastor Kara Baylor, Campus Pastor, Carthage College
Cassie Oliver, CFS Carthage College
Rev. Jonathan Barker, Grace Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Monica L. Cummings, Bradford Unitarian Universalist
Rev. Erik David Carlson, Bradford Unitarian Universalist
Russ Hahn, Trinity Church Kenosha
Rev. Jim Lynch, Lakeside Lutheran Church
Judy Seiberlich, OP, Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa
Erica Jordan, OP, Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa
Rev. Dr. Grace Cajiuat, Wesley United Methodist Church
Rev. Susan Patterson-Sumwalt, First United Methodist Church
Fr. Gerald Hessel, St. Mark Catholic Church
Fr. Carlos Florez, St. Mark Catholic Church
The following is Gamaliel’s statement on the white power and white supremacy on display at the United States Capitol on January 6. Download the press release here: Gamaliel Statement on the Blatant White Supremacy on Display in the U.S. Capitol Attack
As we continue to mourn the seditious attack on the United States Capitol Building, the Gamaliel Network reaffirms its commitment to racial equity and condemns the blatant white power and supremacy displayed by law enforcement and those who conducted the insurrection.
On January 6, 2021, nooses, pipe bombs and molotov cocktails – symbols of racist terror – were brought to our nation’s capital by a mob that intended to disrupt our democracy. In response, law enforcement officers allowed these insurrectionists to breach barriers, allowed them to wreak havoc in the Capitol Building, and, most notably, did not resort to deadly force or conduct mass arrests. While Gamaliel does not support the use of deadly force by law enforcement, we are reminded of the countless people of color who have been brutally murdered by police for far less. We stand in solidarity with the thousands of peaceful protestors who were arrested and brutalized by police in summer 2020 as they stood against white power and supremacy and the violence committed by law enforcement against people of color. We voice our anger at the blatant double standard exhibited by law enforcement when dealing with white domestic terrorists and people of color and those who stand with them.
Several politicians and media personalities have said that the insurrectionists do not represent the real America. We at Gamaliel strongly disagree. What happened at the Capitol on January 6 was the purest expression of American white power, white supremacy and systemic racism. This is the true face of the country in which we live. But we commit to bearing witness to that truth, and we will not stop working to dismantle all systems of oppression. We will not stop until people of all races are treated with equity and dignity in their interactions with systems of power. We demand that those responsible for this atrocity face justice.
This is a joint statement from Rev. John Welch, Rev. David Bigsby, and Gamaliel Executive Director Ana Garcia-Ashley on the treasonous protests and unlawful breach of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 20201.
Download the press release here: Gamaliel Statement on the Treasonous Protests in Washington, D.C.
Gamaliel Statement on the Treasonous Protests in Washington, D.C.
Chicago, IL –– The Gamaliel Network denounces the unlawful breach of the United States Capitol Building this afternoon.
We condemn the violent attempt to disrupt the democratic process and to discredit the results of the 2020 election. We call upon every member of Congress and President Donald Trump to acknowledge the results of the election and to demand that protestors leave the Capitol Building. We call upon leaders at all levels of government and on both sides of the aisle to call this action what it is: an act of domestic terrorism, and an attempted coup. We call upon all Americans to demand and support a peaceful transfer of power.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Washington, D.C and with all Americans in this dark moment. We mourn the violence inflicted upon our nation’s capital. We pray for a safe and peaceful end to this atrocity.
We encourage our affiliates and members to speak out against these acts of domestic terrorism and invite them to use our statement as needed.