The Board of Directors, staff and affiliates of the Gamaliel Network join in prayer for the family of George Floyd, residents of Minneapolis and across the country, as the emotions of joy and jubilation flow in response to the historic verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial.
We realize that while justice is an unattainable ideal in these cases, we will continue to push for the accountability of those who recklessly enforce laws in this country and for legislative reform in states that continue to shield such misconduct through qualified immunity statutes.
The pressure of “good trouble” has only begun to build the dam that will eventually stop the turbulent flow of the waters of injustice.
Gamaliel stands in protest and mourning against the brutal death of Daunte Wright at the hands of police officers April 11. We stand with the Brooklyn Center, MN and Minneapolis/St. Paul communities as they cry out against this latest injustice and mourn the death of another senseless police shooting of a Black man.
It is not lost on us that like George Floyd, Daunte Wright died because of the knee jerk, violent reaction of a veteran police officer to a nonviolent situation. It is not lost on us that once again, we are asked to look upon these officers with compassion and a violent death as a simple mistake, as if our ability to see these perpetrators as human will restore the human life and dignity stolen from Daunte Wright and George Floyd.
Gamaliel will not accept the excuses offered by the Brooklyn Center Police Department and Minneapolis Police Department. We will not accept the continued and continuous police violence against Black and Brown people across the country.
We call for a thorough investigation into the death of Daunte Wright. We demand full accountability for the officers responsible for his death, and police reform throughout our country. We invite all people who are also disgusted by police violence join our Transformational Justice in Action team and work with us toward criminal justice reform.
The following is a statement from Rev. Dr. John C. Welch, Chair of Gamaliel’s Board of Directors, on the act of terrorism against the Asian population in Atlanta on March 16, 2021.
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh terrorized Oklahoma City. In 1996, Eric Rudolph terrorized Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA. In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold terrorized the town of Columbine, CO. In 2012, Adam Lanza terrorized Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. In 2017, Stephen Paddock terrorized Las Vegas, NV. In 2015, Dylann Roof terrorized the Mother Emmanuel congregation in Charleston, SC. In 2018, Nikolas Cruz terrorized the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, FL. In 2019, Patrick Crusius terrorized patrons at a Walmart in El Paso, TX. This is a list of just a few incidents of domestic terrorism that has faded from the proverbial memory of this country.
The shooting at the spa in Atlanta where eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian women, is just another note in the litany of terroristic acts of violence. To not characterize this as a racially motivated act against Asians, spawned by the discriminating false narratives associating them with the Coronavirus will be a miscarriage of justice. This parade of lies and mischaracterizations has stoked a venomous assault against Asians in this country.
These terroristic embers have never been fully extinguished, embers lit and fanned by the ideology of White supremacy. Black Americans, Latinos and Asians have long been the targets of bigoted vitriol and violence, hatred too often witnessed by a great number of apathetic minds and unsympathetic hearts — but more importantly, witnesses who are unwilling to extinguish the hatred.
We cannot be a land of liberty and still live in fear. We cannot be the land of liberty under a misguided and misinterpreted constitutional right to bear arms, a freedom of speech that allows for unrestrained hate to be spoken from the mouths of the most powerful people in our country and others, and an explicit undermining of our democracy. Hate against Asians is no different than hate against Indigenous peoples, against Blacks, and against Latinos. White supremacy has been the problem since the founding of our country and will continue to be until we the people destroy it at its roots.
As people of faith, we have a greater witness for whom we are obligated to take action. It is the God whose name we have attached to the founding documents of this country and whose name we have attached to the currency of our economy. We may have forgotten the lives lost to domestic terrorism at the hands of White supremacists, but God has not. God also has not and will not forget our inaction. Let us not continue to forget and instead move into prayer and action.
Gamaliel’s first-ever online fundraiser, We Are Gamaliel: Passport to Power, was held Saturday, February 27 and live streamed to multiple platforms. The live streams and video recordings have been viewed more than 1,000 times, and the event brought in over $26,000 in investments.
The evening was a virtual journey through Gamaliel, complete with tour guides Catoya Roberts, Gary Enrique Bradley-Lopez and Rev. John Welch. Affiliates from each state where Gamaliel operates contributed videos that highlighted their work at the local level. Gamaliel National Staff, Board of Directors members, and sustainers were also on hand to discuss Gamaliel’s National Strategic Priorities and the importance of the Network in building power across the country.
Gamaliel also took the opportunity to honor Rev. David Bigsby, who plans to retire in 2021. Rev. Bigsby 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.
In honor of Rev. Bigsby, Gamaliel announced the Rev. David Bigsby Religious Leaders’ Development Fund, which will continue Gamaliel’s tradition of training religious leaders to ask the hard questions of what it means to be a community of faith in this time and place, 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. With the help of investors eager to show their appreciation for Rev. Bigsby’s work and legacy, Gamaliel met its goal of “seeding” the Fund with $5,000 raised during We Are Gamaliel. Contributions to the Fund will continue to be accepted indefinitely through Gamaliel’s main investment page. Those who wish to designate their contribution to the Fund should mark the investment in honor of Rev. Bigsby.
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)