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As we once-young weather history, may we share the need to persevere

Faith communities develop consensus statements, have leaders who speak out to challenge their members and society, and know they have ongoing work to inform and empower their members to move beyond loving God to loving their neighbors.

Their governing bodies develop principles for engaging in ministries of social and economic justice, and invite members to volunteer and to find vocations in serving.  The effort to teach members is an ongoing one.

Often late teens and young adults move away from their faith communities, disillusioned by the gap between the teachings and the lives, actions and commitments of those who carry on in attendance, involvement and leadership. 

Often youth and young adults have not seen that—despite the realities of hypocrisy in congregations—they also have a community they could help educate into the kinds of social justice commitments they want to undertake.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a young man when he was assassinated in an attempt to silence his voice and stifle his dream.  The 2012 rally and march in Spokane exemplified reaching out to and involving children in marching and hearing the story.  The day also involved young people in opportunities for serving the community.  Long-term organizers are stepping aside, willing to mentor a younger generation to take over responsibility to organize it.

Similarly, the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference was a chance to challenge young people, turned off by organized religion, about the relevance of religious institutions in the legislative process.  Those bodies carry political power and voice, even as some decline in membership.

Yes, the community of faith is divided on some issues, but on the spectrum of issues related to economic justice there is common ground for raising a common voice and engaging in common action on behalf of the poor and the middle class who are becoming poorer.

Telling stories and drawing younger generations into the stream of knowledge, pain, joys and insights, keeps legacies, traditions, values and cultures alive.

Thinking of legacies and wisdom to pass on to children and grandchildren, I recently saw a several-part documentary series on PBS’s Independent Lens, recounting the decades of effort to overcome the system of apartheid in South Africa. 

It was a global effort.  I remember our regional church annual meeting debating whether to join in promoting a boycott and then later divestment.  I remember educational events.  I remember a black South African pastor at the ecumenical graduate studies program of the World Council of Churches memorizing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches as the only way to take them home. I remember observing World Council of Churches’ assemblies in 1983 and 1991 as delegates supported boycotts and divestment.  I remember the controversy.

Years and years and years of seemingly endless efforts eventually paid off.  Apartheid ended, and there was a free, democratic election.  We  watched this past year as African and Arab nations threw off multi-decade dictators and unrepresentative government.

As I watch the emerging Occupy Movement, the lesson for them is that there be the tenacity through difficult, seeming hopeless times.  Challenging corrupt, powerful, super-wealthy folks is not that easy. 

Yes, we need to look at ourselves and our complicity.  That’s why boycotts and divestment are useful tools.  They clear us from unwittingly supporting that which is counter to our beliefs and values.  They challenge us to realize we’ll never reach a purity, but that should not inhibit us from acting and persevering.

May our children and grandchildren hear our stories and understand our place in global history and our role in bringing and accepting challenge where needed.

Mary Stamp