Sunday, July 14, 2013

One Teacher, One Book, One Pen, Can Change the World

The Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for attending classes, July 12 addressed hundreds of young people at the United Nations, urging them and world leaders to work towards free education for all girls and boys in every nation in the world.  She spoke in the name of the world’s religions calling for peace, education, and equality.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world,” Ms. Yousafzai said, in an impassioned address.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had named July 12 – Ms. Yousafzai’s 16th birthday – ‘Malala Day’ in honor of her heroic stand to ensure education for all. The meeting, which featured nearly 1,000 youth leaders, was addressed by former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in his capacity as UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

 One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.

Malala, who was shot in the forehead and face, told the gathering that the Taliban’s attack on her nine months ago changed nothing in her life, except that “weakness, fear and hopelessness died.”

“The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens,” she said. “The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.” She urged worldwide action against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism.

This call to action was delivered just as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) Education for All Global Monitoring Report, launched a new policy paper spotlighting that globally, the number of children not allowed or able to attend school has fallen from 60 million in 2008 to 57 million in 2011. However, 28 million children out of school live in the world’s conflict zones, and more than half of those are women and girls.

Watch the video of her inspiring speech at this U.N. website:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Assault of Rampant Anti-Abortion Legislation and the ELCA Social Statement

The North Carolina state Senate voted on the Eve of July 4th on a measure that would add more restrictions on abortions. The anti-abortion measures were tacked onto a Sharia law ban even though there is no Sharia Law in the United States. Fear upon fear for the Fourth of July.

“They’re doing it quietly on 4th of July weekend because they’ve seen what’s going on in Texas and know that women will turn out,” Melissa Reed, VP of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems said.
The bill requires abortion clinics to meet standards for licensure of ambulatory surgical centers. The bill would also require doctors to be present when women take the oral drug RU486 that can terminate a pregnancy preventing the attachment of a fertilized ovum to the uterine wall.

In Ohio Gov. John Kasich flanked by six men, signed stringent abortion restrictions into law as part of the state's new budget Sunday night. There were no women involved in the final part of the budget process.

The new abortion provisions will make it harder for family planning groups like Planned Parenthood to receive federal funding. The bill requires doctors to perform ultrasounds whether medically needed or not.

One provision prevents abortion clinics from having written transfer agreements with public hospitals. Ohio requires surgical abortion providers to have such transfer agreements so that the clinic can easily transport a patient to the closest hospital if needed. By preventing clinics from having those agreements, the bill would effectively force many to close.  

Ohio's new abortion restrictions came just days after state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Texas, successfully filibustered proposed anti-abortion regulations in her state. But those regulations were back on the table this week as Texas began a special legislative session, and Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, has vowed that this time, "it will become law." He is determined to win! Five other states, Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Kansas and South Dakota, have quietly passed GOP-sponsored abortion legislation that takes effect this week.

So what does the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Social Statement on Abortion say? (It was adopted by more than a two-thirds majority vote at the second biennial Churchwide Assembly in 1991.)

“Because of our conviction that both the life of the woman and the life in her womb must be respected by law, this church opposes:

  • the total lack of regulation of abortion;
  • legislation that would outlaw abortion in all circumstances;
  • laws that prevent access to information about all options available to women faced with unintended pregnancies;
  • laws that deny access to safe and affordable services for morally justifiable abortions;
  • mandatory or coerced abortion or sterilization;
  • laws that prevent couples from practicing contraception;
  • laws that are primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion.”

This relentless battle advancing like wild fire in legislatures across the states is fueled by fear. One man said, “Abortion is a stain on the fabric of our nation. Our country can be healed. … In God’s timing, it will happen if we remain faithful.” This relentless “battle” seems to have less and less to do with children, or even with birth. The entanglement of faith and freedom and fear on this Fourth of July rings with emotion.  But what is the fear? And where is the concern for hungry children? And gun violence? And a nation that imprisons more of its people than any other? The ELCA’s  Social Statement does not see abortion as the highest or only sin on which we should focus: “Sin is evident in the many ways human lives are not given equal respect or treated with high value, but are subject to abuse, violence, and neglect by individuals, groups, and entire societies.”

No woman seeks to have an abortion because it’s a great experience. ELCA Social Statement: “Abortion ought to be an option only of last resort. Therefore, as a church we seek to reduce the need to turn to abortion as the answer to unintended pregnancies. Abortion ought to be an option only of last resort. Therefore, as a church we seek to reduce the need to turn to abortion as the answer to unintended pregnancies.”

The ELCA Statement also says, “The concern for both the life of the woman and the developing life in her womb expresses a common commitment to life. This requires that we move beyond the usual "pro-life" versus "pro-choice" language in discussing abortion.”

And, “We are moved particularly by the anguish of women who face unwanted pregnancies alone. The panic and isolation of such pregnancies, even in the best of circumstances, can be traumatic. Poverty, lack of supportive relationships, immaturity, oppressive social realities, sexism, and racism can intensify her sense of powerlessness.”

This ELCA Social Statement, adopted over 20 years ago is as valid today as then, and valuable, needed, in the public conversation, particularly given the assault of anti-abortion legislation sweeping across the nation from state to state. What is the fear? Why is Governor Perry determined to “win”? Do the primarily white male legislators fear losing control? Losing political contributions? Do men fear losing out to women who really do need freedom for health care of their own bodies?

 The radical nature of forced vaginal ultrasounds becomes a weapon to “win a war.” But what war? And who is the enemy? I am a woman of faith who cherishes birth and children and this nation. And I am afraid of the fear that would violate and victimize women and children.

There have been a few legislative initiatives to require equal restrictions upon men’s bodies and sexual freedoms, but most have been received in jest. Seriously, conception needs both sperm and egg.  What if across this nation, state by state, we worked together for responsible, loving, caring conception?  Instead, deeply rooted fear has manifest itself in erroneous information that a woman’s body somehow “takes care of the situation” in the case of rape. Legislation rules to punish the incest and rape victim with little mention of legislation to punish those who rape or perpetrate incest.  Men who have sex outside of monogamous marriage are also a danger. Where are the advertisements with that warning alongside those that boost testosterone?

The ELCA Social Statement on Abortion: “A woman should not be morally obligated to carry the resulting pregnancy to term if the pregnancy occurs when both parties do not participate willingly in sexual intercourse. This is especially true in cases of rape and incest. This can also be the case in some situations in which women are so dominated and oppressed that they have no choice regarding sexual intercourse and little access to contraceptives. Some conceptions occur under dehumanizing conditions that are contrary to God's purposes.”

What would it mean to promote sex education for young men and women that is accurate and positive and includes the faith foundations of all, not just some people on the religious right?

The ELCA Social Statement on Abortion: “Marriage is the appropriate context for sexual intercourse. This continues to be the position of this church. We affirm that the goodness of sexual intercourse goes beyond its procreative purpose. Whenever sexual intercourse occurs apart from the intent to conceive, the use of contraceptives is the responsibility of the man and of the woman”.

And: “Our congregations and church schools ought to provide sex education in the context of the Christian faith. Such education, beginning in the elementary years, needs to emphasize values such as responsibility, mutuality, and abstinence from sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Parents should also be prepared to teach sexual responsibility to their children in the home. It is especially important that young men and young women be taught to exercise their sexuality responsibly.

And: “Because this church recognizes parenthood as a vocation that women and men share, we should encourage and educate males, from an early age, to assume more responsibility for raising children. Congregations should provide parenting classes and support groups for fathers and for mothers.”

And, “Greater social responsibility for the care, welfare, and education of children and families is needed through such measures as access to quality, affordable health care, child care, and housing. Sufficient income support for family’s needs to be provided by employers, or, in the case of the unemployed, through government assistance. As a society we need to provide increased support for education, nutrition, and services that protect children from abuse and neglect.”

And, “Because parenthood is a vocation that women and men share, this church supports public and private initiatives to provide adequate maternity and paternity leaves, greater flexibility in the work place, and efforts to correct the disparity between the incomes of men and women.”

The Supreme Court Rulings handed down last week were diverse in content and outcome; however one could find a connecting theme of freedom and fear in them as well. Striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Bill of the Civil Rights Movement has huge implications.  Voter Suppression is on the rise. Why fear the freedom of all to vote?
Concerning Marriage Equality, there was the fear that marriage of LGBT people would diminish marriages of heterosexual people.  Heterosexual people do not need to be afraid of Gay and Lesbian people.

So what is the fear on this Fourth of July? Fear that if all people, of every color, ethnicity and creed vote, Caucasians will have less power? Fear that if women have access to health care and choice and become full partners with men, men will somehow have less control, less power?

Freedom for some needs to mean freedom for all. Of that we need not be afraid. Planned Parenthood, planned partnership. Freedom from fear.