Workshop teaches biblical justice in addressing community issues

Diocese of Knoxville parishioners join members of other local congregations at faith-based meeting                                           

By Bill Brewer

Father Rich Andre, CSP, associate pastor at St. John XXIII University Parish, discusses social justice programs that are faith-based.

Predatory lending, poverty, joblessness and lack of access to insurance were among the topics addressed Oct. 31 at a social justice workshop for Knox County churches attended by members of several Diocese of Knoxville parishes.

Citing sacred Scripture that calls for political and economic justice and equality for all people, pastors from around Knox County, including Father Rich Andre, associate pastor of St. John XXIII University Parish and Catholic Center, shared ideas and experiences they believe could play a role in promoting social justice.

More than 200 people gathered at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Brooks Avenue for the workshop, which preached biblical justice and solutions to social issues based on God’s teachings.

Father Andre discussed his affiliation with an organization called BREAD while he was a seminarian serving at Ohio State University’s St. Thomas More Newman Center. Building Responsibility, Equality And Dignity is a network of more than 50 faith communities in that region of Ohio that work together on social justice issues.

Father Andre said each year BREAD and organizations like it in cities around the country have meetings to discuss issues important to those communities.

“Those results are floated up to this big network, and then these 50 faith communities pick an issue to pursue that year,” Father Andre said, noting that a committee researches the issue and then works with political leaders to effect change.

He cited three examples where religious-based social justice groups brought about change. In Jacksonville, Fla., ICARE, or Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, came up with an effective alternative called restorative justice that kept students out of the court system for infractions at school.

In Columbus, Ohio, BREAD worked to get predatory lending legislation passed that reduced interest rates charged by payday lenders from 400 percent to 28 percent, affecting 500,000 families dependent on the payday lending industry.

And in Lexington, Ky., where one in four households couldn’t afford adequate housing, BUILD, or Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct-Action, worked with Fayette County in getting $2 million committed annually for a housing trust fund to assist low-income residents.

Rev. Joseph Owens, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington, delivered the keynote address titled “God’s Plan for the City and What Happened” and told attendees that one person and one church congregation can’t fix broken systems, but change is possible when people work together.

“Will you stand in the breach or will you be silent? Will you help repair the walls? Will you hold the political, economic and religious systems accountable to do God’s will in building the city of God? Don’t give up. God is going to hold all of us accountable for what we do with his systems,” Rev. Owens said.

Other speakers at the workshop were Rev. Tom Ogburn of First Baptist Church, Rev. Johnnie Skinner of Mt. Zion Baptist, Rev. George Young of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, Jessica Bocangel of the Compassion Coalition, Elder Chris Battle of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Rev. John Mark Wiggers of St. James Episcopal Church, and Rev. Amy Figg of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Father Andre urged those at the workshop to continue working together for all those in the community.

“We can do this, friends. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to get there. But that’s the thing if you’re a person of faith; you can set your trust in God and say you believe in the Holy Spirit. But today is the day for us to trust, and to work together to see where the Holy Spirit leads us,” Father Andre told the group. “Together we can do what we cannot do apart.” ■

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