Category Archives: Churches

The Threat to American Greatness

SEABROOK SAYS: Maybe you have been attempting to form your conclusions on this subject.  It is very difficult. Now, it would seem to be an imperative that you give study to Mark Epstein’s comments.  Do more than “think” them – write them.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

My family were once refugees, some of them long ago, some of them just a few generations past; true of most all reading this post.  They were once immigrants to the United States, most of them legal, some probably not; many were children when they made a journey unfathomable to most of us today (my grandfather came from Poland at age 17, with only his sister, 14).   Some just wanted to improve their lot, others were fleeing for their lives.   Of my family, their immigration to the United States was once prohibited because they were perceived as a grave threat to American sovereignty and its way of life (1924 Immigration Act; in the 1930’s under pressure from the America First movement).  Elsewhere they were once forced to register as a member of a religious minority.   They were blamed by their country’s leadership as the source of its problems, a fearful but false narrative that was nevertheless embraced by its citizens.  Laws were passed restricting their liberties; they became a focus for law enforcement. Their houses of worship were defaced; some were attacked.  Some were rounded up, taken from their homes, and deported.  Some were sent to internment camps, or locked into certain neighborhoods of towns and cities.  Some died there.  Isaac, his wife Chaya, and their 4 children Herschel, Yeshianu, Kraysal, and young Miriam were gassed at Treblinka on a cold November morning, 1942.  My mom’s great-aunt/uncle, and her cousins.  May their memory be a blessing.

Sympathy not sought; they were victimized yet no victim mentality here.  But:  in an era when one would think the lesson of history has been learned, nevertheless a religious registry, surveilling “certain” neighborhoods, “national stop-and-frisk,” a Deportation Force, and internment camps are being brought to the national dialogue by serious-minded and influential people with the ability to influence if not create actual policy.  The first step, an immigration ban focusing on religious affiliation, has already been undertaken.  In the public domain, mere mention and discussion of these things makes it tempting to consider them passably normal and worth considering – when in actuality such talk – much less actual policy – is a corrosive national poison that violates the most inviolable of American values.  That no one predicts it ends in industrialized murder here, doesn’t mean that where it starts is not insidious and destructive to who we are, and what this country is, what makes this country great, what Has. Always. Made. America. Great.

Arguments that such steps may be necessary in the name of national security and public safety should make the American hairs stand up on the back of our American necks, and send a collective shiver down our American spines.  To consider these things is not just to be afraid, but to be governed by fear, when famously it is fear itself that is most dangerous of all.   When any act of government, any act at all, can be justified in the name of security and safety, “to save even one life,” history is clear about the outcome, and it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t the United States, and in the extreme there is a word for it:  Police State.   History should make us know better than to even consider this path.  But by God if we have not stepped on it.

My faith tradition is not only very clear about how to consider those amongst us who are different (not only to love them, but to accept them as a native, to share my lot with them, to not wrong them, nor oppress them, nor detest them), it is also clear about WHY…even if in history they may have once wronged me.   It is because I myself have been seen as different; my family was once oppressed and considered the stranger, not native, and detested (and still is by some, sad to say).  Ex 22:21, Lev 19:34, Deut 23:7,  Ez 47:22-23, many more.

Thus should a religious registry come to the United States, register me first, as Jew or Muslim, I’ll take either one.   If there are internment camps, find me there as my family once was.  Deportation Force?  I will aid DACA or Muslim children, just as courageous Righteous Gentiles (Christian and Muslim), at their far greater peril, once aided children in my family.

It is clear the 2016 election was about much more than these issues, but these issues are nevertheless a consequence of the election.  Agree or disagree as we might on many things, as Americans, and people of faith, it is required of us to be vigilant against the corrosive forces of fear that can inadvertently, but without diligence invariably, decay moral and legal violations of our Constitution and our Scripture and the values both encode.

Mark E. Epstein

 

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Tri-Faith Open Letter

SEABROOK SAYS: Mark Epstein is brilliant – and a superb writer.  He has been a very active member of the Interfaith Trialogue (a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Gaston County) for many years.  Read with interest his thought-provoking words.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A Tri-Faith Open Letter to Our Fellow Citizens of Gaston County

Whereas recently and all too often we are witness to senseless tragedies in the name of religious faith, we the undersigned and many others issue this statement to calm, to ease fear, and bring us closer to a world filled with love and peace, where swords have been bent into plowshares, and the lion has laid down with the lamb. To this end we proclaim, and hope all will likewise proclaim, that WE:

    • Believe that faith in God gives purpose and meaning to human life, and is a force for good in the world; that all people are created in God’s image and thus equally deserving of human dignity.
    • Hold that God’s greatest desire is for his creation to live in joy and peace, with forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    • Understand that evil exists in the world, but believe God extended to humankind grace and the ability to discern right and wrong, to be used in the pursuit of righteousness, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
    • Acknowledge that although fear may at times draw close, it should not and need not govern us, and we will not be bound by it. It is within our human capacity to transcend and overcome fear, from which too often anger, discord, and spiritual weakness inevitably flow. It is together, resolute in cooperation and not divided in fear, that we will prevail over those who wish us harm.
    • Hold that Truth of Holy Scripture does not mean its most difficult, even violent, language and passages are a prescription for violence today, nor arrogance of faith, nor demagoguery, nor disdain of other faith traditions.  
  • Reject and disavow violence in the name of God or select scripture, or to advance one’s faith and precepts. WE JOIN OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN RENOUNCING ALL SUCH VIOLENCE.

 

  • Yet recognize the unfortunate fact that any faith tradition will have its misguided fringe, unrepresentative of and rejected by nearly all of its worldwide adherents.
  • Affirm and embrace timeless American values: Liberty, Life, Inclusiveness, Religious Freedom, the democratically-established Rule of Law, and urge all to stand by them no matter how difficult our challenges.
  • Embrace and rededicate our lives to the universal ethics of our traditions: Justice, Kindness, Good Conduct, Charity to care for the least amongst us. Conversely, our traditions commonly hold that God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.
  • Affirm that our traditions each embrace God’s most important directives: to love Him, to love our neighbor, and also to love the stranger. We thus oppose any effort at discrimination – socially, religiously, or politically – directed towards any faith tradition.
  • Are grateful to the men and women of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds who work tirelessly and often at risk to their own lives, to protect our freedoms and liberties.
  • Issue a call for Interfaith dialogue, understanding, and acceptance – for when people of good will gather together in the study of scripture, God is present among them.   And as it enriches each other and our community, it is the same as enriching the whole world.

With these avowals, we and many more are proud to call Gaston County home, and a beacon and stronghold of interfaith diversity and strength.   We join hands to put aside fear, to engage and make our corner of the world better, and to continue our daily work of bringing peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.

 

SIGNED,

Members and Friends of the Gaston County Interfaith Trialogue

(Meeting for 14 years with the purpose of fostering understanding and harmony among the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam)

  • Dr. Mark Epstein, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Charles Gray, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
  • Sam Shoukry, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. Sydnor Thompson, Myers Memorial Methodist Church Gastonia
  • Charles Brown, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rafat Hamam, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church
  • Hassan Ebrahim, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Bill Gross, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rev. T. Steven Bolton, ret.
  • Mark Hanna, Trinity United Methodist Church
  • Linda Gibbons, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Richard Boyce, Union Presbyterian Seminary
  • Jason Shiflet, First Presbyterian Church Gastonia
  • Cindy Buckley, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Joan Martin, Gastonia
  • Cam Tracy, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Chuck Duncan, First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Rev. Vic Wilfong, Covenant & Trinity United Methodist Churches
  • Dr. Bob Blake, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Sally Williams, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Andi Brymer, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Gastonia
  • Geof & Judy Planer, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Steve Knight, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ
  • Jeremy Whitener, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ

 

 

Gaston’s Opioid Issue

SEABROOK SAYS:  To Gaston County residents: You, like most, are unaware of Gaston’s problems with opiate abuse and addiction.  It is bad.  We rank #5 in North Carolina behind Mecklenburg County, which is #1.  Read on, become aware and weep. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Initially, when the news started trickling out that Gaston County was one of the worst counties in North Carolina for opiate abuse and addiction, I sensed that many of my fellow residents were as unaware as I of just how deadly the epidemic was.  As we have begun to educate ourselves, the news has become pretty grim.  Consider this sobering statistic from the Gaston Gazette.

Gaston County remains one of the top counties in the state for heroin overdose deaths, ranking fifth in the total number of such deaths from 1999 to 2014.  Seventy five people in that time period have died from heroin overdoses, putting Gaston County behind only state-leading Mecklenburg (175), Wake (109), Guilford (103) and New Hanover (97).

When reading the stats and figures , remember we are talking about someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, child or spouse.  Opiate addiction does not discriminate and has permeated every race and social/economic demographic in Gaston County.  In fact, one of the quickest growing demographic is white, middle class women.  Whether or not we are aware, we all know someone who is struggling with this form of addiction.

How do we combat the crisis in Gaston?  Fortunately, we have some of the finest law enforcement agencies and some of the most knowledgeable addiction specialist, doctors, social workers and clinicians in the state.

The DDAT (Drug Diversion and Treatment) program initiated by Chief Ramey (Gaston County Police Department) has blossomed into an all hands on deck approach to not only assist those who are addicted, but work to keep them sober with short and long term goals and programs.  They correctly understand that we will not be able to incarcerate our way out of this epidemic.

Our Sheriff has partnered with CaroMont Health to provide over 500 doses of Narcan (a lifesaving drug that when administered can literally bring someone back from the brink) and is ensuring the proper training for GEMS and local deputies.

Our Gastonia City Police are also training their deputies on the use of Narcan and have been actively working with the DDAT program as well as increasing their arrests of major drug traffickers in the Gastonia.

Phoenix Counseling and other groups such as Gaston Controlled Substance Coalition, Partners Behavioral Health and the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services have also stepped up and initiated training programs, public awareness events and treatment programs to address the epidemic.

And still we need to do more.  We are making headway and lives are being saved, but as I talk with legal and clinical experts and recovering addicts; this struggle is far from over.

Gaston County has much to be proud of – we are ahead of many NC localities that are still trying to assess and respond to the crisis.  What is critical now is more community involvement and awareness.

Faith leaders can help by opening their doors for community discussions and allowing recovery groups to meet free of cost.  There is a real need for more ALANON and NARCANON groups to be formed and facilitated by trained staff.  This could be a real asset to the community.

Local schools (public and private) need to formulate or update drug deterrent programs that address the troubling rise in youth addiction and abuse of opiates.  Young adults are quickly becoming one of the most vulnerable demographics of opioid abuse.

Finally, all of us can help by talking to our friends and family about the dangers of abusing opiates, discarding and storing medications properly and the rise in heroin addiction.  Be aware, educate yourselves, form community watch groups and take care of one another.

Like any other crisis that has come our way , Gaston County can and will rise to the challenge.  What will determine the speed at which we gain the upper hand will be equal to the amount our local communities come together to help.  This is your community and our challenge.  Let’s meet this challenge together.  Are you ready?

Robert J Kellogg

Gastonia City Council (Ward 1)

 

 

 

 

Gaston Together- Be Engaged

SEABROOK SAYS: Future leadership is an absolute essential if Gaston County is to move ahead.  Gaston Together is right now creating a plan that begins community-wide action on November 15th.  Please encourage the younger generation (ages25-40) to engage now.  Connect with Donna Lockett.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In 1997, a group of community leaders with foresight decided to launch a unique concept in Gaston County. A non-profit organization was developed with a mission that would tackle big Community Challenges by engaging the citizenry and working to avoid duplication of efforts in our community.  Gaston Together:  Communities of Excellence grew out of this effort.

Over the last nineteen years, Gaston Together has addressed many such challenges in our community. Some “solutions” have remained under its administration such as the “Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour” for third graders and the Gaston County MLK Unity Awards (honoring citizens in our county who build bridges of unity across lines of race, religion, gender, culture and geography in Gaston County.)  Others, such as “Keeping Families Intact”, now the Resource Connection at the YMCA , were transferred to other entities for sustainability.

One initiative developed by Gaston Together in its very beginning and still going strong today is the Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition (GC3.) The GC3 is a non-denominational ministerial association that provides faith-based leadership to address community issues.  Recently, they have created and signed a covenant with Law Enforcement in Gaston County including the Sheriff, the Chiefs of the County and all municipal police departments. The idea behind the covenant is to be proactive in Gaston County instead of reactive to community unrest; to develop a closer working relationship among clergy and law enforcement in Gaston County in an effort to prevent local protest events such as those experienced nationally.  Significant pro-active events since then have included a clergy/law enforcement breakfast to encourage relationship building, a gathering at the MLK Plaza to thank and pray for police following recent violence against police across our country, and a clergy specific police academy developed by the Gastonia Police Department.  Twenty-five Clergy members will take part in the training this fall.

The newest major initiative of Gaston Together is our Civic Engagement process. In an effort to attract and retain the 25 – 40 age group in our county and after several months of community review and cross-sector focus group sessions, in late fall Gaston Together will launch a community process to engage our next generation of leaders for Gaston County.  The underlying objective of this initiative, as the name implies, is to provide a vehicle for citizens- especially the next generation of leaders – to become engaged in endeavors that will improve our community’s vitality and quality of life.

These are just two specific examples of on-going Gaston Together initiatives, but there are numerous opportunities for people in this community to participate. So how can you help and what is the first step?

Find out what interests you. Whether it is just simply working with your neighbors to improve your street/neighborhood or getting involved by providing your opinions and desires to the elected leaders. Think of your county and its future; think of how it will drift if we all do nothing. We are the last county in the Charlotte Metro to experience tremendous growth. Be a part of deciding how, when and where that growth will happen. BE ENGAGED!

For more information about Gaston Together, please visit our facebook page, website: gastontogether.org, or call 704-867-9869.

Jaggy Anand
2016 Gaston Together Board Chair

 Donna Lockett
Gaston Together Executive Director

GO OUTSIDE!

SEABROOKS SAYS: Our churches have been in decline for decades.  Do we really want this?  Dwayne Burks draws an interesting conclusion of churches and the “Go Outside” campaign in Gaston. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Recently our community rolled out a new branding slogan that encourages us to GO OUTSIDE. It seems to be having an impact. In fact, last week I found myself referencing the slogan when I shared our county’s many outdoor attractions with an out-of-town customer service operator who took my refrigerator repair call. Before we hung up, he was convinced to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Crowder’s Mountain State Park. GO OUTSIDE is catching on!

I thought about this new slogan in relation to the plethora of churches scattered across our county. The local Economic Development Commission reports that we have over 700 houses of worship right here in Gaston County.  If my math is correct this means we have a church positioned every half mile for every 297 individuals.

The reasons for so many churches is perhaps another story for another day. But the question for today is what is it that causes certain churches to thrive while others seem to falter or barely get by? Why do some churches pack the pews, while others have more pews than people?  Could it be that some of our churches starting grasping the GO OUTSIDE message long before it was enlisted as community catchphrase?

Christ charged the church to GO OUTSIDE over 2000 years ago by challenging us to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”  In fact, Christian churches routinely refer to Christ’s instruction to GO OUTSIDE as the church’s Great Commission.  Furthermore, we couple the Great Commission to GO OUTSIDE with the Great Command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of First United Methodist’s Rev. David Christy who sums it up using all the sophistication of his Duke Divinity degree when he says, “It ain’t rocket science. We are here to love God and love people.”

Growing, thriving churches seem to GO OUTSIDE, motivated by their love God and their love for others.   Healthy churches do not wait for people to come to them. Instead they GO OUTSIDE their doors and engage their communities.  It may be as simple as greeting neighbors on the street or getting to know homeless in the street. But times are different and traditions die hard.  A generation ago we could open the doors and people would show up.   Churches were the centerpieces of community communication, activities, and recreation.  But times have changed. Communication channels are not limited to a weekly meeting down at the church.  Today we communicate instantaneously.  What once required hours, days, or sometimes weeks to filter down is literally in the palms of our hands.  Likewise, people are more mobile than ever before. Church has become just one of the many options on our map of weekly things to do and places to visit.  But that does not mean the church needs to fade into obscurity. It means we have the greatest opportunity ever to open our doors the other way and GO OUTSIDE.  The world is abuzz with activity where we can do what Jesus told us to do a long time ago – GO OUTSIDE!

While programs coordinate and support this going outside; programs do not dictate it. Healthy churches GO OUTSIDE not with out of a sense of obligation or forced outreach.  Rather, both pastors and parishioners GO OUTSIDE fueled by the genuine desire to love their neighbors as themselves. So the challenge for churches is clear.  How will we move from merely coming to church to actually being the church?  How will we love our neighbors as ourselves if they are not coming to us?  What if we take our lead from Christ and from the growing churches around us and GO OUTSIDE?

Dwayne Burks serves as the Chaplain and Director of Social Responsibility for the Gaston County Family YMCA.
Phone or text: 704.860.2957.
Email: dburks@gastonymca.org