After a few months' reprieve, I'm back to writing for the Blog and hope you'll enjoy these musings . . . . .
Should religious groups care about the appointment of Sybil Bailey to the board of the Seattle Housing Authority? First, some background. Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) is the largest provider of housing to Seattle's homeless population. In fact, it's the largest landlord in Seattle, overseeing roughly 10% of all housing units. It has literally billions of dollars in real estate assets, and it will likely be the biggest player in the upcoming work of implementing the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County.
Last week, the Seattle Times carried a story that described the "uproar" caused by the nomination of Sybil Bailey. Among groups decrying the nomination were one of the Council's programs, the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness (ITFH).
The problem? An ancient drug conviction was dredged up by someone in the anti-Bailey camp, and the Times made it look like the ITFH was jumping on the pig pile, with an elderly, African-American woman in a wheelchair on the bottom. In reality, the ITFH did not bring up the conviction -- that was done by others. But unfortunatley the Times article gave the impression it did.
The controversy underlines the difficulty we religious social justice advocates have when we join the public debate about controversial issues. How do we keep from getting dirty when the mud is being slung by either side?
I think it's important for all faith-based social justice folks to follow these "rules of engagement," with which we can keep the conflict clean, and keep our prophetic voice clear.
1. Never attack an individual, ever. It doesn't fit any religious principles I know of.
2. Always treat every individual, whether we like him/her or not, with respect, knowing he/she is a child of God.
3. Stay out of controversies about appointments or elections -- they ultimately revolve around individuals mostly, and not about the issues.
4. That said, stick to the issues. We are only interested in the issues, not in the personalities who are supporting them.
5. Assume that all correspondence is public, so even write e-mails while asking the question, "Could this be read in worship?" Ultimately, God is our audience, not the people who're making decisions. What we write or say needs to be considered knowing that God is overhearing it.
6. Our public statements should be rooted in prayer. If we've prayed in advance, we should come off as gentle, firm, and impassioned. If we haven't, we'll may come off as angry, implacable, and shrill.
7. In a secular world, we are ambassadors of faith. When people read what we have to say, they should sense that it fits in our scriptural and moral traditions. Along these lines, it is ok to use the word "God" and to invoke religion in each paragraph. That what people are looking for from us!
8. We always must speak with modest and politeness. We never resort to foul language, and we speak so that even a child could hear us and not be offended.
These rules all sounds so simple . . . yet in the heat of battle, it's easy to resort to arguing or fighting the way we do in less guarded moments. I hope people related to the Church Council will remember these rules . . . . they'll help us get the totality of our message across.