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Linda Parrish Speaks on Faith, the Power of Organizing

Linda Parrish, of member organization Tacoma Dominican Sisters and Associates, delivered a powerful homily at Sunrise Methodist Church connecting religious social teachings and the organizing she does with the Sound Alliance. Read the whole speech here.

Linda Parrish, of member organization Tacoma Dominican Sisters and Associates, delivered this powerful homily at Sunrise Methodist Church connecting religious social teachings and the organizing she does with the Sound Alliance:

I am Linda Parrish, a Tacoma Dominican Associate, moved into action by the social teaching of my church. Catholic Social Teaching is a central element of our faith. It confirms a dignity that is every person’s birthright, and affirms the very preciousness of our being.

Because we are sacred, social creatures, our economics and politics, our laws and policies must be informed by a moral vision. It is our responsibility to care for the entire human community, especially the poor and marginalized, the stranger.

It is said that the moral test of any society is measured by how the most vulnerable are treated. So, as Jesus once did, we, in our time and place, must boldly “bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” It is the Church’s sacred obligation to humanity. As Methodist Social Principles state, "Our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state" and our church's public witness is first and foremost to be judged by God by whether it supports justice, love, and mercy, particularly for the poor and powerless.”

So, it seems that you and I, as people of faith, are really called to be prophets. So what is a prophet? A prophet stirs the heart and conscience of a people. A prophet is not a model of holiness or a seer into the future but a person who has taken God’s Word to heart and has the courage to confront whatever diminishes the sacredness of human life. As the Dominican theologian Mathew Fox said, “The prophet knows something about trusting anger, trusting one’s moral outrage, trusting what is intolerable and molding that anger and outrage into creative possibilities.”

The prophet interrupts the way things are done and presents a vision and path to a way the world can be. In working on the issues around the Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds in our community, we were confronting the injustice of actions that separated families, actions that detained our neighbors without real cause, actions that damaged community trust and actions that ultimately damaged our collective soul.

Today the Church celebrates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. His physical departure from this world does not mark the end of Jesus’ relationships with us but is really the beginning of a new way of His relating to the world, in and through us.

The Kingdom of God is not to be found in some heaven in the future but is to begin as a lived reality now, in our time and in our place. And Jesus has charged us with the responsibility to make that happen. After all, the primary activity of Christians must be in the public arena not in the sanctuary. It is there that we proclaim the Kingdom of God over and against the kingdom of the world. For us Christians to resist the call into public life is to resist the very call of the Holy Spirit. With Jesus’ physical absence from our earth the words of St. Teresa of Avila are so important to remember, “Christ has no body but yours and mine, no hands, feet on earth but yours and mine."

Let me say that the church has always confronted the evils of its day through the ministries of charity and advocacy. It has planted its feet in vigils and marched in protests. But there is one more tool in our “Making the Kingdom a Reality Now” tool box and that is strategic organizing to make policy change so that marching and vigiling and direct services and advocacy are no longer needed. That is why the Tacoma Dominicans are involved with Sound Alliance.

In working with Sound Alliance, I have had the pleasure to work with wonderful Universalist Unitarians, especially those from Saltwater Church. Our work together began a year ago April when the Tacoma Dominicans brought their desire to work on issues around immigration and the Northwest Detention Center to a Sound Alliance listening meeting at Saltwater Church. Members of Saltwater agreed that they wanted to join this effort as well.

We began the research phase together and found that a Trust Ordinance in King County was being considered and was stalled in committee, the chair being reluctant to move it out to the full council. Once moved out of committee to the council as a whole we were able to play an instrumental role in passing the strongest piece of legislation of its kind in the country. We interrupted the way things were being done, bringing to an end the County’s cooperation with the unwarranted detention of our neighbors.

And how did we accomplish this? We strategically planned meetings with critical members of the King County Council. There were small meetings and very large meetings with as many as 450 constituents and we asked them to support the Ordinance. We got what we asked for each time.

The crucial vote came from Jane Hague of Kirkland, the only republican to vote for it. It passed because of her vote. Sound Alliance made that happen. We did it by forming relationships, doing our homework, being clear about what our goals were, and being forthright about asking directly for support from our elected officials. This is what we did. It was very good, holy work, but now there is more, so much more justice work that we can do together.

We are beginning to develop deeper relationships with more churches, with unions, both trades and professional, and with our other member organizations so that we can do together what we cannot possibly do alone. We will have each other’s backs! Which is potent stuff in a world where power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer and the wealthy and powerful are much less well disposed toward the marginalized.

I want you to know, this organizing works, and it works in amazing, varied ways. And for me and the Tacoma Dominicans, this work with Sound Alliance is Jesus’ hands and feet and body and heart and soul made present in a very, very broken world.