Religious Congregations Challenge Growing Inequality

Press Advisory
For Immediate Release - June 3, 1999
Contact:Bonnie Shulman
(617) 423-2148 x19

Religious Congregations Move Past Hand-outs to Challenge Growing Inequality

Tired of just hand-outs and band-aid solutions, more religious congregations are turning their attention to the economic structures that are causing the widening gap between the very rich and most Americans.

On Saturday and Sunday June 12 & 13, laypeople, clergy, and faith-based economic justice leaders from all over the Boston area -- including Catholics, Unitarian Universalists, Jews, Episcopalians, African Methodists, Baptists, UCC's, other Protestants, Muslims, Quakers, Buddhists, and Ba'hais -- will gather at Gasson Hall, Boston College, for a conference called "Putting Your Values into Action: A Religious Response to Growing Inequality," sponsored by United for a Fair Economy. Comedian Jimmy Tingle, Class Acts, and the New Generation Gospel Choir will entertain participants at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

The speakers at the conference will reflect the diversity -- in denomination and approach -- of religious challenges to economic inequality. (See enclosed profiles.) Growing religious activism on economic issues has focused on a few key issues with an ethical or scriptural basis, such as these conference topics:

  • Closing the widening wage gap among American workers
  • Confronting the problems that have resulted from welfare reform
  • Reducing the power corporations have in our lives
  • Forgiving international debt and lessening dependency
  • Investing responsibly in community development
  • Ending sweatshop abuse

United for a Fair Economy is a national independent non-profit organization founded in 1994. The organization puts a spotlight on the dangers of excessive inequality of income and wealth in the United States and brings people together to take action to close the economic divide.

The conference is co-sponsored by the American Jewish Congress, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, Episcopal City Mission, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, Jewish Community Relations Council, Jubilee 2000, the Labor Guild- Archdiocese of Boston, New England Region of the American Friends Service Committee, the Ten Point Coalition, and over a dozen others.

The following speakers are available for interviews before, during and after the "Putting Your Values Into Action" conference:

Leslie Belay joined the staff of Episcopal City Mission in 1996 as the first director of the Pelham Fund for Economic Justice. Before that she worked as a fundraiser and program developer for social change organizations, including the Organization for a New Equality, where she worked on community reinvestment, racial equity, and economic opportunity.

Kim Bobo is the founder and Executive Director for the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. She was Director of Organizing for Bread for the World for ten years. Ms. Bobo is the author of Lives Matter: A Handbook for Christian Organizing.

Rev. Jeffrey Brown is the pastor of Union Baptist Church and co-founder and past Chair of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, an ecumenical group of clergy and lay leaders mobilizing the Christian community around issues affecting black youth. He is currently writing a book on the importance of innovative faith-based institutions in confronting violence and rebuilding community.

David Bryden is the Communications and Outreach Coordinator of Jubilee 2000/USA. Jubilee 2000 is a global network of NGOs and grassroots organizations which is pressing governments and international financial institutions to cancel the unpayable debt of countries in the global South, and to end IMF-designed structural adjustment policies which hurt the poorest and impede economic growth. Jubilee 2000 has been endorsed by most Christian denominations plus prominent faith leaders, including the Pope and Dalai Lama.

Frank Butler is the former President and General Manager of Eastman Gelatine Corporation, a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak. He is both a past President and current board member of The Ministry of Money, an organization working to address money issues from a biblical/spiritual perspective, and is a past Chairman of the Board of Faith at Work. Mr. Butler is past Senior warden in his local Episcopal Church, a Trustee of Gordon College, and a present member of Responsible Wealth.

Jeffrey Dekro is Founder and President of The Shefa Fund, a Jewish foundation that promotes socially responsible giving and investing by American Jews and Jewish institutions. There he established the Tzedek/"Justice" Economic Development Campaign, which educates and organizes American Jews to invest in low-income community development. Dekro is co-author of Jews, Money and Social Responsibility: Developing a "Torah of Money" for Contemporary Life and several other books.

Charles Derber , professor of sociology at Boston College, is a leading critic of American culture and society. He has written eight books, most recently Corporation Nation and The Wilding of America. A contributor to the Boston Globe, the Utne Reader, and many other newspapers and magazines, he is also a monthly commentator on national talk radio and has appeared on Geraldo, Sonya Live and many other TV and radio shows.

State Representative Byron Rushing has been a member of the Massachusetts Legislature since 1982. He is an outspoken local leader on African-American issues. Representative Rushing is also an active Episcopalian lay leader and has been elected lay deputy director to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church since 1973. In his free time, he is a lecturer at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge.

Staff of United for a Fair Economy speaking at the conference:

Chuck Collins is the Co-Director of United for a Fair Economy. He is a co-author of the recently released Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap (United for a Fair Economy). He has given economics education workshops for many religious audiences, including Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and several others.

Scott Klinger has worked in the field of social investing for the last 13 years, first at Franklin Research & Development and most recently at the United States Trust Company. Scott coordinates Responsible Wealth's Shareholder Resolution Campaign for United for a Fair Economy.

Felice Yeskel, EdD. is the Co-Director of United for a Fair Economy. She is a national expert at developing popular education training programs on issues of social class and classism. Her writing has appeared in Bridges, Twice Blessed and other Jewish publications.