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United Methodist Women Mission Priorities 2021-2024
This quadrennium, United Methodist Women will focus on climate justice and the criminalization of communities of color.
by Tara Barnes
United Methodist Women members join local activists in Louisville, KY, demanding racial and economic justice during Assembly 2014.
United Methodist Women is a bold, diverse and dynamic community of Christian women working together to grow spiritually, live out their faith and make a difference in their communities and world, especially on behalf of women, children and youth. Together members focus on social justice issues and actions to make a collective positive impact. In recent years, the organization has named four focuses. For the 2021-2024 quadrennium, United Methodist Women will have two mission priorities: climate justice and criminalization of communities of color and mass incarceration, with particular focus on the Just Energy for All and Interrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline campaigns.
These two areas of critical, unrelenting need are areas in which United Methodist Women can have a great impact. Narrowing our focus to two areas helps us concentrate energy and resources to best do the work God calls us to do, and it allows us to go deeper into each of the issues we’re engaging and develop stronger local and national partnerships in these areas. As we wind down our work on maternal and child health and economic inequality, we are confident that the organizations we’ve partnered with over the past quadrennium will continue to advance justice and equity in these areas. Resources on these issues will continue to be available on the United Methodist Women website through 2022 for use by members. Work on criminalization of communities of color and climate justice will include work on women’s health and economic justice.
Interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline
The school-to-prison pipeline is a term used to describe how children and youth of color are rerouted by systems and institutions, funneled away from educational success and toward the criminal justice system. The goal of the Interrupt the School-to-Prison Pipeline campaign is to move local decision-makers to address the criminalization of children and youth of color and reduce racial disparities in school discipline.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended and expelled. Twelve percent of Black girls are suspended, compared to 2 percent of white girls. Native American students are less than 1 percent of the student population but comprise 3 percent of students experiencing expulsion and 2 percent of students suspended out of school. And 31 percent of students experiencing school-based arrests are Black, though Black children and youth make up only 16 percent of total school enrollment. Native American youth are held in juvenile detention facilities at three times the rate of white youth, per the Sentencing Project.
The school-to-prison pipeline is not the result of any one single action but of many factors coming together. Implicit racial and gender biases is one factor. Many people wrongly assume that children and youth of color are more frequently disciplined and/or arrested because they commit more crimes than their white peers. In fact, children and youth of color do not misbehave more frequently; they are simply treated more harshly for similar or lesser offenses.
Another factor is excessive out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions hurt students. They miss out on necessary classroom instruction and are far more likely to drop out or end up in the criminal justice system. Zero tolerance policies, another factor, have expanded to include a wide array of less serious offenses, resulting in mandated suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor misconduct. Many schools now employ school resource officers—police stationed inside schools. Children and youth can also be brought into the justice system for “status offense violations,” which are behaviors that would not be crimes if committed by adults, like running away from home, skipping school, missing curfew or underage drinking. This uniquely impacts girls because of gender bias, heightened vulnerability to sexual and domestic abuse
and other factors.
United Methodist Women members can interrupt the pipeline. Gifted, cherished young people are disappeared into the school-to-prison pipeline. As women of faith we know that God has more in store for us. We will continue to grow our leadership skills working as school-to-prison pipeline interrupters to build a better future for children and youth by educating ourselves, starting or joining local efforts, talking to key decision makers and supporting young leaders in our communities. Join the campaign at unitedmethodistwomen.org/racialjustice.
Just energy for all
“The adverse impacts of global climate change disproportionately affect individuals and nations least responsible for the emissions. We therefore support efforts of all governments to require mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and call on individuals, congregations, businesses, industries and communities to reduce their emissions,” states United Methodist Social Principle ¶160D in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
Likewise, Resolution 1001, “Energy Policy Statement,” in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, states, “As people of the Christian covenant, we support energy policies that seek to actualize the multifaceted biblical vision of justice. Just energy policies: close the gap dividing wealth and poverty, rich nations and poor; liberate and do not oppress; fairly distribute the benefits, burdens, and hazards of energy production and consumption, taking into consideration the living and those not yet born; and give priority to meeting basic human needs such as air, water, food, clothing, and shelter.”
Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the earth. The top contributor to climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels that we use for electricity, transportation and heat. The United Nations reports that 80 percent of those being displaced by climate change are women.
Climate change affects air, water, food supply and secure shelter. According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, and the costs to health is estimated to be between $2 to 4 billion per year by 2030. Exposure to air pollution from fossil fuel emissions can cause heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, damage to the nervous system and damage to key organs. A study published in Cardiovascular Research estimated that in 2015, the deaths of more than 3.6 million people worldwide, and almost 200,000 people in the U.S. alone, could have been avoided if air pollution from fossil fuels were reduced to zero. Air pollution exceeds the loss of life expectancy due to all forms of violence and that of smoking and other infectious, parasitic or vector-borne diseases.
Fossil fuel air pollution is particularly damaging to communities of color, pregnant women and children’s health. BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color) communities and their children of color are disproportionately impacted by air pollution from fossil fuel emissions, states the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to the NAACP, African Americans breathe in 38 percent more polluted air than White Americans and are 75 percent more likely to live in fence-line communities than the average American. The Clean Air Task Force found that Hispanics are 51 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone than are non-Hispanic whites. And Johns Hopkins researchers found that expectant mothers were 40 percent more likely to give birth prematurely when living in an active area of fracking.
The Clean Air Task Force also estimates that U.S. children miss 500,000 days of school each year due to ozone smog resulting from oil and gas. In addition, more than 22 million children in the United States who ride diesel school buses are exposed to 5 to 15 times more air toxins than the rest of the population. Diesel emission exposure increases asthma rates, decreases lung function, impairs cognitive development and can impact classroom performance. Reducing greenhouse gases by changing our energy dependence from unjust energy like fossil fuels to more just energy like wind and solar will result in improved health for all, especially vulnerable populations.
United Methodist Women members can advance just energy for all both by public witness and personal change. As women of faith called to care for and seek the healing of all of God’s creation, we will press government and company leaders to pass and implement policies that advance 100 percent renewable energy and incorporate a just and equitable transition. We will put our faith into action by examining our own energy sources and how they are impacting our communities, learn from and partnering with frontline communities most impacted, and pressing for concrete change at the national and local levels. We will also work to change our own energy source to renewable energy.
Get equipped and connect with other United Methodist Women members through online and in person Just Energy for All trainings and events. Advocate for Just Energy for All. Join the campaign at unitedmethodistwomen.org/climate-justice.
Gender equity and racial justice
United Methodist Women is a women’s mission organization whose founding and subsequent work evidenced the efficacy of women to lead, achieve and answer God’s calling in a time when women’s role in church and society were stymied.
Gender justice and women’s leadership development are part of United Methodist Women’s core commitments and will always be a key component of all of our work. And we began the work of eradicating racism more than 100 years ago and regularly recommit to antiracist work to dismantle structural racism. We know that all people are beloved in God’s eyes, and until they are loved in the eyes of all, our work persists. Our work to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and push for reduced carbon emissions and renewable energy are important at this time to improve the lives of women, children and youth. Join in these campaigns, with members across the country, and watch your faith, hope and love in action change lives.
Tara Barnes is editor of response.