Recordings of Sunday Platform addresses
March 20 is the first day of spring, Earth Day as celebrated by the U.N. (April 22 is also celebrated as Earth Day by other groups). As a community that seeks to “act with reverence and commitment toward the natural world,” we will take this Sunday to mark the Spring Equinox and renew our promise to protect our environment. Last year, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, I saw a road show by former Vice President Al Gore about global warming. I’ll share some information from that experience, and also explore how we educate ourselves and others about ecological ethical issues. What are the barriers to our understanding and action? Can we overcome some of those barriers by approaching the issues differently? How can we talk about the environment so that people listen, and how do we get beyond the false choice of “the environment vs. the economy”?
That is not a rhetorical question, but one that every thinking person should answer. It has been answered widely by many people, but seldom is there an in-depth analysis of the wide variety of factors that should be considered. Tens of thousands of Americans have lost good jobs – but tens of millions of Chinese have escaped starvation. Your values, experiences, and philosophies will determine your answers, but have you asked all the questions?
Bill Brighoff has been a member of the Ethical Society of St. Louis for more than a dozen years. Presently, he is an officiant and a board member, but mostly he is known for being the husband of Carol Bartell. In past lives, he has been a carpenter and a lawyer, but now he ekes out a living as a high school teacher in the St. Louis Public Schools.
This Sunday we’ll look at the basic differences in attitudes and beliefs that lead those on the religious right and left to embrace their respective values and to translate those values into specific social positions. Given that this weekend St. Louis is hosting an anti-gay conference by religious right groups, we’ll also examine the real-life consequences of religious beliefs on people’s lives, as well as why the religious right is so threatened by the women’s and gay rights movements, and how Ethical Culture as part of the religious left can respond to the critical civil rights issues of our time.
There are two visions of America. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, hostile to science, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy. It sees America as a religious nation. It views patriotism as allegiance to God. It secretly adores coercion and conformity. Despite our constitution, despite the legacy of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens our freedom.
The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding revolution and in the leaders of this nation who embraced the age of reason. It loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces science and affirms the dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines patriotism as love of country and of the people who make it strong. It defends all citizens against unjust coercion and irrational conformity.”
– Rabbi Sherwin Wine
Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice http://womensvoicesraised.org is a new St. Louis organization founded by four women discouraged and fearful for their country, who decided to quit complaining and do something about it. They will discuss their struggles to overcome fears and frustrations and to summon the courage, self-confidence and energy to move forward and found Women’s Voices. They will explain what the organization has accomplished, some of their hopes for its future and the impact of the experience on one of them as an individual.
The four founders of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, now retired, have various backgrounds: Joanne Kelly was a teacher, counselor and administrator in several St. Louis County school districts. Ann Ruger was a project director, grant writer and editor for several St. Louis-based child advocacy organizations. Ruth Ann Cioci was Kirkwood’s office manager and vice president of Laura McCarthy, Inc. Realtors Barbara Finch is a retired public relations consultant who taught creative writing for Springboard to Learning for three years.
Borrowing a line from a Robert Frost poem, Norman Seay will reflect upon some earlier relationships between the Ethical Society and segments of the black community during the days of overt and transitional discrimination and segregation. He will also identify some current issues of exclusion.
A challenge will be presented for people of good will to again promote the philosophy and implement practices of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others as the quest to achieve justice, peace and fair play continues in the current sophisticated and capitalistic environment.
Norman R. Seay, a prominent civil rights activist, is a founding member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in St. Louis and a former president of the NAACP of Montgomery County, Maryland. In the 1960s, CORE was instrumental in forcing places of public accommodations to serve and employ blacks in greater St. Louis. In 1963 he spent 90 days in jail as part of the effort to force banking and other financial institutions to employ African Americans in white-collar positions. Mr. Seay is President of the Federation of Block Units of Metropolitan St. Louis, Director Emeritus of the Office of Equal Opportunity at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and on the Executive Committee of the St. Louis NAACP.
One thing that separates successful institutions and movements from unsuccessful ones is the ability to talk straight about money. We often feel confused, conflicted, and guilty about how and how much we make and spend. Our discomfort with the topic keeps us from looking squarely at how we’re spending and what we’re really getting for our money. But if we’re unclear about the role of money in our lives, we’re easily manipulated into a cycle of unsatisfying purchases and equally unsatisfying charity. How can we move away from a defensive view that emphasizes scarcity and competition, and toward a view that recognizes the unprecedented abundance that now exists, and the power each of us has to make a difference?
A panel of linguists recently decided that the word that best describes 2005 is “truthiness” — the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts. While some Americans would relate that to current U.S. political issues and the war in Iraq it also describes the increasingly virulent statements of the Vatican, the pope and many US Roman Catholic bishops related to Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender (GLBT) issues. The Roman Catholic hierarchy may well be the most powerful anti-GLBT voice in the world with religious and political influence far beyond just Catholics. DignityUSA has long offered a counterbalancing voice must sought after and respected in the media, particularly in the USA but in other English speaking countries as well. DignityUSA, its local chapters and members publicly dissent from Catholic Church teaching that homosexual sexual orientation is objectively disordered and that gay and lesbian relationships are inherently evil. For this public dissent DignityUSA is in exile, not officially allowed to meet on Catholic Church property.
Sam Sinnett is a native Saint Louisan who is currently the national president of DignityUSA, www.DignityUSA.org – one of the oldest national gay and lesbian organizations – for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Catholics. DignityUSA works for respect and justice for all GLBT persons in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy and support. Sam grew up in Saint Louis, attended high school here and is a graduate of the Catholic Jesuit College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He was married for over 18 years, has 3 children, came out as a gay man late in life, is currently divorced / single. He has recently appeared on or been quoted in our local press and media on Channels 2 and 4 and KMOX radio.
Malik Ahmed will develop the theme, “Where Do We Go From Here?”, an address delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967. His presentation will examine how today’s African American community is still challenged by many of the same menacing forces that were highlighted by Dr. King over 38 years ago.
Mr. Ahmed will highlight the inequality that persists in keeping many members of the African American community oppressed, evidenced by rising health costs, unemployment, poor education and racist institutional practices. He will conclude his address by urging the need for the continuation of the civil rights struggle. In Mr. Ahmed’s opinion, the new focus of the movement should be on the internal development of the African American family. Mr. Ahmed passionately believes the organization he founded in 1983 – Better Family Life, Inc. – offers a new and progressive initiative in the goal of uplifting the Black masses. BFL’s job training program for the chronically unemployed has graduated over 2,000 adults and has a 12-month job retention rate of 80%. The program received the Governor’s Award for the Most Innovative Training/Workforce Program in 2000 and the Cultural Competency Award in 2001, both from the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council of Governments. In 2002, BFL opened its third job training site. Under Mr. Ahmed’s leadership, BFL has developed youth, cultural arts and housing down payment assistance programs to serve low to moderate income residents throughout the metropolitan community. In 2005, BFL purchased the former Ralph Waldo Emerson School in St. Louis. The organization is currently in a capital campaign to raise $4 million for renovating the site as a cultural center and museum.
Malik Ahmed holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Master’s degree in Public Administration/Policy Analysis. Prior to his involvement with BFL, he was a registered representative of The Moneta Group, a financial planning firm. He serves on several community and civic boards of directors.
“Bein’ Green” was sung by Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street when I was young. The message of the song is that we should resist those outside voices telling us whom we should be, and instead develop the unique gifts we each have to offer. One of the first steps in ethical development is becoming comfortable with ourselves, so that we can be active participants in society and so that we don’t feel threatened by those who are different. Since I started following a vegan diet a couple of years ago, however, the phrase “It’s not easy being green” has developed yet another meaning for me. For my installation Sunday, I’d like to share some of the personal experiences and lessons I’ve learned from becoming vegan—particularly, what it teaches me about becoming comfortable with ethical choices, and what being different from many of my friends and family teaches me about “bringing out the best in others” when you disagree. Many folks join Ethical Societies seeking the fellowship of like-minded individuals, yet we can only be a vital Ethical Society if we also recognize, respect, and welcome the many ways in which we are different.
Where ethics provide a guideline that is eminently humane regarding our decisions about how we will live with ourselves and others, adherence to this guideline requires, at some point, an inventory of self, an inventory of community, and ever larger groupings relative to the ethics of each and our individual contribution to the ethical fabric of them. To some extent we have forsaken a commitment to ethical living in the following way – we have allowed fear, for too long, to make us hesitate to act on our ethics, and our inaction has hurt us all.
Redditt Hudson is the Racial Justice Associate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. A former St. Louis police officer, he left the force in 1999 and devoted himself to addressing issues of police misconduct and to searching for ways to improve police-community relations. He has a significant history of work on issues critical to the social, cultural, and economic well-being of African-American communities and is especially concerned with the well-being of youths. In the past, he worked with serious juvenile offenders at the Hogan Youth Correctional Facility and provided them with alternative constructive choices to help them modify their behavior prior to community reentry. Redditt Hudson has held positions with the St. Louis Emergency Children’s Home and Better Family Life Incorporated. In 2000, he founded Project Peace, an organization which addresses issues of accountability and responsibility for students in high schools and in communities.
Mr. Hudson attended University City High School and graduated from St. Louis University where he also played basketball. He is currently enrolled in the Criminology program at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. He is married and the father of four.
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