By Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Program Coordinator

The role of the church in times of rising militarism and a gaping economic divide was the focus of an ecumenical discussion held at First United Methodist Church in Des Moines recently. Organized by AFSC, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Catholic Peace Ministry, the event brought together 40 people to explore how the church is responding to these threats to our communities and to democratic processes.

Following opening comments from Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, participants were immediately challenged to think about the role of the church. The church, Winkler asserted, has two missions. One is the pastoral responsibility to meet the needs of the congregation – visit the sick, celebrate the sacraments and comfort the grieving.The second is the prophetic ministry, which calls for clergy to advocate for the broader societal needs -- adequate housing, food, shelter and to demand an end to war. To fail to do either is to meet only half of the church’s mission.

 Noting that President George W. Bush labeled specific countries “the axis of evil,” Winkler said the true axis of evil is “endemic poverty,  environmental degradation, and a world awash with nuclear weapons.” The need for the church to be prophetic has never been greater. Acknowledging the crisis within our communities and thus within our churches, Winkler pointed to our history of social justice movements from which to garner hope.

Several participants noted the emergence of the “Occupy” movement as a fresh and hopeful development in an awakening of the US population.  While the United Church of Christ and Universalist Unitarians have issued statements of moral support, it may be even more important for the faith community to provide concrete and hands on support to this movement. Such support is a clear message to the structures of power that the church, as modeled by Jesus, sides not with the power elites but with the victims of that power.

MFSA –Iowa took an important step the following day, collecting $400 to contribute to Occupy Des Moines to help purchase a winter tent for the encampment.         

Bravo to MFSA. This is the time for more faith communities to come forth in support and to raise their prophetic voice. It is indeed time for an end to “endemic poverty, environmental degradation, and a world awash with nuclear weapons.”

Note: In days following this gathering, the Congressional Budget office reported that income inequality had in fact grown significantly between 1979 and 2007. While this fact perhaps surprised no one, the rate at which this disparity grew did. While the wealthiest 1% among us saw their income grow by 275%, the rest of us saw only incremental growth.  Such disparity threatens not only the immediate well being of our communities but also our very democracy itself.