Every Friday morning, I drive to downtown Cincinnati for an 8:30 a.m. standing meeting of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC). Bishop Breidenthal asked me to serve as a diocesan representative to the MARCC board when I retired two years ago. Each Friday I squeeze into a small conference room with representatives of 15 other faiths. My regular seat is between the representatives of the Cincinnati Islamic Community Center and the Friends (Quakers). I joke about the weather or comment on editorials in the morning’s paper with the Methodist and Catholic representatives, who always arrive early.
The Diocese of Southern Ohio was one of the founding members of this interfaith coalition in 1968, a time of political turmoil and demands for racial justice. Religious leaders wanted a way for the religious community to speak in one voice to make compassion and reconciliation felt through constructive community action.
From the beginning, MARCC worked on local issues of social justice where it could have the greatest impact. We find that there is almost always a consensus among faith groups on issues of common human needs, such as quality education, immigration, affordable housing, healthcare and community/police relations. If any one of the 15 faith groups dissents, or votes no, an issue will not be pursued. In the early Friday morning discussions of the board, occasionally a representative will say, “Wait a minute, I’m not sure that is something we can agree with.” It is rare, however, and a reminder for those of us used to talking only with people who agree with our perspectives.
MARCC takes a behind-the-scenes approach to advocacy. We are the faith-based voice that stayed involved in the development of a Collaborative Agreement to improve police/community relations in Cincinnati after civil unrest followed the shooting of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man, in 2001. MARCC’s executive director was appointed to the City Manager’s Advisory Group to monitor implementation of the agreement and recently to oversee a Collaborative refresh process. When a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed Sam DuBose, another unarmed black man, during a traffic stop in 2015, MARCC was an active voice on a task group appointed by the university to review police procedures.
MARCC’s method of advocacy is different from those of faith-based social justice groups like AMOS in Cincinnati and BREAD in Columbus. Those groups use a community organizing model based on turning out church members and exercising power. MARCC is quieter, working directly with decision makers and building trust and respect so it is involved and heard as decisions are made. I have worked with both types of organizations over the years and understand that both are needed to effect change. Protests and calling out elected officials can catalyze and direct attention to an issue, but decision makers may feel under attack and defensive. After the wake-up call, the quieter faith-based voice of MARCC can be involved in working out complex details and ensuring that effective, sustainable policy change occurs.
The faith response to our current immigration crisis highlights the variety of approaches. Some congregations focus on supporting individual immigrant families. Others have been involved in protests and civil disobedience to shout their outrage at the injustice. A couple years ago, MARCC discussed how we could most effectively respond. In listening to local concerns, we learned that immigrants were being taken to jail for minor offenses because they could not document their identity. Once in jail, they were picked up by immigration authorities and deported. In response, MARCC worked with Catholic Charities locally to develop the MARCC ID card. The social service agency took the lead on issuing the cards based on clear proof of identity, and MARCC took the lead on raising money to purchase equipment to produce the cards and negotiating agreements with local police departments to accept the card as valid ID. To date, about 1,800 people have been issued MARCC ID cards, mostly immigrants, but also people returning from prison or who are homeless and have lost identity documents. Stories are filtering back of arrests avoided because of the card, as well as it being accepted as identification to allow parents entrance to their child’s school, or to get a library card. Card holders now have access to all City of Cincinnati public services.
MARCC coalition members are judicatories, like the diocese, not individual congregations. But individuals and congregations can get involved in a couple ways. MARCC holds monthly delegate meetings, bringing in speakers on local policy issues. Attending these meetings is a good way to learn and take accurate information back to your congregation to support advocacy. Some congregations support the advocacy work of MARCC with a financial contribution through a special collection or a grant fund.
I am proud to represent our diocese on the MARCC board and enjoy (most Fridays) the early morning meetings with other faith representatives. Contact me if you would like additional information or would like to be added to an email list.
Elizabeth Brown is a member of Christ Church Cathedral. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.