From the Desk of Ronald J. Sider
Founder and President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action
Chair of the Board – The Sider Center
After a few years in retirement, I’ve agreed to serve as the Chair of the Board of Evangelicals for Social Action at the Sider Center, and I am thrilled at the opportunity to tell longtime friends of ESA about some exciting upcoming opportunities.
Thanks to the generosity of ESA supporters, we created the Sider Center at Eastern University in 2004 with the mission to promote peace, justice, and costly discipleship through rigorous scholarship, loving dialogue, and holistic programs that empower the church to transform communities. Our outstanding staff has expanded the scope of our work in the last two years, and primary avenues for this work now are Oriented to Love, the Associate Fellows for Racial Justice, CreatureKind, the Institute for Family Vitality, Sider Scholars, and Latina/o Initiatives. I hope you’ll let me take this opportunity to explore our ministries with you and to invite you toparticipate in them, pray for us, contribute financially, and in many other ways partner with us in making radical love visible.
ESA and the Associate Fellows for Racial Justice
Evangelicals for Social Action was founded in 1973 when about 40 evangelical leaders, including myself, gathered in Chicago to talk about the need for strengthening evangelical social concern. We wrote and signed the now famous “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern,” confessing our failure to confront injustice, racism, and discrimination against women, and pledging to do better.
ESA’s historic work on racism continues in 2016 through the leadership of Micky ScottBey Jones and Darren Calhoun, ESA’s Associate Fellows for Racial Justice. Together with the staff, they are leading campaigns and working for racial justice and reconciliation throughout 2016. In the first half of the year, we’ve focused on cultivating effective online discussions of racial justice, and we are sponsoring a one-day Racial Justice Institute at the Wild Goose Festival in July, an institute we plan to take on the road in the fall.
How you can contribute: Give above and beyond what you usually give to help support Micky and Darren and their work for racial justice.
Oriented to Love (OTL)
Oriented to Love weekend retreats help a wide range of Jesus followers come together around the
highly-charged and challenging topic of sexual and gender diversity in the church. How can Christians love each other despite disagreements about what faithful sexuality looks like? OTL takes a highly diverse group of a dozen people away to a place of beauty and rest where, over the course of 48 hours, we help facilitate loving conversations across deep divides in a setting of spiritual safety and mutual vulnerability.
Kristyn Komarnicki’s vision for Oriented to Love has grown into a beautiful reality that is helping transform local congregations across the country into more loving and informed bodies, regardless of their theological position on the issue. We are now training facilitators so that even more dialogues can take place. For more information about how you or others can participate in a dialogue or support this work, please contact Kristyn directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
How you can contribute: Sponsor one or two individuals’ attendance at an OTL dialogue—or an entire weekend! $300 will sponsor one person, and $7,500 will cover an entire weekend.
Institute for Family Vitality
Evangelicals for Social Action has partnered with a network of holistic ministries in New Jersey called the United Advocacy Group towards the creation of a multi-disciplinary Institute for Family Vitality. Headed up by Melissa Helmbrecht, JD, who brings to the Sider Center years of experience with foster care, youth mobilization, and service-centered nonviolence initiatives, the Institute will equip the church to assist people with life’s complex problems.
As part of the Institute, we plan to develop certification for Family Advocates—lay social workers who conduct one-to-one ministry in the areas of finances, education, housing, and health in order to strengthen families. From childcare to employment, from housing to counseling services, Family Advocates help families thrive. Our long-term vision is to help Family Advocates be as ubiquitous as youth pastors. Family Advocates don’t just plant hope in people’s hearts—they also nurture that hope and watch it grow into a powerful new reality—parents spending more time with their children, families remaining in homes once threatened by foreclosure, children getting the education and guidance they need to break out of destructive intergenerational cycles of poverty or addiction, and more. I cannot tell you enough how excited I am about this project. It feels very much like the culmination of my life’s work.
How you can contribute: If you want more information or to bolster family advocacy at your church, please contactMelissa.Helmbrecht@eastern.edu.
UK-based Christian ethicist David Clough literally wrote the book on animal theology. For years he harbored hopes of popularizing his academic work in order to reach a wider audience. When he joined forces with Sider Center Interim Director Sarah Withrow King, who has more than a decade of campaign and advocacy experience and two animal theology books of her own, CreatureKind was born. The timing of their collaboration is providential: On the heels of major recent church statements such as Laudato Si and the evangelical “Every Living Thing” declaration naming animals as a topic of Christian concern, Christians are working to connect our theology and values with our practice.
CreatureKind engages churches in new ways of thinking about animals and Christian faith, with a special focus on farmed animal welfare. The project’s core message is that we are CreatureKind together with other animals and that how we treat our fellow creatures is a stewardship issue of deep spiritual significance. CreatureKind encourages churches to play a leading role in the movement for animal protection, for the sake of our fellow creatures, as part of faithful Christian discipleship, and for the wellbeing of the Christian community—especially in light of the growing numbers of young believers who feel disenfranchised from the church because of Christianity’s perceived indifference to the suffering of animals. CreatureKind offers books and other resources for popular Christian audiences, online tools for learning and collaboration, support for Christians in the animal welfare movement, and speakers able to address congregations and faith communities on the theology and praxis of being CreatureKind.
How you can contribute: Send a donation to this unique and needed ministry! You can donate online or via check.
Sider Scholars are graduate students at Palmer Seminary who work with us at the Sider Center and receive a half-tuition scholarship for their degree. Past Sider Scholars have gone on to do great things—such as Stefanie Israel, who is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Notre Dame, and Jere Mahaffey, who serves as the Director of Executive Strategy at the Philadelphia Youth Network. If you’re interested in working on a graduate degree at Palmer or Eastern and would enjoy serving with us, I encourage you to contact us to explore the possibilities of being a Sider Scholar.
Last year the Sider Center, in collaboration with Palmer Seminary and under the leadership of Dr. Mayra Picos-Lee, developed an online Spanish-language master’s degree for educators and pastors in México City. The program launches with its first cohort this fall and will expand to include other countries in Latin America as well as the US. We are very happy that we were able to contribute to the planning and launch of this program, which is one of the few graduate theological programs in Spanish that emphasize women in leadership and holistic approaches to community transformation.
How you can contribute: Learn more and share the news about this exciting new initiative.
We can only carry out our mission through the faithful and generous support and prayers of friends like you. I hope that our work both inspires you and invites you to get involved in whatever ways God is leading you. We welcome and celebrate your partnership with us as we continue to build on our 43-year history of putting flesh on Christ’s transforming love, on earth as it is in heaven.