Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Lease on Life

For many men and women in this state, that is exactly what the passage of HB 4146 means. A new lease on life. How, you ask?

HB 4146 provides the underage victims accused of prostitution with the opportunity to go before a judge to have this offense expunged from their records. It was passed unanimously in the House and the Senate. Showing real bi-partisan support. Thank you, Oregon legislators! Thank you Rep. Jefferson Smith, and thank you Lindsay Nelson, OCCV's policy committee member who testified in Salem on behalf of the bill.

For too long we have mistakenly lumped the victims and the perpetrators of prostitution together in the same class, disregarding the fact that most underage sex-workers are not on in the biz of their own volition. Many times, force and threats against family are used to keep these kids in sexual slavery.

Once they get out of that, people often find that their past haunts them as they look for employment outside of the "illicit economy." Renting an apartment, and finding a job can become major obstacles for those who would like nothing more than to lead a normal life.
Jessica Richardson a trafficking survivor, and activist eventually started her own business in order to provide for herself and her family. Not all survivors are able to go to this extent to find gainful employment, however.

The Oregon Center for Christian Voices is proud to be a part of seeing HB 4146 pass into law. We commend Rep. Jefferson Smith for his determined work in addressing the effects of Human Trafficking on individuals and societies. We collected over 200 postcards from concerned Oregonians, and hand delivered these to Representatives in Salem. Thank you to all who showed your support of this bill in this way. It is great to see what can happen when we all use our voices for good.

As Christians we have all received a Second Chance through the redemptive work of Christ, and it is our moral obligation to see that other victims are treated as such, that they, too, are given second chances, and that reparative efforts are made to smooth the road to healing and restoration within the community.

Friday, December 9, 2011

OCCV Adds Anti-Death Penalty

Right before Thanksgiving, Governor Kitzhaber issued a moratorium on executions, saying that the death penalty is morally wrong and unjustly administered. This stopped the planned execution of Gary Haugen, which would have been Oregon's first execution in 14 years. Twice before - in his first term as governor - he allowed executions to continue.

"I have regretted those choices ever since," he said in a prepared statement. "Both because of my own deep personal convictions about capital punishment and also because in practice, Oregon has an expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice." (Oregon Live)

OCCV has been, for a while now, considering our position on the death penalty. As people who value the sanctity of life, should we not also value the sanctity of life for those that society deems worthless? The actual living out of the gospel is tricky here. Where does grace end for a person? Or does it? And are we to decide? Questions indeed abound. Insert yours here: ___________________

OCCV has recently released our position on the death penalty, which you can read here. We will be adding our voices in Salem in February as this issue comes up. I'll leave you with a short reflection from our Anti-Death Penalty Statement:
To the crowd around the woman caught in adultery Jesus said,

“He who is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” (John 8:7)

Given our own sinful nature, harsh judgment against others for their sin with a sentence for capitol punishment cannot be sanctioned.

The death penalty is unjust, since it is applied unequally to those without

the means for adequate defense. On moral, religious and humanitarian

grounds, OCCV urges Oregonians to repeal the death penalty.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Laboring in the Light

Labor Day was originally celebrated in 1882 by the Central Labor Union of New York. Oregon was actually the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday, in 1887. On afternoons filled with barbecues, jet-skiing, and back-to-school sales, we rarely remember why we have Labor Day at all.

Labor Day was born out of the activism of American workers and their labor unions. Workers were experiencing labor conditions of long hours, with little pay, and when their employers threatened to reduce their wages, thousands of workers in the railroad industry launched what became known as the Pullman Strike. At its peak the Pullman Strike involved 250,000 workers in 27 states. The strike ended when President Cleveland sent in Army troops. Many workers were killed.

According to Kevin Powell, What we often forget is how the labor movement has benefited immigrants, people of color, women, children and others. "We take for granted basic American realities like a minimum wage, health benefits, pension funds, eight-hour workdays, and child labor laws. None of these things would be a present-day truth had it not been for American workers dedicated to justice for each of us, even at the expense of their lives."

Yesterday, as I drove through town I noticed the many day-laborers at the Day-Labor center on 12th. As they waved their arms in hopes of getting a job for the day, I wondered about how Labor Day has helped these folks.

Today in America, we are facing a shrinking middle-class. Over the past 30 years, the rich have only gotten richer, while the poor and the middle-class have been forced to make do with less and less, while still trying to believe in the American Dream. The pending Budget Crisis in Washington DC, aims to knock out many of the safety nets that people rely on. In a world where more teachers are getting laid off and classroom sizes are reaching 40, we need to remember who we are, and we need to wake up and begin to labor for a better world.

Romans 13:11 says "The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light."

The day is at hand. Let us all put away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, light that will shine upon the injustice of our society, and bring truth, hope and love.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Circle of Protection

My colleague and I recently returned from Washington DC, where we were convened for a Faith Rooted Organizing Training at the Sojourner Magazine Headquarters.

In addition to being challenged to hold a prophetic vision for our country, and our state – a view of the “not yet” – we were also challenged to ask ourselves, how would God our organizing and advocacy work look if we had greater faith? These days I’ll admit to getting run-down and in danger of burnout. Do you ever feel that way? We hear every day about the budget cuts required in Oregon just make our state run, which means teacher lay-offs, public assistance reductions, government employee’s pay freezes, and decisions to forego much needed repairs to schools, bridges, and other public buildings. And then turn on the TV just to see this same frenzy, except on a national level. The budget cuts being proposed on a national level are wide and deep. The current budget crisis threatens devastating cuts in programs that help the poor and hungry, both within our country and overseas. The benefits of decades of advocacy work to reduce poverty can be erased with the decisions made this year and next.

So what’s really at stake here?

On the table are programs such as WIC – which provides supplemental nutrition to low-income women, and their children. SNAP is also on the table. What’s SNAP? It was formerly known as Food Stamps, and this program makes sure that good quality, nutritious food is available to people who have to decide whether to pay their electric bill or buy food that month. Medicaid is also at stake. Medicaid provides essential health benefits to disabled folks, and other people experiencing poverty. For many it is a lifeline. With the rising costs of insurance premiums, coupled with the fact that medical debt is the number one reason that people file for bankruptcy, it is clear that health related costs are huge.

What can be done?

OCCV is joining with other Faith groups from across the country to for a “Circle of Protection” around these programs, and the vulnerable citizens that they serve. Join with us to ask that our Congressional Senators and Representatives commit to finding ways to balance the budget while protecting these effective programs that abate the negative effects of poverty. Like the little boy with his finger in the dike, we are able to hold off the excruciating negative effects of poverty by keeping these programs in place.

On September 17, OCCV will be joining with Bread for the World, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Catholic Relief Services, and Oregon Food Bank from 9 AM to 1 PM at Mercy Corps Headquarters on 45 SW Ankeney St. in Portland This conference will detail the impact of these cuts and formulate an advocacy action plan which can combine our voices to create a circle of protection around these programs, and reaffirm the idea that a budget is a moral document that represents the values of our nation – of opportunity for all.

Join US!

by Emily Jameson

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hearing Voices

I belong to an advocacy organization known best by its awkward acronym, OCCV.  The Oregon Center for Christian Values, around just six short years, has already made a name for itself in the halls of our state capitol as a leader in pursuing justice for the poor, the homeless, the enslaved, and the ill among us. 

Recently, the OCCV board voted to change its name, one word of it anyway.  We are now the Oregon Center for Christian Voices.  Not to be confused with Christian Voice, a project of the politically conservative American Service Council, we are an organization that hears voices, plural.  The reference to hearing more than one voice does not mean we seek God’s will as one among many.  It means that, when as believers we express our convictions on God’s will, we acknowledge we may not always be on the same page.

More precisely, we affirm that while we are firmly rooted in our beliefs, we are open to dialog and thoughtful discussion about how those beliefs are expressed in everyday life.  We do take seriously the authority of the Bible which proclaims that we are to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly” with our God (Micah 6:8). 

The “voices” speaks to that humility.  In our pursuit of justice and mercy, we don’t always agree on how that justice and mercy get fleshed out, even as we affirm their priority in the lives of those of us who follow Christ.

So this legislative session we are remaining the OCCV that legislators and constituents alike have come to trust.  Thus, our decision not to change that mouthful of an acronym or its internet home at  We are maintaining our values – in fact, “values” remains in our legal name.  But we are convinced that among the values OCCV brings to the table are an ability to speak out on issues critical to justice in our society and to do so as not one, but as many often disparate voices.

Under the leadership of our executive director, Shoshon Tama-Sweet, we rallied a multitude of divergent Oregonian voices to the steps of the capitol in Salem on January 11 and again to hearings on February 9.  These many voices, from various parties and none, spoke as one voice to press for passage of five bills that will aid in the fight against human trafficking, a bipartisan cause in which we in OCCV have been embedded going on two years.  These five bills are SB 425, SB 426, SB 427, SB 429 and SB 430.

With OCCV board member and Home PDX pastor Ken Loyd in the lead, we are pressing for a bill to give legal teeth to protection of the homeless among us.  HB 2964 addresses crimes of intimidation perpetrated on victims because they are homeless.  Under the guidance of other OCCV members – lawyers, doctors, business leaders, and whatnot – we are pressing for changes in health and environmental care and decisions that have impact on those among us who are poor.

Sometimes our organizational board meetings heat up as we passionately pursue justice and mercy on a societal and structural level.  As members, now 1,500 strong, we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, not even on how best to press our claims for a more just society.  Thus the need for humility and mercy when dealing with one another as well as with those who lead our state.  We don’t have all the answers. 

But we do know that we are called to "engage Oregon Christians committed to achieving biblical justice through public policy work."  If, as you read this posting, you find yourself identifying with OCCV, let us hear from you at

This blog, “Oregon Christian Voices,” was named in affirmation of this organizational quality.  You will find here the words of one or two or more voices from that organization.  Some of those words will reflect the collective will of the Oregon Center for Christian Voices, some may only reflect one voice among many.  But we trust they will always reflect the will of the One who calls us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. 


Friday, February 11, 2011

Prioritizing for Justice

“Don’t you argue with me,” she yelled.  The town hall meeting had swelled to three times its normal attendance, as citizens stirred to the opening issues of this year’s brief and stressed out Oregon state legislative session.  The headline news as the session opens is that it has to solve a $3.5 billion hole in the state’s budget.  But what galled the young woman directly in front of me were plastic shopping bags – or, more accurately, the banning of them. 

Personally, I agree with the ban and was glad to hear my state senator, Mark Hass, introduce a bill fazing them out.  But I was also open to listening to the opposing viewpoint, which we were hearing loud and clear in Wednesday night’s meeting.  In fact, that is all we were hearing, as a few very vocal voices threatened to dominate the evening’s discussion in their opposition to the plastic bag bill.  (IMHO, the meeting was a town hall, not a hearing on a specific bill.)

When this neighbor jumped ahead of those waiting to speak on other matters, I leaned forward and suggested she wait as she’d already had a turn.  To which she blasted back with her stinging “don’t argue with me.” 

So I waited a few more minutes and shot my hand up in time for my state representative, Tobias Read, to recognize me.  Then I stood to speak. 

I had planned to address concerns I have over child trafficking and hunger, but at that moment I only vocalized a boring question I hoped would shift the tenor of the meeting.  It worked.

As Oregonians, we are faced with a draconian dilemma that predates the present trials of our Great Recession.  Our state finances are a mess. 

One guy spent 15 minutes trying to convince me (unsuccessfully) that it all had to do with “those little brown illegals.”  Others said it has to do with a high tax rate, while still others called for a change in our bizarre kicker plan.  Whatever the cause, our woes didn’t start yesterday. 

Oregon ranks Number 3 in the nation in hunger and its stats on public education are miserable as well.  Unemployment is stuck at 10.something.  Human trafficking is a very serious matter (regardless how we rank nationally), and stems oddly in large part from some very libertarian interpretations on free speech that do no good for our kids, let alone the rest of us.

Hopefully the trafficking bills will pass and we will also be able to protect the rest of the most vulnerable in our midst, hungry and otherwise, even as we balance the budget.  There are no guarantees.  The state house is evenly divided between donkeys and elephants, so whatever gets passed will have to be bipartisan.  But so will the budget have to be balanced and that means a lot of somethings have to be cut – and cut severely.

So what are we to do?  My elected officials have an obligation to pass a balanced budget and that is their first priority, because they have no other option.  Moreover, that priority affects everything else they do.

But that is not my obligation.  My responsibility as a constituent is to speak up about my priorities.  As a person of deep, abiding faith, my priorities are to press for just laws and budgets that promote justice and righteousness.  Some say that a balanced budget is a just budget.  And there is truth to that argument.  We cannot avoid hard issues, only to overwhelm the next generation, whether by leaving debt or emasculating their education and safety net.

That priority of balancing the budget doesn’t have to be mine, however, especially since I know that my elected leaders have no choice but to pass a balanced budget.  No, as a believer, my priority is to speak up for the most vulnerable among us, because my faith calls me to – and if I don’t, then who will?

So as everyone else fights over where to slash $3.5 billion dollars (roughly $1,000 for every resident in the state), I will fight for the passage of all five of the human trafficking bills.  I will fight to preserve food services that help end hunger.  I will fight to strengthen services that help Oregonians both meet their basic needs and prepare for the future.  I will fight to stop those who prey on the financial naïveté of others in the name of greed.  And I will fight for a much stronger educational foundation for our state.


Why?  Because Psalm 82 commands me to “defend the weak and the fatherless; to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed, to rescue the weak and the needy, and to deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”


So what was my only question Wednesday evening?  “In light of our short-term financial dilemma, what are our long-term solutions?”  I don’t remember how my representative wonkishly answered me.  It doesn’t matter; I had succeeded in shifting the discussion.  Moreover, I know he will gladly hear my concerns at the right moment because he has learned that I am a constituent who meets him at every opportunity with things that matter deeply to me even as I respect his burden of responsibility.  And I help him escape from plastic bags.


To view legislative matters I am tracking, go to the Calendar page of my website.