The community that prays together

County leaders call for social justice at interfaith breakfast

By Hannah Guzik 05/01/2008

On about 50 handshakes and a prayer, leaders from faith organizations throughout Ventura County came together April 29 to promote a living wage, healthcare for the uninsured and affordable housing, among other social justice issues.

The interfaith breakfast, sponsored by Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy and Central Coast Organizing Project, was designed to connect churches, synagogues and temples with community organizers so the groups can rally together for change.

“There’s an opportunity for a dream that’s emerging here,” said the Rev. Dennis Jacobsen, a pastor at Incarnation Lutheran Church in Milwaukee who was one of the featured speakers at the event at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Downtown Ventura. “It’s a way to also strengthen your congregations.”

However, Gilbert Cuevas, founder of the Latino youth organization Future Leaders of America, spoke out at the end of the meeting to say the faith community still has a long way to go in promoting equality.

“Churches are the most segregated place at 11 o’clock on Sunday,” he said. “You are not fulfilling your responsibility to people on Earth or to God above.”

Agreeing with Cuevas, the other featured speaker at the event, Dr. Manuel Pastor, director of the Environmental and Regional Equality program at USC, said California churches are often not racially integrated.

“They are one of the most segregated institutions,” he said, calling on the community leaders to reach across ethnic and economic divides to increase diversity in their congregations.

Pastor urged those present to think about equality in a regional way instead of an individualistic way.

“People are actually now tired of being separated from one another,” said Pastor, who just finished writing a book, which has yet to be released, on regional equality.

Ventura County’s unbalances — spatially and racially, economically and environmentally — have created inequalities and problems for all locals, not just minorities or the poor, he said.

“Regions that are fairer grow faster,” he said. “Unfairness breeds sprawl and a lack of sustainability.”

Gloria Roman, CAUSE vice president, said although the faith community may have a long journey ahead, leaders are beginning to take steps forward.

“You know what? This is our time, and it’s time to change all that. The civil rights movement, they didn’t wait, they went on with all that struggle, and look where we are now,” she said.

Central Coast Organizing Project plans to hold four other events in the coming months to continue to try to unite the faith-based community.

The Rev. Bernice Gomez, vice chair of the Oxnard-Port Hueneme Ministerial Association, urged leaders not to oversimplify the diversity in Ventura County.

“You kind of don’t want to throw all the tortillas in the bread basket and think that we’re all the same,” she said. “If you don’t know about us, you’ve got to visit our community.”

Gomez said her organization, which works with the Oxnard and Port Hueneme police departments to combat gang violence, has already accomplished many of the goals discussed at the meeting.

“We have done this,” she said. “I believe Ventura’s trying to cover bases we’ve already covered in Oxnard.”

The Rev. Edgar Mohorko, who works with Gomez and serves as the city of Oxnard’s executive director of youth outreach and gang intervention, said the faith coalition he and Gomez have assembled represents more than 30,000 people in Oxnard and Port Hueneme.

“The churches have masses of people, so it’s a good concept,” he said.   


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