Monday, May 14, 2012

Drew University Honors Shalom Community Leader at Commencement 2012

Wilbert Mitchell, founding executive director of Respond Incorporated in North Camden, NJ, was awarded an honorary doctorate at Commencement in recognition of his 45 years of exemplary and visionary leadership in non profit management and community development.
It was my honor and privilege to present Mr. Mitchell, deliver the citation, and confer the degree in behalf of the Board of Trustees of Drew University on Saturday, May 12, 2012

Official Citation:
For the last 45 years, in the community where you live and work, you have helped local residents help themselves, by identifying local assets, mobilizing community resources, organizing for the common good, improving individual lives, as well as transforming your neighborhood of North Camden, NJ.
In your 4.5 decades of nonprofit management, as the first and only executive director of Respond Incorporated, you have stayed true to your original purpose of responding to the needs and developing the potential of underserved citizens in Camden.
Under your leadership, RESPOND INCORPATED provides an array of services to all ages, including: affordable day care centers for over 800 children, senior centers, programs for the homeless, rental assistance and home ownership, job creation for youth, vocational training for adults, health and education, and economic community development.
In 2009, you led Respond Inc. to new heights with the establishment of the New Worker Job Development and Vocational Training Center in North Camden.  This 24,000 square foot, $4.6 million facility offers expert instruction in culinary arts and automotive technology, and has prepared hundreds of local residents for the workforce.
Drew’s Communities of Shalom initiative, which offers community development training world-wide, is proud to be your partner in improving life in the shalom zone where you live and work.  Part of what makes this partnership successful is your leadership capacity to see the big picture of how to transform an entire community, and your matching gifts and abilities to make that vision into reality.
Where some see only trash heaps in vacant lots, you see tree-lined streets and community gardens.  Where some see only dilapidated buildings and boarded up businesses, you see state of the art playgrounds, new homes, sustainable industry and a vibrant waterfront where a prison once stood.  What distinguishes your leadership from others who respond to needs and do good is that you moved into the neighborhood, lived and worked there for a generation, long enough to see systemic change and transformation.  And in “seeking the shalom of the community”, you found your own shalom.
So, by authority of the Board of Trustees of Drew University, I confer upon you the degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Honorus causa.

Respond Incorporated was started in 1967 as an outreach ministry of Haddonfield United Methodist Church, when Dr. Stan Menking (Drew Trustee emeritus) was one of the pastors.  He challenged a local school teacher, Wilbert Mitchell, to take over a fledgling day care center in North Camden, and become its Executive Director.  He did, and stayed for the next 45 years, attracting resources and new development, and expanding the church outreach into a highly successful 10 million dollar nonprofit operation.  In 2009, with a desire to reconnect with their United Methodist roots, Respond INC. applied for Shalom Training and became a registered community of Shalom.  Drew assigned student interns for two summers to the shalom ministry in North Camden, under Mr. Mitchell’s tutelage, and today, their shalom program and summer shalom resource fair are integral to the entire community development operation.

In 2012, Respond INc. applied for certification in the Communities of Shalom network, making them eligible for recognition as a distinctive, exemplary site at the upcoming Shalom Summit in October. For more information on Respond Incorporated Community of Shalom, visit their website at   

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

President Obama on Gay Marriage and Golden Rule

For those who support marriage equality, today marks a moral milestone for monogamous, same-gender-loving all-but married couples.  POTUS base his view on the Golden Rule that Jesus taught:

Transcript: Good Morning America interview today on ABC News:

I have to tell you, as I said, I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally...

And, I hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. That that was something that would give people hospital visitation rights and other elements that we take for granted. And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.  

But I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage. At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married...

You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.

This is something that, you know, [Michele and I] we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated."

Discussion questions:  

1. If you were raising a family and in a committed, monogamous, same-gender relationship, as some on the President's staff are, how would you like to be treated by those who value marriage? 

2. How to relate Christian doctrine ("Christ sacrificing himself for us") with Christian practice ("treat others the way you want to be treated")?   When does doctrine trump practice, or practice trump doctrine when Scripture is ambiguous?

3.  What is the difference between basing one's views of marriage on biblical principles or biblical teaching?