|Advocates rally for children in Arkansas|
Concern for children and legislative issues affecting them are what brought
together four distinct groups of United Methodists in Arkansas for a rally
on the steps of the state Capitol in Little Rock. A UMNS file photo courtesy
of Resurrection United Methodist Church.
By Jane Dennis*
Feb. 9, 2007 | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS)
Children brought them together.
About 100 clergy, laity and representatives from four diverse and
sometimes at-odds groups within The United Methodist Church converged on
the state Capitol to endorse legislation affecting children,
particularly the expansion of preschool education in Arkansas.
"Specifically we seek the retention of the present standards,
maintenance of cost-of-living adjustments for schools and the extension
of pre-K education statewide," said Bob Sells, one organizer.
The Rev. Roy Smith addresses a rally
on the steps of the Arkansas Capitol.
A UMNS photo by Jane Dennis.
The Jan. 30 rally began in blustery winds on the steps of the Capitol
before many moved inside where the 86th Arkansas General Assembly is in
session. They urged lawmakers to support key education legislation.
The event was jointly organized and attended by members of the
Confessing Movement of Arkansas, a coalition of United Methodists that
takes a conservative stand on most issues; Arkansas Methodist Federation
for Social Action, which takes a more liberal approach to issues facing
the church; Black Methodists for Church Revival, a caucus of
African-American church members; and Arkansas Conference United
Methodist Women, the organization with the largest membership in the
These groups "found a place of common agreement - children and the
support and access for public education in Arkansas," said Roy Smith,
the conference's director of ministries. "This is something that really
The sponsoring groups found common ground, Smith said, because "one
of the fundamental Wesleyan understandings that we've had as Methodists,
since the very beginning, is the care of children, as well as access to
education for all of God's children. All of us here care about
Sen. Jim Argue, a senior legislator, United Methodist layman and
chief executive of the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, said
standing up for children and working to improve schools is critical to
"living out our discipleship … and being faithful to the social gospel."
Argue said there is much to celebrate about Arkansas educational reforms
enacted in recent years. But education is an issue, he said, that
demands constant attention.
Standing up for children and working to
improve schools are critical to "living out our discipleship and being
faithful to the social gospel," says Arkansas Sen. Jim Argue. A UMNS
photo by Jane Dennis.
"With 96 percent of the kids in Arkansas attending public schools, we
know better than to think that our only responsibility is to care for
our own," he said. "We're United Methodists, and we know our
responsibility and our discipleship demands that we care for a whole
community of children, a whole state of children. That's our calling."
'Birthright' for children
Collectively, Arkansas' record in education is "not good," Argue
said. "There is example after example of where we had a few years of
great progress, and those years are always followed by decades of
Nevertheless, the state cannot give up, he said. "I know you share
with me that feeling that we're living out our discipleship as we reach
beyond our own families, our own local churches, and challenge the state
of Arkansas not just to do an adequate job of educating children, but
to do the best we can in giving kids opportunities."
Arkansas Bishop Charles Crutchfield called excellence in education
the "birthright of every Arkansas child" when he addressed the assembly.
"We are here as people of faith to say thank you to the legislature,
to Jim and his colleagues and others who have pushed education in this
state," the bishop said. "And we are here as people of faith to say we
know that the job is not yet finished and we want to see it finished.
What a legacy it would be if this legislature left behind for
generations to come a legacy of educational excellence, educational
opportunity for every child that is born in this state."
United as Christians
Many were encouraged to see the groups working together.
"I think it's a wonderful thing to see advocacy groups come together
because I truly believe people forget that we're all Christians," said
Ralph Shull of Maumelle, president of the Confessing Movement of
Arkansas. "We have our own views related to interpretation of the
Scriptures and other issues, but there's no question about it - we're
Christians and we're going to come together and we're going to work
"All of us have disagreed in other areas," said Carole Teague of
Conway, a leader in Methodist Federation for Social Action. "But, boy,
when it comes to children, this is one thing we really come together
Rally participants described the event as "a first step" toward cooperation on other issues.
"There is always a common ground when you talk about children," said
Deborah Bell of Little Rock, president of Black Methodists for Church
Renewal. "The diversity and the groups coming together is a first step
for us to do more things together, where we can get out of our own
personal agendas and work around the common good of all people."
*Dennis is editor of Arkansas United Methodist.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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