On faith, mountains, and moving Publix…

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Q & A with Rev. Kennedy McGowan, Interfaith Action on exciting new prayer campaign to bring Publix
into the Fair Food fold…

Two weeks ago, we announced that Interfaith Action, the network of people of faith and religious institutions that partners with the CIW in the Campaign for Fair Food, had launched a pivotal new initiative designed to rally the power of prayer to move Publix from “isolation and hesitation… into communication and cooperation with the CIW.

Today we have more on the Faith Moves Mountains campaign, in the form of an interview with the Reverend Kennedy McGowan of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Florida, and Elena Stein of Interfaith Action. Together they explain everything from why a prayer campaign now to why they chose Martin Luther King Day to announce the new initiative.

Here below is the Q & A (and remember, you can go to the Faith Moves Mountains campaign page to learn still more about the campaign and get involved today!):

CIW: Why are you praying for Publix?

Rev. McGowan: I am praying because I believe that God can work where we cannot, and help Publix to see how joining with the growers and the farm-workers will bless everyone, the consumer, the worker, and Publix and its employees and stock-holders too.

Elena: For three years, Publix has ignored all of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ requests to meet and discuss potential participation in the Fair Food program. Thousands of consumers have sent letters to Publix, spoken to store managers while grocery shopping, marched with the CIW, participated in vigils—and still Publix refused to meet with the CIW. A delegation of farmworkers and faith-based supporters even bicycled over 200 miles from Immokalee to Publix Headquarters in Lakeland to extend a personal invitation to Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw to visit Immokalee so he could see firsthand the reality faced by farmworkers. Even after all that way, Mr. Crenshaw rejected the invitation, dispatching an anonymous PR representative to turn the farmworkers away. This shocking indifference to the farmworkers who pick their tomatoes and to the concerns of thousands of Publix customers left people of faith across Florida deeply disappointed. It was then that one Florida pastor put into words what would pave the path to the Faith Moves Mountains Campaign: “It was time to talk to God.”

CIW: Why pray? What does prayer bring to this struggle?

Rev. McGowan: When we pray, we better understand the needs and concerns of those for whom we pray, not only the farmworkers, but also the leaders of Publix and other supermarket chains. That understanding leads us to be more understanding advocates, but beyond what it does for us, as the Christian theologian Karl Barth said, “When we fold our hands in prayer, we make a revolution in the world.” God can do more through our prayers than we could ask or imagine.

Elena: I was moved by the way Coretta Scott King put it: “Prayer is how we open our hearts to God, how we make that vital connection that empowers us to overcome overwhelming obstacles and become instruments of God’s will. And despite the pain and suffering that I have experienced and that comes to all of our lives, I am more convinced than ever before that prayer gives us strength and hope, a sense of divine companionship, as we struggle for justice and righteousness.”

CIW: What can people do? How are can they get involved?

Rev. McGowan
: We launched the campaign with a sermon on MLK Sunday, and with the Faith Moves Mountain video this past weekend. This coming weekend on February 5th, we’ll put the prayer cards out, and we’re also reaching out through friends we know at Publix to share the video (above) with them.

Elena: Everyone is invited to join in prayer that the executives of Publix will work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to support improved wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. You can express these prayers in whatever manner speaks to you: in the privacy of a personally sacred space, on a prayer card in a place of worship, in a communal prayer during an educational or social event, or perhaps in the tomato aisle as you shop at Publix. Invite your congregation to join in praying that Publix executives might be receptive of redemptive transformation. You can find more resources on the Faith Moves Mountains website.

CIW: What are the connections to launching the prayer campaign on Martin Luther King, Jr day?

Elena: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated that the pursuit of freedom could be guided by the transformative power of prayer; that systemic repression could be overcome through moral and spiritual regeneration; and that deliverance for all oppressed peoples is rooted in nonviolent transformation, infinite love, and a beloved community ensuring justice for all.

It was only fitting, then, that a group of Florida clergy launched the Faith Moves Mountains Campaign on the national day commemorating the Rev. Dr. King, inviting communities of faith to join them in continuing Dr. King’s work for the dignity and freedom of all people—especially those whose hard and perpetually undervalued labor puts food on our tables and fuels Publix’s soaring profits.

Rev. McGowan: Before every march for Civil Rights, King and his colleagues always held a prayer meeting. They believed that those times of gathering in prayer gave them the strength to march the next day, and opened the way for God to work in ways that went beyond whatever they could do. They wanted God to renew in them that higher perspective, that bigger picture. With that reality rooted in them, they knew that no matter what happened the next day, in the end God was going to win. At the heart of the Civil Rights movement was always a movement towards prayer.

When we go to God, we aren’t only going to the Creator of the Universe. We’re going to our heavenly father. We’re going to one who loves as no other, who has given everything for us. When we see that, when God gives us that higher perspective, then no matter the odds, we can go boldly. God has shown us a bigger picture. He’s given us the end of the story. With that perspective, how can we not go boldly?

When more than four years ago, we joined up with farmworkers in Immokalee to call for Burger King to pay a penny more per pound for their tomatoes, the odds looked long. Workers hadn’t received a raise in over thirty years. Big buyers like Burger King didn’t want to pay more for tomatoes, they wanted to pay less. And we were asking them to pay a penny more? Sure, Taco Bell had agreed along with McDonald’s, but that didn’t mean Burger King would. But sure enough they did. Since that day, God has kept the victories kept coming. And now once more God is calling us to go boldly, to keep moving that ball down the field.

Read more on the Faith Moves Mountains Campaign here.