I Am United Methodist: The Rev. D. Anthony Everett
The Rev. D. Anthony Everett
Wesley United Methodist Church, Lexington, Kentucky
The Rev. D. Anthony Everett understands that not all United Methodists agree with all of the Social Principles and the church's Social Creed. As far as he is concerned, though, they line up with what Jesus would say.
Everett is pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, better known as Weslex UMC, where he has served for a year and a half.
He is considered a criminal justice clergy. That's not a common title, but it fits what Everett does.
"Weslex is my appointment as an ordained pastor," he said, "but I am also an at-large human rights commissioner in the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, appointed by the governor of Kentucky."
What he does in this role is huge.
The commissioners work to see "there is no discrimination in regard to public accommodations, appointments and housing in Kentucky," he said. "We watch out for discrimination: religion, race, age, gender or sexual orientation. I'm a hearing officer."
His appointment to the commission dovetails with his interest in social justice as a Christian.
He takes Luke 4:18-19, CEB very personally and seriously: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
As he looks at the Social Principles adopted by General Conference – the top legislative body of the denomination – he finds, "All of these principles speak to
needs around the world. They are all based on Scripture."
"We may not all agree on some of them, but I think they all line up with what Jesus would say."
Everett's passion for criminal justice and prison sentencing reform has led him to work with clergy in Iowa to draw attention to United States Senate Resolution 2123 (see page 24).
"We are looking for a good outcome for the bill," he said. "I've been to the White House and to Capitol Hill in Washington to talk about criminal justice reform. I've met with different congressmen, primarily my own, (Sen.) Mitch McConnell and (Sen.) Rand Paul. I've tried to convince them that the retributive justice we are using now is not working!"
Everett and others have also been working to reform Kentucky's criminal justice system.
In west Lexington where he lives, Everett sees a high rate of arrest and recidivism.
"So many people are headed to jail, serve their time, get out, but then go back," he said. "African-American men and women are disproportionally in the criminal justice system. If the person who is arrested is removed from the home, it affects the family and the community."
He and others are working with Clean Slate Kentucky, an initiative to train people inside (and outside) the church to expunge the records of some non-violent offenders.
"These are the people who did something stupid as a teenager, made some bad decisions and got caught, but are not involved in crime any longer," he said. "Even though they are on the right path now, they still have trouble getting jobs and such because of their criminal record.
"When we can do this, I believe we touch the heart of God," he said. "We are touching the victims and the criminals. I'm not saying we shouldn't incarcerate people who have done wrong, but we need to do it smarter. We have to do better. It just doesn't make sense the way it is now."
Polly House is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.