Courtesy Dr. Larry R. Hygh

The Rev. Kristin Stoneking, a United Methodist minister, is one of several clergy invited to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on as part of the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington on Wednesday, August 28, 2013.

Davis minister will address King march anniversary event

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 - 7:02 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 8:39 am

A prominent Davis minister - known for her reconciliation efforts and for mediating in the UC Davis pepper-spray incident - will address the nation today on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington.

The Rev. Kristin Stoneking, a gay United Methodist minister, is one of several clergy invited to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the "Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action Ceremony."

President Barack Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are scheduled to attend the event.

Stoneking told The Sacramento Bee it's "humbling and overwhelming" to be part of the anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

She is executive director of the 80,000-member Fellowship Of Reconciliation - the nation's oldest and largest peace organization. She also helped mediate a standoff between UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and 300 protesters the day after 21 students were pepper-sprayed on Nov. 18, 2011.

Stoneking, 44, said that between 8:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. Pacific time today, she plans to speak for two minutes on "Dr. King's vision of the beloved community. ... He refused to perceive others as enemies and was always trying to persuade people with love.

"This wasn't going to happen 50 years ago. In the original march there were only a handful of women speakers and no openly LGBT speakers, and there was a clear hope by the King Center in Atlanta to remedy this now."

The organizer of the original March On Washington, gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, "was strongly encouraged not to be out at that time, so it wasn't part of King's message," Stoneking said.

She has followed in Rustin's footsteps as a leader of the Fellowship Of Reconciliation. FOR's support of conscientious objectors who faced imprisonment for refusing to fight in World War I led to the birth of the American Civil Liberties Union, Stoneking said.

Since 1915, FOR has advocated peace and justice through nonviolence, including restorative justice.

"Restorative justice is a process where persons who have done harm and those who have been harmed have an opportunity to sit with each other, express their experiences and call for what is needed to restore harmony, have reconciliation and justice and then move on," she said.

That process was employed by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to move beyond apartheid, Stoneking said.

Communities across America are employing nonviolent reconciliation, including San Francisco and Davis, where Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig has partnered with Davis and campus police to create a Neighborhood Court involving the victim, offender and community members in restorative justice, Stoneking said. "We recognize that the person doing the harming is also harmed."

The day after the pepper-spray incident at UC Davis, Stoneking was asked to mediate between Chancellor Katehi, who felt trapped inside a building and didn't want to run a gantlet of 300 protesters.

Stoneking said she was able to walk Katehi out to her car after the chancellor agreed to watch an eight-minute video of the pepper-spray incident with one student harmed by the fumes. She and other community members spoke to former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, who investigated the incident, about the need for restorative justice.

A United Methodist Minister who for 14 years served as executive director of the Cal Aggie Christian Association at UC Davis, Stoneking said she worked with young adults to stop gang and gun violence.

King's legacy of active nonviolence as a path to social change is needed more than ever "as we witness the polarization of political parties, increased militarization in our culture and persistent challenges related to racism and poverty," Stoneking said.

"It feels like we take as many steps backward as we do forward," she said. "The celebrations over the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop. 8 just days after the Voter Rights Acts was disassembled is an example of this - jubilation tempered by disappointment and frustration."

Stoneking, who has two children with her spouse - whom she married in 2008 before Proposition 8 passed - said if people realize King used love to defuse the "us vs. them" mentality, "we're more able to understand everyone has the right to love who they love. It's more about the ethics of a relationship rather than their gender."

A native of Kansas City, Stoneking graduated from Rice University in Houston and worked for two years at Georgetown University's Center for Immigration Policy and Refugee Assistance before attending the United Methodist Seminary at Northwestern University. She then moved to Lawrence, Kan., "where I became the first woman pastor of the 130-year-old Centenary United Method Church."

In 1999, she moved to Davis because of the Cal Aggie Christian Association's commitment to social justice, and in 2008 founded a Multifaith Living Community of 40 students of six different faiths.

She coordinates the social justice network for the more than 300 congregations in the United Methodist Church's California-Nevada Conference and is completing her doctorate in religious studies and nonviolent communication at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

King once declared, "The arc of history is long, and it bends towards justice," Stoneking said, and King's use of strong, responsible love to speak to power to create social change is needed more than ever.

"In friendships, families, schools, cities and here in our nation's capital, we have this culture of polarization," she said. "If we understand we are all interconnected, we have a clear path to peace."

Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.

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