Long before Reverend Jim Collie took up preaching, he was taking to the streets, demonstrating in Washington D.C. during the height of the Vietnam War. He was even on the National Mall to witness the presidential helicopter whisk Nixon from his seat of power the day he resigned. The blades chopped at the air above, kicking up a cloud of dust that would not settle. Jim stood there at a loss. The president was gone, but the country was in chaos.
That was forty-seven years ago. But the afternoon is fresh in his mind these days.
“With this presidency, I feel like I’m standing on the mall again watching the helicopter take off. I have no idea what’s going to happen and I feel like so many of the issues will never be resolved. I’m asking, how does a single citizen stick his head in and make a difference?” said Jim.
When Jim asked himself that same question decades ago, he discovered the answer lay in joining the ministry. Growing up, his grandparents and parents taught him by example that being a Christian meant advocating for social justice and equality. Jim remembers the First Presbyterian Church in Pecos, Texas where his grandparents attended services, as a salient example of a church that fostered a spirit of civic engagement. Its members included people like Marj Carpenter, the small-town reporter who helped break news that Texas financier Billy Sol Estes was scamming millions of dollars by tricking finance companies into writing mortgages for non-existent fertilizer tanks.
“That little church operated out of that mentality. It created the environment in which people thought the civic world was an important world to operate in and that principles of honesty and justice ought to be part of the deal. That’s just what you did,” Jim said.
Jim served as a pastor for over twenty years in Louisiana and Texas before moving to New Mexico to become Executive Presbyter at the Presbytery of Santa Fe, where he worked for over fifteen years. When he moved here, the ACLU of New Mexico caught his attention for its commitments to justice and equality.
“What I admire about the ACLU is that it’s often the first in before other folks on critical issues,” said Jim. “They spend their lifeblood on it. They don’t just say, ‘oh we’ll do what we can.’ They do what needs to be done. And I think that’s pretty respectable.”
He only wishes more religious leaders would speak out about the many injustices facing the country right now, including gender violence, racism, and discrimination against immigrants. He remembers pastors, priests, and rabbis publicly denouncing these injustices and working together to solve them when he was growing up.
Jim says his “great disappointment is that over the past 20 years, churches have stepped back and stopped taking public action on these issues.” Unfortunately, Trump has seized the opportunity to roll back people’s rights in the name of religion, something that he finds “reprehensible.”
Jim is uncertain about the future, but he’s not lost. He sees an administration so focused on its policy agenda, that it’s forgotten the ultimate role of government is to do justice to its citizens. As long as the Trump Administration refuses this grave responsibility, we’ll have to step in and hold it accountable.
“It doesn’t take long to see who in the community is moving with integrity and has a sense of community and isn’t engaged in blaming or finger pointing, but is trying to make the community whole,” says Jim.
We may all be standing on the figurative mall right now, but together, with people like Jim and all of our supporters, we can win the fight for justice.