University Lutheran Church of Hope (ULCH) became the first faith-based organization in Minnesota to adopt a conflict-free DRC procurement policy. The ULCH Board learned how conscientious purchasing of electronics could support peace in the Dem. Rep. of Congo (DRC) from attorney-member Sonja Peterson. This isn’t the first time Sonja's advocacy for DRC has led to action for change.
Conflict and death in DRC – what can we do?
Like most professionals, lawyers are dependent on their cell phones and laptops. So, when attorney Sonja Peterson heard a presentation about the link between conflict minerals in electronics and genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she wanted to take action. She had known little about the twenty-year conflict in DRC and was horrified to learn that over 6 million people had died, many at the hands of militias who fought to control the mineral-rich mines of eastern Congo.
As Co-Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), she was in a position to educate and advocate. Together with Dr. Ellen Kennedy of World Without Genocide, she drafted a conflict-free procurement policy for the MSBA, specifying that the MSBA first consider purchasing electronics from companies that responsibly source their minerals. (For more information on conflict minerals in DRC, click here). In 2014, the MSBA unanimously passed the conflict-free resolution, becoming the first state bar association to do so. As Sonja wrote in an article in Bench and Bar in Minnesota (January 2015), "The legacy of colonialism, slavery, and genocide in Congo is a brutal one, but the legal efforts at all levels suggest hope."
A church congregation takes action – “Small steps make a difference.”
In early 2019, Sonja was appointed member of her church's vision and governance board. That board entered into discussions about the ethical use of computers for their staff and congregation. Again, Sonja saw an opportunity to increase awareness about the conflict in DRC and pursued a conflict-free purchasing policy for her church. The resolution unanimously passed in May 2019, and University Lutheran Church of Hope in Minneapolis became the first faith-based organization in Minnesota to join the ranks of municipalities, corporations and universities to have passed conflict-free resolutions. The one-page ULCH resolution states, "Therefore, be it resolved that ULCH support the efforts of companies to purchase conflict-free minerals and support transparent supply chains in the DRC." The resolution includes concrete, practical steps to accomplish this goal. "It's a small step," Sonja said, "but we have to keep talking about this. Small steps make a difference." Read the whole resolution here.
Sonja now hopes to bring the resolution – and the education it provides – to the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and then to the Nationwide 2020 ELCA Assembly. She is also interested in bringing the issue to the attention of the interfaith members of the Greater Minneapolis and Minnesota Council of Churches.
Take action in your own faith community
Each of us can take action in our own context. If you are interested in proposing a conflict-free resolution in your faith community, contact Mwendo Congo leader Lisa Nilles at email@example.com.