“Golden Rule moment with Reverend Rock Fremont: Ministering to the marginalized” in AzCentral

Golden Rule moment with Reverend Rock Fremont: Ministering to the marginalized

Albert Celoza

Special to The Republic

The marginalized are ‘groups and communities discriminated against and excluded from mainstream social, economic, cultural, or political life based on their identity or difference.’ They are usually considered of no importance, and have little or no influence and power in society. Listed among the social outcasts are the scheduled castes (or dalits), the indigenous, the homeless, people of color, those with disabilities, sexual minorities and women. These groups have become the objects of compassion for social reformers.

Considered to be further on the fringe are convicted criminals and the incarcerated. It is easy to treat them with derision. The legal process has officially come in full course; they ought to be confined in prison as a form of rendering justice. The object of their isolation and separation from society is invariably as a form of punishment and rehabilitation. It is believed however that society needs to be protected from them. The general population should be protected so that convicted criminals could no longer victimize with their most heinous behavior.

In spite of this, one may be baffled to realize that Jesus has identified with prisoners.

I was in prison, and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:36, 40)

For United Church of Christ Minister Rock Fremont, Jr. working as a chaplain for the Arizona Department of Corrections gave him Golden Rule moments. He ministered to prisoners on death row (called the ‘condemned unit’) and to more than a thousand convicted in the sex offenders unit. True to his calling, the word ‘to minister’ means ‘to serve’ and fulfill the needs of others.

After serving in prison ministry, Reverend Fremont worked for an organization serving the needs of older adults experiencing homelessness, another marginalized group. Fremont characterized his work as an invitation to work for ‘the culture of encounter as Jesus did’. Citing the teachings of Pope Francis, ‘it is not just seeing, but looking; not just hearing, but listening; not just passing people by, but stopping with them; not just saying ‘what a shame, poor people!’ but allowing yourself to be moved with compassion.’ For Fremont his service is not just serving others, but also a ‘ministry for’ and ‘being with’ those whom he serves. For him what society considers marginal groups are not objects but are themselves integral parts of the community.

When he ministered to people of various faiths in prison, he realized the similarity of fundamental beliefs from Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious affiliations. Ultimately, everyone, whether the church or the unchurched, needs mercy, forgiveness and kindness. It is fortuitous that Fremont’s theological training included academic, personal and professional experiences from various religious traditions. His reference to scriptural aspiration that ‘all of them may be one’ (John 17:21) is most notable. In these days declining numbers of church attendance people still cling to spiritual values. From the values of kindness and compassion can be formed and built a community where everyone is accepted and welcomed.

People of various traditions and even those still on a spiritual search can come together. Those who have been hurt and marginalized can be healed and made whole. Fremont considers Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, Mother Teresa and the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as noteworthy examples. Bonhoeffer believed that there are two elements of faith: the implementation of justice and the acceptance of divine suffering. Reverend Rock Fremont has served as a Golden Rule example of ministering with and for the marginalized while alleviating suffering and social marginalization.

PART OF THE USA TODAY NETWORK Copyright © 2023 The Arizona Republic 8/12/2023