The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Police: From Warriors to Guardians

Some of those protestors were right,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, as he released the Justice Department’s report on the police department in Ferguson, Mo. The report should be read by anyone who believes in racial justice and reconciliation, because it shows us what we are still up against in 2015, 50 years after the Selma march. This is not a post-racial America, especially in regard to our policing and criminal justice systems. Ferguson has become a teaching parable for the nation.

After a detailed and thorough investigation over many months, the devastating report revealed a police force and court system in Ferguson that proves true virtually everything young protestors and local residents have been saying since the shooting of Michael Brown last August.

The Ferguson Police Department replaced its mission of public protection with revenue generation by extracting money from the black residents of their town, using methods that the Justice Department said “may be unlawful.” The report painfully and painstakingly reveals unconstitutional and consistently abusive policing aimed at balancing the city budget on the backs of its poorest and black citizens. The Ferguson police went beyond even racial profiling to direct racist exploitation for a profit, with police apparently more concerned about “ fill[ing] the revenue pipeline” than protecting public safety. The use of traffic stops, citations, court appearances, fines, and even arrests that were specifically targeted at black residents revealed a profound contempt for black people with racial slurs and abuse a daily occurrence. Disgusting racist jokes, even aimed at the president and the first lady, circulated in e-mails from police supervisors and court officials. One joked about a black mother getting a crime prevention award for having an abortion.

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Weekly Wrap 3.5.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

 1. The Feds v. Ferguson
The Justice Department’s final report listed findings from investigating the Ferguson Police Department. Charles M. Blow breaks down the report, including the facts that “African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops” and FPD officers “frequently take actions that ratchet up tensions and needlessly escalate the situation to the point that they feel force is necessary.” From Blow: “The report read like one about a shakedown gang rather than about city officials.”

2. Female Company President: ‘I’m Sorry to All the Mothers I Worked With’
PowerToFly President Katharine Zaleski offers up a list of all of the “infractions” she committed against mothers in the workplace — that is, until she had her own child. “There are so many ways we can support each other as women, but it starts with the just recognizing that we’re all in different positions at different times in our lives.”

3. Justice Dept. Will Not Charge Darren Wilson in Death of Michael Brown; Brown’s Parents to File Civil Suit
“They will sue the city of Ferguson and the Ferguson policeman who fatally shot their son, Darren Wilson. That news comes one day after the U.S. Justice Department released a report … [which] concluded that it was reasonable for Officer Wilson to be afraid of Brown in their encounter last summer, and thus the officer cannot be prosecuted for killing the unarmed 18-year-old.”

4. Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John
New York Times’ The Upshot created what they call a “Glass Ceiling Index” based on a recent Ernst & Young report. As clear in the headline, the results are … depressing.

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What the Church Can Learn from the YMCA

Last week I was a little under the weather, so when my husband and kids took off after church for a hike, I headed to the YMCA. It’s only a two minute drive from our house and we’ve been members for nearly 5 years now.

As I sat in the hot tub, watching folks come and go, I had the sensation of being in a thin space. According to Celtic tradition, a thin place is when Heaven & Earth feel particularly close together. Or, as Eric Weiner put it in his New York Times travel article a couple years ago, it’s "where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent."

The YMCA might seem a strange place to behold the holiness of God, but this is what I noticed while I was sitting quietly with the water swirling around my feet:

I heard Mandarin, Spanish, Korean and what I think was Amharic. I heard English, too, of course, and for a brief moment, English with a heavy Nigerian accent. I saw brown skin and black skin, tan skin, white skin, splotchy skin, and smooth skin.

I saw a young girl and her mama soaking together in the hot tub, the mom still fully clothed with her head wrapped. I saw heavily tatooed 20-somethings heading for the steam room. I saw three women, probably in their seventies, with drooping skin and sagging suits, laughing uproariously on the benches near the shallow end of the pool. I saw fat folks, skinny folks, tall folks and short folks.

I saw a middle-aged man limp slowly along and finally sink down into the hot tub. I saw two women walking arm in arm, one obviously leading the other who could not see, to the sauna. I saw two of the lifeguards re-positioning and working with tools on the lift that lowers those who are wheel-chair bound down into pool if they are unable to get in on their own. There was a man sitting beside me at who talked to himself at length.

I was there for about an hour and as I sensed the nearness of God in that space, it occurred to me what I was seeing — I was seeing the Kingdom of God.

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QUIZ: What's Your Lenten Personality?

Lent comes for us all. Well, for some of us, anyway. What's your Lenten personality? Find out with our quiz! (Answers do not guarantee salvation.) 

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Men: Take a Stand to End Gender-Based Violence

The roots of violence against women lie in gender inequality and the abuse of power, which in turn shapes our understanding of masculinity and femininity. What does it mean to be a man or woman in the 21st century? Many Christian authors argue that men should demonstrate leadership and competitiveness, often at the expense of women. Instead, we need to emphasize understandings of masculinity that recognize the diversity of men and allow space for women to also exercise leadership and fulfill their potential.

For Christians, our most important model of masculinity is that of Jesus Christ. As a leader and a compelling speaker and debater, Jesus demonstrated traditional masculine characteristics in his era. His miraculous powers put him in a unique position of authority. And yet he chose to live as a servant, to be nonviolent and to respect women, including relying on them for financial support. His life shows us that:

  • all men and women are worthy of respect;
  • masculinity does not need to be characterized by violence; and
  • power should not be abused, but used in the service of others.
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Private

A friend recently found out that his girlfriend had been cheating on him. They broke up, she pleaded with him to take her back, they picked up where they left off, the trust issues proved too much to bear, and just a few days later he started dating another woman.

Interestingly, all of this information was divulged via social media. I, along with everyone else who knew the couple, was given front row seats to this Jerry Springer-ish episode that terminated their relationship.

As a society, we have definitely blurred some lines between what becomes public and what remains private.

Thanks to the abundance of information at our fingertips, we need only turn on the television or stand in the checkout lane or search Google to uncover the most up-to-date gossip on any public figure. And thanks to social media, we now get to know far more about our friends and acquaintances than we probably care to.

It seems that nothing is private anymore. But in what some may see as a terrible downturn in society, I find a glimmer of hope — this is, in part, paving the way for deep and relevant discussions on faith to take place in the public forum.

Yet when it comes to matters of faith, it seems a majority of us remain silent. Why is it that we will readily invite the entire world on our date via instagram, yet we are so hesitant to open up about our beliefs?

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Let it Be

Every age must be baptized, this one as much as any before it.

The world made by men is passing away; successive scientific paradigms and technological achievements fall into times past along with the times that gave them birth. Ideas are tried and fought over, and even the best are eventually found wanting and impartial. Mansions, buildings and cities are erected and torn down or — in some places, slowly — worn down, and all the people that lived and moved and had their being in them are gone.

Yet the gospel is ever-new for Christ is not dead but alive. Despite appearances, resurrection and new creation are the end toward which all things are headed. Chaos, destruction and death are judged and in the time after the cross fight on with one hand bound, their ultimate defeat assured. The grave is now never the end.

And so there is no such thing as a "post-Christian" culture, only a new moment — right now — in which the mind of Christ, like leaven in bread, humbly seeks residence that it might by self-giving love transfigure and transform the present as it has the past and as it will the future.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

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Remembering the Horror of Selma's ‘Bloody Sunday’ 50 Years Later

The images of that day in 1965 were quickly seared into the American consciousness: helmeted Alabama state troopers and mounted sheriff’s possemen beating peaceful civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., as clouds of tear gas wafted around the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

On March 7, 1965 — a day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday” — 600 marchers heading east out of Selma topped the graceful, arched span over the Alabama River, only to see a phalanx of state and local lawmen blocking their way on U.S. Highway 80.

The police stopped the marchers, led by Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and ordered them to disperse. Then they attacked. Lewis, one of 58 people injured, suffered a skull fracture. Amelia Boynton Robinson, then 53, was beaten unconscious and left for dead, her face doused with tear gas.

Photos of that terrible day were seen around the world. Historians credit the beatings, and the public outrage that followed, as a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

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Breakaway Episcopalians Win Texas Church Property Fight

For the second time in as many months, a state court has sided with a group of breakaway Episcopalians, ruling that they can keep their property after leaving the national church in 2008 over sharp differences on homosexuality and the authority of Scripture.

Judge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court in Tarrant County, Texas, ruled March 2 that more than 60 parishes in greater Fort Worth can retain their property and remain independent of the Episcopal Church.

“We are grateful for the ruling in our favor,”said Bishop Jack Iker, the former Episcopal bishop of Fort Worth who’s now affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, which formed in 2009 as a rival to the Episcopal Church. “It’s clear that both church laws and Texas laws have been rightly applied to this dispute.”

While still a part of the Episcopal Church, Iker was a leader of the church’s small conservative wing that opposed the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop and blessings for same-sex unions. He’s also criticized the theology of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as unorthodox, and he refers women seeking ordination to a neighboring diocese.

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Pauli Murray’s Influence on Interfaith Cooperation

The life and legacy of Pauli Murray has been getting a lot of attention from the media lately. Articles on Salonand NPR have highlighted Murray’s trailblazing legal work around the intersections of race and gender in America. Murray’s scholarship and activism around ‘Jane Crow’ — the overlapping discrimination faced by women of color — arose from her own experience as an African-American woman in early 20th century and her arguments resonate with seemingly even greater force today.

Less talked about, but equally needed in our present time, is an examination of her work as a priest and a theologian — and, critically, how her understanding of religious and nonreligious concepts provided the means, methods, and motivation for her own activism.

Indeed, in a life filled with accomplishments, it was perhaps her final achievement that she prized most personally. In 1973, Murray became the first female African-American Episcopal priest.

A lifelong Episcopalian, Murray’s faith had always fueled her work for racial and gender equality. A small example from her experience at the famous 1963 March on Washington exemplifies this commitment. In typical Murray fashion, she attended with two groups that she felt represented her commitment to civil rights. Marching first with the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter, she then veered off and found the delegation from St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery parish, her home church in New York, to watch the “oncoming multitudes” peacefully demand racial equality in an unequal country.

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