The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

When the World Looks Back

Lent is a season of preparation. But the process of preparing for Easter does not need to be all negative commitments and focused on the things we don’t do.

One opportunity for developing new positive practices during Lent involves learning to see. The Gospels recount at least three different instances after the resurrection in which followers of Jesus were not able to recognize or “see” him: Mary at the tomb mistaking Jesus for the gardener, the road to Emmaus, and the delayed reaction when Jesus gave great fishing advice.

The truth of Easter is not always readily apparent. It requires the ability to see clearly. This means rubbing our eyes, clearing them of gunk, and focusing our vision.

Having recently shifted from spending most of my day in an office to spending almost all of it outside, I’ve been ruminating on what it might mean to practice seeing the non-human or natural world more clearly. Here are my initial reflections:

Have you ever been moved by a sunset? A star-filled canopy of the night sky? A canyon-filled horizon? A towering wooded cathedral?

What was the feeling? Gratitude for the beauty? Humility in the midst of grandeur? Inspired to greatness while experiencing greatness? Joy in celebration of it all?

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Utah’s New Law a ‘Toolkit’ for Fighting LGBT Discrimination, Say Activists, Legal Experts

Utah’s new law extending employment and workplace protections to LGBT people and conscience protections to individuals, churches, and faith-based associations extends an olive branch to both groups, even as it misses one key sticking point.

Panelists for two discussions hosted by the Brookings Institution on March 16 described key features of the legislation, noting that it is:

  • Unique to Utah, with its distinctive religious and political history, not a template for other states or for federal legislation.
  • A measure of healing between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and LGBT people.
  • A law that says nothing about whether bakers, florists or other vendors must accept customers planning a same-sex wedding, even if such marriages violate their religious beliefs.
  • A layer of robust protections for religious groups.

Even though other states may not replicate this law exactly, it can serve as a toolkit for orchestrating opposing forces to find common ground, legal and political, experts said.

Former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, a Mormon who cautioned that he was not a spokesman for the church, called the legislation “a great victory for the protection of conscience.”

Leavitt said the LDS church convened the effort to write the legislation with LGBT activists in an effort to heal the tensions between the two communities, inflamed when the church joined efforts to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008.

“It is a doctrine of the church that marriage is between one man and one woman and it will not change,” said Leavitt.

But it is also a doctrine of the church that “Jesus Christ would not abide by the withholding of shelter or sustenance or care.”

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Will Pope Francis Have a Short Papacy? Don’t Bet On It

In a wide-ranging interview he gave March 13 for the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis touched on a variety of topics, from his concern about bad homilies to his upcoming U.S. visit to his one real wish: to go out for a pizza without being recognized.

But leading most of the news coverage were his remarks suggesting that he expects his papacy to be short, perhaps lasting no more than another year or two.

“I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief: four or five years; I do not know, even two or three. Two have already passed,” he told a Mexican television station.

“Say it ain’t so, Pope!” as the lead on the New York Daily News’ story on Francis’ “shocking comments” put it.

“I just want him to be around for as long as possible,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan told the tabloid.

“I need him. We need him. The church needs him.”

To be sure, the prospect of Francis’ imminent retirement — or demise — would be dismal news for Francis’ many fans, and perhaps a rare lift for his opponents.

In fact, Francis has suggested on several other occasions that he did not expect his papacy to be too long, and one can understand why he would say that:

  • He is 78 years old, and while he is amazingly active and productive, he suffers from various pains and potentially more serious health issues. His aides worry about the pace he keeps, and he repeatedly ignores their pleas for him to slow down.
  • In recent decades both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II were targets of assassination attempts (a shooter in St. Peter’s Square critically wounded John Paul) and in a world reeling with terrorist attacks and religious strife, Francis knows he is a potential target.
  • John Paul reigned for 26 years, the third-longest papacy in history, so compared with that even a decade-long pontificate would seem short.
  • John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, opened a new option — which Francis has praised — when in 2013 he became the first pontiff in six centuries to retire, and after just eight years, at the age of 85.

But a closer reading of Francis’ remarks, and analysis from those who know the pope, say that’s not what he meant, at all.

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Love Is the Root of All Evil

Editor's Note: Christian Piatt was invited to preach at Portland First Christian Church on March 8. The biblical text was from Mark 11:15-19, in which Jesus cleanses the temple by driving out the moneychangers during passover from Herod’s temple. This is an adapted version of his remarks.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star. I don’t have a way to project a picture of how I looked back in those days, but I’m sure if you ask, Amy would be more than happy to show one to you. She gets a good laugh about me with my blond hair, all the way down to the small of my back, my silk shirts and my little round John Lennon sunglasses.

Yeah, it may sound ridiculous now, but back then, I was kind of awesome. At least in my own mind, I was.

From the fifth grade on, I played the drums, at least until I figured out that girls didn’t pay a lot of attention to the drummer. So my sophomore year in high school I switched to singing and playing guitar. I was in different bands through college, worked for a few record companies, and had fun.

A LOT of fun.

But I was also kind of a mess. Rock star living is hard living, it turns out, even if you’re not actually famous. And being in bands is great, until you’re out of college and still working as a waiter at TGI Fridays so you can play gigs at night. In other words, I was going nowhere.

But more important, I wasn’t as happy as I thought I’d be. I mean I had fun, enjoyed myself most of the time, but I wasn’t actually happy.

I kind of put my musician days on a shelf until I met Amy, and she convinced me — not exactly kicking and screaming, but close — to go visit her church in Denver. I said I’d go once if she promised never to ask me again. She agreed, so I went. And it wasn’t as awful as I had expected. People were nice. They were good to each other. They were real, not just what they were told “Christians” were supposed to be. Plus they went out for beer afterward and I thought Amy was pretty hot, so I went back.

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Americans of Faith Must Reconsider Stands on Nuclear Weapons

Setsuko Thurlow was 13 when “progress” came to Hiroshima in a white-hot flash. In the dark silence following the nuclear bomb blast, Thurlow recalls children crying, “Mama, help me. God, help me.”

Her sister lived for four days. Many of her 351 dying schoolmates “looked like skeletons with skin hanging from their bones.”

They perished in agony.

Today, Thurlow and other survivors travel the globe, sharing their stories with a new generation for which nuclear weapons are an afterthought — seemingly a hypothetical and abstract threat.

The end of the Cold War had a mixed effect on the nuclear equation. Through dogged diplomacy and effective institutions, disarmament continues, though at a slower pace in recent years. There are now 10,000 operational nuclear warheads in the world, down from a high of 64,000 in 1986.

But the specter of nuclear terrorism and regional conflicts between nuclear weapons states makes nuclear weapons even more dangerous in our international system. Deterrence theory, which governed strategic thinking during the Cold War, is a much less compelling framework today.

Thankfully, most states have forsworn these armaments. Nuclear weapons are not vital to any state’s legitimate security interest. No state or NGO has the capacity to respond to the unfathomable humanitarian crisis that would follow an accidental or intentional use of a nuclear weapon.

Thus a growing global consensus now acknowledges the extreme risk nuclear weapons pose.

Pope John XXIII stated unequivocally in his 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” “Nuclear weapons must be banned.”

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Mormons Free to Back Gay Marriage on Social Media, LDS Apostle Says

An LDS apostle reaffirmed recently that Mormons who support gay marriage are not in danger of losing their temple privileges or church memberships — even though the Utah-based faith opposes the practice.

In an interview March 13 with KUTV in Salt Lake City, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said that individuals in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be in trouble only for “supporting organizations that promote opposition or positions in opposition to the church’s.”

Backing marriage equality on social media sites, including on Facebook or Twitter, “is not an organized effort to attack our effort, or our functioning as a church,” Christofferson said in the interview.

The KUTV interviewer asked further if a Latter-day Saint could “hold those beliefs even though they are different from what you teach at the pulpit?”

Yes, the apostle answered.

“Our approach in all of this, as (Mormon founder) Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel, you can’t coerce. It has to be persuasion, gentleness and love unfeigned, as the words in the scripture.”

Christofferson echoed this sentiment in two January interviews with The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Is God the Biggest Serial Killer of All Time? A Response to the Friendly Atheist

The Friendly Atheist is one of the most influential atheist blogs on the Internet. The website’s 10 bloggers have contributed to CNN, Fox and Friends, NPR, the Washington Post, and the USA Today.

You may be surprised to read this, but I owe the Friendly Atheist a personal debt. My atheist brother invited me to officiate at his wedding ceremony with this condition, “As long as you don’t say anything about God.” I’m very close with my brother, so of course I agreed. I wrote the majority of the wedding ceremony with no problem. I easily secularized everything else, but was stymied by how to secularize the final blessing.

Since Google has all the answers, I typed the words “secular wedding ceremony blessing” into my search engine. The first link that appeared was the Friendly Atheist’s article “ A Secular Wedding Ceremony from Start to Finish.” The entire transcript for the secular wedding is beautiful. As I spoke the words of the Friendly Atheist’s final blessing, I experienced a profound sense of awe:

May the glory which rests upon all who love you, bless you and keep you, fill you with happiness and a gracious spirit. Despite all changes of fortune and time, may that which is noble and lovely and true remain abundantly in your hearts, giving you strength for all that lies ahead.

My brother and his wife expressed their appreciation for those words. My dad, a devout Christian, said it was the perfect capstone to the wedding. And all I could think were words of gratitude. “Thank God for the Friendly Atheist,” I said to myself.

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Women in Church Leadership and Overcoming Stereotypes

One afternoon I was invited to share my experiences as a woman in Christian leadership — the challenges, joys, issues, struggles and blessings. It felt like those of us sharing were instant, intimate, connected soul sisters. Without knowing each other, and as different as our stories were, the common threads ran deep. We were all women in high levels of leadership in Christian organizations. So why does it still hurt so much? We’ve made so much progress, haven’t we?

After some questions, we reviewed what we would each share from our different perspectives. This would be a heartfelt, sincere, and vulnerable time of sharing. But I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened. The opening question was, “When did you first experience a challenge or issue with your leadership as a woman?” As the first woman began her story, the vulnerable places of her past and present began to flow through tears streaming down her face. And my own eyes welled up and brimmed over. This struck home to the core of my own experience. This is hard. It hurts.

Here are just a few of the barriers we shared about that afternoon. There’s the way that women are looked at differently with respect to their leadership styles. What is seen as strength in a man’s style may be critiqued as aggressive in a woman. When a man’s ego affects his decision-making, rarely is it confronted or dealt with, whereas a woman is called out for letting her emotions get in the way. This feeds the fear for many women leaders that it’s not OK to display any vulnerability. As much as we don’t want to admit it, there is also still a bit of a “good ole boy” way of operating even in Christian organizations that are advocates of reconciliation. To call it out can get one the blame of having a “chip on one’s shoulder” and playing the gender card for personal gain.

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Debate Over Gays in St. Patrick’s Parades Roils Irish On Big Day

St. Patrick’s Day is associated as much with Roman Catholicism as it is with Irish-Americans, but this year some of the faithful aren’t happy with the inclusion of gays and lesbians marching under their own banner for the first time in parades in Boston and New York.

The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts and a local Catholic school declined to take part in the Boston parade on March 15 after two LGBT groups — the military veterans service group OutVets and Boston Pride — were invited following decades of lobbying and court battles.

“The saint’s venerable name should not be cheaply misappropriated by nominally Catholic politicians and anti-Catholic organizations with a same sex agenda,” said Catholic Action League head C.J. Doyle, a leader of the opposition.

The New York parade marches down Fifth Avenue on March 17, the saint’s feast day, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is facing renewed calls from conservative Catholics to step down as grand marshal because an openly LGBT group is taking part for the first time.

When it was first announced last September that an organization of LGBT employees at NBC — the network that broadcasts the popular event — would be marching, Dolan voiced support for the parade organizers and prayed “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

Critics ripped Dolan for his stance, and they ramped up their efforts as the day approached.

“Now there can be no doubt — Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been played for a sucker by the organizers of the 2015 New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. He must step down as Grand Marshal,” Matthew Hennessey wrote at the website of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic media outlet.

“(B)y personally leading the procession, he blesses the whole shameful affair,” he concluded.

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Prominent San Francisco Evangelical Church Drops Celibacy Requirement for LGBT Members

A prominent evangelical Christian church in San Francisco has announced it will no longer ask members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to remain celibate.

“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” senior pastor Fred Harrell, Sr. and six board members of City Church, one of the largest members of the Reformed Church in America denomination, wrote to members in a letter emailed to members March 13.

The church, which claims about 1,000 attendees and meets at two San Francisco locations, has long welcomed LGBT persons to attend, but has required life-long celibacy of those LGBT persons seeking membership.

“Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community,” the letter states.

“‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

City Church’s action places it in the ranks of at least two other large, urban evangelical congregations that have reversed their policies requiring celibacy for gay members. In January, both Nashville’s GracePointe Church and Seattle’s EastLake Community Church reversed their celibacy policies.

The policy of many evangelical denominations and independent churches is that homosexuality is “incompatible” with the Bible and therefore cannot be tolerated among members, or the broader society.

 
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