The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Ban Ki-moon's Climate Altar Call

Reuters reported today that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is starting his drum beat to gets heads of state to his emergency climate conference in New York at the end of the month.

“Ban wants heads of state at a Sept. 23 gathering in New York to outline how their countries will contribute to a mutual goal to contain rising temperatures," said Selwin Hart, the Barbadian diplomat helping to spearhead the conference. The final deal is due to be signed in Paris in 2015, according to Reuters.

This one-day, “leaders-only” Climate Summit is somewhat unprecedented. U.N. climate negotiation meetings are usually called by the executive secretary of the UN’s climate caucus (UNFCCC) and attended by directors of environmental agencies. Ki-moon is switching things up because, as we’ve learned, effective policy to reverse global warming is about economics, not science or technology.  

“You don’t control economic policy at national level if you’re an environment minister,” said Michael Jacobs, a former climate change advisor to the U.K. government.  

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The Ice Bucket Challenge and Its Discontents

The Ice Bucket Challenge, or "IBC," needs little introduction. Over the past month or two, it's been the internet phenomenon of challenging friends, family and co-workers to participate in some combination of donating to the ALS Association, becoming educated about the disease, or dumping a bucket of ice-cold water over their head and video-taping it. The rules are somewhat (pardon the term) fluid—but basically, invitees are given 24 hours to respond and challenge up to three persons. I don't have precise numbers—they're still increasing—but ALSA has reported over 3 million donors and over 100 million dollars raised in the past few month. Not to mention the payoff of seeing your dear ones get soaked and squeal, shudder, or grin and bear it.

But I think it's also raised a second topic into public debate: the ethics of action and motivation. And even beyond the philanthropy going on, I think that's worth talking about, and I suspect it will be the Challenge's more enduring legacy.

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Hispanic Christians Launch Initiative to Bolster Minority Student Achievement

With minority students now making up a majority of public school enrollments, a national group of Hispanic evangelicals is calling for strong ties between churches and schools to encourage better academic results.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which includes 40,000 U.S. churches, has launched a website with resources and a bilingual parental toolkit that its officials hope will bridge an “opportunity gap” between Hispanic and other students.

“We say that pastors and principals should meet,” said Carlos Campo, chair of the NHCLC’s Hispanic Education Alliance, at a recent National Press Club news conference. “We say that parents and professors should meet so that we no longer have these false dichotomies, these barriers that keep us apart.”

Ahead of his organization’s annual observance of National Hispanic Education Sunday on Sept. 7, Campo introduced other new programs, including “Becas and Bibles,” which encourages churches to give children Bibles and seed money for scholarships when they are baptized or christened. (“Beca” is the Spanish word for “scholarship.”)

 

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Rare Mormon Documents Go On Display for First Time

For the first time ever, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has assembled some of its most treasured historical documents into a single exhibit and is inviting the public to view them.

Starting on September 4, 26 books, manuscripts and other papers that date from before the faith’s founding in 1830—including a manuscript page from the original Book of Mormon, a first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and the handwritten minutes from the 1842 founding of the women’s Relief Society—will be on display at the LDS Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City.

These artifacts go “to the roots of our foundational faith,” LDS Church Historian and Recorder Steven E. Snow said at a news conference Wednesday. “These four cases hold our most precious documents.”

Taken together, the documents are worth several million dollars, Snow said, so church officials waited to showcase them until their safety could be secured.

“This exhibit is not intended to silence critics” of Mormon history, Snow said. “But members will find it faith-promoting.”

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Economic Equity and Gender Equality for South Africa: A New Agenda for a New Generation

In a township called Khayelitsha, a woman wakes well before dawn to catch a bus that will carry her to the beautiful home in Cape Town where her employer/boss/master wants his tea in bed by 7 a.m. That is what “post-apartheid” South Africa still looks like today.

I just returned from a remarkable month in South Africa—the country that changed my life. I’ve often said that I learned my theology of hope from South Africa, during the anti-apartheid struggle I was thrust into as a young man. South African church leaders invited me in years ago. I got to see and experience the costly movement for freedom in the 1980s, witness the miracle of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation in 1994, and later join a wonderful reunion of South African activists, many of whom had been in exile or in prison, along with some of us international allies. So when I set out on a South African speaking and book tour 20 years after the new democracy, I didn’t know what to expect.

This time, I brought my family so they could see the country that had meant so much to me. What I discovered was a new generation of South African leaders ready to define their own vocation and mission as they help build a new nation. I quickly came to understand that making a deep connection with them was the real reason that I had come back. It’s tough to be in the shadow of a heroic generation of leaders like Desmond Tutu whose agenda has been the political liberation of South Africa—accomplished to the amazement of the world. On this trip, 20 years later, I saw the incredible freedom of movement now for all the former racial categories—but also how the systemic geography of apartheid was still painfully evident.

Economic inequality in South Africa is now greater than it was even during the days of apartheid, and gender violence is rampant. So these are the new agendas of a new generation: economic liberation and gender equality, with a commitment to lead on both in the churches. The rainbow of young people who turned up in such great numbers at all of our events truly want a new South Africa— a society yet to emerge.

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Ebola Strikes Another American Aid Worker

A third American aid worker has been diagnosed with Ebola.

The missionary group SIM USA announced September 2 that one of its American doctors has been diagnosed with Ebola in Liberia. The doctor was treating pregnant women and those giving birth in the capital city of Monrovia.

He was not treating Ebola patients in the hospital’s isolation unit, however. The group said in a statement that it isn’t known how the doctor was infected. The doctor isolated himself as soon as he developed symptoms, and he has been transferred to the Ebola isolation unit. He is doing well and is in good spirits, according to SIM USA.

In a related development, Kent Brantly, an American doctor earlier diagnosed with Ebola and now recovering from it, gave his first interview to NBC’s Matt Lauer. Brantly said that on July 23, when he first became ill, he knew something was wrong.

“I woke up that morning and really I just felt a little off, I felt a little warm, I felt under the weather,” Brantly said. “I took my temperature and it was 100.0, I think.”

Brantly said he was thankful his wife and two children had left a few days before to attend a wedding in Texas. He said he was not aware that there was one night when doctors thought he would die, but he does remember a night when he felt he wouldn’t make it.

“I felt like I was about to die and I said to the nurse who was taking care of me, ‘I’m sick, I have no reserve and I don’t know how long I can keep this up,’” he told Lauer.

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Firing of Lesbian Teachers at St. Louis Catholic Girls’ School Draws Outcry

The termination of two lesbian faculty members at Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school, has prompted an outcry from alumnae who have vowed to withhold donations to the school.

In the last several weeks, alumnae have created a private Facebook group with more than 2,000 members in support of the couple, Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro, urging supporters to call and write to Cor Jesu leaders and voice their concerns.

Cor Jesu is in the midst of its “One Heart, One Spirit, One Vision” capital campaign for a new chapel, gym, student commons and additional parking.

Reichert said she and Gambaro were asked to resign after the school said in late July it received a copy of a mortgage application with the couple’s names. The couple had married in New York over the summer and the school said they had violated the moral contract faculty are required to sign as part of employment.

The firing comes as news that a chemistry teacher at a Catholic, all-girls high school in Bloomfield Hills, outside Detroit, said she was fired before the semester started because of her “non-traditional” pregnancy. The teacher, Barbara Webb, 33, is a lesbian in a committed relationship with another woman. She worked at Marian High School for nine years, the Detroit Free Press reported.

A statement from St. Louis’ Cor Jesu said the school “does not publicly discuss personnel matters.”

Many there are concerned not only about Gambaro and Reichert, but how the decision to fire gay faculty will affect current and future Cor Jesu students.

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Victor Stenger, Atheism’s 'Fifth Horseman,' is Dead

The atheist community is mourning the death of Victor Stenger, a prominent physicist who championed rooting out religion from the public sphere and was best-known for quipping: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

Stenger, who also graced a very short list of authors who hit the New York Times best-seller list writing about atheism, died August 25 in Hawaii. He was 79.

Atheistskeptic and science blogs, in the U.S. and in England, were filled with tributes and remembrances over the long holiday weekend.

“Vic was an unassuming physicist and teacher who took on the challenge (of) taking science out of the classroom and applied it to some of our most sacred cows, from psychics and New Age belief to Intelligent Design creationism,” skeptic D.J. Grothe said on The Friendly Atheist blog.

Ron Lindsay, CEO of the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization with a long association with Stenger, said on the same blog, “With Vic Stenger’s death, the secular and skeptic communities have lost an articulate, knowledgeable, and relentless defender of the naturalistic, scientific worldview.”

Though best-known in recent years for his atheism, Stenger was also a well-known particle physicist who contributed to groundbreaking work on gamma rays, quarks and gluons. One of his last projects was working on an underground experiment that showed the neutrino, a subatomic particle, has mass. He held professorships in physics, astronomy and philosophy.

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Gay Groups Joining St. Patrick’s Parade is All Right with N.Y. Cardinal Dolan

After years of strong resistance, organizers of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on September 3 said that gays and lesbians will be allowed to march under their own banner for the first time, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan—the parade’s grand marshal next March—has welcomed the move.

The decision is another sign of how quickly changing public attitudes toward gay people have pushed changes in state laws, government policies, and the practices of private entities.

Dolan’s positive response may also point to a shifting dynamic within the Catholic Church on gays and lesbians since the election of Pope Francis last year. Francis has made it clear he wants church leaders to highlight Catholicism’s outreach to the poor and vulnerable rather than always fighting culture war issues on gay marriage and the like.

The church’s teachings on gays lesbians have not changed, as was evident this week when two teachers at a Catholic high school in St. Louis were fired when administrators learned the women were married, and a teacher at a Catholic high school in suburban Detroit who is a lesbian said she was fired when she became pregnant.

But the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which is not run by the church, allows for some wiggle room. Dolan said Wednesday that the parade committee that operates the annual event “continues to have my confidence and support.”

“Neither my predecessors as Archbishop of New York nor I have ever determined who would or would not march in this parade … but have always appreciated the cooperation of parade organizers in keeping the parade close to its Catholic heritage,” he continued.

Dolan concluded by praying “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

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After a Summer of Crisis, Churches Can't Go Back to Business As Usual

When churches conclude their summer hiatus and resume full-scale ministries this week, much will have changed from a year ago — outside their doors.

Conditions might have changed inside, too. But it is the world outside that demands fresh attention in mission and ministry.

Ferguson, Mo., has happened, revealing disturbing trends in law enforcement and deep fault lines between white experience and black experience.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine happened, threatening a resumption of dangerous tensions between Moscow and Western democracies.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria happened, raising the dreaded specter of a take-no-prisoners war on modernity, reason, progress, women and other faiths.

The 113th Congress happened, mired in systemic dysfunction, with one party determined to cripple a black president and to channel more wealth to the wealthy.

The Koch brothers and their megabuck cronies happened, changing the face of electoral politics with unprecedented infusions of cash and ideological vitriol.

The two-tier economy happened, with one tier doing extraordinarily well and a much, much larger tier falling further behind, leaving despair among all age groups.

Border wars between terrified migrants and swaggering white men bearing arms against children happened, threatening America’s true core value as a welcoming nation promising freedom.

These outside-the-walls developments have little to do with the usual church fussing — except to say that it’s time for church people to stop their usual fussing.

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