The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Choosing Courage: An Appeal to Christian Leaders

In the last several days, our country has witnessed and experienced, yet again, the effects of the unresolved issues of racism. We cannot rest complacent, convincing ourselves that everything is and will be all right on its own. That is a lie. The racial divide in the United States is boiling — we see the big cloud that rises over the roaring mountain. If we don’t act, the volcano will eventually explode. Our all-gracious God is calling us to turn from our wrong path.

Above other civic institutions, the church is responsible to do the work of healing. Our nation is desperately in need of healing. The sins of racism, classism, violence, and ideological intransigency are violently shaking and destroying the soul of our nation.

Where are the godly leaders in our country who are ready and willing to strip their souls of religious and ideological allegiances and surrender without fear, to seek the path that the Holy Spirit is eager to show us?

There is a way forward. We know that Jesus the Christ came to show us that way. We need to quit insisting that the way forward is my way. It is not my way — it is Christ’s way. No one Christian leader can claim to speak for God. Neither does God need any one of us to make the way clear — God can speak for God’s self.

There is one condition necessary for us to hear God’s voice: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14.)

Someone once said that change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don't believe is right. There is no virtue in sticking to our allegiances. Our allegiances should not be to the right or the left or even the center. If we follow Jesus, our allegiances are to repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Our life and our only hope are found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thomas Merton wrote, “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”

The truth is that we do know what is happening, and we know what is going on. Our individual and collective sins are robbing us of our dignity. We, the Christian leaders of this country, can choose to wage war with the weapons of our ideological, denominational, and theological perspectives and convictions. Or we can choose to “recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”

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My Father's Keeper

I was six by the time my new daddy showed up. He was quiet yet strong and kind. I could tell by the way he always spoke to mama, his voice tempered, the way he looked at her. For the nearly 40 years that they were together until my mother passed away, I can’t recall a time I ever saw my stepfather raise his voice to her, let alone hurt her. In fact, I don’t know too many men that would accept an abused woman with five small children and raise them as his own. He cherished my mother, in ways that I suspect my biological father, tried so desperately to do.

They were two men. Each woven in his own love and laud for my mother. One cloaked in his pain; the other in his kindness and kinship. But despite their differences, they were both my father, and we still have an equal and equitable obligation to dignify them the same.

That is why when I founded Saving Promise—a national domestic violence prevention organization inspired by my daughter’s little girl named Promise—there were three things that I was clear about: 1) we must focus on greater public awareness and prevention; 2) we must mobilize the community to take action; and 3) we must engage and invite men to be a part of this movement. Men who need help and men that want to help.

This month marks Women’s History Month, a time when we lift up and honor women around the world, especially those whose journeys have paved the way for the next generation. Through my journey of building Saving Promise there is one thing that I have come to understand: if we continue to address intimate partner violence as a women’s issue and not invite men to be a part of this dialogue, we will no sooner prevent this global public health crisis. Therefore, I personally believe we must reflect not only on the paths that we’ve paved for women, but those that we carry in the deepest corners of our hearts—our communities, our families, our children, and our men.

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'It Follows' Explores the Spirituality of Horror

Should Christians like horror movies?

It’s a question that many a Christ-following cinema junkie has had to ask themselves. It’s hard not to feel a bit conflicted enjoying a zombie apocalypse or a masked maniac when peace and tolerance are core parts of your belief system. If we’re going to be discerning consumers of culture, what value is there in horror?

I could pose one of a dozen different possible answers, each with their own set of arguments — for example, how the collective act of yelling in the dark at a dumb teen NOT TO GO IN THE CABIN transcends race, politics, and gender. Or how horror can help us embrace the inherently supernatural elements of faith. Or how it does the important job of reminding us that evil exists in the world, and can take on any number of forms.

But the argument that truly separates the wheat from the tares is that great horror, going all the way back to its roots in gothic literature, offers some of the best social commentary there is. Truly iconic horror films (and horror stories, for that matter) allow us to go below the surface of your basic spine-chiller, and think about everything from racism to gender politics to the afterlife.

Horror is at its best when it gives you something to think about along with your creeps. The new film It Follows, out this weekend, fits that bill quite well. It also happens to be one of the scariest movies this year.

The plot feels like classic urban legend. Teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) is dating the slightly older Hugh (Jake Weary), and decides one night to go all the way with him. Once it’s over, however, Hugh informs Jay that he’s cursed by a demon, a demon he’s now passed on to her. The demon will follow Jay, slowly and consistently, until it catches up with her and kills her, unless she first passes it on to someone else through sexual contact. If the demon kills her, it will then return to stalk and kill Hugh. Only Jay can see the demon, and it can look like anyone, be it a stranger, friend, or beloved family member.

This premise could easily be turned into something silly and gratuitous, and were it a studio venture instead of a smaller independent film, It Follows might have been just that. But although writer-director David Robert Mitchell has made a movie in which sex plays a pivotal role, he’s more interested in the consequences of it than the act itself. It Follows is packed with symbolism that represents loss of innocence, the onset of adulthood, and reminders of mortality — the ever-approaching darkness that none of us escape. Grim, yes, but also pretty impressive in a genre more commonly associated with objectification and cheap thrills.

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Black Lesbian Bishop Yvette Flunder Is ‘Using My Energy to Find Peace’

By her own count, Bishop Yvette Flunder has officiated at 149 funerals for victims of AIDS and HIV. Her office in Oakland, Calif., contains the ashes from some of those funerals after family members refused to claim them.

In recent weeks, she’s been celebrated and castigated for being an African-American bishop who’s legally married to another woman.

But when the time came for her to speak at a small Baptist college in this Bible Belt city, she chose to forgive the black clergymen who called her appearance a “travesty of the highest order.”

“I’m not using my energy for useless fights,” the third-generation preacher said at the end of a rousing sermon on March 17. 

“I’m using my energy to find peace. Let there be peace on earth.”

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'Semper Reformanda' and the PCUSA

The news of the PCUSA adopting the Marriage Amendment came to me over Twitter. Flowing down my feed were tweet after tweet of individuals applauding the latest Christian move toward inclusion (disclaimer: my feed is an echo chamber). Proud Presbyterians puffed up their chests and, hilariously, celebrated the christening of the new “Presbyqueerians” and “Lesbyterians,” and I was overwhelmed. Our church is in perpetual rehab, always growing into the person she is supposed to be and I am so proud of her latest progress. The Marriage Amendment, which affirmed the marriage of Christian same-sex couples was not much of a surprise, given the progressive spirit of the PCUSA, but even still. It was only a week ago that the largest evangelical church in San Francisco also reformed its teaching on marriage. Three other evangelical megachurches preceded them in the last six months. And if rumors are true, more megas are coming out soon. Change is coursing through the air and knocking me over happy.

Immediately following the vote, some Southern Baptist conservatives also took to Twitter to express their harsh disapproval. Besides declaring that the PCUSA is now officially, by their definition, NOT Christian, they spoiled the often misidentified PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) with lots of love and praise for sticking to their arithmetic of “1 Man + 1 Woman = Marriage.”

I read an article by one of those enraged. He highlighted the key differences between the PCA and the PCUSA. The media had been mixing up the two, so he wrote it mostly to distinguish which one was still Christian, taking some extra digs at trending membership numbers and highlighting all the hot-button disagreements between the two. As I read it, I had to sigh a little, as I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of history reverberating beneath that piece, especially given the Presbyterian past.

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Weekly Wrap 3.20.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

"Within one day, tens of thousands of [Graham’s] faithful followers liked and shared his short, patronizing post that called ‘Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else’ to ‘Listen up’ and tune in to his take on why so many black people have died at the hands of police officers recently. According to Graham, the problem is “simple.” It can be reduced to their lack of obedience and bad parenting. … Thankfully, we have a response: We invite you to join with us in signing on to an open letter to Rev. Graham calling him back to the Gospel's ministry of reconciliation. Sign on now.

2. PHOTOS: The First Day of Spring and a Total Lunar Eclipse

Space.com offers this gallery of images from this early morning’s lunar eclipse (not visible from the United States). In addition to coinciding with the vernal equinox — kicking off Spring, as snow fell across the Northeast — the eclipse also overlapped with the supermoon. ...And astronomers across the world geeked out. 

3. Ashley Judd Pressing Charges Against Misogynist Internet Trolls

“Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for what they write, and [for] not allowing this misinterpretation and shaming culture on social media to persist,” Judd said. “And by the way, I’m pressing charges.”

4. This Is What Life in Syria Is Like After Four Years of War

According to the U.N., 200,000 people have been killed. More than half of the country’s 21 million residents have fled their homes. Life expectancy has fallen by 20 years. It has becomes the world’s deadliest country for reporters. BuzzFeed interviews three Syrians to get a feel for life in the war-torn country.

5. Gay and Mennonite

From The Atlantic: “Mennonites are wrestling with the same questions faced by other churches across the country, made all the more complicated by their heritage: How should the faithful balance tradition and modern life? How should scripture inform people's understandings of same-sex relationships? And when members of a denomination disagree, how should they find their way forward?”

6. Pentagon Loses Track of $500 Million in Weapons, Equipment Given to Yemen

“In recent weeks, members of Congress have held closed-door meetings with U.S. military officials to press for an accounting of the arms and equipment. Pentagon officials have said that they have little information to go on and that there is little they can do at this point to prevent the weapons and gear from falling into the wrong hands.”

7. You May Be a ‘Poser’ Christian and Not Even Know It

According to Jarrid Wilson, author of Jesus Swagger: Break Free from Poser Christianity, cosmetic Christianity is an epidemic. Jonathan Merritt interviews the author to find out more.

8. U.N. Workers Accused in Nearly 80 Cases of Sexual Assault in 2014

United Nations personnel were accused in nearly 80 cases of rape, sexual assault and sex trafficking in 2014 alone, with the bulk of the cases involving peacekeepers deployed to some of the most troubled parts of the world.”

9. Where My Ladies At? Gender Avenger Tracks Inequality at SXSW and Beyond

Wondering whether your favorite conference or event has its equal share of men and women at the podium? There’s an app for that. The Gender Avenger Tally (soon available on mobile) lets people calculate via event hashtag the levels of gender representation. 

10. Happy Spring! Read Walt Whitman’s ‘The First Dandelion’

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,

As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,

Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass — innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,

The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.​

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'Dig’ TV Series Starts Adding Up: Watch the Numbers

"Dig," the new action-thriller series from the USA Network, is starting to add up — at least in terms of its religious content.

The third episode, broadcast March 19, advanced plot lines involving an apocalyptic sect of Jews, a desert-dwelling Christian cult, a stolen Torah breastplate rumored to be a telephone to God and a really cute baby cow named "Red" who is having a less-than-excellent adventure.

Tossed like a ball of spices into that potboiler of a story is a difficult biblical text, a secretive society dedicated to restoring the Jewish temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and what may be a nod to Jewish numerology.

"It’s all about XIX," or the number 19, FBI agent Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) reads in a journal swiped from a murdered archaeologist.

Here — with spoiler alerts — is what’s behind the newly introduced religious elements to the "Dig" storyline.

Numerology:

Ever notice how in the Bible there are always 12 of this (Tribes of Israel, disciples) and 40 of that (days of rain, years in the desert)? It’s never eight or 11 or — heaven forbid — 17?

That’s because ancient cultures, especially biblical-era Jews, practiced numerology — the belief that numbers have specific religious or spiritual significance. There is a whole branch of study in Judaism called "gematria" by which letters of the Hebrew alphabet are given numerical values and scholars add them up in a search for meaning. The creators of "Dig" seem to be aware of this and are having some fun.

Twice in episode three, the number of Peter Connelly’s hotel room — seven — is pointedly shown. In numerology, seven is considered a perfect number, a "divine" number, the number of God. It represents holiness and sanctification — two themes that pop up over and over again in the search for the "pure" red heifer and the apparent need to keep the boy Joshua’s feet "unsoiled."

And when Peter has a bad dream, his bedside clock reads 11 p.m. In the Bible, 11 represents chaos, disorder, even impurity.

Then there’s that pesky number 19, which is behind much of the episode’s action. In biblical numerology, one is considered the number of God and nine is the number of his judgment. That sounds ominous enough for a thriller-conspiracy-action series like "Dig."

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Scandal-Scarred Cardinal Keith O’Brien Renounces ‘Rights and Privileges’ of His Office

Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was accused of sexually harassing several men in a scandal that exploded on the eve of the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, has renounced the “rights and privileges” of his office but may keep his prestigious title, the Vatican announced March 20.

O’Brien did not take part in the March 2013 conclave and now he will be barred from any future conclaves. At age 77, he would have lost his voting eligibility at age 80.

Francis had been under pressure to take some action against O’Brien since one of his victims revealed that an internal church report on O’Brien had been sent to Rome and was “hot enough to burn the varnish” off the pope’s desk.

At least five men — three priests, a former priest, and a former seminarian — accused O’Brien of either sexually harassing them or pressuring them into sex, in allegations that went back to the 1980s. O’Brien was accused of being sexually active up through at least 2009.

Those were also the years in which O’Brien became increasingly outspoken in his denunciation of homosexuality and gay rights; he called to homosexuality a “moral degradation” that was “demonstrably harmful” to gay people. In response, the gay rights group Stonewall crowned O’Brien “bigot of the year.”

When Pope Benedict XVI accepted O’Brien’s resignation as one of his last official acts before retiring, O’Brien admitted “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

Adding to the urgency for Francis to take further action were recent reports that the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, which O’Brien headed until he resigned in the wake of the initial revelations, had spent nearly $300,000 on a retirement home for O’Brien in northern England.

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It's On Us: Healthy Masculinity and Sexual Assault Prevention

A valuable part of bystander intervention work in communities and schools, then, is helping men and boys understand how unhealthy social norms of masculinity can prevent them from intervening to stop sexual assault. Healthier forms of masculinity, however, can help boys and men become part of the solution by practicing prevention. As part of our Healthy Masculinity Action Project, we have developed some core values and actions to spread the message of healthy, nonviolent masculinity:

  • recognizing unhealthy, risky, and violent masculine attitudes and behaviors that are harmful to the self and others
     
  • replacing unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors with emotionally intelligent attitudes and behaviors that respect the self and others
     
  • learning to empathize with the self and others
     
  • supporting gender equity and other forms of equity
     
  • learning and using emotional and social skills to constructively challenge unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors expressed by others

At MSCR, we don’t believe that men are naturally or biologically violent, or that somehow the need to kill, maim, rape, and more generally dominate is written into the language of our genes. If no genetic code binds us to violence, if no destiny of murder and mayhem irrefutably awaits us, we can choose to intervene when faced with unhealthy, harmful masculine attitudes and behaviors. We can choose healthy masculinity and present it as choice for men and boys. It’s on us to do so.

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Gay and Transgender Inmates Invited to Lunch with Pope Francis During Prison Visit

When Pope Francis pays a visit to Naples March 21 he will have lunch with some 90 inmates at a local prison, a contingent that will reportedly include 10 from a section reserved for gay and transgendered prisoners, and those infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

The stopover at the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center in Poggioreale, near Naples, was originally not scheduled to include lunch, according to a report from Tv2000, an Italian television network operated by the country’s Catholic bishops.

But the pope insisted on the meal, which will be prepared by the prisoners, some of whom will come from two other detention centers. The 90 were chosen by lottery from among 1,900 inmates, according to the Vatican Insider website .

Among the many innovations Francis has made since his election two years ago this month has been a new tone and approach to gay and transgender people.

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