The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

The Religious Politics of Abortion Are More Nuanced Than We Think

Abortion politics are never very far beneath the surface in American life, but every year around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, handed down Jan. 22, 1973, they take center stage.

The annual March for Life on Jan. 22 will draw more than 100,000 demonstrators to Washington. Religious conservatives will march in protest, firm in their belief that abortion should not only be considered a sin, but also a crime.

And religious liberals, though often skeptical about the morality of abortion, will affirm their belief that a decision to end a pregnancy should be left solely to a woman, her doctors, and her conscience.

In the years after Roe v. Wade, most evangelicals came alongside the Roman Catholic Church to oppose legal abortion. Mainline Protestants, at least among denominational elites, strongly advocated for abortion rights, even though mainline clergy are evenly divided on the legality of abortion and do not talk about it much.

But while conservative religious activists at the March for Life and progressive religious leaders supporting the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice do speak for a subset of the people they purport to represent, the absolutism of polarized activist elites betrays the more ambivalent views of rank-and-file Americans.

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Why We Need More 'Safe Harbor Laws'

When a San Antonio couple was caught trafficking a 16-year-old online, their excuse was that they had no prior knowledge of her age and “were trying to help her.”  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Charwick Wright, a now ex- Navy sailor, trafficked an HIV-positive 17-year old in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina for his own good. But hey, at least he could admit it.

These horrible anecdotes are popping up all over the U.S., with underage children—both Americans and immigrants—trafficked for labor, and more often, for sexual exploitation. The most surprising issue, however, is the conversation on whether those who are trafficked are criminals themselves. Sadly, in 19 states and all of the American territories, that is the case.

The good news is that a majority of states have some form of "safe harbor laws," laws that prevent underage victims of trafficking from facing criminal charges and from being treated as culpable and willing participants. 

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WATCH: Rev. William Barber II — Fusion Politics and the Future of Movements

Sojourners’ senior director of mobilizing Lisa Sharon Harper interviewed Rev. Dr. William Barber II on Jan. 21 about his new book, Forward Together, which chronicles the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. Rev. Barber tells the story of this “fusion” movement that brings together environmental activists, criminal justice reform advocates, minimum wage organizers, and others to further a comprehensive agenda for equality. Rev. Barber states:

“The people fighting public education are the same people fighting criminal justice reform. The same people fighting criminal justice reform are fighting voting rights. The same people fighting against voting rights are fighting LGBT rights and women rights, and the same people fighting those are fighting environmental rights. If the extremists are cynical enough to come together, we ought to be smart enough to come together.”

“Coming together” for progress may sound like a cliché call for bland unity. But Rev. Barber presents this as a shrewd strategy toward passing legislation and creating mass action. Watch the Google Hangout below/above to hear more of Rev. Barber’s reflections on movement building and sustaining. You can join the next Moral Monday march on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015 in Raleigh, NC. Click here for more details.

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Divesting from Fossil Fuels: We're Putting Our Money Where Our Faith Is

We’re a few weeks into 2015, which means many of us are striving to keep our New Year’s resolutions while others have already seen their best intentions collapse under the pressure of daily routines. Every year, we make promises to be better — we’ll go to the gym, save more money, slow down. But for Christians, every day is an opportunity to make resolutions. We call that repentance.

And this year — today — I am repenting of my dependence on fossil fuels.

While many associate repentance with sorrow or guilt, the biblical meaning of the word is to stop, turn around and go in a whole new direction. Repentance means changing our course and embarking on a new path.

For Christians, humanity’s failure to care for God’s creation warrants our repentance. This is not just a theological claim but a practical moral imperative when it comes to fossil fuel consumption. American Christians need to repent — and quickly!

Our society’s addiction to fossil fuels has had an unconscionable impact on the state of our Earth and on future generations. Coal-fired power plants are giving people cancer and asthma. Oil pipelines are spilling and destroying sacred lands. Natural gas fracking waste is leaking underground, threatening water sources. Through our consumption of coal, oil, and gas, we have enabled this toxic activity.

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State of the Union and Inequality: What Are You Going to Do Now?

This week, there was a lot of commentary about the State of the Union, the title of the president’s annual January speech before a joint session of Congress. I thought it was one of Obama’s best addresses recently because he focused on what is real for this country — growing economic inequality where only a few are doing “spectacularly well” while many families are still struggling just to get by.

The wife and mother from one of those families wrote the president a letter that seemed to have moved him, so he lifted up her “tight-knit family” trying to get through “hard times,” as she sat up in the gallery next to first lady Michelle Obama. Her family became a parable for the nation that is starting to do better economically but still faces hard choices that the president sought to address with very practical suggestions to support what he called “middle class economics."

Obama’s proposals for shifting tax breaks from the very wealthy to the middle class, to make possible child tax credits, days for sick leave, assistance with child care, and some relief from expensive educational costs are all proposals not likely to be supported by the new Republican Congress. But the speech begins to set what could be a long-term agenda to deal with our massive economic inequality — finally. Even the Republicans now might have to face up to the increasingly visible, embarrassing, alarming, and morally indefensible gaps between a small elite and the rest of the country.

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Marcus Borg, Leading Liberal Theologian and Historical Jesus Expert, Dies at 72

Borg, a prominent liberal theologian and Bible scholar who for a generation helped shaped the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament, died on Jan. 21. He was 72 and had been suffering from a prolonged illness, friends said.

Borg emerged as a major voice in biblical studies in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus,” the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.

Alongside scholars such as John Domonic Crossan, Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which brought a skeptical eye to the Scriptures and in particular to supernatural claims about Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection from the dead.

Like many of those critical scholars, Borg tended to view Jesus as a Jewish prophet and teacher, like many figures who emerged from the religious ferment of first-century Judaism.

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In Our Own Backyard: Children and Sexual Slavery

Everyone who desires to follow Jesus’ command to love can pour that love into their own communities, where thousands of children languish in foster care, are legally tangled in the juvenile system, and are raising themselves with no strong adults to guide them forward.

These children in our communities are vulnerable to human trafficking unless each of us does something about it. Right here at home.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. We should love even the unlovable, especially the downtrodden, the forgotten. Don’t be afraid to love those that the world says aren’t worth it, the throwaways, the ones we too often pretend don’t exist.

Love big, love strong, love deep with compassion and bravery. Love those who spit in your face and curse you, the ones who break your heart over and over again. Your love may be the catalyst that keeps that one person from becoming a statistic.

Who will end slavery? You will. How will we end slavery? By God’s grace, through love and fortitude. Not in a faraway place but right here, at home.

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State of the Climate: How Far We’ve Come

Last night I watched the State of the Union, because I live in D.C., and this is our Super Bowl. My roommate, who works on women’s rights, was listening for any mention of her "issues." And I’m no different: I tuned in to the president’s address to hear what he would have to say about climate change.

And he did have a lot to say! This is what he said:

"And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

"2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

"I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it."

What struck me was that it’s now totally normal for the President of the United States to speak firmly and at length about the clear and present danger of climate change.

Look at how far we’ve come! This is real progress — this is a cultural shift. This is a victory.

But this Monday, I marked Martin Luther King Day by reading the Letter from a Birmingham Jail with members of a neighborhood church. And I heard Dr. King admonishing me for my celebration.

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French Jews at a Crossroads: ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

Let me tell you about a married couple. They have been together for many years. Their marriage has had some good moments, but there have also been periods of verbal and physical abuse. Finally, the wife tells her husband that she is considering leaving the marriage. She knows she has options. She can go to a shelter for battered wives, and even find her own place to live in safety and security.

As she starts her car in the garage, her husband runs after her. He drops to his knees and begs: “Please don’t go. I won’t be ‘me’ without you!”

Does she put her foot on the brake, shut off the engine and go back into the house? Does she stay in what has become a very troubled marriage?

That is precisely the question that many Jews in Europe have been asking themselves. More than 7,000 French Jews have moved to Israel in the last year, and there are clear signs others will follow.

This is huge. France has the third-largest Jewish community in the world.

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Catholic Leaders to House Abortion Foes: Immigration Reform Is Also ‘Pro-Life’

More than 100 Roman Catholic leaders are using this week’s annual march against legal abortion to press anti-abortion House members to pass immigration reform, saying they should see it as another “pro-life” issue.

“As brothers and sisters in faith, we urge these elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages. We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child,” the signers say in a letter sent Jan. 21 to two dozen Catholic members of the House of Representatives who are vocal abortion opponents.

The letter, organized by the Washington-based progressive advocacy group Faith in Public Life, is expected to be published as a full-page ad in Politico on Jan. 22.

That’s the day tens of thousands of demonstrators — including some of the House members the statement addresses — are expected to gather in Washington to protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, an annual display of passionate anti-abortion sentiment and political muscle.

The statement pointedly cites Pope Francis’ views that immigration woes and economic inequality are threats to life along with abortion, and it appears to be another example of the so-called Francis effect that is recasting the nation’s culture war by shifting the debates onto a broader terrain.

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