The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Not A Game

In a few days, Americans will gather across the country to watch the Super Bowl.

But what many of them don’t know is what happens outside of the stadium—a seedy underworld that profits off the sale of American children.

Every year, approximately 100,000 children are forced into prostitution in the United States—and many are illegally “bused in” to locations hosting major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Once the game is over, victims are relocated to the next profitable event.

The trafficking of our kids is not a game.

I can tell you firsthand that homeless children—desperate for food, shelter, and comfort—are the biggest victims of this horrific industry. At Covenant House, we’ve seen too many of these innocent children come through our doors.

I can also tell you that no homeless kid sells his or her body by choice. In a survey we conducted with Fordham University, almost 25 percent of homeless kids were either victims of trafficking or felt they needed to trade sex in order to survive.

ALL of them greatly regretted having to trade their bodies—a trauma that can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

We are doing everything we can to help these victims, as well as ensure that homeless kids who are at risk of becoming victims never fall prey to this vile industry.

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Resistance. Lamentation. Action.

When stories of human trafficking or dramatic rescue operations come across our news feeds, we are understandably shocked. For a moment, our attention is grabbed and we feel genuine outrage toward the traffickers and, hopefully, compassion for the trafficked persons. But to what end? 

Sadly, the underground and criminal nature of human trafficking helps to keep the stark realities out of sight and, consequently, out of the minds of most people. When we do think of human trafficking, it tends to be as something that happens “over there” or in seedy brothels. It is somehow easier to blame the bad actors, pimps, traffickers, and sweatshop managers rather than recognize the multiple ways that we are connected to human trafficking through our everyday actions. Because we are, in fact, connected. As Pope Francis observed in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “There is greater complicity than we think. The issue [modern slavery] involves everyone!”

Human trafficking is present in virtually every human community. Moreover, because the majority of people held in slavery today are forced to work in agriculture and mining, it is inevitable that products make it into the supply chain and our shopping carts. Sex trafficking also does not happen in a vacuum, but rather in a social context which tolerates, and even normalizes, sexual exploiation and the commodification of the human person.

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In Over My Heart: Friendship and the LGBTQ Church

I am in over my heart on the LGBTQ issue within the church. As a Christian ethicist, life-long evangelical, and devoted Christ-follower, my heart aches to the point where it’s breaking.  I have friends, students, and family who are gay or lesbian, and my faith in Christ would be worse off without them. Among other things, they witness faithfulness to God amidst exclusion and persecution.

Fortunately, I’m in a church where being in over your heart is a good thing. Now called the Evangelical Covenant Church, my denomination’s founders called themselves Mission Friends at the outset. We began as a renewal group in Sweden around the practices of reading Scripture and hospitality. We began out of a love for spiritual formation, and we countered the dominant culture by allowing all people to be readers of Scripture.

Scripture reading in rural Sweden developed as a subversive practice. Though they were few and poor, lowly and insignificant, our Covenant forebears enacted justice by crossing prohibitive lines of class, gender, and age. Three things sustained them: the Jesus of the word; a new spirit of freedom and joy; and the word of God and the sacraments. As a result, these faithful groups gained the capacity to hear God’s word through the hearts and minds of individuals who differed from one another.

This practice of diverse interpretation amongst lay people forged ahead through the strength of friendships. The name “Mission Friends” grew under the Psalm 119 banner, “I am a friend of all who fear thee,” and the people of the movement treasured friendship and unity in Christ above any doctrinal or confessional statements. They believed that friendship is not only the method of advancing the gospel — it is the heart of the gospel. Friendship reflects in the simplest terms the way that the Evangelical Covenant church does ecclesiology, or life together.

 
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A Future in Prison

The Bureau of Prisons contacted me today, assigning me a prison number and a new address: for the next 90 days, beginning tomorrow, I’ll live at FMC Lexington, in the satellite prison camp for women, adjacent to Lexington’s federal medical center for men. Very early tomorrow morning, Buddy Bell, Cassandra Dixon, and Paco and Silver, two house guests whom we first met in protests on South Korea’s Jeju Island, will travel with me to Kentucky and deliver me to the satellite women’s prison outside the Federal Medical Center for men.

In December 2014, Judge Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in federal prison after Georgia Walker and I had attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander of Whiteman Air Force base, asking him to stop his troops from piloting lethal drone flights over Afghanistan from within the base. Judge Whitworth allowed me more than a month to surrender myself to prison; but whether you are a soldier or a civilian, a target or an unlucky bystander, you can’t surrender to a drone.

When I was imprisoned at Lexington prison in 1988, after a federal magistrate in Missouri sentenced me to one year for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites, other women prisoners playfully nicknamed me “Missiles.” One of my sisters reliably made me laugh today, texting me to ask if I thought the women this time would call me “Drones.”

It’s good to laugh and feel camaraderie before heading into prison. For someone like me, very nearly saturated in “white privilege” through much of this arrest, trial, and sentencing process, 90 percent (or more) of my experience will likely depend on attitude.

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Five Reasons Why Citizens United Matters Five Years Later

Five years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations are welcome to the same free speech rights that are allotted to individuals and can therefore spend freely on direct political advocacy.

To those unfamiliar with the topic, Citizens United essentially opened the flood gates for dark money to flow into the Washington electoral circuit. Within the five years since this decision the amount of money spent on political campaigns has steadily increased each election cycle. The most recent midterm elections cost $3.7 billion dollars.

Why should this matter to Christians?

1. Divine dignity is silenced.

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that only “666,773 individuals donated more than $200 to campaigns in the 2014 election cycle." What does this mean? Only 0.2 percent of the population funded the elections. Only the wealthiest Americans, through Super PAC funding and private corporation contributions have influence over the electoral state. The voice of the average American is almost completely silenced because they do not have financial influence. This becomes an issue of morality when we see each citizen as an individual with divine dignity. When the voice of the individual is silenced, the voice of the Divine is also silenced because only the economically elite are heard.

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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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