The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Five Gifts for Your Favorite Faithful Feminist

With Christmas less than a week away, the time for last-minute gift shopping is now. Sojourners’ Just Giving Guide has detailed a variety of ways to shop in a socially-conscious manner. We’ve gone one step further and highlighted some unique purchases from organizations that directly impact the lives of women and girls internationally and domestically. Check out the links below for creative gifts that make a difference for female empowerment.

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The Birth of Jesus Is Not a Sweet Story

I had just started as pastor of a large church when a key leader took me aside and said I was free to preach about anything I wanted, except homosexuality.

He didn’t want to hear any sermons addressing the issue then dominating many conversations among Christians. Keep the topic in the closet.

Sixteen years before, in a town once governed by the Klan, a leader told me not to preach about race. Too many people remembered signs saying, “Negroes must be out of town by sundown.”

Many clergy have been told, in terms ranging from kindly counsel to peremptory demand, to “keep politics out of the pulpit.”

Many a mainline pastor will attest: The one topic that Jesus addressed more than any other — wealth and power — was declared off-limits in congregations that hoped to attract wealthy constituents and their budget-saving pledges.

Many churches gave up their ethical voice in exchange for money, the very trade Jesus warned us against. The issue wasn’t partisan campaigning or endorsing specific candidates — a clear violation — but any mention at all of race, sexuality, warfare or economic injustice.

As a reader recently wrote me: “I hear enough about blacks on TV.”

So it is that Christmas becomes a sweet story and a centerpiece for family love. 

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Secular Solstice: Doing Good for Goodness’ Sake

It’s a common ritual in religious observances this time of year: Light a candle against the darkness, the winter, the uncertainty of the world.

But a newly minted observance called Secular Solstice adds its own spin. Those lighting the candles are nonbelievers — humanists, atheists, skeptics, and other freethinkers — and the candles represent no unseen divinity, but the actions and intentions of those who light them to make the world a better place.

“We live in a world beyond the reach of God,” one of the service’s many readers said as 130 or so people gathered huddled over white candles in glass votives at Humanist Hall — a purple-painted house near downtown Oakland. “It is a hard universe. If we want to build a softer universe we will have to do it ourselves.” As a choir broke into “Here Comes the Sun,” an inscription painted on the wall beamed down upon the gathered, “The world is my country, to do good is my religion.”

Secular Solstice is the handiwork of Raymond Arnold, a 28-year-old Catholic-turned-humanist who wanted to do something meaningful with friends in mid-December. He put together the first Secular Solstice — a two-hour blend of music and readings by candlelight — last year in New York, where he works as a web developer.

He struck a nerve — the first Secular Solstice was packed, and this year there will be Secular Solstices in New York, Seattle, San Diego, and Leipzig, Germany. 

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The Vatican vs. the Nuns: 3 Takeaways from the Vatican's Investigation of Women's Religious Communities

The moment was more “Kumbaya” than “Come to Jesus” on Dec. 16 as the Vatican released the much-anticipated results of an investigation of women’s religious communities in the U.S., the first of two controversial investigations of American nuns by the Roman Curia.

The 5,200-word report was largely positive, and participants at a Vatican news conference were even more effusive in their praise for each other, the process, the outcome, and prospects for future collaboration to meet serious challenges. That was a big change from how things started six years ago.

So what did we learn from this whole saga? Here are three takeaways:

1. Rome’s “War on Women” is over

“It is not a truce,” Sister Sharon Holland of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main network of U.S. nuns, told reporters in Rome. “We are not at war.”

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'Does Your Work Interfere with Your Life?'

I was once asked to participate in our organization’s "Take Your Daughter to Work" celebration, and found myself both amused and challenged when one of our young participants queried the panel, "Does your work interfere with your life?"

My initial reply was that my work is a very important part of my life — something that is central to it, and that adds meaning, structure, and texture. Since the time of that panel discussion, I’ve thought a lot about what else I should have said. So I want to use this opportunity to share some additional thoughts — about how to have a youth work career that enhances your own life as well as the lives of others.

Here are what I regard as a few guiding principles. 

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Torture, the Bible, and America's Faith in Violence

Does the Bible describe a God of love or a God of genocide? How are we to reconcile that the apparent answer to this question is that it describes both? As people of faith, we need to face the sobering fact that some parts of our Bible command us to love our enemies, while other parts command mercilessly slaughtering them. If the Bible is God's Word, how can it present such starkly contrasting visions of who God is, and what faithfulness to God entails?

The typical response among conservative Christians is to seek to justify violence as good in an attempt to defend the Bible. This tendency to defend violence becomes especially relevant in the wake of the Senate report on the CIA's use of torture. While the report was met with shock and outrage in some quarters, it was also defended by a good number of conservative Evangelical Christians. In fact, a 2009 Pew Research poll found that 6-in-10 white Evangelicals support the government's use of torture.

Politicians defend torture in the name of "justice" and "defense," while conservative Christians speak in the more religious language of "God's will," citing biblical texts for support. In the end, however, the same point is being made. Whether it is described in the vocabulary of religion or more "secular" terms, violence — and in the case of torture, shockingly inhumane violence — is described as a necessary means for bringing about the good. This logic is at the heart of all religious violence, and it is a view that is alive and well today.

On the other hand, the typical liberal Christian response to the violence in the Bible is to act as if it were not there. One speaks of Christianity as a "religion of love," and points to the many parts of the Bible that speak of caring for the poor and the stranger.

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan Cuts Ties with Anti-Abortion Crusader Frank Pavone

In the latest clash between the Catholic hierarchy and one of the church’s leading anti-abortion crusaders, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan accused the Rev. Frank Pavone of continuing to stonewall on financial reforms, and Dolan said he is cutting ties with his group, Priests for Life.

In a Nov. 20 letter to other U.S. bishops, Dolan said he did not know if the Vatican would now step in to take action against the New York-based priest, who for years has angered various bishops by rejecting oversight of the organization by church authorities and for refusing to sort out his group’s troubled finances.

“My requests of Father Pavone were clear and simple: one, that Priests for Life undergo a forensic audit; two, that a new, independent board be established to provide oversight and accountability,” Dolan wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Catholic World News.

“Although Father Pavone initially assured me of his support, he did not cooperate. Frequent requests that he do so went unheeded. I finally asked him to comply by October 1st. He did not,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan, who had been asked by the Vatican to help Pavone restructure Priests for Life, said in the letter that he has informed Rome that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”

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#DialInForJustice

To be black in America is to listen to death daily. To hear mothers wailing at unnecessary funerals, to see fathers mourning lost sons, to offer graveside prayers that puncture the heart of God — this is the sorrow song of a people, and a nation, haunted by racism.

Over our heads however, I hear the sweet, dark sounds of freedom in the air, calling for the dry bones of democracy to arise from the segregated sinews of our society. The multiracial chorus of protestors chanting, "I can't breathe," the die-ins, the walk-outs, and the highway-halting actions of youth from New York to Chicago to Tallahassee to Los Angeles represent a thirst and hunger for righteousness that includes and yet transcends voting.

To join within this symphony of justice, I am calling faith communities to participate in a national #DialInForJustice during the month of December. The goal is to call the Unites States Department of Justice and local police departments, communicating our desire to see systemic reforms to policing in America. This initiative seeks to lift up faith-filled voices alongside the already existing trumpet blasts of groups like the Organization of Black Struggle, Dream Defenders, PICO, Sojourners, and so on.

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Rabbi David Saperstein Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom

The Senate has confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first non-Christian to hold the job.

Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement’s Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Obama in July and confirmed by a 62-35 vote on Dec. 12.

Saperstein takes a liberal bent on domestic issues, and all but one of the votes against him came from a Republican.

“Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”

Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where he will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

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Sierra Leone Bans Christmas, New Year’s Celebrations to Prevent Spread of Ebola

The government of Sierra Leone banned public Christmas and New Year’s celebrations because they may exacerbate efforts to eradicate the Ebola virus.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said that despite immense help from the international community, the number of people infected with the virus continues to rise.

Ebola infections in Sierra Leone recently surpassed those of Liberia and Guinea.

“The illness started at the border and now is in the cities and close to 2,000 people have died from the outbreak,” Koroma told reporters. He asked traditional leaders and tribal chiefs to quit performing rituals in hopes that will help curb Ebola.

The majority of Sierra Leone’s 6 million people are Muslim, but Christmas is widely celebrated among the 27 percent of people who are Christian.

Officials said soldiers will be deployed on the streets and people are advised to stay at home with their families.

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