The Common Good

God's Politics

Rutgers Muslim Students Fearful for Future in Wake of NYPD Surveillance

There are Rutgers students and graduates whose futures are in jeopardy because they were placed under surveillance by the NYPD — operating outside of its jurisdiction — for no other reason than they practice Islam.

This troubling reality is at the heart of the lawsuit Hassan v. City of New York, which was argued before judges of the Third Circuit Appellate Court in Philadelphia in January. One of the Rutgers plaintiffs taking part in the complaint worries that she will not be able to pursue a career in international social work, since background checks will link her to a spying program that incorrectly claimed it would expose the “likely whereabouts of terrorists.”

Rutgers students had no connections to terrorist activities whatsoever. Their “wrongdoing” amounts to being members of the campus Muslim Student Associations in Newark and New Brunswick, which were infiltrated by undercover NYPD agents.

The injuries caused by the NYPD’s spying do not end with damaged career prospects. The emotional and psychological effects of surveillance can also be seen in the anxiety that the Rutgers plaintiffs express about discussing their religion or praying in public, since any behavior that identifies them as Muslim has been deemed grounds for suspicion.

Last year, Newark District Court Judge William J. Martini granted New York City’s motion to dismiss Hassan v. City of New York during the case’s initial hearing, and denied the plaintiffs legal standing on the grounds that they could not prove “injury in fact.” This dubious conclusion writes off spying as innocuous and harmless.

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Lent: Remembering Those in Transit

All too often, Lent is about ‘my’ personal journey to the cross: 

I’m giving up…

My Lenten discipline is…

During Lent, I’m trying to….

During Lent, I’m fasting from...

But Psalm 107 will have none of that “me, my, and I.”

Even when we make attempts to live beyond this presumption of self, we still land all too often in our own backyard. Instead of giving up chocolate, we add compassion ... on my terms. Instead of detoxing from coffee, we add a spoonful of caring ... when we have the time. Instead of abstinence from alcohol, we try — as Pope Francis encourages — to “fast from indifference.”

As much as these invite us to reconsider our hearts, at the end of the day these are still “our” hearts. 

Psalm 107 nudges us from our backyards to imagine the hearts and lives of those in transit: the refugee, the wayfarer, the pilgrim, the immigrant, the sojourner, the alien, the wanderer — all of those en route to the cross from the four compass points of the north, the south, the east and the west.

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that every 4 seconds someone is forced to flee. Whether along the border of Mexico, in Syria, the South Sudan, or the Ukraine — this statistic is staggering. Psalm 107 asks us this Lent to remember those in transit — in all their fear, their grief, their suffering — and to pray to the Lord to save them from their distress, and to trust in the Lord who will lead them from places of stress and violence toward a story of redemption and liberation.

This Lent, Psalm 107 begs us to remember those in transit. Whether it’s the 4.3 million “removable aliens” from America who wait a Texas judge’s decision after rising to Obama’s referendum of hope, or the Jews in Europe packing their bags toward a mass exodus to Jerusalem in fear of persecution, or whether it’s the sojourners at the Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas comforting an exhausted child, or Syrian Christians finding refuge for their dying mother or dehydrated newborn — these pilgrims from north and south and east and west must journey along with us this Lent.

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Turning the Tables: A Lenten Sermon on Jesus, the Money Changers, and #Selma50

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ - John 2:15,16

This is one of the most important stories in the life of Jesus. So important, that it’s one of a handful of stories that all four Gospel writers actually all share.

Even though they remember it differently.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke — they recall that this episode where Jesus entered the Temple grounds and stirred stuff up once and for all — they remember it near the end of his life. They place it as one of the main reasons that Jesus is arrested and put to death as a capitol offense against the Roman Empire.

Walking into the Temple — run by the Jewish religious elite who had been put in place by the Roman imperial oppressors — was tantamount into walking into a federal government building and blowing it up.

Except Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus is a pacifist. Jesus is a prophet.

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‘Dig’ Digs Into the Bible — But Is It ‘True?'

Breathlessly describing his new USA Network series “Dig” in a promo, leading man Jason Isaacs promises “everything is based on reality and true.”

To a point.

The new series, which premiered March 5, moves quickly between multiple story lines and locations, bouncing off prophesies and spinning conspiracies around the Second Coming of Christ, the Book of Revelation and the restoration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, where much of the series is filmed.

Throw in a high priest’s magical breastplate, a spotless red heifer, and a doomsday Christian group living in a bunker and the series becomes the would-be love-child of Steven Spielberg and Dan Brown.

And that’s just the first episode.

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Faith-Based Aid Groups Face a Hurdle: The Faith that Drives Them

Leaders of Christian and Jewish international aid groups say their efforts are often met with twin suspicions: That the real purpose is to proselytize; and that a religious message is tied to material aid.

Not so, say Pastor Rick Warren, who has led Saddleback Church to donate millions of dollars and hours of labor in Africa, and Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service.

The two were keynote speakers at a discussion on “Proselytism and Development in Pluralistic Societies,” sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, at Georgetown University.

Both acknowledged at the March 4 event that their motives — “living like Jesus,” said Warren, and “pursuing justice,” said Messinger — are questioned.

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Don’t Tell Me that God Is In Control: On Tragedy, Sin, and Sovereignty

“God is in control.”

The statement comforts many people because deep down we know that we are not in control. We can do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families, but we know that despite our best efforts, tragedy can strike at any moment. And so it’s comforting to believe that if we aren’t in control, Someone else is.

But something inside of me recoils whenever I hear the phrase, “God is in control.” Many believe that God’s sovereignty means that God is behind everything that happens. But I find no comfort in that view of God. In fact, a God who micromanages and controls every event isn’t a God worthy of belief.

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White Christians Now a Minority in 19 States

The notion of America as a mostly white, mostly Christian country is rapidly becoming a fact for the history books.

“The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture,” said Dan Cox, research director for Public Religion Research Institute.

Last week, PRRI released the American Values Atlas, an interactive online tool that compiles data about Americans’ opinions, identities, and values. One of the biggest takeaways of this years’ study was that, for the first time ever, America is not a majority Protestant nation.

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Dissecting the 'House of Cards' Church Scene

All presidents beseech God to bless the United States of America. Many pray for divine aid for themselves or their policies. Some can only wonder at the inscrutable ways of the Almighty.

Then there’s Frank Underwood, who spits in God’s face.

Underwood is fictional, of course, the power-grabbing president and central character in the hit Netflix series House of Cards. And Underwood is a notoriously amoral — criminal, actually — practitioner of a realpolitik so brutal that nothing he does should be surprising.

Indeed, in the show’s first season, a frustrated Underwood stopped by a church and looked heavenward to speak to God, then down to address Satan. Finding no satisfying answer from either, he concluded:

“There is no solace above or below. Only us, small, solitary, striving, battling one another. I pray to myself, for myself.”

Still, it is almost jarring when, in the third and most recent season of the political thriller, Underwood — again stymied in his schemes — meets with a bishop late at night in a darkened sanctuary and engages in an extended debate on divine justice, power and love.

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Police: From Warriors to Guardians

Some of those protestors were right,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, as he released the Justice Department’s report on the police department in Ferguson, Mo. The report should be read by anyone who believes in racial justice and reconciliation, because it shows us what we are still up against in 2015, 50 years after the Selma march. This is not a post-racial America, especially in regard to our policing and criminal justice systems. Ferguson has become a teaching parable for the nation.

After a detailed and thorough investigation over many months, the devastating report revealed a police force and court system in Ferguson that proves true virtually everything young protestors and local residents have been saying since the shooting of Michael Brown last August.

The Ferguson Police Department replaced its mission of public protection with revenue generation by extracting money from the black residents of their town, using methods that the Justice Department said “may be unlawful.” The report painfully and painstakingly reveals unconstitutional and consistently abusive policing aimed at balancing the city budget on the backs of its poorest and black citizens. The Ferguson police went beyond even racial profiling to direct racist exploitation for a profit, with police apparently more concerned about “ fill[ing] the revenue pipeline” than protecting public safety. The use of traffic stops, citations, court appearances, fines, and even arrests that were specifically targeted at black residents revealed a profound contempt for black people with racial slurs and abuse a daily occurrence. Disgusting racist jokes, even aimed at the president and the first lady, circulated in e-mails from police supervisors and court officials. One joked about a black mother getting a crime prevention award for having an abortion.

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Weekly Wrap 3.5.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

 1. The Feds v. Ferguson
The Justice Department’s final report listed findings from investigating the Ferguson Police Department. Charles M. Blow breaks down the report, including the facts that “African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops” and FPD officers “frequently take actions that ratchet up tensions and needlessly escalate the situation to the point that they feel force is necessary.” From Blow: “The report read like one about a shakedown gang rather than about city officials.”

2. Female Company President: ‘I’m Sorry to All the Mothers I Worked With’
PowerToFly President Katharine Zaleski offers up a list of all of the “infractions” she committed against mothers in the workplace — that is, until she had her own child. “There are so many ways we can support each other as women, but it starts with the just recognizing that we’re all in different positions at different times in our lives.”

3. Justice Dept. Will Not Charge Darren Wilson in Death of Michael Brown; Brown’s Parents to File Civil Suit
“They will sue the city of Ferguson and the Ferguson policeman who fatally shot their son, Darren Wilson. That news comes one day after the U.S. Justice Department released a report … [which] concluded that it was reasonable for Officer Wilson to be afraid of Brown in their encounter last summer, and thus the officer cannot be prosecuted for killing the unarmed 18-year-old.”

4. Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John
New York Times’ The Upshot created what they call a “Glass Ceiling Index” based on a recent Ernst & Young report. As clear in the headline, the results are … depressing.

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