The Common Good

God's Politics

Pope Francis: A Christian Who Does Not Protect Creation ‘Does Not Care About the Work of God’

If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option, Pope Francis said Feb. 9.

“When we hear that people have meetings about how to preserve creation, we can say: ‘No, they are the greens!’” Francis said in his homily at morning Mass, using a common name for environmental activists.

“No, they are not the greens! This is the Christian!” he said.

“A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us,” Francis continued. “And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow.”

The pope — who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment — has made care for the environment a hallmark of his papacy since he was elected nearly two years ago.

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Papal Commission on Sex Abuse Targets Punishment for Bishops

A papal commission on clergy sex abuse is close to giving Pope Francis recommendations on how to punish bishops who shield priests suspected of misconduct, one of several moves announced Feb. 7 that are encouraging the two victims on the panel.

But the two victims also said the Vatican has a year or two at most to implement policies with teeth, otherwise they will leave.

Peter Saunders of Great Britain, who was sexually assaulted as a boy by priests at his Catholic school, told a crowded news conference at the Vatican press office that he came to the meeting “with a fair degree of trepidation” that anything significant would result.

But after the initial two days with what he called a “group of quite remarkable and determined people,” including Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the commission, he said “the trepidation has kind of disappeared.”

“I’m actually very, very hopeful that there are going to be some very significant things happening,” especially on disciplining bishops, said Saunders, who heads the London-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

But he warned that “if in a year or two there isn’t some firm action on those matters then I don’t think I’ll be sitting here talking to you.”

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Handwriting on the Wall for Gay Marriage

The Supreme Court will decide whether to allow same-sex marriage nationwide later this year. But it’s leaving little doubt which way it’s leaning.

The latest evidence came Feb. 9 when the high court denied Alabama’s request to block gay marriages while the state appeals a federal judge’s ruling that allowed gays and lesbians to wed.

That was the same decision the justices reached in Florida two months ago, allowing the Sunshine State to become the 36th in the nation where same-sex marriage is legal. Alabama now becomes the 37th.

But things were different last year, when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked gay marriages in Utah in January, and in Virginia in August, while the legal issue played out.

Why the change?

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Pastors: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Film Glamorizes Sexual Abuse and Violence

The film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, which opens in theaters on Feb. 13, has movie morality guardians armed and heading for battle.

The Catholic bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., has warned fellow prelates to step up preaching on the true beauty of sex-within-male-female-marriage — and do it pronto.

“Remind the faithful of the beauty of the Church’s teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation,” wrote Bishop Richard Malone, in a letter Feb. 4 to fellow clergy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

His letter came with multiple links to resources, some 15 to 20 years old, showing the church’s consistent stand against domestic violence and pornography.

The Catholic clergymen could be facing a juggernaut: Fandango reports box-office pre-sale numbers are soaring, particularly in the Bible Belt and the Midwest.

The Fifty Shades books by British writer E.L. James have sold more than 100 million copies. 

But the movie trailer — and a Super Bowl ad scrubbed of anything very sexual — sent opposition to the film into high gear.

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Can Women Have It All? Pope Francis Says They Need 'Freedom to Choose'

Whether women can, or should, “have it all” —  both work and family — has been one of the most contentious cultural debates of the modern age and one any secular or religious figure engages at his or her peril.

But Pope Francis is nothing if not intrepid, and on Feb. 7 he plunged in by arguing that the Catholic Church should help “guarantee the freedom of choice” for women to take up leading posts in the church and in public life while also maintaining their “irreplaceable role” as mothers at home.

In his remarks to the Vatican’s Council for Culture, which has been holding meetings on the role of women in modern life, Francis sought to carve out a “new paradigm” in the gender wars.

He said Western societies have left behind the old model of the “subordination” of women to men, though he said the “negative effects” of that tradition continue.

At the same time, he said, the world has moved beyond a model of “pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, of absolute equivalence” between men and women.

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The Fiery Cage and the Lynching Tree

After listening to one newscast after another rightly condemn the barbaric killing of that Jordanian air force pilot at the bloody hands of ISIS, I couldn't sleep. My mind kept roaming the past trying to retrieve a vaguely remembered photograph that I had seen long ago in the archives of a college library in Texas.

Suddenly, around two in the morning, the image materialized in my head. I made my way down the hall to my computer and typed in: “Waco, Texas. Lynching.”

Sure enough, there it was: the charred corpse of a young black man, tied to a blistered tree in the heart of the Texas Bible Belt. The victim's name was Jesse Washington. The year was 1916. America would soon go to war in Europe "to make the world safe for democracy."

My father was twelve, my mother eight. I was born 18 years later, at a time, I would come to learn, when local white folks still talked about Washington's execution as if it were only yesterday. This was not medieval Europe. Not the Inquisition. Not a heretic burned at the stake by some ecclesiastical authority in the Old World. This was Texas, and the white people in that photograph were farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, some of them respectable congregants from local churches in and around the growing town of Waco.

 
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Forsaking the 'Whiteness' of the Transfiguration

Sparked by the shooting death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, the subsequent deaths at the hands of law enforcement of Eric Garner in New York and 12 year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, protests under the banners of #ferguson, #icantbreathe, and #blacklivesmatter have spread around the country and a passionate conversation about the role of race in America has been rejoined. These protests, along with coverage by news media and the voices of social commentators and faith leaders — as well as the well-timed critical success of the movie Selma — have moved matters of race to the fore of our cultural consciousness and conversation in a way rarely seen since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

And yet, despite this heightened awareness about the experience of people of color, there remains a great distance and disconnect between white and minority communities regarding not only the actions of law enforcement, but also the varied manifestations of systemic and institutional racism. Indeed, the very real troubles experienced by communities of color are largely invisible to many whites. In Ferguson itself, many whites prior to the death of Mike Brown reported being unaware of the tension between African-American community and law enforcement. Nationwide, whites and African-Americans had very different perspectives. Whereas 80 percent of African Americans said Mike Brown’s shooting raised issues about race, only 37 percent of whites said the same.

In a time when renewed engagement is desperately needed, it is difficult to have dialogue when a vast majority of whites cannot empathize with the experience of communities of color, or, in some cases, acknowledge that there is a problem at all.

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Why Suing Over a Biblically Based Theme Park Isn't Really Biblical

America is a nation established on certain inalienable rights. The right to life. The right to liberty. The right to pursue happiness as one sees fit. The right, as a religious organization, to sue a government and its officials whenever you don’t get what you want.

You may not remember that last one from social studies class — and to be honest, I don’t recall Jefferson expounding upon it, either — but it is nevertheless a right the fundamentalist group Answers in Genesis and its president, Ken Ham, availed themselves of last week with the announcement of their forthcoming lawsuit against the state of Kentucky, its governor, and its tourism secretary.

The kerfuffle is over AiG’s Ark Encounter — the “creationist theme park” complete with a 510-foot wooden replica of Noah’s floating barn (except this one won’t float, plus it costs 70 million bucks) — and specifically, the $18 million in special tax incentives the Commonwealth’s tourism department had initially approved in 2011 before retracting them last year.

The goal of the incentives is to promote the construction of job-creating tourist attractions in Kentucky, and AiG’s project initially held water. What caused it to fall out of favor with the Bluegrass State was the group’s increasingly vocal insistence that it intended to: 1) require its employees to sign a statement of faith affirming, among other things, their devotion to the idea that the universe was created sometime more recently than the invention of beer by the Mesopotamians, and 2) operate the park pretty much like its Creation Museum — i.e., as evangelistic outreach.

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Focus on Africa’s Islamic Extremists has Diverted Attention from South Sudan’s Growing Crisis

As world attention shifts to the growing influence of Muslim militant groups on the African continent, few have paid any attention to the ongoing bloody conflict in South Sudan.

An estimated 50,000 people have died and 2 million have been displaced in the latest phase of fighting in this nation, according to the International Crisis Group, a think tank that aims to prevent and resolve such conflicts. That’s about five times more than in northern Nigeria, where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has killed more than 5,000 people in six years.

“South Sudan’s conflict is not getting much attention due to shifting interests towards Islamic extremism,” said the Rev. Fred Nyabera of Kenya, a social scientist who is director of the Interfaith Initiative to End Child Poverty at the global faith-based organization Arigatou International. “This has become a global issue because of the immediate threats it poses to nations.

“But leaving South Sudan alone at this time when the people are trying to define their identity and country, under very fragile circumstances, is to postpone a big problem,” Nyabera added.

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Obama Compares ISIS to Crusades, Inquisition, Slavery, and Jim Crow. Was He Right?

The conservative Twitterverse is all riled up because at Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast (an event founded and run by the secretive Christian organization known as The Fellowship), President Obama said that Christians, as well as Muslims, have at times committed atrocities. His words:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

This would seem to be Religious History 101, but it was nonetheless met with shock and awe.

“Hey, American Christians–Obama just threw you under the bus in order to defend Islam,” wrote shock jock Michael Graham. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., called the comments “dangerously irresponsible.” The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue said: “Obama’s ignorance is astounding and his comparison is pernicious. The Crusades were a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages.”

More thoughtfully, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison. … The evil actions that he mentioned were clearly outside the moral parameters of Christianity itself and were met with overwhelming moral opposition from Christians.”

Really?

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