The Common Good

God's Politics

The Case for Corporate Worship

I empathize with people fleeing the local church. Churches can be battlefields instead of harbors, pits of condemnation or politics rather than wells of living water.

But the endless search for something “new” has trumped the life-changing story the body of Christ has nurtured and passed on for 2,000 years. This transforming story is the story the churches enacted weekly in Word and Sacrament before they forgot their original vocation as shelters of truth, life, and light amidst lies, death, and darkness. There were four revealed ways Jesus was present at the center of their public gatherings. These ways have been lost in too many places but are waiting to be rediscovered. More on that in a moment.

A young woman, a house church attendee, told me she longs for solid pastoral guidance, a message prepared weekly by an authoritative teacher, for worship that places Jesus Christ at the exact center of a public space where everyone is welcome, a place where she can bring her disbelieving friends whose lives are not yet transformed by self-sacrificial Love, a place where they can speak openly and honestly about where their lives still remain isolated from a holy Goda place of worship that does not lean on any one person's (or her personal) understanding and articulation of the Gospel but on the collective wisdom of the body of Christ.

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George Harrison: From 'Taxman' to 'I Me Mine'

Winston Churchill famously said, “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

Churchill was out of power by the time his countrymen, George Harrison and the Beatles, released “Taxman” on their Revolver album in 1966. New Prime Minister Harold Wilson had introduced a 95-percent supertax on the wealthiest Brits, including the Beatles. Harrison’s song was and remains a perfect Right-wing caricature of the Left. I can almost hear Bill O’Reilly singing an attack on President Obama’s plan to “ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more.”

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Kenyan Church Leaders Say Laws Would Weaken Marriage

Kenyan church leaders are lining up in opposition to proposed new marriage bills, which they say will weaken marriage by allowing cohabiting couples to register as married.

One bill would bring Christian, Hindu, Muslim, civil, and customary marriages under one law, and another would give spouses and children more rights to property. The twin bills were approved by the cabinet on Nov. 9 and are scheduled to be debated by Parliament before Christmas.

“It is the worst law we have had as churches in Kenya. It compromises the standards of Christian marriage and divorce. Instead of three grounds for divorce, we now have nine,” said the Rev. Wellington Mutiso, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.

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New Congress More Religiously Diverse, Less Protestant

Three Buddhists, a Hindu, and a “none” will walk into the 113th Congress, and it’s no joke. Rather, it’s a series of “firsts” that reflect the growing religious diversity of the country.

When the new Congress is sworn in next January, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District and will become the first Hindu in either chamber on Capitol Hill.

The 31-year-old Gabbard was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii as a child. She follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, which venerates the deity Lord Vishnu and his primary incarnations.

Gabbard takes over the seat held by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, who won a Senate race on Nov. 6 and will become the first Buddhist to sit in the upper chamber. There were already two other Buddhists in the House of Representatives, both of whom won re-election: Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a fellow Hawaii Democrat.

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Episcopal Leader Says S.C. Diocese Can’t Secede

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said on Nov. 15 that the Diocese of South Carolina can't unilaterally secede from the national church, as she urged conservatives to stay despite sharp disagreements over theology and homosexuality.

“The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed,”  said Jefferts Schori, who heads the 1.9 million-member denomination. 

Leaders in the Diocese of South Carolina announced Oct. 17 that disciplinary actions taken against their bishop, Mark Lawrence, triggered their disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church. On Sept. 18, the denomination's Disciplinary Board for Bishops found Lawrence guilty of abandoning the Episcopal Church and renouncing its rules.

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Jim Wallis Meets With President Obama, Other Officials, to Discuss Fiscal Cliff

Jim Wallis, President and CEO of Sojourners, met with President Barack Obama and other key officials at the White House on Friday to discuss the fiscal cliff, and urge a fair budget deal that does not harm the poor and vulnarable. After the meeting, he sat down with Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation to talk about the results of the meeting. 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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The Top 10 Stories of November 19, 2012

Quote of the day.
"This isn''t really rocket science here. You have a lot of people on the roads over Thanksgiving, so the crashes are naturally going to get worse." Allen Parrish of the University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety, author of a new statistical study showing the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the year''s deadliest times for traffic accidents.
(USA Today)

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The Truth About Thanksgiving: Why You Should Celebrate

"The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history." – James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 92.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, as we take turns around the dinner table sharing why we are thankful, a sense of awkwardness settles in. The awkwardness is not only due to the “forced family fun” of having to quickly think of something profound to be thankful for. (Oh, the pressure!) The growing awkwardness surrounding Thanksgiving stems from the fact that we know that at the table with us are the shadows of victims waiting to be heard.

Humans have an unfortunate characteristic – we don’t want to hear the voice of our victims. We don’t want to see the pain we’ve caused, so we silence the voice of our victims. The anthropologist Rene Girard calls this silencing myth. Myth comes from the Greek worth mythos. The root word, my, means “to close” or “to keep secret.” The American ritual of Thanksgiving has been based on a myth that closes the mouths of Native Americans and keeps their suffering a secret.

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Longing for the Unreachable God

I’ve wrestled for years with a Christian faith that focuses on personal salvation, on many levels, some of which I’m still excavating. First, the emphasis on individual salvation always seemed ironically selfish for a faith that seemed otherwise to be about putting yourself second to others. I also struggled with the idea that Christianity is about getting a certain set of beliefs right, articulating them before a group of peers through a statement of faith and then you were official. Is it really so rote? So didactic? So … human?

All my life, I’ve heard stories of people who felt utterly transformed by their faith proclamation, or at the moment of baptism, in the throngs of prayer or during some particularly stirring worship service. They spoke of these feelings for which I longed. I wanted the mountaintop experience, after which I would never be the same. I wanted to be turned inside-out by God, illuminated by the Holy Spirit with a fire that never subsided. I wanted to feel what all these other Christians claimed to be feeling.

I’ve been to literally thousands of worship services in my life. I’ve been back and forth through the Bible, taken communion more than a thousand times, was baptized, sang the songs, said the prayers, and yes, I’ve had moments when I felt as if God was so close I could nearly reach out and touch whatever it was that I sensed. 

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Ancient Wisdom for 21st Century Problems

In an attempt to make sense of the 2012 election and the unfolding David Petraeus sex scandal, I consulted the Bible and the Sayings of the Fathers, a collection of sage rabbinic teachings written between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.

Turns out the ancient perceptions about politics and ethics are as insightful today as when they were first uttered.

I am appalled when clergy of any religion endorse candidates by name in the run-up to an election. Priests, ministers, rabbis and imams, of course, have every right to vote for any particular person they choose, thanks to the secret ballot. The clergy also have the right — indeed, the obligation — to discuss and debate the critical issues facing society. But religious leaders err and undermine their own authority when they publicly call for the election or defeat of a specific individual.

Last month “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was sponsored by a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom. Nearly 1,500 Christian ministers openly backed various candidates as they tested the U.S. tax code, which forbids non-profit organizations (including houses of worship) from speaking out for or against political candidates. Such actions endanger their tax-exempt status, but the ADF sees that restriction as an incursion on freedom of religion and speech.

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