The Common Good

God's Politics

N.C. Sheriff Bans Sex Offenders from Church

A sheriff in one of North Carolina’s smallest counties told registered sex offenders they can’t go to church, citing a state law meant to keep them from day-care centers and schools.

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps told sex offenders about his decision Feb. 17, according to a letter the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times obtained March 6. About 9,000 people live in Graham County, which abuts Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee line in western North Carolina.

“This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County),” he wrote.

“I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”

He invited them to attend services at the county jail.

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The Siege Mentality of Christian Radio Stations

On my recent 4,100-mile pilgrimage across the U.S., I occasionally used my radio’s “seek” function to find stations.

I often stopped on a “Christian radio” station, sometimes a national network such as American Family Radio, sometimes a local effort featuring preachers from area churches, always conservative.

I did so because I enjoy gospel music and I was curious what the radio preachers were saying.

They tended to be excellent speakers and well-prepared. But their message seemed frozen in time, as if nothing had changed in America since the 1950s except for the identities of enemies who are allegedly “attacking Christians,” "attacking Christian values” and “attacking the American way of life.”

This siege mentality seemed basic to every preacher I heard. I suppose it’s one way to rally the troops. Get them fearful, angry, and suspicious.

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I Think My Six-Year-Old Might Be Jesus

I’m not sure, but I think my daughter, Zoe, is Jesus. For a couple of reasons. But before I talk more about her, let’s talk about me. You know, since I’m not Jesus and I like talking about myself.

I hate failing. Really hate it, even when it’s partly out of my control. Just a few days I wrote about how, for My Jesus Project month in which I’m working on “Jesus the Ascetic,” I was fasting from solid foods, giving away half of my possessions, practicing a new spiritual discipline each week, and reading through the Gospel of Matthew with an ascetic perspective.

A couple of days later, my doctor and dietician pulled me off of my fast because seizure symptoms had re-emerged. I felt like I had failed, and it took me a day or two to muster the courage to even write about it. Yes, part of the practice was about listening to my body. Yes, another part was to learn to distinguish between my wants and needs. But I had pride at stake — as evidenced by the bruising of said pride when I had to change my diet.

So in a way, the pride at the root of my practice actually was the bigger shortfall. I’m still eating vegan all month, abstaining from alcohol and refined sugar, but I had set a goal and made a public statement about it, and I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do it.

Further, my mentor for the month, Reba Riley, called me out — not so much for the shift in diet (well, a little bit), but mostly because of my motivations behind the overall My Jesus Project practice and my motivations. I was struggling, not just with the perceived failure and resulting embarrassment, but also with the fact that I was busting my ass in this practice — far more so than I’ve ever done for a previous book. Despite grandiose expectations (always the seeds of premeditated resentment), the traffic and overall public response has been pretty lukewarm.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“It seems to me,” I said, “that we talk a lot about following Jesus, but most of us don’t put a lot of serious energy into figuring out what that really means, day to day, myself included. So I’m taking a year to try and figure it out. And I’m trying to do it in a way that invites other folks to figure it out along with me.”

“And you’re writing about it.”

“Yeah,” I said.

"Let me put it this way. If no one else was watching, if you were doing this only for yourself, would you still do it?” she said.

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Vatican Knew about Theft of Michelangelo Letters, Refused Ransom Demand

The Vatican on March 9 said it has received a ransom demand to recover letters signed by Michelangelo, stolen from the Holy See nearly 20 years ago.

Two letters signed by Michelangelo, one written in its entirety by the Renaissance artist, were stolen from the Vatican’s Fabbrica di San Pietro archive in 1997.

The thefts were kept secret until Sunday, when the Italian daily Il Messaggero revealed that the documents had been put up for ransom.

Responding to the news on Monday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said a nun had long since reported the theft.

“More recently Cardinal Comastri, the actual president (of the archive), received a proposal to recover, at a certain price, such documents,” Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

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Boehner Should Learn from Lincoln on Immigration

Last week’s last minute funding for the Department of Homeland Security has reminded us of how desperately America needs a long-term solution in the area of immigration. The current approach has failed to control the border, has resulted in de facto amnesty for 11-12 million people (the rough equivalent to the population of Ohio), and isn’t meeting our needs in the area of economic development and national security.

A necessary first step is acknowledging that the deportation of 12 million residents would be logistically impossible, as well as morally reprehensible and economically disastrous. The vast majority of these residents have proven themselves to be valuable members of our communities. We can debate the morality of mass deportation, but its logistical impossibility is grounds for moving on to a serious discussion about how to fix the system we have inherited

A little known fact of Lincoln’s legacy is that he explored the option of deporting slaves until he concluded that mass deportation could not solve the problem of slavery. In the weeks preceding the emancipation proclamation, Lincoln was actively pursuing an effort to deport the African-American slaves to Haiti, Honduras, and other counties in Central and South America. Congress actually appropriated $600,000 to assist Lincoln in deporting slaves to these destinations. Lincoln abandoned these plans only when other countries refused to cooperate. He abandoned them out of logistical, not moral necessity. He concluded that it simply could not be done. Then he moved on to legislation that earned him his reputation as the “great emancipator.”

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Two Years In, Pope Francis Faces Headwinds in Reforming the Vatican. Here’s How He Can Prevail

One reason the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis two years ago on March 13 was a brief but powerful speech the Argentine cardinal made shortly before the conclave in which he denounced the “theological narcissism” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, Francis declared, was “sick” because it was closed in on itself and needed to go out “to the peripheries” and risk all by accompanying the shunned and marginalized.

In these past two years, Francis’ efforts to do just that have captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a wide swath of the Catholic spectrum with visions of a newly resurgent faith unshackled from years of scandal and stagnation.

But there was another big reason the cardinals voted for Bergoglio: They thought the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires was the one man with the administrative chops to finally rein in the dysfunctional papal bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, that was often at the root of the Catholic crisis.

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Selma: 'To Come Away Changed'

The white ministers didn’t fly down to Alabama in January, when Sheriff Jim Clark clubbed Annie Lee Cooper outside of the county courthouse, nor in February when a state trooper fatally shot twenty-six-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson in the stomach for trying to protect his mother after a civil rights demonstration.  

But on Bloody Sunday everything changed. At 9:30 p.m. on March 7, 1965, ABC news interrupted a broadcast to show hundreds of black men, women, and children peacefully crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery and a sea of blue uniforms blocking their way. The marchers were given two minutes to disperse, and then the screen filled with the smoke of tear gas, police on horseback charging the screaming crowd, burly troopers wielding billy clubs and bullwhips, a woman’s hem rising up over her legs as a fellow marcher attempted to drag her away to safety.

Overnight the nation’s eye turned toward Selma. Rev. Martin Luther King sent a telegram to hundreds of clergy that Monday, urging them to leave their pulpits and join him in Alabama to march for justice. Some supporters, like the reporter George Leonard, packed their things immediately after watching the newscast from Selma.

“I was not aware that at the same momemt ... hundreds of these people would drop whatever they were doing,” Leonard wrote later.  

“... That some of them would leave home without changing clothes, borrow money, overdraw their checking accounts, board planes, buses, trains, cars, travel thousands of miles with no luggage, get speeding tickets, hitchhike, hire horse-drawn wagons, that these people, mostly unknown to one another, would move for a single purpose to place themselves alongside the Negroes they had watched on television.”

Selma changed the course of history by paving the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, but its impact didn’t end there. The spirit of Selma rippled outward, forever changing those who made the long journey to Alabama — including a white minister from Washington, D.C., named Rev. Gordon Cosby.

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Boko Haram Pledges Loyalty to Islamic State

Boko Haram’s leader has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a new audio message, according to a group that monitors extremist activity.

In the recording, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian terrorist group that has killed thousands, vowed to follow Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the U.S.-based SITE Intel Group, announced on March 7.

“We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah,” Shekau said in a tweeted message that went along with the video, according to the Associated Press. Al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed head of the caliphate.

Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm, confirmed the recording to NBC News and said it was posted on Boko Haram social media accounts. USA Today was not able to independently verify the message.

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‘Selma Sowed, But It Did Not Reap' — Anniversary Puts Spotlight on Deep Poverty

With the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday this weekend, America was reminded how this small city helped bring sweeping change to the nation.

But while Selma might have transformed America, in many ways time has stood still in this community of 20,000 that was at the center of the push that culminated with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Dallas County, of which Selma is the county seat, was the poorest county in Alabama last year. Selma has an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent; the national rate is 5.5 percent.

More than 40 percent of families and 67 percent of children in the county live below the poverty line. The violent crime rate is five times the state average.

The Birmingham News called the region, known as the Black Belt because of its rich soil, “Alabama’s Third World.”

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Gay Marriage Gains Rapid Support with U.S. Public, Including Conservatives

As the Supreme Court readies to hear a group of cases that could make same-sex marriage legal from coast to coast, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry is piling in from all directions.

On April 28, the court will hear arguments in four related cases that address whether state bans on gay and lesbian marriages are constitutional. The ruling is expected by late June.

But new opinion polls and friend-of-the-court briefs that were due March 6 show widespread acceptance of marriage as a right for all.

Climbing public support: The rate of growth for supporting same-sex marriage has risen so rapidly even the director of the national biennial General Social Survey is marveling at the speed of change.

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