The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Justices May Decide if Photographers can Snub Gay Weddings

When Vanessa Willock wanted an Albuquerque photographer to shoot her same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006, she contacted Elane Photography. The response came as a shock: Co-owner Elaine Huguenin said she only worked on “traditional weddings.”

“Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?” Willock asked by e-mail.

“Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings,” Huguenin responded.

Now 7 1/2 years after that e-mail exchange, the Supreme Court is considering whether to referee the dispute.

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Atheist Nate Phelps on His Father: I Mourn 'The Man He Could Have Been'

Nathan Phelps, the estranged atheist son of anti-gay Kansas pastor Fred Phelps who died Wednesday, is asking people to look beyond his father’s legacy of hate.

“I ask this of everyone,” the younger Phelps said in a statement issued Thursday about his father’s death at age 84. “Let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.”

The younger Phelps, who is 55 and goes by Nate, is one of four of Fred Phelps’ 13 children who renounced their father’s activities, which included picketing the funerals of veterans, AIDS victims, and celebrities and left his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. The church of approximately 40 members of the Phelps clan is best known for its public protests and colorful signs declaring, “God hates fags.”

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Hate Won't Win

Fred Phelps died early Thursday morning. Phelps was best known for his deeply rooted hatred and promulgating the tasteless slogan “God Hates Fags.” His little group of mostly extended family members that comprised the 59-year-old Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, carried their signs with such ugly and painful statements all over the country. Phelps’ small cult got the most attention for their protests of military and other high-profile funerals, claiming that the slain soldiers deserved to die as a consequence of God’s judgment against America’s tolerance of gay and lesbian people. Such shameful and angry messages, understandably, caused great pain among the mourners and family members grieving their loved ones.

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Envy: Greed's Ugly Cousin

I drive a Prius. I wouldn't exactly say it's a sexy car; the word "practical" comes to mind. It gets good mileage, is safe, and fits our family of four just fine in most cases. It's gotten its share of bings and dents over the years, but it has been a very reliable and low maintenance way to get around town.

Of course, what I really want is a Tesla. My son wants one too. There is a showcase for them in a local storefront, and he begs me to go by for a visit every time we are nearby. Though he is only 10, he already makes a pretty strong case to my wife, explaining how much of the cost of the car will be offset by the savings in gas, and he was elated to find out it was recently rated the safest car on the road.

So far it hasn't worked in our favor. But we keep trying.

This, of course, is not envy; it is simply good old-fashioned greed. The thing I have is sufficient, only until something newer, edgier, shinier comes along (which, in America, is a daily occurrence). Then suddenly, perfectly good car in our driveway has shortcomings and liabilities that were, hereto for, invisible to us.

Envy is different, and I would argue that it actually is worse than greed. While the latter is simply our desire off of its proverbial chain, envy gets personal. It is the easy but unattractive marriage of greed and judgment. Yes, we desire what someone else has, but there is more to it. When we are envious, we gain nearly as much pleasure from the idea of the other person not having the thing we want as we do from the idea of having it ourselves.

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The Women of Faith Factor in 'Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius'

As we near the March 25 arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, it can feel as though men have the monopoly on religious activism in America. After all, 38 protestant theologians signed on to an amicus brief suggesting that a business owner’s religious beliefs should dictate the consciences and actions of female employees – none of those theologians were women.

A glance at the past, present, and future of women’s leadership in American religious life, however, shows this simply is not true. Today, as throughout American history, women have fought for their voice in religion, the opportunity to express their faith, and to obtain the same access to religious leadership as their brothers. Just as in other areas of work and life, creating opportunities for women to increase their hand in religious leadership is vital to greater equality and new perspectives in theology, moral activism, and spirituality.

Despite the increase in women in clergy careers over the last 40 years, it has been an uphill battle for women who have changed hearts, minds, and traditions for career opportunities as clergy and religious leaders in churches, synagogues, and mosques. Issues around the “ stained glass ceiling” in clergy careers can range from discouraging congregants who are biased against women clergy to institutional inequalities: men still outnumber women in clergy positions in America, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20.5 percent of self-described clergy were women in 2012. In certain religious traditions — the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Orthodox Church, and Orthodox Judaism, for example — women cannot be ordained as clergy or prayer leaders. It is also very rare to find Muslim women leading mixed-gender services.

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#Fast4Families Bus Presses on in Week 4 of Tour

Entering its fourth week on the road, the Fast for Families bus continues its journey across the country getting closer to its final destination: Washington, D.C. on April 9.  

Continuing the call for fair and humane immigration reform, fasters visited Arlington, Texas last week on the southern trail, connecting with members of Congress who shared their goals for immigration reform.

“The trickiest issue is what do you do with people that are here [undocumented]?” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who is drafting his own immigration bill and hopes to introduce it in late spring or early summer. “We need to weed out the bad apples and send them back home or put them in jail. But the others whose only [unauthorized] act is coming to this country [undocumented], we sort them out and put them on a legalization path, and minors on a citizenship path.”

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i-Lust and Other Confessions in a Millennial World

I lust. The words almost seem like they could be a tagline for a new Apple product — an appropriate image perhaps for a generation that is glued to our smart phones. Or perhaps the words are better suited in a kind of Descartes revolution for the 21st century, “I lust, therefore I am.” In either scenario, the words are an accurate reflection of the inescapable truth that lust is consuming all of our lives.

In the church, the word lust has strong sexual connotations. It is a word we are ashamed of and work hard to ignore. When we do talk about lust, it is mostly in the context of uncomfortable sermons or youth group sessions about dressing modestly, not looking at porn, and not gazing at one another with desire. We also often think of lust as a sin that plagues only men — particularly young men with “raging hormones” and that it is something they need to “break free” from.

Essentially the message has become, “If you do lust, don’t; if you don’t lust, good.” But such assumptions do not accurately represent the complex and diverse ways that lust manifests itself in our lives. That being said, I sometimes think that if the seven deadly sins included a clause for a sin that was more deadly, feared, and misunderstood than all of the rest, this would be it.

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Weekly Wrap 3.21.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. 'Frozen,' Evangelical Purity Culture, and What It's Like Being a Girl
"
The narrative of purity culture — not unlike the narrative of many, many Disney princesses — implicitly and sometimes explicitly promises that passive virtue will exert a sort of magnetic pull on worthy young men, who will come flocking to her father for permission to ‘court’ her."

2. Urban Church Planting Plantations
Christena Cleveland examines the trend of white suburban church planters flocking into urban centers to "save the city," disregarding the indigenous religious leaders already working. A helpful reminder.

3. WATCH: ReMoved
This is why fostering is so important: "It would be impossible to fully understand the life and emotions of a child going through the foster care system, but this short narrative film portrays that saga in a poetic light, with brushes of fear, anger, sadness, and a tiny bit of hope." - Santa Barbara Independent
Watch the full short film.

4. A God With Teeth
Esther Emery writes for A Deeper Story about the transforming power of nature, and a God who is bigger than it all. "I never had a pastor say, 'It says it right here, on page three. We were charged to steward the earth. Now get to stewarding.' I did it anyway."

5. 7 Deadly Sins: A Lenten Series
We all know the seven deadly sins. From pride to sloth and envy, our daily sins sometimes go unnoticed. Join Sojouners as we dig into how the deadly sins still root themselves in our lives today. And while you're at it, you might as well listen to the 7Deadly playlist curated by our own associate web editor, Catherine Woodiwiss.

6 . Patriarchy and Abusive Churches
Rachel Held Evans highlights the Bill Gothard abuse allegations to talk about sexual abuse in the church: "My evangelical brothers and sisters, we have an abuse problem and we need to talk about it."

7. Generational Poverty: Understanding a Different Culture
"The church that wants to reach its neighbors with the message of the gospel and see the community thrive must understand its neighbors’ culture. Offering middle-class solutions to generational poverty problems can be extraordinarily helpful, but without knowing, loving, and appreciating the venerable aspects of the generational poverty culture, those solutions will not be embraced and will fail to generate lasting change."

8. Ukraine, Russia, Crimea: How the Story Evolved
With new news coming out of Crimea by the day, USA Today provides a helpful breakdown of the crisis.

9. American Jesus Madness
Who needs March Madness when you can vote in a bracket that includes Rachel Held Evans v. Every Calvinist Dude on the Internet? They're down to the final four, and it's between A God Article's (and Sojourners') Mark Sandlin v. Nadia Bolz-Weber's Tattoos and Willem Defoe (in The Last Temptation of Christ) v. Greg Boyd. Cast your vote!

10. WATCH: Elementary School Choir's Cover of Pharrell's 'Happy' Will Make Your Whole Week Better
Because you need a little happy to kick off your weekend.

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Fox News' 'Preferential Option for the Rich'

I don’t typically watch much television. But when I can, I watch The Daily Show. Jon Stewart brings humor, satire and truth telling to the news of the day — qualities also characteristic of the Hebrew prophets. When I once suggested that to Stewart, he immediately denied any similarity, saying, “No, no, no, I’m just a comedian from the Borsch Belt!” But further discussion revealed a selection of topics that evoke his moral passion and even a righteous anger at political hypocrisy.

That was on vivid display in a spotlight on what Fox News commentators were saying about food stamp recipients. It began with Fox saying how families who receive support from SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) should use their food stamps, and even what they should and should not be eating, which led to repeated condemnations of poor people.

The clips from those Daily Show commentaries are below and I suggest you take a few moments to watch them. They reveal what I am calling Fox News’ “preferential option for the rich,” which is in stark contrast to the gospel’s “preferential option for the poor” and what Pope Francis is now calling the church back to. Fox News’ repeated preference for the rich and condemnations of the poor is not just a political or economic issue, but a moral and religious failure. The faith community, in particular, should take note.

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When Pope Francis Meets President Obama, Expect Collaboration Over Conflict

President Obama is to meet Pope Francis for the first time next week as Obama wraps up a European tour, a high-profile encounter between two major world leaders that appears to carry especially high stakes from the U.S. perspective.

The White House and the American bishops have been at loggerheads for years on a range of culture war issues, and on Tuesday, just two days before the Vatican meeting, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the contraception mandate that has sparked fierce opposition from the U.S. hierarchy.

But American and Vatican officials say the talks may disappoint those hoping for fireworks, and that the summit is going to focus on collaboration much more than conflict.

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