The Common Good

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In Wake of Ferguson, a Bid to Make St. Louis a More ‘Compassionate’ City

Some might argue that if there is one thing this city could use more of right now, it’s compassion.

Even before civil unrest surfaced in the region after Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, local leaders were trying to find a way to cultivate more of it. But how exactly? And how would we know when we had enough?

Unlike other commodities, compassion is difficult to quantify.

But that hasn’t stopped the formation of a worldwide movement for compassionate cities. St. Louis is the latest municipality to vie to be part of the sympathetic pack, which includes Louisville, Ky.; Atlanta; Nashville, Tenn.; Seattle; and other cities from around the world.

On Nov. 13, in an effort to bring St. Louis one step closer to officially signing on to what noted religion scholar Karen Armstrong coined as the Charter for Compassion, advocates will host the first-ever town hall meeting dedicated to the crusade.

“We’re wired for compassion and what we would hope for and work toward is compassionate energy and action becoming an increasing factor in decision making and planning across the St. Louis region,” said David Mehl of the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis, a key member of a group of about 30 local leaders pushing that the city, like others around the nation, agree to the charter’s terms.

“The situation in Ferguson and beyond makes this all the more relevant.”

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A Christian Should Lead Christians

Is the pope Catholic? Is the president of the Christian student club Christian?

These questions might seem equal in their wry obviousness. They’re not. In the massive California State University system, as at some other universities, new anti-discrimination rules for student groups mean it can no longer be required that the president of the Christian student fellowship is Christian, or that the head of the Muslim association is Muslim, or that the officers of any group buy into the interests and commitments of that group.

Student clubs that refuse to accept the new rules will find themselves on the sidelines when it comes to meeting space, recruitment opportunities and other valuable perks that go with being an officially recognized group.

Such is the fate that has befallen InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a national campus ministry that finds itself “derecognized” in the 450,000-student Cal State system for insisting that student leaders of its campus chapters affirm the basic tenets of evangelical belief.

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Pope Francis to Build Showers for Homeless in St. Peter’s Square

In his latest bid to ease the suffering of the poor — and upend the expectations of the papacy — Pope Francis plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

Three showers are to be built into refurbished public restrooms provided for Catholic pilgrims along the marble columns leading into the historic basilica, which was completed in 1626.

The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Nov. 13 that the project was a joint initiative of the pope and Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who distributes charity on the pope’s behalf. Construction is due to begin Nov. 17.

It’s an unconventional move, even for a pope who constantly preaches that more should be done to help the poor. It also could rankle traditionalists as the homeless line up to wash beneath the extravagant apostolic apartments that Francis shunned after his election.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Adrian Sztrajt, a 27-year-old homeless man from the Polish city of Chelm. “I would like to go for showers there.”

Sztrajt and his companion Grzegorz Bialas, also from Poland, sleep with half a dozen others under the porticoes in front of the Vatican press office beside St. Peter’s Square.

Bialas said he’s a fan of the pope but thinks the showers are “a bad idea” since they could attract hundreds of homeless to the Vatican. He also said it was possible for the homeless to get a shower elsewhere in Rome.

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Catholic Church Losing Ground in Latin America

In just one generation, Latin America has seen the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic plummet, with more people becoming Protestant or dropping religion altogether, a new report shows.

The shift is dramatic for a region that has long been a bastion of Catholicism. With more than 425 million Catholics, Latin America accounts for nearly 40 percent of the global Catholic population. Through the 1960s, at least 90 percent of Latin Americans were Catholic, and 84 percent of people surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center said they were raised Catholic.

But the report released Nov. 13 found that only 69 percent of Latin Americans still consider themselves Catholic, with more people switching to more conservative Protestant churches (19 percent) or describing themselves as agnostic or religiously unaffiliated (8 percent).

Even last year’s election of an Argentine as pope to head the Catholic Church has led to conflicting feelings in Latin America.

“While it is too soon to know whether (Pope) Francis can stop or reverse the church’s losses in the region, the new survey finds that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favorably and consider his papacy a major change for the church,” the report said. “But former Catholics are more skeptical about Pope Francis. Only in Argentina and Uruguay do majorities of ex-Catholics express a favorable view of the pope.”

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Hashtag Activists Battle Online Anti-Muslim Speech, but #DoesItWork?

ISIS terrorist rampages, waves of anti-Muslim hate speech and fear-mongering Islamophobia are inspiring an outburst of online activism in the form of Twitter hashtags.

The question is: Does it work, especially over the long term?

An army of “clicktivists” — a mix of earnest advocates and pointed satirists — has entered the fray armed with 140-character positive, peaceful or humorous counter-messages.

Using names such as #TakeOnHate, #IStandUpBecause, and #NotInMyName, the pushback approach promotes the complexity, diversity and positive contributions of Islam and Muslims. Others, such as #MuslimApologies, offer sarcasm in service of the same message.

Yet the hashtags are often immediately co-opted by trolls spewing an opposite message. And some experts question whether clicktivist campaigns have lasting worth.

Linda Sarsour has no doubt they do. She’s a Brooklyn-based Palestinian activist in the streets and on social media and a co-creator of #TakeOnHate. The hashtag is accompanied by a resource website, launched in March by the National Network for Arab American Communities.

“The insidious thing about anti-Arab hate speech is that it seems to be acceptable, where the ‘N-word’ or anti-Semitic remarks are not taken with the same degree of outrage,” said Sarsour, who was chased down the street in September by a man who was later arrested for threatening to behead her

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Should Pope Francis Visit Turkey’s Extravagant Presidential Palace?

Pope Francis’ penchant for austerity and humility will face a diplomatic challenge when he visits Turkey’s new ostentatious presidential palace on his first visit to the country later this month.

Francis will be the first foreign dignitary to be welcomed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the new 1,000-room palace when he visits Ankara on Nov. 28.

Turkish architects have written to the pope urging him not to go to the palace built by Erdogan and known locally as the “White Palace.”

Larger than the White House or Buckingham Palace in London, the enormous palace was inaugurated last month and expected to cost more than half a billion dollars.

The palace was built on land bequeathed to the state as a forest farm by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the World War I general and revered founder of the modern Turkish republic.

The pope is scheduled to give a speech at the palace after a visit to Ataturk’s mausoleum on the first leg of his three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul.

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Activists Intent on Building Third Jewish Temple Spark Tensions at Holy Site

The Temple Mount – Haram al-Sharif to Muslims – in Jerusalem is at the center of an intense debate over messianic religious Zionism in Israeli politics and society, and what it means for the future of the peace process. Religion News Service photo by Jabeen Bhatti

It’s a site holy to both Jews and Muslims — considered the most religiously sensitive square kilometer on earth.

These days, the Temple Mount — known as the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims — is at the center of an intense debate over messianic religious Zionism. How Israeli society deals with it may hold the key to the peace process.

Temple Mount tensions were sparked by last month’s attempted assassination of U.S.-born Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who was seriously wounded.

Glick is a fierce advocate for building a third Jewish temple on the site of the Temple Mount, where two Jewish temples stood thousands of years ago. He is also at the forefront of a campaign to allow Jewish prayers at the site. Israel currently bans Jews from praying on the plateau to prevent clashes with Muslims worshipping at the nearby Noble Sanctuary, a mosque considered to be Islam’s third-holiest site, and Jerusalem’s most iconic gold-domed landmark.

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Catholic Bishops Call for Immigration Reform

The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.

In an unscheduled address Nov. 11 at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”

“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.

During the summer, the president was moving toward unilateral action on immigration, despite warnings that such moves could exceed his constitutional authority or would turn voters against reform.

Then in early September, Obama said he would delay acting on his own, a move that was seen as a way to protect vulnerable Democrats from any backlash in midterm elections. On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was now “going to do what I can do through executive action.”

“It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place,” he said.

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My Sin, Your Sin: The Way to Freedom

After your recent relocation to a new city, you are invited to a local congregation by one of its members. After that first visit, you don’t find anything compelling you to come back to worship the following Sunday.

Now fast forward five years. For some unknown reason, you find yourself visiting that same congregation. But this time, it is obvious that something dramatic has happened; a new senior pastor has been called, and, in less than a year, the transformation of the church has been dramatic. The trend of slowly losing members has now stopped. To the delight of longtime members, almost every Sunday new people are accepting Christ or renewing their commitment to Christ. Vibrant children, youth, and family ministries are now in place. Ten percent of the budget is dedicated to local and global mission. People are growing deeper in their faith. The congregation of a little less than 400 begins to grow in such a way that during the following five years it reaches 1,600 members. This time around, you and your family decide to join this congregation. Your faith is reenergized and you feel like you are finally in the right place.

The story could end here and we could say, “This family happily and faithfully journeyed with this congregation for many years.”

There was only one problem in this successful congregation. 

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U.S., China Strike Agreement Limiting Greenhouse Gases

This morning, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China made a historic announcement that their countries would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
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