The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

On Scripture: We'll Walk Hand in Hand?

"The old avocations by which colored men obtained a livelihood are rapidly, unceasingly and inevitably passing into other hands; every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived emigrant, whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place."

-Frederick Douglass
“Learn Trades or Starve” (1853)

The Obama Administration and a bipartisan group in the Senate are making serious turns to tackle immigration reform. In addition to declaring that as citizens “our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others,” the president’s State of the Union address spoke of securing borders and decreasing the wait timeframe for the American residential legalizing process. Some 12 million women, men, and children across these United States await with bated breath to see what political deals will be made to construct either a pathway to citizenship or pave a road to deportation hell.

What is intriguing about the immigration conversation is that pundits tend to frame the argument in an "Us-versus-Them" fashion. Using rhetorical scare tactics, proponents for and against are not shy about disrobing a “more of them means less for us” stratagem. While much of this ploy has centered on how the massive number of “non-citizens” will subtract resources from persons of European descent, there is now a political stream that avers even sending “border breakers” to the back of the citizenship line will still reduce jobs among African-American low-wage earners. Words from Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and the quote from Frederick Douglass, among many others, are now resurfacing as a clarion call for African-Americans to think long and hard about getting on the “brown” bandwagon. Yet, none of the language from the aforementioned historical figures specially addresses Latino immigration.

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Satan and Hell: A Brief History (Part 1 of 2)

(I was invited to take part in a debate about hell at a university recently, but unfortunately, the dates don’t work with my schedule this time. But since it’s an interesting topic, and one about which many folks have questions, I thought I’d share a couple of short essays I’ve written on the subject.) 

While Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first to preach about hell and condemnation, his ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ sermon in 1741 crystallizes the beginning of a modern movement in the church. Edwards employed fear of punishment as a primary means for conversion and doctrinal adherence. Meanwhile, his congregants fainted in the aisles and clung to the pews to avoid being dragged down into the abyss.

We can argue day and night about whether fear-based theology is effective, biblically accurate, or even necessary. But it’s worthwhile to consider where our contemporary ideas about hell and Satan even come from.

Today, we’ll begin with Satan; we’ll save hell for tomorrow.

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Gospel Lessons From ‘Downton Abbey’

I got home from a church event on Sunday evening, in time to watch the season three finale of “Downton Abbey” on PBS, but I stuck to my guns about catching up on previous episodes first.

But on Monday morning, The New York Times had two articles about the finale and I couldn’t stop myself from reading them.

So now I know that two key characters get killed off — because the actors playing them wanted to move on from the show. Does that mean watching the older season three episodes is pointless? Not at all. As any Christian can tell you, knowing how the story ends doesn’t take away its meaning or mystery. If anything, you become even more alert to character development.

Killing off characters can work wonders for a television series, but it rarely works for the actors who overestimated what they uniquely brought to the program.

Ask any executive, pastor or educator about moving on and then bombing in the next job: their success wasn’t about them in the first place. It was circumstance, luck or an “alignment of the planets,” if you will, that existed only for an instant.

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Gay Marriage Opponents Make Their Case to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — Foes of same-sex marriage are warning the Supreme Court that lifting state or federal restrictions would threaten their own economic and religious freedoms and lead to social and political upheaval.

In about three dozen briefs filed in recent weeks, groups ranging from U.S. Catholic bishops and evangelicals to state attorneys general and university professors argue that upholding gay marriage could lead to penalties against objecting employers, military officials, and others.

Briefs from supporters of gay marriage are due by early March.

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Oscar Spirit: Faith, Values, and the 2013 Best Picture Nominees

The fragility of life. The servanthood of love. The (im)morality of war. The fundamentals of mercy and justice. The power of grace and forgiveness. The oneness of creation. The personal (and spiritual) toll of climate change. The nature of God and faith.

These are some of the spiritual themes explored in the mostly august field of nine contenders for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture -- Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

2012 was an extraordinary year for film. This year's Best Picture field is perhaps stronger than it's been in recent memory, replete with nuance and substance, each film presenting a uniquely compelling and memorable tale that both informs and reflects our culture, sensibilities, and challenges.

A few of the nominated films employ overtly religious ideas and language (Life of Pi, Les Miserables, Lincoln), while others tackle daunting ethical issues that speak to our deepest identities and values (Argo, Djano Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty), or explore the sacred landscape of friendship, family, and unconditional love (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Silver Linings Playbook.)

For the next three days, we'll look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer.

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A Year to Change Your Life

While the new year is just beginning for most, our intern year at Sojourners is halfway up.

Applications for next year's program are due March 1st, and if you or anyone you know is on the bubble in regard to applying, here are a few thoughts from this year's interns as to why you  should apply.

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Climate Rallies and a Golfing President

This past Sunday an estimated 35,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to push for legislative action in response to climate change. In addition to speaking out against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the “Forward on Climate” rally organizers urged President Barack Obama to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and transition to larger levels of renewable energy. In addition to the mass assembly near the White House, environmental groups held similar rallies in cities across the nation, including a significant turnout in Los Angeles. All together, some have described the events of the past weekend as the largest collection of climate change rallies in U.S. history.

The president has recently emerged as a potentially strong ally in the struggle against climate change, for his inaugural address included a renewed commitment to environmental leadership, as he stated: "We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” 

President Obama also addressed ecological concerns during his State of the Union speech, as he said: “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it's too late." While conversation surrounding climate change was notably absent during his recent re-election campaign, the president appears to be making environmental concerns a top priority for his second term of office.

While President Obama seems to be a more visible environmental advocate, many are doubtful of his sincerity and question whether such statements are motivated by political calculation rather than genuine policy priorities. For example, in what can be described as a thought-provoking twist of irony, while thousands marched past the White House to move the president “Forward on Climate,” he was out golfing, which just so happens to be a sport that many environmentalists perceive as an ecological tragedy.  

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Who Runs the Vatican After the Pope Steps Down?

VATICAN CITY — As of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be pope and the Vatican will go into “sede vacante” mode — a Latin expression that means that the seat of St. Peter is vacant.

So who’s in charge until a new pope is chosen? The “interregnum” between two popes is governed by ancient rituals and by institutions half forgotten even within the Vatican.

But it is also the only time that the Catholic Church comes close to vaguely resembling a democracy, with the College of Cardinals acting somewhat like a Parliament with limited powers as it prepares to choose the new pontiff in a closed-doors conclave.

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Conservatives Vent Disappointment Over Benedict’s Papacy

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the surprising choice cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Ratzinger had for decades served as the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, the man known as “God’s Rottweiler,” and his vocal fans were crowing about the glorious reign to come.

“He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics,” the Rev. M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City priest who was in St. Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times. “He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children.”

Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.

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Why the Next Pope Should Come from the Global South

As the 117 Roman Catholic cardinals walk into the Sistine Chapel next month for the election of a new pope, one hopes that they fully recognize the unfolding, dramatic pilgrimage of world Christianity: The demographic center of Christian faith has moved decisively to the Global South.

Over the past century, this astonishing demographic shift is the most dramatic geographical change that has happened in 2,000 years of Christian history. Trends in the Catholic Church — comprising about 1 out of 2 Christians in the world — have generally followed this global pattern:

  • In 1900, about 2 million of the world’s Catholic faithful lived in Africa; by 2010, this had grown to 177 million.
  • 11 million Catholics were found in Asia in 1900; by 2010 there were 137 million Asian Catholics.
  • Through colonial expansion, 59 million Catholics populated Latin America and the Caribbean in 1900; but by 2010, that number had grown to 483 million.
  • In 1900, two-thirds of the world’s Catholic believers were in Europe and North America; today, two-thirds are in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
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