The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

In God We Trust

If asked, “what is the most challenging Sunday to preach a sermon?” I suspect few pastors would say July 4th weekend. But as leaders providing spiritual guidance in a country that is often associated with strong nationalistic tendencies, offering a word that speaks to the messy relationship between “God and Country” is a task that American pastors cannot take lightly.

This dilemma of competing loyalties is not new. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is approached by opponents who sought to trap him by asking whether they were obligated to pay Roman taxes (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17). An affirmative response would have been a betrayal of faith but a negative answer would be perceived as an act of sedition. Faced with this paradox, Jesus wowed his inquisitors by telling them to give Caesar what was due to Caesar and God what was due to God. Yet, as Franklin Gamwell, notes in Politics as a Christian Vocation, this only raises the question of what belongs to each of the competing authorities. If Christians are called to love God with all our being, then how can anything not belong to God? How can any other authority make a claim of allegiance on our lives?

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Traffic Cameras, Domestic Drones, and Mandatory Sentencing

At first I had no problem with domestic drones joining the plethora of surveillance cameras to “keep us safe.”

Big Brother — keeping his eye on me from above in stores, in traffic and everywhere else — would find my personal reality show boring. As a pastor, I’m used to living in a fishbowl. Besides, as John Calvin said, if you fear the eye of a human more than the eye of God, you have spiritual issues to address.

But then, there may be another problem with increased surveillance and flooding our nation’s skies with drones. Let’s take traffic cameras as an example.

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10 POLITICAL Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus

In response to my last article, “10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus,” I was accused multiple times of being political. All I was trying to do was follow Jesus. So, I thought it'd be interesting (and generate tons more hate mail) to show what a list would actually look like if I were being political intentionally. Like the first list, this is not a complete list but it's a pretty good place to start.

There will be those who comment and send me messages berating me for “making Jesus political.” It's okay. Fire away. Jesus didn't worry much about stepping on political toes, and the Bible insists that governments be just toward the least of these (the books of the prophets alone make this point very clear). Frequently, people who are the most vocal about not making Jesus political are the same people who want prayer in school and laws based on their own religious perspectives. By a happy little circumstance that brings us to my list:

10) Force your religious beliefs and practices on others.

One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was in its meekness. The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion – because that's how love works. Compelling people to follow any religion, more or less your personal religion, stands over and against the way Jesus practiced his faith. If you are using the government to compel people to practice your spiritual beliefs, you might be the reason baby Jesus is crying. This does get tricky. There is a difference in letting your beliefs inform your political choices and letting your politics enforce your religion. This article is about the first part.

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The Top 10 Stories of June 12, 2013

Quote of the day.
"We are cursed as human beings with this element that''s called hatred, prejudice and racism. But it is my belief that, as it was Medgar''s, that there is something good and decent in each and every one of us, and we have to call on that, and we have to find a way to work together." Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of former NAACP leader Medgar Evers, who was murdered on June 12, 1963, 50 years ago today.
(Associated Press)

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On Scripture: Religious Liberty for the Rest of Us

The Puritans sailed to these shores 400 years ago seeking freedom of religion, but freedom of their religion only. Earlier this year, a group of North Carolina lawmakers, apparently channeling the Puritans, tried to establish Christianity as the state religion.

Their action was prompted by a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU noted that some county commissions and other governmental boards around the state opened meetings with prayer. While these various boards had policies that allowed for a multiplicity of religious voices, most prayers were offered in the name of Jesus Christ.

Eleven legislators, all white male Christians, backed a bill to codify Christianity in state law, saying the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not trump the state’s rights. The effort died a quick and merciful death.

These misguided politicians forgot a simple truth – even if a state could mandate a public religion, that wouldn’t change what is in people’s hearts. As Roger Williams wrote in June 1670, “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.” Williams, who was expelled by the Puritans and founded a religious colony in Rhode Island, knew firsthand the importance of religious freedom.

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The Truth of Bradley Manning and the Mythical Cover-Up of America

According to Gil Bailie’s groundbreaking book Violence Unveiled, the word myth stems from the Greek wordmu. Those two Greek letters combine to form the powerful concept behind all myths Mu means “to close” or “to keep secret.” Bailie claims that “Myth closes its eyes to certain events and closes its mouth.” Myths are the lies and the cover-ups that we tell about our own violence. Truth, on the other hand, works against myth to reveal our violence.

Ancient cultures told their myths, of course. Unfortunately, we moderns, who think we’ve progressed so much since our ancestors, tell our own myths. The United States government’s military trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning is a case in point.

Manning’s Leak to WikiLeaks

In 2010, Manning was arrested and accused of the worst military crimes, including espionage and aiding the enemy. He secretly released an extensive archive of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Some believe Manning is a traitor, while others believe he is a heroic whistleblower. As the New York Times reports, “There is no doubt that he did most of what he is accused of doing, and the crucial issue is how those actions should be understood.”

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Welcome to New England, Tim

Now that you’re joining the Patriots, I’d like to offer you a few pointers on your new regional home. I realize that, to someone from the deep South, this may seem like just another part of Yankeedom, but New England is really a different place than New York. And given what happened in the Big Apple last year, I’m sure that’s good news, and the less said about it the better.

Anyway, New England is a great place to get a graduate degree, and you could not find a better institution than the U. of Foxboro to do advanced work in the liberal art of playing quarterback, under the tutelage of Prof. Brady. A dissertation on passing might be a good idea.

Aside from football, New England has a lot of variety of the human experience: steady habits in Connecticut, socialists in Vermont, cranky individualists in New Hampshire, a Tea Party governor in Maine, a Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democratic governor in Rhode Island, an African-American governor in Massachusetts. But wherever you go in this fair territory, same-sex couples can get married. That’s how we roll.

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Privacy from Rulers: Tents of Ancient Israel, Cell Phones of Today

What does the ancient arrangement of tents in an ancient Israelite encampment have to do with the ultramodern question of whether the U.S. government should be peering into the ultramodern phone and Internet records of hundreds of millions of Americans?

Or to put it another way, are there any spiritual and religious roots to the notion of personal and household privacy?

To start from the Bible: Many Jewish prayer services begin with a quotation from a non-Jewish shaman, himself quoted in the Torah (Num 24:5 — this passage of Torah will be read two weeks from now, on June 22.) There was a king, Balak by name, who hired an expert shamanic curse-hurler, Balaam, to curse the People of Israel who were swarming across the wilderness after their liberation from slavery under Pharaoh. 

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Visitors Say Benedict XVI is in Declining Health

VATICAN CITY — Just months after becoming the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, reports are surfacing that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is in poor health with diminished stature and energy.

After a brief hiatus at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Benedict returned to live in a converted monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens last month. Already, some of his visitors have commented on the former pope’s physical deterioration.

“Benedict is in a very bad way,” said Paloma Gomez Borrero, a veteran Vatican correspondent for Spain’s Telecinco television network who visited the former pope in late May. “We won’t have him with us much longer.”

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne, Germany, and a personal friend of Benedict’s, visited the former pope in April.

“I was shocked at how thin he had become,” Meisner said at the time. “Mentally, he is quite fit, his old self. But he had halved in size.”

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Southern Baptists Push for More Black Missionaries

Fred Luter had a lot of firsts in the last year: first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention; first time chairing the denomination’s annual meeting, this week, in Houston; and recently, first-time missionary.

“It was inspirational, but also very humbling in a lot of instances, just to see how some people are living,” Luter said, days after returning from Ethiopia and Uganda.

Struck by the poor living without running water and by missionaries willing to “leave the comforts that we have here in America,” Luter wants more members ofhis New Orleans congregation — as well as more of the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists — to take overseas missions seriously.

In particular, he wants more of his denomination’s relatively small black population to serve as missionaries.

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