The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Christians, Yazidis Need More Than Escape: Catholic Relief Official in Iraq

Kris Ozar, 37, is in charge of programming for Catholic Relief Services in Egypt and is now in northern Iraq coordinating the charity’s emergency efforts with other groups, such as Caritas Iraq. He has been working with Christians and Yazidis forced to choose between conversion to Islam or death by the Islamic State.

Ozar spoke with Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston from Irbil, Iraq, about the challenges refugees face. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The Christian and Yazidi refugees have been rescued from Mount Sinjar. What is the situation where you are right now?

A: From my window, I can see a church compound and it is filled with tents and there are hundreds of people inside those tents. Everyone talked about getting (the displaced people) off Mount Sinjar, and that was an amazing challenge, but what we forget is that the most amazing challenge lies ahead.

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‘Moral Monday’ Expands to a Week of Social Justice Action Across U.S.

The Moral Monday movement, birthed by activists who protest the actions of the North Carolina General Assembly, will expand to 12 states on August 22 in a so-called Moral Week of Action.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the NAACP in North Carolina and organizer of the Moral Monday movement, announced that Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania , Tennessee, and Wisconsin would join up.

Each state is mobilizing social justice activists and clergy to call out governors and state legislatures for “regressive attacks” on the people Jesus called “the least of these,” Barber said in a press call on August 19. Last year, more than 1,000 people were arrested during a series of Moral Mondays in North Carolina.

The objective is to push for the politicians to “repent and reform,” he said. But the marchers will have a daily theme promoting positive actions, not only decrying current policies, he said. Each state sets its own program, but most emphasize the same issues as North Carolina. After each rally there, participants will fan out to register voters.

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What 'The Leftovers' Can Teach Us About Hope and the Christian Faith

Editor's Note: Spoilers ahead! You've been warned.

Over the past eight episodes of The Leftovers, HBO’s latest drama based on Tom Perrotta’s play of the same name, viewers have been treated to a case study in grief and faith in the midst of a life-changing event. Unlike the Left Behind series, which incorporated Christian triumphalism with terrible theology, The Leftovers examines the deeper human and spiritual issues of what would happen were two percent of the population to suddenly disappear. It is powerful and beautiful and really hard to watch (especially Episode Five). It asks the question: does life go on when your world is changed forever?

The show offers a variety of responses to the Sudden Departure of October 14: Kevin Garvey, the police chief who seems to be losing his mind after his wife leaves him for a cult and after his father needs to be committed; Nora Durst, who’s lost her entire family, so she keeps everything exactly as it was when the Sudden Departure occurred; Rev. Matt Jamison, Nora’s brother whose faith has been shaken because he was not taken; the town dogs who have become feral; and finally, the creepiest citizens of Mapleton, the Guilty Remnant, or the GR as they’re “affectionately” known.

This past week’s episode gave us a greater understanding of the GR. Although the nihilistic views of the Guilty Remnant are quite different from those of Christianity, I was struck by their powerful and strategic mission of witness. The cult was formed out of the recognition that everything changed on October 14 and that to pretend otherwise was foolish. The group, in their white clothes, their silence, their stripped-down existence, bears witness to the fact that they are living reminders of what happened. They are fundamentalists about their cause and willing to die for it — even if that death comes from their own hands.

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Three Barriers Hijacking Christians' Ability to Love Our 'Enemies'

In recent years, my family has navigated some rough patches: death, cancer treatments, open heart surgeries, chronic disease, etc. Now, I’m certain this isn’t everyone’s experience, but mine has been that in these times of trauma or tragedy, family comes together to stand with one another as we wrestle through life’s crap. We aren’t picking fights, we are crying on each other’s shoulders.

In recent months, our human family has been enduring an especially rough patch.

War.

Racism.

Suicide.

Deadly viruses.

Plane crashes.

Whether in remote villages or urban centers, few have been untouched (in some way) by the realities unfolding.

As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers, and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human.

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An Invitation to Disruption: A Call to White Churches

It was July 19, 2013, and we were leaving New York City for a spiritual retreat, six days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman “not guilty” in the death of Trayvon Martin. The sadness, anger, and weariness was well worn on the liturgies, prayers, and preaching of many of the churches in our Harlem neighborhood.

We found ourselves joining local church leaders and a few pastors in a conversation about justice that would eventually make its way toward a broad range of matters: the gay rights of questioning teens, clean water for children in Africa, and many of the frequent places conversations go with folks who are concerned with “loving our neighbor.” And so we sat, we listened, and were genuinely moved to openly share about the challenges and opportunities that have come with cultivating safe spaces for GBLT folks in our church community. TOGETHER we also inspired one another as we offered our collective experiences with integrating the arts in fundraising for international relief efforts.

And as Jose and I sat, listened, and shared TOGETHER, we found ourselves with heavy hearts waiting …“Would the conversation broach the tragedy of Trayvon Martin?” It didn’t.

And as we sat TOGETHER in sacred solidarity with compassionate, justice-minded pastors, who happened to be white, somehow we found ourselves feeling quite alone. So we mustered the courage to ask, “How have your churches responded to the Trayvon Martin verdict?” My question was met with silence. The silence that met us did not betray aloof or timid spirits, but rather uncertainty about whether their one voice could really make a difference, or that somehow they did not have the right to “speak on behalf” of brown and black realities. 

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When Christians Lack Imagination, They Lack Love

Christians often talk about actively changing the world, but too often, we just sit still and passively watch the struggles of others without participating, leading, or caring. We don’t love.

Why? Because many Christians have an inability to use their imaginations.

People who can’t imagine are susceptible to bigotry, racism, hatred, and violence toward others. Why? Because they can’t imagine any other scenario, perspective, or opinion other than their own. They have an inability to see themselves in someone else’s shoes. They can’t see beyond their own narrow reality.

When you can’t imagine, you can’t empathize, understand, or relate with the actions, struggles, pain, suffering, persecution, and trials of others — you become apathetic, unmoved, stoic, and inactive.

Whether our differences are gender-related, age-related, race-related, culturally related, politically related, economically related, socially related, theologically related, value-related, or related to any countless number of factors, overcoming them requires imagination.

When you can’t imagine, you can’t celebrate, appreciate, admire, and joyfully love others. You disconnect yourself from humanity.

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Gratitude as Resistance: An Ancient Idea for our Collective Anxiety

You know that time when the apostle Paul says “don’t worry about anything” I sometimes wonder if he could get away with that today.

For example: Did you know that Congress recently had an approval rating of 9 percent? To put that in perspective, 11 percent of citizens want the Unites States to be a Communist country . It’s a lower rate than people who would approve of polygamy! While this is sort of hilarious, it’s also pretty depressing.

Thank God (literally) there isn’t a poll on the approval rating of the church, but as a ministry leader in Seattle, trust me when I say that what makes the headlines is not what anyone would call good news. Throw into the mix the global unraveling we are witnessing in the Middle East, Iraq, and our own treatment of immigrants, and it’s sort of difficult to keep our collective chins up.

So yes, it might feel tough to log onto Facebook, or read the New York Times these days and feel like there is no reason to be anxious. Good thing for us the verse doesn’t end as a pejorative blanket statement. You know, the kind that so often feels like a cheap mandate to simply ignore reality? Instead, it names that that there lots for reasons for why we are surrounded by anxiety. But, in the eloquent paraphrase of the Philippians passage by Eugene Peterson, we are invited to:

“let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.”

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Don't Ignore It: 5 Ways Christians and Churches Must Engage Michael Brown’s Death

I have so much emotions and thoughts in my mind, heart, and body – in light of the oh-so-much that is going on all around the world – including the utterly tragic, brutal, and unnecessary “death” of Michael Brown.

But I thought it would be helpful to share a few thoughts how churches, Christians, and leaders can be engaging the events of the past 11 days in their respective churches – now and in the future. I’m not suggesting that pastors have to completely alter their sermons or Bible studies, but to altogether ignore the injustice of Michael Brown’s death would be altogether foolish.

To be blunt and I say this respectfully,

The integrity of the church is at stake because when it’s all said and done, it’s not a race issue for me — it’s a Gospel issue. It’s a Kingdom issue. We shouldn’t even let isolated issues in themselves hijack the purpose of the church. The Gospel of Christ is so extraordinary that it begins to inform (and we pray, transform) all aspects of our lives. So, in other words, we talk about race and racism because we believe in the Gospel.

So, here are five suggestions for Christians, leaders, and churches.

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At Church Rally, Community Pours Out Support for Michael Brown’s Family

Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton told a packed church on August 17 that the Michael Brown case would mark a defining moment in civil rights history and fundamentally change the way police engage with the African-American community.

“Michael Brown is going to change this town,” Sharpton said to a massive, boisterous crowd that clapped and shouted in response.

Hundreds filled the pews of Greater Grace Church. More crowded into the foyer, and hundreds remained on the parking lot unable to enter, all in a show of support for the African-American teenager who was shot by a police officer on August 9.

Sharpton announced a future march in Washington on policing. He criticized the militarization of police, saying they act as if they are “at war with…citizens.” Sharpton urged the crowd to start showing up at the polls to vote and make a difference in the lives of African-Americans.

“Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house,” Sharpton said. “We’ll be here until justice is achieved.”

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Islamic Militias Continue Spread Beyond the Middle East Into African Nations

An Islamist group has gained ground in the northeastern Libyan city of Benghazi, declaring it an Islamic territory and raising fears that radical Islamist militias may spread in the rest of Africa.

The declaration from Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia movement mirrors the rise of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria. The two militant movements share similar goals.

The prospect of more fighting and the possible disintegration of Libya, the country where NATO allied forces helped topple strongman Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011, sent chills throughout the nation.

“I think this is a risky way to go,” said Sheikh Saliou Mbacke, a Senegalese Muslim leader who is the coordinator of Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa.

“It hinges on the failure of the governments, lack of democracy and poor and unequal distribution of resources,” added Saliou.

These latest actions reflect the growing influence of Islamists in Africa, where militants are challenging existing governments.

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