The Common Good

Election Commentary

Voting: Responsibility or Privilege?

Next week I will vote for the first time in a presidential election. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen two years ago, giving up my Korean passport, my (not)green card, and pledging allegiance after having lived in the  U.S. since the spring of 1971.

I actually studied for my citizenship exam out of fear and habit – fear that the wrong answer would mean restarting a process that had cost money, time, and emotions, and habit because I grew understanding not studying was not an option. The process actually took years for me, wrestling through ambivalence, frustration, grief, and gain to get to a point where the privileges, advantages, and necessities of becoming a citizen and my faith as a Christian pushed me over the edge.

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God Is Still Not A Republican, Or A Democrat

During the 2004 presidential election season, Sojourners put out a bumper sticker with these words: “God Is Not a Republican, or a Democrat.” The number of orders was overwhelming and we kept running out. The simple message struck a chord among many Christians who were tired of the assumptions and claims by the Religious Right that God was indeed a Republican, or at least voted a straight-party ticket for the GOP. They also absurdly implied — and sometimes explicitly stated — that faithful Christians couldn’t support Democratic candidates. We said that voting was always an imperfect choice in a fallen world, based on prudential judgments about how to best vote our values, that people of faith would always vote in different ways — and that was a good thing for a democracy and the common good.

Our efforts appeared to inject some common sense into our nation’s political discourse, but given recent electoral statements and newspaper ads from some conservative Christian leaders, it appears the message bears repeating — God is still not a Republican or Democrat.

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A More Perfect Union

If I had to translate her words into Navajo, I would say “ádin.” Ádin means nothing, none, zero.

I couldn't believe my ears. I was visiting Iowa in the first week of January during an election year. Presidential candidates were crisscrossing the state — kissing babies, shaking hands, and pleading for the vote of everyone they met. Campaign events were taking place in high school gymnasiums, community centers, and local businesses throughout the state. Many of the people I met had personal stories of meeting one of the candidates, shaking their hands, and talking about their issues. There are 99 counties in the state of Iowa, and a few of the candidates were taking the time to stop and hold campaign events in each and every one of them. But there I was, just a day before the caucuses, standing in the community center and tribal offices of the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama, Iowa, with the tribe’s executive director telling me that not a single presidential candidate had held a campaign event in their community.

I shouldn't have been surprised. After all I live on the Navajo Reservation. Our reserve is nearly 26,000 square miles with about 300,000 enrolled tribal members, and I cannot recall in my lifetime a presidential candidate visiting our reservation and campaigning directly to our people.  

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Paul’s Politics

The apostle Paul calls the church in Corinth a body — and that’s political language: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be …  As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Cor. 12:18-20).

As Dale Martin argues in his book The Corinthian Body, Paul gets his language about the social body, the political body, from other Greco-Roman speeches and letters. He uses a style of writing and speaking called a “concord” — homonoia in Greek. Politicians would give speeches or write letters trying to convince the diverse people of the city to unite in a common project, to share the same goals for society, to share a common politics. In these “concord” addresses, politicians would call the society a body, just like Paul does in his letter to the divided church in Corinth. We are one body, politicians would say, so we need to act accordingly. We are one — united, bound together. Of course, politicians only made these speeches when they needed to: that is, when dissatisfied segments of society wanted to revolt (see Martin, Corinthian Body, 38-47).

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Watch the Vote: God Will Part the Waters

In four days our nation will decide its course for decades to come. On Nov. 6, ordinary people who have not already sent in their absentee ballots or stood in line to vote early, will walk, drive, caravan, and bus their way to polling stations scattered across every state in the nation. These ordinary people will exercise their right as American citizens to vote. They will also exercise their God-given call, as human beings made in the image of God, to exercise dominion (agency) within our grand democracy. Or at least they will try. 

The deep waters of injustice are rising high and threatening to spill over on Nov. 6. Voters will have to wade through muck and mire to cast faith-filled ballots this year. So, listen up, study up, and get your gear on in preparation for Nov. 6.

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Graduation Day for the Electoral College

The United States is the only democratic country in the world where a candidate can be elected as president without earning the highest number of votes.      

In the midst of competing campaigns and critical choices leading up to Election Day, one of the most common assumptions is that U.S. citizens directly select their president. However, far too many fail to fully understand that such direct selection is not our reality, for within our complex electoral system – known as the Electoral College – the will of the people does not always translate into final results. During the presidential elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000, the leader in popular votes did not claim victory, and some believe a similar scenario may take place in the near future. And so, when a candidate receives the majority of votes but is not sworn into office, we recognize a gross injustice that requires immediate and significant transformation.

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Religious Consistency and Hypocrisy: Election 2012

Most people in America, whether they are religious or not, prefer consistency in the faith community to hypocrisy. One of the reasons the fastest growing demographic in religious affiliation surveys is now “none of the above” is that too many people see more religious hypocrisy than consistency.

Religion is not, at its core, politically partisan. But too often religion becomes a political tool; and we see that on both sides of the aisle. That does not mean people of faith shouldn’t have strong convictions or feelings about political issues or shouldn’t vote one way or another; or that there is a moral equivalency between the political parties and it doesn’t matter which way we vote. Elections are important, and people of faith should be voting as citizens and by their most basic values.

But let’s be clear: On Nov. 6, neither a Republican nor Democratic victory will bring in the Kingdom of God. 

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If I Had a Million Dollars ...

Play along with me. If you had $1 million to spend to help stimulate the economy, what would you do? What would I do?

Option 1: 

Give the money to a billionaire, in the blind hope that the billionaire will pass along that million to his employees in some form. Or that he’ll spend it on a nice luxury product that (hopefully) will be an American product. Or that he won’t exercise the many loopholes that still exist and he’ll give that whole amount back to the U.S. government to spend. And of course, pray that the money won’t go into an offshore investment account somewhere in the Caribbean or Switzerland.

But what would Jesus do? What investments would Jesus make that I would want to make as well?

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What Is Left Unsaid in This Campaign

Much has been said by politicians and the press in this campaign. In three presidential debates alone, we've heard the two contenders for our nation's highest office speak of tax cuts, deficits, jobs, and the middle class literally hundreds of times. 

But much has also been left unsaid. In those same presidential debates, poverty was hardly featured and the word "inequality"didn't appear at all.

How can it be that the Holy Bible refers to helping the poor and vulnerable more than 2,000 times, yet two professing Christians running for president of the United States disregard this unholy scourge?

As we did not hear in the debates, nearly 50 million Americans are currently living in poverty – more than at any other time in our nation's history – and between a third and half of all Americans are within a few lost paychecks of the poverty line. When a quarter of all American jobs pay less than poverty line wages for a family of four, systemic poverty and inequality become more than abstract economics: they are moral and Constitutional concerns. 

So they should be treated by the men and women who aspire to lead our country.

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4 Things We Should Be Talking About Before Nov. 6

As the winds and the rain of Hurricane Sandy settle down, one bit of the aftermath is going to be another round of conversation about how climate change is affecting our world.

It’s not a conversation you have heard much of in the presidential campaign this year. Climate change is one of a quartet of issues that will have a huge impact on the future of this nation that have gotten short shrift by both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.

Poverty. Guns. . Drones. Climate change.

Bring up any of those issues and watch the candidates make a quick nod of concern and then scamper away from any specifics. Yet those issues will be with us long after Nov. 6, so it is incumbent on those of us in the faith community to be laying the groundwork now for how we will address them in the coming year.

That work has already begun, of course. The challenge is not to let the post-election exhaustion sweep away those concerns like they were potted palms on a pier in the midst of the hurricane.

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On Scripture: How to Vote like a Christian

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? Love God. Love your neighbor. The two greatest commandments encapsulate the core of faith and could — if we really were to trust God — transform the world.

Similarly then and with election day looming, voting should be an easy affair: people of faith should vote for the candidates whose policies would most embody a love of God and neighbor.

It seems so easy, but it isn’t if we are honest with ourselves and gracious towards those who disagree with our political persuasions. No single party or candidate has a monopoly on loving God and neighbor. Moreover, people of passionate faith and commitment to the values Jesus commends in Mark 12:28-34 so often can’t even agree on what these seemingly simple commandments mean.

Such disagreements about what it means to love God and neighbor are at the very center of so many of our political debates.

Some Christians will vote for President Obama, arguing that the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor is to build a stronger social net. Some Christians will vote for Mr. Romney, arguing that the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor is let loose the power of the market to create good-paying jobs for all. Some Christians will cast a ballot for Mr. Romney in support of his stance on abortion. Some Christians will cast a ballot for President Obama, noting that the availability and affordability of basic health care is a pro-life position.

All of us, if we are honest, will vote for a flawed candidate.

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Millennials' Reflections on the New American Values Survey

On Tuesday, the religion, policy, and politics project at Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hosted a forum to release PRRI's fourth American Values Survey (AVS), a large national, multi-issue survey on religion, values, and public policy.

We sent some of our interns to listen in on the findings. Here's what they thought about some of the issues raised by the report.

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Turn Down The Noise: Fast, Pray, Vote

Note from Jim Wallis: On October 25, Troy Jackson wrote this piece for God’s Politics. He called for a “media fast” on November 2 — today. I thought this was a compelling idea so I am putting it out there again. So Turn Down the Noise: Fast, Pray, and Vote — today or one of the days before the election. Read and heed.

I was a teenager when the rock and roll "documentary" Spinal Tap premiered. Like many in my generation, I love the scene when Spinal Tap member Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) proudly shares with reporter documentarian Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) that the band's special amp has dials that go up to eleven: 

"You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? ... Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?" Marty responds, "Put it up to eleven," and Nigel emphasizes the point: "Eleven. Exactly. One louder." 

This election season, I have come to believe that Nigel was on to something. You see, here in Ohio we have seen political advertising go "one louder" and receive "that extra push over the cliff." The NOISE is so deafening, I'm convinced the campaigns and super PACs have discovered a way to turn the dial all the way up to 11!

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Watch the Vote: The Ground Game

For the next 12 days it’s all about the ground game. With most voter registration deadlines passed, the fight against voter suppression has shifted focus from registration drives to calling banks, car-pools, and calls to vote early.

Bishop Dwayne Royster is Executive Director of P.O.W.E.R.  (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild), a 37-member interfaith organizing coalition in Philadelphia. Royster is also lead pastor of Living Waters United Church of Christ in Philadelphia. In a recent interview Bishop Royster explained just how vital the fight against voter suppression has been for the people of Philadelphia.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative, Philadelphia is the 6th poorest large city in America with a poverty rate that held at 25 percent in 2011. The unemployment rate is higher than the national average at 11.5 percent, and nearly half of all high school students engage in a fist fight at least once in the course of a year. Tensions are high in the City of Brotherly Love.

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Politics, Debates, and the Nones

Monday night, I hit a new low. During the last presidential debate, I found myself arguing via Facebook about faith and politics … with a fellow pastor’s wife. Let’s just say, I managed to break each of Eugene Cho’s 10 commandments with my snark.

She who shall not be named suggested that anyone willing to support a certain candidate must be blind, stupid, or foolish. When I made it clear that I have prayed and reviewed the facts and would be supporting said candidate, I was told that my “prayers must not be backed by the Word of God.” I was then lambasted for my so-called "unbiblical" views. Oh, no she didn’t! 

Aside from feeling personally attacked, I was more frustrated that this kind of bad theology remains in the church. It’s no wonder that more and more people of faith are identifying as the “nones”— or none of the above when it comes to religious beliefs. Who wants to be associated with Christianity — Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. — and the Church when they are often dominated by such judgmental people who dare to speak for God? 

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Values of a Public Faith (Part 2)

Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HEREFrom part one: 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

6. The Poor

Value: The poor — above all those without adequate food or shelter — deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)

Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).

Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be? 

Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?

 
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Watch the Vote: Is the Voting Rights Act Still Needed?

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was the third in a triad of amendments crafted to protect the rights of recently emancipated African Americans. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to people who were once enslaved, regardless of race. The 15th Amendment, which was passed by Congress February 26, 1869 and ratified February 3, 1870, reads: 

Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude —

Section 2.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It took nearly a century of blood, terror, and tears, but in 1965 President Lyndon B Johnson and the 89th U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965; legislation to enforce the 15th Amendment. Finally.

One year more than a decade later, in 1976, I walked hand-in-hand with my mother trudging up and down city blocks lined with row houses in our West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia. Each time we knocked and a neighbor came to the door, my mom, who served as the judge of elections for our neighborhood, asked: “Are you registered to vote?” If they weren’t, out came the clipboard.

I didn’t understand the legacy we were a part of that day, but with each sweep of the clipboard we were brandishing a non-violent weapon in the long fight of our ancestors to be and stay free. For 100 years — that’s five generations — they faced down the terror of burning crosses, threats to life and livelihood, and the elaborate labyrinth of Jim Crow voting laws — all set up to suppress their votes, all set up to crush their ability to exercise dominion

So, when the Supreme Court announced recently that one of the cases it would take up in this session was a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the hairs rose on the back of my neck.

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Meet the Nones: Politically Active

Editor's Note: Sojourners has launched this new blog series to help shed light on the nation's latest "religious" affiliation. Go HERE to read their stories. Or EMAIL US to share your own.

PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has launched a new mini-series on the rise of the unaffiliated. Go HERE to read more about this week's epidsode.

Watch None of the Above: Political Implications on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

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Values of a Public Faith (Part 1)

Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. There are three basic elements of choosing a candidate for public office responsibly:

  1. Values we hope the candidate will stand for and the order of priority among them (which requires of us knowledge of faith as a whole, rather than just a few favorite topics, and knowledge of how faith applies to contemporary life)
  2. Ways in which and means by which these values are best implemented in any given situation (which requires of us a great deal of knowledge about how the world actually functions and what policies lead to what outcomes — for instance, whether it would be an economically wise decision to try to reintroduce the gold standard)
  3. Capacity — ability and determination — to contribute to the implementation of these values (which requires of us knowledge of the track record of the candidate)

Most important are the values. As I identify each value, I will (1) name the basic content of the value, (2) give a basic rationale for holding it, (3) suggest some parameters of legitimate debate about it, and (4) identify a key question for the candidate. 

I write as a Christian theologian, from the perspective of my own understanding of the Christian faith. Whole books have been written on each of these values, explicating and adjudicating complex debates. In providing a rationale for a given value, I only take one or two verses from the Bible to back up my position, more to flag the direction in which a rationale would need to go than, in fact, to strictly offer such a rationale. 

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Just Peace Theory and Foreign Policy

Just peace theory begins with the idea that peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building is a day-by-blessed-day proposition. Unlike just war theory, it does not begin when violent conflict is imminent. There are 10 just peacemaking practices that have a record of success. A just peace foreign policy employs these practices for the purposes of both national security and of international peace.

The 10 just peacemaking practices are: support nonviolent direct action; take independent initiatives to reduce threat; use cooperative conflict resolution; acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice, and seek repentance and forgiveness; advance democracy, human rights, and interdependence; foster just and sustainable economic development; work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system; strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights; reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade; encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary association. (Just Peacemaking: the new paradigm for the ethics of peace and war Glen H. Stassen editor)

Cooperation, interdependence, human rights, and democracy are important elements of just peacemaking practices. I say this is a power-with, not a power-over model of foreign policy. This is not a model of weakness, but one of strength. The strength comes from building relationships and partnerships with other nations on the basis of mutual respect.

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Ohio 'Voter Fraud' Billboards a 'Perversion of Truth'

Fraud is a strong word. Webster's defines fraud as deceit and trickery, and an "intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another person to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right." Fraud is a serious matter.

The word "fraud" is on billboards around Ohio. I started noticing this a few weeks ago, when I was driving through a working class African American community in Cleveland and noticed a billboard that read: "Voter Fraud is a Felony: 3 1/2 years & $10,000 fine." 

The red-and-black sign is accented by a large gavel in the lower right hand corner. A few days later, I noticed a similar billboard in Dayton, and late last week saw two such billboards near my home in urban Cincinnati. In an election season that has seen more jockeying around voter fraud and voter suppression than any in my memory, these billboards caught my eye.

Voter fraud sure sounds horrible, and based on these billboards in Ohio, one would imagine that it is an epidemic. After all, one of the hallmarks of American democracy is our fair and free elections.

But the billboards quickly created dissonance for me based on a recent meeting I and other pastors from Ohio Prophetic Voices enjoyed with Ohio Secretary of State John Husted. During the meeting, Husted told us that voter fraud is extremely rare and almost nonexistent. Statistics back up Husted's contention. 

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Young Evangelicals and the 'Nones'

The Pew Forum recently released a new study, “Nones on the Rise.” This was not about my friends called the “Nuns On The Bus,” who just did a tour around the country focusing on social justice. Rather, It details the concerning trend of those in our country who have given up on religion altogether. 

Social scientists tell us that adults, especially young adults, are increasingly disconnected from our established religious traditions. “Nones,” the Pew forum calls them, have grown from 15 percent of U.S. adults to 20 percent in only five years. One-in-three adults under 30 check the religious affiliation box, “None of the above” or “Unaffiliated.” Despite the fact that 68 percent of nones believe in God, only 5 percent of them attend church once or more a week, and 22 percent attend monthly/yearly. (Learn more about this group in our blog series Meet the Nones.)

But the focus on the next generation is not all bad news. On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of moderating a diverse panel of seven young evangelicals. Each had unique experiences and backgrounds. Some self-identified as liberal, while others self-identified as conservative. But those political ideologies could not separate their core evangelical principles. 

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Sustainability: God's Gift and Charge

God created the earth to produce every thing Adam and then Eve — and then their issue, and then all of us — would need. In the beginning, the garden needed little tending, but — due to a rather fortunate fall — eventually Adam and Eve, as his helpmate, and their children and the issue of generations had to toil the earth to pull from the garden those things God intended to meet their needs. 

Along the way, progress was made in the form of extensions of the garden bounds, the distribution of water and other nutrients, applications of healthful foods and herbs, techniques for every aspect of garden production. A community grew from a couple who worked hard as stewards, first out of penance and then, I think, out of love for the land provided to sustain them and for each other as they worked together. This is the story of how sustainability came to be. 

To simplify: God created the Heavens and Earth. He designed a glorious garden and put in it everything needed to make that garden productive: plants, water, clean air, soil, enrichers (bugs, worms, life, decay), animals, and the Sun, the first and last fuel. And, finally, He made man and woman. 

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Thou Shalt Follow These 10 Commandments for the Presidential Election

The presidential election is only weeks away… and it’s getting ugly out there. I mean … really ugly.

And before you think I’m just talking about the political process, the political parties, or the respective candidates, I was actually talking about you, me, us, and them … the people. And by people, I’m also especially talking about Christians.

Sometimes, I feel it would be appropriate to label how some Christians engage the presidential election season as “Christians Gone Wild."

Since there’s sure to be drama this week and next following the debates —  and each day leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6, and likely some weeks afterward — I thought I’d share with you my 10 Commandments of the Election Season for Christians in hopes that it might speak some balance, sense, and perspective to any readers, not just during this election season but thereafter; not just in this country but in any country.

Why else am I sharing this?

Because I really want you to still respect yourself the morning after the election season.
Because I really want your friends to still respect you, too.

Know what I mean?

So, here are my 10 Commandments of the Election Season

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After Romney Meeting, Billy Graham Website Scrubs Mormon ‘Cult’ Reference

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed language labeling Mormonism a “cult” from its website after the famed preacher met with Republican nominee Mitt Romney last week and pledged to help his presidential campaign.

The removal came after a gay rights group reported that the “cult” reference remained online even after Graham all but endorsed Romney, a Mormon, on Oct. 11. 

Ken Barun, the BGEA’s chief of staff, confirmed the removal on Tuesday.

“Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Barun said in a statement. “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”

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