The Common Good

Sojourners

A Kinder, Gentler, More Radical Monotheism?

Radical monotheism. It sounds like a frightening term, when there are fundamentalist Christians and Muslims around the world and here inside our own borders, religious folk who want to turn our nation-states into theocracies under gods crafted according to their own images. When we think of radical monotheism, we hear, “My god is bigger than your god. No, wait: Your god’s a fake!”

But theologian H. Richard Niebuhr proposed a kinder, gentler, more generous idea of radical monotheism. He was writing between the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the clash between two “social gods” — capitalism and Marxism — bloodied the globe:

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Christians: No Need to 'Reclaim' Christmas

Are you put out that a community nativity display was nixed by a city council? Did a checkout clerk greet you with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? Maybe Christmas music annoys you when the Advent fast hasn't even arrived?

Not me. I am not compelled to "reclaim" or "rescue" Christmas from the many who ignore and the few who despise its magnificent origins.

How can I be anxious or offended? I am in too much awe of its startling truth: that a baby is God, gasping for air, clasping for mother's milk, flailing his small limbs in a feed trough; taking on my frailty, contingency, vulnerability, that I might partake in his everlasting nature.

The baby is now Lord of all things visible and invisible, forever "one of us," still bearing his now glorified, nail-scarred flesh at the Father's side, making all things new for all persons, hallowing the far-flung cosmos — matter's maker now made matter, redeeming every atom and every stoney heart. This reality overpowers me with its brilliant mystery.

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Anglicans Vow to Vote Again on Allowing Women Bishops

CANTERBURY, England — The Church of England plans to rush through legislation to consecrate women bishops after last week’s surprising defeat at the church's General Synod in London.


The church's Archbishops’ Council ended two days of closed-door meetings on Wednesday (Nov. 28), and said a plan to allow women bishops needs to be "restarted" when General Synod reconvenes in July. Church leaders originally said the issue could not be reopened until 2015.

The 19-member council acts as the standing committee of the three-tier General Synod made up of bishops, clergy and laity.

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Court Says Catholic Businessman Can Fight Contraception Mandate

ST. LOUIS — A federal appeals court on Wednesday temporarily blocked the enforcement of the Obama administration's contraception mandate while a Catholic business owner appeals a lower court's ruling that tossed out his suit.

Opponents of the law said that it was the first time that an appeals court had weighed in on the issue, which has spawned multiple suits across the country, and called it a “significant victory.”

“The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government,” said Francis Manion, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, one of the lawyers representing Frank O'Brien.

In a two-sentence order issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to grant O'Brien's company a delay while the appeal is heard.

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Grover’s Gofers: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Soon after George W. Bush won his first presidential election, Washington lobbyist, Grover Norquist, helped craft the tax cut legislation that would go down in history as “the Bush-era tax cuts.” Among other things, the legislation dropped top marginal tax rates from 39.6 percent to 35 percent and was written to expire on Dec. 31, 2010.

In 2010, Democrats tried to put forward two separate packages of legislation that would extend the cuts, first for earnings up to $250,000, then for earnings up to $1 million. The Democratic-led House passed both bills, but Republican filibuster blocked both in the Senate. President Barack Obama resolved the stalemate by extending all the Bush tax cuts for two more years.

Here’s the irony: Republicans claim to hate deficits, but the facts are clear. If extended indefinitely, the Bush-era tax cuts will account for nearly half of America’s budget deficit by the year 2019.

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Secession Theology Runs Deep in American Religious, Political History

Corruption has gone too far. The righteous must break away. Hope now rests with a holy remnant that will honor foundational texts. 

The message sounds familiar. A church schism? No, mounting calls for secession from the United States.

Since President Barack Obama won re-election, more than 750,000 Americans have petitioned the White House website to let their respective states secede, from Alaska to Iowa to Maryland and Vermont. Those leading the charge are framing it, observers say, in terms that suggest a deep-seated religious impulse for purity-through-separation is flaring up once again.

But this time, it’s playing out on a political stage.

“Today's secessionist movements are just the latest example of a long parade of breakaway groups [in American history] seeking to restore some lost ideal,” said Peter J. Thuesen, professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The problem is that the ideal is invariably a mirage.”

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Falling off the Fiscal Cliff: 5 Things You Need to Know

Now that the election is over, policymakers and the media have refocused their attention on the looming budget battles in Washington. In January, a variety of tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect unless Congress and President Barack Obama agree on a plan to avoid what has been deemed “the fiscal cliff.”

As the country braces for another fiscal showdown in the nation’s capitol, here are five things you need to know on the issue likely to dominate the news over the next several months. 

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    The Beautiful Stupidity of Writing (Part 1)

    I’ve been asked how I knew I was called to be a writer. For me, calling is fairly easy to recognize. If the thought of doing something fills you with equal parts joy and terror, it’s probably a calling. 

    There’s more to it than that, I suppose, since the idea of buying a new Tesla sports car fills me with both feelings too, mostly because my wife, Amy, would kill me. There are other elements, like the conviction that our calling should feel something of an identifiable need in the world, and that it should call on gifts we have in a way that is life-giving not just to others, but joyful and life-affirming for us as well.

    But the joy and terror thing is a pretty good sign you’re on the right track.

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    Starting the 'Christmas Tithe'

    Religion is far too judgmental. Surveys show that many people think that, especially a new generation of young people who — more than ever before — are checking the “none of the above” religious affiliation box. 

    I get it. But religious leaders tend to be judgmental about many of the wrong things; they are not making moral judgments on the important questions. So I am going to be judgmental, as a religious leader, about something I just read.

    A recent Harris International and World Vision poll showed that Americans plan to spend more this Christmas season on consumer gifts than they did last year, but give less to charities and ministries that help the poor. Many say they are less likely to give a charitable gift as a holiday present — a drop from 51 percent to 45 percent.

    So we will have more Christmas presents this year, but less help for the poor. While retailers, economists, and politicians may rejoice at the news about higher consumer spending this year, the lower levels of support for the ones Jesus called “the least of these” should legitimately bring some moral judgments from the faith community. 

    Indeed, the Matthew 25 scripture that this text is taken from is one of the few and most judgmental passages in all the New Testament. About some things, Jesus was judgmental. The Gospel clearly says that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, is how we treat Jesus. That’s is pretty judgmental, especially when you go on to read what will happen to those who ignore Jesus in this way. 

    But rather than just being judgmental, let’s do something about it. Let’s start “A Christmas Tithe.”

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