politicians

People of God v. Citizens United

WHEN YOU GIVE a luncheon, Jesus says, don’t invite your rich neighbors; instead invite the poor, the vulnerable, the outcast. I was reminded of Jesus’ words recently when President Obama came to Boston. Local foodies celebrated his stop at a hip restaurant. However, only the “rich neighbors” were invited: Thirty guests who had paid up to $33,400 each in political contributions were given the opportunity to lunch with the president.

Amazingly, a $33,000 lunch is pocket change for those now entitled, thanks to Citizens United, to the ears of our politicians. In the 2012 election, one multibillionaire spent $150 million to defeat Obama. Thirty-two super PAC donors, “giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200,” stated a 2013 report that examined Federal Elections Commission data.

In 2010, the Supreme Court concluded that corporations are “people” with First Amendment rights to free speech, opening the floodgates for unaccountable money to pour into state and federal elections. In essence, the Citizens United ruling put democracy up for sale. In the “marketplace” of political representation, almost all Americans are outbid and locked out.

Now millions of Americans are working for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United—and they’re gaining traction.

Darn It!

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What 'Normal Politicians' Should Look Like

JolieNY and Krzysztof Kuczyk/Flickr

Aung San Suu Kyi delivering a lecture and street art of her. JolieNY and Krzysztof Kuczyk/Flickr

The 2014 election-year posturing forces me back to November, 2010, when a living parable walked into freedom after 15 years of house arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma/Myanmar's opposition leader, waved to her supporters and awakened our stagnant conscience.

Suu Kyi ranks among the elite of real-life parables. "I should be like them," we typically think. "Everyone should." They're the true norm. Saint Francis was one such parable. So was Gandhi. So were Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn. Pope Francis may be another. They shame our insipid, glitz-and-glitter leaders, whether they're overpaid CEOs or I'll-say-anything-to-get-votes candidates. They show us that politics is more than winning elections and business is more than making money.

In fact, they shame us all. We reward the attack ads. We elect the politicians and hire the CEOs. We diminish human beings to mere consumers and interest groups and file them into marketing categories. We breed our rant-and-rave culture and turn it loose.

Pope Francis: A ‘Good Christian’ Prays for Bad Politicians

Pope Francis in Brazil, via RNS/Wikimedia Commons: http://bit.ly/1aSAgKu

Wading into ongoing debates over religion and politics, Pope Francis on Sunday gently chided Christians to pray for politicians, saying “a Christian who does not pray for his leaders is not a good Christian.”

The pope’s remarks during a two-hour closed-door meeting of Roman clergy did not touch on more controversial issues like the separation between church and state, abortion, or refusing Communion to Catholic politicians who are not in sync with church teachings.

Instead, Francis quoted St. Paul, who urged prayer “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.”

Syria Is About People, Not Politics

Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Syrian Refugees sit in the arrival hall after arriving at Hanover Airport on Sept. 11 in Germany. Alexander Koerner/Getty Image

I have been literally disgusted at how “politics” has dominated the media’s response and coverage of the Syria crisis. Millions of lives are at stake, as is the security of one of the most critical regions of the world. But all many of our media pundits can talk about is how this affects politics — i.e., how this could weaken President Obama’s second term or what this might mean for Obamacare.

I heard the same media blathering when I was in London last week when the Syria chemical weapons crisis broke through. “Does the vote in Parliament hurt the Prime Minister and help his opposition?” “Is the Labor Party now up, and the Tory down?”

Who cares?!

Experiments in Love

Boston bombing suspects, via FBI

Boston bombing suspects, via FBI

When I got off the plane at O’Hare Airport in Chicago on my way home to Boston on April 15, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Televisions blaring everywhere showed my beloved city at her premier event of the year, the Boston Marathon. Everyone knows the rest of the story.

“Is this for real? How can this be?” I asked, unable at first to face the reality of what had occurred. Feelings of fear and anger followed quickly on the heels of the denial.

Leaders responded quickly: the mayor, the governor, the president. “Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice,” promised President Barack Obama.

What is justice? Vengeful words immediately spewed from talk shows and bloggers’ keyboards. “We must catch them alive and make them suffer as much as possible. That will pay them back for what they did,” spewed those who equate justice with revenge.

Of course, violence begets more violence. Gandhi put it succinctly: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Paul exhorted the Romans, “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. . . Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. (Romans 12:17,19.)”

On Scripture: After the Chaos Ends

Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

The book of Jeremiah straddles the most momentous event of Israel’s history: the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile of its leaders to Babylon (586 B.C.E.). In the first half of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet announces that God is furious with the people of Judah, in particular its leaders, because they have reneged on the covenant they made with God through Moses. They have not taken care of the poor, and they have not lived according to the stringent demands to worship God alone.

Not surprisingly, the leaders do not want to hear Jeremiah’s critiques of their ways of doing business. No politician wants to look weak – even before a god. According to Jeremiah, the leaders of Judah have prioritized – not the building of an ethical community – but their own comfort and position. Their desire to maintain their own power and influence has trumped everything. And these politicians have justified their behavior so many times and in so many ways, they don’t even recognize how far they have fallen from the ideal that guided the building of the nation.

The Hand Is Quicker Than the Eye

Magician photo: InnervisionArt / Shutterstock.com

Magician photo: InnervisionArt / Shutterstock.com

“The hand is quicker than the eye” is a traditional proverb and organizing principle of every practicing magician. There is no actual “magic” involved in a magician’s act – it is pure deception and distraction.

A high degree of finesse and showmanship combine to make appealing, mysterious and captivating.

Learning how a trick is done ruins the act by deflating the anticipation and element of surprise.

As much as we’d rather not think so, politics is very much the same.

6 Suggestions for Christians for Engaging in Politics

Democrat / Republican sign, eurobanks / Shutterstock.com

Democrat / Republican sign, eurobanks / Shutterstock.com

With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions having taken place over the last two weeks, we can officially say that we’re entering the election season (i.e., that time when the general public begins to pay attention).

A couple of friends who pastor churches in non-D.C. parts of the country asked me if we feel the need to address politics at The District Church, being in the very belly of the beast (my words, not theirs). Specifically, they were asking: Given the intense polarization and often-unproductive arguing that we see around us, even in the church, about the need to address how we interact with those who disagree with us.

So far, we haven’t needed to. In our church community, we have Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and yes, even people who don’t care about politics; we have Hill staffers, White House staffers, activists, advocates, lobbyists, policy wonks, and more — and we’ve all come together as the body of Christ, recognizing that our allegiance is first to Jesus before any party or even country.

Even so, every four years (or every two, if you pay attention to mid-terms; or all the time, if you’re even more politically engaged), posts about politics pop up with increasing frequency on social media, eliciting often-furious back-and-forths that usually end up doing nothing more than reminding each side how right they are and how stupid the other side is.

So I figured I’d try to offer a few suggestions on how we can engage with one another on matters of politics in healthy ways.

A Season of Civility in Response to Campaign Incivility

photo   © 2012   DonkeyHotey , Flickr / Wylio.com

photo © 2012 DonkeyHotey , Flickr / Wylio.com

"In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve." – Alexis de Tocqueville

With the Democratic and Republican national conventions behind us, and an increase of political campaigning in front of us, we recognize the timeliness of the above quotation from Alexis de Tocquville. In a democracy the citizens choose their government, thus we indeed receive the government we deserve. As Lisa Sharon Harper recently stated:

"In its purest form, politics is simply how we organize our life together in society…in a Democratic Republic like our own, the [people are] ultimately responsible for the policies, laws, and structures that guide daily life. As we vote for candidates and ballot measures, we shape our society."

With such thoughts in mind, we affirm the collective ability to “shape our society," but we do so not only through the ability to choose our candidates and pass ballot measures, but we also possess the capacity to shape the process of how our leaders and policies are selected. In other words, while many complain about the high quantity and low quality of political campaigns, we are confronted with a harsh reality: In a democracy, we get the political campaigns we deserve. 

The Politics of Poverty

Save America photo, Andrew Rich / Getty Images

Save America photo, Andrew Rich / Getty Images

I’ll be honest … I’m a coward. During the political season I find myself avoiding certain conversations that I do care about. Mind you, I do have opinions. My wife would say I have an opinion on everything. Faith and social issues are extremely important to me, and I have spent a lot of years studying and following the trends and their impact on people I care a lot about. I am especially focused on issues that affect the poor, mentally ill, unemployed, addicted, and homeless. Topics of Medicare, unemployment benefits, the death penalty, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, state and federal budget and deficits, immigration, and foreign policy all matter to me. I do have opinions! (And I vote!)

Yet during the final months of America’s presidential street fight, I tend to lay low. I know that one simple conversation with almost anyone can turn volatile and unleash the beast within them. If educated congressmen, presidential candidates, governors, and even local representatives can be as nasty and polarized as they have publicly shown, there is little reason to honestly discuss an issue, since the potential for alienation and misrepresentation is at an all-time high. No one seems to be listening, having crystallized their presuppositions with a crafty skill of spinning any topic into their agenda. Ironically, our children are watching adult leaders model behavior we wouldn’t let them get away with. 

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