This September marks the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, one of the most intense natural disasters to hit the Caribbean in over a decade. Recent studies estimate that of the 3,057 people killed by last year’s storms, 2,975 of those lives lost were Puerto Rican. These numbers continue to grow as the failing infrastructure on the island claims more casualties. The media has tried to unravel the causes of these deaths and scrutinize the failed deliveries of humanitarian aid that never reached residents. Corruption has been revealed at every level. Still, few have questioned the policies that enable it.
America is still led by an apathetic majority void of compassion, empathy, and sympathy. A majority unable and unwilling to confess their biases, hate, phobia, and toxicity, making themselves apathetic to the reality of African Americans. From their perspective intentional and toxic discrimination, racism, and police practices is not their problem; they have no role in this plight and degradation.
The more I listened, the queasier I felt because I had forgotten just how powerful and foundational the rhetoric of hell is in creating a spiritual and political consensus among Christians. Whoever can help capture more territory from the devil and his army is the candidate to vote for. In the language of spiritual warfare, one candidate’s individual behavior pales in comparison to the millions of unborn souls that are saved.
The rift between rich and poor runs deeply through the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. A recent Pew study reveals that Asians, as a whole, “rank as the highest earning racial and ethnic group in the U.S.” But the top 10 percent of AAPI persons earn 10.7 times the amount of those in the bottom 10 percent.
MacArthur, at least as I remember him, is not a bitter old man. But he sure sounds like one in his blog series, “Social Injustice to the Gospel.” In fact he sounds exactly like my grandfather who repeatedly says, “I don’t see why everything has to be about race all the time."
The city of Antioch — in modern-day Turkey — was beautiful and bustling in the fourth century. Various emperors and wealthy patrons donated money to build a colonnaded street through the middle of town. Well-to-do citizens decorated their marble halls with colorful frescoes and statues. They demonstrated their wealth by plating their walls and rooftops with gold. Even the city’s cathedral was called the “Golden House.” It would eventually seat a Patriarch, John, nicknamed “Chrysostom” or “Golden Mouth.”
This past February, as we have done for years, my daughters and I loaded a crockpot of taco meat, all the fixings, serving utensils, and dessert into the trunk of my SUV. My two busy teens claimed they had too much homework to stay long, so they drove a different car to the nearby town where we’d eat with homeless families.
“They shall not die in vain,” then, is very different from the concept embedded in “our thoughts and prayers are with them.” The former resounds as a call to action, while the latter connotes resigned quietism. Acquiescence, of course, is not the message that Bush, King, or Wilson intended when they used the phrase. They meant to inspire their listeners to make a change, to reinvigorate their commitment to a cause. They were exhorting people to ensure that the lives of the victims would not be lost in vain. In this version, redemption has not yet occurred. It requires further action on our part.
Crazy Rich Asians begets notions of Christianity in hyper-capitalist countries, satirizing Christianity by showing it as a tool for the wealthy to cozy up with those even more wealthy, accruing large doses of social capital with sprinkles of gospel. The movie, coming from author Kevin Kwan’s personal experience, thus provides a damning window into looking at how Christianity functions today in the world’s richest countries.
The close relationship between American evangelicals and Russia has lately been discussed widely in the news media . In particular, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint in July against a Russian woman, Maria Butina, for trying to use the National Prayer Breakfast, a star-studded affair, as a “back channel of communication” with prominent American religious and political leaders.
Can someone who owns 10 yachts enter the kingdom of God? I’m not sure. Only God can judge a soul. What I can say is that it’s unjust for billionaires—including the wealthiest Christians in human history—to amass obscene profits while gutting the public goods and social safety nets that help ordinary people. Capitalism is so deeply ingrained in our Christianity that it is the default. Yet, this arrangement is neither natural nor inevitable.
In One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America , historian Kevin Kruse highlights how business leaders partnered with Christian libertarians in the 1940s and 1950s to demonize the welfare state and elevate an unfettered market. They associated the New Deal with theft against business owners and with deification of the state. Under the banner of freedom, preachers such as Billy Graham and media moguls such as Cecile B. DeMille linked Christianity with free enterprise.
Right before our broken vessel image the psalmist has this to say: “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak … I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends— those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten as though I were dead.” (Ps. 31:9-12) For those of us who have experienced our lives in a thousand pieces tossed with wild abandon across the floor, we can see our own cries and groans in these heart-wrenching words from our psalmist. We know how our eyes can barely open because of how many tears have been shed. We know the groans that we moan day after miserable day. We know the weakness that happens where we can barely stand. We feel the loss of friend after friend because it all got too sad. We know how we are the forgotten ones where we wonder if anyone will remember us again. “I have become like broken pottery.
Knowing that so many more suffer from inhumane incarceration, I joined with more than 20 interfaith clergy from around Oregon and got arrested “for failure to comply” by sitting in a prayer circle in front of the main gates of our local ICE field office. We were gathered with hundreds of others, lifting up stories of those still detained and separated from families, singing songs of lament and joy, and praying that justice would prevail.
On June 28, 1894, the United States government designated the first Monday in September as a holiday to commemorate the achievements and contributions of American workers. Christians, like other people of faith and conscience, have a complicated relationship with employment, exploitation, and our global political economy. We should explore what it could mean to forge an economy that more adequately respects—and protects—various forms of labor than our current socioeconomic arrangement of racialized capitalism.
Since taking office, President Trump and his administration have strongly championed religious liberty, but only of a particular kind. At this week’s White House dinner for evangelical leaders, Trump emphasized that the U.S. is a “nation of believers” and promised to protect religious liberty.
Pope Francis concluded his recent trip to Ireland with a Mass at the World Meeting of Families, during which he called on families to “become a source of encouragement for others.” What sort of encouragement does he envision, I wonder.
I confess it is so easy, and tempting, for me to become exorcised over Donald Trump’s daily deceits, narcissism, and shredding of public virtue. But a deeper threat looms, begun many decades before. Humanity is destroying the integrity of God’s creation. The most flagrant and catastrophic assaults are now altering the globe’s climate in ways that already are impacting the world’s most vulnerable people and threatening us all. President Trump’s policies are aimed at liberating constraints on the burning of more coal and carbon, come hell or high water.
There is a soulweariness shared by these ecclesiastical cousins on both sides of the Atlantic that pervades in the face of so much pain from the original insult, the resulting denials, obfuscation, and general mishandling; and, ultimately, the hope — that some measure of justice might be achieved and true healing commenced — repeatedly dashed.
What does it profit to gain the whole world but to lose your own soul? —Matthew 16:26. Is there anything more applicable today than these familiar words of a poor Palestinian Jew who conquered sin, injustice, and death on our behalf? We should take note that our savior had a consistent habit of critiquing and challenging the hypocrisy and corruption that he saw displayed by the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of his time.