Phil Haslanger is pastor at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. He spent most of his adult life working as a journalist for The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, and he still writes a monthly column there on the intersection of faith and politics.
His life has straddled those worlds of religion and politics for a long time and Sojourners has been a source of both inspiration and challenge to him over the decades. As a journalist, he served as president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (now the Association of Opinion Journalists) in 2002 and is currently a board member for the Religion News Service.
He was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 2007 and is active in state and regional denominational activities. In the Madison area, he has been particularly active in interfaith work, interracial work and mobilizing faith communities around issues of domestic violence.
He is married to Ellen Reuter, a spiritual director and artist, and he has four grown children scattered from coast to coast.
Posts By This Author
God of Love Wouldn’t Embrace An Arsenal
So you might think that religious folks for the most part are not big fans of guns, and for the most part you’d be right.
And then you run across these comments from a California legislator, who said guns are “essential to living the way God intended.” That was Rep. Tim Donnelly, who told a Christian radio show Jan. 16 that guns “are used to defend human life. They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom.”
Well, yes, guns are used that way. They are used in lots of other ways too — to kill people we don’t like, to hold up banks, to commit suicide. It’s harder to wrap those under the banner of God’s intent.
For Christians, it’s hard to square the deification of guns with Jesus telling his followers to put away their swords, even as he was being arrested and led off to death.
That’s why a wide coalition of religious voices are speaking out in the great national debate about how we can live up to the Second Amendment’s call for having a “well-regulated militia.” Notice the words “well-regulated.”
As the Very Rev. Gary Hall, the new dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., said two days after the horrific shootings at Newtown: “I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby.”
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.
Standing Up for the Vulnerable: A Community Response to 'The Line'
On a conference call with people from across the nation who held screenings of The Line, you could hear frustrations mounting from people struggling with the challenge of reducing poverty in America.
How do you engage people in rural areas, asked one woman. Why were Native Americans left out, asked a man from Minnesota. A priest who has worked on housing the homeless for a lifetime expressed the exasperation of someone who has devoted much time and seen little progress.
The battle against poverty is a long slog. That’s why it was good to hear some of the comments of folks gathered last week at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wis. (just outside Madison) after the opening night showing of The Line.
How Should Churches Address the 'Nones?'
OK, church folks. Fasten your seat belts. But don’t hunker down.
There’s a new study out this week that shows that one-in-five Americans has no religious affiliation. Not Baptist, not Catholic, not Lutheran, not Jewish, not Muslim.
For those of us in the world of organized religion, this just adds more data to a trend we have seen accelerating over the last decade.
In 2007, about 15 percent of the adult population in the U.S. described itself as unaffiliated with any religion. In a comparable survey done this summer and released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number hit 20 percent. And if you just focus on those under 30, the religiously unaffiliated constitute one third of that group.
Among those of us who are professional religious types, this is the kind of data that can prompt a lot of gloomy introspection about relevance and a lot of finger pointing at those who are not interested in the same kinds of religious expression that we are.
Let me suggest there’s a less gloomy and less judgmental way to think about this data.
Mourning With the Sikh Community
First, there were the cryptic news bulletins on TV. There had been a shooting at a Sikh temple in a Milwaukee suburb called Oak Creek. Then the details began to emerge. Six people were dead, others critically wounded, including a police officer. The shooter, who had a long history with the white power movement, was shot dead by another police officer, bringing the toll to seven.
And all around Wisconsin, people watched in horror as we learned of yet another mass murder, this one in our backyard, this one shattering the tranquility of a Sunday morning worship service.
There are not a lot of Sikhs in Wisconsin – about 3,000 in the southeastern part of the state, perhaps 250 or so in the Madison area where I live. Yet people everywhere shared the horror and the sadness of that moment.
In the Milwaukee area, a group called the Light Brigade — which had held up illuminated letters with political slogans during the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker earlier this year — stood in Cathedral Square with a simple, powerful message in lights: “Wisconsin Weeps.”
Nuns on the Bus Hits Rep. Paul Ryan's Wisconsin Office
When the Nuns on the Bus pulled up in front of Rep. Paul Ryan’s home office in Janesville, Wis., earlier this week, they were challenging the theological rationale he has been using for his budget plan that has become the economic banner for the Republican Party.
But they were also showing how people can hold strong opinions, get those opinions into the public arena and still engage adversaries in respectful ways.
In the process, they called on citizens to get engaged in the same way.
“I urge you, urge you, I beg you, Janesville, in this election cycle, please, don’t be a spectator,” Sr. Simone Campbell pleaded with a crowd in the courthouse park as their visit to the southern Wisconsin city came to an end.
Protestant Preaching Prof on Solidarity with U.S. Catholic Nuns
The crowd in an Atlanta church on Wednesday night was mostly Protestants, mostly preachers.
The speaker was a professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City – one of the icons of the mainstream Protestant world.
Yet Barbara Lundblad’s message was a call for the 1,000 or so people gathered for the annual Festival of Homiletics to “stand with these courageous Roman Catholic sisters.” She was referring, of course, to the recent crackdown by the Vatican on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization that represents about 80 percent of the nuns in the U.S.
Lundblad drew on the famous story of Mary, having just learned she was pregnant with Jesus, visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also improbably pregnant.
The Gospel of Luke says that Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and visited Elizabeth.” Lundblad pondered why Luke felt it necessary to put Zechariah in the story at this point. She let that hang unanswered.
Then she noted that when Elizabeth saw Mary, the baby leapt in her womb in recognition of Jesus – a sign that women often come to theology through the experiences of their bodies. Lundblad said wryly, “Surely Elizabeth would not have been allowed to testify before the Congressional committee on contraception” – an all-male committee with all male witnesses, all representing church groups that do not allow the ordination of women.
The Red Balloon of Social Justice: Wisconsin One Year Later
Now we are at Valentine’s Day a year later. For many months last spring, a solitary red heart balloon floated just under the dome of the Capitol. It became a gentle symbol of this powerful people’s uprising.
The red heart balloon can serve as a reminder of how God’s Spirit blows whichever way it will, but that God’s Spirit is a spirit of justice and of compassion. As Bishop Burnside said, voices of faith need both a vocabulary of love and a vocabulary of justice as we move into the highly-charged months ahead.
The Wee Occupation of LaVeta, Colorado
It was not exactly like the occupations of Wall Street or Boston, of Oakland or Seattle.
Rod House’s “wee encampment” was a one-man occupation on the library grounds in LaVeta, Colorado, population 906, some 65 miles southwest of Pueblo. He was so horrified by what he saw happening to protesters in other cities he was at wit’s end.
“I’ve got to do something, but I’m 71 years old,” House said.
So on Black Friday, that day that represents consumer society on steroids, House, an Air Force veteran, pitched his tent on the library grounds, determined to make his own stand for a better world. He was there simply as individual standing against the power of money that has corrupted politics.
Observing the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 by Sharing Faith
The email came just a few days before two Jewish rabbis and two Muslim friends joined two of us Christian ministers for a Sunday morning service. This service was part of a national event called Faith Shared.
The Faith Community and the Wisconsin State Budget
Libya, Just War, and Augustine
People of Faith United in Wisconsin
Stepping Back from Bethlehem
Advent Echoes: Checkpoints and Childbirth on a West Bank Winter Night
Dan Brown's Lost Symbol and the Lure of Secret Knowledge
A Jewish-American Advocate Against the Injustice of Occupation
Just the basic facts about Anna Baltzer make her a provocative presence. She's a 30-year-old Jewish-American woman who is arguing passionately for justice for Palestinians.