In the Wake of ISIS Terror: Mourning, Lament, Discernment

If we count up the number of people killed or wounded in the ISIS Paris slaughter last weekend, and add all their families and friends, the level of human mourning is staggering. Then include the many other victims murdered in Beirut just days before, or the legions of those raped and killed in Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Turkey — who never receive the same attention as Western victims — and we see human devastation that is utterly evil.

From a religious perspective, the hardest thing about confronting evil is the painful human tendency to only see it in others, in our enemies, and not see any on our side because of the blurred vision caused by the specks in our own eyes, to paraphrase the gospels. In discussing ISIS, we should clearly use the language of sin, the enormous sin of the ideological hate of ISIS finding its victims all over the world.

How Jesus Overcomes 'Us Versus Them' Thinking

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When I was eighteen years old I knew that I knew everything there was to know, especially in regards to the “us” and the “them” of the world. Eighteen-year-old me knew that being gay was a sin and that LGBTQ people were not called to leadership in the church (and my conservative Christian college did nothing but reinforce these beliefs). But four short years later I found myself on a hill across from my alma mater, standing in solidarity with dozens of LGBTQ young adults and allies, advocating for change in Christian universities with policies that discriminated against LGBTQ people.

How did I get from “there” to “here”? How did my view of “us” and “them” shift so radically?

Please, Do Not Let Paris Be Another 9/11

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Just like you, I was horrified when I learned of the terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. The scale, precision, and barbarity of these crimes are hard to fathom.

My first reaction was sadness for the victims and a desire for peace. My second was a sense of mild panic. If they can do this in Paris, they can certainly do it in my city!

My third reaction, one I’m not particularly proud of: I thought about how much I’d like to see the people responsible for these acts hunted down and destroyed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about 9/11 lately. I remember the way that we as a nation went through a similar three-step process. We went from shock and sympathy to fear and paranoia, and finally to the conviction that we must annihilate those who attacked us.

It all happened so quickly.

The Power of Protest at Mizzou

Jesse Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia. Adapated image via Adam Procter/Flickr

We have witnessed a remarkable series of events on the Columbia, Mo., campus of the University of Missouri this week. The university president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus resigned Nov. 9 in response to protests claiming that university leadership had failed to appropriately address and respond to a toxic racial climate on campus.

The recent racist incidents, which many students and faculty felt the administration had failed to confront, reveal a stunning lack of empathy for students of color at the university. They include: racial slurs hurled at a black student body president and a black student organization, and a swastika painted in human feces on the wall of a residence hall.

But these specific incidents merely allowed a long-simmering stew of disrespect, verbal attacks, and marginalization of students of color to come boiling to the surface.

The Columbia campus of the University of Missouri is only a two-hour drive from Ferguson, Mo. When Michael Brown was shot in August 2014, protesters took to the streets of Ferguson every night, and student activists from Mizzou were among them. They saw what standing up to entrenched institutional racism looked like, and they saw that victories could be won with non-violent protest.

Dear Speaker Ryan: We're Keeping Our Promise on Immigration Reform

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On their first day in office, newly elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives take an oath on the House floor — to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

But before his election as Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan took another oath — this time to the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” a group of several dozen overwhelmingly white, conservative Congressmen from overwhelmingly white, conservative congressional districts.

Specifically, reports the National Review, the oath “extracts Ryan’s word that he will not bring up comprehensive immigration reform ‘so long as Barack Obama is president’ and, as speaker, even in the future, Ryan will not allow any immigration bill to reach the floor for a vote unless a ‘majority’ of GOP members support it.”

In short, in order to become the new speaker of the House, Ryan has vowed to block immigration reform from coming to a vote until January 2017 — at the earliest.

This is the second time Ryan has made a pledge on immigration reform. I remember the first: in 2014, Ryan called me at the Sojourners office, offering to help Christians pass comprehensive immigration reform. That led to meetings in Ryan’s office with key evangelical leaders about how to do that strategically, with Ryan telling us that the “evangelical factor” on immigration reform was something he had never seen before.

He promised us on several occasions that he would help bring immigration reform bills to the floor of the House. Many other Republicans promised the same thing to evangelical pastors who came to visit them from their districts.

Inequality as a Religious Test

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A commitment to interfaith dialogue is important, but not simply for its own sake or to admire each other’s diversity. Interfaith dialogue should be in service of these three goals, especially for the sake of those who are the most vulnerable in our society and around the world — exactly who our faith traditions agree we should be most concerned about.

This will be the true test of a moral global economy. We convene our religions to celebrate diversity. Can we also convene our religions to help end extreme poverty by 2030 — and end shameful poverty in the United States? That would certainly be a goal worthy of a Parliament of World Religions.

Francis: When a Visitor Changes Your Home

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Stunning is the word that most comes to me after Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Washington, D.C. The country and the media was reveling in his presence, using language like “amazing,” “incredible,” and “wonderful” in response to this extraordinary moral leader who literally transformed our public discourse in the 48 hours he was in the nation’s capital. What these two extraordinary days mean going forward is the big question on all our hearts and minds.

At the formal welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House, a very traditional template was transformed by the “Vicar of Christ,” whose presence turned everyone’s language to one reference after another to those Christ called “the least of these” in the 25th chapter of Matthew. Never have I heard the most vulnerable being the most talked about in this city.

President Obama began the pope’s visit with these words, “What a beautiful day the Lord has made.”

Indeed. Then Pope Francis introduced himself to America as “a son of an immigrant family” who was “happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”

Point made.

Issue: November 2015

Contraception has long been a contested topic within the church. In our cover story, Rachel Marie Stone explores the religious and political ramifications of evangelicals joining the battle over birth control. 

In Europe and In the U.S. — We Must Welcome the Stranger

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The pope’s teachings and his deeds have inspired people to put aside their differences and to work together for a common good. We hope that this momentum will carry over to the debates on immigration. We must work together push back against the hateful anti-immigrant messaging coming from some of our elected officials and candidates for office, and draw on the moral high ground we find in our faith and Scriptures. Including Matthew 25.

Beyond the need for broad-based legislative reform, ordinary people and communities of faith in the United States can also make a difference on an individual and family level. Just as the pope has called on European Catholic churches to “welcome the stranger” in their own parishes and homes, American churches, synagogues, mosques, and even individual homes should take up that challenge as well. It’s time for people in the United States and Europe to learn what it really means to welcome the stranger.