Barack Obama

Can Obama Walk the Tightrope of Religious Rhetoric in a Polarized America?

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS

Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 15. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS

After taking heat from the religious right for saying Christians and Muslims have all committed horrors in God’s name, President Obama is now angering the religious left with an upcoming White House conference on combating ”violent extremism” that seems to focus only on Muslims.

The back-to-back controversies raise the question: Can Obama — or any president — safely discuss faith in today’s political crosswinds?

No, say experts who keep a close eye on presidential God talk. It’s a perilous walk, taken without a safety net as news and social media voices wait to savage him in a nanosecond.

Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast triggered fury when Obama mentioned the Crusades, the Inquisition and Jim Crow segregation laws as examples of Christian violence in God’s name.

“This is not unique to one group or one religion,” Obama said. “There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”

Catholic Leaders to House Abortion Foes: Immigration Reform Is Also ‘Pro-Life’

Photo via Katherine Burgess / RNS

Immigration reform supporters pray and sing in English and Spanish outside the U.S. Capitol. Photo via Katherine Burgess / RNS

More than 100 Roman Catholic leaders are using this week’s annual march against legal abortion to press anti-abortion House members to pass immigration reform, saying they should see it as another “pro-life” issue.

“As brothers and sisters in faith, we urge these elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages. We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child,” the signers say in a letter sent Jan. 21 to two dozen Catholic members of the House of Representatives who are vocal abortion opponents.

The letter, organized by the Washington-based progressive advocacy group Faith in Public Life, is expected to be published as a full-page ad in Politico on Jan. 22.

That’s the day tens of thousands of demonstrators — including some of the House members the statement addresses — are expected to gather in Washington to protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, an annual display of passionate anti-abortion sentiment and political muscle.

The statement pointedly cites Pope Francis’ views that immigration woes and economic inequality are threats to life along with abortion, and it appears to be another example of the so-called Francis effect that is recasting the nation’s culture war by shifting the debates onto a broader terrain.

The Strange Nostalgia of 'Left Behind'

Captain Steele's daughter, Chloe, in 'Left Behind,' out in theaters today. Image

Captain Steele's daughter, Chloe, in 'Left Behind,' out in theaters today. Image courtesy LeftBehindMovie.com

Editor’s Note: ‘Left Behind’ starring Nicolas Cage hits theaters nationwide on Friday, Oct. 3. The film is based on the wildly popular book series and movies of the same title, in which God raptures believers and leaves unbelievers behind to learn follow Jesus and defeat the Antichrist. So how’s the film reboot?

Sojourners Web editors called up a group of religion writers in D.C. to watch and review the movie together. We left with more questions than answers. Here’s our takeaway on all things ‘Left Behind’ — and a little Nic Cage.

Catherine Woodiwiss, Associate Web Editor, SojournersSo first things first — why Left Behind again?

When the books were published [starting in 1995], there was a debate happening in Christianity over whether Hell was a real, physical place. And the original movies were produced in the context of 9/11 and the Iraq war. So you can look and say, okay, this was a time of questioning what some saw as fundamental beliefs, of war and terrorism. So the popularity of an end-times series makes some sense.

But why now? Why today?

Remembering 'Uncle Vincent'

Vincent Harding, photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

I SAT MY two boys down the night I got the call and heard the news. “Uncle Vincent has died and passed on,” I told 15-year-old Luke and 11-year-old Jack.

I could see the sadness in their faces. Vincent Harding had been like an uncle to them, an elder and mentor to me, a formative retreat leader for the Sojourners community, and one of the most insightful commentators and historians of the true meaning of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Harding and Dr. King were friends. Vincent and his wife, Rosemarie, were part of the inner circle of the Southern freedom movement, and Harding wrote the historic speech that King delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, where he came out against the war in Vietnam and identified the “giant triplets” of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.

That speech was perhaps King’s most provocative and prophetic address. It reflected King’s heart and mind, and went further than he had gone before in challenging foundational and systemic wrongs in U.S. life and history and not merely calling for racial integration. This King—particularly in his thinking and writing from 1964 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act until 1968, the year of his assassination—was a King perhaps best understood by his speechwriter that day, Vincent Harding.

That’s what Vincent always did for us all: asked us to go deeper into our faith.

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That Time Obama Showed Up At My Little League Game

How do you get your Little League team to get their hitting going? Get a surprise visit before your game from President Barack Obama! Our excited kids won 12-1.

I’m been a Little League baseball coach for 10 years and 20 seasons; first with my 15 year-old sophomore son Luke who has graduated way beyond his Dad coach to high school varsity baseball, and now with my 11 year old son Jack—who got to meet the President of the United States at his game on Monday night. The expressions on the kid’s faces when Obama walked on to their field were magical and priceless.

Immigration Activists Arrested in Civil Disobedience Outside White House

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the United Methodist Church in front of the White House Monday. Photo: Kara Lofton

This President’s Day, about 20 church leaders, sympathizers, and undocumented immigrants were arrested in front of the White House as part of an act of civil disobedience to protest the nearly 2 million people who have been deported under President Obama.

The core group and about 40 supporters gathered around 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. They held signs that said, “Praying for Relief” and “#Not1moredeportation,” and sang hymns in between short megaphoned speeches that told personal stories. They called for immigration reform. “Not one more, not one more,” they chanted together in both English and Spanish.

The event was organized by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the United Methodist Church, who was the first Hispanic woman to be elected to her position.

Unemployment, the Vote, and Hope

Lisa Sharon Harper/Sojourners

President Obama speaks after the Senate cleared a three-month extension of Unemployment benefits. Lisa Sharon Harper/Sojourners

I stood in line and waited until they called my number.

“Neeeext,” the woman behind the counter called!

The woman put out an energy that dared anyone to cross her, challenge her, even speak to her. She gave me a pile of papers to fill out “over there,” she waved her hands dismissively in the general direction of all the other losers sitting in rows of old school desks — the kind where the chair and the desk are attached. They were all fully engrossed in one task: filling out their unemployment insurance applications. I joined them.

Of course we weren’t losers, but it felt like we were. We were grown adults. We represented many races: white, black, Latino, and Asian. We represented a small fraction of the sea of people who were out of work at the height of the economic crisis. If you had come to us only weeks before we were school teachers and firemen, opera singers, Wall Street brokers, and justice advocates (like me). But now we were all numbers, experiencing the same humiliating moment together.

But, how much more humiliating it would have been to be thrown out of my apartment? How much more dehumanizing would it have been to become homeless or go without food?

My Unexpected Meeting with the President of the United States

Photo courtesy La Casa Blanca Twitter feed

President Obama and faith leaders meet to discuss immigration reform. Photo courtesy La Casa Blanca Twitter feed

It was past 10 on a Sunday night in Spokane. The wedding was over and I was sitting in the hallway of the hotel in my pajamas reading my email by iPhone while my grandson slept in our dark room. 

I saw an email from White House sent by a woman named Julie inviting me to meet that Wednesday with President Barack Obama and his senior staff "to discuss the moral urgency of passing immigration reform ...  Please RSVP to me by no later than noon Monday ... "

This was a joke. Why would I get an invitation? I emailed friends in the Evangelical Immigration Table, and by Monday morning they confirmed it was real. How could I say no?

I found out later on Monday as we were flying home from Spokane that this meeting was to be a small gathering with the president, his senior staff and a handful of faith leaders in the Oval Office. I laughed out loud. 

In Oval Office, Evangelicals Press for Immigration Reform

President Obama and Vice President Biden met faith leaders to discuss immigration reform. Photo: La Casa Blanca Twitter feed

Speaker of the House John Boehner signaled Wednesday that there would be no immigration reform this year, an announcement made the same day that some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical pastors met with President Barack Obama to try to advance the issue.

Only months ago, immigration reform seemed to enjoy strong bipartisan momentum.

It still does across the nation, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, one of the eight clergy invited to the Oval Office meeting.

“I urged the president not to make this a divisive issue, but to work with House Republicans,” said Moore. “We need to work together to fix the system rather than just scream at each other.”

The Obama administration, in a statement issued after the meeting, squarely blamed House Republicans for the impasse. The Democratic-led Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform plan in June.

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