From the Archives: January 1981

IF A POLL WERE to be taken in North American churches concerning the causes of poverty, the results might be quite revealing. The major cause of poverty is widely assumed to be “underdevelopment.” Other prominent factors are believed to be laziness (we’ve all read about those exemplary ants in Proverbs 6), vices such as drunkenness, and, however subtly and discreetly expressed, the supposed racial and national inferiority of certain peoples. It’s a very comforting worldview, and one that our most popular politicians delight to propagate.

But if you look up “underdevelopment” in a concordance ... you find precisely nothing. The Bible contains a few scattered references attributing certain instances of poverty to laziness, drunkenness, and other assorted causes, but hardly enough to substantiate any of them as the basic cause.

Looking up the words “oppress” and “oppression” in the concordance discloses an overwhelming avalanche of texts, however, representing 15 Hebrew roots and two Greek, occurring more than 300 times. Following through the concordance study with references to standard Hebrew and Greek lexicons uncovers even more references, many of them obscured by the traditional translations.

If the biblical vocabulary for oppression is then correlated with the vocabulary for the poor and poverty, we find that in 122 texts oppression is indicated as the cause of poverty. 

Tom Hanks, a Presbyterian minister, taught Old Testament at the Seminario Biblico Latinoamericano in San Jose, Costa Rica, when this article appeared.

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Tackling the Hard Questions

YOU CAN'T TURN AROUND these days in Christian circles without bumping into questions around gays and lesbians and the church. It has become the hottest of all hot potatoes in evangelical Christianity, as it has in much of U.S. and global culture.

Long-term consensus evangelical positions and practices on various aspects of “the gay issue” are being challenged at every turn. Indeed, some have already given way.

It used to be that anyone with same-sex desires was considered willfully perverse; but now many evangelicals acknowledge the clinically/medically recognized category of same-sex attraction (SSA), or sexual orientation, as a mysterious but globally recurring pattern among 3 to 5 percent of the human family.

It used to be that LGBT people were frequent targets of derogatory preaching and teaching, often so fierce that some church folks were motivated in the direction of hatred, contempt, and bullying; but now more and more preachers and teachers are moderating their language so as not to do harm.

It used to be that evangelicals sent those with SSA off to “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapies; but now those harmful and futile “treatments” have been discredited and are fading fast, as evidenced for example by Exodus International’s closure and apology in 2013 and its leader Alan Chambers’ statement that “99.9 percent” of the people they had tried to help had not experienced a change in their sexual orientation. More evangelicals are recognizing the importance of not harming their own gay and lesbian adolescents and family members. Family acceptance and suicide prevention are becoming important concerns.

It used to be that evangelicals rejected from church membership anyone who experienced same-sex attraction or claimed a gay or lesbian identity; but now more and more evangelicals are at least opening their doors to LGBT visitors and members—even if they hesitate to go further than that.

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Weekly Wrap 11.7.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

 1. GoldieBlox Releases Action Figure for Girls
“Fashion dolls teach girls to value beauty over brains. One is sold every 3 seconds.” That’s how the ad releasing a new action figure for girls opens. Looks like Barbie and Bratz dolls have some competition.

2. On the 25th Anniversary, Stunning Before and After Photos of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. These photographs capture how life has changed in the past quarter century.

3. Gerrymandering Rigged the 2014 Election
“There are a lot of structural issues that influence congressional elections, from voter ID requirements to early voting access. But what does it matter if you’ve been packed into a district in which your vote can’t change the composition of Congress?”

4. Victoria’s Secret Got the Memo, Changed ‘Perfect Body’ Campaign
This isn’t the first time Victoria’s Secret got a marketing campaign tagline a little twisted (ahem, remember ‘Bright Young Things?’) But this time, they seem to have gotten the message — from the nearly 30,000 people who signed an online petition or tweeted #iamperfect to the lingerie brand.

Make Way for the Female Antihero: TV Takes a Page from the Bible

'Orange Is the New Black' cast, photo via Netflix

'Orange Is the New Black' cast, photo via Netflix

These days, female television characters can almost do it all. But we, the media consumers and producers, are still deciding if we should let them make mistakes, too.

And I don’t mean just the I-dated-the-wrong-handsome-doctor mistakes, or the I’m-an-overprotective-mother mistakes. I mean the type of mistakes that warrant the label of antihero. Merriam-Webster defines an antihero as “a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities.” Over the past several years, TV has become saturated with male antiheroes. Breaking Bad made a meth dealer Emmy gold, and Dexter garnered a cult following behind a sociopathic vigilante. But hey, boys will be boys.

Girls will be girls, too, if we let them. And girls aren’t always perfect. John Landgraf, president of FX, says it’s much harder to find acceptance for the female antihero: “It's fascinating to me that we just have really different, and I think, a more rigorous set of standards for female characters than we do for male characters in this society.”

A New Hymn for Sunday: 'Once a Father Told His Children'

Oleg Kozlov /

Oleg Kozlov /

A Hymn for This Sunday

This hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette asks the question what does it mean to be a Christian, a church? Whom do we serve? How shall we respond to those in need? It is based on the lectionary passage Matthew 21:23-32 (September 28, 2014). The United Methodist Worship Office has formatted the hymn with the music as a free download.

Once a Father Told His Children

NETTLETON D (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)

Once a father told his children, 
“Go and do your daily chores.

Go and work out in my vineyard; 
All that’s mine will soon be yours.”

One responded, “I won’t do it!” 
Then he changed his mind and went.

One said, “Yes! Just send me to it!” 
But he went back home again.




The Biblical Case for Limiting Money in Politics

Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/

Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/

While there are no biblical texts speaking directly to the issue of money in politics, biblical principles are still relevant, and people of faith have an important role to play in the emerging debate about the future of our democracy. Before exploring those principles, however, it is important to understand the serious issues of inequality currently present in our system, and the correlation between inequality and the money flooding our political system.

The richest 1 percent own more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The richest one-tenth of one percent have as much pre-tax income as the bottom 120 million Americans.

In Affluence and Influence, political scientist Martin Gilens concludes that, “The preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which politics the government does or does not adapt.” He details the data throughout his book that clearly demonstrates policy makers are only listening to the wealthy donor class. This situation has been made even worse by the Supreme Court’sCitizens United in 2010, which allowed a huge influx of money to flood our political system after declaring the personhood of corporations. 

The Court’s more recent decision in McCutcheon v FEC made matters even worse. Before McCutcheon, one person was able to contribute up to $123,000 to political candidates and parties. In striking down this aggregate limit, the Court paved the way for individuals to contribute more than $3.5 million directly to candidates and party committees. In a report detailing the potential impact of McCutcheon, Demos predicts the decision could result in more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions by 2020.

Forget Republican or Democrat: Americans Divide by Their Values

The divide from a question asked in a new Pew Research Center report. RNS image courtesy Bill Webster/Pew Research Center.

Toss out the party and ideology labels: Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal.

The Pew Research Center’s new survey, “ Beyond Red VS Blue: The Political Typology,” finds no sharp lines dividing people by their views on politics, faith, family, and the role and limits of government.

“It’s a spectrum,” said Michael Dimock, vice president for research for Pew Research Center.

Looking at questions relating to faith and family, he observed, “the caricature that all religious people are Republican is just not true.”

Black and Hispanic political liberals who attend church and hold conservative views on issues such as gay marriage hew red on social issues.

From the Archives: July 1991

MOST discussions about the Bible and homosexuality are limited to a handful of passages and the subject is viewed as a moral issue in which the burden of proof is placed on lesbians and gay men to defend our right to be who we are in light of those passages. If we approach scripture understanding that heterosexism, like sexism and racism, is a justice issue, then we move to a different plane of inquiry.

We might then understand that what is at stake in questions of sexual morality is not sexual orientation per se but rather the rightful or wrongful use of sexuality whatever our orientation. Sexual sins can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships wherever people are exploited, abused, neglected, or treated as objects. On the other hand, love, commitment, tenderness, nurture, respect, and communication can be expressed in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

As I come to scripture with a lesbian feminist hermeneutic, the stories of oppression and exodus, exile and homecoming, death and resurrection take on new meaning. Our scriptural study will be stunted if we stop our inquiry only having asked, What does the Bible say about homosexuality? and fail to ask, What do lesbians and gay men have to tell us about the Bible? How do the biblical stories come alive in fresh ways when they are read, seen, and heard by lesbians and gay men?

Melanie Morrison was co-pastor of Phoenix Community Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., when this article appeared.

Image: hands forming a heart, nito /

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We Can't Afford Dirty Energy: Thoughts on Turkey, Appalachia, and Humility

Przemek Tokar/

Przemek Tokar/

Two weeks ago in Soma, Turkey, a coal mine explosion left 301 people dead. It was the country’s worst mining disaster, but it wasn’t the first — and it wasn’t the last, as multiple fatal accidents have happened in the two weeks since. The last time a mining disaster caught the world’s attention, we watched and waited and prayed during the rescue operation for the miners in Chile.

In Turkey, people protested in the streets of Soma — protested against Soma Mining for letting this happen, against their government for loopholes in safety rules. In response, the police issued a ban on protests and locked the city down. The ruling political party proudly announces that it has inspected that mine 11 times in the past 5 years; Soma Mining denies negligence. And the families of 301 persons mourn their losses.

This isn’t a faraway problem. In the United States, we don’t do as much traditional mining as we used to — instead, we do mountaintop removal. This has a human cost, too, in more insidious ways. The people living in Appalachia have higher rates of respiratory illness, cancer, kidney diseases, skin ailments, and more. And the landscape, which has the fingerprints of God in it, is being blown apart.

Psalm 95:4-5 says:

“In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are [God’s] also. The sea is [God’s], for [God] made it, and the dry land, which [God’s] hands have formed.”