Congress

Christopher Hale 02-06-2015
Pope Francis in October in St. Peter's Square. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.

Pope Francis in October in St. Peter's Square. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The Francis Revolution is crossing the Atlantic and coming to the heart of the nation’s Capitol. News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress during his upcoming trip to the United States on Sept. 24.

This is the first time that a pope has addressed Congress and provides a world-class opportunity for the Holy Father to lift up the Gospel’s social justice message to the most powerful legislative body in the world.

So what will the Jesuit from Argentina talk about? Studying his nearly two-year tenure as the Bishop of Rome suggests that Pope Francis will focus particularly on the scandal of inequality and exclusion.

Last April, Pope Francis tweeted that “inequality is the root of all social evil.” The seven-word tweet caused an uproar in American media, but the truth is that Francis had been saying the same thing for years. In his 2013 letter Joy of the Gospel, Francis wrote “just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

With reports last fall suggesting that economic inequality in the United States is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, Pope Francis will likely call on our elected leaders to transform our economy into one where no one is left behind.

Susan Davis 02-05-2015
Photo by Pete Souza, courtesy of the White House via Flickr / RNS

President Obama shakes hands with Pope Francis. Photo by Pete Souza, courtesy of the White House via Flickr / RNS

Pope Francis will make an unprecedented address to Congress on Sept. 24 during his first visit to the United States.

House Speaker John Boehner announced Feb. 5 that the pontiff accepted the invitation Boehner extended last year.

“In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds,” Boehner said in a statement. “His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another.”

No pope or religious leader who serves as a head of state has ever addressed Congress, according to the U.S. House Historian’s Office.

In a brief statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said: “It is a great honor and tremendous joy to welcome our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to the Archdiocese of Washington during his proposed pastoral visit to the United States in September.

01-28-2015
You can't separate faith, values, and politics and expect our democracy to thrive.
Photo via Kristoffer Tripplaar / RNS

Photo via Kristoffer Tripplaar / RNS

Did you catch the shoutout to Pope Francis during President Obama’s State of the Union address? It’s only the third time in history that’s happened.

Francis’ name will resurface in Congress later this year if and when he accepts an invitation to address lawmakers — that would be a historical first — during his September trip to Philadelphia, Washington, and New York.

“We might say, really, the highlight of the Washington visit might be his speech to the joint meeting of Congress, to the Senate and the House of Representatives,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, a member of the papal visit planning committee.

However, such a speech will be far more than a “highlight.” With a Catholic vice president and a Catholic speaker of the House looking on behind him, the speech will serve as a vivid reminder of how far Americans have come in overcoming deeply embedded anti-Catholic prejudice and bigotry.

That bigotry includes Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1813: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. … In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.”

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.

Tom Ehrich 01-13-2015
Photo via f11photo / shutterstock.com

Photo via f11photo / shutterstock.com

While a new Congress relentlessly pursued its ideological agenda to trim government and reward its big-money patrons, a vastly more complicated world intruded:

  • In Maryland, a bishop reportedly driving drunk struck a bicyclist, fled the scene while he lay dying and, according to some reports, returned only after a church official told her she had to do so.
  • In Paris, a handful of religious terrorists defended the Prophet Muhammad by slaughtering the staff of a satirical magazine.
  • In Nigeria, the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram intensified its systematic massacring of Nigerian citizens.
  • In New York City, police officers wanting more respect from the new mayor waged a childish campaign of disrespect against the mayor and against the people of New York.
  • In Washington, the latest jobs report showed more jobs being created but no gains in pay. That means the lower and middle classes continue to be dragged down by up-with-wealth political actions.

All this in a week’s time, all while Congress was pursuing a stale ideological agenda dating back to the 1930s. In that agenda, legislators would gut Social Security (take that, FDR), reward big oil with a new pipeline (thanks for the patronage, Koch brothers), chip away at Affordable Care (gotcha, Barack) and appease social conservatives.

They would treat the world as a simple place where government must shrink, people must suffer and the precious few must get richer.

Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center / RNS

“The Religious Makeup of the 114th Congress,” graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center / RNS

Republicans will take full control of Capitol Hill when the 114th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 6, but even with a political shift, there will be little change in the overall religious makeup of Congress, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Here are seven ways the religious makeup of Congress will (and won’t) change.

1) More than nine-in-10 members of the House and Senate (92 precent) are Christian; about 57 percent are Protestant while 31 percent are Catholic. The new Congress will include at least seven members who are ordained ministers.

2) Protestants and Catholics continue to be over-represented as members of Congress than other Americans. As of 2013, 49 percent of American adults are Protestant, and 22 percent are Catholic, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

3) The biggest difference between Congress and other Americans is the number of people who say they are religiously unaffiliated. Just 0.2 percent of Congress say they are religiously unaffiliated, compared with 20 percent of the general public. In fact, the only member of Congress who publicly identifies herself as religiously unaffiliated is sophomore Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Buddy Bell 01-02-2015
Wire model of a drone. Image courtesy Podsolnukh/shutterstock.com

Wire model of a drone. Image courtesy Podsolnukh/shutterstock.com

In 2002, at a time when insurance providers were unwilling to provide coverage for losses resulting from acts of terrorism, and when construction and utility companies were stalling in their development projects, Congress passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). They decided to socialize some of the financial risk, giving a federal government guarantee on insurance payouts exceeding 100 million dollars.

Over the next 12 years, Presidents Bush and Obama and six different Congresses made countless decisions to increase the risk of terrorism (and of a bailout under TRIA). Of course, the most brutally profound effects of those decisions were imposed on children, women, and men in other parts of the world. Likely the least affected people were the ones complaining in the business sections of major papers last month.

They are worried because TRIA expired January 1. An unexpected fluke on the last day of the last congressional session is to blame. “Everybody expected this would get done,” fumed Manhattan developer Douglas Durst, to New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman.

He won’t be waiting all that long — House Speaker John Boehner promised the Baltimore Sun to “act very quickly” to renew TRIA when Congress reconvenes.

Jim Wallis 11-20-2014
Screen capture via The White House Facebook page.

Screen capture via The White House Facebook page.

Tonight, faith leaders and all those who have spent years trying to fix our broken immigration system should feel gratitude toward President Obama. In a primetime address to the nation, the president announced he was taking executive action to relieve some of the suffering caused by the failures of the status quo. Millions of families will no longer live under the daily threat of having their lives torn apart by senseless deportations, which is something all Christians – whether Republican or Democrat – should celebrate. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have spent significant portions of their lives hiding in the shadows, can now enjoy the flourishing God intends for us all. Their joy and well-being must inform our judgments of the president’s action, especially in light of the biblical call to “welcome the stranger.”

Unfortunately, the president’s compassionate actions are creating a political firestorm among some Republicans in Washington. Their anger and antipathy toward the White House are blinding them to the positive effects these measures will have for our society. Even after decades living and working in our nation’s capital, I’m still amazed at the many ways political ideology can prevent us from having “eyes that see” and “ears that hear.” I lament that our political discourse has come to this.

Everyone agrees the only way to find sustainable, long-term solutions is through Congress passing bipartisan legislation. The Senate did exactly that more than 500 days ago, but their honest efforts have languished in the House of Representatives because of Republican intransigence. GOP leaders promised alternative policy ideas; reform garnered widespread, nationwide support — including among a majority of Republicans; faith leaders were hopeful after countless positive conversations with members of Congress; the president even told me that he was “optimistic” about reform after conversations with Speaker John Boehner; the country, and, more importantly immigrant families, patiently waited — yet, the House failed to act.

Tom Ehrich 08-05-2014

Image: Taking out the trash. Photo courtesy of Rissy Story via Shutterstock

I went to the town dump today, and I found it open, functioning, filled with people doing the right thing in the right way, giving useful advice to a novice, and able to drive in and out without mayhem, all under the watchful eye of a single employee.

Its no-nonsense efficiency reminded me of church suppers, where everything seems to work because people are helping, not managing. Imagine Congress being that capable.

I suppose we should be thankful that Congress scampered out of town for five weeks. If they’re going to do nothing, at least they should do nothing out where the constituents who elected them can take their measure.

I suppose we should also be thankful that July 2014 only had 31 days. Imagine a longer month for suicidal conflicts and epidemics.

We should be thankful, too, that the world’s three great religions — wealth, technology, and the Abrahamic faiths — are getting on people’s nerves. Irritation might lead us to expect better.

Image: Creative Commons image by the Catholic Church (England and Wales)

How partisan and unproductive is the current Congress?

The epitome of its dysfunction may have arrived with last week’s wrap-up before a five-week summer recess, as House Republicans failed to pass their own scaled-back bill on the border children crisis on Thursday. Realizing how bad that looked, lawmakers returned on Friday to pass an even more severe bill that had no chance of going anywhere.

But a better gauge of the problem may be the fact that despite the almost universal popularity of Pope Francis, the House of Representatives was unable to muster enough bipartisan support to pass a resolution lauding Francis’ election — nearly 18 months ago.

The bill, H.Res. 440, seems straightforward, as it aims to congratulate Francis on his March 2013 election and recognize “his inspirational statements and actions.”

Heather Adams 07-10-2014

Minerva Garza Carcaño, the first Hispanic woman elected to episcopacy of United Methodist Church. Creative Commons: Paul Jeffrey

Religious leaders urged President Obama and Congress to provide funding for legal assistance to unaccompanied migrant children who are in U.S. custody after fleeing violence, murder, and extortion abroad.

The emergency funds would go toward helping children who have entered the United States without lawful immigration papers and without a parent or guardian. The money could also help meet mental health needs.

Multiple speakers, including United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano and the Rev. David Vasquez, spokesman for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, took part in a national teleconference Thursday. They then sent a petition signed by more than 3,800 people to Congress.

Joey Longley 06-11-2014

Supporters of immigration reform gathered near the U.S. Capitol on June 25, 2013. RNS Photo by Adelle M. Banks.

Yesterday was one of the craziest days in recent American political history. House Majority leader Eric Cantor fell to Tea Party economics professor David Brat in a primary upset no pundit saw coming.

While the early analysis suggested that support for immigration reform may have been what brought Cantor down, exit polling suggests his lack of attention to the concerns of his constituents and his inability to deliver on his promises were a greater factor than the immigration issue. Cantor never brought a vote on immigration to the floor and was never a strong ally on immigration.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released an immigration poll at the Brookings Institute. Nearly 80 percent of all Americans and nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants remain in support of immigration reform that includes a path towards citizenship or legal status.

06-04-2014
The letter was signed by the SEIU; the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; the National Immigration Forum; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; the liberal evangelical group Sojourners; and the conservative Hispanic group the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. These groups' highest priority is broad or comprehensive immigration reform, to overhaul the immigration system as a whole — which is something only Congress can do.
04-07-2014
“The more I listened to Jim Wallis, the more that word ‘engagement’ is what entered my mind. And all I could think of is that we are a very entertainment-centered culture, and I’m kind of entertainment-centered in many ways myself. But ‘engagement’ — that is the only choice that we can make as Christians. We have to be engaged in the world: ‘I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.’ You didn’t sit there and watch a movie about hunger; you did something about it.
Ivone Guillen 03-24-2014

On Friday, Eliseo Medina, a prominent immigration rights activists was arrested after trying to peacefully deliver a letter to Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) district office. Eliseo, who is part of the “Fast for Families Across America” bus tour advocating for Congressional action on fair and commonsense immigration reform was denied entrance by local police into the Congressman’s public office.

The arrest comes on the heels of constructive meetings with Minority Leader Nancy Peolosi and Rep. Joe Garcia in Miami.

Read detailed events here.

02-28-2014
“Even if we have different political sensibilities, we are united around this cause,” said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and a leader of the Evangelical Immigration Table.
Chuck Collins 01-31-2014

The movement for a fair minimum wage is bubbling up all over.

Carol Keehan 01-31-2014

Amid the political bombast, it’s easy to forget why we needed health-care reform in the first place.

Anna Hall 01-27-2014
Money in politics illustration, Elena Yakusheva / Shutterstock.com

Money in politics illustration, Elena Yakusheva / Shutterstock.com

Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled that corporations are entitled to the same free speech rights as individual humans as guaranteed under the First Amendment.

The political repercussions of Citizens United include the rise of “Super PACs” — political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, independent of direct campaign contributions, to influence politics. The power yielded to such corporations, as well as indiscriminate spending allowance, has deleterious effects upon our democracy.

Because money talks, big money will talk a lot louder, drowning out the voices of average Americans trying to exercise their own civic rights. Politicians are undoubtedly more apt to respond to the requests of companies that shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars on supportive campaign politics than to the needs of a college graduate or working family who donated 10 bucks. Doesn’t exactly smack of sound democratic governance.

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