Congress

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 1-13-2015
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 1-02-2015
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 8-05-2014

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 7-10-2014

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 6-11-2014

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.

6-04-2014
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.
4-07-2014
“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 3-24-2014

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.

2-28-2014
“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 1-31-2014

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

Carol Keehan 1-31-2014

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

Anna Hall 1-27-2014
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.

Lisa Sharon Harper 1-17-2014
Child alone in a tunnel,  hikrcn / Shutterstock.com

Child alone in a tunnel, hikrcn / Shutterstock.com

SNAP began in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act as part of his unconditional “War on Poverty.” In his remarks upon signing, Johnson said: “I believe the Food Stamp Act weds the best of the humanitarian instincts of the American people with the best of the free enterprise system. Instead of establishing a duplicate public system to distribute food surplus to the needy, this act permits us to use our highly efficient commercial food distribution system.”

Johnson continued: “It is one of many sensible and needed steps we have taken to apply the power of America's new abundance to the task of building a better life for every American.”

Imagine. Fifty years ago the Food Stamp Act was viewed not as charity, but rather as an ingenious utilization of American enterprise in order to help “build a better life for every American.”

And it is genius.

Joel Berg 1-16-2014
Child holding empty bowl, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Child holding empty bowl, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

The central figures in four of the planet’s largest religions – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism – were all once homeless. Moses was encamped in the Sinai, unable to return to the Promised Land. Jesus was born in a manger. Buddha wandered through the wilderness seeking enlightenment. The Prophet Muhammad was forced out of Mecca.

Is it a coincidence that each of these figures was, at key parts of his life, dispossessed from the society around him? Hardly. This is a clear message that even the most powerful can be made powerless.

In both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, believers are directed to give a set portion of their harvest to people in poverty and immigrants. It is neither voluntary, nor are the amounts to be based on charitable whims. It is a commandment to automatically give a specific percent, making it an anti-hunger tax of sorts. In fact, both the Old and New Testaments make it clear that justice is a higher calling than mere charity.

In Mathew 25, not only does Christ proclaim that those who clothe, house, and feed the “least of these” are engaging in acts equivalent to directly aiding the Lord, he also preaches that those who refuse to aid the poor are consigned to damnation.

Most secular ethical traditions also make societal actions to reduce hunger, poverty, and homelessness a centerpiece of their teachings.

Virtually every elected official in Washington claims to abide by these ethical and faith-based traditions. Indeed, many have used their professions of faith to advance their political careers.

Yet many of these same leaders repeatedly take actions opposite to the values they espouse.

Ivone Guillen 1-15-2014
Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

One of the solutions would penalize U.S.-citizen children. Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

In only its second week in session, Congress is already confronted with difficult decisions that impact the lives of millions of people — some of whom are the most vulnerable in our society.

The Senate is faced with finding a solution that would extend the unemployment insurance to help a struggling workforce. One of the solutions, proposed by Senator Ayotte (R-NH), would penalize U.S. citizen children who are part of already struggling immigrant households living in poverty. While it’s important that Congress finds a resolution to the unemployment insurance conundrum, they should not do so by shifting the harm from one group to the next.     

Lisa Sharon Harper 1-05-2014

Miriam Perlacio assembles a prayer quilt in the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall. Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

We didn't eat for 22 days, but we did feast.

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