Report from the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia: Day Five, Heading Home

The "sermon" consisted of reflections by five participants from different regions and traditions who were attending the Global Christian Forum for the first time. They each spoke of the joy, and often the surprise, in what they discovered here -- some of them interacting with delegates from Christian traditions they barely knew even existed.

The unity of heart and Spirit they experienced at the forum had a profound effect, they said. Emily Obwaka of Kenya, a staff member from the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, whom I met on the bus the first day of the forum, was one of those who shared. She said the forum felt like "a preamble to heaven." Such sentiments might seem excessive but they were not uncommon among the 287 forum participants from 65 countries. Joy and affirmation were among the greatest takeaways from the five-day gathering.

So, about those "Evangelicals..."

In his column last week, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis talked about his frustration with the perennial misuse of the word "evangelical" by various media to describe folks and ideas that, in his view, and that of many of us who self-describe as evangelicals, don't bear any resemblance to what we understand that term to actually mean.

Below is a compilation of recent media reports where the word "evangelical" is invoked. When you read these, evangelical brothers and sisters, do you recognize yourself in how the word is used and defined? Or does it ring false to you and your understanding of what "evangelical" really and truly means?

Red State Wins: Take a Bow, Silent Bob

Don't believe most of what you'll hear about Kevin Smith's new movie, Red State.

It is not an angry tirade against religion, nor is it an attack on Christianity guised as a horror flick laden with gratuitous violence.

Smith has described Red State as a horror film, and it is that, but not in the conventional Nightmare on Elm Street iteration. There is violence for sure, but nothing approaching the unrelenting bloodbath of, say, The Passion of the Christ.

Why Exclude Women from Ministry?

Lean and lanky, the 30-something teacher probed the congregation with a practiced eye as he wound down his presentation. Ezekiel, or "Zeke" (pseudonym), teaches at a secondary school in another country. Backed up by a carefully constructed PowerPoint presentation, Ezekiel shared his passion for sensitively pouring truth and grace into the lives of his students, particularly the girls. His blue eyes blazed as he asked if a woman in the Community Christian Church (not its real name) congregation would be willing to come forward and pray for the women of his host country.

No one moved.

Walmart's New Urban Strategy Comes With a Lousy Track Record

Walmart has launched a charm offensive as part of its new urban strategy to impose smaller versions of its big box in inner cities across the country. It has proposed four stores for Washington, D.C. -- all in predominantly minority, and most in low-income, neighborhoods.

The debate over building Walmart stores in D.C. is engaging intense public sentiment, and for good reason. While Walmart promises new jobs in a community, in reality it displaces other local businesses, leaving in question whether there is a net jobs gain; one study showed that for every retail job Walmart brought, communities lost 1.4 other jobs. In addition, Walmart passes on the cost of its low wages to taxpayers when associates and their families rely on publicly funded health care and other assistance programs.

God's Creatures Defending God's Creation

I'm getting arrested on Aug. 29 at the White House. It's time to put my body where my soul is -- defending God's creation.

A interreligious contingent has chosen Aug. 29 as our arrest day. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others will train together on Aug. 28 and then worship and risk arrest together on Aug. 29.

This is part of a two-week campaign (Aug. 20-Sept. 3) in which leading environmentalists including Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben will join a peaceful campaign of civil disobedience to block the approval of a dirty oil pipeline that will cross the United States. As one Canadian wrote, "This [pipeline] will make the Great Wall of China look like Tom Sawyer's picket fence." Bill McKibben explained further in an earlier blog on God's Politics:

Matthew 25 -- Why We Went to the White House

Today is another intense day of politics at the White House. The debt default deadline is fast approaching. The stakes for the nation are high as politicians can't agree on how to resolve the ideological impasse on how to reduce the deficit before the nation defaults on its financial obligations.

Yesterday, before Congressional leaders were due at the White House for critical negotiations, I, along with 11 other national faith leaders, met with President Obama and senior White House staff for 40 minutes. We were representing the Circle of Protection, which formed in a commitment to defend the poor in the budget debates. Sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, we opened in prayer, grasping hands across the table, and read scripture together. We reminded ourselves that people of faith must evaluate big decisions on issues like a budget by how they impact the most vulnerable.

Who is Organizing the California Prison Hunger Strike?

Behind Bars. Fremantle Prisonphoto © 2009 Amanda Slater | more info (via: Wylio)On the first day of this month, inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, joined by inmates in other prisons around the state, began a hunger strike to protest "inhumane and torturous conditions" in the Security Housing Unit, which holds inmates in solitary confinement for decades at a time. They're still at it; the state has admitted that as many as 6,600 inmates around the state have participated in the strike. Last week, corrections officials offered the prisoners a proposed deal, which they unanimously rejected.

This comes after a Supreme Court decision in May that ordered California to reduce its prison population, as overcrowding was causing "needless suffering and death."

Part of what's making the standoff worse is the belief that the strike is, in essence, a form of gang activity. For one thing, as Colin Dayan noted in passing in a New York Times op-ed, "How they have managed to communicate with each other is anyone's guess." The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), though, isn't so stumped.