economic injustice

Adam Ericksen 6-14-2015
Diana Robinson / Flickr.com

American Pharoah ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza wins the Triple Crown at Belmont on June 6. Photo by Diana Robinson/Flickr.com

After winning the Triple Crown, American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, showed that he doesn’t live in fear of losing his power. And, as opposed to the Egyptian Pharaoh, he showed he has a soft heart for those who are suffering.

Espinoza reportedly earned $80,000 for his victory at the Belmont Stakes and he’s giving it all away. “I won the Triple Crown right now,” he stated, “but I don’t make any money because I’m donating all the money to the City of Hope.” The City of Hope is a cancer research and treatment center. Espinoza also donates his time at the City of Hope, visiting with children struck by cancer. He says, “The kids [are] 6 years old, 10 years old, it’s just heartbreaking.” Why does he do it? “I just saw one kid with the disease and that’s how I changed my life. I changed the way I think. Pretty much I changed everything … the first change I made was in my heart.”

Adam Ericksen 5-01-2015

Screenshot from Wolf Blitzer's interview on CNN.

I love Martin Luther King. I wrote my master’s thesis on his approach to nonviolence. King is the greatest prophet in the history of the United States. And white people should know him better.

Blitzer, like so many white people, doesn’t know Martin Luther King. He misses King’s point. If white people want to reference King, we need to stop using him to condemn black violence. We need to stop pitting a black man against black people. It’s patronizing. It’s demeaning. And it misses the point.

LeAnn Snow Flesher 8-18-2014
Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This is the final piece in a three-part series on Financing Seminary Education. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

“The higher education industry is facing a multi-pronged and existential threat composed of successive waves of disruptive innovation” (Butler, “Tottering Ivory Towers,” American Interest (Sept/Oct). It seems higher education, including seminary education, is going the way of the music and media industries! Our 2,000-year-old business model of “sage on stage” could be truly doomed. The appearance of “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) over the past few years has thrown many higher education institutions for a loop, and more innovations are on the way.

In response to these new innovations higher-ed institutions, including seminaries, have tweaked their business models with a few technological modifications such as PowerPoint, email, electronic research, and online courses. But, will it be enough? Butler says “no” and so do the trends. The reality is graduates of today’s higher-ed institutions are not evidencing the competencies expected and/or hoped for by their future employers. Consequently, accreditation standards, at an all-time high in complexity, are now beginning to be challenged. Simultaneously, tuitions are costly, the economy is tough, and the job market is even tougher. The end result is that students are graduating with large amounts of student loan debt and potential students are opting out of the education market.

We began the 21st century with denominations and churches that no longer fit the needs of a shifting society, a Congress that votes against the poor and the middle class, and seminaries that face multi-pronged threats to their existence. It’s time for an overhaul!

Brian E. Konkol 4-16-2014
Payday Loans vendor, photo by Steve Rhodes / Flickr.com.

Payday Loans vendor, photo by Steve Rhodes / Flickr.com.

The United States hosts more than 23,000 payday lending stores, which outnumbers the combined total of McDonald’s, Burger King, Sears, J.C. Penney, and Target stores. These payday lenders do not make conventional loans as seen in most banks, but instead offer short-term loan amounts for short periods of time, usually until the borrower’s next paycheck, hence the name “payday loans.”

While some borrowers benefit from this otherwise unavailable source of short-term and small-amount credit, the payday lending business model fosters harmful serial borrowing and the allowable interest rates drain assets from financially pressured people. For example, in Minnesota the average payday loan size is approximately $380, and the total cost of borrowing this amount for two weeks computes to an appalling 273 percent annual percentage rate (APR). The Minnesota Commerce Department reveals that the typical payday loan borrower takes an average of 10 loans per year, and is in debt for 20 weeks or more at triple-digit APRs. As a result, for a $380 loan, that translates to $397.90 in charges, plus the amount of the principal, which is nearly $800 in total charges.

Shakei Haynes 3-24-2014
Homeless man, wrangler / Shutterstock.com

Homeless man, wrangler / Shutterstock.com

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to spend the night at the Metropolitan House Men’s Shelter, part of Washington, D.C.’s, Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church.

And in this experience, Henri Nouwen’s, In the Name of Jesus came to life for me. In reflecting on his own experience of transitioning from Harvard University to L’Arche, a house for mentally disabled individuals, Nouwen realized he had to rediscover his true identity. Up until that moment, Nouwen relied on his accomplishments, achievements, accolades, educational training, and social connections to legitimize his impact and reputation in ministry as a priest. However, at L’Arche none of the things he relied on seemed to matter, and he had to gain credibility with those he planned to serve — the mentally disabled. Nouwen states, “I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment” (28). Nouwen was forced to let go of his “relevant” self. Nouwen defines relevant self as, “the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things.” Nouwen would have to allow himself to become vulnerable while suppressing his “relevant” self.

Gary Haugen 2-10-2014
Image via thelocusteffect.com

Image via thelocusteffect.com

Caleb is a father in Africa. He works hard as a night watchman, and he and his wife save from their small income with the dream of sending their daughter to college. But the family’s dreams are destroyed when the police arrest Caleb on a random sweep for a robbery he had nothing to do with. This is not to say that the evidence against him was flimsy; there is no evidence against him whatsoever. The police needed to show an arrest had been made, and Caleb was an easy target … because he was poor.

Once in police custody, Caleb is viciously beaten. He is shaken down for bribes. And then, he is thrown in jail and charged with a capital offense. He is given no indication of when he might have a chance to prove his innocence – and even if he were, Caleb can’t afford a lawyer to help him. His family struggles to hang on without him.

What is perhaps most stunning about Caleb’s story is not the brutality (though it certainly is brutal), the singular unfairness of it all (though it is dramatically and utterly unjust), the hopelessness (though the story is obviously devastating). No, what is most stunning is just how ordinary Caleb’s story is.

Matthew Skinner 1-27-2014
Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com

Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com

If the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl comes down to the game’s final play, and you find yourself inclined to ask Jesus to help your favorite team win, remember: It’s quite possible he doesn’t know squat about tackle football.

At least, when we read the opening sentences of his Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5:1-12), it seems his values are light years away from the confident and muscular ethos that football teams rely on for success. He directs attention in this passage toward the weak, powerless, and vulnerable elements of humanity. Consider these some of the groups he embraces:

  • The poor in spirit : referring either to humble people or to those who are broken and have lost hope.
  • Those who mourn : those who suffer loss and the feeling of emptiness that follows.
  • The meek : those who are gentle and unobtrusive, who refuse to use power over others as a tool to make things happen.
  • The merciful : people who willingly surrender their privileges or otherwise go out of their way to improve others’ well being.
  • Those who are persecuted : people whose refusal to give up their quest for truth or virtuousness results in the taking away of their rights, wholeness, or dignity.

Careful, Jesus, or you’ll get blamed for contributing to the wussification of America .

The kinds of people Jesus highlights tend to dwell beneath society’s radar. They often stay out, or are kept out, of public view. They possess little power. Most of us can find no good reason for aspiring to join these groups.

Eye-opening numbers about the Super Bowl … and how they stack up against other things going on in America.

Suzanne Ross 1-22-2014
By Nicholas Wang, derivative work by Poke2001, via Wikimedia Commons

By Nicholas Wang, derivative work by Poke2001, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s an absurd character in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who reveals more about our capacity for self-delusion than we might want to admit. He’s called the King and when it comes to desire, he is as deluded about his own power as we are about ours. The King’s delusion is this: he believes that the movements of the sun, moon, and stars are the result of his commands. That’s right – the sun rises and sets because the King commands it to be so. Our delusion is nearly identical: we believe that we are the source of our desires, that they arise and fall at our command. Because of our shared delusions, we and the King are quite out of touch with reality. Remarkably, the cure for us is also the same – spending some quality time with the Little Prince.

LaVida Davis 1-17-2014
Hands holding rice, imanhakim / Shutterstock.com

Hands holding rice, imanhakim / Shutterstock.com

Many of us may not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients to live a healthy life. Poet, diplomat, and politician Pablo Neruda captures this feeling well in his poem “The Great Tablecloth.” Just before the holidays, millions of Americans learned what some aspect of hunger felt like as they saw a reduction in their SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits.

On Nov. 1, every SNAP household saw its grocery budget reduced when an $11 billion cut went into effect — the equivalent of 10 million food stamp meals a day. And the program isn’t out of the woods yet. The House and Senate have begun to finalize a farm bill that will impact vital anti-hunger programs. A compromise proposal expected in the coming weeks could further cut SNAP by as much as $8 billion, at a time when lawmakers need to protect and strengthen it.

Stephen Schneck 8-02-2013

Francis—refreshingly candid and seemingly repelled by the perks of the papacy—offers new hope for the Catholic Church and beyond.

Brandon Hook 5-10-2013

Recent studies from both the Urban Institute and the Pew Forum tell the story of America's growing racial wealth gap. In the May issue of Sojourners magazine, Otis Moss III talked about the unjust trend: 

The call of the church has been, and always will be, to become the compassionate hands and feet of Christ. Poverty, when attached to race, is the original sin of America, a country built by slave labor and enriched by the unfair labor practices of the Industrial Revolution.

Read the full piece HERE.

See the full infographic at the jump.

Micah Bales 4-30-2013
Apocalypse illustration, Arman Zhenikeyev / Shutterstock.com

Apocalypse illustration, Arman Zhenikeyev / Shutterstock.com

What comes into your mind when you hear the word apocalypse? Most of us think of us think of the total destruction of the world, or at least life as we know it. Think zombies roaming the streets, feasting on brains. On the other hand, my sarcastic generation is doing a pretty good job of using apocalypse as a silly word. I remember a few years ago when we had a large winter storm here in Washington, D.C.; it was instantly dubbed Snowpocalypse!

The English word apocalypse derives from the ancient Greek apocalupsis, which is the original title for the infamous Book of Revelation. Revelation involves a lot of fire, smoke, battles, and things generally blowing up, so it’s understandable that today we would associate apocalypse with end-times battles. However, the word apocalypse contains a much deeper meaning. Far more profound than the long-awaited zombie hordes – or even the end-times prophecies of some churchgoers – this ancient, misunderstood word is an essential tool for comprehending the world we live in.

Apocalupsis is a term that means unveiling – as in setting aside a covering to discover what lies underneath. At the most basic level, the Book of Revelation is about removing the blindfold that the Powers have pulled over our eyes, allowing us to see the world as it really is. Revelation is about unveiling Empire, exposing the ways in which powerful interests destroy the earth and enslave other human beings to promote their own luxury and power. Despite its reputation, Revelation is not about a future-oriented, earth-hating vision of universal destruction. On the contrary, it is a vision of a new creation and universal restoration – the world finally set right and edenic harmony restored in the midst of the city.

OK – great, you may be saying. Nice to know, but how is this relevant to me?

Fair question. It’s true that the Book of Revelation was written almost 2,000 years ago. Those were the days of the Roman Empire – think Ben Hur and Spartacus. For sure, things have changed a lot since then.

Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Trevor Barton 3-12-2013
Chalkboard, discpicture / Shutterstock.com

Chalkboard, discpicture / Shutterstock.com

The announcement was broadcast at the end of the day over the school’s public address system.

"Our Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 is ... Mr. Barton. Congratulations!"

I walked out into the third-grade hallway where students were lined up for dismissal. Little hands reached up and patted me on the shoulder. Small voices joined together and called out, "We're proud of you, Mr. Barton!" Alondra, a quiet student, pulled me close and said, "Thank you for being my reading teacher." I was honored and humbled.

As I walked back into my classroom, I reflected over my five years teaching at this Title I elementary school. "Who am I, what have I done, to become Teacher of the Year?" I asked myself.

Trevor Barton 1-28-2013
Boys hands hugging globe in classroom / Getty Images

Boys hands hugging globe in classroom / Getty Images

I received a galimoto for Christmas. In case you didn't know, a galimoto is a toy vehicle created out of sticks, cornstalks, wire or anything children can take into their hands and make into a thing with wheels. Mine is a bicycle made of wire. There is a wire child in colorful cloth on the bicycle seat, a rider whose legs pedal as the wheels move. It is beautiful in its simplicity, astonishing in its complexity. It came from the hands of a child in Kenya. I love it.

I brought my galimoto to school and introduced it to my third-grade students. They held it in their hands, marveled at its design, and pushed it around the classroom. "A kid made this?" Matthew asked. "Amazing!"

We looked at a globe and located South Carolina and Kenya. We flew with our fingers from Greenville across the Atlantic Ocean across Africa to Nairobi. We wondered what it would be like to live there. What would the weather be like? What foods would we eat? What kind of house would we live in? What clothes would we wear? What would our school be like? What would our parents do? What would we play with? "I know what we would play with," said Syleana with a smile. "A galimoto!"

We took a picture walk through the book Galimoto written by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Catherine Stock. "What do you notice when you look at the cover of the book?" I asked. 

"It looks like the little boy is poor," answered Zaniya. 

"Why do you think he's poor?" I continued. 

Brian E. Konkol 12-25-2012
Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics / Shutterstock.com

When asked to identify common features of the historical Christmas storyline, many speak of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, angels, King Herod, and of course, the newborn Jesus. But we too often fail to recognize the social circumstances in which Jesus was born; our understanding of the nativity narrative is too often left incomplete.  

In the midst of our various congregational and community Christmas celebrations, we are confronted with the harsh reality that Jesus was brought into the world within a condition of homelessness. As a result, one can argue that we cannot fully commemorate Christmas without recognizing its social setting, for the context of Jesus’ birth points us toward the content and concerns of Jesus’ life. 

Greg Horton 11-12-2012
 RNS photo by Greg Horton

Pastor Dustin Buff (right) on his 10-day homelessness immersion. RNS photo by Greg Horton

NORMAN, Okla. — Pastor Dustin Buff traded in his job, his house and his sense of security for a backpack, a Bible, a sleeping bag, one change of clothes, identification, and a cell phone.

For 10 days, Buff and youth minister Philip Nguyen were intentionally homeless, wandering the streets of Norman in a personal quest to understand the plight of the homeless.

Andrews Park, a mile and a half from the University of Oklahoma, is a temporary home to many of the city's homeless. Buff estimates 300 people live on the street in this city of 113,000. In the park, the homeless gather in gazebos, sleep in faux forts on the playground, and lounge on the steps of the amphitheater.

Buff pointed to the municipal buildings that ring Andrews Park.

“All the city offices are right there,” he said. “Homeless people are sleeping here at night right across the street from the police station. I’ve read government estimates that Norman has 1,700 homeless residents, if you include transient housing, shelters, and the streets.”

Soong-Chan Rah 11-01-2012
Cash, Denis Opolja / Shutterstock.com

Cash, Denis Opolja / Shutterstock.com

Play along with me. If you had $1 million to spend to help stimulate the economy, what would you do? What would I do?

Option 1: 

Give the money to a billionaire, in the blind hope that the billionaire will pass along that million to his employees in some form. Or that he’ll spend it on a nice luxury product that (hopefully) will be an American product. Or that he won’t exercise the many loopholes that still exist and he’ll give that whole amount back to the U.S. government to spend. And of course, pray that the money won’t go into an offshore investment account somewhere in the Caribbean or Switzerland.

But what would Jesus do? What investments would Jesus make that I would want to make as well?

Alycia Ashburn 10-15-2012
Arctic ice, Volodymyr Goinyk / Shutterstock.com

Arctic ice, Volodymyr Goinyk / Shutterstock.com

I’ll be traveling to New York tomorrow with a number of Christian colleagues. We’re having a rally — a Climate Action Prayer Rally!  And you can join us

I’m not sure about you, but I’m incredibly disappointed that our nation’s leaders – from all sectors, all parties, and all levels – continually neglect to take leadership on our climate and energy crisis. 

There are many reasons that climate change should be a top election issue, but here are just a handful of the most important ones.

Trevor Barton 9-25-2012
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Poor People's March on Washington, D.C., 1968. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In early 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders continued plans for a Poor Peoples Campaign. It would take place in the spring in Washington, D.C. The poor and those in solidarity with them would take up temporary residence and march peacefully on the Capitol and advocate for substantial anti-poverty legislation from Congress. They would demand jobs, healthcare, and decent housing.

People set up a camp on the Washington Mall and called it Resurrection City. Jesse Jackson gave his famous "I Am Somebody" speech there. But King was assassinated in the weeks leading up to the campaign and Robert Kennedy was assassinated during it. Disheartened and discouraged, people drifted away from the campaign, their dreams deferred.

What if MLK had lived to lead the campaign with his insight and eloquence? What if Bobby Kennedy had lived to support it with his doggedness and political will? Would the United States be a place where 1 out of 5 children, around 15.5 million, are in poverty and where close to 50 million people are without health insurance?

Beau Underwood 7-25-2012
Photo illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Photo illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Living in poverty has always been a struggle, but in Alabama being poor could land you in prison. According to a recent story in The New York Times, Alabama resident Gina Ray was locked up for over a month because she couldn’t pay fees and fines related to minor traffic offenses. Speeding while poor shouldn’t land someone in jail. This punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

Why would such morally outrageous penalties be imposed for such minor violations? Because criminal justice has become big business. Private companies are making millions of dollars running prisons, administering probation systems, and providing health care to those living behind bars.

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