Economic Justice

Pope Francis: 'We Will Not Find the Lord Unless We Truly Accept the Marginalized'

Pope Francis in September, giulio napolitano /

Pope Francis in September, giulio napolitano /

In a powerful sermon that signaled his desire to push ahead with historic reforms, Pope Francis on Sunday said the Roman Catholic Church must be open and welcoming, whatever the costs.

He also warned the hierarchy not to be “a closed caste” but to lead in reaching out to all who are rejected by society and the church.

“There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost,” Francis told hundreds of cardinals and bishops arrayed before him in St. Peter’s Basilica at a Mass centered on the story of Jesus healing a leper rather than rejecting him.

“Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking,” the pope said as he outlined the current debate in the church between those seen as doctrinal legalists and those, like Francis, who want a more pastoral approach.

“Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences,” Francis declared. “For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family. And this is scandalous to some people!”

It's About Time

gameanna /

gameanna /

On Feb. 8, civil rights attorneys sued the city of Ferguson, Mo ., over the practice of jailing people for failure to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor, non-criminal offenses.

And to this I say: It’s about time.

Growing up with an attorney father — a “yellow dog Democrat” one at that — who often took on poor clients in return for yard work and other non-cash payments, I heard early and often about the unfair — and illegal — practice of debtors’ prison. A poor person could not be jailed for failure to pay a fine, my father told me. I trusted his words were true.

So imagine my surprise when at the age of 18, I was arrested for unpaid traffic fines.

At that time I was a stay-at-home mom, trapped in a too-early marriage I would one day leave. My son was probably 6 months old. When the knock came at my door and I saw a police officer standing outside, I didn’t hesitate to answer.

The officer confirmed my identity and told me I was under arrest for failure to pay traffic tickets I had received for driving an unregistered vehicle.

I know that I should have paid the registration. Once ticketed, I know I should have worked out a payment plan. I know I should have taken responsibility for my illegal actions.

But I was young, inexperienced with the system, and very, very poor. Too poor to keep up with even the most modest of payment plans.

Turning Money Into Media

AS ICE CREAM entrepreneurs, Jerry and I have been on a journey that has led us squarely to the conclusion that, while there are many ways that a business can use its power to improve people’s quality of life, the most effective lever for economic and social justice is the government.

Business can use its voice to influence government for good. But too often big corporations use the system of unlimited political “donations”—a system that John McCain calls “legalized bribery”—to skew the government in favor of their own narrow self-interest. That’s why I’m devoting my time and treasure to hacking at a root cause of injustice: big money in politics and crony capitalism.

A nationwide poll of small-business owners commissioned by Small Business Majority found more than three-fourths (77 percent) of small employers say big businesses have a significant impact on government decisions and the political process, whereas a mere 24 percent say small businesses have a significant impact on the process.

The same poll shows 85 percent of small-business owners (the real “job creators”) support efforts to get big money out of politics. This is consistent with other polls that say 80 percent of Americans—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—agree there is too much money being spent to influence elections and lawmakers.

People are right to view their representatives askance. A recent study affirmed that having money does, in fact, lead to increased access and influence in Washington. Researchers found that representatives were more likely to meet with people donating money than with a regular constituent, and laws were more likely to reflect wealthy special interests rather than the public interest.

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Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Jesus

STUN GRENADES AND tear gas bombs exploded in the street outside of Bethlehem Bible College, forcing Rev. Alex Awad to end his class early. Down the block, youth threw stones at the Israeli separation wall that cuts deep into Bethlehem. Frequent clashes had erupted in the months since the Israeli offensive known as Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians. During that operation, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians were killed by Gaza militants. In the months that followed, Jerusalem became the focal point of further violence.

“Many people ask, what are signs of hope?” says Awad. While the facts on the ground get worse, he names one encouraging trend: “Many evangelicals are moving from the Israeli side into what I think is the peace and justice side.”

Here are seven signs that he’s right:

1. Evangelicals are listening to Palestinian Christian voices. Jerusalem-born with a degree from a U.S. Bible college, Awad is uniquely suited to speak to evangelicals—including some unlikely guests. John Hagee, leader of Christians United for Israel, the U.S.’s largest Christian Zionist organization, arranged for five tour groups to visit Bethlehem Bible College. The first group arrived last August.

“When I started speaking, almost every two words I would see 10 hands of people wanting to ask questions,” recalls Awad. “Very patiently, I answered one after the other. Then I would make another statement, and another 15 hands are up.”

Near the end, one man stood up. “I think I am convinced that what Rev. Awad is saying is right. Am I the only one? Could I see hands?” Some 10 to 15 out of about 40 people raised their hands.

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Who's in Control?

Peerayot /

Peerayot /

I just returned from Davos, Switzerland, where the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is held each year. Leaders from business, government, and civil society all gather here to engage each other, make connections, and, hopefully, make progress on the mission statement of the WEF: “Committed to Improving the State of the World.”

I reflected on that mission statement last year in my remarks to all the attendees at the event’s closing session. I said the deeper meaning of leadership is sacrifice and not just skills — and that the most included people on the planet who were sitting in that famous Congress Hall will be morally evaluated by their relationship to the most excluded, who, of course, are never in that grand auditorium. Many individual leaders in attendance wanted to discuss that challenge further, and those conversations continued this year.

One session this year that drew many people off site was called “Struggle for Survival” — an intense simulation of how 3 billion people in our world actually live each day. Half of the global population exists on less than $2 per day. Run by the Crossroads Foundation, Struggle for Survival was a much more emotional experience than the rest of the sessions at Davos.

My wife, Joy, and I participated in this simulation, and the people running it told us that several CEOs seemed quite affected by the very powerful dramatization of real-world injustice and poverty. It took people out of their heads into stunning revelations of how the excluded really live, prompting feelings of guilt, pain, anger, empathy, and compassion — and then a call to commitment.

Five Reasons Why Citizens United Matters Five Years Later

Tashatuvango /

Tashatuvango /

Five years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations are welcome to the same free speech rights that are allotted to individuals and can therefore spend freely on direct political advocacy.

To those unfamiliar with the topic, Citizens United essentially opened the flood gates for dark money to flow into the Washington electoral circuit. Within the five years since this decision the amount of money spent on political campaigns has steadily increased each election cycle. The most recent midterm elections cost $3.7 billion dollars.

Why should this matter to Christians?

1. Divine dignity is silenced.

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that only “666,773 individuals donated more than $200 to campaigns in the 2014 election cycle." What does this mean? Only 0.2 percent of the population funded the elections. Only the wealthiest Americans, through Super PAC funding and private corporation contributions have influence over the electoral state. The voice of the average American is almost completely silenced because they do not have financial influence. This becomes an issue of morality when we see each citizen as an individual with divine dignity. When the voice of the individual is silenced, the voice of the Divine is also silenced because only the economically elite are heard.

State of the Union and Inequality: What Are You Going to Do Now?

durantelallera /

durantelallera /

This week, there was a lot of commentary about the State of the Union, the title of the president’s annual January speech before a joint session of Congress. I thought it was one of Obama’s best addresses recently because he focused on what is real for this country — growing economic inequality where only a few are doing “spectacularly well” while many families are still struggling just to get by.

The wife and mother from one of those families wrote the president a letter that seemed to have moved him, so he lifted up her “tight-knit family” trying to get through “hard times,” as she sat up in the gallery next to first lady Michelle Obama. Her family became a parable for the nation that is starting to do better economically but still faces hard choices that the president sought to address with very practical suggestions to support what he called “middle class economics."

Obama’s proposals for shifting tax breaks from the very wealthy to the middle class, to make possible child tax credits, days for sick leave, assistance with child care, and some relief from expensive educational costs are all proposals not likely to be supported by the new Republican Congress. But the speech begins to set what could be a long-term agenda to deal with our massive economic inequality — finally. Even the Republicans now might have to face up to the increasingly visible, embarrassing, alarming, and morally indefensible gaps between a small elite and the rest of the country.