Economic Justice

100 Christian Faith Leaders Challenge 2016 Presidential Candidates to Post 3-Minute Video on Their Plans to Fight Poverty, Hunger

A coalition of 100 Christian faith leaders is urging all potential 2016 presidential candidates to post videos stating how they plan to alleviate poverty and hunger in the United States and abroad.

Black Churches Offer Scholarships to Students at Michael Brown’s Alma Mater

Photo via Empowerment Temple Church / RNS

Dr. Jamal H. Bryant, pastor and founder of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore. Photo via Empowerment Temple Church / RNS

They filed into the gym Jan. 12 for an assembly about graduation and applying for colleges — an intentionally vague description that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a senior class.

Instead, the seniors at Normandy High School learned that full-tuition scholarships would be given to 11 of them in honor of Michael Brown, who graduated just days before he was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer.

Ferguson’s death — and the subsequent grand jury decision not to charge the white officer with his death — set off protests and heightened racial tensions coast to coast, followed by a similar case of a unarmed black man on Staten Island who died in a police chokehold.

“The way we deal with this situation is we breathe life into you,” said George T. French, president of Miles College in Birmingham, Ala., which is offering two of the scholarships. “We believe in you, Normandy High School seniors.”

More than a dozen local and national church leaders sat in folding chairs on the gym floor, inside a high-poverty school south of Ferguson where opportunity runs short and paying for college doesn’t come easily for most.

Obamacare Marches On, Step by Step

THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, which has now been the law of the land for five years, is beginning to reshape the national landscape in significant ways.

According to a New York Times analysis of the ACA’s first enrollment period, about 10 million additional people gained insurance in 2014. Many of them fall into demographic groups that have historically struggled to access coverage, such as low-income Americans, people of color, and women. Ultimately, President Obama’s health law is slowly making the country more equal.

There are a few ways the ACA is accomplishing that goal. It has built-in consumer protections to ensure that insurance companies treat people more fairly. It’s created state-level marketplaces to give people new options for purchasing private plans. And it’s expanded the pool of people who are eligible for public coverage through the Medicaid program.

Health policy experts agree that adding more low-income people to the Medicaid rolls represents one of the biggest successes of the ACA so far. According to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research group, the states that agreed to expand their Medicaid programs—27 so far, plus the District of Columbia—have seen about a 40 percent drop in their uninsured rates.

“This has been a lifesaver for me. I hadn’t seen a doctor for 11 years,” Marc Sigoloff, a freelance writer in Illinois, told me. Sigloff signed up for Medicaid and subsequently discovered he had a brain tumor.

Carol Fisher Hardaway is now covered through Maryland’s Medicaid program. She told me she has a newfound peace of mind since she doesn’t need to worry about affording the treatment for her multiple sclerosis. Her reduced stress, in fact, is quantifiable. When we talked in October, she had just found out her blood pressure was at a healthy level for the first time in nearly 15 years.

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Pope Blasts Vatican Administration, Accuses Some of Spiritual ‘Alzheimer’s’

giulio napolitano /

Pope Francis greets his general audience on Sept. 10. giulio napolitano /

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis launched a blistering attack on the Vatican bureaucracy on Monday, outlining a “catalog of illnesses” that plague the church’s central administration, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and gossipy cliques.

The pope’s traditional Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was more “Bah! Humbug!” than holiday cheer as he ticked off a laundry list of “ailments of the Curia” that he wants to cure.

In a critique that left many of the assembled clerics clearly uncomfortable, the 15 ailments in Francis’ “catalog of illnesses” reflected the take-no-prisoners approach he promised when he was elected nearly two years ago as an outsider with little direct experience in Rome.

“The Curia is called upon to improve itself, always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fully realize its mission,” the pope said.

“Yet like every body, like every human body, it is exposed to illnesses, malfunctioning, infirmity. They are illnesses and temptations that weaken our service to God.”

In a separate address to Vatican staff later, Francis begged pardon for the “shortcomings” of senior church leaders, as well as the “several scandals” that had “caused so much harm,” without specifying which scandals he had in mind.

Who Cares About The Cheerleaders?

Cheerleaders at the side of the field. Image courtesy CLS Design/

Cheerleaders at the side of the field. Image courtesy CLS Design/

The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders are advised by management on which type of feminine product they should use for their menstrual cycle. They are told that they cannot wear clips or tie backs in their hair. They have been asked to perform backflips on demand at an annual golf tournament where men placed bets on which Buffalo “Jill” would ride in his golf cart.

For all these imposed regulations and for hundreds of hours of work, members of the NFL Buffalo “Jills” Cheerleading Squad did not receive a penny of wages.  

In April, five former Jills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against the NFL franchise for "exploiting the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws."  

The worst part of this is: I don’t care.  

When I was growing up I never wanted to be a cheerleader. I barely had a Barbie doll. I raced my brother’s Big Wheel on foot. I never had the desire to stand on the sidelines and cheer for other people, namely men, that were considered more athletic than myself.  

So when I heard the news of the Jills’ unfair treatment, my personal sympathy level was somewhat low. They wanted to be cheerleaders, right? They signed up to wear short skirts and tight tops and dance in front of millions of people — they didn’t have to do that.  

One commentator on the Jills’ lawsuit said, “Nobody forced them to be cheerleaders. They weren't enslaved. Stop with the pity party.”  

And there lies the rub. What’s really at the root of these issues?  


An End to the Fossil-Fuel Era?

THE MOOD ALONG Central Park West couldn’t have been sweeter: As block after block after block of scientists and students and clerics strolled by on the People’s Climate March, everyone was smiling. Serious, yes—but calm. Determined, but hopeful. It was a coming out party, and everyone was reassured to see how big and broad this movement actually was.

And everyone was relieved, I think, not to have to listen to speeches. Without politicians explaining what the day was all about, the march was able to speak for itself, with a mix of anger and inspiration exemplified by the front- line communities and Indigenous nations that filled out the first ranks of the procession.

That night, though, there were a couple of speeches worth listening to. They came further up the West Side, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where religious leaders had gathered for a series of meetings and services. At the reception following those talks, Stephen Heintz, the head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, cued up a video address from Desmond Tutu, calling for “an end to the fossil-fuel era.” Dressed in his scarlet robes, Tutu saluted activists, saying “the destruction of the Earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time,” and demanded that institutions around the planet end their investments in fossil-fuel companies.

That was pretty good: One of our planet’s most revered church leaders speaking truth to power. And then power spoke back. Representing the Rockefeller family, Heintz said their various charitable trusts would now divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies, arguing that it was both financially imprudent and immoral to continue trying to make money off the planet’s destruction.

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From the Archives: January 1981

IF A POLL WERE to be taken in North American churches concerning the causes of poverty, the results might be quite revealing. The major cause of poverty is widely assumed to be “underdevelopment.” Other prominent factors are believed to be laziness (we’ve all read about those exemplary ants in Proverbs 6), vices such as drunkenness, and, however subtly and discreetly expressed, the supposed racial and national inferiority of certain peoples. It’s a very comforting worldview, and one that our most popular politicians delight to propagate.

But if you look up “underdevelopment” in a concordance ... you find precisely nothing. The Bible contains a few scattered references attributing certain instances of poverty to laziness, drunkenness, and other assorted causes, but hardly enough to substantiate any of them as the basic cause.

Looking up the words “oppress” and “oppression” in the concordance discloses an overwhelming avalanche of texts, however, representing 15 Hebrew roots and two Greek, occurring more than 300 times. Following through the concordance study with references to standard Hebrew and Greek lexicons uncovers even more references, many of them obscured by the traditional translations.

If the biblical vocabulary for oppression is then correlated with the vocabulary for the poor and poverty, we find that in 122 texts oppression is indicated as the cause of poverty. 

Tom Hanks, a Presbyterian minister, taught Old Testament at the Seminario Biblico Latinoamericano in San Jose, Costa Rica, when this article appeared.

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'Tis the Season

THE CONSIDERABLE gap between Walmart’s declared corporate values and the way it actually conducts business widens even more during the holiday season.

This season, shoppers frequenting the world’s largest retailer are encouraged to select the name of a child and to purchase and donate her wished-for gift from one of the “giving trees” located in stores. Throughout the year, the company works hard to give the impression of corporate generosity, giving, for example, to food banks.

However, many of Walmart’s own employees (or, as they are referred to in Walmart-speak, “associates”) are forced to rely on these same types of programs to get by—such as Christmas gifts for their children (purchased by strangers) and groceries from food banks.

Walmart, the United States’ largest employer, employs 1.4 million Americans; that’s five times as many as IBM. Walmart manufactures the very problems that it proudly claims to alleviate, which is worse than doing nothing at all. The deception would be laughable were it not tragic. Walmart seeks praise for funding food banks and providing toys for children in need, when they are a big part of the reason people struggle to buy food and gifts in the first place.

“A lot of people I work with can’t make ends meet,” Linda Haluska, a 53-year-old mother who has worked at Walmart for nine years, told Sojourners. “[Corporate managers] talk about their appreciation for us. Why don’t they show that appreciation by paying us fairly?”

For the past three years, Haluska has been a part of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Though the company is notoriously anti-union—Haluska spoke of being forced to view propaganda videos detailing “why union isn’t the right choice for Walmart” after corporate learned that a union organizer had been talking to workers at her store—OUR Walmart is gaining members.

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