Faith and Politics

A Labor Day Prayer

In their annual Labor Day statement, the U.S. Catholic bishops call for “national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.” Issued by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Cal., chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, the statement emphasizes the reality that Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation.”

The bishops then cite related issues in the news.

On the deficit:

“Public officials rightfully debate the need to reduce unsustainable federal deficits and debt. In the current political campaigns, we hear much about the economy, but almost nothing about the moral imperative to overcome pervasive poverty in a nation still blessed with substantial economic resources and power.”

Of Protestants, Politics, and Power

Obama, Biden, Romney, Ryan.

Obama, Biden, Romney, Ryan.

As the Republicans leave Tampa and the Democrats prepare to gather in Charlotte, one dynamic is immediately clear in both parties: For the first time since Abraham Lincoln ran in 1860, no white Protestant will be on the ticket of either major party.

Mitt Romney, the newly minted Republican nominee for the White House, is a Mormon, though he clearly does not want to talk publicly about how his faith shapes his identity and personal values. Paul Ryan, his running mate, is a Catholic, a fact Romney made sure to mention in the vice presidential rollout ceremony. Indeed, Romney’s two closest rivals in the GOP presidential primaries were also Catholics: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

On the Democratic side, President Obama is an African-American Protestant despite the fetid conspiratorial screams that the president is a crypto-Muslim. Finally, Vice President Joe Biden, like Ryan, is an Irish-American Catholic. 


Why the Church is the Best Place for a Pussy Riot

On Aug. 17, three members of the Russian feminist punk band/performance art group Pussy Riot received the verdict in the criminal case against them: Guilty of "hooliganism" motivated by "religious hatred." Each was sentenced to two years in prison.

As a faith-based community organizer, I spend a great majority of my time trying to get political issues into the church so that the gospel can be relevant to the reality of those on and off the pews.

Therefore, I believe the best place for a “pussy riot” is the church. Although this may seem sacrilegious, here's why:

1. When the church ignores social and political issues it silently blesses injustice. (See slavery, the Holocaust, lynching, and child sexual abuse.) Testimony Time is a set time in many Black Churches when  congregants can speak of their pains and triumphs and how God brought them through.

Testimony time is democratic and a time of raw honesty. I call what Pussy Riot did protestifying because they protested by testifying about the political conditions of their country.

The Politics of Poverty

Save America photo, Andrew Rich / Getty Images

Save America photo, Andrew Rich / Getty Images

I’ll be honest … I’m a coward. During the political season I find myself avoiding certain conversations that I do care about. Mind you, I do have opinions. My wife would say I have an opinion on everything. Faith and social issues are extremely important to me, and I have spent a lot of years studying and following the trends and their impact on people I care a lot about. I am especially focused on issues that affect the poor, mentally ill, unemployed, addicted, and homeless. Topics of Medicare, unemployment benefits, the death penalty, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, state and federal budget and deficits, immigration, and foreign policy all matter to me. I do have opinions! (And I vote!)

Yet during the final months of America’s presidential street fight, I tend to lay low. I know that one simple conversation with almost anyone can turn volatile and unleash the beast within them. If educated congressmen, presidential candidates, governors, and even local representatives can be as nasty and polarized as they have publicly shown, there is little reason to honestly discuss an issue, since the potential for alienation and misrepresentation is at an all-time high. No one seems to be listening, having crystallized their presuppositions with a crafty skill of spinning any topic into their agenda. Ironically, our children are watching adult leaders model behavior we wouldn’t let them get away with. 

Respecting the Indigenous Hosts of This Land

Dancer in full dance regalia at the Cal State Long Beach Annual Pow Wow. March 11, 2007. Photo by Jose Gil/Shutterstock.

In December, I will be hosting a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

I am doing so because page 45 of this 67 page document contains a generic, non-binding apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

The text of the apology included in the defense appropriations bill reads:

Apology to Native Peoples of the United States

Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress —

(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;

(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;

(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;

(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;

(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;

(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and

(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.

This apology was not publicized by the White House or Congress. As a result, a majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for, and most of the 5 million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to.

Caring for the Poor is Government's Biblical Role

Jim Wallis

JIm Wallis

There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."

But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether ours is fulfilling them. So let's look at what the Bible says.

The words of Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be "God's servant for your good" (13:4). Today we might say "the common good" is to be the focus and goal of government.

So the purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disparage government per se  to see government as the central problem in society — is simply not a biblical position.

Jim Wallis on HuffPo Live: Poverty and the Shadow Convention

Jim Wallis appeared via Skype on HuffPo Live to talk about poverty and the 2012 election.

Sojourners' CEO, the Rev. Jim Wallis, was a guest on Arianna Huffington's new online news channel, HuffPo Live, today to talk about the face of poverty in this heated election season and what has changed (or not) since the 2004 presidential election.

"More children than ever are poor," Wallis said. "From a religious point of view, that should be a top election issue. The highest poverty rate in half a century should be a fundamental moral issue."

"More and more of our friends are in poverty," Wallis told HuffPo Live host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, "in the pews, in our workplaces, because so much is happening to so many people — through no fault of their own — and they are slipping below the poverty level."

There is a whole new wave of "suburban poverty," and many more of us know people who are poor than we did an election cycle ago, he said. There is a new "face" of poverty.

Watch the video of Wallis' appearance inside the blog...

Baptist Leader Stands His Political Ground Amidst Akin Furor

ST. LOUIS — Don Hinkle stands out among the serious, conservative men of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Not that Hinkle isn't conservative or serious. He is both. But Hinkle prefers bow ties, which — along with his white, furry mustache and thatch of white hair — give him a sort of plump Mark Twain air.

Late last week, a church-state watchdog group in Washington filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service accusing Hinkle, who is also his organization's director of public policy, with violating federal tax law by intervening in two campaigns for public office.

Those were the Republican primary campaigns of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin for U.S. Senate, and Ed Martin for Missouri attorney general.

The 500,000-member Missouri Baptist Convention is the state arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with about 16 million members.

In his column in the May edition of the Pathway, the state convention's newsjournal, Hinkle wrote that while he did not want an American theocracy, "when it comes to public policy, Southern Baptists must be motivated by love for our fellow citizens, believing that God's way is the best way."

For that reason, Hinkle continued, "I personally support candidates like U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican who wants to challenge Democrat Claire McCaskill for her U.S. Senate seat, and Republican Ed Martin, the St. Louis attorney who is running for state attorney general."

Cardinal Dolan, Sister Simone Campbell, To Bless the Democratic Convention

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

In a move that could recast the reigning political narrative about the Catholic bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has accepted an invitation to deliver the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention, a week after he gives a similar blessing to the Republicans in Tampa, Fla.

From the start, Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made it clear that he would be willing to pray at the Democratic convention. There were doubts, however, that the Democrats would invite Dolan.

Roman Catholic Church in Scotland Campaigns to Stop Gay Marriage

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Roman Catholic Church has sent a letter to its parishes across Scotland protesting a political race to legalize same-sex marriage.

The letter was read Sunday (Aug. 26) by priests in 500 Catholic parishes urging Scotland's political leaders to "sustain rather than subvert marriage" and to reaffirm that "marriage is a unique, lifelong union between a man and a woman."

Scotland is caught up in a debate over whether it should become the first segment of Britain to legalize gay marriage, ahead of England and Wales.

After the letter was read out in churches Sunday, the Scottish government insisted that it intends to legalize same-sex marriages and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships because "it is the right thing to do."

The issue is still in the consultation stage in England and Wales.