Faith and Politics

QR Blog Editor 01-21-2015
American flag. Image courtesy STILLFX/shutterstock.com

American flag. Image courtesy STILLFX/shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: President Obama delivered his seventh State of the Union address last night (January 20, 2015). Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans: 

We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. 

But tonight, we turn the page.

Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

Phil Haslanger 01-21-2015

Phil Haslanger in the solitary confinement cell. Photo courtesy Phil Haslanger

I started this year in solitary confinement.

It’s not that I am regularly in prison or that I had behaved so badly. I was simply in a mock solitary cell located in the sanctuary of a church. I was only there for an hour. I knew I would be getting out.

But that hour did offer a glimpse into the world of how solitary confinement is used – and abused – in our nation’s prisons. And it offered a glimpse at the reform efforts that are gaining steam all across the country, including in my home state of Wisconsin.

When Kate Edwards, a Buddhist chaplain who has worked in the Wisconsin prison for the past five-and-half years, closed the door behind me, I was alone, but hardly in silence.

Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS.

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma." Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS.

On the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (Jan. 15), just as the civil rights drama Selma was nominated for best picture in the Oscar race, one fact of American life was little changed.

Sunday morning remains, as King once observed, the most segregated hour in America. And, against a backdrop of increased racial tensions, new research shows that most Americans are OK with that.

Two in three (66 percent) Americans have never regularly attended a place of worship where they were an ethnic minority, according to new polling analysis released by LifeWay Research.

“People like the idea of diversity. They just don’t like being around different people,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based research firm. 

“Maybe their sense is that church is the space where they don’t have to worry about issues like this,” he said. But that could be a problem, because, Stetzer said, “If you don’t like diversity, you’re really not going to like heaven.” 

Photo courtesy of Valentina Calà via Flickr / RNS

A memorial for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Photo courtesy of Valentina Calà via Flickr / RNS

Pope Francis on Jan. 15 condemned last week’s terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo but warned there were limits on freedom of expression.

Speaking to journalists as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines on a weeklong visit to Asia, the pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” and stressed that killing in the name of God was an unacceptable “aberration.”

“You don’t kill in God’s name,” Francis said.

However the pope, who has made a point of reaching out to Muslims, Jews, and other faiths, said there were limits to self-expression when it involved insulting or ridiculing people’s faith.

“You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others,” he said. “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Charissa Laisy 01-14-2015
Insulated superhero. Vector concept courtesy artenot/shutterstock.comm

Insulated superhero. Vector concept courtesy artenot/shutterstock.comm

I went to college thinking political activism was sexy. Living in a large city gave me unparalleled access to protests for countless good causes. Chanting at anti-war marches and getting arrested on behalf of climate change legislation would make interesting party stories, I thought. I quickly hopped on the Occupy Chicago bandwagon, a movement which calls for a more equitable wealth distribution, but whose leaders and participants were largely white college graduates. None of my organizing work focused on racial inequalities, but stayed in the realm of money in politics, equitable banking practices, and climate change.

My journey took a profound turn at an organizing training where I proudly stated I was there because my faith called me to advocate for the least of these. In response, a powerful, albeit brash, leader in Chicago’s movements angrily characterized me as an “activist do-gooder” who was fueled by the need to be a good white person. This label devastated me. I’m outspoken, passionate and willing to lead, I thought, so why can’t people see me as a resource? I took a break from the organizing world feeling disillusioned and miffed.

This attitude forced me to ask myself, why was I drawn to political activism in the first place? What was it that drew me to the movements in which I involved myself? And why was I so offended that someone had questioned my motives?

 

 

Elisa Crouch 01-14-2015
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.

Tom Ehrich 01-13-2015
Photo via f11photo / shutterstock.com

Photo via f11photo / shutterstock.com

While a new Congress relentlessly pursued its ideological agenda to trim government and reward its big-money patrons, a vastly more complicated world intruded:

  • In Maryland, a bishop reportedly driving drunk struck a bicyclist, fled the scene while he lay dying and, according to some reports, returned only after a church official told her she had to do so.
  • In Paris, a handful of religious terrorists defended the Prophet Muhammad by slaughtering the staff of a satirical magazine.
  • In Nigeria, the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram intensified its systematic massacring of Nigerian citizens.
  • In New York City, police officers wanting more respect from the new mayor waged a childish campaign of disrespect against the mayor and against the people of New York.
  • In Washington, the latest jobs report showed more jobs being created but no gains in pay. That means the lower and middle classes continue to be dragged down by up-with-wealth political actions.

All this in a week’s time, all while Congress was pursuing a stale ideological agenda dating back to the 1930s. In that agenda, legislators would gut Social Security (take that, FDR), reward big oil with a new pipeline (thanks for the patronage, Koch brothers), chip away at Affordable Care (gotcha, Barack) and appease social conservatives.

They would treat the world as a simple place where government must shrink, people must suffer and the precious few must get richer.

Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS

Pastor Clyde Reed of Good News Community Church, center, with his wife Ann. Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS

The Supreme Court on Jan. 12 considered a tiny church’s curbside sign in a case that could raise the bar on government regulation of speech, and make it easier for houses of worship to advertise their services.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit advocacy group that represents Pastor Clyde Reed and his Good News Community Church, bills the case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, as a religious rights case. But their attorney mostly argued it on free speech grounds.

“The town code discriminates on its face by treating certain signs differently based solely on what they said,” attorney David A. Cortman told the justices. “The treatment we’re seeking is merely equal treatment under the First Amendment.”

The town of Gilbert, Ariz., outside Phoenix, allows political signs to be much larger and permits them to stay up much longer, Cortman said.

The Editors 01-12-2015

Video on Obama's Executive Action.

Photo via Simon Caldwell / Catholic News Service / RNS

Nigerian Roman Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. Photo via Simon Caldwell / Catholic News Service / RNS

Nigerian Roman Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama says his country needs a similar march to the one held in Paris on Jan. 11 to pay tribute to victims of Islamist militant attacks.

While 20 people were killed in the Paris rampage (including three terrorists), Boko Haram’s ongoing campaign of terror in Nigeria has left hundreds dead. Last week, as many as 2,000 were killed as Boko Haram militants took over the town of Baga in Borno state.

Kaigama said he wants the international community to show determination to stop the advance of militants, who are indiscriminately killing Christians and Muslims and bombing villages, towns, churches, and mosques.

“I hope even here a great demonstration of national unity will take place, to say no to the violence and find a solution to the problems plaguing Nigeria,” Kaigama told Fides, a Catholic news agency.

Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Amina Tadjouri, right, with a friend in Paris during a demonstration on Jan. 11. Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

As France emerges from its worst terrorist attack in decades, a biting novel that imagines the country governed by Islamic law is part of a swirling debate about its basic values. Will the country respond to the shootings with fear and xenophobia, as suggested by the book “Soumission,” or “Submission” — or embrace its multicultural, multifaith identity?

On Jan. 11, solidarity was on display as heads of state and religious leaders joined millions on the streets of Paris in a massive march for free expression and to honor last week’s victims from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Along with “I am Charlie,” some protesters also chanted “I am Jewish” in tribute to the four men gunned down by one of the assailants at a kosher market.

Muslims carried signs saying, “I am Charlie and Muslim.” And on Twitter, thousands of French rallied behind “#JeSuisAhmed” — referring to policeman Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim, who also died in the attack on the magazine.

On the edge of the dense crowd, high school student Amina Tadjouri clasped a Jewish newspaper, as she stood next to a Muslim cleric railing against radical Islam.

“I’m Muslim, and I’m not OK with these killings,” she said. 

Rabbi James Rubin 01-07-2015
Photo courtesy of SGT TRACY SANTEE, USAF / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo speaks at a rally. Photo courtesy of SGT TRACY SANTEE, USAF / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Lost in the extensive media coverage of Mario Cuomo’s recent death was mention of one of the former governor’s most enduring achievements: the New York state biomedical Task Force on Life and the Law.

During his first term as governor, Cuomo established the 25-member task force because he was concerned that as developments in medical technology and science accelerated, neither society nor state government was prepared for the critical decisions required in the face of such rapid change.

Cuomo’s instruction to the task force was to study the new frontier of bioethics and make specific public policy recommendations for state lawmakers.

The task force included Christian and Jewish clergy, physicians, nurses, lawyers, ethicists, philosophers, academics, social workers, community leaders, and hospital administrators.

I was a founding member of the task force in 1985. During that time, I recognized that some long-held beliefs must be updated, reinterpreted or sometimes even abandoned in the face of medical advances.

Cuomo wanted us to focus on the right of patients to informed consent about their medical conditions. 

Open Doors USA’s 2015 “World Watch List.” Image via Open Doors / RNS

Open Doors USA’s 2015 “World Watch List.” Image via Open Doors / RNS

From imprisonment to torture to beheadings, more Christians worldwide live in fear for their lives than at any time in the modern era.

That’s the message from Open Doors USA, which released its annual World Watch List on Jan. 7. Christian persecution reached historic levels in 2014, with approximately 100 million Christians around the world facing possible dire consequences for merely practicing their religion, according to the report. If current trends persist, many believe 2015 could be even worse.

“In regions where Christians are being persecuted as central targets, the trends and issues we track are expanding,” said David Curry, president of Open Doors, a nonprofit that aids persecuted Christians in the most oppressive countries and ranks nations based on the severity of persecution.

North Korea tops Open Doors’ list as the worst oppressor of Christians for the 13th consecutive year, but the list is dominated by African and Middle Eastern nations. Iraq, which experienced the mass displacement of Christians from its northern region, ranked third. Syria was listed fourth, due to the reign of ISIS in that war-torn region. Nigeria ranked 10th, due in part to the more than 1,000 Christians murdered or kidnapped by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram. Also included in the top 10 are Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, and Eritrea.

Christian Piatt 01-06-2015
Image via Heartland Arts / Shutterstock.com

Goat-horned figure similar to the Baphomet statue proposed by the Church of Satan. Image via Heartland Arts / Shutterstock.com

Oklahoma may seem an unlikely place for what has been called a satanic sculpture to be installed on government property. In fact, there may be no better place for it.

Considered by many to be the buckle in the proverbial Bible Belt, the statehouse in Oklahoma City has boasted a sculpture of the Ten Commandments, paid for by Oklahoma State Representative Mike Ritze, for some time. Actually, the statue is in the process of being rebuilt after a man who heard voices in his head urinated on the monument and then crashed into it with his car.

Perhaps most interesting is the legal groundwork laid to allow such a religious statue to be placed on public property. To avoid church/state separation issues, the property on which the statue was placed was declared as a monument park, and Ritze donated the piece. Finally, Ritze claimed protection under the First Amendment as a basis for a religious icon being on government grounds.

But they set legal precedent for other groups, like the Church of Satan, to do the same thing. They have actually agreed to halt plans for the installation if Ritze and his supporters will not replace the destroyed Ten Commandments statue. At this point, Ritze intends to proceed, while also fighting the placement of the other piece.

There are at least three important factors to consider including:

1) The First Amendment applies to thing we don’t like. 

Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center / RNS

“The Religious Makeup of the 114th Congress,” graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center / RNS

Republicans will take full control of Capitol Hill when the 114th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 6, but even with a political shift, there will be little change in the overall religious makeup of Congress, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Here are seven ways the religious makeup of Congress will (and won’t) change.

1) More than nine-in-10 members of the House and Senate (92 precent) are Christian; about 57 percent are Protestant while 31 percent are Catholic. The new Congress will include at least seven members who are ordained ministers.

2) Protestants and Catholics continue to be over-represented as members of Congress than other Americans. As of 2013, 49 percent of American adults are Protestant, and 22 percent are Catholic, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

3) The biggest difference between Congress and other Americans is the number of people who say they are religiously unaffiliated. Just 0.2 percent of Congress say they are religiously unaffiliated, compared with 20 percent of the general public. In fact, the only member of Congress who publicly identifies herself as religiously unaffiliated is sophomore Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Pam Solo 01-05-2015

Common Security 

Jim Wallis 01-05-2015

Congressional leaders on both sides must be convinced to put people above party. 

Jim Wallis 12-31-2014
A new day. Image courtesy eelnosiva/shutterstock.com

A new day. Image courtesy eelnosiva/shutterstock.com

Some people don’t like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but I do. We often only use the word in the context of this season, but “resolution” is a nuanced noun. Some of its definitons include:

A firm decision to do or not to do something — see: intention, resolve, plan, commitment, pledge.

The quality of being determined or resolute — see: determination, purpose, steadfastness, perseverance,tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power, dedication, commitment, stubbornness, boldness, spiritedness, bravery, courage, pluck, grit.

The action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter — see: solution to, settlement of, conclusion to, “the peaceful resolution of all disputes.”

In a world of seemingly endless conflicts, I sure like the sound of that. We need more of all of these qualities just now. All three meanings of resolution are wonderfully attractive to me — and timely for this brand new year. So here are my 10 resolutions for this 2015:

Kaeley McEvoy 12-19-2014
A man and a woman hold hands near a train. Image courtesy Pavel L Photo and Vide

A man and a woman hold hands near a train. Image courtesy Pavel L Photo and Video/shutterstock.com

“If you don’t feel safe alone, I will ride with you.”

These words have so much depth.  

When an armed man with unidentified ties to radical Islam took control of a Sydney café for over 16 hours on Monday, a social media campaign under the hashtag #IllRideWithYou started rapidly trending on Twitter. Australians started the hashtag to stand in solidarity with Muslims during the immediate tension following the siege. In a matter of hours, the hashtag became an international movement creating over 480,000 tweets.

The hashtag was inspired when one user tweeted the story of a young Muslim woman who removed her hijab (traditional Islamic head scarf) while riding public transportation because she feared that identifying herself as a Muslim would put her in danger of misdirected violence toward innocent Muslim citizens in the aftermath of another extremist fueled act. The tweet continued to describe another young woman who “ran after her at the train station [and said] ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u [sic]..’”

This original tweet inspired Tessa Kum, an Australian TV content editor, to reply with a message that sparked a movement. From her handle @sirtessa, Kum tweeted,

“If you reg take #373 bus b/w Cogee/Martin Pl, wear religious attire, & don't feel safe alone: I'll ride with you. @ me for schedule.”

 

Kevin Eckstrom 12-17-2014
Photo via WikiMedia Commons / RNS.

ISIS' flag incorporates the shahada and the seal of Muhammad in its design. Photo via WikiMedia Commons / RNS.

For most of recorded history, Isis was an Egyptian goddess, a benevolent type who cared for widows and orphans, cured the sick and even brought the dead back to life.

This year, the world met the other ISIS.

The rise of the so-called Islamic State, variously known as ISIS or ISIL, dominated headlines in 2014 as a self-proclaimed caliphate sowed death and destruction across Iraq and Syria.  For some, the group confirmed their worst fears about Muslim extremists, bent on killing religious minorities and subjugating women in a quest for domination that included leveling villages and beheading hostages.

The terror wrought by the Islamic State reflected a sense of turbulence that upended international news in 2014. But it was not the only source of unrest. The Ebola virus in west Africa put the world on edge, and a bloody war between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza, kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria and the slaughter of more than 100 children at a military school in Pakistan added to the mix.

At home, America wrestled with police brutality as grand juries declined to prosecute officers in the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. From botched prison executions to a stream of desperate migrant children flooding America’s southern border, things felt troubled, disorienting, always on the verge of breaking apart.

Religion played a large role in those stories, and in other major headlines from 2014:

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