It seems like there’s nothing but bad news all around us. Congress can’t get anything done, the Middle East is in turmoil, and climate change is making natural disasters worse around the world. But a couple of weeks ago, I went to an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies that celebrated a major accomplishment. The teen birth rate and pregnancy rate are both down — and not just by a little bit.
The teen birth rate has plummeted by 52 percent since 1991, while the teen pregnancy rate has fallen by 42 percent. Fewer teen pregnancies mean fewer abortions, less financial strain on families, and more children being born into families that are ready to have a child.
This news came as a surprise to me, as it did to many. Seventy-four percent of adults incorrectly believe the teen pregnancy rate has increased or stayed the same. Fewer teens have gotten pregnant do to a combination of waiting to have sex until later and being more educated about the proper way to use contraception. This news doesn’t fit the current narrative that millennials and young people don’t take personal responsibility for their lives and choices.
This success is yet another example of what government, the private sector and faith community, and families can accomplish when they work together.
The Environmental Protection Agency held listening sessions Thursday to hear from the public about a forthcoming rule about carbon emissions from existing power plants. More than 20 faith leaders spoke on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” In addition to such faith leaders as Rev. Dottie Yunger and Interfaith Power & Light’s Joelle Novey, other parties, from pro-coal Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and coal lobbyist Mike Carey to the Sierra Club’s Leslie Fields and League of Conservation Voters’ Gene Karpinski, were on hand to testify. Those testifying had three minutes apiece to voice their views on what the new rule on emissions should look like.
Prior to the testimonies, more than 20 faith leaders assembled outside of the EPA to pray that God’s creation would be restored. Organized by Creation Justice Ministries and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light, the vigil featured songs of hallelujah and peace. Novey read a Jewish prayer for travelers, asking God to lead us into safety.
After the worship service, the faith leaders joined a diverse audience to testify to the EPA about the importance of battling climate change. I saw five faith leaders speak, reminding the agency that they not only have a technocratic responsibility to create a stringent rule limiting carbon emissions, but also a moral responsibility to do so.
It’s true that by some standards I am not North Carolinian, nor or am I Southern. I was not born there — I have no extended family there. I don’t speak with a drawl. And I don’t (gasp!) like sweet tea or Cheerwine.
But after 14 birthdays, nine years in the public education system, four years at UNC-Chapel Hill, countless pounds of barbecue, numerous trips to the Appalachians and the Outer Banks, and many lifetime milestones — including voting for the first time! — passed in that beautiful state, it is now the closest thing to home I know.
WASHINGTON — Twenty-five top Christian leaders gathered in the U.S. city with perhaps the worst reputation for civil discourse Wednesday and committed themselves to elevating the level of public conversation.
Meeting in a row house three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the group spanned the Christian spectrum, and included officials from liberal churches and the most conservative of interest groups.
“The ground of our spiritual understanding is in treating other people as the image of God, treating people with respect,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
“Faith leaders have a remarkable opportunity to shift the conversation, but it’s very challenging, particularly in a larger society that wants to understand everything as a battle, as engaging the enemy, rather than with someone who might have something to teach us,” she said.
WASHINGTON — Black clergy have launched a new coalition to fight gun violence, saying they are undeterred by the recent failure of legislation on Capitol Hill and all too aware of the problem of gun violence.
At meetings held Tuesday in Washington and Los Angeles, supporters of the African-American Church Gun Control Coalition called gun violence “both a sin and a public health crisis” and committed to a three-year action plan of advocacy, education and legislative responses.
“As people of God and as faithful members we have the obligation to stir the world’s conscience and to call on our nation’s decision makers to do what is just and right,” said the Rev. Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which convened the coalition.
Guns are dangerous idols. While mass shootings are happening at an alarming rate and an epidemic of gun violence plagues our nation’s cities, our society’s fanatical devotion to weapons prevents us from enacting solutions to curb the violence. The cost of worshipping these false idols continues to rise, as firearms kill more than 80 people a day.
Since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newton, Conn., nearly 3,500 people have died because of a gun. Some of them were suicides. Some were gang-related gun deaths. Many use these facts to insinuate that the deaths somehow aren't equally tragic. But as Christians we know that all of them were children of God created in the Divine image.
While the idolatry rages on, prophets are beginning to speak out.
Thousands of people flooded the National Mall on Wednesday to call on Congress for commonsense immigration reform that includes a roadmap to earned citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Coupled with a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill and sibling rallies across the country, Wednesday’s was one of the biggest immigration rallies to date. Sponsored by the Service Employee International Union, Casa de Maryland, the NAACP, and more, the rally began with an interfaith prayer service and featured the voices of faith leaders, including UMC Bishop of Los Angeles Minerva Carcaño, Director of Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism Rabbi David Saperstein, Director Hispanic Diocese of Arlington Padre Jose Eugenio Hoyos, and Islamic Center of Maryland Imam Jamil Dasti.
WASHINGTON — A White House advisory council of religious leaders called for a global fund to address human trafficking and urged a new labeling system to help identify consumer goods that were not created with slave labor.
With a 36-page report released Wednesday, the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships hopes to build awareness of the estimated 21 million people worldwide who are subjected to sexual exploitation or forced labor.
“Abraham Lincoln said if slavery is not wrong then nothing is wrong, and we know that sadly 150 years later slavery still exists,” said Susan K. Stern, chair of the council and an adviser to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “Today with this report we say, ‘Enough.’”
The 15-member council made 10 recommendations to the White House, saying what they’ve learned about the scope of trafficking has driven them to galvanize national action.
One recommendation calls for a “Global Fund to Eradicate Modern-day Slavery,” modeled on a fund that combated AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Louisiana faith leaders hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal this morning, denouncing his proposal to increase sales tax by 47 percent as “unjust” and “regressive.”
The state already has one of the most disproportionate tax systems in the country, with low- and middle-income families paying more than twice the rate in taxes as families whose income totals more than $1 million per year. To raise the sales tax even higher, say leaders, would deal a crushing blow to the poor.
“[W]e are concerned that your plan proposes to use the increased revenue generated by a heavier burden on poor and moderate income families,” the letter reads, “not to fund any of the important needs and services our State faces, but to decrease the tax burden for those members of our community who are most blessed with wealth and resources. That … is unacceptable.”
A meeting today of faith leaders with the president on immigration reform opened and closed with prayer.
This was my prayer at the end:
Thank you Lord, for this circle of leaders around the table and how you have brought us together to help welcome the stranger in our midst — to fix this broken immigration system that breaks families and lives.
Thank you for the leadership of Barack Obama in making comprehensive immigration reform such a high priority in these critical months ahead. Guide and direct him to find a genuine bipartisan political path to accomplish something so important that has been needed for so long. We thank you for both the Republicans and Democrats who are coming together to make that possible.
So you might think that religious folks for the most part are not big fans of guns, and for the most part you’d be right.
And then you run across these comments from a California legislator, who said guns are “essential to living the way God intended.” That was Rep. Tim Donnelly, who told a Christian radio show Jan. 16 that guns “are used to defend human life. They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom.”
Well, yes, guns are used that way. They are used in lots of other ways too — to kill people we don’t like, to hold up banks, to commit suicide. It’s harder to wrap those under the banner of God’s intent.
For Christians, it’s hard to square the deification of guns with Jesus telling his followers to put away their swords, even as he was being arrested and led off to death.
That’s why a wide coalition of religious voices are speaking out in the great national debate about how we can live up to the Second Amendment’s call for having a “well-regulated militia.” Notice the words “well-regulated.”
As the Very Rev. Gary Hall, the new dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., said two days after the horrific shootings at Newtown: “I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby.”
WASHINGTON — Dozens of the nation’s faith leaders said on Tuesday that they’re ready to take on the gun lobby and demanded that politicians take quick and concrete steps to stem gun violence.
At a Capitol Hill press conference and in a letter to Congress, more than 45 clergy and heads of religious groups — representing the spectrum of American religious life — petitioned lawmakers to reinstitute a ban on assault weapons, require background checks on all gun buyers, and make gun trafficking a federal crime.
Organized by the two-year-old coalition Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence, the signers said the slayings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month had pushed them to redouble their efforts, and created an opportunity to beat back the gun lobby.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical who heads the progressive Christian group Sojourners, took on Wayne LaPierre, the outspoken executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, directly.
LaPierre’s statement after Newtown that the “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is “morally mistaken” and “religiously repugnant,” Wallis said.
WASHINGTON — At a time when the ideals of compromise and collegiality seem like a distant dream in the nation’s capital, an unusually diverse coalition of religious leaders is asking Americans to pray for civility.
“Through daily prayer, we are calling on the ‘better angels of our nature’ needed to sustain our nation and solve problems,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, immediate past president of the National Council of Churches and one of the faith leaders taking part in “18 days of Prayer for the Nation.”
Prayers began Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, and end on Jan. 21, the day of President Obama’s second inauguration.
Faith leaders from left, right and center have signed on, including Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Richard Land of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics, and Religious Liberty Commission and Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
The Faith & Politics Institute, a nonpartisan group that nurtures the spiritual life of members of Congress and their staffs and presses political foes toward civil debate, organized the days of prayer and an online “commitment to prayer” page to document participation.
A palpable feeling of hope and urgency hung heavy in the air of Washington, D.C., this week as thousands of activists descended on the nation’s capital to encourage and inspire colleagues and decision-makers to “turn the tide on AIDS.”
The International AIDS Conference 2012 has returned to the United States, thanks in part to the lifting of the HIV/AIDS travel ban by the Obama Administration in 2010, which followed work from President George W. Bush also to lift the ban.
As part of the Conference, faith leaders from across the world were invited Tuesday morning to a forum hosted by the White House. It was an opportunity to hear from U.S. and international experts and officials, as well as come together as a community of faith, standing up against the stigma and isolation which have been two of the biggest roadblocks to achieving the goal of an AIDS-free generation.
Tuesday’s event centered around two panel discussions — one examining what the faith community uniquely brings to the table in tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the other focusing on the relationship between governments and people of faith in building the effective partnerships needed to tackle it.
The tone of the discussions was, in many ways, extremely positive. We heard about vast improvements in treatments and holistic care, services often administered by faith-based organizations around the world.
“Hope,” as White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Executive Director, Joshua DuBois, noted, is overcoming “fear.”
Both Republicans and Democrats have a religion problem and it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, abortion or religious liberty. Rather it is budgets, deficits, and debt ceiling deadlines that are their serious stumbling blocks.
That’s right, in a city deeply divided between the political right and left there is a growing consensus from religious leaders about getting our fiscal house in order and protecting low-income people at the same time. Together, many of us are saying that there is a fundamental religious principle missing in most of our political infighting: the protection of the ones about whom our scriptures say God is so concerned.
Indeed, the phrase “a budget is a moral document” originated in the faith community, and has entered the debate. But those always in most in jeopardy during Washington’s debates and decisions are precisely the persons the Bible instructs us clearly to protect and care for — the poorest and most vulnerable. They have virtually none of the lobbyists that all the other players do in these hugely important discussions about how public resources will be allocated.
For us, this is definitely not a partisan issue, but a spiritual and biblical one that resides at the very heart of our faith. It is the singular issue which has brought together the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Salvation Army, and the leaders of church denominations, congregations, and faith-based organizations across the nation.
Late Wedesday (1/18), leaders from Christian and other faith communities welcomed the news that the Obama administration has rejected the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The controversial project, which would have run for 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, through the American Heartland to the Gulf of Mexico, would have been a backward step in the administration’s professed commitment to investing in clean and renewable energy sources.
In August 2011, more than 1,200 peaceful protestors were arrested as part of a sustained campaign to demonstrate against the pipeline project. In November 2011, Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis, along with other Sojourners staffers and 15,000 members of the public, peacefully (and prayerfully) encircled the White House to urge President Obama to stop the project.
Sojourners welcomed the Obama’s decision in November to postpone the permitting of the pipeline until an environmental impact report was completed. While this new decision is a clear step forward, TransCanada has the opportunity to reapply for the permit along a different route and leaders have pledged to remain vigilant and watch the issue closely.
Where in the world is the Golden Calf?
Remember that huge golden replica of the Wall Street Bull that led the faithful of New York to Zuccotti Park a couple months ago? Well, it’s back! And this time the iconic sculpture is serving as more than spectacle.
Members of Catholics United, along with faith leaders and residents of Occupy DC, marched with the Golden Calf from McPherson Square to the Capitol on Thursday to deliver a petition in support of a bill that would raise taxes on the rich.
“If we’re really concerned with the ‘least’ of our brothers and sisters, then cutting their resources isn’t the way to do it,” said Jason Miller, one of the artists who worked on the Calf and a member of Catholics United. “We need to get rid of the deficit, but not on the backs of the poor.”
Sixty percent of white evangelicals support raising taxes on those making more than a million a year and 58 percent oppose cutting federal programs that support low-income people.
The Republicans have been taken over by an extreme ideology that their political base doesn't even support. And the power of money has corrupted our political system.
What was lost with the supercommittee was a responsible and balanced way to reduce the deficit, while protecting both the poor and the common good. Very sad and alarming for the future.
It's a clear sign something's wrong when talks on "free trade" turn an island paradise into an armed camp.
Hawaii is on lockdown this week while the U.S. tries to hammer out a regional trade agreement that's being called "NAFTA for the Pacific." While some mean this as a compliment, Hawaii's faith and labor leaders are lifting their voices against an agreement they believe will put profits for banks and corporations above workers' rights, indigenous culture, and local communities. Those leaders are drawing on the Pacific region's indigenous "Coconut Theology" to provide an alternative vision of the common good.
"Coconut Theology came out of our contextual understanding of the Gospel in the Pacific," said Rev. Piula Alailima, pastor of Wesley Methodist Church in Honolulu and a core leader in the community organizing group Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE). "When we break the body of the coconut and partake of the juice, it's a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, of sacrifice, of community and the common good."