Inequality

Justice … not ‘Just Us’

Nagib / Shutterstock.com

Nagib / Shutterstock.com

I am a professor of religion at a small liberal arts college in Decorah, Iowa. For the last two weeks in my Religion 239: Clamoring for Change course, students and I have been reading the book Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude. We have been discussing the issue of “justice,” and we have been playing with an image of God as one who works from the bottom-up on behalf of many rather than one who works from the top-down on behalf of a few.

A fundamental principle within this “bottom-up” theology is the idea of God taking sides (a view quite common in most of the “liberative” theologies). Many people, however, are often uncomfortable with the idea of God taking sides. They often assert that such an image contradicts the idea of an impartial and all-loving God who cares equally for all people.

A bottom-up theology of God asserts that God is a God who exists in relationship with all of creation at the same time every created thing is in relationship with every other created thing. While the relationships that involve human beings may be governed by several principles, I believe one principle that governs all human relationships is the principle of “justice.”

To the Millennia and Beyond!

I CONFESS THAT I DO NOT often use the Revised Common Lectionary. As a Bible professor, I prefer to read texts in their larger literary and historical contexts. When a brief reading from one time period is lifted out of its context and juxtaposed with another written many centuries later, it can feel like an invisible hand is forcing me to compare apples and oranges—or even apples and mushrooms.

Nevertheless, I have been enriched by this year’s readings for Advent and Christmas. My “larger historical context” has become the sweep of a thousand years of Israelite history, from King David to the birth of the “son of David.”

For Christians, the coming of Jesus was a singularity. Though we focus on his birth in this season, that lower-class event was barely noticed at the time, and it is not mentioned by two of our gospel writers. It is his entire life, ministry, death, and resurrection that echoes throughout the ages and ushers in our hope of salvation. Our prophets and psalmists from the Hebrew Bible could not foresee details of the Christ-event from their perspectives centuries earlier. Yet their intuitions and hints and poetic expressions of joy over God’s in-breaking from their times are now borrowed to give voice to our exultation over Jesus’ coming today.

In a culture measured by quarterly profits and immediate gratification by credit card, we need a longer view to better understand what God is doing throughout human history. These Advent readings call us beyond the present to the millennia of the past and the hope of the future stretching to eternity.

Reta Halteman Finger, co-author of Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, taught Bible at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and writes a Bible study blog at  http://www.eewc.com/RetasReflections.

[December 7]

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Ebola Is an Inequality Crisis

Ebola precautions taken in Guinea, © EC/ECHO / Flickr.com

Ebola precautions taken in Guinea, © EC/ECHO / Flickr.com

In the past few months, the world has witnessed the worst outbreak of Ebola since the disease was first identified in 1976 — it has already claimed the lives of more than 3,400 people. But while the first cases in the U.S. and Spain have stirred fears over the past week, we don’t need to fear an unstoppable epidemic in developed countries. As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim aptly put it in a piece for the Huffington Post:

The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high- and middle-income counties. However, over many years, we have failed to make these things accessible to low-income people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. So now thousands of people in these countries are dying because, in the lottery of birth, they were born in the wrong place.

Dr. Kim makes the crucial point here — the current Ebola outbreak is much more than a public health crisis — it is an inequality crisis.

After a Summer of Crisis, Churches Can't Go Back to Business As Usual

josefkubes / Shutterstock.com

josefkubes / Shutterstock.com

When churches conclude their summer hiatus and resume full-scale ministries this week, much will have changed from a year ago — outside their doors.

Conditions might have changed inside, too. But it is the world outside that demands fresh attention in mission and ministry.

Ferguson, Mo., has happened, revealing disturbing trends in law enforcement and deep fault lines between white experience and black experience.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine happened, threatening a resumption of dangerous tensions between Moscow and Western democracies.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria happened, raising the dreaded specter of a take-no-prisoners war on modernity, reason, progress, women and other faiths.

The 113th Congress happened, mired in systemic dysfunction, with one party determined to cripple a black president and to channel more wealth to the wealthy.

The Koch brothers and their megabuck cronies happened, changing the face of electoral politics with unprecedented infusions of cash and ideological vitriol.

The two-tier economy happened, with one tier doing extraordinarily well and a much, much larger tier falling further behind, leaving despair among all age groups.

Border wars between terrified migrants and swaggering white men bearing arms against children happened, threatening America’s true core value as a welcoming nation promising freedom.

These outside-the-walls developments have little to do with the usual church fussing — except to say that it’s time for church people to stop their usual fussing.

The Need for Ferguson to Continue

Ferguson support rally in New York City, a katz / Shutterstock.com

Ferguson support rally in New York City, a katz / Shutterstock.com

This week, I saw a torrent of debate about who reached for the gun and why police don’t shoot people in the leg rather than taking their lives. Neither angle seems to capture the bigger story at play on the evening news and fueling protest marches across Missouri.

On Sunday I preached to my church on race, current affairs and how to process — in a biblically loving way — what has been happening to brothers and sisters in Ferguson. (See video below) Talking about race and current affairs can be taboo in evangelical churches, and it was interesting as I saw a few couples exit the back door as I spoke.

Last week, I penned my thoughts on why we should pray for the saints in Ferguson. It was the outgrowth of my personal frustration and the pain I feel over the misunderstandings on race that can pervade the majority culture. 

Race, Current Affairs & Prayer from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

The Biblical Case for Limiting Money in Politics

Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/Shutterstock.com

Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/Shutterstock.com

While there are no biblical texts speaking directly to the issue of money in politics, biblical principles are still relevant, and people of faith have an important role to play in the emerging debate about the future of our democracy. Before exploring those principles, however, it is important to understand the serious issues of inequality currently present in our system, and the correlation between inequality and the money flooding our political system.

The richest 1 percent own more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The richest one-tenth of one percent have as much pre-tax income as the bottom 120 million Americans.

In Affluence and Influence, political scientist Martin Gilens concludes that, “The preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which politics the government does or does not adapt.” He details the data throughout his book that clearly demonstrates policy makers are only listening to the wealthy donor class. This situation has been made even worse by the Supreme Court’sCitizens United in 2010, which allowed a huge influx of money to flood our political system after declaring the personhood of corporations. 

The Court’s more recent decision in McCutcheon v FEC made matters even worse. Before McCutcheon, one person was able to contribute up to $123,000 to political candidates and parties. In striking down this aggregate limit, the Court paved the way for individuals to contribute more than $3.5 million directly to candidates and party committees. In a report detailing the potential impact of McCutcheon, Demos predicts the decision could result in more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions by 2020.

Moses Rising

Illustration of Moses parting the Red Sea, Ron and Joe / Shutterstock.com

Illustration of Moses parting the Red Sea, Ron and Joe / Shutterstock.com

In one of the screen-saved memories cataloged from my childhood, I sit in the living room, cross-legged, chin supported by two fists, staring up at moving pictures flashing across a small screen. On network television — because we didn’t have cable back then — Moses (aka Charlton Heston) led thousands of his people out of captivity. They just walked out of Egypt — streams of them. And then they reached the Red Sea.

The Egyptian army was at their back, pressing in. In that moment, though they had left captivity, freedom was not a done deal. They still had to cross over. They were still at war. They still had to outrun an army trained to kill or enslave them again.

Heston — I mean Moses — stood straight-backed on the bank of the Red Sea. He lifted his staff and put it down at the edge of the water, and a miracle took place in living rooms across America. The sea parted. I’ll never forget that moment. This moment was crafted before the digital era — before Disney’s Prince of Egypt, even before Star Wars, and yet it was still awe-inspiring. My eyes focused like lasers watching whole families cross a sea on foot.

Moses led. He was not a king. He was a foster child. He was not from the dominant culture. He was from an enslaved people. He was not a great orator. He stuttered, but he led anyway. He said “Yes” to God’s call and leaned into it. And because he did, the people were set free.

Does Jesus Love African-American Males?

Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Does Jesus love African-American males? Then why aren’t we telling them so?!

I recently held a Town Hall Meeting at my church in my hometown of Madison, Wis., regarding the blaring racial disparity between whites and African Americans. This gathering attracted about 650 people who wanted to hear my thoughts after reading my "Justified Anger ” cover essay in a local newspaper. It appears that when one considers the economic, academic, arrest and incarceration disparities between African Americans and whites in Madison (and surrounding Dane County), there is no bleaker place for African Americans to be in the entire country than Madison. Although Madison — with its great university, beautiful lakes, bike paths, and educated residents — typically receives high marks as being among the best mid-sized American cities in which to live, it is now developing a different reputation about life here. Sadly, our community has been nationally deemed as ground zero for the disintegration of African-American males!

We Are In a Crisis — a Moral Crisis

 EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics / Shutterstock.com

Moral Mondays protest in North Carolina, EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics / Shutterstock.com

I believe that deep within our being is a longing for a moral compass. For those of us who are moved by the cries of our sisters and brothers, we know that, like justice, the acts of caring for the vulnerable, embracing the stranger, healing the sick, protecting workers, welcoming and being fair to all members of the human family, and educating all children should never be relegated to the margins of our social consciousness. These are not just policy issues; these are not issues for some left vs. right debate; these are the centerpieces of our deepest traditions of our faiths, of our values, of our sense of morality and righteousness.

We must remind those who make decisions regarding public policy what the prophet Isaiah said "Woe unto those who legislate evil ... Rob the poor of their rights ... make children and women their prey." Isaiah 10: 1-2

Martin Luther King, Jr. said 46 years ago in one of his last sermons that if you ignore the poor, one day the whole system will collapse and implode. The costs are too high if we don’t address systemic racism and poverty. It costs us our soul as a nation. Every time we fail to educate a child on the front side of life, it costs us on the back side — financially and morally.

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