Injustice

Are You 'Good Enough'?

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Would a ‘Christian nation’ have the highest incarceration rate than any other nation in the world? Shutterstock.com

I don’t know about you, and the people you know, but most people I know who call themselves Christians are particularly proud of the certainty that they are ‘good enough’.

It’s an odd phrase when you think about it; in a world simmering with chaos, injustice and upheaval, oppression, poverty and human trafficking, in our cities filled with addiction and unrest, our prisons cramped and over-flowing, do any of us really believe that the best we can do is ‘good enough’?

Can many of us actually congratulate ourselves, or our faith communities for our impact on our neighborhoods, schools or cities?

Why I Marched on McDonald's

Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, consults with Shyrl Hinnant Uzzell. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

Recently, I marched with McDonald’s workers from three dozen cities to the company’s corporate headquarters outside of Chicago. After they refused to leave the corporate campus of the fast-food giant with its $5.6 billion in profits last year, 101 workers were arrested.

I knew I had to come when the workers invited me to share some of the lessons we have been learning in North Carolina about civil disobedience — and moral support.

I watched my new friends sit down. I watched the police gather. I prayed with the McDonald’s workers as the police looked on and then slapped plastic handcuffs on more than 100 of the workers and arrested them.

I could not help but think of the historic arc of the civil rights movement. For all the gains we have been making, the treatment of low-paid workers by some of the most profitable corporations in the world ranks high in the more significant causes of the growing inequalities in the U.S.

That Our Creation Care Would Also Fight Racism and Poverty

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Romans can touch on the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism. Irish_design / Shutterstock.com

What more perfect a passage to enliven our Earth Day celebrations than Romans 8:20-25?

Paul's letter to the Romans was certainly not an exhortation to deepen creation care by weighting it with environmental justice. It wasn't an exhortation for the middle-class church to listen to the groaning of people under the bondage of environmental racism. It wasn't intended to paint a picture of the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism.

But we — two evangelical activists — are just foolish enough to give all that a try in this short space!

Our dear Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans paints a picture of the new age inaugurated by Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus has taken sin – that which infiltrated the world (5:12), enslaved the world (6:6, 17-18), and brought death and destruction (7:8-14) — and had victory over it. By our death in baptism and resurrection with Christ, we participate in his victory over sin (6:4). This is a new age, we put on our new selves, we live with the (re)new(ed) creation ahead of us.

Prophetic Preaching: 'One of The Priests is Receiving Death Threats'

Photo: Jacek Orzechowski
a Franciscan young adult group at St. Camillus created a large mural about Easter. Photo: Jacek Orzechowski

Last fall, on a Sunday afternoon, as I walked out of the church, a young man tugged on my Franciscan habit. It was Miguel, a member of our Latino choir.

“Father,” he said, “please, pray for the people of my home parish back in El Salvador, especially for one of the priests who has received death threats.”

Startled, I asked: “What is happening there?"

“These priests are organizing against the multinational companies,” he said. “The companies are looking for gold. What will be left for our people? Only poisoned water, a wasteland, and death.”

A few weeks later, I had another similar conversation with a group from Guatemala. Theirs was a similar tale of how indigenous communities were being threatened by mining projects.

As a Catholic and a member of the Franciscan Order, I believe that we are called to “read the signs of the times” and to listen to the cry of the poor and the “groaning” of God’s Creation.

Working Toward Justice in the Way of Jesus

Courtesy Summit Entertainment
'Enders Game' provides good insight into how to win a battle. Courtesy Summit Entertainment

The classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was adapted on to the big screen in November 2013. The story tells of a brilliant boy, Ender, who trained to battle in a world threatened by a formidable alien race. In the final battle sequence, Ender skillfully devises the perfect strategy, carrying it out ruthlessly to achieve victory against his enemy, effectively wiping out the entirety of the opposing army. Just as the audience exhales from his display of incredible wit and meticulous execution, the chilling plot twist dawns: what Ender assumed to be the final simulation exam was indeed a real, flesh-and-blood battle. Ender had inadvertently committed genocide. 

Enraged by having being manipulated into killing, Ender glowers at his commander, the emotion in his voice drenched with the incomprehensible weight of his new realization, he says,

The way we win matters.

Cowboys, Indians, and Reconciliation?

THE DOMINANT cultures of North America have long struggled to take responsibility for the suffering and injustice inflicted upon the Indigenous Peoples of the continent. The archetypal “us/them” story of cowboys and Indians remains at the core of North American national identities, from derogatory sports mascots and symbols such as the Washington “Redskins” and the “Chief Wahoo” character of the Cleveland Indians to the ignorant “redfacing” by non-Indigenous partygoers and trick-or-treaters in contrived Indian outfits. And this situation is nowhere near ending, despite many years of cultural sensitivity training and education.

Such overt racism should never be acceptable today. Yet it persists in regard to Indigenous Peoples. Why is this? As one friend remarked to me, most modern-day Americans believe injustices done to Indigenous Peoples to be a thing of the past.

But are they? Steve Heinrichs, director of Indigenous relations for the Mennonite Church in Canada, has brought together nearly 40 theologians, activists, writers, and poets—half of whom are Indigenous—to create Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, a challenging anthology on Indigenous-Christian relations, stolen land, racism, and the impending environmental crisis that we all must face together.

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry isn’t easy reading. It’s a Jonah-like warning that should unsettle us and change our perspective. And that’s exactly what needs to happen. Its contributors offer a wide range of views, but agree on at least one thing: “the controlling culture is violently sick, devastating peoples and lands. The need is urgent: repent, resist, do something.”

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One Church, One Body

From "12 Years a Slave"

IN OCTOBER, Sojourners hosted a Washington, D.C. premiere for the faith community of the extraordinary film 12 Years a Slave. The compelling story about Solomon Northup—a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery—is an accurate and well-produced drama, worth seeing for its cinematic merits, but primarily as a start to a conversation about race in America that is long overdue.

In her New York Times review titled “The Blood and Tears, Not the Magnolias,” Manohla Dargis wrote that 12 Years a Slave “isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States—but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century.” The film reveals how morally outrageous the slave system was, and it is very hard to watch.

The enslavement of millions of people of African descent by white Americans was always violent, and too intense for most white people to really accept the truth. Most white people, white Christians, and white churches tolerated slavery for 246 years. This historically horrendous evil existed because we tolerated it. That’s why evil always continues to exist: because we tolerate it.

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Justice in the Courts? Not for This Man

Andrey Burmakin / Shutterstock.com
Andrey Burmakin / Shutterstock.com

Duane Buck currently sits on death row in a Texas jail cell partly because he is black. He has been held since his 1997 capital sentencing hearing, which was influenced by blatantly racist testimony.  Trial prosecutors relied on erroneous “expert testimony” provided by psychologist Walter Quijano, who claimed African-Americans are more liable to commit future acts of violence than non-African-Americans.

Swayed by the misinformation, jury members accepted as truth Quijano’s claims. According to Texas law, a jury finding of “future dangerousness” is a prerequisite for a death sentence.  Consequently, Buck was convicted in the fatal shootings of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler and issued the death penalty.

Join us in calling on the Harris County District Attorney's Office to give Duane Buck a fair sentencing hearing.

Becoming Fluent in the Language of Hope

THE CELEBRATED PHILOSOPHER Ludwig Wittgenstein used to speak—disapprovingly—of “language going on holiday.” For example, sportswriters often free language from the drudgery of everyday common usage to let it spread its wings in glorious hyperbole about their favorite teams.

Our biblical heritage gives us examples that are much deeper. When we read the prophets especially, we hear language liberated from the constraints of the everyday to give it a sacred vacation, a true “holy-day,” so that it can return to us reinvigorated. We hear them sending language on an adventure holiday into the realm of God’s future. When they receive the words back, the prophets find themselves recounting visions of a new world that God has in store.

Eschatological language that has been to the future and back exerts a powerful authority over us. In this month’s scriptures we experience that authority again in Isaiah’s unforgettable oracles about the holy mountain on which no one shall ever again hurt or destroy. We shall see, with our mind’s eye, the rising of the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings. We shall hear Jesus speaking of the life waiting for the children of the resurrection. The church’s year ends by inviting us to enter under the authority of the coming kingdom, to become fluent in its strange language of hope, harmony, and ultimate reunion with the Holy One who has reconciled all creation through the cross and resurrection.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ NOVEMBER 3 ]
The Eyes Have It
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

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The Color of Justice

Scales of Justice,  tlegend / Shutterstock.com
Scales of Justice, tlegend / Shutterstock.com

Oddly, I wasn't there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. I wasn't in the jury box either. Some commentators, like Ezra Klein and Ta-Nahesi Coates, are saying the not guilty verdict was appropriate according to Florida's "stand your ground" law. (Note that they are not saying that the Florida law is appropriate; Klein uses the word outrageous).

If this verdict was appropriate, though, what about verdicts in cases that were similar except for the color of the defendant? What happened to the "stand your ground" law when the jury reached its verdict against Marissa Alexander — an African American woman from Jacksonville, Fla.?

And anyway, why should fear of attack justify shooting to kill? It didn't in the case of  John White — an African American man from Long Island, N.Y. — who shot a (white) teenager in 2006 (accidentally, he says, when the boy was trying to grab his gun).

John White, it appears, had good reason to fear the boys who showed up on his doorstep that night. That's probably why the governor commuted his sentence after he had served five months. And White no doubt should have served some time, according to New York law — his gun was unregistered, and if he hadn't been holding it when he went to the door, a scuffle probably wouldn't have escalated into manslaughter.

But, some say, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is this true?

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