Ten Defining Phrases of 2012

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President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Mitt Romney after the debate. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Generally, we only know how history will be remembered once it is in the rearview mirror. Something, or some things, jump out and remain indelible in the collective memories of the culture. And in a world defined by sound bytes, sometimes only a few words tell us a lot about that moment in time.

In that spirit, here are my selections for the ten most defining phrases that will stay with us from the past year.

Contraception Opponents Hail D.C. Court Ruling

WASHINGTON — Foes of the federal contraception mandate are cheering a Tuesday appeals court decision requiring the Obama administration to devise exemptions to the new rule for two Christian colleges.

They’re also buoyed by the D.C. Circuit Court’s reversal of lower court decisions to throw out their cases. The administration had argued that because it was crafting an exemption to the contraception rule, the cases should not go forward.

Now the cases continue, and every 60 days, the administration must report on its plan to ensure that the colleges do not have to comply with the new rule, which mandates that employers cover contraception in their health plans.

“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case.

Burn Your NRA Card


Protesters marching with the social activist group CREDO for stronger gun laws. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama addressed the nation on Wednesday morning to establish a commission led by Vice President Biden on stronger gun safety laws. Gone was the passion of his address at the interfaith service in Newtown and in place we have back the above-the-fray politician.

However, one point was clear. “If we are going to change things,” he said, “it is going to take a wave of Americans … standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids.”

Will Obama’s address beat the National Rife Association’s messaging strategy?  

On Friday, Dec. 21, the NRA will hold its first a press conference after the Newtown, Conn., massacre—and America’s first reasonable conversation on stronger gun laws will come to an end.

On Scripture: Who is He? Malachi 3:1-4

Who was Abraham Lincoln? You may get different answers depending on whom you ask. He is known as the Great Emancipator. He was a self-taught rural Kentuckyian. He was a husband and father. Also, he was a pragmatic politician. The new film, Lincoln, seeks to address this question by focusing on the political struggles for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the last few months before Lincoln’s death.

Recently, I saw the film Lincoln, and certainly, the parallels between Lincoln and President Barack Obama are easy to see. Played masterfully by Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln is a second-term president who attempts to pass major legislation through a partisan, lame-duck Congress during a time of deep divisions in the country. Newly reelected President Obama faces similar challenges. He is a second-term president who must contend with partisan politics while facing end-of-the-year spending and tax cuts in an increasingly polarized country. Furthermore, Obama has linked himself to Lincoln. For example, in 2007, then-Senator Obama announced his candidacy for president from Springfield, Ill., in front of the Old State Capitol as did Lincoln in 1858. Also, Obama used President Lincoln’s Bible at his swearing-in ceremony in 2008.

While it may be easy to see why some people would view the film in light of contemporary politics, Lincoln’s political context and Obama’s are quite different. Facile comparisons between Lincoln and Obama do both men a disservice since they serve in completely different contexts. The Civil War is not the war against terror. The abolition of slavery is not the fiscal cliff. After a point, our attempts to connect the characters and subject matter of the film Lincoln to current events seem rather forced.

Falling off the Fiscal Cliff: 5 Things You Need to Know

Image by Tim Teebken / Getty Images

Image by Tim Teebken / Getty Images

Now that the election is over, policymakers and the media have refocused their attention on the looming budget battles in Washington. In January, a variety of tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect unless Congress and President Barack Obama agree on a plan to avoid what has been deemed “the fiscal cliff.”

As the country braces for another fiscal showdown in the nation’s capitol, here are five things you need to know on the issue likely to dominate the news over the next several months. 

    Who Speaks for Catholics?

    Before the election, several bishops went so far as to threaten their parishioners with eternal damnation if they voted for Obama.

    Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

    Jim Rice, editor of Sojourners magazine, has been a member of Sojourners editorial staff since 1989. He has also served as director of Sojourners Outreach Ministry and as coordinator of Sojourners Peace Ministry. He currently serves as a Research Fellow for the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary.

    Faith, Hunger, Politics, Chicken & Waffles: A Conversation Between Chris LaTondresse and Adam Phillips

    Adam Nicholas Phillips: Chris, tell us a little bit about yourself.

    Christopher LaTondresse: As the son of American evangelical missionary parents, I spent several formative years living in the former Soviet Union — Novosibirsk, Russia to be exact — smack dab in the middle of Siberia. My family is originally from Minnesota, so I was convinced that they were trying to find the one place on the planet colder than our home state to do missions work.

    Growing up as a missionary kid, my parents taught me to take my faith seriously, to take Jesus seriously, no matter what the cost. Their example — leaving the trappings of an American middle-class lifestyle behind to pursue something they believed in — sticks with me to this day. The major lesson: There are things in this life worth making exceptional sacrifices for, especially things close to the heart of God.Adam Phillips

    I guess this is really what informs who I am, and animates my work today. True, I’m not a full-time missionary, but I’ve tried to devote my life to playing a role, however small, in what God is doing in the world. For my parents this was about planting churches and, to use the language of the Navigators (the missions organization that sent them) “making disciples”. For me it’s about taking Jesus seriously when he said, “What you do unto the least of least, you do for me.”

    Chastened Catholic Bishops Told They Have to Reform Themselves

    RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

    Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

    BALTIMORE — After sweeping setbacks to the hierarchy’s agenda on Election Day, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday told U.S. Catholic bishops that they must now examine their own failings, confess their sins and reform themselves if they hope to impact the wider culture.

    “That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a repentant heart,” Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the 250 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting.

    “The premier answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization, or global warming … none of these, as significant as they are,” Dolan said, citing many of the issues that have become favorite targets of the hierarchy.

    What the Most Negative Election in U.S. History Says About Us

    In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, we learned that President Barack Obama would remain the leader of the free world. But his victory came at a price. He and Governor Mitt Romney now have the honor of participating in the most negative election in United States history.

    “The campaign has already set records for nastiness and negativity,” Senator Joseph Lieberman commented to CNN in August. Howard Fineman echoed the sentiments on the Huffington Post, calling it “the nastiest, most abrasive personally accusatory presidential campaign in modern times.”

    It’s hard to argue with their assessments, but does anyone care? And if so, what are we going to do about it?

    Every campaign has a measure of negativity, but 2012 was exceptional.

    Every campaign has a measure of negativity, but 2012 was exceptional. Mudslinging became an art form, and the lack of truth-telling turned “fact-checking” into a cottage industry. At one time in this country, disagreements could be settled by a good old-fashioned duel. (If you don’t believe me, ask Aaron Burr.) But in the media age, guns are no longer necessary. We have commercials.

    The campaigns unleashed roughly 1,000,000 television ads during this election, and a record four out of five were negative.