Politics

Sepp Blatter & Dennis Hastert

Sepp Blatter in 2007 kojoku / Shutterstock.com; Dennis Hastert in 2005 by Doug Bowman via Flickr.com

My experience in the worlds of both religion and politics convinces me that one of three issues is at the heart of the catastrophic demise of any leader — money, sex, or power. Sometimes it’s a trifecta of all three together, like the case of John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate. But in virtually every case, a leader’s personal inability to exercise appropriate constraint and control over one or more of these three dimensions of life can lead to careers that crumble and reputations that become shattered.

That’s why, despite all the fascination on the external qualities, traits, and strategies of successful leaders, it’s their internal lives that can be far more decisive in their long-term ability to be transformative leaders — or not. But that requires attentiveness to the powerful but often hidden dynamics of one’s interior life, which “successful” leaders rarely have the time or courage to undertake.

Eric Barreto 06-01-2015
Photo via mariakraynova / Shutterstock.com

Photo via mariakraynova / Shutterstock.com

Political scandals are evergreen.

On any given week, one or another political leader, cultural star, or renowned athlete are experiencing an embarrassing and public downfall. Recently, we’ve born witness to the fall of a former Speaker of the House and a reality television celebrity. Next week, a new cast of characters will take their place. So ubiquitous are such scandals that they are the backdrop for the television show Scandal, a show I know is on because my Facebook page explodes with conversation about it!

But here’s the odd thing about these scandals, these falls from grace: they are so common that they shouldn’t shock us anymore. And yet these scandals sell newspapers, draw eyes on television. We can always muster some outrage at these all too common crimes.

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The papal address to the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to be one of the most closely watched talks during the pope’s weeklong visit to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia this fall, especially since the presidential campaign season will be growing more intense.

Francis isn’t shy about tackling controversial topics or upending conventional orthodoxies about Catholics and politics — a prospect that makes U.S. conservatives especially nervous, given Francis’ insistence on raising concerns about issues such as economic justice, climate change, and immigration.

Rose Marie Berger 03-09-2015

These national uprisings are part of an ongoing black liberation narrative. 

Kevin Spacey in Season 3 of Netflix’s “House of Cards.” Photo by David Giesbrech

Kevin Spacey in Season 3 of Netflix’s “House of Cards.” Photo by David Giesbrecht, courtesy of Netflix

All presidents beseech God to bless the United States of America. Many pray for divine aid for themselves or their policies. Some can only wonder at the inscrutable ways of the Almighty.

Then there’s Frank Underwood, who spits in God’s face.

Underwood is fictional, of course, the power-grabbing president and central character in the hit Netflix series House of Cards. And Underwood is a notoriously amoral — criminal, actually — practitioner of a realpolitik so brutal that nothing he does should be surprising.

Indeed, in the show’s first season, a frustrated Underwood stopped by a church and looked heavenward to speak to God, then down to address Satan. Finding no satisfying answer from either, he concluded:

“There is no solace above or below. Only us, small, solitary, striving, battling one another. I pray to myself, for myself.”

Still, it is almost jarring when, in the third and most recent season of the political thriller, Underwood — again stymied in his schemes — meets with a bishop late at night in a darkened sanctuary and engages in an extended debate on divine justice, power and love.

Adam Ericksen 02-27-2015

Bill O'Reilly on Jimmy Kimmel

I’m cringing as I write this.

That tells you a lot about me. When it comes to politics and theology, I identify as liberal. I firmly believe that Jesus wanted everyone fed, wanted universal health care, and that the Kingdom of God is about politics. It’s about structuring our personal and communal lives in a nonviolent way that ensures everyone has food to eat, debts are forgiven, and healing is freely provided for everyone.

Bill O’Reilly symbolizes almost everything that I loathe about American Christianity. His hyper-conservative politics is reinforced by his hyper-conservative theology. Many of my family members love his show, but I cringe when I hear his voice.

Stephen Mattson 02-05-2015
Online shopping illustration, Fotinia / Shutterstock.com

Online shopping illustration, Fotinia / Shutterstock.com

For Christians, it’s sometimes hard to admit believing in the supernatural, the legitimacy of miracles, an afterlife, and following an ancient text written thousands of years ago by numerous authors that have been divinely inspired by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent God.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

 

1. The Religion of Sport

Few people pray more fervently, earnestly, and passionately than when their favorite sports teams — and athletes — are competing.

With arms outstretched, they wildly clap, cheer, chant, cry, and scream at the top of their lungs. Wearing costumes, jerseys, and following

Ben Cohen 02-04-2015

Ben & Jerry's cofounder on how to fight back against big money in politics. 

11-07-2014
In times like these, when politicians are sweating to sway voters to their side, it is tempting to begin to define ourselves and each other through the frame of politics.
10-30-2014
Her first book, Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…or Democrat, offers a power-packed look at the roots of evangelical faith, how evangelicals strayed so far from those roots, and what is bringing them back.

Loyola Marymount University’s Sunken Garden and Sacred Heart Chapel. Photo via Mishigaki via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

Religious groups are battling the state of California over whether employee health insurance plans require them to pay for abortions and some forms of contraception that some find immoral.

So is the state forcing churches to pay for abortions? It depends on who you ask.

The issue gained traction after Michelle Rouillard, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, sent a letter to Anthem Blue Cross and several other insurance firms in August warning providers that state law requires insurers to not deny woman abortions. “Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” she wrote.

Rouillard wrote that state law provides an exemption for religious institutions.

“Although health plans are required to cover legal abortions, no individual health care provider, religiously sponsored health carrier, or health care facility may be required by law or contract in any circumstance to participate in the provision of or payment for a specific service if they object to doing so for reason of conscience or religion,” she wrote.

“No person may be discriminated against in employment or professional privileges because of such objection.”

However, two legal groups have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleging the California rule puts faith-based organizations in a position to violate their conscience.

Juliet Vedral 09-26-2014
skyfish/ Shutterstock.com

skyfish/ Shutterstock.com

We met over email in the spring of 2012. I had just co-launched a literary blog and our mutual friend introduced us as fellow writers. Stephanie and I immediately hit it off. Not only was she a gifted writer, Stephanie and I shared a similar sense of humor and sensibility. As we got to know each other and began to write with each other, we discovered a ridiculous number of similarities and common points of interest, including and especially, our shared Christian faith. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it was as though every other email was a “you too?” moment.

Then one day I wrote a piece that indicated my progressive political leaning. The 2012 presidential election was heating up and though the piece was not overtly political, it revealed my beliefs. Stephanie, it turned out, was a conservative.

This news wasn’t really a big deal to me — I am used to have friends and family who have different political beliefs, and I even got my first start in the blogging world as the token “progressive” Christian through a conservative friend’s blog. But things were getting heated with the election and we didn’t know each other that well.

Stephanie and I began to email back and forth about politics through the lens of faith, which tested whether we were Christians or ideologues first. We shared two things in common in holding our different political beliefs because: 1) we had both thought a lot about them, and, 2) shockingly, neither of us had an interest in destroying America. Eventually Stephanie and I decided to co-write a bipartisan series for our website, looking at partisanship through the lens of faith (summary: love for Jesus makes for fertile common ground).

After the election it was hard to ignore the mix of apocalyptic expressions of woe and the tone-deaf exclamations of victory. Each came with its own vilification of the other party. I found myself at parties with fellow progressives defending conservatives because the caricatures of them were plainly wrong, and I would be hurt if Stephanie didn’t defend me against caricatures of progressives.

Charles Redfern 08-26-2014
JolieNY and Krzysztof Kuczyk/Flickr

Aung San Suu Kyi delivering a lecture and street art of her. JolieNY and Krzysztof Kuczyk/Flickr

The 2014 election-year posturing forces me back to November, 2010, when a living parable walked into freedom after 15 years of house arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma/Myanmar's opposition leader, waved to her supporters and awakened our stagnant conscience.

Suu Kyi ranks among the elite of real-life parables. "I should be like them," we typically think. "Everyone should." They're the true norm. Saint Francis was one such parable. So was Gandhi. So were Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn. Pope Francis may be another. They shame our insipid, glitz-and-glitter leaders, whether they're overpaid CEOs or I'll-say-anything-to-get-votes candidates. They show us that politics is more than winning elections and business is more than making money.

In fact, they shame us all. We reward the attack ads. We elect the politicians and hire the CEOs. We diminish human beings to mere consumers and interest groups and file them into marketing categories. We breed our rant-and-rave culture and turn it loose.

Jim Wallis 08-07-2014
Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

“There is nothing quite like the African bush to sooth and rejuvenate.” That experience was conveyed to me by a South African church leader who has been helping plan the speaking tour I just arrived for here in this beloved country.

My wife, Joy, and I decided to use this wonderful speaking invitation to South Africa as an opportunity to take our annual August family vacation here. We arrived for a week of rest before the tour began and spent a few beautiful days on the lovely beaches of the Indian Ocean, still warm even for this end-of-winter period. But then the last two days, our Washington, D.C.-based family did something we have never done before — visited the game park and wetland reserve to see some of God’s most extraordinary creatures. Of course we’ve seen these animals in zoos before, but we now had the opportunity to see them roam freely in their natural habitat. For a bunch of city kids like us, it was truly amazing.

In Hluhluwe Game Reserve, beautiful zebras slowly grazed with a South African sunset behind them over the mountains. There are no more graceful creatures than giraffes, elegantly tasting the leaves on the tallest trees as they wander together at peace. Buffalos with great horns shared the terrain with antelopes that showed us their speed when they decided to run. And hyenas really do laugh off in the distance.

Tom Ehrich 07-29-2014

When I was a child, I lived in a black-and-white world of all-this or all-that.

Humankind meant my family. The world meant my neighborhood. Religion meant my church. Politics meant my father’s beliefs.

Oh, I was aware that more was out there, but it had little claim on my imagination or loyalties. My world was complete. There were no gray areas, no compromises, no maybes.

That was a child’s view, reality writ small. In time, I advanced beyond it, until the world became large, complicated, and gray, with places beyond imagining, people totally unlike anyone I knew, ideas beyond anything I heard at my parents’ table.

It’s called growing up. Discovering through knowledge and experience that the little I grew up knowing wasn’t enough to know.

We are witnessing today a headlong retreat into the not-knowing and simplistic partisanship of childhood. Ideas that make people uncomfortable are banished. Science that calls faith into question is shouted down. Politics isn’t just hardball, it’s dumb-ball: I must win, at any cost, and you must lose. I am right, and you are wrong. My tribe is the only tribe that has value and rights.

07-21-2014
Emily A. Dause is a public school teacher and a freelance writer. She writes in the tensions between despair and hope, doubt and faith, and isolation and relationship–with as much grace and audacity as she can muster. She contributes to Evangelicals for Social Action, Converge Magazine and Sojourners, among others. You can connect with her on facebook (facebook.com/sliversofhope) or twitter (@EmilyADause). She blogs regularly at her website, sliversofhope.com.
07-21-2014
Excerpted from Jim Wallis, The Uncommon Good (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014). Used by permission.
07-21-2014
I think we all know that the issues we’re facing cannot be solved by Gamaliel alone. They cannot be solved by Catholic Charities alone. If they could have been solved by one institution—Sojourners, the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP—they would’ve been solved.
Tom Ehrich 07-15-2014
iluistrator and Visual Idiot/Shutterstock.com

iluistrator and Visual Idiot/Shutterstock.com

If Christians stopped bickering about church, presenting sex as a first-order concern, telling other people how to lead their lives, and lending our name to minor-league politicians, what would we have to say?

We need to figure that out, because we are wearing out our welcome as tax-avoiding, sex-obsessed moral scolds and amateur politicians.

In fact, I think we are getting tired of ourselves. Who wants to devote life and loyalty to a religion that debates trifles and bullies the outsider?

So what would we say and do? No one thing, of course, because we are an extraordinarily diverse assembly of believers. But I think there are a few common words we would say.

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