Politics

How to Change Politics

THIS SUMMER, in a historic development, nearly 150 evangelical leaders signed an “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.” Signers came from across the spectrum of evangelicalism, from leading Latino evangelical organizations to pastors Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Joel Hunter, and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

No, that isn’t a typo. Sojourners stood side by side with Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in a broken system. It was exciting to see a unity across the traditional political spectrum that rarely happens in Washington.

Make no mistake: There are still big gaps in theology and politics among those in the group. But rather than politics, we focused on the things we agreed were fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives. Instead of ideology, we came together because of morality and common sense.

Big things don’t change in Washington first; they change in the nation’s capital last. You’d think that with all the lobbyists on K Street and the billions of dollars being spent, Washington must be the country’s most important place. But this is the place where things don’t change, where politics maintains the status quo and the special interests maintain their own interests. Both Republicans and Democrats are more concerned with their political bases and getting re-elected than with the people and families whose lives are being crushed.

Things change when hearts and minds across the country change. Things change when people’s understandings change, when families rethink their values, when congregations examine their faith, when communities get mobilized, and when nations are moved by moral imperatives. Things change when people believe that more than politics is at stake, that human lives, human dignity, and even faith are at stake. And when moral values change, culture changes—and then change comes to Washington.

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The Politics of Poverty

Save America photo, Andrew Rich / Getty Images
Save America photo, Andrew Rich / Getty Images

I’ll be honest … I’m a coward. During the political season I find myself avoiding certain conversations that I do care about. Mind you, I do have opinions. My wife would say I have an opinion on everything. Faith and social issues are extremely important to me, and I have spent a lot of years studying and following the trends and their impact on people I care a lot about. I am especially focused on issues that affect the poor, mentally ill, unemployed, addicted, and homeless. Topics of Medicare, unemployment benefits, the death penalty, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, state and federal budget and deficits, immigration, and foreign policy all matter to me. I do have opinions! (And I vote!)

Yet during the final months of America’s presidential street fight, I tend to lay low. I know that one simple conversation with almost anyone can turn volatile and unleash the beast within them. If educated congressmen, presidential candidates, governors, and even local representatives can be as nasty and polarized as they have publicly shown, there is little reason to honestly discuss an issue, since the potential for alienation and misrepresentation is at an all-time high. No one seems to be listening, having crystallized their presuppositions with a crafty skill of spinning any topic into their agenda. Ironically, our children are watching adult leaders model behavior we wouldn’t let them get away with. 

Caring for the Poor is Government's Biblical Role

Jim Wallis
JIm Wallis

There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."

But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether ours is fulfilling them. So let's look at what the Bible says.

The words of Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be "God's servant for your good" (13:4). Today we might say "the common good" is to be the focus and goal of government.

So the purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disparage government per se  to see government as the central problem in society — is simply not a biblical position.

Cardinal Dolan, Sister Simone Campbell, To Bless the Democratic Convention

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

In a move that could recast the reigning political narrative about the Catholic bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has accepted an invitation to deliver the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention, a week after he gives a similar blessing to the Republicans in Tampa, Fla.

From the start, Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made it clear that he would be willing to pray at the Democratic convention. There were doubts, however, that the Democrats would invite Dolan.

Teachers Are Builders

Community builders illustration, Losevsky Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com
Community builders illustration, Losevsky Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com

"Teachers are builders," said my friend. "You build safe learning environments for your students. You build safe spaces for your parents. You build knowledge and experience for yourselves. You build community with each other. You are builders."

I like her image.

This year I'm going to work on the 'building community with each other' part.

The Shrill Are Shouting: So What?

People yelling, olly / Shutterstock.com
People yelling, olly / Shutterstock.com

Shrill voices, backed by vast ad spending, are trying to turn Americans against each other. And not just in vocal and behavioral disagreement, but to a depth of fear and hatred that could turn violent with little provocation.

Is it working?

To judge by the shrill echoes of shrill voices, the right wing is arming for battle, with God on their side, the flag as their shield, and the future of a white Christian nation at stake. Foolhardy politicians egg them on, and the greedy rich seem to believe that they can turn this hatred on and off to suit their quest for tax breaks.

Do the shrill represent any force larger than their own passions? Will the common-sense middle prove more durable and extensive than zealots want to believe?

Sub-Human: A Justification of Exploitation

Declaration of Independence language, Frank Chang / Shutterstock.com
Declaration of Independence language, Frank Chang / Shutterstock.com

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (The Declaration of Independence, 1776)."

These words are some of the most familiar and beloved in the English language, as they offer a moral vision for humanity, and a standard to which the United States of America should strive. 

While such expressions of freedom should indeed be cherished, we often forget the harsh reality that many contributors of the Declaration of Independence were also active participants in the brutal act of slavery. As the English abolitionist Thomas Day wrote in 1776: “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.” 

In addition to racial inequality, while Abigail Adams reminded her husband John to “remember the ladies” during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, her warnings were mostly disregarded, and as a result, women were also marginalized, and they were relegated as dependents of men, without the power to own property, make contracts, or vote. In other words, John Adams’ reply to Abigail’s challenge was far from considerate: “As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh …”

N.Y. Cardinal Timothy Dolan Defends Obama Invitation to Al Smith Dinner

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan defended his invitation of President Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner in October, saying he is trying to encourage civility and dialogue amid a bitter battle with the White House over abortion rights and access to contraception.

Dolan has received “stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama,” he wrote in an Aug. 14 blog post. At issue are Obama’s new health care regulations, which require employers to provide insurance plans that cover contraceptive services for women.

Conservatives and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – of which Dolan is president – have criticized the regulations, which they say abridge the religious freedom and conscience rights of faith-based employers.

But the nonpartisan charity dinner is a time for civility, engagement, and dialogue, Dolan wrote.

“Those who started the dinner 67 years ago believed that you can accomplish a lot more by inviting folks of different political loyalties to an uplifting evening, rather than in closing the door to them,” Dolan wrote.

Truth: Who Needs It?

Stack of newspapers photo, kret87 / Shutterstock.com
Stack of newspapers photo, kret87 / Shutterstock.com

I don't think of myself as a news-reading star; many spend far more time than I do staying informed. But I do recognize that being informed takes effort. As more and more cities lose their newspapers, and as networks like Fox abandon any pretense of journalistic integrity and simply broadcast misinformation, the work of staying informed gets more complicated.

I occasionally read broadsides from Tea Party folks and wonder what alternate universe they inhabit. Their positions seem unhinged from fact, history, and generally accepted reality. I imagine they'd say that a world informed by "liberal media" like The Times isn't any closer to being fact-based.

How do we debate important issues when we don't share a common foundation of facts? Dueling opinions are the heartbeat of politics. Dueling facts, however, lead mainly to shouting, bullying and mistrust.

Dolan Criticized for Inviting Obama to Al Smith Dinner

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

By tradition, the storied Al Smith Dinner has provided a few hours of comic relief from the angry volleys of the campaign trail – a white-tie charity banquet held in the weeks before Election Day, hosted by the archbishop of New York and featuring speeches by the two presidential candidates on the condition that they lob nothing more than good-natured jibes.

But the Catholic hierarchy’s fierce feud with President Obama, abetted by the increasingly sharp tone of the 2012 elections, is threatening to invade this demilitarized zone and give New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan a case of pre-dinner agita.

Dolan has reportedly extended an offer to Obama (as well as his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney) to attend this year’s dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, scheduled for Oct. 18, and the president has accepted. That has mobilized abortion opponents, who view Obama as the worst thing since Roe v. Wade and an enemy of religious liberty because of his administration's controversial birth control mandate.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, a leading abortion opponent based in Staten Island, said on Aug. 6 that “the polite putting aside of differences for a while amounts to scandal.”

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