I know I am not the only one who is sick and tired of Washington’s manufactured crises around budget and deficit debates. Brinksmanship has replaced statesmanship in trying to find a sound path to fiscal responsibility. It is time to make the right moral choices that will defend the most vulnerable and pursue an opportunity agenda to reduce the highest poverty rate in 50 years.
Ideological debates over the role of government are the real battle in the nation’s capital — more than the debt crisis. Political calculations about the next election are more important to many of our political leaders than the common good of the country.
It’s just time to move on from the partisan politics that has polarized and paralyzed us for so long — by committing ourselves to moral issues that could and should bring us together. The first will be comprehensive immigration reform, which will change the lives of 12 million people in this country, lift many out of poverty, and help the economy at the same time. This is a clear example of how the faith community has changed, and now come together to become a political game changer in Washington, D.C., at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the aisle.
And it’s time to make another moral commitment in the midst of our growing economic recovery — to include poor families and change poverty into opportunity. Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.
Let’s break it down.
AUSTIN, Texas — After a walk around the Texas Statehouse, it became clear they tell a different history here.
Inside the Capitol is a large painting of a onetime Tennessee congressman named David Crockett, who failed in a re-election bid and stormed out west to join the revolution in what was then called Tejas. He arrived in 1836 and died four weeks later at the Alamo in San Antonio.
A plaque beneath the oversized painting suggests Crockett was a laborer who became larger than life when he got to Texas. A more balanced account suggests Crockett had been building his legend for many years, with exotic garb, a self-published autobiography, and fiery speeches against President Andrew Jackson. He yearned to star in Washington, and when that failed, he went west, landing at the Alamo just in time to die there.
An ambitious state needs its mythology.
It is an odd juxtaposition, December 21, 2012 and January 21, 2013. The former date representing the “so-called” Mayan apocalypse where the usual suspects prepared for the end of the world – many of whom were Christians awaiting the second coming of Christ – and the latter date, which is the day President Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term.
In my estimation, this odd 21st-century connection reflects the event known as the baptism of Jesus as described in Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22. Initially we see that there is an expectation elicited by the preaching prowess of John the Baptist. The unnamed “men” wonder in their hearts if “whether perhaps he was the Christ” (Luke 3:15 RSV). John, then goes on to describe what he understands to be Christ-like qualities when he proclaims, “[One] who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am unworthy to untie” (Luke 3:16).
“You’re a Christian? But you’re so nice!”
I’ll never forget these words, spoken to me by a friend of mine from my college’s theatre program. He was one of my more eccentric friends, more blunt than most, and he was also very openly gay. His exclamation of surprise may be the instance that I remember the most, but he certainly wasn’t the only person during my college years to express their surprise at the thought of Christians living by principles of love rather than intolerance, or at the very least, indifference.
WASHINGTON — At a time when the ideals of compromise and collegiality seem like a distant dream in the nation’s capital, an unusually diverse coalition of religious leaders is asking Americans to pray for civility.
“Through daily prayer, we are calling on the ‘better angels of our nature’ needed to sustain our nation and solve problems,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, immediate past president of the National Council of Churches and one of the faith leaders taking part in “18 days of Prayer for the Nation.”
Prayers began Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, and end on Jan. 21, the day of President Obama’s second inauguration.
Faith leaders from left, right and center have signed on, including Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Richard Land of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics, and Religious Liberty Commission and Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
The Faith & Politics Institute, a nonpartisan group that nurtures the spiritual life of members of Congress and their staffs and presses political foes toward civil debate, organized the days of prayer and an online “commitment to prayer” page to document participation.
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.
WASHINGTON — From the nuns to the “nones,” religion dominated the headlines throughout 2012. Faith was a persistent theme in the presidential race, and moral and ethical questions surrounded budget debates, mass killings, and an unexpected focus on “religious freedom.”
Here are 10 ways religion made news in 2012:
Suffer the children: Gun violence as a new “pro-life” issue
A shooting rampage that killed 12 and injured more than 50 others inside a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., couldn’t do it. Neither could a gunman who murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. But a hail of bullets inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. – which took the lives of 20 first-graders, and six adults – was finally able to mobilize religious activists on gun control after years of failing to gain traction.
“Those who consider themselves religious or pro-life must be invited to see that the desire to prevent gun-related deaths is part of the religious defense of the dignity of all life,” wrote the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and contributing editor at America magazine.
A few years ago, I was in a family restaurant that provides drawings for children to color and a bowl full of crayons. Across the aisle was a couple with two young boys. While the parents put in their order, the boys started coloring.
The boy who appeared to be a couple years younger took a crayon and used it, then put it back in the bowl and swapped it for a different color. The older one went about it differently. When he was done with a crayon, he would set it beside him. Soon, he had built up a stash of crayons, some of which his brother needed for his own drawing. The brother complained, and the mother intervened.
You have to share them, she told the older son.
The boy shielded the crayons with his arm and said loudly, "No! These are MY crayons!"
Is there a parent who hasn t had to remind their children that they re not the only ones who matter?
"They re not your crayons," the mother said. "Theyre meant for you to share with your brother."
That moment has stuck with me as a real-life parable about owning and sharing. I thought about it the other day when I saw a bumper sticker on the back of a minivan that said: Don t Share My Wealth, Share My Work Ethic!
There is some good stuff on the God’s Politics blog this week encouraging Christians to drop their concern about the “war on Christmas.” It’s a good idea. However, as we’re getting over our huff about “Happy Holidays,” we’d like to shift your attention to the real war on Christmas: the priorities of Washington politicians that are fundamentally at odds with the hope, love, joy, and peace celebrated by Christians during the Advent season.
As political leaders engage in negotiations to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” we need them to preserve programs that reduce poverty and keep our families healthy. Unfortunately, House Speaker John Boehner and others in Congress are pushing to cut programs for the poor and vulnerable, while protecting tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
As President Barack Obama comes off of a substantial second victory, many pundits have pointed to the youth vote and a significant factor in his most recent success. Reports show that 60 percent of young voters cast ballots for Obama, while only 36 percent voted for Gov. Mitt Romney's more conservative policies. While many older voters believe this suggests young voters are unaware or uninterested in the nation's economic concerns, a major platform in the 2012 election, a number of polls suggest the economy is actually a top priority for most young voters. As it happens, though, young people seem to have very different ideas on how best to handle economic instability than their older counterparts.
Corruption has gone too far. The righteous must break away. Hope now rests with a holy remnant that will honor foundational texts.
The message sounds familiar. A church schism? No, mounting calls for secession from the United States.
Since President Barack Obama won re-election, more than 750,000 Americans have petitioned the White House website to let their respective states secede, from Alaska to Iowa to Maryland and Vermont. Those leading the charge are framing it, observers say, in terms that suggest a deep-seated religious impulse for purity-through-separation is flaring up once again.
But this time, it’s playing out on a political stage.
“Today's secessionist movements are just the latest example of a long parade of breakaway groups [in American history] seeking to restore some lost ideal,” said Peter J. Thuesen, professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The problem is that the ideal is invariably a mirage.”
The book of Jeremiah straddles the most momentous event of Israel’s history: the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile of its leaders to Babylon (586 B.C.E.). In the first half of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet announces that God is furious with the people of Judah, in particular its leaders, because they have reneged on the covenant they made with God through Moses. They have not taken care of the poor, and they have not lived according to the stringent demands to worship God alone.
Not surprisingly, the leaders do not want to hear Jeremiah’s critiques of their ways of doing business. No politician wants to look weak – even before a god. According to Jeremiah, the leaders of Judah have prioritized – not the building of an ethical community – but their own comfort and position. Their desire to maintain their own power and influence has trumped everything. And these politicians have justified their behavior so many times and in so many ways, they don’t even recognize how far they have fallen from the ideal that guided the building of the nation.
As President Barack Obama prepares for a second term, immigration reform is rumored to be at the top of his agenda. With conservative opinion on the issue shifting, a unique opportunity exists to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. Americans are eager to see the president and Congress make progress on this unnecessarily vexing issue.
The record Latino voter turnout in support of President Obama played a key role in his electoral victory, as he won 71 percent of the vote compared with 27 percent for Gov. Mitt Romney.
A lot of ink, pixels, and air have been used on the potential effects of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” While many experts say that “cliff” is a misnomer (it’s more of long slope in the wrong direction), there is at least broad agreement that it’s not the right direction for the country’s long-term health.
We’ve heard a lot about the potential effects on Wall Street, our nation’s credit rating, and even the military. But little has been said about the devastating consequences for our nation and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — or for the charities and non-profits that serve them.
This week, the Circle of Protection, released an open letter to the president and Congress with a simple message: during the holidays, please “advance policies that protect the poor — not ones that make them poorer.”
NEW YORK — It's a short walk from Ground Zero to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
If you're a dedicated tourist, you can see where a terrorist attack occurred on 9/11 and then hop a ferry to see where Hurricane Sandy devastated Staten Island's oceanfront last month.
Sad to say, but that's exactly what many tourists are doing. Instead of going to Staten Island to help traumatized residents, they go to gawk. Then they go back to Manhattan for lunch and holiday shopping.
This is what happens when people lose a basic sense of obligation to one another. It no longer seems sane or necessary to be charitable. Instead, people feel justified in looking away from need. They feel disconnected from neighbors who are suffering. When the storms of life hit, they call themselves “makers” and dismiss the “takers” as lazy.
Winston Churchill famously said, “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”
Churchill was out of power by the time his countrymen, George Harrison and the Beatles, released “Taxman” on their Revolver album in 1966. New Prime Minister Harold Wilson had introduced a 95-percent supertax on the wealthiest Brits, including the Beatles. Harrison’s song was and remains a perfect Right-wing caricature of the Left. I can almost hear Bill O’Reilly singing an attack on President Obama’s plan to “ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more.”
Three Buddhists, a Hindu, and a “none” will walk into the 113th Congress, and it’s no joke. Rather, it’s a series of “firsts” that reflect the growing religious diversity of the country.
When the new Congress is sworn in next January, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District and will become the first Hindu in either chamber on Capitol Hill.
The 31-year-old Gabbard was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii as a child. She follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, which venerates the deity Lord Vishnu and his primary incarnations.
Gabbard takes over the seat held by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, who won a Senate race on Nov. 6 and will become the first Buddhist to sit in the upper chamber. There were already two other Buddhists in the House of Representatives, both of whom won re-election: Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a fellow Hawaii Democrat.
In an attempt to make sense of the 2012 election and the unfolding David Petraeus sex scandal, I consulted the Bible and the Sayings of the Fathers, a collection of sage rabbinic teachings written between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.
Turns out the ancient perceptions about politics and ethics are as insightful today as when they were first uttered.
I am appalled when clergy of any religion endorse candidates by name in the run-up to an election. Priests, ministers, rabbis and imams, of course, have every right to vote for any particular person they choose, thanks to the secret ballot. The clergy also have the right — indeed, the obligation — to discuss and debate the critical issues facing society. But religious leaders err and undermine their own authority when they publicly call for the election or defeat of a specific individual.
Last month “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was sponsored by a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom. Nearly 1,500 Christian ministers openly backed various candidates as they tested the U.S. tax code, which forbids non-profit organizations (including houses of worship) from speaking out for or against political candidates. Such actions endanger their tax-exempt status, but the ADF sees that restriction as an incursion on freedom of religion and speech.
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.
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.”