In a world that seems completely and irrevocably divorced from the teachings of Christ, where in contemporary society is there a place for the Christian voice? Politicians shamelessly use Jesus’s name to justify their authority and gain influence without bothering to unpack the full depth of theological and ethical implications of their words. Corporations are granted the rights of individuals, but some individuals are denied the resources they need in times of crisis to support their families and livelihoods. And the public debate is so full of vitriol and hyperbole that dehumanization and outright hatred of those with whom we disagree has become the norm. In light of the situation in which we find ourselves, how then should Christians behave?
While it might seem appealing to remove ourselves from secular society altogether and forsake the world in all its brokenness in favor of a uniquely Christian ethic that appeals and applies only to us, Christians have an obligation to serve as active participants in public discourse— elevating the conversation rather than abstaining from it so that we may try to live the truth and convictions of our faith.
Catholicism’s social justice teachings have often been called the church’s “best-kept secret,” and after the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – the first such showdown between the first two Catholics to oppose each other on a national ticket – that may still be the case.
While moderator Martha Raddatz earned kudos for her performance, her only question about the candidates’ shared Catholic faith came near the end of the 90-minute debate, and she framed it solely as a question of how their faith affects their policies on abortion rights.
That was seen as a victory for Catholic conservatives and Republicans who want to reinforce the image of the church as a “single-issue” religion – that issue being abortion – and a setback for liberal Democrats and others who have struggled to highlight the church’s teachings on the common good as central to Catholicism’s witness in the public square.
“What a lost opportunity!” wrote Michael O’Loughlin at the blog of America magazine, a national Jesuit weekly. “If the moderator planned to discuss faith, and I’m glad she did, why limit the discussion to one issue, however important, when the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching is ripe for an expansive and thought provoking conversation?”
It’s always annoyed me when people assume that, because I’m a Christian, I must also be socially conservative on all requisite issues. And while I understand those who lean further right because of their Christian beliefs, I take issue with those who suggest that being both a follower of Christ and a social progressive are mutually exclusive.
In fact, most of my positions on social issues can be traced back to my faith, which goes to show that the spectrum of beliefs taken from any given faith, as well as the many ways in which those beliefs are applied, is wide and arguably still growing as we continue to become increasingly pluralistic and intertwined.
Depending on your perspective, it could be argued that the landscape of presidential candidates either reflects such religious diversity, or that it’s still more of the same old majority rule at play, with a few minor cosmetic adjustments. For some, the fact that a Mormon is the Republican nominee is nothing short of astonishing, and what’s more, that the evangelical right is generally finding their way toward alignment with Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket.
It’s also worth noting that last week's vice presidential debate was the first time in history that we’ve had two Catholic VP nominees running against each other. The only fairly typical one in the group (unless you ask the Muslim conspiracy theorists, that is) is Barack Obama who is a member of the mainline protestant Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ.
When we listen to political debates about which public policies will strengthen the economy, it is easy to get lost in a statistical maze. Each side presents economic data in a way that supports their own theory of the case.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a branch of the Library of Congress that can help us make our own assessments regarding public policy. According to the CRS website, its purpose is to provide “authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan” analyses to members of Congress.
The relationship between tax rates and the economy is an issue in the current campaign. Thinking about this issue, the CRS looks at empirical data that may or may not confirm theoretical models or ideological assumptions. Thus, like the early TV detective Joe Friday, they want “just the facts ma’am,” and then they try to reach conclusion from these facts.
At its best, Christian faith provides a moral compass for advancing the common good. At worst, Christianity can be hijacked by partisan political agendas that divide and destroy. Sojourners encourages you to develop a robust and well-informed conscience around elections, measuring candidates and their platforms against Christian ethics and values. While we must be careful about translating scripture directly into public policy positions, there are principles and suggested approaches on a range of issues that can provide a critical framework to shape our perspective on public policy.
As we have since 2004, Sojourners has published an issues guide of principles and policies for Christian voters. We encourage you to use this guide to educate yourself on these issues. This can inform you as you write letters to candidates or to your local newspaper, call radio talk shows, and ask candidates at forums or town hall meetings questions based on these principles. Think and pray about whom, you would entrust with the responsibility to lead your community, state, and nation.
Share this with others and get ready for the conversation to begin.
When Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, it will mark the first showdown of its kind between the first Catholics ever to oppose each other on the major party tickets.
A “Catholic Thrilla in Manila” as a Washington Post headline put it, recalling the famous 1975 Ali-Frazier heavyweight bout in the Philippines. Store window signs in the host city of Danville, Ky., prefer the “Thrill in the Ville.”
Whatever it is called, expectations among Catholics are as high as the stakes for both campaigns.
Joseph Cella, who leads Catholic outreach for the Romney-Ryan campaign in Michigan, where the GOP ticket has nearly closed a 10-point gap, said the campaign is organizing debate-watching parties nationwide.
“I don¹t see how Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan could avoid discussing principles of importance to Catholics,” said Cella, a veteran conservative activist.
Editor's Note: Sojourners has launched this new blog series to help shed light on the nation's latest "religious" affiliation. Scroll down to read their stories. Or EMAIL US to share your own.
Which religious tradition do you most closely identify with?
- Other Faith
Given these options — or even if you throw in a few more like Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic — I would choose “Unaffiliated.” That puts me into a category with one-in-five other Americans, and one-in-three millennials, aptly named the “nones.”
In that vein, I introduce our new blog series: Meet the Nones. Through this series, I hope to encourage discussion, debate, and elucidate the full picture of what it means to be losing your religion in America.
Editor's Note: Would you like to share your story on this topic? Email us HERE.
Editor's Note: This is the third article in Lisa Sharon Harper’s election season blog series, Watch the Vote. You can read the last article here.
With 28 days to go until our nation chooses its 45th president, a string of court victories have knocked down Jim-Crow-style barriers to voting that have been erected in states across the nation. But 13 states are still under the oppressive weight of laws designed to suppress the vote.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, starting in early 2011, 41 states introduced legislation to restrict voting laws. Nineteen quietly passed 25 laws and two executive actions, some of which require government-issued photo IDs, proof of citizenship, fewer early-voting days, the elimination of Election Day voter registration, created barriers to voter registration drives, and created more obstacles for citizens with past criminal convictions.
The good news is that over the past few months we have seen one court case after another block the enactment of the worst provisions of these new Jim Crow laws. According to a recent Brennan Center study, 10 courts have blocked or blunted restrictive voting laws — and the Department of Justice blocked one more — since Oct. 3.
Last night millions of Americans watched the first Presidential debate of the 2012 election season. During the 90-minute debate, there were significant policy discussions about a range of issues, deep disagreements between the two candidates, and even a threat to Big Bird’s job security.
Yet despite all the arguing there was much left unsaid by President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.
LOS ANGELES — In a matter of days, some 1,400 American pastors are planning to break the law.
And they’re likely to get away with it.
As part of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” on Oct. 7, religious leaders across the country will endorse political candidates — an act that flies in the face of Internal Revenue Service rules about what tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, can and cannot do.
The IRS says tax-exempt organizations, or what they refer to as a 501(c)(3), are prohibited from participating in partisan campaigning for or against political candidates. Yet, despite what’s in the rules, the agency continues to struggle to do anything about those who defy the law.
Though the regulation has been in place since 1954, in 2009, the U.S. District Court of Minnesota ruled the IRS no longer had the appropriate staff to investigate places of worship after a reorganization changed who in the agency had the authority to launch investigations.
New procedures for conducting church audits have been pending since 2009, which has left the IRS virtually impotent in conducting any kind of new investigations. The IRS did not respond to questions seeking comment.
Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi.
You likely have heard of him. Il Poverello. He's the 13th-century aescetic who founded a religious order.
It was, on one hand, a protest order...protesting how the Church had lost its way in relationship to money and helping the poor. It was on the other hand an opportunity for people to come together and do someting rather remarkable in caring for the poor by joining in solidarity with the poor.
The Friars Minor were formed in 1226. St. Clare of Assisi was co-founder. She has her own feast day, of course, but don't lose this opportunity to get to know her as well.
(There was also an incredibly trippy movie made about his life titled Brother Son, Sister Moon. Some day, when no one is watching, you should rent that film. Outrageously strange.)
Francis' prayer is well known, but today I want to offer up this quotation which is similar, but presents a different focus. Less a prayer and more a philosophical edict, these words moved me this morning:
“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.”
Marianne Williamson, a bestselling author and convener of the upcoming Sister Giant conference on women and politics, has called on President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney to address “a meaningful array of topics” – including poverty, money in politics and incarceration rates in the U.S. – tonight during the first presidential debate.
Williamson talked to us earlier today about these issues, which are particularly pressing for Christians who take Matthew 25 seriously.
The interview was edited for length and content.
Q: What are you doing to get these issues out there?
A: Having a voice and creating your own platform is not all that difficult with today’s technology. I think what’s happening now is that, firstly, people are realizing that. Secondly, people are realizing that there are certain things that need to be said that simply are not being said as loudly as other things being said. When it comes to a politics of conscience, why wouldn’t we expect that during the debates there would be a conversation about the 23.1 percent of America’s children living in poverty, or the 34 percent of poor children, or the 46 million Americans living in poverty?
[editor's note: This article was originally published in 2012. References to elections or politicians without specific dates attached are in the context of the 2012 election cycle.]
AS I CAREFULLY watched both the Democratic and the Republican conventions this summer, I realized, once again, how challenging and complicated it is to bring faith to politics.
For example, the phrase “middle class” was likely the most repeated phrase at the conventions. And even though both parties are utterly dependent on their wealthy donors (a fact they don’t like to talk about), they know that middle-class voters will determine the outcome of the election. Now, I believe a strong middle class is good for the country, but Jesus didn’t say, “What you have done for the middle class, you have done for me.” Rather, Matthew 25 says, “What you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”
When your first principle for politics is what happens to the poor and vulnerable—and I believe that is the first principle for Christians—you keep waiting at conventions for those words and commitments. There were a few moments when the poor were briefly mentioned, but it certainly wasn’t a strong theme in Tampa or Charlotte. “Opportunity” for the middle class was an important word in both conventions this year, but Christians must be clear that creating new opportunities for poor children and low-income families is critical to us.
The conventions also talked a great deal about “success,” but how we define that is very important. Is success mostly about how much money we make, defining the “American Dream” as being able to pass on more riches to our children than what our parents passed on to us? Or is success measured by how we as a nation prioritize, in our spending and political choices, the sick, the vulnerable, the weak, and the elderly? Is it determined more by the values we pass on to our children—evaluating our lives, and theirs, by how much we are able to help others?
America is a nation of immigrants, and how we welcome “the stranger” in our midst is another Christian principle for politics. So is our racial diversity as a nation, where all our citizens must be treated as having equal value. The most inspiring stories at the conventions for me came when that diversity was evidenced on the stage—from a young undocumented “dreamer” and a black first lady on the platform at the Democratic convention to Condoleezza Rice telling her fellow Republicans how a little girl from a segregated Southern city became secretary of state. But little mention was made at either convention of the racial disparities in America’s burgeoning prison industry or voting suppression efforts that most affect minorities and people who are poor.
What if I told you that the political discourse in America has proven for decades what PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ phenomenon has proven recently? What do I mean? It is simply this: people can indeed get tirelessly excited about something that sounds good without understanding its contents.
Like every election year, 2012 seems to have its own particular set of buzzwords and slogans. From “the forgotten 47 percent” to “you did build that,” those on the left and the right are each trying to infuse the political discourse with their own partisan lingo. But it’s time somebody put a stop to the hype and asks the sensible question: “What is the real meaning behind all of this?”
Truth is, both political parties have been directing their resources to highlight their differences more than anything else. They are platforms defined by contrast, not by real facts. This should lead us to raise the question that is usually unasked (and therefore unanswered) amid the consistent heat of the American political climate: “If the government is designed ultimately for the good of the people, is the political discourse today reflective of that goal?”
To this question, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche answers, “No.”
I’m a fan of TIME Magazine. It offers concise, intelligent summaries and opinions on the news that help keep me up with current events. They had an interesting article in the last few weeks about the factors that seem to affect a political party’s election results in the upcoming cycle. From their findings, it’s the party perceived to be most optimistic about the nation’s future that tends to come out on top. A fascinating bit of psychology, if not necessarily scientifically rigorous in its conclusions.
And then, in the most recent issue, there’s a pages-long piece by Bill Clinton called “The Case for Optimism,” which outlined five reasons to look ahead with hope toward our collective future. Coincidence? Maybe. But the timing of the two pieces, particularly only weeks out from a presidential election, seems more than a little bit opportunistic.
Call me cynical, but never let it be said that I’m above holding the Democrats’ feet to the fire when they pander. Yes, both parties do it, but it seems to me it’s most effective when it’s a little less in-your-face about it. President Obama rode a tide of optimism into the White House four years ago, only to watch his support erode after the reality didn’t live up to the speeches in many cases. But we wanted to hear it, and it worked. So it’s no surprise they’re giving it another go-round.
But are there grounds for such high hopes?
We’ve all heard the rhetoric. “We need to take America back for God!”
Why? Supposedly so we can regain some bygone level of ethics or moral standards. Supposedly, if we don’t, God will get tired of us “rebuking” God and remove God’s hand of protection from us. Supposedly, so God won’t test us or judge us or something.
Yet, as Gregory A. Boyd notes in his important book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, taking America BACK for God assumes we were at one really belonged to God, followed God, listened to God. Boyd goes on to ask, when was this glorious age in the history of the USA?
Let’s start way back. We’ve been taught that many people migrated to North America for religious freedom. So was this glorious time when some of our forebears imprisoned, tormented, and/or hanged many suspected to be witches? Is that what so many want to take us back to?
Christian leaders asked, and the presidential nominees answered. The poverty rate in America is still at a staggering 15 percent and 46.2 million Americans remain in poverty — what is your plan to address the problem?
The Circle of Protection, composed of Christian leaders from across the religious spectrum, released President Barack Obama's and GOP nominee Mitt Romney's video responses today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
(VIDEOS from Obama and Romney after the jump.)
Gotta say I’m a big fan of this church sign at my father-in-law’s church.
It’s time to STOP:
- Using faith, Jesus, and the Bible as a political platform;
- Cherry-picking from the Gospel based on what polls well;
- Claiming Jesus would be so myopic to identify with either of our major political parties;
With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions having taken place over the last two weeks, we can officially say that we’re entering the election season (i.e., that time when the general public begins to pay attention).
A couple of friends who pastor churches in non-D.C. parts of the country asked me if we feel the need to address politics at The District Church, being in the very belly of the beast (my words, not theirs). Specifically, they were asking: Given the intense polarization and often-unproductive arguing that we see around us, even in the church, about the need to address how we interact with those who disagree with us.
So far, we haven’t needed to. In our church community, we have Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and yes, even people who don’t care about politics; we have Hill staffers, White House staffers, activists, advocates, lobbyists, policy wonks, and more — and we’ve all come together as the body of Christ, recognizing that our allegiance is first to Jesus before any party or even country.
Even so, every four years (or every two, if you pay attention to mid-terms; or all the time, if you’re even more politically engaged), posts about politics pop up with increasing frequency on social media, eliciting often-furious back-and-forths that usually end up doing nothing more than reminding each side how right they are and how stupid the other side is.
So I figured I’d try to offer a few suggestions on how we can engage with one another on matters of politics in healthy ways.