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.
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.
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," 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.
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?
"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 …”
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.
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.
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.”
I have so often pondered what might have happened if the media had covered more honestly the stifling of protest that Nakba Day in 1999 and as a result the local officials and the world community had heard the cry? Could the disaster have passed and peace with justice been advanced.
Today the media is much more candid. One wonders if we have received a rare gift of unaltered reality in this period of deepening crisis in the Holy Land and overheated atmosphere in the American presidential campaign. For this week it is being reported clearly that we have a presidential candidate, and probably millions of likeminded uninformed voters, who are apparently oblivious or uncaring about the explosive oppression of Palestinians.
Quote of the day.
"People are terrified. They fear a situation that is becoming more and more violent and uncertain." Chaldean Christian Bishop Antoine Audo after a prayer service for peace at St. Joseph''s Church in Aleppo, Syria.
In an unconventional move, a number of high-profile business executives have come out on the issue of gay marriage.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is the latest to say "I do" to supporting same-sex unions. On July 27, Washington United for Marriage, a coalition that seeks to uphold a gay marriage law that passed in Washington, announced that Bezos and his wife MacKenzie will donate $2.5 million to its cause.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer have each donated $100,000 to the effort to keep gay marriage legal. Ken Powell, CEO of food behemoth General Mills, has publicly spoken out against Minnesota's proposed amendment that would ban gay marriage. And Paul Singer, founder of financial firm Elliott Management, recently contributed $150,000 to Freedom to Marry, which fights for gay marriage across the nation.
... Yet there are also many who support Chick-fil-A and Cathy.
For example, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says he's "incensed" by the negative feedback, and in turn has deemed Aug. 1 "Chick fil-A Appreciation Day," when he's asking consumers to support the chain by eating there.
It is difficult to discuss "hard topics" with people with whom I disagree.
When someone supports a political candidate whom I resist, holds to a theological understanding that I find confusing, or when I hear opposing points on climate change, poverty, global economics, human sexuality, etc., it is challenging to listen with a genuinely open ear.
However, what I have found is that, even if I feel passionate about a particular point of view, when I am able to open up and genuinely listen to others, great things take place throughout the exchange. Through honest and open interaction, an increased level of mutual respect and understanding is achieved, we learn to understand why things are perceived the way they are, and the overall strength of the relationship grows.
In our current North American climate of political polarization, religious division, and socio-economic seclusion, it is time to have more dialogue on — among other things — dialogue.
A friend of mine once said, “a true and genuine dialogue only takes place when each person is willing to be ‘converted’ to the other side of the argument.” At first I was skeptical of this remark, as I wondered how I could ever open myself up to being “converted” on certain topics about which I felt strongly. But now I am beginning to see the wisdom in such a statement.
In the name of protecting the “middle class” some politicians have been pressing for extensions of the Bush Tax Cuts for all earnings up to $1 million. They are calling folks in the top 1 percent “middle class.” This week, President Obama announced that he would extend the Bush era tax cuts for all earnings up to $250,000, but not beyond this threshold. Still hard to swallow the idea of those being “middle class” tax breaks but it’s an improvement from calling millionaires “middle class.”
While Jesus loves everybody, there is no Christian tradition of teaching God’s “preferential option for the middle class.” For Christians, it’s still about the poorest and most vulnerable, and here is why these tax issues matter to those Jesus called “the least of these.”
They have the two of the most stressful jobs in the country, at least for the next couple of months. Mayors Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Fla., and Anthony Foxx of Charleston, N.C., will play host to the Republican and Democratic national conventions, respectively.
The two sat down with Politico's Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen on Tuesday to discuss the challenges, economic opportunities, and politics of hosting such historic, national events.
"I don't look at this as a political event," Buckhorn said. "… Yes, I am a Democrat, but I intend to be the best host the Republicans have ever had."
Stephen Mansfield writes for The Huffington Post:
T"here are other matters that may drive religion to the forefront of the 2012 presidential election. We cannot be certain of all of them now. What Americans ought to know by this time in their history, though, is that religion is seldom far from their politics, seldom much removed from American culture as a whole. The 2012 campaign is likely to illustrate this as much as any presidential election in the nation's history."
Read the author's full list of the key religious issues in the election here
The better way says, if we follow God’s religious values we can use global technology, green economy, and targeted economic and infrastructure investment, total access to education, and creative job creation strategies to address the ugly realities of poverty. If we follow the enduring ethic of love we can beat our swords of racism into the plows that will till the new soil of brotherhood and sisterhood
If we see the poor as our neighbors, if we remember we are our brother’s keeper, then we shall put the poor, rather than the wealthy, at the center of our agenda.
If we hold on to God’s values, the sick shall have good health care. The environment shall be protected. The injustices of our judicial systems shall be made just. We shall respect the dignity of all people. We can love all people. We can see all people as God’s creations.
We can use our resources to develop our minds and economy, rather than build bombs, missiles, and weapons of human destruction.
Do we want to keep pressing toward God’s vision? Values are once again the question of our times.
Do we want a just, wholesome society, or do we want to go backwards? This is the question before us. And I believe that at this festival there is still somebody who wants what God wants. Somebody who understands there are some things with God that never change
There are still some prophetic people that have not bowed, who as a matter of faith know that Love is better than hate. Hope is better than despair. Community is better than division.
Peace is better than war. Good of the whole is better than whims of a few. God wants everybody — red, yellow, black, brown and white taken care of. God wants true community, more togetherness … not more separateness. God wants justice, always has, always will.
Because with God some things never change.