Ten Defining Phrases of 2012

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Mitt Romney after the debate. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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.

Top 10 Stories of 2012

Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

The Nuns on the Bus come home to Washington, D.C. Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

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.

Sharing the Crayons

Photo: Crayons, © Judy Kennamer / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Crayons, © Judy Kennamer / Shutterstock.com

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!  

The REAL War on Christmas: Congress’ Budget Negotiations

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds his weekly on camera briefing in the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 29. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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.

Do Young Voters Need a Business Education, or Are We On the Right Track?

Photo: Young Voter, © Lisa S./ Shutterstock.com

Photo: Young Voter, © Lisa S./ Shutterstock.com

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.


Secession Theology Runs Deep in American Religious, Political History

Photo: By Júlio Reis, via Wikimedia Commons

Civil War secession map, Photo: By Júlio Reis, via Wikimedia Commons

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.”

On Scripture: After the Chaos Ends

Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

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.

Obama’s Immigration Opportunity

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

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.

These results have provided a catalyst for reenergizing the conversation around comprehensive immigration reform and paved the way for unexpected conversations among conservatives.

Dear Congress, This Holiday Season, Don’t Make the Poor Poorer

photo   © 2008   Krista , Flickr

photo © 2008 Krista , Flickr

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.”