Lisa Sharon Harper 3-05-2014

(Flashon Studio / Shutterstock)

NEARLY 50 YEARS ago, the U.S. Department of Labor issued one of the most controversial and influential reports of our time, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” aka “The Moynihan Report,” named after its author Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The March 1965 report offered our nation’s first comprehensive look at the roots of poverty in the African-American community 100 years after the Civil War. The picture wasn’t pretty.

Pointing to black poverty’s roots, Moynihan started with the hell that was the U.S. slave system: “American slavery was profoundly different from, and in its lasting effects on individuals and their children, indescribably worse than, any recorded servitude, ancient or modern.” Going on to quote Nathan Glazer, Moynihan illuminated the absolute powerlessness and dehumanization of enslaved black people under antebellum law and within the social structures of slavery.

Moynihan went on to examine the impact of the Reconstruction period, urbanization, unemployment, and inequitable wages on African Americans’ economic station in U.S. society. He concluded that the single greatest result of these forces was black families’ demise. And the single greatest result of this demise was entrenched poverty, according to Moynihan.

A 2013 Urban Institute report, “The Moynihan Report Revisited,” reflected that in the early 1960s Moynihan was alarmed that 20 percent of black children lived in single parent households with their mothers (not their fathers), but by 2010, 20 percent of white families lived in such households while 53 percent of black children were being raised by their mothers. According to the Urban Institute, fatherlessness in the U.S. has gotten worse, and it is no respecter of race.

Evan Dolive 3-04-2014
UNRWA via Getty Images

Residents wait in line to receive food aid distributed in the Yarmouk refugee camp on Jan. 31. UNRWA via Getty Images

Last week amid the closing of the Olympics, the national debt, and the latest pop culture ‘news,’ this photo was published that encapsulates the volume of pain and suffering that is happening in Syria. For years, the conflict in Syria has gone through its ebbs and flows; it has been in and out of the media’s attention. Even though thousands of people have been displaced and families have been forced to eat animal feed, this is not worthy for American front-page news. Sadly, travesties around the world, or even in our backyard, are categorized as “out of sight, out of mind.” Too often we are consumed by other things than those outside of our limited purview.

When I saw the photo of the suffering of the Syrians, I was shocked; I was shocked that so many people were in line to get food, shocked that despite their best efforts there is not enough food to go around. I felt sad for the people who, by no fault of their own, live in a country that is being ravaged by war, violence, greed, and power struggles. I felt embarrassed for all of the times I whined and complained about my own “problems.” All of them collectively wouldn’t even begin to compare to what people are facing in Syria at this very moment. I wanted to find a way to do something, to raise my voice for them ... anything.

3-03-2014
Jim Wallis’s On God’s Side comes in two parts. In the first, he argues that biblical Christianity involves not only the personal, individual standing of the Christian before God and the individual’s relationship with Christ, but also a deeply communal element that inspires genuine concern for one’s neighbors. In the second, he fleshes out how these sometimes-competing concerns ought to inf luence Christian political thought and engagement. Wallis’s inspiration for the title of the book is a quote from Abraham Lincoln—“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side”—and he uses this second half of his book to explore exactly what being “on God’s side” would entail, tackling several prominent and hotly debated issues ranging from the structure of the American political system to specific policy issues.
3-03-2014
As Stephen Mattson wrote in a post for Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog, reveling in #SochiProblems really feels like “Hey, let’s laugh about how other people actually live.” Or — more accurately — how many (probably most) people in the would be lucky and grateful to live.
2-28-2014
Stephen Mattson, on the faith-based site Sojourners, accuses posters of making fun of stuff that’s normal for all but the world’s most privileged.
2-28-2014
Peace and Conflict Transformation (PACT) at Anderson University welcomes Lisa Sharon Harper to campus on Thursday, Feb. 27. Harper is an author, activist, educator, and senior director of mobilizing for Sojourners.
2-20-2014
Sojourners, a Christian magazine dedicated to social justice, featured Dumpster diving on its cover in 2006, motivating Micah Holden to begin trying it a year later. Now he lives with his wife and daughter in Wheaton, Ill., where they occasionally blog about being a Dumpster diving family in suburbia. Holden, who is a nurse, said his motivations to go once or twice a week are mixed.
Gary Haugen 2-10-2014
Image via thelocusteffect.com

Image via thelocusteffect.com

Caleb is a father in Africa. He works hard as a night watchman, and he and his wife save from their small income with the dream of sending their daughter to college. But the family’s dreams are destroyed when the police arrest Caleb on a random sweep for a robbery he had nothing to do with. This is not to say that the evidence against him was flimsy; there is no evidence against him whatsoever. The police needed to show an arrest had been made, and Caleb was an easy target … because he was poor.

Once in police custody, Caleb is viciously beaten. He is shaken down for bribes. And then, he is thrown in jail and charged with a capital offense. He is given no indication of when he might have a chance to prove his innocence – and even if he were, Caleb can’t afford a lawyer to help him. His family struggles to hang on without him.

What is perhaps most stunning about Caleb’s story is not the brutality (though it certainly is brutal), the singular unfairness of it all (though it is dramatically and utterly unjust), the hopelessness (though the story is obviously devastating). No, what is most stunning is just how ordinary Caleb’s story is.

2-07-2014
So what exactly is the problem with income inequality? Some think there is a theological problem. Jim Wallis has claimed—when calling for an increase in the minimum wage—“God hates inequality.”
2-07-2014
Jim Wallis, President and CEO of Sojourners and author of "On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good", joins Pete to discuss what it will take to finally win the "war on poverty".
Benjamin Corey 2-05-2014
Prison illustration, Nipitphand / Shutterstock.com

Prison illustration, Nipitphand / Shutterstock.com

As I stated yesterday, I believe that America’s justice system is broken and in need of desperate repair. One of those areas is the practice of putting our citizens to death, something I believe that all Jesus People should resoundingly oppose.

When I was a conservative evangelical, I was a huge supporter of capital punishment for all of the standard reasons. I even had a quick response when folks correctly brought up the hypocrisy of being against abortion while simultaneously being pro-death penalty, a position I previously argued you can’t hold and still call yourself “pro-life.”

However, when I decided to follow Jesus instead of simply being a Christian who paid him hollow worship while conveniently ignoring the red words, I was forced to abandon my support of the death penalty (and abandon my support of violence in general) as part of Following Jesus 101.

While America’s broken justice system is a complex issue, perhaps the first area we can fix is by abolishing the death penalty in all 50 states. Here’s why I think Jesus People should be leading the charge on this issue:

2-05-2014
Over at Sojourners, Anna Hall dispels five common myths about raising minimum wage. And the city of Chicago is apparently listening, as there is reportedly some talk of raising minimum wage in the city to $15, reports Crain's Chicago Business.
2-05-2014
The only way to win the War on Poverty is for liberals and conservatives to make peace -- for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world's richest nation.
2-04-2014
"Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words" is a quote widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It also seems to be the motto of Pope Francis. Instead of just talking about abstract doctrines, he consistently lives out his beliefs in public ways that have grabbed the world's attention. His example of humility, compassion, and authenticity resonate powerfully in Washington, where cynicism is rampant, pride remains even after the proverbial falls, and an ideology of extreme individualism has overtaken a significant faction within our politics.
Jim Wallis 1-30-2014

(jokerpro / Shutterstock)

“GOD CREATED the world and we created borders.”

That obvious recognition was shared at a recent consultation in Quito, Ecuador, between North American and Latin American churches on “Faith, Economy, and Migration.” Felipe Adolf, president of the Latin American Council of Churches, shared that conclusion on how issues of migration and reform are global and not just local.

It’s very easy to see the problems confronting our nation and feel as though the challenges facing the rest of the world are simply too much to bear. Continuing poverty and unemployment, discrimination of all kinds, and wars and rumors of wars fill our newsfeeds, papers, and TV screens. But it’s naïve and narrow to think this way. Many of the threats we face are global in nature and don’t know any boundaries. Through our economies and consumption habits, media, travels and migrations, and for Christians in particular our faith, we are inextricably connected with men and women around the world. It’s always been important, but now especially so, to think globally when it comes to faith and justice.

Sojourners has a long history of doing this very thing. We started as a little group of two kinds of people—those who had grown up conservative evangelicals and were deeply frustrated with the lack of attention to issues of justice and peace, and those who had just come to faith from the student movements and counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s. We met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and began to study and pray through the scriptures about injustice, war, and poverty. The Vietnam War was raging, and we were looking for a biblical understanding of the events of our time.

Matthew Skinner 1-27-2014
Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com

Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com

If the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl comes down to the game’s final play, and you find yourself inclined to ask Jesus to help your favorite team win, remember: It’s quite possible he doesn’t know squat about tackle football.

At least, when we read the opening sentences of his Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5:1-12), it seems his values are light years away from the confident and muscular ethos that football teams rely on for success. He directs attention in this passage toward the weak, powerless, and vulnerable elements of humanity. Consider these some of the groups he embraces:

  • The poor in spirit : referring either to humble people or to those who are broken and have lost hope.
  • Those who mourn : those who suffer loss and the feeling of emptiness that follows.
  • The meek : those who are gentle and unobtrusive, who refuse to use power over others as a tool to make things happen.
  • The merciful : people who willingly surrender their privileges or otherwise go out of their way to improve others’ well being.
  • Those who are persecuted : people whose refusal to give up their quest for truth or virtuousness results in the taking away of their rights, wholeness, or dignity.

Careful, Jesus, or you’ll get blamed for contributing to the wussification of America .

The kinds of people Jesus highlights tend to dwell beneath society’s radar. They often stay out, or are kept out, of public view. They possess little power. Most of us can find no good reason for aspiring to join these groups.

Eye-opening numbers about the Super Bowl … and how they stack up against other things going on in America.

Christian Piatt 1-22-2014
Rich man drinking wine, ollyy / Shutterstock.com

Rich man drinking wine, ollyy / Shutterstock.com

A recent report by OXFAM offered some sobering data about both the concentration and flow of wealth in the world today. A few key points, also summarized by a new business article on The Atlantic website , include:

  • The richest 85 people in the world control as much wealth as the poorest 3,000,000,000 people;
  • Nineteen out of 20 “G20” countries are experiencing growing income inequality between rich and poor;
  • In the United States in particular, 95 percent of the post-financial-crisis capital growth has been amassed by the richest 1 percent of Americans;
  • While domestic income inequality continues to grow, the income tax rates for wealthiest Americans have steadily dropped.

My first reaction to seemingly immoral concentrations of wealth, and the systems that enable it, is anger and a compulsion to call them out, to change them and to distribute the world’s treasures evenly among all of God’s people.

But what if we need the insanely wealthy to realize a kingdom-inspired vision for our world?

Anna Hall 1-22-2014
Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Despite all the modern conveniences of the 21st century, our information-saturated culture, an exhaustive supply of self-help books, and giant advances in medical technology, doesn’t it seem like our society is more stressed, our anxiety higher, and more of our kids prescribed behavior modification drugs?

What if one of the reasons for our strung-out culture was the social, emotional, mental, and physiological outworking of the effects of poverty?

In the latest release of the Shriver Report, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder of the California Pacific Medical Center’s Bayview Child Health Center, has found through medical research and experiences of her patients that the stress of poverty can be manifested in alarming behaviors and predispositions.

Original photo by Andrea Sabbadini/RNS.

Original photo by Andrea Sabbadini/RNS. illustration created through obamapostermaker.com

The news that President Obama will meet with Pope Francis on March 27 brightened a snowy Tuesday morning for Catholics who see a broad overlap between the president’s agenda and the pontiff’s repeated denunciations of income inequality and “trickle down” economics, and his support for the poor and migrants.

Other Catholics, especially conservatives already unsettled by Francis’ new approach, hoped that the pope would use the encounter at the Vatican to wag a finger at Obama over the president’s support for abortion rights and gay marriage.

So what will the two leaders talk about? What issues will they avoid? With Francis, anything is possible, but here are some initial ideas on how the summit could play out:

Lisa Sharon Harper 1-17-2014
Child alone in a tunnel,  hikrcn / Shutterstock.com

Child alone in a tunnel, hikrcn / Shutterstock.com

SNAP began in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act as part of his unconditional “War on Poverty.” In his remarks upon signing, Johnson said: “I believe the Food Stamp Act weds the best of the humanitarian instincts of the American people with the best of the free enterprise system. Instead of establishing a duplicate public system to distribute food surplus to the needy, this act permits us to use our highly efficient commercial food distribution system.”

Johnson continued: “It is one of many sensible and needed steps we have taken to apply the power of America's new abundance to the task of building a better life for every American.”

Imagine. Fifty years ago the Food Stamp Act was viewed not as charity, but rather as an ingenious utilization of American enterprise in order to help “build a better life for every American.”

And it is genius.