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:
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
Many of us may not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients to live a healthy life. Poet, diplomat, and politician Pablo Neruda captures this feeling well in his poem “The Great Tablecloth.” Just before the holidays, millions of Americans learned what some aspect of hunger felt like as they saw a reduction in their SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits.
On Nov. 1, every SNAP household saw its grocery budget reduced when an $11 billion cut went into effect — the equivalent of 10 million food stamp meals a day. And the program isn’t out of the woods yet. The House and Senate have begun to finalize a farm bill that will impact vital anti-hunger programs. A compromise proposal expected in the coming weeks could further cut SNAP by as much as $8 billion, at a time when lawmakers need to protect and strengthen it.
(Spoiler—and imperfect analogy — alert to anyone who wasn’t able to sneak these books when they were pre-teens)
If there was one book series that defined my childhood/pre-adolescence, it would be V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic series. OK, maybe that wasn’t THE book series—after all, there were the Baby-sitters Club books and Sweet Valley High—but in terms of helping to destroy what little innocence I still had, Flowers in the Attic gets top ranking. I mean, I probably didn’t need to be reading books about incest, child abuse, and religious fanaticism when I was 10 years old. But that’s a story for another time.
The Lifetime network has made a film version of Flowers in the Attic that will debut on Saturday night. In anticipation of the remake, I decided to watch the 1987 version starring Kristy Swanson. Besides being struck by how dated it was — think fuzzy lighting, a lot of beiges and pastels, and 80s bangs — the premise seemed outdated even for that time. A recently widowed stay-at-home mother of four finds herself unable to care for her family and must return to her wealthy, estranged parents and beg to get back into her dying father’s good graces (and will). As a condition of her return, she must consent to have her four children locked in the attic and subjected to her mother’s abuse and neglect.
I sometimes forget how much the world has changed in such a short period of time.
Watching the news cycle for the past week or so, I have been pleasantly surprised at how much the issue of poverty is being discussed. There have been many analyses of the successes and failures of the War on Poverty, the 50th anniversary of which we marked last week. But there is one report that has particularly fascinated me — and many others — as it describes how women have been struggling the most against poverty in the United States. In partnership with the Center for American Progress, this year’s Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink examines the problem of poverty as it pertains to women and proposes solutions to eradicate it.
Although those of us who have lived and worked in low-income neighborhoods have witnessed firsthand how poverty affects women and their children, seeing the numbers laid out is still overwhelming.
Sojourners campaigns assistant Anna Hall posted a great piece last week de-bunking 5 myths about the minimum wage. One of these myths — that most minimum wage workers are suburban teenagers — was countered by the facts: nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are adult women.
Don’t think of a suburban teenager — think of a single mother working full time while trying to raise her children, care for her family, and make enough to pay rent, probably without any paid sick or personal days (not to mention maternity leave). Could you do that on $15,000 a year?
On Jan. 13, Maria Shriver – who, in addition to her many accomplishments, is the daughter of the statesman widely regarded as the architect of the “War on Poverty” — released a report focusing on the needs of women in the current economy.
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.
For any proposal, the basic question must be whether it helps more people and families rise out of poverty and realize their dreams. This means setting aside political self-interest and thinking beyond our too often inflexible ideologies.
It’s a new year, and Congress is back in session.
One of the top issues expected to be debated in 2014 is a hike to the federal minimum wage. 13 states have instituted wage increases. President Obama has supported raising the minimum wage throughout his presidency. Most recently, he shared his approval of new legislation proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin and George Miller (D-Calif.) that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10, up from it’s current $7.25.
Critics of the Harkin/Miller bill are quick to decry any wage increase. The usual arguments are trotted out to combat progressive pay for low-wage earners. Here are five commonly perpetuated myths about minimum wage. Hopefully, their exploration will shed a more accurate light on this contested issue.
IN TERMS, America has tried to heal itself. The Civil War took place in the 1860s. The civil rights movement took place in the 1960s. From America’s two biggest domestic conflicts emerge three main elements: the first, a group of people, primarily white, the majority and ruling group in society. Let’s call this group the “Land of the Free”; the second, also a group of people, but a minority, primarily black, originally from Africa, the “Other America”; and the third element of our simplified history is the slavery and poverty that divides the first group from the second and which we will call the “Wall.” ...
There are several questions I must ask myself if I am to be a Christian in America today. One that gives me a great sense of urgency is this: “If change only comes after confrontation and violence, what type of confrontation is needed to make the country livable for all people?”
TWO OF MY greatest teachers were Latin American men, both ordained as Catholic priests. One, Archbishop Oscar Romero, was assassinated in 1980. I never met him, being a 20-year-old American who’d never set foot in El Salvador or anywhere else in Latin America. But Romero made me, a lapsed Catholic, wonder why his views—our views, if Christian social teaching means anything at all—would be viewed with murderous hostility by the Salvadoran elite. After all, it was all right there in the Book. Wasn’t it?
The truth was, I didn’t know. Was it worth looking at books about these matters? That’s what we believed in medical school: Look it up! So Romero led me to the second of these teachers who, I’m happy to say, is alive and well and living (mostly) in Lima, Peru. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a diminutive and humble Dominican priest and a great friend of Romero’s, taught me through his books, from The Power of the Poor in History toWe Drink from our Own Wells, and later through his friendship and his almost mystical (to me, in any case) optimism.
Over the course of my 20s, the slender, frayed thread of my own faith, which I had believed cut, slowly came back into view. There was a filament a bit stronger than imagined, made visible in part by my Haitian hosts and patients and friends, and in part by Catholic social activists working against poverty in settings as different as tough neighborhoods in Boston, the farms of North Carolina, and the slums of Lima.
Some were nuns or priests, some were engaged laity, from many professions. Most were people living in and struggling against their own and others’ poverty. Their activism taught me a lot about a space in the Catholic Church I’d not seen clearly before, and about the promise of long-term engagement in the monumental struggle against poverty and discrimination in all its forms. That includes gender inequality, no stranger to the institution. Most of the most inspiring activists were women.
IN THE LAST YEAR of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. struggled with what are best understood as existential challenges as he began to move toward an ever-more-profound and radical understanding of what would be required to deal with the nation’s domestic and international problems.
The direction he was exploring, I believe, is far more relevant to the realities we now face than many have realized—or have wanted to realize.
I first met King in 1964 at the Democratic Party’s national convention held that year in Atlantic City—the occasion of an historic challenge by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to the racially segregated and reactionary Mississippi Democratic Party. I was then a very young aide working for Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Sen. Nelson authorized me to help out in any way I could despite President Lyndon Johnson’s effort to clamp down on the fight for representation in the interest of a “dignified” convention that would nominate him in his own right after his rise to the presidency following President Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson didn’t want a bunch of civil rights activists muddying the waters and, not incidentally, causing him problems in the conservative, race-based Democratic South.
After much back and forth, the Johnson administration offered a “compromise” proposal that the old guard be seated (provided they pledged to support him) and that two at-large representatives of the MFDP also be seated.
In the short three months that I have been at Sojourners as the director of individual giving, I’ve been humbled and inspired by the countless social justice activists who make up our community. In these three months, I have witnessed activism for immigration reform, a vigil for those most affected by congressional dysfunction, organizing for climate change, a prophetic stand for racial justice, the launching of a new campaign to empower women and girls, and much more.