Scripture constantly should be challenging our assumptions about our lives and in every aspect of society. Transformation is needed on a personal and also a political level. Scriptural priorities shouldn't be glossed over in order to protect political ideologies and comfort zones.
If we believe that what Jesus taught remains just as relevant today as it did when he physically walked among us, then it should still be a comfort to those on the margins of society and offensive to the wealthy and powerful. That doesn't mean that the wealthy and powerful can't be good and faithful followers of Christ, but Jesus did warn them that their walk will be a hard one. Wealth and power bring unique and difficult temptations ... If you never feel uncomfortable when you read the Gospels then you aren't paying attention.
Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.
The puzzle here is not that readers of the Bible would tilt toward the political left. That, for me, as well as for thousands of other American evangelicals, is self-evident. Jesus, after all, summoned his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to welcome the stranger and to care for “the least of these.” He also expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow, a sentiment that should find some resonance in our environmental policies.
No, the real conundrum lies in the subtitle the editors of Christianity Today assigned to Franzen’s article, which was titled, “A Left-Leaning Text.” Adjacent to a picture of a Bible tilted about 45 degrees to the left, the editors added the subtitle: “Survey Surprise: Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways).”
The fact that anyone should register surprise that the Bible points toward the left should be the biggest surprise of all.
The Slavery Footprint campaign launched Thursday (Sept. 22), which also happened to have been the 149th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, with the goal of personalizing "the issue of modern slavery by providing people with an assessment of just how much their lifestyle depends on forced labor -- and the steps they can immediately take to help end it."
By following this LINK I was able to plug in some basic information about myself and my lifestyle -- where do I live, do I own or rent, how many children do I have, have many diamonds/leather shoes/electronic gizmos do I own, what are my eating habits, what's in my medicine cabinet, etc., -- and in just a few minutes received the upsetting news that, according to the Slavery Footprint campaigns diagnostics, 52 slaves "work for me."
When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"
Wall Street has been devastating Main Street for some time. And when the politicians -- most of them bought by Wall Street -- say nothing, it's called "responsible economics." But when somebody, anybody, complains about people suffering and that the political deck in official Washington has been stacked in favor of Wall Street, the accusation of class warfare quickly emerges. "Just who do these people think they are," they ask. The truth is that the people screaming about class warfare this week aren't really concerned about the warfare. They're just concerned that their class -- or the class that has bought and paid for their political careers -- continues to win the war.
So where is God in all of this? Is God into class warfare? No, of course not. God really does love us all, sinners and saints alike, rich and poor, mansion dwellers and ghetto dwellers. But the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and is openly suspicious of the rich. And if that is not clear in the Bible nothing is.
Sojourners statement regarding "No More Deaths" report on U.S. Border Patrol abuses: "As a Christian organization, Sojourners believe that all people, regardless of national origin, are made in the "image of God" and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We also believe that immigrants are our neighbors and that all life is a sacred gift from God. No More Deaths' report on abuse of immigrants in short-term custody is a chilling reminder that we have a long way to go to affirm a consistent ethic of life in our nation. The overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, exposure to unsanitary conditions, and denial of food and water to immigrants held in custody of the U.S. Border Patrol must end. As Christians, we insist that all immigrants should be treated fairly and with respect, no matter what side of the border they live on. There are no excuses for such practices to continue, and we call on the Obama Administration to seek accountability for every documented case of abuse by the Border Patrol. The United States should lead by example in all measures of human rights. These numbers offer a stark contrast between the nation we claim to be, built and made better by immigrants, and the nation we are."
Not every Christian who shares my concern for the poor has the same view on policy or politics. But, here is a prejudice I am not going to back away from.
To be a follower of Christ is to be biased for the poor.
In life, we all have our biases. Some of them are natural tendencies or inclinations and others are habituated. Our culture tells us to be biased -- in a deferential sense -- towards those who can pay us back or who can look out for us in return. Society tells us to get in with the strong and the powerful because they will give us strength and power in return.
Jesus teaches something very different.
Could my mission really be confined to seeking the best for the children to whom I gave birth? Or, as a Christian, should I define "family" more broadly? I'd see images of women and children suffering around the world, and those puzzling verses returned to my mind. Maybe, instead of obsessing over the happiness of my babies, I should stick my head out of the window, so to speak, look around, and ask, "Who is my family?"
It didn't feel right to simply shrug my shoulders and blithely accept my good fortune as compared to that of people born into extreme poverty. I'd buy my kids their new school clothes and shoes and then think of mothers who did not have the resources to provide their children with even one meal a day. I'd wonder: what's the connection between us? Does the fact that $10 malaria nets in African countries save whole families have anything to do with my family buying a new flat-screen TV? Should it? Is there any connection between me, a suburban, middle class mom, and women around the world?
Did you know 98 percent of poor households in the U.S. (those with an income of about $22,000 or less for a family of four) own a STOVE or OVEN? Or that 84 percent of poor households have AIR CONDITIONING?
Shocking! An outrage!
At least that's what some of our colleagues in the media appear to believe, as Jon Stewart documents in the following "Daily Show" report:
Sojourners has always tried to understand and advocate for "biblical politics." But what does that mean now, especially as we approach another major election?
I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots -- he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, "If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice." In other words, poverty isn't caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.
The Census Bureau on Tuesday released the latest data on poverty in the United States, and the news was troubling.
In the graphics below, you can see how poverty rates have increased over the last decade - overall, as well as among African Americans, children and families.
For the complete Census Bureau report click HERE.
For a graph charting the poverty rate from 1959 to the present, click HERE.
"OK to all those attacking Tavis and Dr. West and me for hosting the Poverty tour, can you get off your Hating a second to look at todays latest report: POVERTY is at its highest record in American History!!! People are Dying out here! Don't care what you think of Tavis, Cornel or me, but PLEASE PLEASE care about our Brothers and Sisters who have been made to feel invisible and disposable!"
-- Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina, a Roman Catholic parish on Chicago's South Side, in a posting on his Facebook page Wednesday morning.
More than 15 percent of the U.S. population now lives in poverty -- the highest rate in 18 years, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released this morning.
Poverty has risen for the third consecutive year in a row, the new census figures show, with perhaps most distressing are the child poverty numbers, which rose from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010.
"The results aren't good," the Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States focused on the biblical call to social justice, said upon reviewing the census report today.
[Editors' note: This post is part of a series over the last few weeks on youth homelessness. In the September/October issue of Sojourners magazine, the Ali Forney Center and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) ran an ad to raise awareness of the serious problem of LGBT youth homelessness.]
Fact 1) About 40 percent of the homeless youth in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Fact 2) One in four teens rejected by their families becomes homeless.
Fact 3) Parents who identify as strongly religious are three times more likely to reject their children.
Yet for Carl Siciliano, founder and president of the Ali Forney Center, these aren't just facts -- they are his daily life.
Did anyone else get the feeling, as we watched weather reporters wave their arms frantically in swirling motions across oversized maps of the eastern seaboard -- with their eyes bulging as they pushed out whole paragraphs without a single breath for a period -- that this was all hype?
Last weekend, as Irene passed over town after town in the mid-Atlantic, memories of Katrina did not materialize. By the time Irene huffed over New York City on Sunday morning, and the flood of the century was actually just a really big puddle in Battery Park and a floating lifeguard stand in Long Beach, my fear had transformed into complacency. From there I became cynical. By Sunday afternoon I found myself watching the weatherman's bulging eyes as he repeated the mantra of the day: "It's not as bad as we thought it would be, but it's not over." And I thought: "Boy, they'll do anything for ratings."
But it wasn't all hype.