Poverty

Environmental Justice, Inclusiveness, and Mother Earth

designer_an / Shutterstock.com
designer_an / Shutterstock.com

The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in a powerful awareness of injustice. That justice is a good thing, a fine goal, even a supreme ideal, is commonly accepted. What is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of injustice. Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression, in their comprehension of social, political, and religious evils. —Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is defined as:

The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

As we consider this definition, and look around our communities, do we find this fair treatment taking place? Are we aware of how economic and environmental decisions are made? Many times it can become so overwhelming that we think it best to leave it to the experts. Unfortunately, this can lead to exploitation, as discrimination typically takes place in poor and underserved communities where people may not understand their rights, or they choose not to fight back out of fear. As we dig deeper and the shackles are removed, we begin to see how economic and environmental justice are connected and how this exploitation is directly related to incentives like government funding, tax breaks, and land grabs that favor corporations over human beings and the environment. Does the end result benefit all God’s creation or just a wealthy few?

A Historic Chance to End Poverty

A chance to end global poverty. Image via Great Divide Photography/shutterstock.
A chance to end global poverty. Image via Great Divide Photography/shutterstock.com

We have a vision.  

End extreme poverty by the year 2030. 

There has never been a time such as this. There has never been a time in human history where we have been more equipped to do more than just envision a world free of extreme poverty. The empirical evidence is there — extreme poverty can be ended within the next fifteen years. 

But first, we must commit. As a global community we must act guided by the best evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and to use our voices to compel and challenge others to join us in this urgent cause inspired by our deepest spiritual values.   

This is a historic opportunity. The goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 is now possible when it hasn’t really been before. But it will take all of us to accomplish it. 

Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps...

WITH THE NEXT election still almost 18 months away, you’d think the media would focus on more important topics in the meantime, such as where Kim Kardashian is spending her next vacation.

But you’d be wrong. It’s officially time for the press to ignore more newsworthy subjects in favor of endless coverage of the election “horse race,” but without the legendary good sense horses bring to such occasions.

ISIS on the move, taking the Middle East back to the 7th century? Forget that. Let’s talk about Jeb Bush’s 2016 run, although the hook could be how ISIS reminds people of the disastrous policies of the last Bush in the White House. Or was it the one before that? I can’t remember. (In hindsight, the Bush parents should have named alltheir sons George, so presidential ballots could be printed in bulk, enough for several elections.)

Interestingly, the latest news about ISIS is that its recruits from the West are having second thoughts about the medieval living conditions so praised by the jihadists. After all, in the 7th century there were no antibiotics, no running water, and only basic cable. But you won’t find the press covering that because “Sarah Palin may be running again!”

Although, to be fair, there is a foreign policy connection, since she has publicly stated “God bless our troops, especially our snipers.” (Such a wonderful ambassador for our nation. Definitely U.N. material.)

Climate change threatening our coastlines? Boring. Cable news thinks Mike Huckabee’s White House prospects are, frankly, a lot more interesting. His new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, is an alliterative attempt to keep his name before the public. Either that, or he was reading from a Cracker Barrel menu. Regardless, he hopes book sales will be better than his last effort, When Monkeys Fly: My Timeline to the Presidency.

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A Turning Point on Poverty?

IT’S BEEN HALF a century since Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty, and obviously this is a war that we still haven’t won. According to the Census Bureau, in 2013 there were still 45.3 million Americans living in poverty. That’s nearly 15 percent of the American people, including one in five children and one in three children of color.

Progress has been made on global poverty, with the proportion of people living in extreme poverty worldwide cut in half between 1990 and 2010, but the World Bank estimates that 1 billion people worldwide still live on less than $1.25 per day. Push that up to a mere $2 per day and the number is 2.2 billion people—almost a third of all the people on Earth.

I’ve always described the central fact of God’s economy as this: There is enough, if we share it. There’s no question that we have the resources to end poverty globally and domestically. What we lack are the moral resolve, the political will, and better strategies to make it happen. Yet those three may finally be coming together. I believe there are new confluences occurring that could be both helpful and hopeful.

At a meeting at the World Bank in February, a new alliance with the faith community was envisioned that combines proven strategies for overcoming poverty with a prophetic call to people of faith and moral conscience to end extreme poverty by 2030. In the faith community, I see a new generation of Christians rediscovering those Jesus calls the “least of these” in Matthew 25. Even in politics, I see individuals across the political spectrum beginning to ask new and challenging questions about finding better approaches to addressing poverty.

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Robert Putnam Fights America’s ‘Opportunity Gap’ with Religious Fervor

Photo via REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS
Barack Obama awards Robert Putnam the 2012 National Humanities Medal. Photo via REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS

Harvard professor Robert Putnam jokingly calls himself “a nice Jewish formerly Methodist boy.”

But the public policy expert’s new book, Our Kids, reads more like a tent meeting revival, complete with an “altar call” at the end. His private meetings and public appearances at the White House and Capitol Hill, and meetings with civic and faith leaders across the country, carry the same fervor.

While evangelists convict people of their sinful ways and then convert them to the path of salvation for the hereafter, Putnam’s focus is more on this side of heaven.

His goal: to awaken and inspire Americans to “save” young people from a future trapped in a spiral of fractured families, poor schooling, and a grim economic future that Putnam says will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. Trillions.

He is not only aiming for political, social, and religious elites. He’s also aiming at the everyday reader from Boston to Dubuque with a message that failure to act will “undermine democracy and political stability for all.” That’s why the book is subtitled, “The American Dream in Crisis.”

“I’m writing for ordinary people, not the political class. I’m holding up a mirror of American society to the ‘haves’ to say ‘look what we’ve become,’” he said.

Expanding Clean Energy in Maryland Would Protect the Poor

oat.s / Shutterstock.com
oat.s / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis is a straight shooter who does not mince words: "If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us,” the pontiff said last year. “Never forget this!”

The pope’s warning and calls for action have galvanized many religious leaders from across Maryland to step up our efforts to protect God’s creation from climate change disruptions. We understand that it is the poor and most vulnerable among us who are bearing the brunt of human-induced climate change. Unless we act now, the impacts of devastating super-storms, massive floods, droughts, and crop failures will only accelerate. Refusing to bury one’s head in the sand and facing squarely the reality of climate change is a fundamental issue of justice and respect for life.

This is why I, a Franciscan friar priest, have joined more than 230 Maryland religious leaders, including Bishop Dennis Madden of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and six other leaders of Christian denominations across Maryland, in issuing an urgent, moral challenge. We are calling on Marylanders — including our elected officials — to take action on climate change by helping to shift our state’s energy policy towards renewable, clean energy sources.

Subversive Little Crumbs

Vaclav Mach / Shutterstock.com
Vaclav Mach / Shutterstock.com

I stood at the bread shelf in the neighborhood grocery store, trying to decide which loaf I should buy. Tough decision. I looked at all the types of bread and went back and forth many times.

Which one would be best for communion? I didn’t know. I’d never had to make this choice.

Our pastor was at a conference for the weekend. As the associate minister, I would be presiding over the Sunday service for the first time. Before he left, we went over the details of all that had to be prepared.

He reminded me that I needed to buy the bread for communion.

Uh, I hadn’t thought about that. Where do you get it?

“The grocery store will do just fine.”

So there I was, looking over the loaves, wondering which one looked the most, well, communion-y. Maybe that pretty, round Tuscan loaf. Wait, maybe the nice Jewish rye over there. My wry sense of humor kicked in. Jesus would smile over that, right? Being Jewish and all.

No, better not …

I finally picked an Italian loaf — mainly because it was big and it looked pretty and it was on sale. I put it in my basket and headed for the self-checkout line.

When I scanned the loaf, the automated voice asked: “Do you have any coupons?” No, no communion coupons. Not today.

I swiped my credit card and was reminded that my purchase would earn me a few cents off my next gasoline purchase. How’s that for transubstantiation — bread transformed into bonus points?

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