President Obama

Obama Names 18 New Faith-Based Council Advisers

The Rev. Carroll Baltimore. Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

President Obama on Sept. 24 announced the names of 18 people who will serve on his third advisory council on faith-based issues.

They include leaders of religious groups and nonprofits — from a former president of a historic black denomination to the head of an anti-hunger group to an executive of a Sikh organization.

History Facing History: When Pope and President Meet

Image via /Shutterstock

When President Obama meets with Pope Francis tomorrow, the world will catch a glimpse of what history looks like. The first pope from the global South in 1200 years will be welcomed in the White House by the first African-American president of the United States. This picture will be worth far, far more than a thousand words.

Pundits will analyze each public word spoken, and search for hints about the private words exchanged between these two. The politics of Pope Francis’ interaction with the President, and later with Congress, will fuel incessant speculation from Washington’s insiders. But around the world, and particularly in the global South, it’s the symbol of this meeting which will matter.

Pope Francis represents the changing face of world Christianity. Today, one billion Christians are found in Latin America and Africa. In 1980, more Christians were found in the global South than in the North for the first time in a thousand years. Every day, that movement accelerates. Francis’ words about the world’s injustices, and his actions of humble human solidarity, project the voice and longings of world Christianity’s new majority and resonant far beyond the boundaries of this faith.

President Obama symbolizes the changing demographics of America. Hope and demographics elected him in 2008, and by 2012 the changing face of the electorate in the U.S. proved determinative of America’s political future. Today, a majority of babies born in the U.S. are non-white, and some major urban areas already reflect the coming reality of a society without a racial majority.

Support the Iran Deal. It's Time to Be Peacemakers.

Image via /Shutterstock

Here are the politics of the Iran nuclear deal: Congress returns next week from its summer recess, and among the first orders of business will be taking up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, recently negotiated with Iran in Vienna by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Opponents of the agreement had hoped to use the August break to sway undecided members of Congress. It didn’t happen. Instead, yesterday, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the 34th senator to publicly support the accord— meaning there are enough votes to sustain a presidential veto of any bill intended to kill it.

Now, here is a faith perspective: For Christians, this is a victory for peace and diplomacy over another bloody and destructive war. It is a time when common sense wins over bombast — when reality wins over rhetoric.

Weekly Wrap 8.14.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. This Is What It’s Like Being a Gay Christian Rock Star 
 A year after Christian singer Vicky Beeching announced she is gay, BuzzFeed followed up with the songstress on reactions from the Christian community and her life since. “At times it felt like there wasn’t much respect for me as a person. It was either ‘We’re going to grab her as a mascot’ or ‘We’re going to shoot her as an example of this evil.’ For many conservative Christians, I became a sign that people were slipping down a slippery slope into unimaginable sin. People forget there’s a person hiding under a duvet wondering if they’re going to have a life left.” 

Iran Nuclear Deal: Strategic, Scientific — and Christian

Iran Deal Reached

Flags aligned for photo at the U.N. in Vienna on July 14. Photo by European External Action Service /

Later this week, President Obama will deliver a major speech promoting the Iran nuclear agreement at American University. I’m looking forward to the speech, both as an AU alum and someone closely following the upcoming Senate vote on the nuclear agreement. We know President Obama will make the strategic and scientific cases for the deal; I hope he makes the moral case as well.

President Obama has twice chosen the university in northwest D.C. to deliver major speeches, but it was also the site of President Kennedy’s landmark speech on peace and nuclear disarmament in 1963, where he declared, “While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests” and “the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”

President Obama Should Visit Solitary Confinement Cell to See True Suffering

Image via  UzFoto/Shutterstock

Image via  /Shutterstock

The critique President Obama articulated of solitary confinement in this week’s speech to the NAACP on criminal justice is truly remarkable. Never before has this president, or any president, spoken about the mistreatment of people in U.S. prisons with such clarity and compassion.

When he spoke, the president echoed what people of faith across the country have advocated for years: Solitary confinement is an affront to our deeply held moral convictions.

Directing the attorney general to review solitary confinement is exactly what is needed to begin the process of ending this immoral practice. Faith leaders hope that with Obama’s scheduled visit to the Federal Correctional Institution El Reno in Oklahoma on July 16, he will ask to see the solitary confinement section. If the president misses a chance to see such a unit, he, and thus the nation, will develop an inaccurate picture of the true suffering and neglect that lie deep inside our U.S. prison system.

When the president named solitary confinement as one of those prison conditions "that have no place in any civilized country," he made a statement of values loud and clear — that the inherent human dignity of people does not end at the prison gates.

Confederate Flags Greet Obama in Oklahoma

Image via zefart/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

A crowd greeted the president in Oklahoma City, Okla., Wednesday night by waving Confederate flags, POLITICO reports

Confederate flags are a rare sight in Oklahoma, which was not a member of the confederacy. 

According to POLITICO: 

Across the street from [President Obama's] hotel in downtown Oklahoma City, as many as 10 people waved the flags as his motorcade arrived. The group stood among a larger group of demonstrators, many of them there to support the president, who is in town ahead of a visit to a federal prison on Thursday as part of his weeklong push on criminal justice issues.

According to local news organizations, a man named Andrew Duncomb, who calls himself the “black rebel,” organized the Confederate flag demonstration. He also put together a similar protest on Saturday at the Oklahoma State Capitol — just a day after South Carolina removed its contested flag from the State Capitol grounds. His Facebook page features photos from that rally.

The president is scheduled to visit a federal prison today, the first acting president to do so. Read the full story here.

A Primer on Fast Track Trade Authority for People of Faith

Image via pogonici/

Image via pogonici/

t’s also one of the most divisive political issues on the Hill right now. Here’s why: The notion of "fast tracking" trade deals with almost no congressional oversight has led to the creation of odd alliances — putting the Democrats and Tea Party in one camp (against), and the Republicans and Obama Administration (for) in another. Pro-business Republicans are long time supporters of free trade, while members of the Tea Party are against most anything that would allow the President to usurp legislative authority. As for Democrats, they argue that the TPP would allow multinational corporations to undermine labor safeguards, civil rights, environmental protection and healthcare, and derail urgent efforts at fighting climate change. Organizations typically aligned with President Obama are against him here: labor unions, environmental groups, and even traditionally non-political groups have fought hard against Fast Track and the TPP.

Indeed, the potential harm from the trade deal seems to leave few interest groups untouched. To provide just a few examples, Doctors Without Borders has called the TPP the "worst trade deal ever," claiming that it will cause millions to lose access to life-saving medicines; left-leaning Global Exchange has pointed to the increasing number of sweatshops such a framework would lead to; and the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed its belief that the TPP would put overly restrictive controls on the internet. And we’ve already seen our political leaders weaken standards for protection against human trafficking and child labor should the trade deal move forward.

These are all compelling arguments, and they are ones faith groups are making as well.

Pastor: If DOJ Officials Won’t Read the Torture Report, I'll Read It to Them

Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Left to Right: Rev. Ron Stief, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, Colin Jager. Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., travelled to Washington, D.C., on June 3 with a simple task: to read the torture report outside the Department of Justice.

“As a pastor, I know that admitting the truth is the first step toward redemption,” said Kaper-Dale.

“When the DOJ admitted in court that it hadn’t even opened, let alone read, the full Torture Report, I knew I had to help the department start the path toward redemption. By reading the report outside the DOJ, I hope to open the hearts of at least a few DOJ employees.”