A Turning Tide

I WORK ON the frontlines of the movement to end the death penalty in the United States. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home and my faith has led me to this work. In 2008, I had the opportunity to hear stories from murder victims’ family members, death row exonorees, and corrections officials who participated in executions—all of whom believe the death penalty should be abolished. At that point I felt called to do this work and to begin engaging with other evangelicals.

I will confess, it was a lonely job when I started. I wondered who else would join me. So you can imagine my excitement at seeing what has today become a nationwide chorus of Christian voices questioning capital punishment.

A recent poll by the Barna Group showed a majority of Christians in the United States now oppose capital punishment and that young Christians oppose it by a large majority. More than two dozen evangelical leaders from around the country and across the political spectrum recently made their voices heard by publicly requesting a new sentencing hearing, free of racial bias, for a Texas death row inmate. Even conservative political leaders are speaking out against the death penalty.

As one who has been in the trenches on this issue for years, I can confirm that Christian engagement is helping to transform the death penalty debate, and I can tell you that it is being driven by the same forces that moved me—faith and cold, hard facts.

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A Strong Third Political Party for the Disaffected Middle?

Sign at the Rally to Restore Sanity, Rena Schild /

Sign at the Rally to Restore Sanity, Rena Schild /

I was talking to my wife, Amy, today about the news that Speaker John Boehner has requested movement from his party toward a temporary increase of the United States government debt ceiling.

The shutdown in itself is problematic enough. Our leaders have willfully put about a million people out of work while they haggle about policy that has already been put into law. The cost of their standoff to the United States economy is a loss of about $1.6 billion a week in economic output. And it’s more than a little bit ironic that this is being done on the watch of a Congress that supposedly has its first priority as jobs and economic growth.

However, all of this pales in comparison to the potential damage that would ripple throughout the global economy if we were to default on our debt. Because so many markets in the world peg their valuation system to the American dollar, and because so many exchanges use our currency as their monetary system, the prospect of the credibility of our money losing its footing in a potentially irreparable way could be nothing short of catastrophic worldwide.

“We should just fire them all," said Amy. “Just clean house and start fresh.”

The thing is, although this is a sentiment I hear on nearly a daily basis, and I've heard it over the course of many years, very little of substance seems to change when it comes to who represents us in Washington, D.C.

#FaithfulFilibuster — A Vigil for the Poor

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Jim Wallis flips through more than 2,000 highlighted verses on poverty & justice in Bible. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

It’s time to end this shutdown. I’m standing in full view of the Capitol Building with a group of clergy and faith leaders who are here to offer a “Faithful Filibuster” of the government shutdown – and we’re going to keep talking until things change.

We know that this shutdown disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our society. So our words will not be wasted diatribes or placements of blame. Rather, we will use God’s own words – reading the more than 2,000 Bible verses that speak to God’s justice for the poor and vulnerable – until this shutdown ends.

And while we recite the verses to bear witness for those suffering, we want to make sure that every single member of Congress can read them too. It is our goal to send each member a copy of the Poverty and Justice Biblewhich highlights each of those 2,000 verses. Our elected officials need this reminder now more than ever.

Meet the Republicans Who Voted to Slash $40 Billion from the Food Stamps Program

Politician swearing oath with fingers crossed, Minerva Studio /

Politician swearing oath with fingers crossed, Minerva Studio /

Yesterday, before Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to push through a plan to slash nearly $40 billion from the food stamp program, Jim Wallis said we would keep an eye on which way of our elected officials voted.

"We will be watching who votes against feeding the hungry this week and will remember to bring that to public attention when they run for re-election. We will be doing our own faith count today. Stay tuned for the results."

Well here are the results. The plan passed narrowly, 217-210 — with all the yea votes coming from the Republican side. Fifteen Republicans joined with the Democrats against the plan. 

So, who voted for that $40 billion cut to the food stamps program, which would kick an estimated 4 million hungry people out of the program next year? Here's your list. Is your Congress member on it?

Just Picking On the Poor: The Facts and the Faces of Cutting SNAP

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A girl pays for her mother's groceries using Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) token in New York. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

If you know the facts and faces of the hungry families that are helped by SNAP, I believe it is a moral and even religious problem to vote to cut them. The Bible clearly says that governmental authority includes the protection of the poor in particular, and instructs political rulers to promote their well-being. So the argument that the poor should just be left to churches and private charity is an unbiblical argument. I would be happy to debate that with any of our conservative Congressmen who keep telling our churches that we are the only ones who should care for the poor. To vote against feeding hungry people is un-Christian, un-Jewish, and goes against any moral inclination, religious or

Finally, for politicians to defend these SNAP cuts because of our need to cut spending generally is un-credible and incredible.

These same politicians are not willing to go to where the real money is: the Pentagon budget, which everyone knows to be the most wasteful in government, or the myriad subsidies to corporations, including agribusiness subsides to members of Congress who will be voting to cut SNAP for the poor.

Tea Party-elected Rep. Stephen Fincher, (R-Tenn.), who likes to bolster his anti-poor rhetoric with misused Bible verses, collected $3.5 million in farm subsidies between 1999 and 2012, according to the New York Times. Fincher is helping to lead the effort to cut food stamps to working families with children by illogically quoting: “The one who is unwilling to work should not eat,” all the while collecting millions of dollars in agricultural subsidies. Congressman Fincher's position is hypocritical — and it's this kind of hypocrisy that makes Christians look bad and turns young people away from the church.

You see, for many House conservatives this isn't really about SNAP, but about their opposition to the idea that as a society we have the responsibility to care for each other, even during the hard times or when resources are few. Conservatives know their ideas for privatizing Social Security or cutting funding to Medicare and Medicaid are politically unpopular, but their ideology of individualism that borders on social Darwinism remains unchanged. SNAP is the perfect target for them. The image of what it does and whom it serves has been widely distorted by the media, while the people who benefit from it have little influence in the halls of Congress and pose little risk to the political careers of Republican members. 

Partisan Fighting Spells Trouble for Church Insurance Under Obamacare

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill, March 23, 2010. P

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill, March 23, 2010. Photo via RNS.

An effort to tweak President Obama’s health care reform bill to fill a gap for church health insurance plans could fail because of Republicans’ insistence on repealing the law.

Without a fix, United Methodist Church leaders say some of their churches could drop current coverage for employees once “Obamacare” takes full effect next year, according to Colette Nies, spokeswoman for the UMC’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

Under Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, more than 50 percent of UMC clergy would qualify for tax credits available to lower- and middle-class families to purchase insurance. But because of the way the law was written, those tax credits cannot be used toward insurance plans churches can offer through government-run exchanges.