Free Speech: License or Responsibility?

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Many countries in the global community do not have the right to free speech. In the U.S., our right to speak out is protected under the Constitution. How well do we live up to the responsibility granted with that freedom?

The Epistle of James is written to urge Christians to practice the ethic of Israel’s covenantal, prophetic tradition. In this particular text, the apostle reflects on the enormous power of speech and the potential of the tongue for doing good or evil. Appeal to the covenantal, prophetic tradition of Israel may suggest two connections for us. First, the covenantal commandments of Sinai, the Ten Commandments, already have in their purview the cruciality of "right speech" — the ninth commandment prohibits "false witness."

The original reference concerns testimony in court. In larger horizon, however, the commandment pertains to the neighbor.

Why #NotAllMen Misses the Point

Misogyny kills, by Jenna Pope at Unarmed Civilian /

Misogyny kills, by Jenna Pope at Unarmed Civilian /

To my fellow men,

I’m sure you are as heartbroken as I am about the killings at UC Santa Barbara by a troubled young man with a misogynistic manifesto. Heartbroken for the community, for the families who lost loved ones, and even for the young man who felt like there was no other way.

Now I’m not much of a “Tweeter” (is that the right word?), but I heard that a group of us has taken to defending ourselves on Twitter with the hashtag #NotAllMen. They want to say that that #NotAllMen sexually assault women. #NotAllMen expect a date to be reciprocated with sex. #NotAllMen harass women for the way they do or don’t look at us. They want to say that we’re not like those other people, that we respect women as equals, not demean them as prizes or products.

Who cares?

An Enormous Sponge

The following reflection is a sidebar for "A Watershed Moment" by Ched Myers.—The Editors

I WORK FOR Kairos Canada, and we are trying to build in Canada and globally an ecumenical movement for transformative change in the areas of ecological justice and human rights. We particularly focus on the impacts of resource extraction on Indigenous communities.

For example, the Athabasca watershed is an enormous sponge that stretches north to the Arctic Ocean. Right in the middle of it is the Alberta tar sands, from which bitumen (a form of heavy oil) is extracted. We don’t know what kind of destruction is being left behind, because we can’t get verifiable, systematic, cumulative studies of the environmental impacts of this 40-year-old project.

What we do know is that traditional ways of life of the Indigenous peoples of the area have been disrupted. I’ve had elders tell me they can’t eat the meat they hunt, because when they butcher the animal the interior organs look really strange. They could be gathering berries or fishing, but because they live in a watershed that’s downstream from this incredible petrochemical industry, they’re terrified to eat it. So they have to eat flown-in food that’s alien to their culture, that’s bad for them, and that they can’t afford.

We have a responsibility to use the Earth’s wealth relationally, not exploitatively. For us in Canada, watershed discipleship in the churches focuses on right relationship with the land and with Indigenous peoples.

Sara Stratton lives in the Humber-Don watershed in Toronto.

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Missed Reckonings

Fifty years ago, a kind of innocence was taken, and a kind of brokenness remains unrepaired.

Gareth Higgins is a writer and broadcaster from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has worked as an academic and activist. He is the author of Cinematic States: America in 50 Movies and How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films. He blogs at and co-presents “The Film Talk” podcast with Jett Loe at He is also a Sojourners contributing editor. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

On Accountability: The Buck Never Stops

It was a strange, but telling, spectacle when those who billed the government millions for working on its Affordable Health Care registration system denied any accountability for the portal’s astounding failure.

“The other guy did it,” as they say in court. The client kept changing specs, no one did any whole-system testing, other vendors are to blame — blah, blah, blah.

Whatever shred of truth lay in their blame-shifting ran up against another wall of non-accountability. The Republicans did it with their insane sequestration, said Democrats. The Democrats did it, said the GOP. Health and Human Services did it. The Oval Office did it.

In the end, of course, no one will accept accountability, for we live in an age when the “buck” never stops on one’s own desk, if it stops at all.

Alabama Senator Denies the Moral Responsibility of Immigration Reform

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) makes a statement to the media March 13. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The momentum for immigration reform is building across the country, but leaders in Washington are often the last to realize the seismic shifts taking place. The most recent example is when Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions made the claim that there is no “moral or legal responsibility to reward somebody who entered the country [without documentation].”

No moral responsibility? Many Christians believe otherwise.

Steubenville Rape Case: From Blame to Responsibility

Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images

Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images

The tragedy of the Steubenville rape case has provided a moral challenge to our nation. We are caught up in a highly emotional cycle of blame as we debate who the real victim is in this case. I find myself asking two questions: Why is our nation obsessed with the story and what does this story mean for us as individuals and as a culture?

My Family

I’ve always wanted a daughter. The problem is that adult Ericksen dudes tend to produce baby Ericksen dudes. My dad has 4 siblings — all brothers. I have mostly male cousins. So, when my wife and I started having children … yep … two dudes.

My Church Family

I’ve been a youth pastor for about six years, and for a long time I thought the closest I’d ever get to having a daughter was to pseudo-adopt the girls in my youth group. Actually, they first pseudo-adopted me by claiming me as their “Father” on Facebook. (Hey, it’s on Facebook, so my pseudo-fatherhood status is legit.) As something of father figure for these teenage girls, each youth group session I discussed with young women and men how the Christian faith is leading us into patterns of love and non-violence. Frequently after our sessions, one of my pseudo-daughters will tell me she’s dating a boy. So, of course, after teaching them about non-violence, I say to each of them with a straight face:

If he ever touches you, I will personally kick his ass.

Taming the Tongue

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” 

How many of us grew up with this old adage ringing in our ears? How many of us believe it’s true? 

I’ve gone back and forth over the years. I understand that the saying is an invitation to turn our backs on harsh, mean-spirited words thus robbing them of their power, but how many of us are really capable of simply doing that? The truth is words do hurt and sometimes they do more than hurt. Sometimes they are downright destructive and on a large scale.
I think this is what the writer of James is getting at in this morning’s text. Words, the works of our tongues, can be used for good and evil. It is not always easy for us to shape our words and move our tongues in a fashion that serves our faith, our calling as Christians, our work for the reign of God on earth.

One important spiritual discipline, one vital element to our faith formation, then, is learning to tame the tongue. That is, we are challenged to develop custody of our speech in such a way that good news is proclaimed and people are lifted up toward the fulfillment of their creation in the image and likeness of God.  Remember, James is especially concerned that we align our words and our work so we both “talk the walk” and “walk the talk.”

If we are offspring of the heavenly parent, if we are made in the likeness of God, how should that shape our speech and control the way we wag our tongues?

Public Service: Where Politics Meets Faith

Erika with her father, Carl Stokes.

Erika with her father, Carl Stokes.

Growing up I shadowed my father to a great deal of community and board meetings, public hearings, and church events. By the time I was 2 years old, my father had already been elected to represent a working-class district of East Baltimore City. The example of public service and the principles of stewardship and goodwill that my father carries became some of the most important things that contributed to the way I view our world and the way I treat our people.