I’m very offended. Or so I’m told. As a believing Christian, I’m supposed to be deeply troubled by the remarks that President Barack Obama delivered at the recent National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore had this to say:
The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.
Strong words. But what were Obama’s terribly offensive remarks? Here’s what the president said:
And lest we get on our high horse and think [religious violence] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
Wait… what? Why should I be offended by that? That’s a fact. That’s our history. Every Christian should be aware of what we are capable of when we turn our eyes away from the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and instead turn Christianity into an ideology that justifies terror, brutality, oppression, and war.
It should be impossible to study Western history without getting some glimpse into the terrifying possibilities that any religious system — including Christian ones — hold out for those who seek to dominate others. We humans have a long track record of twisting our most precious faith into a weapon of violence and hatred. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it should be a matter of ongoing repentance and prayer for people of faith everywhere.
So I’m confused.
The conservative Twitterverse is all riled up because at Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast (an event founded and run by the secretive Christian organization known as The Fellowship), President Obama said that Christians, as well as Muslims, have at times committed atrocities. His words:
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
This would seem to be Religious History 101, but it was nonetheless met with shock and awe.
“Hey, American Christians–Obama just threw you under the bus in order to defend Islam,” wrote shock jock Michael Graham. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., called the comments “dangerously irresponsible.” The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue said: “Obama’s ignorance is astounding and his comparison is pernicious. The Crusades were a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages.”
More thoughtfully, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison. … The evil actions that he mentioned were clearly outside the moral parameters of Christianity itself and were met with overwhelming moral opposition from Christians.”
Everyone who desires to follow Jesus’ command to love can pour that love into their own communities, where thousands of children languish in foster care, are legally tangled in the juvenile system, and are raising themselves with no strong adults to guide them forward.
These children in our communities are vulnerable to human trafficking unless each of us does something about it. Right here at home.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. We should love even the unlovable, especially the downtrodden, the forgotten. Don’t be afraid to love those that the world says aren’t worth it, the throwaways, the ones we too often pretend don’t exist.
Love big, love strong, love deep with compassion and bravery. Love those who spit in your face and curse you, the ones who break your heart over and over again. Your love may be the catalyst that keeps that one person from becoming a statistic.
Who will end slavery? You will. How will we end slavery? By God’s grace, through love and fortitude. Not in a faraway place but right here, at home.
Pope Francis and religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths came together at the Vatican on Dec. 2 to call for an end to slavery by 2020.
At a ceremony in which they signed a declaration to that effect, the pope joined the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and representatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb.
The leaders said it was a “human and moral imperative” to wipe out human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking. It also committed the signatories to do all they could to free the estimated 35 million people enslaved across the world.
“Modern slavery … fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity,“ the joint statement said.
“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.”
A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.
Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.
Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.
They were forced to labor.
Sometimes it is hard to know even where to begin. We stare at this System, this complex web of human behaviors, and the institutions erected to memorialize them, and we simply do not know where to begin. How do we fix it?
"That's just the way it is," we say. "Some things will never change."
Systems are strange beasts. They take incredible human investment to maintain. They are the spaces by which many of us come to know ourselves, to know our place in this world. We identify ourselves in relationship to them. And yet they are so close to us as to be rendered invisible.
Until they hurt us. Until they step on us, exclude us, enslave us, brutalize us.
And this is when it gets interesting, of course; this is when they do their real work, these systems.
Magdalene is a residential program that helps women who have survived lives of violence and prostitution.
The 2013 Global Slavery Index reports that nearly 30 million women, children, and men are enslaved around the world today. Their slavery has many forms. For millions, especially women and girls, it is prostitution, forced marriage, or other sexual and reproductive exploitation. Others - an estimated 16.4 million - are forced into labor in spheres ranging from domestic work and agriculture to construction and manufacturing. Others are tricked, kidnapped, and/or sold for illegal adoption, forced begging, armed combat, forced crime, and organ harvesting. As globalization continues to increase demand for cheap labor and movement across borders, human trafficking - sale and movement of people for forced labor, including prostitution - has become the “fastest growing international crime.” It nets traffickers billions of dollars in profit each year.
1. Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds
Self-identified nerd Arthur Chu provides piercing analysis on the recent shooting in Santa Barbara, examining how rape culture and recent sitcoms have instilled a sense of entitlement for “nerds” when it comes to “getting the girl.”
2. Why #NotAllMen Misses the Point
#NotAllMen is a flawed response to the twitter trend #YesAllWomen: "Avoiding blame isn’t enough to heal us. Distancing ourselves won’t end cycles of injustice, whether in the form of sexism, racism, or any other division. #NotAllMen can’t break an oppressive culture towards women."
3. Maya Angelou Knew How To Inspire As A Writer, Teacher, and Great Human Being
Sojourners board member Joshua DuBois reflects on the life of Maya Angelou: "The African American author, dead at 86, led an extraordinary life and wrote about it in extraordinary ways."
4. Maya Angelou Is Not in Heaven
"Angelou is not in heaven 'now.' Her writings show a joyful person who was never not in heaven. To me, an ongoing theme of her remarkable work has always been its full-on, all-in commitment to living life in the kingdom."
5. Slavery Is Still Thriving And Is More Profitable Than Big Oil
The International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nation's agency focusing on labor issues, this weekreleased a report on the global "forced labor" industry. The results are staggering.
6. Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden
After months of behind-the-scenes contact, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams sat down with Edward Snowden, a man wanted for espionage here at home, for his first American television interview. Nothing was off limits.
7. This Film Will Change How You See Immigration
The Stranger is a new 45-minute documentary created to introduce Christians to the stories and lives of immigrants living in this country. Interviews with pastors, Christian leaders, and policy experts provide a biblically based context for the immigration challenges that face our country today.
8. Palestinian Refugees Welcome the Pope: The Story Behind the Iconic Photo at the Separation Wall
In an effort to resist the Bethlehem Municipality’s efforts to beautify a section of the Apartheid Wall where Pope Francis was scheduled to pass, Local activists from Aida Refugee Camp gathered to paint slogans both against Israeli occupation and welcoming His Holiness, on the eve of his arrival, on May 24th 2014.
9. The Wrong Way to Approach the Poor
Before we rush in with righteous vigor to help the helpless, so to speak, we would do well to dispense of some archaic lenses through which we view poverty.
10. The Record for the Most Expensive Starbucks Drink Has Been Broken By a $55 Frappuccino
On a lighter note, someone really took advantage of those free birthday drinks that accompany a Starbucks Gold Card membership — 60 shots of esppresso should be enough to wake you up, right?
Currently there are more people in slavery than any other time in history. In response to this, there are hundreds of anti-human trafficking organizations throughout the world. People are working tirelessly for justice and restoration for the victims.
There are the men and women who are rescued, some are just children. There are also the rescuers, the judges and lawyers who bring justice, and the psychologists who help to rebuild wholeness. Countless numbers of people support the end and rescue of those enslaved by trafficking – especially sex trafficking. But where are the “Johns” - the men who play the role of Demanders in the Supply and Demand economics of this billion dollar international industry? I’d like to put some money toward restoring them.
Aren’t they an important aspect to this equation? Women and girls would not be victimized sometimes 40 times a day without those who pay for it. The captors would move on to more lucrative business ventures if there weren’t men willing to fork over money again and again for something that the world has decried as both illegal and immoral.
I’m surprised that this plays little to no role in our larger conversations about being serious in ending the sex slave trade. What is it that these men are seeking? Why are they paying for sex? Why are they choosing to have sex with someone who is clearly not there willfully? How much is power at play in this situation? What about the men’s ability to be in stable relationships? Why is there still a demand for enslaved persons?
Buying sex from enslaved people does not happen in a vacuum. There is a progression that includes various aspects. If we are serious about ending the sex slave trade we will need to address some serious issues within every nation in the world, particularly those with male-dominated societies that promote male aggression, provide women with limited or no educational and economic opportunities, and deprive men of solid and symbiotic relationships where they can find genuine intimacy and self-expression for their feelings.
Might I suggest 10 ways we can fight sex-trafficking:
A call for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians has put African and Western churches on a collision course, as some African clerics liken mounting criticism from the U.S. and Europe to a new wave of colonization by the West.
“Homosexuality is equivalent to colonialism and slavery,” said one participant.
“We feel it’s like a weapon of mass destruction,” said another.
“It is not biblical and cannot bring blessing to Christians,” said a third.
Gitonga, a powerful East African Pentecostal church official, is among a group of Kenyan leaders who have launched “Zuia Sodom Kabisa,” Kiswahili for “Stop Sodom Completely.” The campaign seeks 1 million signatures to petition legislation to criminalize homosexual acts in Kenya.
There are so many people that have gone before me, people that have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of justice and equality. Because of this, I feel a deep sense of commitment to honor them by standing for some of the same things that they did. I am in complete awe of two things that connect deeply for me. The first is the cross and how Jesus gave his life for us all. The second is my ancestors who somehow understood Jesus’ sacrifice and passed it onto me through intense persecution.
I can’t say that I know persecution like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents knew. I have been back to southern Alabama many times for family reunions and visited slave graveyards where relatives are buried. This compels me to be and do more with my life. I can’t say I understand why Jesus would choose to become human, walk this earth as a human being, and then die at the hands of his own creations to save those who were crucifying him. However, I do know it pushes me to be and do more with my life. I feel like I would let them down somehow if I didn’t take responsibility for addressing injustice with my life.
My life is not my own. I am the product of sacrifice. I am here because of those who saw beyond themselves and thought personal sacrifice was worth giving up to allow justice to take hold. I am here because Jesus modeled something completely illogical on the cross and then some of my ancestors took that example seriously and repeated it. I have no real right to the life I live. My only recourse is to continue the tradition handed to me in the same way.
Before I saw the new film 12 Years A Slave, I knew nothing about Solomon Northrop or his astounding story of courage, forbearance, and faith.
I’d never heard of Northrop, an African-American freeman, who was born and reared in upstate New York in the early 1800s, well before the abolition of slavery in the rest of the nation. I’d not known of the historical practice of kidnapping freeborn black Americans in the North and selling them into slavery in the South.
I’d never heard about how Northrop, an accomplished violinist, was bamboozled into traveling from his farm in Hebron, N.Y., where he lived a prosperous life with his wife and three children, to Washington, D.C., for work, but was drugged, kidnapped, and sold in Louisiana. I’d never heard how he remained for a dozen years before heroically regaining his freedom in 1853 — one of a very few kidnapped freemen and freewomen ever to regain their freedom.
The most controversial sentence I ever wrote, considering the response to it, was not about abortion, marriage equality, the wars in Vietnam or Iraq, elections, or anything to do with national or church politics. It was a statement about the founding of the United States of America. Here’s the sentence:
"The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another."
The comments were overwhelming, with many calling the statement outrageous and some calling it courageous. But it was neither. The sentence was simply a historical statement of the facts. It was the first sentence of a Sojourners magazine cover article, published 26 years ago titled “America’s Original Sin: The Legacy of White Racism.”
An extraordinary new film called 12 Years a Slave has just come out, and Sojourners hosted the premiere for the faith community on Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C. Rev. Otis Moss III was on the panel afterward that reflected on the film. Dr. Moss is not only a dynamic pastor and preacher in Chicago, but he is also a teacher of cinematography who put this compelling story about Solomon Northup — a freeman from New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery — into the historical context of all the American films ever done on slavery. 12 Years is the most accurate and best produced drama of slavery ever done, says Moss.
In her New York Times review, “ The Blood and Tears, Not the Magnolias,” Manohla Dargis says, 12 Years a Slave “isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States — but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century.” Instead of the Hollywood portrayal of beautiful plantations, benevolent masters, and simple happy slaves, it shows the utterly brutal violence of a systematic attempt to dehumanize an entire race of people — for economic greed. It reveals how morally outrageous the slave system was, and it is very hard to watch.