THE DEATH PENALTY is almost dead in America. It’s time to pull the final plug.
The number of death sentences imposed is the lowest it’s been in 40 years, and the number of executions is the lowest it’s been in 20. Every year another state abolishes the death penalty. Just this summer Delaware’s highest court declared its death penalty unconstitutional. Several more states are poised to do the same. In fact, only a handful of states are actually still executing. This year Texas and Georgia accounted for 80 percent of the executions.
Most Americans have moved on from the death penalty. When presented with alternatives, a majority of the population says they are against it.
The question is not if we will abolish the death penalty, but when. With the vacancy on the Supreme Court, we are at a critical tipping point. We will someday look back at the death penalty like we look back at slavery, asking, “How did we think that was okay?”
But where will Christians be as this history is made? It’s troubling that the death penalty has succeeded in the U.S. because of Christians, not in spite of us. Eight out of every 10 executions in the past four decades have been in the Bible belt. Where Christians are most concentrated is where capital punishment has flourished. Strange, isn’t it? One would think that those of us who worship a victim of state-sanctioned execution would be suspicious of state violence, that we’d be its biggest critics. But that’s not always the case.
But here’s the deal: I’m hopeful. Only 5 percent of Americans think Jesus would support the death penalty. Christians born after 1980 are overwhelmingly opposed to it. The National Association of Evangelicals has pulled back on its support and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition has called for total abolition. A growing movement of faith-fueled conservatives is leading the way to alternatives to the death penalty in states such as Nebraska, where a referendum to retain a death-penalty ban is on the upcoming ballot. The Movement for Black Lives lists ending capital punishment as one of its top needed reforms. And, as part of the year of mercy, Pope Francis issued a clarion call for a global moratorium.
A major tenet of Protestant faith is the act of confession, both as individuals and as a community. Confession can serve as a means to honestly and genuinely express not only one’s failures, or the failures of a community, but to acknowledge and lament the fragility of humanity. What would it mean for our churches to say to our neighbors that we are wholly and painfully aware of the ways in which those who profess to follow the Christian faith have failed over and over in not only the areas of tolerance but compassion? That we do lip service but when it comes to truly knowing and loving our neighbors, we have so much more work in front of us?
The true purpose of the dinner party, and the reality behind Will’s suspicions, is a slow-burning, tense tale that works best the less the viewer knows going in. Suffice it to say that several characters come to the film with emotional baggage, and while Eden and David’s apparent bliss seems to have cured them of their problems, the source of that bliss — and its results — aren’t exactly as advertised.
The Invitation presents audiences with characters trying to move on from terrible experiences. It also presents two different ways of approaching the healing process, and the failing of a community to support those in pain.
ELECTIONS BRING Americans together for a common cause—electing the leaders who are supposed to represent us, our families, and our communities. Just as we are all equal before God, voting is supposed to be an opportunity for us all to be equal: Young, old, rich, or poor, we each should have an equal voice in our democracy.
However, too many Americans may not have fair access to the polls in the upcoming election. Many citizens’ votes have become collateral damage in a battle waged by politicians who want to rig the system so that some people can participate in our democracy and some cannot.
Since the 2010 election, 21 states have instituted new voting restrictions—the biggest rollback of the right to vote since the Jim Crow era. This year will be the first presidential election with many of these new barriers in place, from requiring photo identification (which millions of Americans do not have) to curtailing early voting (which many citizens depend on to cast their ballots). On top of this, voters will go to the polls in November with the fewest federal protections against racial discrimination in half a century, due to a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
One of the most frustrating examples comes from my home state of Texas. After numerous failed legislative attempts, and amid procedural irregularities and dramatic Latino population growth in the state, the Texas legislature in 2011 passed the country’s strictest photo ID law, requiring specific types of photo ID to vote. The law was crafted with surgical precision. For instance, voters can use a concealed gun license as proof of identification, but not a student ID card, even from a state university. All told, more than 600,000 registered Texas voters do not have the kind of ID now required to cast a ballot.
GROWING UP, my pop culture heroes were all nerds. I gravitated toward the quippiest, smartest characters I could find; misunderstood geniuses with an arsenal of world-saving ideas and killer one-liners, who swaggered off awkwardly into the sunset, toting books the same way Clint Eastwood did his gun.
These characters are still important to me, but here’s the problem: Nearly all of them were men. In idolizing Ghostbusters’ Egon Spengler and Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, I grew up thinking that, if I wanted to be like them, I had to reject all things girl. It took me a long time to realize I could be cool and smart and feminine.
Movies and TV teach us to love good guys and hate bad guys. But when heroes only look a certain way, says writer and Pepperdine University professor Craig Detweiler, we come to believe certain population groups are the only ones who can inhabit those roles. “Movies paint people in ... stark categories, and those categories transpose into everyday life,” Detweiler said in an interview with Sojourners. “If you only see one kind of hero, you only have one kind of heroic role model.”
A narrow definition of heroism is as much a race issue as a gender issue. Leslie Foster, a black filmmaker, says he’s often grappled with the impact popular culture has on what society deems normal.
“I’ve realized that it had an effect on what I found aesthetically attractive, and I’ve had to untangle that as an adult,” Foster told Sojourners. “I tell people to look at the makeup aisle, and see what colors get categorized as ‘nude.’ It’s always white.”
The power to change minds
The stories we encounter can reinforce or damage how we see ourselves, and how we categorize others. When done well, they can encourage understanding between different races, genders, or sexual orientations. Research into parasocial relationships (the feeling of emotional attachment to fictional characters) and intergroup contact theory (the idea that ethnically diverse social relationships decrease prejudice) has shown that good representations of these groups in TV and film positively affect viewers’ opinions of them.
By the end of June — and as early as next week — the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of gay marriage nationwide. In a pre-emptive move to refocus narrative and legislative control at the state level, two states this week enacted laws designed to protect religious objection to same-sex couples. Here's how.
As a journalist, editor, media professional, and all-around digital addict, I believe the ever-present “newsfeed of fear” engenders a very real threat to our personal well-being. But is it possible that it also harbors startling implications for our behavior and even our relationships?
Reflecting on Gareth Higgins’ words on “availability heuristic” (“A Newsfeed of Fear,” Sojourners, May 2015) — basically, that our fear of bad things happening is based on how many examples of those bad things we can easily bring to mind — the first thought that entered my head was my constant command to my 1.5-year-old, “Hold Mommy’s hand!”
Of course, we live in the middle of Washington, D.C., on a high-traffic street with no front yard to speak of; any time we leave the house, I have to go on high alert lest my newly running toddler dart off the sidewalk. But when I dug a little deeper to explore in what other circumstances my danger-Will-Robinson-danger alarm has gone off, I was forced to admit that it can occur basically any time she’s in my care.
When I became a parent, it inexplicably became frightening that my house didn’t have a mudroom — or anything save a single slab of lockable wooden door separating our warm and cozy home from the terror that existed beyond it. Suddenly, a 5-degree rise or drop in my kid’s nursery — indicated by her video monitor, which also plays soothing lullaby music — became cause to purchase a window AC unit and an electric heater despite our house’s central air and heat. I contemplated buying the mattress pad that sounds an alarm if it detects baby has stopped breathing (because SIDS), but opted against it since I was already checking on her every five minutes anyway.
First, let me say, I think all of these are good and normal (right?) reactions to first-time parenthood, and I have since calmed the hell down. But they can also be artificially generated behavioral responses to the digital world we live in, enhanced by mommy blogs and parenting books warning us of the dangers of crib bumpers (27 accidental deaths/year) and window blind cords (about 7 deaths in 2014). And don’t even get me started on #PregnancyFeedFear — somewhere around 6 months in, you give up and just eat the dang sushi and deli meat.
The white ministers didn’t fly down to Alabama in January, when Sheriff Jim Clark clubbed Annie Lee Cooper outside of the county courthouse, nor in February when a state trooper fatally shot twenty-six-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson in the stomach for trying to protect his mother after a civil rights demonstration.
But on Bloody Sunday everything changed. At 9:30 p.m. on March 7, 1965, ABC news interrupted a broadcast to show hundreds of black men, women, and children peacefully crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery and a sea of blue uniforms blocking their way. The marchers were given two minutes to disperse, and then the screen filled with the smoke of tear gas, police on horseback charging the screaming crowd, burly troopers wielding billy clubs and bullwhips, a woman’s hem rising up over her legs as a fellow marcher attempted to drag her away to safety.
Overnight the nation’s eye turned toward Selma. Rev. Martin Luther King sent a telegram to hundreds of clergy that Monday, urging them to leave their pulpits and join him in Alabama to march for justice. Some supporters, like the reporter George Leonard, packed their things immediately after watching the newscast from Selma.
“I was not aware that at the same momemt ... hundreds of these people would drop whatever they were doing,” Leonard wrote later.
“... That some of them would leave home without changing clothes, borrow money, overdraw their checking accounts, board planes, buses, trains, cars, travel thousands of miles with no luggage, get speeding tickets, hitchhike, hire horse-drawn wagons, that these people, mostly unknown to one another, would move for a single purpose to place themselves alongside the Negroes they had watched on television.”
Selma changed the course of history by paving the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, but its impact didn’t end there. The spirit of Selma rippled outward, forever changing those who made the long journey to Alabama — including a white minister from Washington, D.C., named Rev. Gordon Cosby.
The lives of widows and orphans mattered. In Exodus 22:22 God tells Israel, “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.” God was so concerned for the widow and orphan that the law provided for their care. It was mandated that grain be left behind for them during the harvest and along the edges of the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Leviticus 19:9-10). Failing to provide such care provoked God’s wrath.
Why this penchant for the widow and orphan? Did God value them more than anyone else in society? No. The Bible says that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). Yet, God does show compassion and concern for those who are most vulnerable. God lifts up the plight of the last and the least because they are at the greatest risk. And given this concern, God requires that we take special care so that these vulnerable, tender members of society are not neglected and forgotten. To take them for granted, to forget or abuse them invites God’s anger that their plight might become ours.
If we were to cast this concern into today’s context, I believe that God would assert that Black Lives Matter in the same way that the lives of widows and orphans mattered. Black lives matter because blacks, suffering numerous disparities that serve to disadvantage, are vulnerable in society.
When we meet Kolya, the film’s protagonist, he’s in the midst of a long legal battle. He’s about to lose the house he built to the town’s mayor, a paranoid man obsessed with his own job security. Kolya’s already lost in court, but enlists the help of former army buddy Dimitri, a high-powered lawyer, to help him with an appeal. After the appeal’s failure, and some nasty bullying from local officials, Kolya is hit with a seemingly endless avalanche of humiliation and personal catastrophes.
The fishing village depicted in the film is a run-down hamlet characterized by an impressive amount of skeletal remains — and not just the kind that live in the closet. It’s strewn with ruined buildings, wrecked boats, and massive whale skeletons. In our world, the best architecture serves as a testament to man’s accomplishments, but the buildings and bones of Leviathan do exactly the opposite. They’re a constant reminder of decay and the temporary nature of what we mere mortals spend so much energy building and fighting over. Leviathan’s target is corruption in Russia, but its themes of pride, personal struggle, and frustration are universal.
As House republicans meet today in a private meeting to strategize on their approach to immigration reform, all eyes are watching and urging them to steer away from unpractical solutions and enact commonsense immigration reform.
The Wall Street Journal issued an opinion editorial today naming evangelicals as a critical group at risk of being "ignored" if House lets the bill die. The Journal writes:
The dumbest strategy is to follow the Steve King anti-immigration caucus and simply let the Senate bill die while further militarizing the border. This may please the loudest voices on talk radio, but it ignores the millions of evangelical Christians, Catholic conservatives, business owners and free-marketers who support reform. The GOP can support a true conservative opportunity society or become a party of closed minds and borders.
Read more here.
Many of today’s evangelical Christians seem to be taking to heart the words traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
Or at least they were at the recent Q Conference here, a gathering of more than a few of the most influential and innovative mover-shakers of the evangelical world.
Over the course of two days in a format similar to the popular TED talks, the speakers spoke passionately more about what they were doing to make the world a better place than they did about getting more butts into pews on any given Sunday.
This week's viral video is a must-see. The six-minute "Wealth Inequality in America," released Friday, presents the shocking, true size of the wealth gap in the country.
In a series of animated infographics, the video lends a visual punch to numbers that are hard to wrap one’s head around. The top 1 percent of Americans hold 50 percent of all investments in stocks and bonds, for example – while 80 percent of Americans share a paltry 7 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Veteran television newsman Mike Wallace died Saturday night, surrounded by family in a long-term care facility in New Haven, Conn., CBS News announced Sunday. Mr. Wallace was 93.
According to the Huffington Post:
Mr. Wallace had been ill for years. Bob Scheiffer revealed the circumstances of his death on "Face the Nation," after Charles Osgood broke the news of Wallace's death on "CBS News Sunday Morning."
Wallace was one of the original hosts and correspondents of "60 Minutes." He was a trailblazer, known for confronting his subjects and originating the newsmagazine format. His style became standard for television news.
On Sunday, Schieffer and Morley Safer paid tribute to Wallace on "Face the Nation." The show opened with a memorial piece about the newsman, in which Safer recalled Wallace's defiant spirit.
"There will never be another one quite like him," said Schieffer, who teared up when he introduced the segment. He called Wallace a "mentor," and recalled that he "even gave [him] a compliment, once."
Every so often, evangelicals get the urge to ex-communicate. Feminists, open theists, and universalists have all drawn the ire of their co-religionists. In the absence of a central religious authority, such efforts are doomed to fail.
According to most scholars, evangelicalism is more of a network than a unified church. Magazines, publishing houses, colleges, and parachurch groups play a bigger role than ecclesial bodies. While condemned from many pulpits, the emerging church continues to publish with Zondervan and Baker. Owned by the same company as Zondervan and Fox News (Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation), HarperOne has provided a home for Rob Bell and his Love Wins.
Though it hasn’t been easy, Bell has remained a part of American evangelicalism.
Fried by their battles with fellow believers, some have decided to ex-communicate themselves. Even then it is hard to cut the tie. As in the case of cultural Catholicism, religious terminology may haunt a post-evangelical’s speech. Commenting on this phenomenon, Tony Jones wonders whether evangelicalism is the “new Jewish" — more cultural than confessional.