Values

Church Power!

In any genuine community ... self-interest and public interest are not at odds, but are two names for the same thing. —Andrew Delbanco

COMMUNITY ORGANIZING has been around for a long time—certainly long before 2008, when it became a household word during Barack Obama's rise to the presidency. Not that it is understood nowadays any more than before.

I thought I knew what community organizing was when I served as the pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ and was introduced to a newly formed faith-based organizing project called Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) in San Bernardino, California. But I soon learned that community organizing had a different starting point, as well as a different methodology, than I thought.

As a pastor, I had always been concerned about challenging injustice. However, I came to understand that community organizing is less about taking on yet another good cause and more about the important work of building human community.

As such, community organizing is a perfect fit for religious congregations and clergy. It addresses social justice concerns in the larger community, putting democracy to work by giving voice to ordinary families. But more important, community organizing can strengthen the life of the congregation. And it can bring power to the vocation of the religious leader.

There are four building blocks to community organizing—values, relationships, power analysis, and self-interest.

Values. As I was being introduced to ICUC, I was also taking a continuing education course taught by Ched Myers on discipleship in the gospel of Mark. When he learned what our church was getting into, he threw out a challenge with an implied warning. You have no business getting into community organizing, he proposed, unless you ground everything you do in Bible study.

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Getting Started

WANT TO PUT money to work for the common good? Your congregation—large or small—has more to invest than you might expect. Here are three questions to get you started.

1. Where does our church bank? "Many churches choose a bank based on proximity to the church or the church treasurer's home," Andy Loving says, but it doesn't have to end there. Approach the finance committee and say, "We want to put our money somewhere that has implications for what we value as a church," suggests Loving. Find a bank that empowers economically depressed areas through brick-and-mortar locations and socially responsible loan practices.

2. Does the bank we're considering provide options for the poor? Where are the branches located? Does it loan to people or businesses who typically don't get approved by mainstream lenders? One institution Loving recommends is Self-Help Credit Union in Durham, N.C., which has locations throughout the state—and also a web-based interface convenient for members outside the area. Another place to hunt for justice-oriented banking is the National Community Investment Fund website, www.ncif.org, which allows you to search by location and banking practices.

3. How can our church enact justice with the money we have?Loving recommends asking this of your church or a group within it, such as a Sunday school class, in order to start a discussion about surplus capital and investing. A good resource for discussion is Ched Myers and Loving's DVD series and study guide, From Mammon to Manna: Sabbath Economics and Community Investing , available at www.chedmyers.org.

Image: Coins and sprout, Anthony Berenyi / Shutterstock.com

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DNA Experiment Yields Great Promise, High Ethical Risks

 Graphic courtesy Oregon Health and Science University via RNS.
Graphic courtesy Oregon Health and Science University via RNS.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Future generations could be stripped of mutations such as hereditary blindness or maternal diabetes, after a breakthrough study at Oregon Health & Science University.

But the new technique is also one short step from genetic design of future generations, said Marcy Darnovksy of the California-based Center for Genetics and Society. "These powerful new technologies have a whole bunch of wonderful and appropriate uses – and a number of ways they can be misused.

The researchers, led by OHSU biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov, modified unfertilized eggs for the first time, a technique that offers great promise as well as ethical pitfalls. Such research is banned in many countries.

Three years ago, the Russian-born Mitalipov made headlines with experiments that created monkeys with genetic material from three parents. Now, his team has done it with human cells, setting the stage for possible experiments with humans.

The procedure dealt with what's called mitochondrial DNA, the small part of the cell that turns food into energy. Mitochondrial disorders can lead to neuropathy (a type of dementia) and nervous system disorders such as Leigh disease.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the OHSU team described successfully transferring DNA from donor cells into other donor cells, fertilizing the eggs to create 13 tiny early embryos of roughly 100 cells each. These pre-embryos, called blastocysts, were converted to embryonic stem cells for future research.

Key to the technique: replacing the defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy genetic material from the egg of a second woman.

Values of a Public Faith (Part 3)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HERE and part two HERE.. From part one:

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world. 

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Question to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

Values of a Public Faith (Part 2)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HEREFrom part one: 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

6. The Poor

Value: The poor — above all those without adequate food or shelter — deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)

Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).

Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be? 

Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?

 

Values of a Public Faith (Part 1)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. There are three basic elements of choosing a candidate for public office responsibly:

  1. Values we hope the candidate will stand for and the order of priority among them (which requires of us knowledge of faith as a whole, rather than just a few favorite topics, and knowledge of how faith applies to contemporary life)
  2. Ways in which and means by which these values are best implemented in any given situation (which requires of us a great deal of knowledge about how the world actually functions and what policies lead to what outcomes — for instance, whether it would be an economically wise decision to try to reintroduce the gold standard)
  3. Capacity — ability and determination — to contribute to the implementation of these values (which requires of us knowledge of the track record of the candidate)

Most important are the values. As I identify each value, I will (1) name the basic content of the value, (2) give a basic rationale for holding it, (3) suggest some parameters of legitimate debate about it, and (4) identify a key question for the candidate. 

I write as a Christian theologian, from the perspective of my own understanding of the Christian faith. Whole books have been written on each of these values, explicating and adjudicating complex debates. In providing a rationale for a given value, I only take one or two verses from the Bible to back up my position, more to flag the direction in which a rationale would need to go than, in fact, to strictly offer such a rationale. 

Ending the Death Penalty

IN NOVEMBER, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative that would end the death penalty in the state: the Safety, Accountability, and Full Enforcement Act of 2012, known as the SAFE California Act. The backdrop of this vote is California’s deep economic crisis and the economic savings to be gained from ending capital punishment. But when the debate is largely concerned that the cost of killing criminals is just too high, where does faith come into the conversation?

If the measure passes, all 725 death penalty sentences in California will be converted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The supporters of the initiative have one main mantra: “California can’t afford the death penalty!” This initiative delivers on savings—around $1 billion in the first five years, say supporters—due to halting the death penalty’s expensive legal processes and increased costs for death row detention.

The initiative also redirects some of those funds, $30 million per year for three years, to counties across the state to help investigate unsolved cases of rape and murder. In 60 percent of rapes and 36 percent of murders in California, no one is even charged with the crime, let alone convicted.

Death row prisoners are generally not allowed to work; once their sentences are changed under this initiative, they will be required to work inside the prison and to pay into California’s victim compensation fund.

People of faith usually argue to end the death penalty on gospel and ethical grounds, citing the command “thou shalt not kill,” the call to forgive, and the call to love our enemies. However, the most compelling variable at play in this historical moment is California’s budget crisis—in this case, as always, the budget is a moral document. Where we spend our money as a society discloses our true values and priorities: It shows whether we believe in the God of life or the power of death.

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Pro-Life or Pro-Choice? Many Are Saying Both

Courtesy Public Religion Research Institute
Courtesy Public Religion Research Institute

The influence of clergy in swaying their congregants' attitudes about moral issues like abortion and contraception access is dwindling, according to a new study. 

The Religion, Values, and Experiences: Black and Hispanic American Attitudes on Abortion and Reproductive Issues survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, shows that there continues to be a disconnect in personal, moral belief and feelings about public policy. 

"What they're hearing at church is not the big mover on attitudes of legality of abortion," Robert Jones, PRRI CEO, said. 

While 51 percent of black Americans believe abortion is morally wrong, 67 percent say it should be legal in all or most cases. 

"I really think that freedom of choice is probably one of the most precious components of what it means to be a Christian. Blacks have been quite possessive and reflective of this fact," said Dr. Stacy Floyd-Thomas, associate professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School. "… You do have the majority saying that they might see it as a sin or they are against it, but you still have the right."

Both groups believe it is possible to disagree with church teaching and be a good Catholic or good Christian. Jones pointed to the growing trend of personal versus external focus. Previous surveys have shown that attitudes about religion are mostly influenced by people's own beliefs and behaviors rather than institutional doctrine. 

The Temptations (and Trappings) of Silicon Valley’s Super-Rich

Forget Wall Street. Today's "best and brightest" are heading to California's Silicon Valley and New York's Silicon Alley, and to a few other tech-startup hot spots.

Thousands of aspiring engineers, web developers, designers and marketers live in dormitories, work in open-floor bullpens, attend coding competitions to enhance their skills, and work hours that defy body chemistry. It sounds like fun.

Some work on projects that make a positive contribution to society; some are coding games, entertainment apps, and schemes to monetize friendships.

They take stock for pay and wait for the magic letters "IPO" to appear. Meanwhile, their employers fight for their loyalty with free food and party-on office cultures.

The brass ring they chase looks like Marissa Mayer, the 37-year-old former Google star who was tapped to lead Yahoo out of its extended doldrums. Like any public person, Mayer is painted in stark colors: as both immensely talented and merely lucky, an inspiring leader and a rude monster, likely to succeed and sure to fail.

Will the Class of 2012 Head for Main Street or Wall Street?

Harvard University's Annenberg Hall. Photo Copyright 2004 Jacob Rus via Wiki Com
Harvard University's Annenberg Hall. Photo Copyright 2004 Jacob Rus via Wiki Commons.

There is something fundamentally wrong with our education system when the draws of a huge salary and big bonuses consistently trump the aspirations and dreams that were front and center in our lives just four years earlier. Debts, a lack of job opportunities in other fields, your basic standard-issue panic — or maybe a simple absence of imagination can take hold and send us running into the arms of the recruiter with the flashy suit, a Hollywood smile and promise of a better life.

As Terkel reminds us: “Young people will continue to go work in the financial sector as long as its pay is disproportionately higher than alternative careers. It's basic human nature: Follow the money.”

But what would it look like if we didn’t follow the money? What if Wall Street paid no more than schools or hospitals?

What would our economy look like if these leading young minds chose not to work for big banks and consultants, but instead were the teachers that helped turn failing schools around, the innovators and engineers who were designing products that would create thousands of new jobs?

What needs to be done so that the finest members of the 2012 graduating class head to Main Street instead of Wall Street?

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