Countdown to Destiny

Illustrated by Ken Davis

AS ONE OF the few white males who has not declared his candidacy for president, I’m actually enjoying the relative calm before the upcoming election season. Our television shows are still punctuated by soothingly predictable commercials about luxury cars and erectile dysfunction. In a few months they’ll be railing against job-killing gay marriage and the evils of climate science, also job-killing, followed by the reassuring voice of a man who says “I apologize for this message.” (Kidding. But wouldn’t that be great?!)

At this point, with little at stake, the legions of Republican candidates are of interest only for their entertainment value, their speeches lacking in substance but their repetitive talking points ripe with possibility for drinking games. (Caution: When listening to Ted Cruz, don’t choose the words “constitution” or “unadulterated judicial activism” if you’re the designated driver.)

We’re at that sweet spot in time when Iowa is just a state known for its agricultural products (corn, I think), and when Hillary Clinton has not yet been compared to Hitler. If we think about politics at all, it’s to come up with reasons not to support Bernie Sanders. Because, if you set aside the oddity of a Vermont senator who still sounds like the Flatbush of his youth, there’s only one reason: his age. He’s 73, six years older than Hillary Clinton and decades older than Donald Trump, who is, like, 12, right?

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A 'Dramatic Turnaround'

BY CHANGING THE definition of marriage in its constitution from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has joined a number of other religious groups in the U.S. in allowing same-sex marriage.

In so doing, the 1.75 million-member denomination completed a dramatic turnaround on marriage equality. In 2012—at a time when same-sex marriage was legal in only a handful of states—the 220th PC(USA) General Assembly was so deeply divided on the issue that it merely called for two years of “serious study and discernment” of Christian marriage.

The 2014 General Assembly—with nearly two dozen states by then having legalized same-sex marriage—voted 429-175 to recommend the constitutional change. By March of this year, the requisite majority of the PC(USA)’s 172 presbyteries (regional governing bodies) had ratified the proposal.

Reaction to the change was immediate, and predictable.

“The change aligns the church’s constitution with a reality that has long been true: Both same-gender and opposite-gender couples have been living in relationships that demonstrate covenant faithfulness, shared discipleship, and mutual love,” said the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that since its founding in 1997 has been working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Presbyterians in the church. “We rejoice that all couples can now see those relationships solemnized before God and the Christian community in marriage, at the discretion of ministers and sessions.”

The new constitutional language grants full discretion to ministers to decide whether they will perform same-sex marriages and to church sessions (congregational governing bodies) to authorize the use of church property for such ceremonies.

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Christian Nation vs. Secular Country?

AS WE SWING into the 2016 presidential campaign, we Americans can be certain of at least one thing: We will be treated to another round of very public arguments about the role of religion in our republic. If this were a boxing match, and if past patterns persist, the title of the bout would be Christian Nation vs. Secular Country. The sides, more eager to mobilize their own than have a conversation with the other, will happily seek to bludgeon one another.

Thankfully, a number of writers have set out to complicate this picture in a way that adds both color and hope. Peter Manseau’s One Nation, Under Gods and Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Quran are beautifully written accounts of our interfaith country. By interfaith, I mean both that there were people of different faith persuasions present from our earliest days, and that they constantly bumped into one another as they established their communities and sought to build up this country.

That interaction often went badly—the Salem witch trials, the anti-Catholic Know Nothing party, and present day anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are just some examples. As Manseau writes, “The story of how a global array of beliefs came to occupy the same ocean-locked piece of land is more often one of violence than of toleration.”

But there are inspiring threads of pluralism in the American tapestry as well. As Manseau puts it, “the repeated collision of conflicting systems of belief, followed frequently by ugly and violent conflict, has somehow arrived, again and again, not merely at peaceful coexistence but at striking moments of inter-influence.”

Both of these books display the full fabric.

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How Would Jesus Vote?

Illustration by Ken Davis

WITH THE CRUCIAL midterm elections less than a fortnight past, many Americans are wondering what “fortnight” means, because it sounds really cool on Downton Abbey. Well, it means two weeks, and that’s hardly enough time to develop the regret appropriate to the choices you made at the polls.

But why wait for that inevitable sinking feeling about your latest destructive act against democracy? Let’s get a jump start on your anxiety by reading through a recent poll asking Americans how Jesus would weigh in on issues of the day.

Let the disappointment begin.

As a devout Christian—you can put down your American flag, we know who you are—you regularly ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” And who better to advise you than Jesus himself, or the best representation of God’s son that modern technology can provide: the telephone survey.

You know, that thing that happens when you’ve just sat down to eat dinner after already getting up twice, once for the cracked pepper you forgot and again to replace the bent fork that you always seem to end up with. Then you finally start to say grace AND THE DARN PHONE RINGS!! (Jesus calls us to follow him. The survey guy calls us at dinner time.)

This particular survey was conducted by YouGov, one of those preposterous internet names that are slowly eroding the English language and corrupting the speech of our young people. Kids these days can’t seem to use regular words when communicating, much less registering emotion. Instead of expressing the tried and true “criminitly!” when frustrated, they default to “omg,” which I won’t translate. This is a religious magazine, after all, and using lower case letters when you take the Lord’s name in vain doesn’t let you off the hook. Another of their favorites is “wtf,” but that one’s okay since it means “why the frown.” Right? But I digress.

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How to Suppress the Vote

IN THIS YEAR'S midterm elections, hundreds of thousands of Americans will have a much more difficult time casting their ballots than they did two years ago. And it won’t be because of rain, or early winter snows, or other acts of God.

It will be because powerful people don’t want them to vote.

Why? They stand to gain politically if the “wrong” people can be kept away from the polls. It’s the opposite of a “get out the vote” campaign—“keep out the vote” describes it better.

The tradition of keeping particular sectors of the population from taking part in the franchise goes back to the founding fathers. John Adams, for instance, believed that only rich, successful, smart people should vote—and only people of a certain race and gender, of course.

“Such is the frailty of the human heart,” Adams wrote in May 1776, “that very few men who have no property have any judgment of their own.” At the time, politicians in Massachusetts wanted to allow men who didn’t own property to vote. Adams thought that was a bad idea. For him, no property meant no vote.

Adams felt that young people, the poor and illiterate, and many other ordinary citizens lacked the basic judgment needed to cast wise ballots. Most of them, he felt, knew just enough about public policy to be dangerous. If the ballot box was opened to “every man who has not a farthing,” he wrote, then all sorts of other unworthy souls would soon demand the right to vote as well.

Most of the other founding fathers agreed. In 1790, 10 out of the 13 original colonies allowed only property owners to vote. But by 1850, only three of the then-31 states had such property-owner restrictions. Since then, the other efforts to limit access to voting—from a $2 poll tax in Mississippi to literacy tests—were fought and eventually eliminated.

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Weekly Wrap 9.19.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. In Record Turnout, Demographics Shape Scotland's Emphatic No Vote
National Geographic has a recap (and stunning photos) of yesterday's vote: "Tomorrow a new campaign—for reconciliation—will begin. The referendum opened up deep, sometimes venomous, class and regional divisions."

2. WATCH: It’s On Us 
Today, the White House announced its nationwide public service campaign to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campuses. Watch and share.

3. Together We Make Football
“Football encourages some deep tremor of romance about what it means to be a man. ...Save for the military — with which it has a symbiotic relationship — the NFL is the biggest and strongest exponent of American masculinity. And integral to that notion of American masculinity is violence.”

4. Confessions of a Military Skeptic
"Do we believe that everything will be fine after we kill the last Islamic State militant?" Thomas Reese, on being neither military hawk nor pacifist in regards to ISIS, for National Catholic Reporter.

Women Bishops in the UK: All Our Gifts Are Needed For the Common Good

r.nagy and mehmet alci/

Westminster Abbey, London, England. r.nagy and mehmet alci/

I met my wife, Joy Carroll, at Greenbelt, a summer festival of faith, arts, and justice held annually in England. It was August 1994. A few months earlier, in May, Joy was one of the first women to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England. We were both speakers on a panel one day at Greenbelt, in a tent with 5,000 young people. Afterwards, we met for coffee. Joy had been an ordained deacon in the church for six years and was a leader in the movement to recognize all the gifts women had to offer both to the church and the parishes they served. She was the youngest member of the General Synod that decided to ordain women, and she was there for the historic vote in Church House Westminster in London. That cup of coffee eventually led to our marriage in 1997.

I have a vivid memory of returning to Greenbelt as speakers in 2002 with our almost 4-year-old son Luke. It was Sunday morning, and Joy was up on the worship platform celebrating the Eucharist for 20,000 people. My little boy was sitting on my lap watching his mom lead worship up on the stage. Luke looked up at me and said, “Daddy, can men do that too?”

Congress Needs to Show Moral Leadership in Unemployment Insurance Solution

Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

One of the solutions would penalize U.S.-citizen children. Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

In only its second week in session, Congress is already confronted with difficult decisions that impact the lives of millions of people — some of whom are the most vulnerable in our society.

The Senate is faced with finding a solution that would extend the unemployment insurance to help a struggling workforce. One of the solutions, proposed by Senator Ayotte (R-NH), would penalize U.S. citizen children who are part of already struggling immigrant households living in poverty. While it’s important that Congress finds a resolution to the unemployment insurance conundrum, they should not do so by shifting the harm from one group to the next.     

Immigration Reform Advocates Rally Outside House Buildings in D.C., Urging Members to Enact Reform

On Wednesday, July 10th, when most eyes were on the private GOP meeting where republicans  gathered in the Capitol basement to strategize on immigration reform in the House, advocates were rallying outside House buildings to urge members to enact immigration reform.

Uncertain of what the next steps are in the House, hundreds of activists, families, and faith leaders all gathered proudly and united in front of the Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings  as they chanted loudly, “Si se puede!” 

Not discouraged by the hot summer heat, marchers hoped to catch GOP members as they ended their internal meeting and walked back to their offices.

It’s Easy to Forget Privilege When It’s Always Been Yours

Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Three unidentified women make history by becoming the first of their sex to vote in an election. Underwood Archives/Getty Images

I’m tired of reading blogs from my White Christian brothers about why they are choosing to vote. There. I said it.

I’m all for being a part of the democratic process, but it seems a bit odd to me that so many of these bloggers are coming from a position of power and privilege they themselves have always had. It seems a bit arrogant to choose something that was always theirs.

The way I see it, they had better vote. The vote of the White male is what finally allowed people like me – a woman, an immigrant, a non-native English speaker – to have the right to vote. I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t matter. Neither did my ancestors, who immigrated here under quota systems developed by people in power for the benefit of the country and the powers-that-be.

And there still are people who have no voice, who have no right to vote, but they are directly impacted by the politicians, referenda, judges, and local officials as well as the “agendas and policies.” As a Christian who is new to the process, its a privilege and responsibility I don’t take lightly because it isn’t a given. I’m not American born. We are not post-racial America, and the fact of the matter is the church isn’t either. We are working on it, but we aren’t there.

Did you know that in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act denying citizenship and voting rights to Chinese Americans? Yup, they could build the railroads but they can’t vote.