When President Obama meets with Pope Francis tomorrow, the world will catch a glimpse of what history looks like. The first pope from the global South in 1200 years will be welcomed in the White House by the first African-American president of the United States. This picture will be worth far, far more than a thousand words.
Pundits will analyze each public word spoken, and search for hints about the private words exchanged between these two. The politics of Pope Francis’ interaction with the President, and later with Congress, will fuel incessant speculation from Washington’s insiders. But around the world, and particularly in the global South, it’s the symbol of this meeting which will matter.
Pope Francis represents the changing face of world Christianity. Today, one billion Christians are found in Latin America and Africa. In 1980, more Christians were found in the global South than in the North for the first time in a thousand years. Every day, that movement accelerates. Francis’ words about the world’s injustices, and his actions of humble human solidarity, project the voice and longings of world Christianity’s new majority and resonant far beyond the boundaries of this faith.
President Obama symbolizes the changing demographics of America. Hope and demographics elected him in 2008, and by 2012 the changing face of the electorate in the U.S. proved determinative of America’s political future. Today, a majority of babies born in the U.S. are non-white, and some major urban areas already reflect the coming reality of a society without a racial majority.
As the the refugee crisis worsens, President Obama has directed his administration to resettle at least 10,000 Syrians over the course of the year, reports The New York Times.
Pressure on the U.S. has been mounting from European nations to increase its promised quota of 2,000. White House press secretary Josh Earnest made the announcement Sept. 10.
According to The New York Times,
The announcement brought a variety of reactions that underscored how the refugee crisis has become another polarized political question. Aid groups called the administration’s action a token one given the size of the American economy and population, while a number of Republicans warned that Mr. Obama was allowing in potential terrorists. “Our enemy now is Islamic terrorism, and these people are coming from a country filled with Islamic terrorists,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. “We don’t want another Boston Marathon bombing situation.”
The White House has hired its first openly transgender staff member, the Washington Post reports.
The staffer, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, will work as a recruitment director for presidential personnel. She is not the first transgender staff person to be hired by other agencies under this administration, but is the first to work in the White House. She is also a transgender woman of color, which LGBT groups noted as significant a news release.
From a zero-waste synagogue to global development work after natural disasters, environmental projects by faith leaders are being hailed by the Obama administration as examples of exemplary leadership on climate change.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy highlighted initiatives by a dozen leaders from a range of faiths, who were recognized July 20 in Washington, D.C., as “Champions of Change” for their environmental initiatives.
“As faith leaders, no voice is really more important than yours in this,” said McCarthy.
t’s also one of the most divisive political issues on the Hill right now. Here’s why: The notion of "fast tracking" trade deals with almost no congressional oversight has led to the creation of odd alliances — putting the Democrats and Tea Party in one camp (against), and the Republicans and Obama Administration (for) in another. Pro-business Republicans are long time supporters of free trade, while members of the Tea Party are against most anything that would allow the President to usurp legislative authority. As for Democrats, they argue that the TPP would allow multinational corporations to undermine labor safeguards, civil rights, environmental protection and healthcare, and derail urgent efforts at fighting climate change. Organizations typically aligned with President Obama are against him here: labor unions, environmental groups, and even traditionally non-political groups have fought hard against Fast Track and the TPP.
Indeed, the potential harm from the trade deal seems to leave few interest groups untouched. To provide just a few examples, Doctors Without Borders has called the TPP the "worst trade deal ever," claiming that it will cause millions to lose access to life-saving medicines; left-leaning Global Exchange has pointed to the increasing number of sweatshops such a framework would lead to; and the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed its belief that the TPP would put overly restrictive controls on the internet. And we’ve already seen our political leaders weaken standards for protection against human trafficking and child labor should the trade deal move forward.
These are all compelling arguments, and they are ones faith groups are making as well.
First lady Michelle Obama hosted a discussion with musicians and students on gospel music at the White House on April 14, praising gospel’s role as “a ray of hope” in American history.
“Gospel music has really played such an important role in our country’s history,” she told more than 100 students gathered in the State Dining Room, “from the spirituals sung by slaves, to the anthems that became the soundtrack of the civil rights movement, and to the hymns that millions of Americans sing every single day in churches all across the country.”
Here are some of the lessons learned during the 75-minute event, where Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli interviewed a panel of singers and songwriters ahead of a star-studded concert that will air on PBS on June 26 as part of the “In Performance at the White House” series.
1. Gospel music is personal for the first lady.
“I’m really thrilled that we’re really focusing on gospel,” Obama said of the series that has previously featured classical, country, and soul music.
“It’s something that I wanted to do since we started.”
I got the call on the morning of Maundy Thursday: Would you be interested in giving the closing prayer at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast?
Uh. Yes. Wow. Absolutely. I actually don’t even remember what my response was, but it was probably something like that.
My feeling upon hanging up the phone — and the underlying sense all through the emotion and significance and spiritual intensity of our Good Friday and Easter Sunday services at my church — was, Who, me?
I felt the same way walking into the White House with a bunch of leaders whose names and faces I’d seen before on social media or the news but never yet in person.
The other presenters that day were Rev. Amy Butler from Riverside Church in New York City, Sister Donna Markham of Catholic Charities USA, Fr. Anthony Messeh of St. Timothy and St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church, and Pastor Ann Lightner-Fuller of Mt. Calvary A.M.E. Church, and as we met and chatted in the Blue Room while we waited for the President and Vice President to greet us before the breakfast, we shared this common feeling. Who were we to be doing this? At one point, Fr. Anthony said, “I’m just waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me they made a mistake!”
Eight years ago, a 25-year-old, grad-school-student, fanboy-and-campaigner-in-chief Justin would have been unreservedly and unabashedly over-the-moon about an opportunity like this — and please don’t get me wrong, I was excited. There were a lot of things I thought about saying to the President — “Big fan, sir!” or “We’re praying for you!” or “Come visit The District Church — we’re just a couple miles up the road!” or “How about that Championship game last night?”
But all that came out was, “Great to meet you, Mr. President!” And then I had nothing.
The breakfast itself was a fun thing to be a part of, too. From Vice President Biden’s opening remarks to President Obama’s reflections (and jokes, the man’s got a great sense of humor!)to the song by Amy Grant (a childhood musical hero of mine) to the scriptures read from 1 Corinthians and Mark’s Gospel to the homily on having the courage to hope and keep moving forward, the event was a thoroughly Jesus-saturated. It felt like an extension of Easter Sunday.
And I guess that’s what God has impressed upon my heart this weekend and through the prayer breakfast: we all need the gospel and the gospel is for us all. Before the breakfast, I met Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and we both commented on how even famous people need Jesus, how even nice suits and dresses can’t hide the things that we all have to deal with.
On Tuesday, the White House revealed President Obama’s blueprint for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 26-28 percent before 2025. The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is in accordance with the United Nations formal effort to come to forge an international climate agreement in Paris in December.
In November, the United States released a historic joint agreement with China that both countries would work toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions but until this morning no further details of this agreement had been seen.
The release of INDC has generally been supported by the environmental community because the pollution cuts in the Administration’s plan can be achieved without new action from Congress. As Greenpeace representative Kyle Ash said, “By announcing its plan ahead of Paris as agreed, the U.S. has at least shown it is committed to the negotiation process and willing to push the other nearly 200 countries to deliver.”
Ash continues that there is still much room for improvement in the outline:
“We welcome the US submission as a first step, but it would not do enough to avert global catastrophe…The Obama Administration’s [plan] begins to treat the wound, but does not stop the bleeding. As the world’s second largest emitter, the US must strengthen its commitment to climate solutions before Paris to ensure an agreement that immediately spurs the necessary transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100 percent renewable energy.”
In preparation for the Paris 2015 Climate Negotiations, all countries were asked to by the United Nations to submit individual outlines for greenhouse gas reduction by April 2015. So far only the European Union, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and now the United State have submitted their national plans to the U.N. It is hoped that the announcement of the United States’ reduction plan will spur other countries to announce their own contributions to the U.N. negotiations.
President Obama will welcome Pope Francis to the White House during the pontiff’s U.S. visit in September to “continue the dialogue … on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said March 26.
The meeting with the president and first lady will take place on Sept. 23, apparently near the start of a visit — the first to the U.S. by the Argentine pope — that will take Francis from the U.S. Capitol to New York and the United Nations and will conclude with a huge outdoor Mass in Philadelphia.
“During the visit, the President and the Pope will continue the dialogue, which they began during the President’s visit to the Vatican in March 2014, on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues,” Earnest said in a statement.
Those issues, he said, include “caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”
President Obama said Feb. 19 that governments across the globe are obligated to confront the “warped ideologies” that lead to terrorism, “especially their attempt to use Islam to justify their violence.”
National leaders must also dispute claims that there is a clash of civilizations in the world, the president said during a second-day speech at the White House Summit on Confronting Violent Extremism.
“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie,” Obama said. “And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it.”
Obama also addressed summit delegates on Feb. 18 in a session devoted to discussing how local communities can help dissuade young people from following the path of violent extremism.
President Obama said Feb. 19 he doesn’t use terms like Islamic extremism because doing so would promote the false idea of a Western war with Islam, which would help extremists recruit more terrorists.
“No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism,” Obama told delegates at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.
Obama also said military force alone will not defeat terrorism, and the nation must work with local communities to reduce the influence of those who advocate violent extremism.
“They are not religious leaders,” Obama said. “They are terrorists.”
He also said: “We are not at war with Islam — we are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
Yesterday, President Obama released a short video providing more information on a much-anticipated executive action announcement on immigration policy. While the details remain unclear on how many of the 11 million undocumented and aspiring Americans will be covered, relief is rumored to the following:
- Temporary legal protection for undocumented parents of children who are legal U.S. citizens.
- Temporary legal protection for undocumented immigrants with a longstanding presence in the United States.
- Extension of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The president will address the nation tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the speech live here.
It’s starting to seem as if the Obama White House operates on a time delay. In the case of Iraq’s religious minorities, the results have been deadly.
On June 10, the barbaric extremists called the Islamic State captured the city of Mosul. By mid-July, they issued an edict to the Christians who remained to “convert, leave or be killed.”
The White House said nothing.
Beginning on July 22, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., took to the House floor six times to plead for attention from the Obama administration as a genocide threatened Iraq.
Not a word from the president.
On July 24, a resolution sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., “condemning the severe persecution [of] Christians and other ethnic and religious minority communities … in Iraq” was introduced on the floor of the House. It called for the administration to “develop and implement an immediate, coordinated and sustained humanitarian intervention.”
This President’s Day, about 20 church leaders, sympathizers, and undocumented immigrants were arrested in front of the White House as part of an act of civil disobedience to protest the nearly 2 million people who have been deported under President Obama.
The core group and about 40 supporters gathered around 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. They held signs that said, “Praying for Relief” and “#Not1moredeportation,” and sang hymns in between short megaphoned speeches that told personal stories. They called for immigration reform. “Not one more, not one more,” they chanted together in both English and Spanish.
The event was organized by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the United Methodist Church, who was the first Hispanic woman to be elected to her position.
Saying an opening prayer at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service on Wednesday, in Washington, D.C. was both an honor and a blessing for me. The theme of the homily, by my good friend Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, was “it ain’t over until God says it’s done.”
I sat there listening to those words from an African American gospel hymn in the midst of my own circumstance of being on the ninth day of a water-only fast for comprehensive immigration reform. In my weakened condition, I was grateful that I had done the opening prayer and wouldn’t have to do the closing prayer! But fasting focuses you and it made me consider how Nelson Mandela would feel about a broken immigration system that is shattering the lives of 11 million immigrants, separating parents from children, and undermining the best values of our nation.
In our nightly meeting at what is now a packed fasting tent, I could imagine Nelson Mandela there with us, telling us to never give up until we win this victory for so many vulnerable people reminding us, "it ain’t over until God says it’s done." Or, as he would tell cynical pundits and politicians, “it is always impossible until it is done.” Today, following a procession from the Capitol which will now include many members of Congress, we will go to that tent and proclaim that immigration reform is not over, and we won’t give up until it’s done.
To join Jim Wallis in prayer and fasting, click here.
I was grateful to be at the beginning of the Fast for Families on November 12. Courageous leaders from many communities were making an incredible sacrifice to remind our leaders what is really at stake in the fight for immigration reform. It was an honor to commission the core fasters, such as my Sojourners’ colleague Lisa Sharon Harper and Eliseo Medina, a veteran organizer and a disciple of Cesar Chavez, by placing crosses around their necks as they began abstaining from food.
After 22 days, the core fasters had grown weak, nearing the point of medical danger. When they decided to pass the fast to a new group, I was humbled to join the effort this way. On Tuesday, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, I received the cross from Eliseo that I had given to him three weeks before.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, each of us shared why we were committing to this discipline and willing to subsist only on water for various lengths of time.
It was past 10 on a Sunday night in Spokane. The wedding was over and I was sitting in the hallway of the hotel in my pajamas reading my email by iPhone while my grandson slept in our dark room.
I saw an email from White House sent by a woman named Julie inviting me to meet that Wednesday with President Barack Obama and his senior staff "to discuss the moral urgency of passing immigration reform ... Please RSVP to me by no later than noon Monday ... "
This was a joke. Why would I get an invitation? I emailed friends in the Evangelical Immigration Table, and by Monday morning they confirmed it was real. How could I say no?
I found out later on Monday as we were flying home from Spokane that this meeting was to be a small gathering with the president, his senior staff and a handful of faith leaders in the Oval Office. I laughed out loud.