The Common Good

Blog Posts By Sandi Villarreal

Posted by Sandi Villarreal 7 weeks 20 hours ago
Zab experienced many highs and lows over the past nine years as she battled Hodgkins lymphoma and leukemia, but her talent and wit never waned — blessing each member of the staff, community, and our Sojourners magazine readers. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 13 weeks 5 days ago
The hum of 24-hour “news” drones on in the background most of my days. I’m not quite sure what television media's version of “Breaking” means anymore, though what accompanies it is closer to this Saturday Night Live spoof than real life.Something is always “breaking.” And someone is always responding. We feel the need to get there first, to offer the most unique point of view, to lend our “expertise,” or to speak on behalf of our [fill-in-the-blank]. Organization? Generation? Gender? Or some cross-section of all of the above?I know. I can definitely be part of the problem, and in this, I attempt my confession — sometimes my judgment fails me and I fall into the trap of the sensationalized newsbyte. I’m the web editor of a publication — meaning, I solicit, edit, sometimes even write some of these responses, of which there are a variety.We have the “first response.” They are those who get there immediately. On television, these might come with the Impact font-ed “Exclusive,” or even “First to Report” (gross). Sometimes they just recount the events. Often, they will include — whether by slant storytelling or outright commentary — their reaction to said events.Then there’s the “second-day response.” More nuanced, and typically with corrected “facts” that first responders didn’t mind repeating ad nauseam the day before, these reports put the events into greater historical context — or at least whatever context the writer could whip together from Wikipedia entries and closest possible “expert.” (We have a missing plane? Look, here’s a flesh-and-blood PILOT to explain what happened.)From there, you get the out-and-out commentary. The “here’s my take,” or “this is whose side I’m on.” Rarely unique, though under the constant illusion of specialness, these commentaries attempt to stake out ground for a person or group of people. This happened, here’s how it happened, and here’s where I [we] stand on it.Inevitably, you’ll then get the response to the response: How dare you stand there! She’s missing the whole point of [news-making event].And on it goes.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 16 weeks 22 hours ago
Today Vice President Joe Biden announced a series of new initiatives aimed at addressing sexual violence on college campuses and launched NotAlone.gov — a website that pools campus reporting data and points both students and school officials to sexual assault resources.The administration is also releasing the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which was established in January.Under Title IX, college campuses that receive federal funding are already required to take steps to prevent sexual assault on campus and respond promptly when sexual assault is reported. Further, the Clery Act requires those that receive funding to report their crime statistics and provide policies for prevention. The website NotAlone.gov will be a central repository for these reports and clarify for students their rights under the Clery Act and Title IX.What is unclear, however, is what has changed for Christian college campuses and other private institutions.Too many women and men are sexually assaulted in college. We must put an end to this violence. → http://t.co/9QH89qCLvd #1is2Many— Office of VP Biden (@VP) April 29, 2014
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 20 weeks 6 days ago
I tend toward the “eat, drink, and be merry” life philosophy, popularized by the Bible, and also Dave Matthews Band. Growing up in a very large, very loud, very food-centric family in South Texas ingrained this in me, as we gathered many a Sunday around the table(s) to celebrate that month’s birthdays and talk politics, family businesses, and, mostly, the last Seinfeld episode. What you might call gluttony, I call Sabbath — and I’ll quote Scripture at you to prove my point.So smug was I at my “breaking bread as Jesus did” epicurean lifestyle that I probably should be writing about pride instead. But a few weekends ago, while finishing up season two of House of Cards three days after it released — and also a bottle of Zinfandel — and taking eye-attention breaks to check my Facebook and Instagram feeds (that adorable photo of baby girl only garnered 64 likes?!), and to see how many steps my Fitbit recorded for the day (so much for that post-dinner Skinny Cow), I paused to reflect upon the concept of gluttony.When does our reliance upon a constant stream of multi-channel entertainment and instant gratification become harmful?
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 26 weeks 18 min ago
I became a mom for the first time in November. Insert here all of the cliché observances about life-changing experiences and never knowing love before and having a better understanding of God and whatnot. Of course, they’re all true, but so are most clichés.There are also things no one tells you, instead using above clichés to paper over the less desirable realities of parenthood. No one told me about that feeling — the feeling that the word “overwhelming” doesn’t even begin to describe. No one told me that feeling that makes you weep inconsolably and go off the rails at the thought of leaving the house is actually what it means to love your child. That size of love is truly overwhelming.While I was pregnant, I tried really hard to avoid all of the parenting books — how to raise well-behaved children, the countless “methods” for getting your child to sleep, how to master breastfeeding (“the most natural thing in the world!” ugh, wrong) — in favor of being a “go-with-the-flow” type parent. In fact, the only book I really read and still lives in a stack by my nightstand is The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year.And being the future mother of a girl, I had grand ideas about “protecting” her from human-made gender norms. I ordered the “Forget Princess; Call Me President” onesie. I shunned head-to-toe pink (for about a week). I created a collage wall in her nursery of black-and-white photos of all of the badass women in her family she has to look up to.And then this week I caught myself doing something that has the potential to harm my daughter more than being drenched in pink and purple for the next 18 years ever could.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 41 weeks 4 days ago
“Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.”- Dorothy DayThis year marks the 80th anniversary of the Catholic Worker Movement — best known for its hospitality houses that dot the nation, bringing together communities of individuals in need and offering them housing and love.It was in that vein that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife, Leah, began Rutba House in Durham, N.C., after experiencing what he calls the “Good Samaritan story:” While the couple were on a peacemaking trip in Rutba, Iraq in 2003, friends were injured in a car accident, and local physicians gracefully cared for them.Jonathan and Leah returned to the states looking for a way to extend the same type of love and welcome they received in Iraq. Ten years later, Rutba House holds countless stories of transformation through community, which Jonathan recounts in his book Strangers at My Door: An Experiment in Radical Hospitality, out Nov. 5.Upon first glance, the arc of the narrative does seem radical. The hospitality house welcomes strangers in to live as part of the community — even at midnight, even when they might not pass society’s presentability test, even when the host is tired, even when they come straight from prison.“I think part of what I’ve learned over the past 10 years — what Jesus is revealing to us through this call to greet him in the stranger — is something basic about who we are and who we’re made to be,” Wilson-Hartgrove told Sojourners. “All of us are called to hospitality — not just as Christians, as human beings. Because humans can’t live alone.”
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 44 weeks 5 days ago
Thursday marked the tenth day of the government shutdown and the second of the #FaithfulFilibuster — A Vigil for the Poor. People of faith, both across the street from the Capitol Building and across the world on social media, are reading through the more than 2,000 Bible verses that deal with poverty and justice as a witness for those the shutdown is affecting the most. The rain didn't deter the prayers, as leaders from Sojourners, Bread for the World, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Salvation Army, and more gathered once again to call on Congress to end the shutdown and stop hurting the poor.They are asking people of faith to reach out to Congressional leadership. Join along with them to Tweet at those members of Congress with your message to them and hashtag #FaithfulFilibuster.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 46 weeks 22 hours ago
The top religion story of 2012 was the “rise of the ‘Nones’” — the one in five adults in the U.S. eschewing any religious label. That trend is now evidenced across the American religious spectrum, including in Jewish communities. About 22 percent of Jews now describe themselves as having no religion, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews.“Fully a fifth today of Jews in the United States are people who say they have no religion. They’re atheists, agnostics, or, the largest single subgroup, nothing in particular,” said Alan Cooperman, co-author of the study.The trend of disaffiliation mimics that of other backgrounds, particularly by age. For example, 93 percent of Greatest Generation Jews (those born between 1914 and 1947) identified as being Jewish by religion, while only 68 percent of Millennial Jews (those born after 1980) say the same.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 46 weeks 1 day ago
The federal government began shutting down overnight, for the first time since 1996, after Congress failed to compromise on how to fund federal agencies — battling instead over implementation of the Affordable Care Act.From The Washington Post: The impasse means 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed Tuesday. National parks, monuments and museums, as well as most federal offices, will close. Tens of thousands of air-traffic controllers, prison guards and Border Patrol agents will be required to serve without pay. And many congressional hearings — including one scheduled for Tuesday on last month’s Washington Navy Yard shootings — will be postponed.Faith leaders on Monday called on Congress to end partisan brinkmanship and consider the real damage their actions have on the American people.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal, Brandon Hook 1 year 2 weeks ago
It may have taken a little bit of prodding — a little ‘you-want-me-to-do-what?’ and a lot of faith — but in the end, Congressman John Lewis agreed to go along with staffer Andrew Aydin’s out-of-the-box idea. The result: March (Book 1) — the first of a three-part graphic novel autobiography chronicling Lewis’ life and the Civil Rights Movement.“The story of the movement that we tell is very much John Lewis’ story in this first book,” Aydin said. “It is a story of him growing up poor, on a farm, and it builds to a climax of the national sit-in movement.”Lewis certainly has a lot to tell. He and other activists famously were beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965 during an attempted march for voting rights — an event that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” He served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the height of the movement, spoke at the historic March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.Aydin, who co-wrote the book with Congressman Lewis, and illustrator Nate Powell sat down with Sojourners to explain how the series came about and why it is such an important story these 50 years later.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 14 weeks ago
Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City and held in captivity for nine months in 2002 at age 14, spoke out about her experience at a human trafficking panel at Johns Hopkins University last week. Her main focus: educating children and giving them the skills to fight back.She recounted her own experience in abstinence education. I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about, well about abstinence. And she said, 'Imagine that you're a stick of gum, and when you engage in sex, that's like getting chewed. And then if you do that lots of times, you're going to become an old piece of gum, and who's going to want you after that?'… for me, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.' And that's how [easy] it is to feel like you no longer have worth; you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth scraping up? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life no longer has value. Watch the full speech here. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal, Brandon Hook 1 year 15 weeks ago
According to UNICEF, 29,000 children under the age of five – 21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable diseases.The GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership aimed at increasing worldwide access to immunizations, has a goal of reaching 250 million children by 2015. Dr. Mercy Ahun, GAVI special representative in Geneva, sat down with Sojourners to discuss the role of faith-based organizations in helping reach those 250 million,and the role her own personal faith plays in her work.“What really got me into public health is my time in the children’s wards. We were working with children who had preventable diseases,” Ahun said. “… I thought to myself, why should stay here waiting for the children to fall sick before they come to the hospital. It’s better actually to go out there and prevent this in the first place.”
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 23 weeks ago
This past weekend, The Faith and Politics Institute led a three-day Congressional trip to visit Civil Rights landmarks across Alabama — from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma. It was an incredibly moving, emotionally exhausting, soul-quenching pilgrimage as we journeyed along with heroes of the Civil Rights movement and experienced their stories. One such hero is Congressman John Lewis. A highlight of the trip for me is recorded at the jump. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 24 weeks ago
This year marks a long list of anniversaries in our nation's long march for civil rights: We now mark 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation; and 50 years since the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," the March on Washington, the bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, and the murder of Medgar Evers in his driveway.In remembrance of the sacred journey, The Faith and Politics Institute's Civil Rights Pilgrimage drew more than 250 people, including 30 members of Congress, for a three-day tour of civil rights landmarks and first-hand testimonies from the movement's leaders. Throughout the pilgrimage — moving from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma — the delegation learned, grew, and continued the conversation together: white and black, Republican and Democrat, man and woman, senior and child. We all returned to Washington, D.C., and to our homes across the country, with a renewed sense of responsibility for the common good.A number of events made the term 'reconciliation' mean more than the definition I had somehow created for myself over the past 30 years. Reconciliation is calling the person who beat and humiliated you 'brother.' Reconciliation is sharing a platform, sharing a deeply intertwined story — and sharing an authentic embrace — with the offspring of your parents' enemies. [Photo Gallery at the jump.]
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 27 weeks ago
Invoking once again the spirits of Lincoln and Dr. King — and reemphasizing his own personal faith — President Barack Obama called for humility and a focus on common ground in his remarks at today’s National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton.Citing the divisions that exist in Washington, Obama said our charge as citizens, and as leaders in government, is “to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation, as a people, to take real and meaningful action,” he said.He reflected on the humility shown by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who both turned to their bibles — both of which Obama used at his swearing-in ceremony last month — finding solace in the words of scripture amid the divisions of their times.  Obama recalled his own reflection and study, saying he often searches scripture to figure out “how to be a better man as well as a better president.” His words build on previous allusions to his personal faith journey. He has always insisted that doubt is part of faith, but faith comes with constant seeking.“Faith is something that must be cultivated. Faith is not a possession. Faith is a process,” the president said, adding later that, “While God may reveal his plan to us in portions, the expanse of his plan is for God and God alone to understand.”
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 30 weeks ago
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced today a comprehensive plan to address gun violence in the wake of mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. The plan includes calling on Congress to require universal background checks, restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and 10-round limit to magazines, and implement stronger punishment for gun trafficking. The plan also includes measures aimed at increasing school safety and access to mental health services."This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged," Obama said, accompanied children who wrote to the White House calling for an end to gun violence. In the 33 days since the Sandy Hook shooting, "more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun," Obama said. "… every day we wait, that number will keep growing."Biden, who has met with more than 200 groups representing various interests including law enforcement and people of faith, said the nation has a "moral obligation" to do everything in its power to address gun violence.The announcement comes a day after faith leaders, including Sojourners president and CEO Jim Wallis, publicly called for many of the same measures, including reinstating the assault weapons ban, closing background check loopholes, and making gun trafficking a federal crime.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 35 weeks ago
Have you burned out on fiscal cliff debate yet? Depressed that our Congress has still failed to renew the incredibly noncontroversial Violence Against Women Act? Well, while Sojourners cares deeply about both of the issues, we’re also very ready to celebrate this season of Advent, our Savior’s birth, and all of the family time and Christmas cookies that come with it. So here it is: The Top 5 Ways to Get Into the Christmas Spirit.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 35 weeks ago
Everyone in the political sphere, on cable television, and most certainly in Washington, D.C., has only one thing on the mind pre-Christmas, and it isn’t the fat guy in the red suit (and/or Jesus). It’s the fiscal cliff. And while it’s an incredibly important — and incredibly complex — debate, it’s not the only one worth having right now. There’s this other thing — this thing that has been happening on a bipartisan basis for eighteen years — that is sitting in the House of Representatives right now while our national confidence in Congress sits at about 6 percent, and our senators are filibustering their own bills. It’s the Violence Against Women Act. This seemingly procedural piece of legislation — which usually is reauthorized without question whenever it comes up — is in danger of expiring if the House doesn’t act before the end of session. “This should not be controversial. This is something that should be capable of passing on a voice vote,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D – Mo.) said on Wednesday at a panel discussion on the women’s vote. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 38 weeks ago
In search of a story that will “make you believe in God?”It’s a heavy undertaking. Kind of like trying to adapt that story to film, as screenwriter David Magee and director Ang Lee did brilliantly in Life of Pi, which opens nationwide today.The film, adapted from Yann Martel’s moving book, takes on massive questions — who is God, how do we find God, and why do bad things happen to us — as we follow Pi, a zookeeper’s son shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.“I think we’re humble filmmakers — I don’t think we can answer why bad things happen to people,” Magee told Sojourners Tuesday. “But I do think it puts into perspective the fact that within every ordeal there is a lesson.“This is very much a story about storytelling,” Magee added. “It’s very much a story about how those different narratives help us get through. It can’t promise to answer why we go through the things we do, but it can say what we take away from them.”
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 40 weeks ago
Oh, ladies. Just when you thought we were emerging again from the sudden backtrack into 20th-century gender politics, this happened. (Before continuing, I warn: this is the most offensive bit of so-called Christian, “red pill” patriarchy that I have ever read.)A blog post written on the website of the Christian Men's Defense League — yes, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of white American Christian men is apparently a thing — blames Mitt Romney's loss Tuesday night on what the author brilliantly coins "the slut vote." Hat tip to Gawker for finding the cached version of this post, as it was quickly locked down post-publishing. You can view snippets of all of author “BSkillet’s” witticisms HERE. Most disturbing in this man's tirade against so-called "sluts" — and trust me, there's a lot in there to creep us out — is that he is doing so from a Christian perspective. The banner of the blog cites Psalm 144:1, "Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle."The verse of choice is interesting, to say the least. I usually cringe when I hear terms like "war on religion," "war on women," etc., but if anyone is waging it, it's this guy. There is so much here that completely defies logic, but I thought I'd pull out a couple of gems for our review. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 43 weeks ago
What culture war? At a survey release of young evangelicals and proceeding panel discussion, common ground was the pervading theme. While panelists ranged in religious and political backgrounds — representing groups like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, World Relief, Family Research Council, USAID, World Vision, the Manhattan Declaration, and Feed the Children — there was an overarching agreement that while young evangelicals are largely pro-life, life issues now extend to beyond the typical to things like creation care and immigration. “There is still a lot of tension that many young people feel in trying to identify with one political party or the other,” Adam Taylor, vice president of advocacy for World Vision. “… There is a real deep commitment to a pro-life agenda, but that agenda has now expanded and includes a core and strong commitment to addressing issues of poverty.”
Posted by Brandon Hook, Sandi Villarreal 1 year 44 weeks ago
Editor's Note: Brandon Hook tells his story of why he's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 44 weeks ago
Editor's Note: Sojourners has launched this new blog series to help shed light on the nation's latest "religious" affiliation. Scroll down to read their stories. Or EMAIL US to share your own.Which religious tradition do you most closely identify with?ProtestantCatholicMormonMuslimJewishOrthodoxOther FaithUnaffiliatedGiven these options — or even if you throw in a few more like Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic — I would choose “Unaffiliated.” That puts me into a category with one-in-five other Americans, and one-in-three millennials, aptly named the “nones.” In that vein, I introduce our new blog series: Meet the Nones. Through this series, I hope to encourage discussion, debate, and elucidate the full picture of what it means to be losing your religion in America.Editor's Note: Would you like to share your story on this topic? Email us HERE. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 44 weeks ago
One-in-five adults in the United States — and a third of adults under 30 — say they have no religious affiliation. The numbers are out in a new report called “’Nones’ on the Rise,” put out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That 20 percent of the population is up from 15 percent just five years ago.But while our church membership rolls may be shrinking, “unaffiliated doesn’t necessarily mean wholly secular,” said senior researcher Cary Funk at the Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday. In fact, two-thirds of the 46 million Americans self-identifying as having no religion also say they believe in God. And 21 percent of them say they pray every day. A large portion of this group — 37 percent — say they consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”The increase in disaffiliation goes hand-in-hand with an overall lack of trust in American institutions across the board, from the government to the news media, and now, to our houses of worship.The “nones” overwhelmingly say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power, and 67 percent say they both focus too much on rules and are too involved in politics. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 45 weeks ago
Young millennials — age 18 to 25 — are more comfortable with an evangelical than Mormon (or atheist or Muslim) president. This, according to part two of the Millennial Values Survey put out by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center.Nearly six in 10 of those surveyed say they would be comfortable with an evangelical Christian serving as president, while 44 percent would be comfortable with a Mormon.The numbers line up with those supporting President Barack Obama over Gov. Mitt Romeny at 55 percent to 39 percent — a spread that has actually increased 16 points since March. But that won’t necessarily convert into votes. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed are registered to vote, but only half report they are absolutely certain they will cast a vote in November.The candidates’ religion isn’t the only factor affecting young peoples’ voting patterns. Another issue is a lack of voter engagement in the political process altogether.“Millennials have a reputation for being the ‘wired’ generation, but when it comes to government, they’re unplugged,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI research director, in the news release Friday. “Across a range of measures, younger millennials indicated that they are disillusioned with the government’s ability to respond to their needs.”
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 48 weeks ago
Christian leaders asked, and the presidential nominees answered. The poverty rate in America is still at a staggering 15 percent and 46.2 million Americans remain in poverty — what is your plan to address the problem?The Circle of Protection, composed of Christian leaders from across the religious spectrum, released President Barack Obama's and GOP nominee Mitt Romney's video responses today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.(VIDEOS from Obama and Romney after the jump.)
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 50 weeks ago
Editor's note: This is a He Said, She Said on the issue. To read this author's husband's take, go HERE.Who would have thought that five years into our marriage we would still be having this debate? Gender roles. Egalitarianism. Complementarianism. If you've come here first, please read my husband's take on the issue before continuing on.We tend to think fairly similarly, though he likes to think himself a complementarian, while I tend toward the egalitarian label. I love words, but that's all these are: words. I think it's all in how you define it for yourself. But since he brought it up … 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 51 weeks ago
The scandal du jour across the morning news shows today was Lance Armstrong's decision to stop fighting doping investigations. It means he is stripped of his record seven victories in the Tour de France and his bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics. While saying uncle in the doping fight doesn't necessarily equal guilt, the presumption is that Armstrong knew things were going to come out in the investigation — that there was some evidence or testimony that would not look good. Today on Morning Joe, I thought MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart hit the nail on the head:"This is yet another institution that has failed. …  We've seen everything that people believed in — whether it's the financial institution or government itself or just heroes — just falling by the wayside. You're seeing that this world that we have constructed of sort of purity and perfection, it's just not real."
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 1 year 51 weeks ago
In early August, a mosque in Joplin, Mo., burned to the ground. It was the second fire that damaged the facility this summer — the first, determined to be arson. In light of this attack and others like it across the country — including the heinous shooting at a Sikh gurudwara outside of Milwaukee that killed six worshippers — Sojourners called on our community to help us get the word out that we are called to love our neighbors. All of them. The response was overwhelming. As a result of generous contributions, Sojourners not only took out an ad in The Joplin Globe, but also erected billboards with the same message, both in Joplin and in Oak Creek, Wis., three blocks from the Sikh gurudwara. The message is simple. "Love your Muslim neighbors." "Love your Sikh neighbors."It's not radical in language, but it is a radical love that Jesus extends to us and asks us to show others. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 1 week ago
I grew up thinking a lot of things were evil: cursing, smoking, Texas A&M, Democrats. But one thing that never fell into the “damned” category was yoga. I guess it just didn't come up. So I was more than a little confused when a few years ago, pastors across the religiously affiliated spectrum started condemning my workout class of choice. Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has said multiple times yoga is evil, concluding, “A faithful Christian can no more say they are practicing yoga for Jesus than they can say they are committing adultery for Jesus.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler said — and was later lambasted for it — that embrace of yoga is contradictory to Christian commitment. Even the guy at the Vatican who does exorcisms said yoga is the “work of the devil.” To which my initial response — to quote the Dude — is … well, y’know, that’s just, like your opinion, man. (Er, I mean men. White pastorly men.)
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 2 weeks ago
Faith leaders on Wednesday gathered on Capitol Hill to release a letter calling on Congress to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) — programs aimed at keeping the poor and most vulnerable in our country out of poverty. The call comes in advance of a U.S. House of Representatives vote to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.In 2010, the EITC and CTC lifted about 9 million people out of poverty, including 4.9 million children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities."The Bible confronts every Evangelical lawmaker with more than 2,000 verses, which call us to defend the poor and vulnerable. If we say we believe the Bible, we simply can’t support policies that directly reward the rich and punish the poor: Christian lawmakers can’t keep going into their prayer breakfasts and leaving their Bibles at the door," said Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners (Wallis' full statement can be read HERE).
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 2 weeks ago
Right now, it’s difficult to voice a call for civility surrounding religious debates without backlash that you’re stomping on rights or stifling someone’s voice. But here’s hoping.Religious freedom. What does it mean, and what were we promised? In Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat — columnist and author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics — points out that we have a guaranteed right not only to religious belief, but to religious exercise. That right to religious exercise, he argues, is violated in cases like the HHS mandate and the Chick-fil-A debacle. From Douthat’s piece:“If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.”From here, people tend to go to extremes. On one side: boycott everything whose owner you have a philosophical or religious disagreement with on a personal level. But really do it. Sure it’s easy enough to shun fast food, but enough research will likely prove that our American dream to be comfortable far outweighs our attention span. (Please excuse my cynicism, and please let me know if any of you are successful in this endeavor. I’ll tip my hat to you.) Of course, it cuts both ways. Extremism comes in a variety of political preferences, so I’ll throw this out there as well: No, there is not a “war on religion” in the United States.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 3 weeks ago
Can America still afford to be a generous immigrant nation? Can it afford not to be?These are the questions posed by Nine Network of Public Media's and PBS's documentary Homeland: Immigration in America. The first of a three-part series focused on job issues.While the largest Hispanic populations are in California and Texas, the fastest growing Hispanic populations are in smaller Southern and Midwestern towns. The episode shined a spotlight on Monett, Mo., home to a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant; EFCO, a Pella Company; and Happy Apples — an apple orchard that produces caramel apples for nationwide sales. The plants have relied on immigrant labor for years, and now the city has revitalized because of the influx of Hispanic immigrants. While the issue of illegal immigration is at the forefront of people's minds when discussing immigration reform as a whole, the documentary points out the flaws in the legal immigration process as it exists. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 3 weeks ago
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. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 3 weeks ago
A new poll released today shows an overwhelming percentage of black and Hispanic voters favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential election — 87 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Both groups say the economy is a critical issue in the election.The Religion, Values, and Experiences: Black and Hispanic American Attitudes on Abortion and Reproductive Issues survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, also showed that two-thirds of black Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 46 percent of Hispanic Americans agreed. Both black and Hispanic Americans (81 and 79 percent, respectively), say contraception is morally acceptable and support expanding access to it. Further 61 percent of black Americans and 64 percent of Hispanic Americans say religiously affiliated institutions should provide contraception at no cost to their employees. For more on the survey, stay tuned to the God's Politics blog for continued coverage. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 4 weeks ago
Despite protests not only from jurors who conivicted him but also from his victim’s family, Warren Hill, a 52-year-old mentally disabled man convicted of murder, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on July 23 in Jackson, Ga.In 1991, a jury found Hill guilty in the bludgeoning to death a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike, and sentenced him to death. Hill had been serving a life sentence for the 1986 killing of his girlfriend at the time of Handspike's death.Hill has an I.Q. of about 70, leading a state judge to find him "mentally retarded" by a “preponderance of the evidence.”While Georgia — as the rest of the United States — has banned the execution of mentally retarded inmates, the state has a stricter standard that requires proving mental retardation “beyond a reasonable doubt.” By that standard, the Georgia Supreme Court overruled the judge's finding of mental retardation, reversed the decision, and reinstated Hill’s death sentence, which originally had been set for today.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 4 weeks ago
Among the list of U.S. institutions—banks, the medical system, the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress—where would you pin organized religion?According to a recent Gallup poll, it comes in fourth, falling behind the military, small business, and police. Only 44 percent of Americans have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the church—a downward fall that has been the trend since its height in the 1970s. Drilling down, Protestants tend to have higher confidence—56 percent—in their churches than Catholics, who fall in at 46 percent. (Commentary is linking this to the child abuse scandals.)Organized religion isn't alone in this. The overall lack of confidence in American institutions is evident across the board, with television news at 21 percent and Congress at an abysmal 13 percent. Even public schools come in at 29 percent. But is this at all surprising? 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 5 weeks ago
A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing. If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 5 weeks ago
They have the two of the most stressful jobs in the country, at least for the next couple of months. Mayors Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Fla., and Anthony Foxx of Charleston, N.C., will play host to the Republican and Democratic national conventions, respectively.The two sat down with Politico's Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen on Tuesday to discuss the challenges, economic opportunities, and politics of hosting such historic, national events. "I don't look at this as a political event," Buckhorn said. "… Yes, I am a Democrat, but I intend to be the best host the Republicans have ever had." 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 5 weeks ago
According to the Atlantic Cities, lawmakers in North Carolina have chosen to ignore studies that show sea levels are rising faster than previously expected in favor of developing new housing along the coast. According to the rerport, state Rep. Pat McElraft, a not-scientist, said in a floor debate that the state should assume sea levels will rise at the same rate they have in the past: 8 inches over the past century. From Kelly Henderson's Switchboard blog post: "The scientific findings that North Carolina coasts will likely experience a 39-inch sea-level rise created quite a stir and were challenged by NC-20, a coastal economic development group, who cited flaws in the research. The group fears losing dollars if coastal planning begins now to prepare for the 39-inch rise since over 2,000 coastal miles will become restricted to development."And, from Mr. Colbert, on N.C.'s logic in only considering historical data: "If we consider only historical data, I've been alive my entire life. Therefore, I always will be."The Colbert ReportGet More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video ArchiveSandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. Follow her on Twitter @Sandi. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 6 weeks ago
A new map has divided the country into red and blue ... but this one has nothing do do with politics or the upcoming election. No, we're not talking Republicans or Democrats; we're talking Church or Beer. (Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? What if you're Lutheran?)FloatingSheep.org compiled geotagged Tweets from June 22 - 28 comparing the geographic concentration of convos regarding church and beer. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 6 weeks ago
Hundreds of supporters were on hand to welcome home the Nuns on the Bus on Monday at the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. The sisters completed their nine-state, two-week journey for faith, family, and fairness in the federal budget. "Some Catholic politicians are pushing budget cuts that violate Catholic social teaching," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director for the Catholic lobbying group NETWORK. "And they jeopardize the Catholic sisters' effort to really help struggling families, to practice the values of the Gospel by serving the poor and vulnerable."
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 7 weeks ago
The Sojo staff loves Nora Ephron. We already have up a contributor’s beautiful tribute to her life HERE. But we wanted to share our favorite N.E. moments. We also may or may not be planning a progressive dinner-movie party that will include: an appetizer of caviar and You’ve Got Mail, beef bourguignon (not it!) and Julie and Julia, dessert of pecan pie and When Harry Met Sally, and one really long curl of apple peel and Sleepless in Seattle. But for now, Sojo staff’s top 10 Nora Ephron golden nuggets.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 8 weeks ago
Five of my female Facebook friends had posted the article in a span of about two hours. The headline, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” stared at me, daring me to respond.Read it, first. Then come back here. Go ahead, take the half-hour (it’s a long one). Read the WHOLE thing.Back?OK, so there are some good points in there, right? If you want to be a political power player in Washington, D.C., forcing you to live long-distance from your husband and children, maaaaybe you’re not going to be the happiest person ever. Maybe you can’t “have it all.”But why is that the question to begin with? Why does this topic of conversation perennially rear it’s head to make women feel like they’re not doing it right? And why is the question never asked of men?
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 8 weeks ago
Men and women in the military face numerous challenges when they return from combat—whether post-traumatic stress disorder, economic struggles, traumatic brain injury. A glimpse at the headlines tells us the grim statistics of active-duty suicides tied to these issues.But a new film, The Invisible War, brings to light another staggering reality: a female soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by another soldier than killed in enemy fire.The Invisible War, which opens in some markets on June 22, takes on the military culture that has failed to address the problem.Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering collected stories from sexual assault survivors across the country and show how hauntingly similar their the accounts are—from harassment to assault to lack of follow-up, and for some, blatant cover up. The powerful documentary pairs the survivors’ heartbreaking stories with alarming statistics illustrating the scope of the epidemic. According to the Department of Defense, service members reported nearly 3,200 incidents of sexual assault in 2011.
Posted by Jack Palmer, Sandi Villarreal 2 years 9 weeks ago
Church leaders today gathered in Washington, D.C., to announce the launch of the Evangelical Immigration Table – a broad coalition of organizations, churches and pastors from across the political and religious spectrum coming together to advance a cohesive immigration reform message.The Immigration Table was launched at a press conference, with speakers including Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis, Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Association of Latino Evangelicals and Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, setting out a common set of principles reflecting the common ground that all members of the Table have found on the issue of immigration.Read on to view photos from the press conference.
Posted by Sandi Villarreal, Elaina Ramsey 2 years 10 weeks ago
Climate change experts and skeptics can hash it out all they want, but Victor Mughogho is living it. His home country of Malawi is already feeling the effects of climate change in real and devastating ways. Five droughts in the past 20 years, coupled with changing weather patterns, have resulted in famine — and a generation of children growing up developmentally stunted because of malnourishment. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 10 weeks ago
No, I didn’t hit my head. I’m not suffering from amnesia. I’m just really confused.I’m sorry — what year is it again? Running through my handy list o’ headlines, it’s a little bit difficult to tell. I give you the 10 reasons I don’t believe that it’s really 2012. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 13 weeks ago
The House of Representatives passed on Wednesday a version of the Violence Against Women Act that would limit protections to immigrant, LGBT and American Indian abuse victims. House Republicans argue that Democrats are politicizing a non-issue, but stating fact is not partisan politics. The new version of the bill not only deletes new protections that received bipartisan support in the Senate, but also eliminates ones that existed in previous versions of the Act. For instance, the new version could make it more difficult for immigrants married to abusive U.S. citizens come forward for fear of losing their residency. 
Posted by Sandi Villarreal 2 years 14 weeks ago
I’ve moved five times in five years of marriage. My husband is a pastor. I am a journalist. He is forever discerning, forever visioning— I am forever antsy.This latest move to Washington, D.C., led me to think a lot about the “call” to serve. My husband and I were dating, then engaged, then married during his four years at seminary. I suppose I knew what I was getting myself into. (Nope, not one little bit.) During those years, it was drilled into my brain that even though I felt a “calling” as a writer, a storyteller, etc., it was extremely different from the call. Read: What your husband is doing is more important than anything you will ever do in your lifetime — ever. Except maybe have his progeny, and then, still, it’s a toss-up.