The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

A Voice For the Voiceless? Thoughts on Privilege and the Single Story

Throughout my past eight years of engaging in social justice, I’ve been drawn to people who have uncanny ideas. Ideas that peace and unity can exist. Dreams that Heaven can indeed be experienced on this planet. People who are unafraid to raise hell and create peace in every single breath.

But often times, in these circles, a buzz phrase kept coming up: “Being a voice for the voiceless.”

This phrase is used in many circles, from large Christian NGOs to CNN. It likely means something different to each person. When it comes from voices in the faith community, it’s often rooted in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, and defend all those who have been passed over." (Proverbs 3:18).

While I never believed in being a voice for the voiceless, I’ve had my fair share of ethnocentrism. As I boarded a plane for South Africa in 2007 on a service learning trip, I asked the white woman sitting in front of me what she’d be doing in Africa, as though everyone on the plane was going for a visit like me.

“I live there,” she replied, flatly.

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More Christian Than Celebrity

The biggest event of Hollywood industry has just wound down. The rich and glamorous have walked down the red carpet in their designer gowns, the famous people took home trophies, and the Oscars are over for another year.

It is a lot of fun to “ooh” and “aah” over celebrities. I love to dole out opinions on red carpet fashion choices and chuckle at Twitter making fun of Matthew McConaughey’s facial hair. But overall, I think celebrity culture is quite unhealthy. Too much power and fame seems to corrupt even the best of us, and being in the spotlight for too long takes its toll on the human psyche. We should be fostering meaningful relationships with one another instead of developing a system that makes it possible for the celebrity to crave constant attention and for the crowd to follow blindly in an unthoughtful, mob-like fashion.

But because the system is already in place, this mechanism within culture to put people on pedestals for us to blindly adore — when Christians begin to share art and ideas publicly, we have seamlessly co-opted the same model to create a niche Christian celebrity culture.

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Church of England Accused of Double Standards Over Low Wages

The Church of England was accused of double standards on Feb. 23 for offering jobs in cathedrals at lower wages than those it has called on other British employers to pay their workers.

Under the banner headline “Wages of Sin,” the Sun reported that it had found several advertisements for jobs in cathedrals that offered pay well below the “living wage” of 7.85 pounds ($12) an hour, endorsed by the Church and senior politicians.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church recognized that no employer could ramp up wages overnight, and was working hard to get to a point where it was paying all of its workers the living wage.

“It’s embarrassing. We’d prefer to be there. We’re getting there as quickly as we can,” Welby, the spiritual head of the 80-million strong Anglican communion, told the BBC.

“It’s not the only area where we fall short of our own standards. We work on it as hard as we can,” he said.

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Southern Baptists Try to Diversify Churches — But Will It Work?

How tough is it to create a racially diverse denomination? Consider a recent luncheon organized by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

About 100 Nashville-area evangelical leaders accepted invitations to a lunch hosted by the denomination’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On the agenda: a pitch for a spring summit and a short discussion by ERLC President Russell Moore about the need for churches to become more racially diverse.

The number of African-Americans who showed up for the lunch? Four (two of them denomination employees).

ERLC leaders originally planned a summit on bioethics. They quickly shifted gears after grand juries in November and December failed to indict police officers for the deaths of young unarmed black men. Moore’s social media remarks condemning the New York City jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner were met with an angry backlash, some from people filling Southern Baptist pews and pulpits.

Black church leaders are greeting news of the summit with reactions ranging from polite skepticism to hopeful support.

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The Oscar Scandal: Sean Penn, Alejandro Iñárritu, and Responding to Racism

“Sean Penn’s ‘Green Card’ comment may have ruined the entire Oscars.”

That was the headline from the Huffington Post. I didn’t watch the Oscars, but I’m always curious about pop-culture scandals. What could Sean Penn have said that was so egregious that it threatened to ruin “the entire Oscars?”

Penn delivered the award for Best Picture, which went to Birdman. After Penn opened the card, he took an awkward moment to gather his thoughts about how he would introduce the winner, whose director happened to be his long-time friend Alejandro Iñárritu.

That’s when Penn delivered the scandalous introduction, “And the Oscar goes to … Who gave this son of a bitch his green card? Birdman.”

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ISIS Versus the West: A Clash of Civilizations?

Is the Islamic State — ISIS or ISIL — different from other Islamist terror groups? If so, is the difference one of substance or simply degree? Or is there any real difference at all?

The question preoccupies the best intelligence professionals and academic students of the Arab Muslim world, but so far has produced more confusion than certainty about what we’re witnessing.

Maybe we’re too close. Maybe we’d gain perspective by going back in time — to 1993, say, and an article by a Harvard history professor, Samuel Huntington, in the magazine Foreign Affairs and later in a book titled The Clash of Civilizations.

Huntington saw a grim future and a different kind of war. While nation-states remain principal players in world affairs, he wrote, the great conflicts of the future will be between “different civilizations.”

“The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics,” he wrote. “The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

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Thoughts on Lent From a Non-Churchgoer

It snuck up this year, as though I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw friends in another time zone posting Mardi Gras pictures. Mardi Gras is this week? I thought. That means Lent begins this week?! Maybe it’s because I don’t go to church right now, or because I’m not in a spiritual community like I was before I moved cities. But for whatever reason, it came fast and unexpected, and something inside won’t let me pass it up. As much as I disagree with some of the traditional teachings about Easter and various interpretations of why Jesus was crucified, I have always had a penchant for Lent.

Lent is a time that draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. A time to pause. A time for simplicity. A 40-day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring.

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San Francisco Archbishop Rejects Lawmakers’ Criticism on Morality Clauses

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has rejected criticism from state lawmakers over the use of morality clauses for Catholic schoolteachers, asking whether they would “hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those you stand for?”

The archdiocese sparked protests earlier this month when it unveiled morality clauses for four Catholic high school handbooks as well as for teacher labor contracts.

The handbooks single out church teaching against homosexual relations, same-sex marriage, abortion, artificial birth control and “reproductive technology,” women’s ordination, pornography, masturbation and human cloning, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

The language says that “administrators, faculty, and staff of any faith or no faith are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny” church doctrine and practice on those topics.

Five members of the state Assembly and three state senators sent Cordileone a letter urging him to remove the clauses, which they said were discriminatory and divisive.

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Italy and Vatican On Guard after Threat from Islamic State

The Italian government is on high alert after threats from the Islamic State called Italy “the nation signed with the blood of the cross.”

Italy is one of a handful of major Western counties that has not been victim of a large-scale terror assault since the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Italian officials fear extremists could enter the country amid the growing tide of refugees arriving by boat from North Africa. About 500 extra troops have been stationed to guard symbolic targets in Rome and monitor the streets of the capital for suspicious activity.

The video threat, released with images of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who were beheaded this month, warned that Islamic State forces were “south of Rome,” in Libya. At its closest point, Libya is little more than 100 miles from the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

This comes four months after the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine Dabiq ran a cover photo of the militant group’s flag flying above the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican with the headline: “The failed crusade.”

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From Generation to Generation

What do you want to pass on to your grandchildren? What will you give to future generations?

There’s a special spot on my shelf for books my grandparents handed down to me over the years. I cherish the collection of love poetry my grandfather gave my grandmother for a wedding anniversary decades ago. I treasure my grandfather’s old prayer book and hymnal. Depending on your family history, most of us will have at least a few old treasures from generations before.

Some things pass from one generation to another with special care—a family wedding ring, a chess set from the home country, old pictures. Other items, however, pass with less care and planning. My wife, for instance, has her grandmother’s old cookie jar. It’s made of cheap, simple glass and is completely unremarkable except for the memories of cookies eaten at grandma’s house it evokes.

Families aren’t the only ones thinking of passing things along. Politicians, skilled at tugging heartstrings, speak often of “future generations.” 

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