The Common Good

God's Politics

What Ever Happened to Rob Bell, the Pastor Who Questioned the Gates of Hell?

Rob Bell was once the evangelical It Boy, the hipster pastor with the thick-rimmed glasses and the skinny jeans whose best-selling theology was captured in books with names such as “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God.”

By 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times wondered aloud whether the Michigan megachurch pastor could be the next Billy Graham.

And then he went to hell.

In 2011, his book “Love Wins” pushed the evangelical envelope on the nature of heaven, hell, and salvation. Many dismissed him as a modern-day heretic, unwilling to embrace traditional evangelicals beliefs about the hereafter.

+Continue Reading

Pope Francis Joins Other Faith Leaders to Demand an End to Human Trafficking

Pope Francis and religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths came together at the Vatican on Dec. 2 to call for an end to slavery by 2020.

At a ceremony in which they signed a declaration to that effect, the pope joined the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and representatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb.

The leaders said it was a “human and moral imperative” to wipe out human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking. It also committed the signatories to do all they could to free the estimated 35 million people enslaved across the world.

“Modern slavery … fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity,“ the joint statement said.

“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.”

+Continue Reading

Sojo Stories: Matthew Vines on 'God and the Gay Christian'

Matthew Vines took a leave of absence from his Harvard studies to explore what the Bible says about homosexuality. As a conservative evangelical Christian with a high view of scripture, Vines struggled to reconcile his identity as a gay man with the apparent teaching of the Bible. In his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, Vines explains what he has learned about scripture and tells the story of his own pilgrimage of faith, fidelity, and family.

Read “My Dad’s Worst Day” (Sojourners, June 2014), an excerpt from Vine’s groundbreaking book. And be sure to watch this original SojoStory video, as Vines discusses his journey as a gay evangelical Christian who has immersed himself in seeking new and deeper understandings of what the Word has to say to us today on these profoundly important issues. 

WATCH more below.

+Continue Reading

Out of the Silence

One summer my cousin Betty and I sneaked through the barbed-wire fence of a neighbor’s orchard and ate so many wild plums right off the tree that we almost made ourselves sick. Betty was 13 and I was 9, and I adored her. I still do.

Betty is dying right now. She might not make it till Christmas, which is really bad timing in my opinion. Yes, I talk with God about this. It’s one thing for me to lose a beloved cousin: I’m old enough to know from experience that, while the pain can feel like a raw wound that might never heal, losing those we love is a normal part of life. But I keep wondering, What kind of message is God sending to Betty’s family by jerking her away from them during this holy season of Advent? Doesn’t God care that they are already plunged into grief in anticipation of losing someone they love so much?

Yes, I talk with God about my fears, too, mostly in the form of questions from the little five-year-old kid inside me. What’s going to happen? Where are we going? What will it be like? Will it hurt? Do I have to? And, Why?

+Continue Reading

Online Troll or Therapist? Atheist Evangelists See Their Work as a Calling

Two years ago, “Max” was a devout Catholic who loved his faith so much he would sometimes cry as he swallowed the Communion wafer.

Then came the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where 20 schoolchildren and six adults were murdered by a troubled gunman. At that moment, a bell went off in his head, he said, ringing “there is no God, there is no God.”

Now, Max goes by his online handle “Atheist Max.” A 50-something professional artist from the Northeast, some days he now spends two or more hours online trying to argue people out of their religious beliefs in the comments section of Religion News Service.

Max left more than 3,600 comments in the past 12 months, making him RNS’ top commenter. Many of his remarks can be interpreted as angry, hostile, and provocative, casting him in some minds as an Internet “troll” — a purposely disruptive online activist who delights in creating comment chaos.

He’s written “Jesus is despicable” or its equivalent more than once — red meat to some readers who come back at him with fervor. Other users have called him “mean-spirited” or “angry.”

 

+Continue Reading

Waiting for Heaven

But wait! What if we‘ve got it backward? To revisit that waiting-goes-both-ways thing: Instead of us waiting on God, what if God is waiting on us? 

John Dominic Crossan poses that question in his book The Power of Parable. He notes something that’s obvious: Jesus could be very impatient. He wasn’t one to just sit back and wait for things to change. As Crossan sums it up: “You have been waiting for God, he said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God‘s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.”

There’s so much to be done — what’s important is to do it now. This moment is a gift. This opportunity to love someone else is too precious to waste. 

If all we do is sit and wait for things to change, then we’re like people trapped in a perpetual state of Advent. We never get to our own Christmas morning. We do nothing more than wait. 

And all the while, someone is waiting on us.

+Continue Reading

Finding The Perfect Gift

Like a lot of people, I love giving presents almost as much as receiving them. And the best gifts of all are ones that come with a clear understanding of the recipient in mind — ones that involve thought and care. Maybe a weird record with cover art only your best friend would love, or a necklace that goes perfectly with your mom’s favorite dress.

But spending that much effort on gifts for every single person on your list can be exhausting. Handmade gifts sometimes take weeks to plan and make in advance, and you don’t always have the time (or gas money, for that matter) to spend an entire day driving all over town searching for the perfect present, as romantic as that sounds.

Luckily, there are plenty of great resources out there to provide you with excellent gifts that give back. You can find some of them listed in Sojourners’ Just Giving Guide, which offers options ranging from clothes and jewelry to coffee and pecans (yes, pecans!). And if you just can’t find that special something, there are also plenty of choices for giving a donation in honor of a friend or loved one.

+Continue Reading

Pope Francis Makes Overtures to Orthodox and Muslims

Never mind that Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim. The most enduring image of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to Turkey was the moment when he bowed his head and asked for the blessing of the leader of Eastern Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Since his election last year, Francis and Bartholomew have forged a strong alliance culminating in their joint pledge in Istanbul on Nov. 30 to work to bridge a 1,000-year divide between their churches.

The task takes on new urgency as Christians — Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox — face a wave of violent persecution in Syria and Iraq.

The 77-year-old Argentinian pope represents 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and the Turkish-born Bartholomew leads about 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

+Continue Reading

'Peace, Peace.' But For Whom?

Peace, with its connotation of tranquility and stillness, is the Christian’s most misunderstood concept. We have long sought to keep peace by silencing dissent under the guise of pursuing unity, coated with a zealous concern for niceties, unwilling to budge a status quo. We forget to ask the crucial question: for whom do we keep peace?  

Wherever peace is elusive, the first ones to suffer are the vulnerable.  

When corporations engage in legal battles, employees who don’t get a vote have the most at stake. When marital tensions rise high, children’s tender spirits lay at the parents’ mercy. When war ravages a country, the displaced peoples helplessly suffer.

When keeping the peace only benefits the powerful, it is not a Christian peace. The sweet baby Jesus portrayed in sentimental Christmas cards has taken an abrupt departure from the kind of peace we see Jesus embody in Scripture. Even as an infant, the baby Jesus so disrupted the power authorities of the day that sent them scrambling into every home killing firstborn baby boys.   

Christian peace is not about coddling people’s fear of conflict. It isn’t about making sure everyone is comfortable. It does not silence those for whom a lack of peace is a life or death situation. The irony is that often, the ones with feeble power are the ones who are told to keep peace and remain silent.   

When the society is disrupted by scandalizing conflict — whether it is the Bill Cosby rape accusations, or the “harsh disciplinary methods” of certain celebrity parents, or an entire neighborhood weary of losing their young men to police violence — the Christian dare not keep peace by silencing the voice of the victims.

+Continue Reading

Voices Crying Out: Comfort and Transformation in an Age of Mass Incarceration

This reading of Isaiah 40 may make it more difficult for many of us to relate to the ancient historical setting of the text. There are many among us, however, who are refugees, forced to migrate to find economic opportunity or even because of poor decisions or systemic injustice that forces a disproportionate amount of our minority population into the prison system. Bereft of personal and economic freedom, our nation’s prison population might find both hope and justice in these words from the ancient prophetic text.

There is no doubt that many in our nation’s prison have committed crimes, just as the ancient people of Judah did according to Isaiah 1. There is also no doubt that we need a system of incarceration that separates dangerous criminals from potential victims. But the words concerning disproportionate judgment also call us to question the fairness of our current system in the United States, which boasts the largest prison population in the world at 2.2 million.

Moreover, just as God did not give up on the people of Judah, God has not given up on those in the prison system. What would happen if we as Christians partnered with God to help transform lives and offer hope to the women and men who fill our prisons?

+Continue Reading