The Common Good

God's Politics

Lent: Making God’s Name Beautiful

I love today’s Lenten reflection by the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Grey on the first verse of the Lord’s Prayer.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Praying this each day calls us to orientate our intention away from ourselves and remember that we are not the centre of the universe. Instead it reminds us of our rightful place, alongside all our brothers and sister in adoration of our great God.”

“This prayer is a call to action. It makes a demand of us. How are we as God’s people going to make God’s name holy? This is a call to action to make known the beauty of God. The justice and perfection of God. And the majesty of God’s name in a world that wants to ignore it.”

“It’s a call for our lives to mirror the same beauty and holiness of God. To truly live up to our vocation as image bearers of our glorious God.”

“We are part of the family. So let’s do the family business of bringing light to the world.”

Watch Dr. Jaqueline Grey speak on the Lord's Prayer below.

 
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Utah Highest, Vermont Lowest on Newest Church Attendance Poll

More Utahns go to church every week — 51 percent —  than any other state, according to a new Gallup poll.

That statistic is “a direct result of (Utah)’s 59 percent Mormon population,” Gallup’s Frank Newport writes, “as Mormons have the highest religious service attendance of any major religious group in the U.S.”

The next most-frequent church attendees are in the South — Mississippi (47 percent), Alabama (46 percent), Louisiana (46 percent), and Arkansas (45 percent). In fact, 10 of the top 12 churchgoing states are in the South.

At the bottom of the list is Vermont, Gallup reports, “where 17 percent of residents say they attend religious services every week,” Newport writes. Just ahead of the Green Mountain State are New Hampshire (20 percent), Maine (20 percent), Massachusetts (22 percent), Washington (24 percent), and Oregon (24 percent). Half the bottom 10 are in New England.

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Taking Lent to Repent

Ash Wednesday begins Lent, a 40-day season in the church’s life leading up to the death and resurrection of Christ on Easter. It is traditionally meant to be a time of reflection, reevaluation, and renewal in our lives, both for the community of faith and in our relationship to the world. But the “R” word that is most characteristic of Lent is “repentance.” And repentance, biblically speaking, is not about the fire and brimstone television preachers but rather about the gospel call to turn around and go in a whole new direction.

Already in these first few days of Lent, I am reminded of how difficult confession, humility, and repentance are in our culture. Humility is something Americans are not particularly good at. Neither are we strong in the areas of self-examination, deep reflection, and repenting for things we have done wrong and then no longer doing them.

We tend to believe if people are poor, there really must be something more wrong with them than with those of us who are not. If black young men are having trouble with police, many white people suspect it must be the things that they are doing more than any problems with the systems we perpetuate.

Our family was just away for a week in the Dominican Republic on baseball service and mission trip, where our boys’ baseball teams do “spring training” with Dominican players and coaches. Spending a week in Consuelo with the Dominican players and the adults in their lives, and meeting the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception who helped host us, provided a glimpse into their lives and a kind of poverty that most American young people have never seen.

We played on their rural “fields of dreams” cut out of sugar cane instead of corn, to wonderfully energetic community stadiums in what is truly a baseball culture. In one game, our high school team got to play the Detroit Tigers Dominican Academy teenage players. It was great baseball — but also a “life-changing experience,” as was told to me by many of our players and their coaches. In addition to the baseball skills, reflection, listening, learning, and asking big questions about how our lives affect others were the lessons of the week.

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Ruling on 26-State Immigration Lawsuit: 3 Things You Need to Know

On Monday night, a Texas court temporarily halted the implementation of Obama’s Executive Action announced last November. Specifically, the ruling delays the application of the extended Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) — previously slated to begin on Feb. 18 — and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs until the ruling is superseded by a higher court.  

This ploy began in December, when a combination of governors and attorney generals from 26 Republican-run states sued the federal government to block the Department of Homeland Security directives from going in to effect. This lawsuit, Texas v. United States of America, challenges the legality of both the DACA and DAPA initiatives, which together would have granted nearly 5 million immigrants eligibility for temporary deferred action and work permits. 

Here’s what you need to know about the Texas vs. United States ruling in the aftermath of Monday night’s decision.

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A Mandatory Mistake

On a July afternoon in 1995, a 33-year-old man named Curtis Wilkerson walked into a store, stole one pair of socks, and was promptly arrested. This wasn’t Wilkerson’s first crime, but it was surprising, considering his long streak of good behavior. The last time he was trouble with the law was when he was in his teens, after two offenses for abetting robbery. He was sentenced to six years.

After his release from that sentence, Wilkerson cleaned his life up. Instead of running the streets for money, he drove a forklift. All things considered, he was a “success story,” earnestly walking that “straight and narrow” path — up until, that is, those gorgeous socks waved his way.

Why he did it remains a mystery. But since I was once an angsty teenage shoplifter, I imagine he was probably just bored. Hungry for a momentary thrill. An innocent-ish high. I imagine him thinking, it’s just a pair of socks. $2.50. Not much more than a pack of gum.

But be it socks or a Chevy Silverado, the state of California did not care. Shortly following his arrest, he was brought before a judge and sentenced to life in prison.

In California, the three-strikes law was the law of the land. A type of mandatory minimum sentencing law, the law required judges to punish defendants guilty of their third felony with 25 years to life in prison. Stolen socks, most of the time, would’ve counted as a misdemeanor. But, and likely because he was black, Wilkerson was charged with a felony, his third strike. And consequently, was given the harshest punishment in the history of stolen socks.

In 2012, California voters approved a measure to reform the law, making mandatory life sentences only applicable to “serious” felonies, but even still, Wilkerson remains behind bars.

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Pastor Ousted Over LGBT Inclusion: 'There's So Much Grace'

Sojourners: What’s your hope for the ECC broadly? I’m not sure whether you can even speak to this yet, but are you hoping to stay within the denomination? What’s your hope for where this conversation leads the church?

Phillips: Well, I just, I deeply love the Covenant Church. I keep using “we” language instead of “us” and “them” language, because it really hasn’t sunk in yet. And there’s some confusion around, how do I operate as an ordained minister in a former Covenant church plant. For me, this all comes back to our Covenant pietistic roots about relationship, new life in Christ, and reading the bible together.

I’ve just met dozens and dozens and dozens of gay Covenanters in recent weeks that have said, hey, thanks for speaking up, and they’ve told me their stories of exclusion or being ostracized in some cases. These are good Christian people — people that grew up in the Covenant, working at Bible camps, going to Covenant schools. And some of these folks have experienced depression; some have experienced suicidal thoughts. And that’s the kind of thing that I hope that my friends in the Covenant, no matter where they stand on this matter, can work together to at least find some way for hospitality and inclusion to take place.

You know, I never thought that the Covenant needed to change its policies to become an open and affirming church. I was simply hoping that we could hold in tension this kind of historic covenant agreement to disagree on matters that weren’t what some would call “essential matters” — like resurrection, like new life, like the presence of the Holy Spirit. I have dear friends in the covenant that wouldn’t hold my position, and they’re doing amazing work in ministry — alongside the gay community, even — so you know, I hope that we can find some way forward that can get beyond this moment of confusion.  

Sojourners: Many churches and Christian organizations in the U.S. right now are afraid to take a stand on LGBTQ rights precisely for this reason — whether it’s a hesitancy to break with denominational tradition or, maybe more pragmatically, a fear of getting defunded. For someone newly in this chaos, do you have any wisdom from having this happen to you?


Phillips: I think it’s imperative that we lean into what the Holy Spirit is doing. I think the Holy Spirit is guiding us on this conversation — and there’s so much grace. Even though there’s so much pain and fear. I think in the end, grace wins out.

I’ve found that in the midst of all this, amazing friends emerge, and new friendships are forged. And you know, God’s doing something really cool right now. And it seems chaotic, and it seems scary, because so many of the old models are outdated. But God’s truth is not changed whatsoever, and God’s news is still good. So I just encourage people to keep leaning into God’s promises and friends along the way that can walk with us as we figure it out as we go.

 
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New Government Program to Root Out Extremists Is Seriously Flawed

As my kids have grown into teenagers, their behavior has changed. My daughter is less interested in hanging out with me and prefers sitting in her room glued to her computer. My son plays Nintendo war games. When current events are discussed in our home, we sometimes disagree vehemently. According to Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco, I should be on my guard because these might be signs that my kids are about to head off to join the Islamic State.

Sounds absurd, right? But that’s the message to Muslim communities as part of the administration’s initiative to “counter violent extremism.”

In September, the Justice Department announced it was launching the program and piloting it in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. The stated aim was to bring together community, religious leaders, and law enforcement to “develop comprehensive local strategies and share information on best practices” for countering violent extremism. Although the initiative doesn’t mention the word “Muslim,” those adherents are clearly the targets. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has promoted it to Muslim communities across the country. It has the support of the White House, which is hosting a summit on the topic this week.

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Obama: No Religion Responsible for Terrorism

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.”

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Sojourners Internship: 'How Have You Grown Spiritually?'

Alongside professional development and communal living, Sojourners’ internship program prioritizes spiritual formation through educational seminars, spiritual retreats, and mentorship pairings. Seminar topics focus on the intersection between faith and justice, and this year have included politics as vocation, simple living, reflecting on MLK, and discerning spiritual gifts.

Three spiritual retreats over the course of the year emphasize a time of rest, reflection, and service. Along with other communal living commitments, interns hold a weekly time of prayer to pray for their house, the neighborhood, and the world. 

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WATCH: A Brief History of Overt Racism in Professional Soccer

When fans barred a black man from boarding a train as they chanted racist lyrics after the Chelsea vs. PSG match on Feb. 17, it was only the most recent in a long history of similarly egregious acts.

Professional soccer is no stranger to racism. While such acts of overt bias should anger us, they should not surprise us. Whether it's chanted slurs, especially dirty tackles, or thrown bananas, racist behaviors emerge from a racist culture.

Below are videos of six of the most infamous incidents of racism in professional soccer since 2011. It is important to remember that these acts are only the explicit tip of an implicit iceberg. These are only some of the examples captured on video.

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