The Common Good

God's Politics

More Than the Eye Can See

"We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This Talmudic quote from Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani notes that seeing is not always vision. What we see in life is more than what the eye beholds. A person or circumstances right in front of us can be merely the surface of someone or something more profound.

The United States must forever recall the struggles, moves, and marching of the women and men across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fifty years ago, ordinary people walked for the right to stand up and be counted. To the naked eye, those sojourners lacked political clout as much as they did fiscal wherewithal. Those citizens were not persons of means, but their intentions were good. They meant well. They meant to do whatever — to get the right to vote.

No whips, dogs, horses, or hoses would stifle their efforts. The Americans who marched from Selma to Montgomery may not have looked like much, but their actions changed this country’s political horizon and racial landscape. Yes, a yearning in their loins propelled them to create social change. They were going to vote at any cost, at any price.

In this week’s lectionary passage, a man crippled from birth wanted “change.” Actually, he wanted coins or any alms that Peter and John could offer (Acts 3:1-11). To this man, the two disciples were in better shape than he was. From his view, he could surely benefit from whatever they had to offer. Yet, Peter exposes their impecunious state: “Look on us. We don’t have a nickel to our names.”

There was nothing spectacular or dazzling about Peter or John.

+Continue Reading

'Keep on Walking' to Justice

“Come to the living God … Come to stand alongside those who suffer
Come to those who seek freedom … Come to resist all that offends God’s justice
Come to Jesus as He hangs on the Cross … Come to the living disturbing God.”

DURBAN, South Africa — A precursor to Easter sunrise and call to commitment is the now 30-year ritual Good Friday packing of the International Exhibition Center with 3,000+ ecumenical congregants participating (with dance, choir, prayers, and prophetic preaching) in the call to “Arise – Act for a Just Society.” Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip set the scene with a moving historical reminder of the reason for the 1985 first march to the central prison. It was to protest the silencing of the 16 Durban “treason trialists” (including congregational deacon Archie Gumede, and Frank Chikane, post-apartheid member of the first multiracial Assembly, Apostolic pastor, and future President Nelson Mandela staff chief). Family members of the incarcerated and current elected leaders carried a cross to city hall, calling all to love mercy and act justly. We paused to give thanks for their courage at the one remaining wall of the prison now in the front plaza of the iconic convention center. When the first march 30 years ago stopped to sing and pray, “voices were heard from inside the prison joining in the singing of Good Friday hymns.”

+Continue Reading

Digging Under Mount Moriah with TV’s ‘Dig’

Archaic prayers, hidden keys, and secret religious orders — such are the elements of the latest episode of the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series Dig.

Add in a modern re-enactment of one of the most harrowing stories in the Hebrew Bible, and the result is a swirling, baffling stew of religious themes and imagery.

This is your spoiler alert! Read on if you are up to date on Dig or a glutton for punishment.

“It’s all about the End of Days, the Second Coming, Armageddon, the Rapture,” Debbie (Lauren Ambrose) says in what is the clearest explanation by any character of what is going on in Dig to date.

“In order to bring about the Second Coming, the Temple in Jerusalem needs to be rebuilt.”

Here’s a quick summary of some of the religion references in this week’s episode:

+Continue Reading

Kenya Cracks Down on Al-Shabab Funding and Recruitment After Garissa Attack

Faced with a fierce enemy driven by Muslim extremist ideology, the government has cracked down on funding for al-Shabab, the Somali group that claimed responsibility for killing 148 mostly Christian students at Garissa University College a week ago.

This week, Kenya froze the accounts of 85 groups and individuals, including bus companies and Muslim rights organizations, allegedly linked to the group. It has closed down one hotel in Eastleigh, a neighborhood in the Nairobi commonly known as Little Mogadishu because of its large concentration of ethnic Somalis.

But the freeze on Muslims for Human Rights and Haki Africa, two nongovernmental organizations, raised questions, since they are known for their work on improving the lives of Kenyans and fighting for human rights of all citizens.

“I am amazed that these human rights organizations are believed to have been supporting terror,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao, the national chairman of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council.

“I think the government needs to provide some evidence.”

+Continue Reading

5 Faith Facts about Hillary Clinton, Social Gospel Methodist to the Core

As she embarks Sunday on her 2016 presidential campaign, one facet of Hillary Clinton, 67, is unchanged across her decades as a lawyer, first lady, senator, and secretary of state: She was, is, and likely always will be a social-justice-focused Methodist.

1) She was shaped by a saying popular among Methodists: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” says Paul Kengor in his book “ God and Hillary Clinton .”

As a girl, she was part of the guild that cleaned the altar at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill. As a teen, she visited inner-city Chicago churches with the youth pastor, Don Jones, her spiritual mentor until his death in 2009. During her husband’s presidency, the first family worshipped at Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church, and Time magazine described her membership in a bipartisan women’s prayer group organized by evangelicals.

2) Clinton’s been known to carry a Bible in her purse but, she told the 2007 CNN Faith Forum, “advertising” her faith “doesn’t come naturally to me.” Every vote Clinton made as a senator from New York, she said, was “a moral responsibility.” When asked at the forum why she thought God allows suffering, Clinton demurred on theology, then swiftly turned her answer to activism: “The existence of suffering calls us to action.”

+Continue Reading

The Problem with Creating ‘Christian’ Versions of Things

If someone offered you the chance to live in a world designed to look and feel like the real one, but is actually a tidier, more ordered Stepford-ish facsimile, would you take it? For many Christians today, the answer appears to be yes.

Call it Newton’s Third Law of modern Christianity, but for every event, there appears to be an equal and opposite corresponding Christian event. There are Christian music festivals and book festivals; Christian versions of TED Talks; the upcoming International Christian Film Festival in Orlando, Fla.; and earlier this month, even a Christian Fashion Week.

While it might seem tempting for Christians to lock themselves away in anti-secular bubbles, where they could wear nothing but Christian clothing and eat nothing but Christian food (Chick-fil-A, I’m guessing?), the ramifications of doing so are polarizing at best, and deeply destructive at worst.

Just look at the recent spate of religious freedom laws being passed around the country. Regardless of whether you view the RFRAs as discriminatory or necessary, the nut of their existence essentially boils down to separateness.

At their core, they are laws designed to keep one group of people from being forced to interact with another.

+Continue Reading

Alan Chambers: President Obama Is Right to Try to End Ex-Gay Therapy for Minors

While I am thankful for the ministry I went to for support — there was no other place for gay Christians to go in 1991 to admit the truth — I am sorry that they and I prescribed a one-size-fits-all story for every gay and lesbian person. I’m sorry we preached an incomplete gospel and wrongly told LGBTQ people they could and should do more to be acceptable to God. Doing so was deeply hurtful and damaging to many who never experienced the kind of change we thought possible.

For too long, same-sex attraction has been categorized as sinful and in need of repairing. Such stigma has caused LGBTQ people crippling shame and fear. As a child I experienced and as an adult I perpetuated that stigma. I profoundly regret my support for and promotion of reparative therapy.

And that’s why I stand with President Obama in calling for a ban on this practice for minors and for greater measures to protect adults seeking this niche therapeutic intervention.

This ban is in no way an attempt to strip parents of their ability to be good parents or to keep them from helping their child to navigate the complexities of sex and sexuality. Nor is it an infringement on religious liberties.

+Continue Reading

Weekly Wrap 4.10.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. ‘A Rape on Campus:’ What Went Wrong?

Columbia University’s Journalism school released its report detailing the journalistic failures of Rolling Stone’s viral story ‘A Rape on Campus,’ which initiated, and later may have stifled, an honest conversation about the prevalence rape on college campuses. Read the full report. “[Writer Sabrina Rubin] Erdely and her editors had hoped their investigation would sound an alarm about campus sexual assault and would challenge Virginia and other universities to do better. Instead, the magazine's failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations.”

2. The Courage of Bystanders Who Press ‘Record’

“Despite the fact that the world can now see Eric Garner being killed by an illegal chokehold — despite the fact that New York City Police Department banned chokeholds years ago — film of the incident did not result in the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, being charged. But thanks to the efforts of Ramsey Orta, who filmed Garner’s death, we know.”

3. Hope but Verify: The Iran Nuclear Framework

“House Speaker John Boehner recently said this about the broader instability in the Middle East: 'The world is starving for American leadership. But America has an anti-war president.' In the context of our faith — or even in the context of conservative ideals — is leadership that prevents war something to be maligned?”

4. How the Presidential Candidates Found Their Faith

“This season’s crop of presidential candidates reflects this country’s many contradictions in faith.” Newsweek explores the faith backgrounds of the apparent 2016 field so far.

+Continue Reading

None Shall Make Them Afraid: 5 Virtues of Responsible News Consumption

It was difficult to be a Hoosier last week, particularly as one caught in the crossfire between Indiana’s narrow-minded lawmakers on the Right and the rage of the political Left. The battle cry “Boycott Indiana!” reverberated through social media channels even though many Hoosiers vehemently oppose the discriminatory new RFRA law. My very own neighborhood mourned one of the casualties of this battle: a major economic development that was canceled when the funders heard about RFRA.

It was amidst this firestorm that I read Gareth Higgins’ superb essay “A Newsfeed of Fear” (Sojourners, May 2015). Given my present frame of mind, Higgins didn’t have to twist my arm to convince me that fear was a prevalent factor in the version of reality that we are fed through media channels.

Higgins’ essay reminded me of the prophetic hope of the Israelite people that is repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible: “None shall make them afraid.” If God’s people are indeed shaped by a perfect love that casts out fear, how then, I wondered, do we begin embodying an alternative to the newsfeed of fear in the way that we read, tell, and embody stories?

Higgins suggests that the answer to this question involves practicing the virtues of context, compassion, attention to detail, and pause. Space didn’t allow Higgins to elaborate on these virtues, so I would like to suggest my own interpretation and offer an additional fifth: gratitude.

 

+Continue Reading

The Long History of Sexual Baiting in America’s Effort to Extend Civil Rights

From Ava DuVernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grass-roots leaders, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history.

Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem of laws that purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate other people’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle from which the 14th Amendment was born — a struggle that played out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s statehouses today.

We cannot understand the new religious freedom law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

+Continue Reading