The Common Good

God's Politics

Catholic Bishops Call for Immigration Reform

The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.

In an unscheduled address Nov. 11 at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”

“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.

During the summer, the president was moving toward unilateral action on immigration, despite warnings that such moves could exceed his constitutional authority or would turn voters against reform.

Then in early September, Obama said he would delay acting on his own, a move that was seen as a way to protect vulnerable Democrats from any backlash in midterm elections. On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was now “going to do what I can do through executive action.”

“It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place,” he said.

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My Sin, Your Sin: The Way to Freedom

After your recent relocation to a new city, you are invited to a local congregation by one of its members. After that first visit, you don’t find anything compelling you to come back to worship the following Sunday.

Now fast forward five years. For some unknown reason, you find yourself visiting that same congregation. But this time, it is obvious that something dramatic has happened; a new senior pastor has been called, and, in less than a year, the transformation of the church has been dramatic. The trend of slowly losing members has now stopped. To the delight of longtime members, almost every Sunday new people are accepting Christ or renewing their commitment to Christ. Vibrant children, youth, and family ministries are now in place. Ten percent of the budget is dedicated to local and global mission. People are growing deeper in their faith. The congregation of a little less than 400 begins to grow in such a way that during the following five years it reaches 1,600 members. This time around, you and your family decide to join this congregation. Your faith is reenergized and you feel like you are finally in the right place.

The story could end here and we could say, “This family happily and faithfully journeyed with this congregation for many years.”

There was only one problem in this successful congregation. 

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U.S., China Strike Agreement Limiting Greenhouse Gases

This morning, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China made a historic announcement that their countries would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
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Pope Francis Launches New Panel to Speed Up Abuse Cases

Pope Francis on Nov. 11 created a new Vatican body to deal with the most serious cases of child sexual abuse and to streamline complaints against the clergy.

The Vatican said the pope would nominate seven cardinals or bishops to consider appeals from clergy accused of abusing minors in a bid to speed up the judicial process of clergy who have received an initial assessment by local bishops.

The members of the panel, or “college,” may come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which currently handles cases, or elsewhere in the church. Members will also be asked to deal with serious abuses of penance in the confessional.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the pope’s proposal a “good solution” to help alleviate a backlog of cases.

Bishops accused of sexually abusing minors will still have their appeals handled by a session of CDF members at their monthly meetings.

“This is a good sign Francis is giving: He is basically saying that the CDF remains competent, and gives them an extra instrument to promptly deal with a specific type of appeals against decisions, namely recourses against administrative decrees,” said Kurt Martens, a canon law expert at Catholic University in Washington.

The immediate changes were outlined in a papal rescript, or “Rescriptum,” signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and printed in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper.

The pope has adopted a hard line on clerical sex abuse and at times asked for forgiveness while lambasting church leaders more than once for protecting abusers.

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3 Ways 'All Are Welcome' Is Hurting the Church

I see it on nearly every church sign, every church mailing; on the inside fold of every bulletin:
All Are Welcome!

Worship at 9 a.m. Sunday, All Are Welcome!

Potluck Dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday, All Are Welcome!

Vacation Bible School 9 a.m. Monday - Friday, All Are Welcome!


As the pastor of a Lutheran congregation outside Chicago, I find myself tagging it on — almost thoughtlessly — to our invitation cards and mailings as well.

It's almost an auto-signature for churches today: “All Are Welcome!”

And the impulse is a good one. For centuries the church has been exclusive rather than inclusive, despite Jesus' desire to the contrary. We have excluded women, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, people with special needs, senior citizens, singles, 20-somethings — at times the church has been downright discriminatory.

A friend of mine once told me he was desperate to find a church where he could not only worship but perhaps join the choir and get involved with music ministry. He brought his friend, another professional musician, to check out area churches. They found one they liked and were surprised when the minister asked them into his office. Ascertaining that they were both, indeed, gay, the minister said: "Well, you can attend. But just sit in the back row."

Thanks be to God, my friend didn't give up his search or lose his faith. He has since found an affirming congregation and leads incredible music there.

But too many of us have these stories: The congregation that saw single folks as irrelevant. The congregation that scorned Spanish-speaking immigrants. The place that found people with special needs disruptive.

Fortunately, many churches became aware of the way they had been contradicting the primary, freeing message of the Gospel: that all may be one in Christ Jesus, and that there is no longer Gentile or Jew, man or woman, black or white, slave or free, gay or straight, rich or poor ... (from Galatians 3:28).

As a needed corrective to become inclusive rather than exclusive, churches have hit upon a simple formula. It goes something like this: "Let's add ‘ALL ARE WELCOME’ to everything we publish. Let's make WELCOME the center of what we do."

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Gay Debate Challenges Traditional Definitions of ‘Evangelical’

It used to be that defining an “evangelical” was pretty straightforward: some version of a “born-again” experience, a deep appreciation for the Bible as the written Word of God and a conviction to spread salvation to the masses.

Opposing homosexuality wasn’t part of that holy trinity, but for most evangelicals, it was more or less a given that all sexuality outside of man-woman marriage is sinful. Not so much anymore.

Growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality is leading many Christians to reconsider their historic opposition. As intractable as the debate itself can be, American evangelicals nonetheless are experiencing lively conflicts over maintaining boundaries. What can you believe about gays and still call yourself an evangelical? And who gets to decide?

In October, the Vatican’s Synod on the Family and a major conference of establishment evangelicals in Nashville both featured softer rhetoric on gays and lesbians while reaffirming the view that homosexuality is morally disordered.

Last week in Washington, however, a gay evangelical activist laid out a biblical argument for an affirming view.

Matthew Vines was raised in a conservative Presbyterian congregation in Wichita, Kan. Realizing and accepting that he was gay, Vines neither abandoned religion nor sought out a more affirming church. Instead, he delved deeply into the Bible and Christian teaching. He came away with the conviction that biblical Christianity could affirm same-sex relationships.

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Needed: A Progressive Christianity to Restore the Nation’s Civic Virtues

Election 2014: Something important has just happened.

Big money bought an election. Fear prevailed over confidence and loathing over reason. The majority chose not to vote, allowing a passionate minority — older, whiter — to change the balance of power. Attack ads drowned out issues. A broken political system tolerated cheating and bullying.

Most worrisome is the absence of the virtues that enable a democracy to function in a challenging world. Civic-mindedness gave way to clever voter-suppression tactics. Freedom of the press got lost in attack ads and deliberate distortions of reality. Respect for opponents is gone. So too is the search for common ground, competing ideas, confidence in the nation, confidence in government, confidence in the future. Gone, gone, gone.

How could this happen? Several reasons — from intellectual laziness to self-serving leaders. The reason that touches my world is the collapse of progressive Christianity as a teacher of civic virtues.

Progressive Christianity is only one voice on the spectrum of religious opinions. But over the years it has had a large impact in its insistence on honesty, fairness, tolerance and humility. Progressive Christians have fought slavery, racial injustice and oppression of the vulnerable. Our search for truth has allowed room for other truths, other voices — a critical attitude in preserving democracy.

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Treat Them As One of Your Own

Think about this: why would anyone travel thousands of miles on a journey that many do not survive — except for the hope that their destination (the U.S.) is significantly safer than where they currently live? I cannot imagine taking such risks unless my current circumstances left me with no other options besides death. I have met many people who are undocumented in the U.S. They are not criminals. They are not economic threats. They are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and sometimes teenagers trying to escape untold violence and oppression. They are our neighbors, community members, and friends. They are people simply trying to do what it takes to survive.

Our immigration system is broken. It is hard for anyone to say otherwise. But I think our values are broken too. When gun-toting vigilantes are able to successfully threaten buses full of children put at risk by their parents because it was a better option than staying at home, something is desperately wrong with our values. We can say their home country needs to get its act together, but that does not address the hostile response in the U.S. by some people. Politics aside, the morality of refusing such people violates the values of both my Christian faith and my understanding of how my country was founded by persecuted refugees seeking freedom.

Comprehensive immigration reform is about real people with real blood flowing through real veins. It is not about numbers, other than the fact that the U.S. grants the lowest number of visas to the countries with some of highest homicide rates in the world — violence that the U.S. government has had a hand in creating over the past several decades. This is not about following the law, because our current immigration laws are simply unjust and violate the values upon which this country was founded: a country of immigrants in which “all people are created equal.” It is about God’s children desperately seeking refuge in a country that boasts itself as the “land of the free” and the land of hope and promise.

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'The Theory of Everything,' Life's Greatest Questions, and Missed Opportunities

The new Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, presents the relationship between the famed physicist and his first wife, Jane, in beautiful display. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten described the underlying theme of the film such:

“If all of us were some kind of cosmic accident, what chance love? That’s the point at which science breaks down, and something else exists.”

That rift between the proofs and facts that drive Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) and the “something else” represented by the inspiring story at its center is one that reflects a larger conversation about faith, science, and the unknown that feels like it’s been a part of culture from the beginning of time (all puns aside). It’s unfortunate, then, that the film doesn’t take the opportunity to explore those discussions beyond the surface level.

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Running from ISIS

Six weeks after ISIS overtook their village outside of Mosul, Iraq, Sief and Jacob Jebrita said they received an official cease and desist letter from the terrorist group saying their work was forbidden under Islamic law. The two brothers, partners in a small photography and videography business, lost their sole source of income. But that was just the beginning.

Sief and Jacob shared their story while sitting in St. Mary, Mother of the Church in Amman, Jordan, with a delegation of religious media. The church, led by Fr. Khalil Jaar, has become home to more than 150 Iraqi Christian refugees who have fled their homes while ISIS continues to push through the region.

Because of their Christian faith, Sief, Jacob, and their families were targeted by ISIS. They told me of a soldier ripping an earring out of a girl’s ear, slicing it open because it was not acceptable for her to wear jewelry. As ISIS militants forced people out of their homes, they would not allow them to bring anything with them at all except the clothes on their backs. They told me the story of one mother walking with her little boy who was forced to leave behind his bottle of milk after a soldier knocked it to the ground and shouted at them. As the situation worsened, they said they saw Yazidi men killed for refusing to accept Islam, and Yazidi woman sold into slavery in Mosul – $500 for younger women and $100 to $300 for older women.

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