The Common Good

God's Politics

Al-Shabab Militants Create Chaos, Pain for Somalis

Sitting under a veranda at the former headquarters of Somali Airlines, Ali Bashir sipped coffee and chewed khat, an African herb, as he recounted 15 years of anarchy fomented by al-Shabab Islamic terrorists.

“Life is very hard here,” he lamented.

“There’s nothing to eat and nowhere to work. But the rebels will come and still ask you for money.”

Since Somalia’s central government collapsed in the early 1990s, al-Shabab has emerged as the greatest threat to international efforts to rebuild the east African nation. The al-Qaida-linked militants extort, kidnap, stage terror attacks, and control remote areas of the countryside.

Al-Shabab gained renewed global attention last week, when a small band of militants massacred 148 people at Garissa University College in neighboring Kenya, where they singled out Christians for execution. In 2013, al-Shabab terrorists attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, murdering nearly 70.

In the wake of this month’s attack, Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called for more cooperation between Kenya and Somalia to eliminate al-Shabab, and Kenyan jets pounded two al-Shabab camps in Somalia.

Bashir, 28, who sold clothing before fleeing here, doubted the Somali government could do much about the terrorist group. He fled to the capital here a few years ago after al-Shabab seized control of a region in the south. He now lives in the old airlines headquarters with 1,000 other families.

“I have grown up in this country without knowing peace or stability,” said Bashir, a father of six.

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The Wisdom of Those Who Plant Seeds

The day after Easter, it snowed. I was carrying in my last buckets of sap before leaving for Portland and was not surprised by the flurries, but they still stymied my expectations of warmer weather. The equinox had passed several weeks before, and while the start of spring had been marked on the calendar, it was (is) dragging its feet in coming.

Who has known the mind of God or even a good 7-day weather forecast?

We see and know in part. Certainty has never been the steady state of the human condition. Our lives are stretched with the awareness that clarity, at its best, comes with a smudge.

The experience of knowing we do not know can be felt in different ways. One is confusion, another, mystery. Both are confrontations of the hidden or unknown, but one brings us to awe and the other despair. One can leave us feeling isolated and the other in wonder at our relationship to that which is so much greater than ourselves.

The space between the two is not in the level of knowledge but rather our relationship to the knowing and unknowing itself. In the midst of our unknowing, we are faced with a choice: passive uncertainty or the stumbling action of faith. The beginning of wisdom is not the expectation of certainty with knowledge but the understanding that the kind of life most worth living is always an act of faith.

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5 Arguments to Watch as the Supreme Court Considers Gay Marriage

State bans on same-sex marriage have been justified based on judicial precedent, states’ rights, regulating procreation, optimal child-rearing, and centuries-old tradition. Those reasons also have been loudly debunked.

When it convenes April 28 for one of the most historic oral arguments in its 226-year history, the Supreme Court will hear all of those arguments and more from five lawyers representing gays and lesbians on one side, and the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee on the other. But the justices also will have read what dozens of federal trial and appeals court judges have written.

Here’s a look at five major arguments cited by those appeals court judges in their rulings. In addition to the four Midwest states whose bans were upheld, the circuit courts struck down similar bans in Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

1. Judicial Precedent

The first hurdle in the gay marriage debate facing lower court judges has been what to make of a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that denied marriage rights to a gay couple in Minnesota.

The one-line summary decision in Baker v. Nelson upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage “for want of a substantial federal question.” At the time, marriage was seen as the exclusive purview of the states.

Because of the wealth of judicial rulings that have come in the following four decades, most federal judges have reasoned that Baker does not tie their hands.

“Since Baker, the court has meaningfully altered the way it views both sex and sexual orientation through the equal protection lens,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in the Virginia case, Bostic v. Schaefer. The panel’s majority noted that the justices did not even mention the 1972 case when they struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges now before the Supreme Court, however, Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit differed with all the previous rulings.

“This type of summary decision, it is true, does not bind the Supreme Court in later cases,” he wrote for his panel’s 2-1 majority.

“But it does confine lower federal courts in later cases.”

2. State's Rights

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Half of U.S. States Consider Right-To-Die Legislation

More than a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, are considering controversial medically assisted death legislation this year.

The laws would allow mentally fit, terminally ill patients age 18 and older, whose doctors say they have six months or less to live, to request lethal drugs.

Oregon was the first state to implement its Death with Dignity Act in 1997 after voters approved the law in 1994, and four other states — Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington — now allow for medically assisted death.

As of April 10, at least another 25 states have considered death with dignity bills, according to Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that advocates for these laws. Some of those bills already have died in committee.

“The movement has reached a threshold where it is unstoppable,” said President Barbara Coombs of Compassion & Choices, who was also chief petitioner for the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

The issue of medically assisted death rose to prominence last year with the case of Brittany Maynard, 29, who was told she had six months to live after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Maynard was a strong advocate for Death with Dignity, and when she learned of her grim prognosis, she moved from her home state of California to Oregon where terminally ill patients are allowed to end their own lives.

“I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity,” she wrote in an op-ed on CNN.com.

“My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?”

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Why Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Tale Provides Cover for U.S.-Led Wars in the Muslim World

Controversial American author Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been a regular fixture on major news networks lately, discussing her most recent book, Heretic, as well as her views on various issues that include violence in Islam and the treatment of Muslim women.

An ex-Muslim, Hirsi Ali began her rise to fame with her book Infidel, which documented her hardships growing up as a Muslim woman in her native Somalia. In light of her turbulent past, Hirsi Ali has gained strong following in the West. Prominent atheist author Richard Dawkins has called her a “hero for rationalism and feminism.” Now, after the release of Hereticsome are again cheering her as a brave champion for women’s rights, especially for Muslim women.

While many in the West have been receptive to her case, Hirsi Ali’s vicious attacks on Islam and her support for the war on terror, fought mainly in Muslim countries  , have left her with few friends among Muslims, including women. Hirsi Ali once famously called Islam a “nihilistic cult of death,” and she has advocated for a war with Islam.

Many examples of brave Muslim women exist in the Muslim world, yet it is not surprising that Hirsi Ali, regardless of her dangerous assertions, has stolen the limelight. As the American government continues to indulge in the war on terror, Hirsi Ali’s story makes her the perfect candidate to provide validation for the atrocities committed by the U.S., from Somalia to Pakistan.

The war on terror is largely a bipartisan issue. But media personalities, especially neoconservatives, have rushed to Hirsi Ali’s defense . Seemingly ever ready for war in the post-9/11 era, they look to Hirsi Ali’s views to help legitimize their own anti-Islam bias and imperialist ambitions.

It is no surprise, then, that she is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which has consistently tried to foster antagonistic relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

The liberal media, which have provided a more balanced view on Islam, also sympathize with Hirsi Ali’s detrimental views, especially in its simplistic portrayals of women in the Islamic world.

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A Journey Toward Radical Welcome

I had the sense, as a child, that God’s goodness and mercy would only follow me all of the days of my life if I was “good” and Christian. And I had the sense that good and Christian was a narrow way.

This meant two things. First, only “good” people, loving and kind people, people who had not erred or strayed or made mistakes or broken the law or never “back-slid” were the sheep worthy of grace and mercy. Second, only Christian people were in the fold. Not Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs — no, the steadfastly loving God had only space for those of us who accepted Jesus and our Lord and Savior AND who had lived sinless lives.

My child-like sense of “good” shifted when I was a teen serving as an elder in the Seventh Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Being up close and personal with my pastor, the late Rev. Oliver Brown, III and the adults around the table were first- hand lessons of the wide-open space of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

These good people — ordained people — were flawed and funny. They fussed and fought. They forgave each other, as God forgave them. My idea of good stretched and breathed and exhaled judgment and inhaled, experientially, that only God is good, that God in Jesus Christ shows this goodness in a particular way, and that all of God’s people are flawed and loved.

As a young adult before seminary, living life in the world, working, loving, breaking up, making up, having growing pains about identity and purpose and vocation, my spiritual muscles strengthened around the concept of the good shepherd who would love me enough to come and get me if I wandered.

Jesus is the ideal shepherd, the model shepherd, the best kind of shepherd; the one who makes the promises of God available to all of God’s people by laying down his life for the sheep.

I had not yet made the leap but most certainly have now to John 10:16.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

This loving Shepherd has a huge and diverse flock. 

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'Batman v. Superman' Is Every Christian’s Battle

Superman was introduced on his first page as a “champion of the oppressed…sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need.” Those actions are a fundamental expression of his identity, an inalienable product of who he is. Lara and the Kryptonian scientist Jor-El loved him enough to help him break away from their planet, giving him a chance at life. The farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent raised him in a way that left him intimate with humility and human frailty. Combine those with the confidence that comes with knowing that great power is a simple fact of his anthropology, and Superman can't help but position himself alongside society’s powerless. Crime will always find him because he loves its victims. 

Batman, on the other hand, does not act in response to people he loves. He acts in response to people he hates. At heart, he is still a child overwhelmed by loss and obsessed with lashing back against those that inflicted it upon him. Bruce Wayne (a name cobbled together by his writers so as to leave the reader with a fragrance of colonialism) created the Batman identity and fights crime in his home city so that he can re-shape the world as he sees fit. He was first introduced to readers as fighting a “lone battle against the evil forces of society,” and fighting that battle has always been the measure by which the character has justified his own existence. 

For any Christian who cares enough about social justice to be reading Sojourner’s website, this raises a compelling series of questions: Are you working to make the world more just because you are confident that your Father loves the victims of injustice? Because your King voluntarily shared the plight of the humble? Because you know that the Spirit will make all things new and you want to be a part of giving people a foretaste of that now? Or are you pursuing justice because you’re afraid of what the world will look like if you don’t? Because you can’t see your own value if you aren't "fighting the good fight?"

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Weekly Wrap 4.17.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. A Newsfeed of Fear: News, Social Change, and Resisting #FeedFear

When clickbait lures and controversy sells, what does it mean to read with the Bible in one hand and our newsfeeds in the other? Our series explores a question from the May issue of Sojourners: How do we unlearn our own attraction to scandal and sensationalism while still working for social change? 

2. Chef Invokes RFRA After Being Ticketed for Feeding Homeless in San Antonio

A Texas chef is using the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in what might be the best possible way. Joan Cheever, whose nonprofit The Chow Train has worked to feed San Antonio homeless for the past 10 years, faces a $2,000 fine for not having an up-to-date permit during a recent stop in the city’s Maverick Park. Her defense? The state’s RFRA, which protects the free exercise of religion.

3. TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People List: Our Highlights

There are a lot of interesting picks this year, and all are worth a read. But a few are worth a Sojo highlight, including: HeForShe campaign lead, outspoken feminist, and actress Emma Watson (written by Jill Abramson); criminal justice reform advocate and head of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson (written by Serena Williams); head of Mary’s Meals, which soon will be feeding 1 million schoolchildren across 12 countries, Magnus McFarlane-Barrow (written by Gordon Brown); and Afghanistan’s first lady, a Christian born and raised in Lebanon, who has vowed to improve living standards for the country’s women, Rula Ghani (written by Khaled Hosseini).

4. NYC to Acknowledge It Operated a Slave Market for More Than 50 Years

The historical marker is set to be unveiled on Wall Street on Juneteenth (June 19). “It will be the city's first acknowledgement on a sign designed for public reading that in the 1700s New York had an official location for buying, selling, and renting human beings.”

5. How Rachel Held Evans Became the Most Polarizing Woman in Evangelicalism

“I know that there’s a lot of people who feel like, ‘Well who is she? She didn’t go to seminary, she hasn’t cut her teeth as a pastor,’” Evans said. “I think some people feel like it’s a little bit of a threat to authority, that somebody can just be a blogger, and people will listen to what they say.”

 

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Paris and the Challenge of Real Change

Even as the clock ticks down to COP 21 in Paris this coming December, agreement has yet to be reached about exactly what the conference could or should accomplish. There is little consensus concerning outcomes that might actually bring about change. Not unlike other issues where binary thinking has predominated, we are presented with an either/or scenario: economic collapse and damaging human impact, or economic prosperity and destructive impact on climate.

What is different now, however, is that the economic axis has shifted. Crucial to the Paris discussions is the fact that Western-driven economic theory and practice, rooted in the competitive polarities of prosperity versus paucity, now dominate the globe, while Western economies themselves do not. And it is this largely binary economic way of framing the issues of the environment that militates against significant accomplishment in Paris. Not unlike Copenhagen in 2009, or Kyoto in 1997, governments are posturing so as not to give away economic advantage. National prosperity continues to trump the environment.

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Environmental Justice, Inclusiveness, and Mother Earth

The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in a powerful awareness of injustice. That justice is a good thing, a fine goal, even a supreme ideal, is commonly accepted. What is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of injustice. Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression, in their comprehension of social, political, and religious evils. —Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is defined as:

The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

As we consider this definition, and look around our communities, do we find this fair treatment taking place? Are we aware of how economic and environmental decisions are made? Many times it can become so overwhelming that we think it best to leave it to the experts. Unfortunately, this can lead to exploitation, as discrimination typically takes place in poor and underserved communities where people may not understand their rights, or they choose not to fight back out of fear. As we dig deeper and the shackles are removed, we begin to see how economic and environmental justice are connected and how this exploitation is directly related to incentives like government funding, tax breaks, and land grabs that favor corporations over human beings and the environment. Does the end result benefit all God’s creation or just a wealthy few?

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