The Common Good

Racial and Social Justice

The Headlong Retreat into Childhood Partisanship

When I was a child, I lived in a black-and-white world of all-this or all-that.

Humankind meant my family. The world meant my neighborhood. Religion meant my church. Politics meant my father’s beliefs.

Oh, I was aware that more was out there, but it had little claim on my imagination or loyalties. My world was complete. There were no gray areas, no compromises, no maybes.

That was a child’s view, reality writ small. In time, I advanced beyond it, until the world became large, complicated, and gray, with places beyond imagining, people totally unlike anyone I knew, ideas beyond anything I heard at my parents’ table.

It’s called growing up. Discovering through knowledge and experience that the little I grew up knowing wasn’t enough to know.

We are witnessing today a headlong retreat into the not-knowing and simplistic partisanship of childhood. Ideas that make people uncomfortable are banished. Science that calls faith into question is shouted down. Politics isn’t just hardball, it’s dumb-ball: I must win, at any cost, and you must lose. I am right, and you are wrong. My tribe is the only tribe that has value and rights.

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China's Grim Religious Freedom Problem

While last month marked the 25th anniversary of China’s silencing freedom in Tiananmen Square, this month China has been cementing this grim legacy — particularly regarding religious freedom.

From repressing Muslims to bulldozing churches and tearing down crosses, Chinese officials have been denying the internationally guaranteed right to believe or not believe. The simple proposition that individuals have the right to live out their beliefs openly and peacefully, without fear or intimidation, clearly frightens Chinese authorities, as evidenced by their repressive persecution of numerous faith communities.

During the just-concluded month of Ramadan, China denied Uighur Muslim students, teachers, professors, and government employees the freedom to fast and fulfill related duties. With Ramadan coinciding this year with the commemoration of the Communist Party’s founding, Chinese authorities used the occasion to identify fasting Muslims, particularly in Xinjiang province. Those defying the ban have been subject to threats, detention, and arrests.

In recent years, officials have shut down religious sites; conducted raids on independent schools, leading to multiple injuries and even deaths; confiscated religious literature; restricted private study of the Quran; monitored the sermons of imams and forced them to undergo political training; restricted Muslim dress and religious expression; banned children from being brought to mosques; and arbitrarily deemed religious gatherings and activities “illegal.”

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Survey: Most Americans Say U.S. Should Shelter, Not Deport, Child Migrants

Most Americans say the waves of children crossing into the United States from Central America are refugees fleeing danger at home. And they say the United States should support these children while reviewing their cases, not deport them immediately.

These largely sympathetic views come all points along the political and religious spectrum, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute released Tuesday.

Democrats (80 percent), independents (69 percent), and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway.

Most major religious groups say the same, including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent).

(The survey sample of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims, or Mormons).

“It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.”

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Israel and Palestine: Peace or Pieces?

The first thing that visitors and volunteers see at the Tent of Nations just outside of Bethlehem is a large stone on which are written the words, “We refuse to be enemies.” As Israeli settlements draw ever closer to their land and the Israeli Defense Forces destroy their orchards, the Nassar family continues to pay a heavy price in their practice of Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).”

The Nassars refuse to divide the world into friends and enemies, challenging the rest of us to do the same.

As a Christian, I was raised to be pro-Israel. Since going to the region many times, I’ve become pro-Palestinian and pro-peace, too, which has led me to explore the narratives of Palestinians as well as Israelis. I grieve the deaths in both Israel and Palestine. Every human life has extraordinary value. The loss of even one life is a loss to all of us.

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Could Loaves and Fishes Change The Immigration Dilemma?

What might happen if we were to look at the two goods of protection and hospitality not as competing goods in a world of scarcity, but as complimentary goods in a world of abundance? I think we might come up with new solutions that no one has yet imagined.

In June, reporters for The Washington Post described deplorable detention conditions of the border patrol station in McAllen, Texas.

“The sick are separated by flimsy strips of yellow police tape from the crying babies and expectant mothers. They subsist on bologna sandwiches and tacos, with portable toilets and no showers, and their wait can last for days," they wrote. 

Soon after, President Obama declared a “humanitarian crisis” at the Mexico-U.S. border, citing a massive increase of undocumented children from Central America crossing the border. Without enough resources to house and care for the tens of thousands of children while they wait for an immigration hearing, the border patrol has been overwhelmed.

When Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the station in May, he asked one young girl, “Where’s your mother?”

“I don’t have a mother,” she replied tearfully.

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Rabbi David Saperstein Tapped as First Non-Christian to Serve as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom

President Obama on Monday said he plans to tap Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, which was created in 1998.

As ambassador, the man named as the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

“When it comes to the work of protecting religious freedom, it is safe to say that David Saperstein represents the gold standard,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, announcing the nomination at the State Department.

A Reform rabbi and lawyer, Saperstein, 66, has led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for 40 years, and has spent his career in Washington, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues. He was instrumental in the 1993 passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to show a compelling reason for any action that impinges upon the exercise of religion.

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Low Wages, Student Debt, and 'The Call:' Financing Seminary Education

The contemporary fast-paced, capitalistic, U.S. free market society has lost the traditional commitments to and comprehension of ‘church.’ Our parents and grandparents understood church as a community to which they belonged. Church was a place where many aspects of social life happened. The pastor was hired by the church people to care for and nurture the community, both individually and collectively. People looked to the pastor for spiritual inspiration, ethical guidance, sound counsel, and pastoral care. The pastor was an extended member of the family and people were happy to make a personal financial contribution to pay the pastor's salary and to keep the church building in repair. Somewhere along the line our society ‘outgrew’ this version of church.

A recent article in The Atlantic titled "Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy" laments the shift away from the traditional model of financing church and clergy as well as the increased costs for training clergy. The average Master of Divinity student (the degree for pastoral training) graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans — sometimes entering into the six-digit category. According to the U.S. department of labor, the median wage for a pastor is $43,800 — not a salary that lends itself to paying off high-end loans.

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Holy Eucharist: How We See Jesus in the 'Other'

When the Word becomes flesh, when the Son of God becomes one who bleeds, Jesus demonstrates God's humble solidarity with human nature from Adam and Eve onward, to the last person born in history.

This vulnerability of God for us, this identification of Jesus with our collective human frailty, changes our perspective on everything. In the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ, we at last see God and humanity with 20/20 vision.

Paul comes to this vision late in the day, well after the events of God in the flesh that reconcile the Father to God's creation. The vision of Jesus blinds him but when his eyes are healed, having seen Jesus, he sees God and humanity and the world very differently than he did before the vision of Christ that overwhelms him.

Years later, in a letter to the Corinthians, speaking about the church's worship with blest eyes he writes: "When we drink from the cup we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ?"

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Central American Refugee Crisis at the Border—How You Can Help

The overwhelming concern and support among the faith community for these Central American refugees has been a huge blessing for these children both at the national and local level. If you are wondering how you can help with this urgent need, here are some options on where you can donate your money or time.

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Deported: A View From the 'Other' Side

[Gilberto] shared about the man who had been deported at 51 years old after living in the U.S. for 50 years. Because this man’s parents came to the U.S. when he was 6 months old, he knew no other home than that of the U.S. When he landed in Tijuana, it not only felt like a foreign land, but he didn’t even know Spanish.

He shared about the U.S. military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but after serving his time in war zones, was deported to Mexico.

He shared about the man who had recently been deported and was now desperately trying to return to his wife and young children in the U.S.

With each story, the layers of isolation, dehumanization, and misunderstanding began to be peeled back. We had all heard the stories of deportation in the headlines, but none of us had come face to face with the humans behind the story.

Mesmerized by this sage who cast such a strong aroma of Jesus, we asked, “What would you encourage us to say to our congregations regarding the plight of the immigrant?”

He quickly responded with words I’ll never forget:

“Tell them to read their Bibles. Jesus told us to care for three types of people: the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. It’s been 2,000 years and we’re still doing a pretty bad job.”

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