‘Embrace’ in a Time of Division

Headlines this week have again been filled with the names of black men shot and killed by police officers, and — in at least one instance — protests have erupted in response. This has sadly become a known routine.

It is apparent that we are failing as a nation to see the image of God in those around us. This failure has become a deadly one.

In his new book, Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, Leroy Barber tackles this failure head on, writing that we must learn to embrace, rather than disconnect from, “the other” if we are to achieve shalom.

He begins the journey to shalom in Babylon. Babylon, he writes, is a synonym for ungodly depravity and corruption. Yet the people of Israel were called to be there, living in discomfort among those different from themselves.

And that’s OK. God did not call them, and does not call us, to comfort. Instead, God calls us to hard work and hard places. Our deliverance does not come when God releases us from those places of division, but when we lean into them, fully accepting why we are there — not to share God with a godless people, but to learn and act on the essential lesson that we are all God’s people.

You can read more about Embrace in a time of division at Sojourners.

 

Slow Kingdom Coming

I’ve always thought of myself as a justice-oriented, do-gooder-type person, but over the years, I’ve become a bit fuzzy about what exactly that means. For example, most people would say it’s good to donate to charities and worthy causes, but how many times have charities and worthy causes misspent, misappropriated, or misjudged? What about donating goods after natural disasters? International adoptions? Microloans? Many things that sound good on the surface—and that are almost always well-intended—aren’t necessarily doing the good work we think they are. It also seems that far too often when someone says “justice,” what they really mean is good intentions and a quick fix.

In his new book, Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan makes clear that good intentions can only take us so far, and that the work of building God’s kingdom is anything but quick. He writes, “we don’t want to think … that our good intentions are enough, as though God wouldn’t expect us to love our neighbors in the best possible way.” And the best possible way, he continues, is by creating deep and lasting change that, almost by definition, comes slowly.

You can read the rest of my review of Slow Kingdom Coming at Red Letter Christians.

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#NeverTrump

I keep expecting someone to step out from behind a potted plant and say, “Smile! You’re on candid camera!” and then all of America will laugh and breathe a sigh of relief. After the nervous giggles pass and we finish pretending we knew it all along, we will go home and think long and hard about what would have happened had the whole thing been true.

And by “the whole thing,” I mean Donald Trump.

About an hour ago I learned that Ben Carson endorsed Trump. I was never a Carson fan, but from what I understand he isn’t a bad guy or anything. And clearly he’s brilliant, right? He’s a brain surgeon for crying out loud. He’s apparently also popular among “evangelicals,” which may just be the most over- and improperly used word in American media today.

Right now I’m watching a clip of a young black man being sucker punched in the face at a Trump rally by a long-haired man in a cowboy hat. This just a week or so after the Guy in the Red Hat went verbally psycho on Black Lives Matter protestors, and a couple of weeks after Chris Christie’s takeover by Trump-loving aliens.

Have I mentioned the KKK or “small hands” yet? No? Well there are those things, too.

Where’s a potted plant when you need one?

I’m about 99% sure that in 20 years we’re going to find out (assuming there’s no hidden camera, anyway) that this was all a conspiracy. I don’t know if Democrats paid Trump to run to ensure a Democrat would win, or if Trump is paying people to vote for and/or endorse him, or threatening their families, but something fishy must be going on here. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

Because that alternative is that there are a whole lot of people in America willing to vote for someone who, whether he himself is or isn’t, doesn’t mind giving off the air of a misogynistic, jingoistic, racist megalomaniac.

The hateful and insulting comments, the atrocious proposed policies, the lack of knowledge and experience to hold the most powerful office in the world, and all those other, more obvious scary Trump traits are one thing. The hate and violence and anger at his rallies and among his supporters are another. The “get ‘em out of heres,” and the “I want to punch him in the face,” and the screaming, punching, “go home” sign-wielding Americans frighten me, sadden me, overwhelm me, embarrass me, and sicken me. They drive me to an eschatological place I don’t want to be.

I get it to a certain point. He’s an outsider. He speaks him mind. His aura is one of success and confidence. He’s sort of like the bad boy/girl you might date in high school. You know what almost universally holds true about those relationships? They end. You don’t marry the bad guy/girl, or if you do, you regret it/get divorced/change the person/change yourself. Four to eight years of damaging, dangerous, and damning governance is a lot of regret. It’s also a long time to stay married to someone you can’t stand. That leaves two options: change him or change yourself.

I won’t say Trump won’t or can’t change. His efforts at self-moderation these last few days have been apparent. Clearly he gets that he needs to be “more presidential,” but in the end, he ends up right where he started: acting as the lowest common denominator. I won’t pretend to know Trump’s internal affairs, but if I had to guess, I’d say the odds of him changing are pretty darn low. So then, will he change me? Will he change us? Change America? I’d like to think he can’t. That even if elected that we’d somehow stand strong against him, singing Kumbaya in front of the White House while patchouli wafts through the air and babies coo from their mama’s and daddy’s slings and front packs and toddlers munch on homemade gluten-free granola.

But I never have liked the smell of patchouli and my kids are far too big for slings and front packs. I can also hear the bullhorn now: “Get ‘em out of here!”

It’s scary folks, really scary. This isn’t about electing a politician with whom we disagree, even on very, very important things such as cluster bombs. Perhaps it sounds extreme, but I would go so far as to say that this is about good vs. evil. Not that Trump is evil, or that Trump supporters are evil. No, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is, have you ever read Lord of the Flies? Remember Piggy? When you put a lot of non-evil people who have some not-too-kind ideas together in a big melting pot and stir them together—viola!—you get something pretty darn ugly.

Since I still don’t see a potted plant anywhere around, and since I may not ever know if there’s a conspiracy or not, I’m going to have to assume that this is real. Trump himself may be fake—I suspect that in many ways he is—but the voters… the voters are real. If they are both real and numerous enough to put Trump in the White House, I will be so scared, so sad, and so morally wounded that I may have to learn to bake my own granola and enjoy the smell of patchouli. But I’m still not putting my kids in a front pack.

 

Whole Women, Whole Families, Whole Truths: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say

The number of abortions in the United States may have declined by more than one-third over the past two decades—reaching its lowest rate since record keeping started in 1976—but the issue is far from settled. Today the Supreme Court hears its first major abortion case in almost 10 years, and, barring a 4-4 split due to the death of Justice Scalia, will likely hand down a decision by the summer.

This case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, questions the constitutionality of restrictions the state of Texas is imposing on abortion providers—restrictions like requiring abortion providers to hold admitting privileges at a local hospital and for centers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Opponents argue that these standards are unnecessary and will cause clinics to close, resulting in significant limitations on women’s access to abortion.

This case has far-reaching implications as the Court is set to consider what regulations constitute an undue burden on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. As it is in all Supreme Court cases of this significance, media coverage is intense, and the protestors are many.

Significantly, this whole discussion is taking place during an election year, which is sure to force presidential hopefuls to address abortion head on. A study by the Barna Group has found that while only 30 percent of the general population places abortion as a priority in determining which candidate will get their vote, 64 percent of evangelicals say the same. And that means, because abortion will again be in the spotlight, this 64 percent will have their views heard by a larger audience than normal.

Of course, neither a Supreme Court case nor a presidential election is a top motivator for pro-lifers* to make their voices heard. Still, if history is any indicator, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole will provide a unique opportunity for influence that may not come around again for quite some time.

So the big question is how best to assert that influence.

Public perceptions of the pro-life movement are often significantly and negatively shaped by high profile cases like that of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who last November shot and killed a police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. At his first court appearance, Dear proudly professed guilt and claimed to be “a warrior for the babies.” Not much earlier, a pro-life group released highly controversial, sting-style videos of Planned Parenthood executives that resulted in a wide, public debate about federal funding for the organization. And, of course, we’ve all seen the heart wrenching and anger-inducing footage of protestors blocking young women from entering into clinics, making clear their opinion that the young, scared woman will burn in hell.

There is also the perennial issue of conservative politicians taking a hardline pro-life stance, yet seemingly disregarding the hardships that can come from an unplanned or unsafe pregnancy, and eliminating funding for programs that could either help minimize these hardships or stop the unplanned or unsafe pregnancy from occurring in the first place.

It’s a hostile context, with various “camps” pitted against one another. Surely there has to be a better way, a way far removed from pickets, judgment, hate, and hypocrisy.

To this end, it’s important to remember that when hoping to sway public opinion and/or policy to align with one’s belief system, moral credibility is key. That means the pro-life movement must become one associated with believing all life is sacrosanct—whether in the womb or already born. Perhaps it should go without saying, but the most basic tenant of eliminating abortion must be rooted in compassion and love, and not just for the unborn, but also for the expectant mothers. Certainly, pregnant woman who feel trapped by their pregnancy and are considering abortion should think of the church as the first place to turn for help, not as the last.

Thankfully, there are faith leaders who are opening their doors wide to those both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Last year Pope Francis declared that women who have had abortions could seek forgiveness from any priest, without authorization of a bishop. President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, wrote of those who have had or participated in abortions, “God has already pronounced what he thinks of this person: ‘You are my beloved child and in you I am well pleased.’ … Offer [] mercy not only at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but in the small groups and hallways of your church.” There are those who will take umbrage at the notion that a woman needs either forgiveness from a priest or mercy from church members, but for many women, both avenues of grace are desired and significant to their lives.

By decreasing social stigma within the church environment, providing non-judgmental counseling and assistance to women suffering at the hands of a partner or family member, and putting in place the go-to tried and true church supports of meals, rides to the doctor, deacon’s fund assistance, and the like, local churches can provide tangible support to women both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Shaming, shunning and judging will only drive women from the church.

Of equal importance is the significant contribution of churches and faith-based organizations to social services (the Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the world). One of main reasons women give for seeking abortions is financial. In fact, studies show that women with family incomes below the federal poverty level account for more than 40 percent of all abortions, and this particular demographic has one of the highest abortion rates in the nation (52 per 1,000 women). Given that six in ten women who receive abortions already have at least one child, it seems clear that greater systemic support for families below the poverty line is a prime way to reduce abortions.

These numbers indicate that being pro-life is about speaking up and acting on socioeconomic matters just as much as it is on abortion itself. Recognizing this, faith-based non-profits can and do provide subsidized childcare, job training, financial and material support, housing, and counseling for women in the “at risk” category. These efforts should be seen not just as economic in nature, but as essential ways to demonstrate  one’s commitment to ending abortion.

Similarly, better educational and vocational opportunities, workplace protections for pregnant women, and low cost, high quality childcare would help reduce the stressors on women who seek abortion for financial reasons. Many of the socioeconomic changes needed must be systemically implemented at a policy level, but others are within the grasp of individuals, places of worship, and organizations.

For those interested in having a direct, personal impact, there are many options other than marches and protests, all of which are considerably more effective. The influence of making ones position known to state and federal legislators through letter writing and phone calls, petition signing, ballot measures that increase socioeconomic support of women and families, and an individual’s voting power cannot be overstated.

For those less politically inclined, there are ways to advance one’s beliefs that may not change laws, but will fulfill the primary goal of both reducing abortion and creating more sustainable futures for those lives once they enter into the world.

Pregnancy centers, most of which are religious in nature, make it their goal to support women through their pregnancies as well as achieve long-term self-sufficiency. Women who might otherwise feel there are no options other than abortion can turn to these centers for help not only throughout pregnancy, but also into the future by learning the life skills necessary to successfully parent a child and run a household.

Despite the high number of women served by pregnancy centers, they aren’t without controversy, and some are more reputable than others. Volunteering at or donating to centers with a track record of providing sustainable assistance with long-term implications is a great way to make a local, direct impact. Before partnering with a pregnancy center, affirm that the center has appropriate medical oversight and licensing, as well as non-deceptive advertising, literature, and practices. Some pregnancy centers have come under criticism for these things, and to truly help women and the unborn, maintaining credibility and compassion, not merely pushing an agenda, is key.

Of course, pregnancy centers aren’t for all women, such as those who feel unprepared to parent. For those in this situation, adoption agencies are often presented as an alternative to abortion. Like pregnancy centers, these agencies provide pregnant women with services to help them throughout their pregnancies, but also help match birth mothers with adoptive families. Many provide prenatal care, help with housing and other expenses, and even maternity clothes and rides to the doctor.

Some of these centers are religious- or state run non-profits, others are privately owned and for profit. As with pregnancy centers, some are more reputable than others and must be thoroughly researched before a referral can be made. Each state has its own regulations, but as a general rule, adoption agencies should be licensed, been in business for many years with a well-maintained reputation, have a high number of successful placements per year, and should not pressure clients into making certain choices. Individuals and faith communities should take the time to research near-by agencies and be prepared to make a knowledgeable recommendation to a woman in need.

In so doing, it must be remembered that for adoption to be a truly viable option, women must feel emotionally and physically able to make it through nine months of pregnancy. This means pro-life advocates must recognize that the reasons women seek abortions can take all kinds of forms, including social stigmas, lack of health care, abusive relationships, family pressures, and financial and work or educational limitations, among other things. Those committed to ending abortion should consider putting time and energy toward finding a workable solution for as many of these problems as possible—although certainly no perfect or easy solution exists, nor does this list address the myriad of needs that present when women become pregnant through rape, or when a pregnancy compromises the mother’s health. Those are complicated, emotion-laden, and highly individual cases that I cannot begin to address here.

Promoting and achieving pro-life goals will come from establishing credibility by honoring the sanctity of life, both born and unborn, and taking compassionate, non-judgmental, prayerful and loving action to reduce the reasons women seek abortion in the first place, primarily their belief there are “no other options.” Simply put, we must give them options.

What if rather than creating picket signs and coordinating protests, efforts turned instead toward creating options by caring for women and families in need, and working towards systemic change that does the same? This is not only a third-way of being pro-life—it is the best way. It’s a way that respects and honors all life, at all stages, without judgment, but with honesty, compassion, and a nuanced understanding of the very real hardships faced by women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.

State laws and Supreme Court decisions don’t change the fact that the real work of making pro-life mean all life often takes place behind the scenes, through small acts of love and kindness that have a big impact on the lives of many, both those born and those yet to be.

 

* I use the term “pro-life” because it is the term most commonly used and understood in public discussion. I find it to be a misnomer, however, as those who are pro-choice are not, in fact, anti-life. Similarly, many who may deem themselves “pro-life” for lack of a better term, are not “anti-choice,” although they would limit situations where that choice might be employed.

 

 

 

On Super Tuesday, Vote Your Hope

My friend Lucas has asked if he could guest post today on the topic of Super Tuesday. As soon as he asked, I said, “who am I to say no?”

Then I couldn’t get that question out of my mind.

Who am I to say no? Would I put up a pro-Trump guest post? Pro-Cruz? It’s a fair question.

I do tend towards political writing, although I usually publish those pieces elsewhere and keep posts here to more family- and faith-oriented topics, but a large part of what I write about is the hard work of learning to understand one another, and treating those with whom we disagree with the same compassion and standards we treat those with whom we do agree. Getting feedback from the choir is lots of fun, but not why one goes into the business. Or shouldn’t be, anyway.

So with that in mind, must the answer to my burning and introspective question be “yes?” I’d love to know your answer (and reasoning), but more importantly, I’d love to hear your voice on what Lucas has to say, whether it’s agreement or otherwise.

And for those who disagree (I have many friends and family who will, as does Lucas!), may grace abound.

Without further ado…

On Super Tuesday, Vote Your Hope
We Need a Better Choice in November

By Lucas Jackson

It’s pretty unlikely that Donald Trump is literally a fascist.

But you don’t have to believe the worst about Trump to recognize that his candidacy has unleashed something dark in our country. Like all demagogues, he’s exploited legitimate grievances. Disastrous trade deals that benefited corporations at the expense of everybody else. A corrupt political system owned by special interests. Politicians who can’t answer simple questions like:

What did you say in your speech to Goldman Sachs?
or
Will you ever lie to the American people?

And like all demagogues, Mr. Trump takes those grievances and spins them to play on the darkness in all of us – racism, prejudice, nationalism, hate.

And he is poised, today, to put a stake through the heart of his GOP opponents and become the most disliked candidate in American history from either party to win the nomination. That is not an opinion, it’s a statistical fact.

The second most disliked candidate in history to win a nomination? Hillary Clinton. Unless she isn’t nominated.

Hillary Clinton is the worst possible candidate to run against Donald Trump. Every one of Trump’s legitimate critiques of the political system hit home with Clinton. Trump is self-funded, Clinton and her Super Pac takes millions from Wall Street. Trump is against terrible “free trade” deals. Clinton has supported them. Trump is even, apparently, against the Iraq war. Clinton voted for it.

But far more than any one issue, Clinton embodies everything that sends so many voters of all parties (including independents) searching for an alternative of some kind. The lack of honesty and trustworthiness. The shifting positions on issues to fit the political mood. The corruption. Many of those voters have fled to Trump. But many have turned away from the siren call of hate and division and instead supported Bernie Sanders, an actual independent who takes no money from special interests, has no Super Pac, is funded by millions of small contributions (the average is, what, 27 bucks? I think we’ve heard that somewhere) and seems to be the rare politician who – agree with him or not – has the courage of his convictions.

With Clinton vs. Trump, the choice is between the same old politics of corruption and greed vs. something even worse.

Democrats scared of losing to Trump might consider supporting the more electable Democrat. And despite multiple polls showing Sanders doing better against Trump than Clinton, the media seems to be convinced that Clinton is more electable. Democrats wary of the rise of Trump may support Clinton out of fear, even if they like Sanders better.

Don’t vote your fear. Vote your hope. Vote your love. Vote your conscience.

The alternative is that come November, we’re left to choose between two troubling candidates – one of them is surrounded by aides who lobbied against the Affordable Care Act, is on record supporting the use of cluster bombs, which mostly kill children, has been involved in coups around the world and promoting perpetual wars of regime change and whose last campaign used racist divisive rhetoric.

The other candidate is Donald Trump.

We can do better.

Disconnected Generations?

My vote this election season will go to Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton.

According to comments made earlier this month by feminist trailblazers Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright, this makes me either a boy-crazy political infidel (Steinem) or someone worthy of a special place in hell (Albright). Judging from the reaction these comments received, I apparently am not the only one who felt angry, bemused, belittled, and befuddled by these statements.

Albright appears to have gotten somewhat of a pass for her oft-repeated statement that there is a “special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.

But Steinem was taken to task on Twitter for her comment, made while speaking to HBO’s Bill Maher earlier this month, “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

Young feminist voters created the hashtag #notherefortheboys to let Steinem know just how far off base her comment was.

#Notherefortheboys clearly demonstrated the disconnect between those who gave birth to the second wave of feminism and those who are riding on it today. Slate magazine writer Christina Cauterucci had this to say about the schism:

These unfortunate statements about young women and the backlashes they triggered reveal a common thread between ageism and sexism, which intersect in ways specific to progressive movements. Some older women are convinced that younger women take for granted the struggles that preceded them and aren’t yet wise enough to lead the movement; some younger women believe that their forbearers are out of touch and old-fashioned, hampered by the racism, heterocentrism, and class divides of feminisms past.

Cauterucci is on to something here.

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What Steinem and Albright Get Wrong About Today’s Feminists

Longtime proponents of women’s rights Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright have experienced some resurgence in the media as of late, but not for defending women’s rights.

Instead, they’ve made headlines for what many are calling anti-feminist views.

Discussing the presidential election in an interview with Bill Maher, Steinem suggested that younger women are voting for Bernie Sanders in an effort to meet boys: “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

Albright, however, has made no such apology for her statement at a Hillary Clinton rally, that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Young feminist voters, who in the Democratic party largely support Sanders’ presidential bid, took umbrage at these statements, and an obligatory new hashtag, #notherefortheboys, was born. No one can blame this new generation of feminists for their anger. Steinem’s statement insultingly dismissed young women as too boy-crazy, naïve, and incompetent to have any real understanding of the political process, while Albright’s statement, while one she’s been making for years, used here seemed an explicit attempt to guilt women into voting for Clinton.

You can read the rest of this article at Sojourners, by clicking here.

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