Kavanaugh and the threat to women

supreme court 2

Today, we stand on the precipice of the fall of Roe. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States is threatening for many reasons but I will focus here on his threat to women’s reproductive health. Trump has been clear that one of his primary criteria for Supreme Court nominees is that they would vote to overturnRoe v. Wade. Kavanaugh appeared on lists prepared by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation of judges who meet this criteria.

What will happen if Roe falls?

If Roe falls, regulation of abortion will revert to the states. This means that some women will continue to have access to abortion while many more will not.

Reversing Roe does nothing to address the causes of unintended pregnancies nor many of the other issues that contribute to women seeking to end their pregnancies including partner violence, inadequate housing and food insecurity, the lack of a living wage, and the difficulty many women and families face in caring for their existing children.

Criminalizing abortion seeks to punish women for their sexual activity, it will hinder many women’s chances to pursue or complete their education, and it will throw many more women and children deeper into poverty.

Right now, four states – Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota – have trigger laws in place that will prohibit most abortions if Roe is overturned. Nine more states have pre-Roe laws on the books that ban abortion but it is unclear what their status might be in a post-Roe legal context.[1]

While most of these laws target physicians or others providing abortion services, there is increasing noise in Republican circles that pregnant women who terminate their pregnancies should be punished. In fact, candidate Trump said as much to Chris Matthews in a heated interview exchange during the Presidential campaign, though Trump refused to specify what that punishment might be. More recently, Republican politician Bob Nonini from Idaho said that women who have abortions should face the death penalty.

The reality is that middle-class women will continue to have access to abortion services, even if they have to travel to other states to procure them. What is at stake with the fall of Roeis the health and well-being of the most marginalized women in our society and their families.

Who has abortions in the US?

Women’s reproductive histories in this country demonstrate a pattern of the social control of women’s bodily autonomy and a denial of women’s moral agency and intelligence. In this context, the conversation about abortion has forced women to justify their desire to end a pregnancy and it has narrowed the list of acceptable reasons for abortion to what I call the PRIM reasons – prenatal health, rape, incest, and life of the mother.

Only 26.5% of abortions in this country fall into these PRIM categories. This means that three-quarters of abortions in this country are what legal scholar Kate Watson calls “ordinary abortions.” It is these women who are routinely shamed and caricatured as selfish, irresponsible, immature, or sexually immoral in a context where women are required to justify their abortions.

Reframing the debate

Women’s Unalienable Rights Cannot Be Subject to Whims of Politics

103168702 - women with american flag
Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

These words from the Declaration of Independence have been echoing through my head in recent weeks. They are particularly present for me today on the 4thof July. The anniversary of the Declaration and the founding of our country.

Particularly as the rights of pregnant women are under imminent threat. And the human rights and well-being of immigrants are presently being violated and abused in this country.

Democracy as revolutionary ideal

In 1776, the idea of democracy was risky. The idea that people could rule themselves was an affront to the traditional monarchic system that had governed Europe for hundreds of years. Tradition and law held that the right to rule was ordained by God and passed down to one’s descendants.

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people was a new political experiment. It was rooted not in the divine right of kings but in a recognition of human dignity and equality.

We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal.

Even so, the founding fathers struggled over what it meant to proclaim that all men are equal before God. Who should actually have access to the rights and privileges of governance? Who would be allowed to vote? Who could serve in elected office? Many of the early patriots were concerned about the consequences for propertied men of allowing all men the right to vote. In considering these questions, James Madison mused in 1787:

Allow the right [to vote] exclusively to property [owners], and the rights of persons may be oppressed… . Extend it equally to all, and the rights of property [owners] …may be overruled by a majority without property….

The founding fathers decided in favor of the privileged. In the first U.S. Presidential election in 1789, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote.

Before we dismiss these actions too quickly as merely a reflection of the cultural attitudes of the time, let us remember the words that Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in March of 1776 as she eagerly awaited to hear if independence had yet been declared.

Remember the Ladies

The letter to her husband, John Adams, makes clear that Abigail was no wilting flower. In fact, she was clearly a force to be reckoned with. Like many women throughout history, she had significant responsibilities for the household, she had strong thoughts about society and politics, and she had a healthy relationship with her husband.

In the midst of updating Adams on what was happening in their community and with their own household, she took the opportunity to offer him some political advice as she knew he would play a key role in setting up the new government:

I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Abigail’s words make it clear that she and other women in the new republic sought a new world for women just as the male founding fathers sought a new world for themselves. Women were developing new ideas about their lives and this included the size of their families. During the Revolutionary Period, women began to take some measure of control over their fertility. Fertility peaked in 1760 with eight to twelve children not uncommon. But this number dropped to seven by 1800, five by 1850, and three and a half by 1900.

Protecting the Rights of US Women

Just as Abigail called her husband to account on how the new country would address the health and well-being of women, it is time to ensure that all women of this country have access to the same rights that are protected for men.

The Declaration of Independence identifies Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as unalienable Rights. These rights cannot be abridged by the government. This means that these rights cannot be taken away.

Women’s ability to be the architects of their own lives requires ensuring that women have the ability to decide when or if they will have children.

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Last Week Was Hard: Moving Reproductive Justice Forward with Faith

Copyright: alekss / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: alekss / 123RF Stock Photo

I’ll be honest. Last week was hard. Facebook feeds, emails, and news headlines indicate I’m not the only one who had a hard week. A hard week, at the end of hard month, in the midst of a long, hard year.

From immigration and union busting to crisis pregnancy centers and pharmacists imposing their religious beliefs on pregnant women to protecting the rights of individuals to discriminate and publicly abuse LGBTQ people. Our country is in the midst of a massive backlash against the very real gains that we have made toward gender equality, racial justice, and LGBTQ inclusion over the past forty years.

And then came the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

Abortion and Reproductive Justice

While there has been much hand-wringing about Kennedy’s replacement on the Supreme Court and what it will mean for abortion – we need to think more broadly than access to abortion. Reproductive Justice requires that we recognize that abortion is not the problem in this country. Abortion is a solution to the prior problem of an unplanned or medically fragile pregnancy.

Reproductive Justice (RJ) calls for three things. The right not to have a child, the right to have a child, and the right to raise your children in safe and healthy environments. Clearly abortion access is recognized as a central and fundamental aspect of RJ, but justice requires a much bigger frame than access to abortion.

In addition to abortion – there are serious problems that interfere with women’s ability to raise their children in safe and healthy environments. These problems are not political but any attempts to address them have been so politicized that progress on dealing with them seems increasingly illusive.

Let me outline just a few of the problems that we face that relate to Reproductive Justice:

Gun violence.

There have been more than 90 mass shootings in the US since 1982. Forty percent of Americans own a gun or live in a home with a gun. This makes the US the top civilian gun-owning country in the world. In 2016, there were more than 38,000 firearm deaths in the US. Firearms kill more people that car accidents.

Poverty.

According to the official poverty measures, more than 1 in 8 people in U.S. live in poverty. That is roughly 40 million people or 12.7% of the population. Half of those are living in extreme poverty falling below half of the poverty threshold. Eighteen percent of children were living in poverty in 2016. In Mississippi, New Mexico, and Louisiana, the rates go up to 30%.

Mass Incarceration.

The US has less than 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the total prison population. This earns us the highest incarceration rate in the world at 716 per 100,000 people. Our rate is six times higher than Canada’s and six to nine times countries in Western Europe. Financing our correctional facilities cost the country an estimated $80 billion annually. Factoring in legal and policing costs, healthcare, construction and other costs associated with incarceration, that number balloons to $182 billion. At the same time, crime rates have been dropping since the early 1990s and are back down to 1960s levels.

Immigration.

Native Americans make up 2% of the US population, the remaining 98% are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. In 2015, one-fifth of the world’s migrants are in the US, numbering about 40 million people. Immigrants make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, the high was 14.8% in 1890. Seventy-six percent of non-citizen immigrants are in the country legally and one-quarter are unauthorized. A 2017 Pew Research study showed that 27% of people fell that immigrants “burden country by taking jobs, housing, healthcare.”

Unplanned pregnancy.

Every year just over 6 million women in the US get pregnant. Almost half of those pregnancies are unplanned. Of these unintended pregnancies, 50-60% of the women were using birth control the month they got pregnant. The average US woman spends 2.7 years pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant and 31 years avoiding pregnancy. Even so, 2.8 million women have unplanned pregnancies every year.

Reproductive Justice

Guns, poverty, mass incarceration, immigration, and unplanned pregnancy. Each of these five “hot-button” issues bear on women’s ability not only to shape their families but to raise their children in safe and healthy environments. Reproductive justice requires that we think about the health and well-being of families in much more comprehensive ways than the nine months of a pregnancy.

We need politicians who are willing to look at the issues that are dividing us as a country and work with experts in the field AND people impacted by these problems to seek to develop meaningful pathways for addressing the root causes of these problems.

We cannot allow narrow ideological commitments rooted in fear, disinformation, and prejudice to shape our laws and public policies.

Progressive Christianity calls us to justice

It’s time to play the long game because we are in this for the long haul as a country and as people of faith. As a progressive Christian, my faith teaches me how to live. I am not beholden to partisan politics but am interested in how elected officials are going to address the deep problems that face us as a country.

My faith teaches me to build community, to care for the down-trodden and to support the weak. My parents and my Sunday school teachers taught me that my task as a Christian is to build the kind of world that Jesus imagined. A world of justice and peace. A world where we care for the orphan, the widow, the stranger. A world where we turn strangers into neighbors through loving them, welcoming them, and working together with them to make this country (and our world) a better place.

This is no utopian imaginary fantasy.

A vision of Reproductive Justice

Reproductive Justice is a vision of justice, kindness, and humility that requires us to reshape our economic policy in ways that allow families to be economically self-sufficient.

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Republican Voices for Choice Retreat Amidst Increased Polarization

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Today the organization Republican Majority for Choice closed its doors and turned out the lights. This organization produced and promoted public policies aimed at helping women and families. It was created in a time when many Republicans recognized abortion as a personal decision that shouldn’t involve government interference. A time when many Republicans supported pro-choice positions and candidates.

I have known many pro-choice Republican women over the years. Their argument was deeply rooted in family planning and represented classically Republican arguments.

Fiscal conservatives should embrace family planning because it reduces poverty, increases educational attainment and work force competitiveness, improves health and provides people the opportunity to make educated moral choices.

End of bi-partisan family policies?

The tragedy is this closure may mark the end of viable bi-partisan support for essential public health measures supporting women and families. This is nowhere more evident than in the recent attempts to limit women’s access to contraception.

One of the most important aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was its mandated coverage of contraceptives. With no out-of-pocket costs. The National Women’s Law Center estimated that 62.4 million had coverage of birth control without out-of-pocket expenses. The ACA’s contraceptive mandate has meant that more poor and low-income women not only have access to birth control – but they have access to more effective forms of contraception.

2.8 million US women have unplanned pregnancies every year. 50-60% of those women were using birth control the month they got pregnant. While contraception helps many women avoid pregnancy, many forms have high failure rates.

Only long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) are highly effective at preventing pregnancy. And the ACA’s contraceptive mandate have made LARCs more accessible to poor and low-income women.

Republican Attacks on Contraception

Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood are not limited to objections to abortion. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a direct attack against one of the most important avenues for women’s reproductive healthcare in the country. After all, Planned Parenthood provides contraception to 80% of their patients.  78% of whom have incomes at or below 150% of the poverty level. Poor and low-income women’s access to contraceptive, STD screenings and treatment, cancer screenings and other gynecological services will be severely damaged by eliminating Planned Parenthood.

Similarly, the Trump Administration’s attempts to expand exclusions for contraceptive coverage that would “allow any organization or individual to deny employees and their families contraceptive coverage on the basis of a religious or moral objection” is a clear privileging of the religious beliefs of individuals over the healthcare needs of women and families across the country.

What does this mean?

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Why Falling U.S. Birthrates are a Good Thing

1666768 - close-up image of a one-day old baby boyDid you hear that birth rates are falling in the U.S.?

A report out from the CDC last week showed that the birth rate fell 2% in 2017. That means that the general fertility rate in the country has fallen by 3%.

In a world of 7.4 billion people, with a growing climate crisis, rampant and severe poverty, and increased militarism and violence related both of these problems – this would seem to be good news.

And yet, all the mainstream reporting I saw focused exclusively on the potentially negative economic consequences of falling birthrates. This concern is rooted in a widely accepted paradigm that economies need “replacement” level birthrates in order to “replace” retiring workers and keep the economy stable.

“Replacement level” birthrates are problematic

However, there are serious flaws in this “accepted wisdom.” Flaws that I rarely hear discussed in conjunction with the hand-wringing about falling birthrates. To name just a few:

  • healthier, longer lives mean people are retiring later and later
  • millenials are having a hard time finding jobs
  • technology is eliminating jobs
  • many available jobs don’t pay a living wage

The job market and our economy have radically changed in the last fifty years. While we do need to figure out how to maintain a stable economy, the emphasis on “replacement population” is an outdated and dangerous way to think about fertility rates.

After all, there is general agreement that the earth’s carrying capacity (the number of people the earth can sustain) is not unlimited. That said, there is some disagreement about what we should do in response. There are three major strategies to address the problem.

  • technology will fix it.
  • we must live more simply.
  • we need to reduce our numbers.

These correspond to three primary approaches: technology (meaning largely business and industry), changing cultural habits and expectations, and global population control.

Technology approach

The technology approach argues that human ingenuity is so vast that humans can innovate our way out of anything. Scientists will eventually figure out how to genetically modify crops so that will feed the growing human population. We will devise ways new approaches to renewable energy sources that will power all of our devices forever and at very little cost. We will create new and unforeseen solutions to our garbage and waste disposal problems. Including nuclear and environmental waste. We will figure out how to colonize other planets and relocate there. This approach allows us to live our lives unchanged and unburdened by guilt or concern for our environmental footprint.

Culture change approach

The culture change approach begins from the fact that many people across the globe are consuming more resources than the earth has to offer. Most of us know that U.S. Americans consume more than our fair share. One popular way of illustrating this is to point out that we would need at least four or five planets to sustain the world’s population living at our level of consumption. From our reliance on our cars and fossil fuels to our love of air conditioning and fast food – we live lives that take a heavy toll on the earth’s resources. The “simple living” movement seeks to help individuals reduce our individual “ecological footprint” by eating less meat, using public transportation and walking more, and recycling. This approach holds that if people live more responsibly we can solve the problem.

Global population control approach

The global population control approach maintains that there are simply too many people on the planet. With 83 million people added to the world’s population every year, we are projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050. And at current fertility rates we are expected to surpass 11.2 billion by 2100. Given that fertility rates are below replacement levels in many of the wealthier countries and stand at around 4.3 births per woman in the 47 least developed countries – it is usually poor women who are blamed for the problem of overpopulation. The emphasis of this approach is to focus on lowering the fertility rates of the poorest of the poor in our world.

Intersectional approach

There are clearly strengths and weaknesses in each of these approaches. Yet, the reality of our climate crisis is so profound that we must recognize no one approach is going to save us. It will require embracing technological innovation, living more simply, and reducing the size of our global population. And not just the growing population of the world’s poorest people. After all, the people in those 47 countries have far smaller ecological footprints than children born in the U.S.

A recent environmental report looked at the top four lifestyle changes that people could make to reduce their environmental impact. Out of living car free, avoiding airplane travel, eating a plant-based diet, and having one fewer child – the choice of having one less child had far and away the largest impact. This is not surprising given that the ecological footprint of a child born in the U.S. is 8.4 hectares (we rank sixth highest) compared to the .8 hectare impact of a child born in Afghanistan (they rank sixth lowest).

Getting ourselves out of the mess that we made will require the human community to 1666768 - close-up image of a one-day old baby boydevelop new and imaginative ways of thinking about work, labor, wealth, productivity, and the common good. It will also require us to work together in heretofore unseen and unimagined ways.

One more reason to welcome immigrants

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How Two Minutes Can Help Feed 2 Million People

 

child hunger

Copyright: <a href=”https://www.123rf.com/profile_djedzura”>djedzura / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

SNAP benefits, which help to feed the hungry, are on the chopping block. Today is a national call-in day to urge our Representatives to vote “no” on the House Farm Bill due to the immoral cuts to SNAP. SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the federal program that helps feed people across the country.

The threat of moral failure

42 million people in the US don’t have consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. We used to simply call this hunger.

One in eight Americans, including 13 million children in our country don’t have enough food to eat.

In the richest country in the world.

For Christians, this fact represents our complete moral failure to address the most basic requirement of our faith: to feed the hungry.

The Christian imperative to feed the hungry

When the crowds in Luke asked John the Baptist how they were to live, he told them:

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. (Luke 3:11)

And in describing the judgment of nations, Jesus again makes it clear how we are to live:

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. (Matt 25:34)

Why SNAP matters

Many people don’t know that the SNAP program, which used to be known as “food stamps,” is part of the US Farm bill.

The US House of Representatives is on the verge of passing a new Farm bill that will cut SNAP benefits for about two million Americans, many of them children. If you want more details about the bill, you can find them here.

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All I Want for Mother’s Day is . . . An End to Poverty

poor people's campaign

We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way. . . and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.

Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1968, three-thousand people set up a protest camp on the Washington Mall to demand economic justice. Those protestors were part of the Poor People’s Campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Martin Luther King, Jr and his colleagues at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to raise awareness about poverty and economic justice in the country.

King and his colleagues had turned their focus to economic justice after recognizing that the approach of demanding civil rights was not adequately addressing the reality of poverty that faced so many African Americans in the late sixties. What they knew was that poverty in this country is not due to laziness or generational neglect or any of the other dozens of clichés that dominate public perceptions of the poor.

Structural Nature of Poverty

The leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign rightly recognized that there were structures in our society that worked to keep people poor. Some of the ways that we have shaped an unjust society include these structures:

  • Wage structures that do not pay people a living wage.
  • Poverty thresholds that do not adequately measure poverty.
  • Biased requirements for business loans, home ownership loans, car loans.
  • A lack of affordable housing units or rent or purchase.

The point of highlighting the structural nature of poverty is to help people see that individual poor people can’t do anything about low wages, or poverty thresholds, their inability to get a loan, or their inability to find housing they can afford. No matter how hard they work. While we may never be able to overcome poverty, societies can structure our economies in ways that are more just.

Issues of economic justice had long been key to King’s vision of a just world.  In his 1964 Nobel Prize speech he noted, “Just as nonviolence exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, so must the infection and sickness of poverty be exposed and healed–not only its symptoms but its basic causes.”

The Biblical Call to Overthrow Poverty

Recognizing that poverty is a result of injustice is as old as the Hebrew bible. In Isaiah 58, as the prophet lays out God’s vision of justice, we hear these words:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  (Is. 58:6-7)

The vision of justice in the Bible is a vision of a world where those who have share with others and where we work together as a society to break the bonds that hold people in poverty – the bonds of injustice.

In 1968, 12.8% of the population lived in poverty. The protestors who showed up for The Poor People’s Campaign camped out on the Washington Mall for six weeks to raise awareness about the plight of poverty in the U.S.

King was in the midst of organizing the Campaign when he responded to the call of the sanitation workers in Memphis to help out with their campaign. Indeed, he spoke about the sanitation strike as a major part of the Campaign. The sanitation workers strike highlighted both the unjust economic conditions of some of the hardest working laborers in our country as well as the unsafe working conditions threatened the health and safety of poor, working-class people.

A New Poor People’s Campaign

Remarkably, the poverty rate today is virtually the same as it was in 1968. In 2016 (the most recent year data available) stood at 12.7%. Though the incidence of poverty is arguably higher today than it was fifty years ago as economists widely agree that the poverty thresholds, which were established in 1963, should actually be doubled to capture the lived reality of poverty in the U.S.

 

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Reflecting on Theological Giants

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James H. Cone. Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary, NYC

On Saturday, like many people across the country, I heard the news that James Cone had passed. Serving on the Union Theological Seminary faculty for almost fifty years means that Dr. Cone literally taught generations of seminarians, and I was fortunate to be one of those folks.

I still remember the first day of his systematic theology class, in the first semester of my first year of seminary. Sitting in that lecture hall in 1992, with nearly 100 students and watching him take the podium and explain to us that he was a the-o-lo-gian (in his classic, high-pitched, Southern drawl), and what that meant for him as a scholar and a black man from Arkansas, was highlight of my seminary career.

He taught the contemporary “half” of the systematic theology course which focused largely on the twentieth century, but he came alive when lecturing about liberation theology! As the father of black liberation theology and one of the leading liberation theologians since the publication of his 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power, Cone had a front-row seat for the development of liberation theologies across the globe from the 1960s through the 1990s when I had him as a professor.

He could be an electric lecturer, and more than once, his weekly lectures ended in standing ovations. It was inspirational to learn about the liberation theology from a man who knew personally most of the people whose work he taught. He told personal stories about their lives and their work and made the social contexts out of which their positions developed come alive.

Cone’s own development of black theology was a response to the notion that Christianity was “the white man’s religion.” He responded with an adamant, “No! The Christian gospel is not the white man’s religion. It is a religion of liberation, a religion that says God created all people to be free.”

This message, which is at the heart of all liberation theologies—that Christianity is a religion of liberation—is what drew me to Union Theological Seminary to study with the giants of the field at the time, including Beverly Wildung Harrison, James Cones, Delores Williams, and Larry Rasmussen.

While giants in the field, they were also folks, and folks are flawed—all of us. Cone was criticized throughout his career for his failure to adequately address his own sexism (though he had been persuaded to use inclusive language by the time I had him in class). Likewise, my mentor, Beverly Harrison, struggled with her own internalized racism throughout her career as well. I learned from these theological giants both the importance and necessity of liberation theologies that transform our faith, our life, and our world as well as the reality that we all fall short in this lifetime. In watching these mentors, I learned the necessity of always being on the lookout for my own demons and shortcomings.

The liberation insights I learned from Cone and others are foundational to my own feminist liberation ethics and particularly informed the argument in my new book, Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice. Like Cone, I refuse to cede Christianity to those who seek to own and define it in ways that reject liberation and freedom. In my case, I refuse to cede Christianity to the pro-life voices who insist that Christianity is against abortion.

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The Danger of Evangelicals – It’s Not About Hillary Anymore

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leirbagarc / 123RF Stock Photo

We Didn’t Have a “Choice”

In the aftermath of the 2016 election many evangelicals claimed that with Hillary on the ballot, they had no choice but to vote for Trump. One prominent evangelical went so far as to systematize and categorize the many reasonsthat evangelicals dislike Clinton.

Apparently, there are six such categories ending with the simple “we just don’t like her.” It has become a well-worn fact that eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. A statistic that absolutely floored me and many other non-Evangelical Christians after the election.

Trump is the “Dream” President – Really?

However, the fact is Hillary has virtually disappeared from the national political stage and Evangelicals continue to support Trump in record numbers undermines any credibility that white evangelicals are “values voters.”  At least with regards to any values that I have ever known to be associated with Christianity.

Jerry Falwell Jr. even dubbed Trump evangelicals’ “dream President.” This is baffling to anyone familiar with the traditionalist politics and rhetoric of the Moral Majority. The Moral Majority, which was spearheaded by Jr.’s father, was notorious for its moralizing against gays and lesbians, feminists, abortion, and other issues deemed “sinful” by Falwell’s conservative, traditionalist brand of evangelical Christianity.

But, it appears that philandering, participating in prostitution, sexual assault and generally boorish behavior are ok with Falwell and his crowd of evangelicals.

This new generation of evangelicals – the Trump-evangelicals – don’t seem to care about personal character at all. Their primary interest in promoting an ideological agenda of capitalist individualism has eclipsed any capacity to recognize the common-sense values of decency, kindness, and radical love of the stranger that marked the ministry of Jesus.  The man these men claim to follow.

Ideology Trumps Christianity

While I have no love lost for their fathers (Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell), the fact that the sons – Franklin and Jerry, Jr. actually supported the campaign of Roy Moore in Alabama, who was largely regarded as a sexual predator, raises serious questions about the morality of this generations evangelical leaders.

The fact that evangelical support of Trump is at an all-time high now, 18 months out from the 2016 election speaks to a deeply dangerous fact about evangelicalism in America today. Ideological commitment to capitalism and individualism has “trumped” the majority of evangelicals ability to recognize the radical call of the gospel and the prophets to love of neighbor and shaping our society in ways that care for the least of these.

Christian Values I was Taught

I think about the words of the benediction that my father spoke at the end of every service while I was growing up:

Go out into the world in peace;
have courage;
hold on to what is good;
return to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is a simple but profound message of what I learned is the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

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Paul Ryan Surprised to Find Christianity is Political

 

House_Chaplain_Patrick_J._Conroy

Two weeks ago, Paul Ryan fired Father Patrick J. Conroy, the first Jesuit chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. Father Ryan is also the first House chaplain ever to have been fired.

Conroy was nominated for the position in 2011 by Speaker of the House John Boehner in consultation with Nancy Pelosi and has been reelected every two years at the beginning of each new session of the House.

While Conroy was not given a reason for being asked to resign, he did note that a prayer he offered in November as Congress was debating the new tax bill caused a surprising response from the Speaker’s office.

His prayer included the following:

May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. . . May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.

The following week someone from the speaker’s office chastised Father Conroy saying, “We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political.” Not too long after that reprimand, Ryan told Father Conroy directly, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

Conroy countered, “That is what I have tried to do for seven years. It doesn’t sound political to me.” And yet, this prayer was the first time anyone from the speaker’s office had ever accused him of being “too political.”

What’s going on?

At its core, what this controversy highlights is an ongoing divide in this country over what it means to be Christian. This is not a struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism (Ryan and Conroy are both Catholics) but a struggle between an understanding of faith as a private affair focused on individual piety and salvation and faith as a community endeavor focused on promoting the common good.

As a lifelong Presbyterian, I look for candidates for public office who are also concerned about addressing poverty, racism, social exclusion, violence against women and minorities (including sexual minorities) and other social problems that ravage our communities.

As a Christian ethicist, I believe that all people of faith bring our faith commitments and beliefs to the public square when we debate public policy and legislation and that we should. The faith commitments that we hold naturally shape how we think about economic and social policy.

My faith as a progressive Christian is rooted in the social gospel tradition of Jesus’ championing of the poor and marginalized and the Hebrew prophets insistence that the community care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger – those who are most marginal in our society.

Jesus and the Poor

Jesus didn’t say to the lame, “Rise up and go get a job!” or to the poor, “If you only worked harder you could care for your family!”

No. Jesus recognized that the structures of his society were unjust. He also recognized the vagaries of life and that circumstances of ill health, untimely death, a lost job, or other tragedy are part of life. When he said “the poor you will always have with you” (John 12:8), it was not an invitation to accept the reality of poverty as an inevitable fact of life. Rather, it was an assessment of the injustice inherent in human societies and a challenge to us to do better. A challenge to us to do what Deuteronomy 15 calls us to do:

“If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. . . . Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.”

Poverty in the U.S.

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