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Topic: Justice Ministry

Asked about Donald Trump's Wall, Pope Francis Suggests He 'Is Not Christian'
2/18/2016 6:01:24 PM

In quite an amazing statement, Pope Francis had some very specific words to say about Donald Trump, the current leading Republican contender for president. From the New York Times:
Inserting himself into the Republican presidential race, Pope Francis on Wednesday suggested that Donald J. Trump “is not Christian” because of the harshness of his campaign promises to deport more immigrants and force Mexico to pay for a wall along the border.

A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said when a reporter asked him about Mr. Trump on the papal airliner as he returned to Rome after his six-day visit to Mexico.
Let's see if the blowhard will use his usual hostile language against the Pope....

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Violence All Across the World, including Ferguson, Missouri
8/15/2014 6:59:46 PM

The latest information about the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, can be found at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Let me try to put this in the context of the broader social history in this country.

One of the facts that we human beings try to screen out of our conscious awareness is the degree to which violence characterizes social relations. This has been especially true of the relations between white and black people in this country. Slavery was, obviously, based on the use of absolute violent power of one group over the other. This country experienced an extremely bloody civil war in the 1860s over slavery. Then white people in the South continued to exercise a kind of violent terror power over black people for another one hundred years or so. Then the South was forced by the federal government to change its ways of segregation as a result of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The South turned to the Republican Party in outrage over this federal action. The country ever since has been characterized by a backlash politics against liberals who support civil rights and the federal government which enforced the new laws against segregation.

The general reaction to the 1960s, especially the blowup of inner cities after the killing of Martin Luther King in 1968, has been more "law and order", more police, more prisons, more hard line tough talk against (black) criminals. White people left the cities in a mass migration leaving central cities and older suburbs to the elderly, the poor, and the black. A very nasty political rhetoric grew up in right wing radio blaming everything on poor and black people themselves. The weakest members of society were blamed by these talk show hosts and the Republican Party became the party of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, a party of hate and hostility calling for more and more police, for more and more guns, for more and more military equipment, both here at home and across the world. Guns and violence are the solution to all problems. This is the rhetoric of right wing radio and the Republican Party.

It is no wonder, then, that a police officer confronted with a somewhat ambiguous situation pulls out his gun and shoots someone he thought was dangerous, a big black teenage man, exactly the kind of person who is stereotyped by white people as themselves violent and dangerous. White people believe, urged on by a right-wing-oriented media, that we need police and guns and violence to make us safe. And the more police and guns we have the more violence is experienced in our communities. In fact, the saying is true: "the more police the more violence."

We cannot expect order in our communities as long as white people are so afraid and scared of black people. Media organizations like Fox News not only report in a racist manner, they actually stoke racism, they encourage racism among whites in the community because that gets them viewers and advertisers. Some at Fox even started talking about the New Black Panther party as if it is a factor in this story, which is completely ridiculous. If there is anything to be afraid of in the minds of racist whites, it is a big strong black person who might be angry about the way he has been treated in this country. White people know the anger of blacks, they know how they would feel were they treated the way black people have been and are treated in this country. That's why whites are so scared; they know that blacks are actually justified in having rage at whites for being treated so horribly over long decades now. If you listen carefully, this is what right wing radio is constantly talking about, "taking from one group and giving to another" and all the talk of welfare and taxes. The fact is that black slaves and black people have doing the real work in the country all this time, but that fact doesn't fit the need for whites to look down on and hate black people.

None of this is going to change until white people stop listening to right wing radio, Fox News, and like media, or we all decide to put these groups out of business by new rules about telling the truth in public media.

Of course, a white policeman who guns down a black teenager should be prosecuted. But that policeman is only doing what a large part of the community wants him to do, be violent against blacks. It is the Republican Party which promotes hatred and violence and racism. No one should ever vote for any candidate of that party until it changes its racist ways.
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Gay Marriage Ban Ending in England and Wales on Saturday
3/29/2014 2:10:22 PM

As of today, March 29, 2014, same sex couples can be married in England and Wales. An article in the Washington Post indicated: "Unlike in the United States and other countries that have been roiled by debates over gay rights, marriage equality has overwhelming support here, and was passed by a comfortable majority in Parliament in July."

In the United States, of course, politics has been greatly influenced by a hostile religious right which has demonized gay persons. But this influence is losing ground now especially among younger adults. A number of states now allow same sex marriage.

England seems less influenced by a religious right. Marriage equality enjoys support from all sides of the political process.
Leaders of all three main parties — including the ruling Conservatives — backed the bill, and Prime Minister David Cameron championed its passage. In an article for the Web site PinkNews published late Friday, Cameron hailed the new law. “It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth,” Cameron wrote for the Web site, which describes itself as Europe’s largest gay news service. “It also sends a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality. It clearly says ‘you are equal’ whether straight or gay.”
Gay people have been a persecuted minority for many long centuries. Let us celebrate what is happening in in England and Wales today.
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Social Justice in New York City
1/1/2014 4:33:11 PM

Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in on January 1 at the 2014 New York City Inauguration. In his speech for the inauguration he said clearly that his commitment to social and economic justice was not just a campaign theme but that he means to begin implementing those goals now in terms of how he governs.

New York is the nation's largest city. The fact that it has elected a mayor on the basis of a platform stressing the problem of inequality is not a small matter. It may well be a sign that inequality in the country has become so significant that it can no longer be ignored within the political process. Persons with an interest in public life would do well to think through their own commitment to social justice as they contemplate a run for office. We need many more folks to run for office who are able to talk about justice issues in concrete and helpful ways.

Watch this video of the deBlasio inauguration to see how he does it.

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A Way of Speaking that Wins Elections
9/6/2012 4:54:27 PM

Bill Clinton spoke to the Democratic National Convention last night in a way that amazed those gathered there as well as representatives of the media. It was interesting to me that there was a big response to his speech. I considered it an excellent speech, but not much better than many others I have heard in my lifetime. What was good about it is that it really exposed the way Republicans have been talking about issues and how wrong they are and how they are, in fact, in many ways, simply lying.

For example, Clinton spoke about how the Ryan budget changes the Medicaid program (not Medicare, Medicaid, the health program for the poor) in ways that will seriously threaten funding for nursing homes for the elderly. Most people don't realize it is Medicaid that provides these funds, not Medicare. If the Ryan budget became the law of the land we would see seniors thrown out of nursing homes across the country. That is simply the truth; Ryan and Republicans cannot get by with saying they want to save money by ending social programs and not reckon with the reality of what will happen when that is done: real people, lots of real people, will suffer and die.

What gives me some hope for this election is that Bill Clinton provided a model of how to speak politically this election season. It's not an easy thing to figure out, how to speak to win an election, in any particular political season. It's the same problem for any pastor, how to preach in such a way as to create a church. It is the speaking, it is the preaching, which "creates" the context and the following, creates the reality of a spiritual or a political event. Clinton has created a model way for speaking for all those others running for office in this fall's election. He has also set a verbal baseline of understanding the issues of the day for use by commentators and pundits which is much more favorable to Democrats than it would have been otherwise.

Concerning how to speak of religion and politics today, my favorite so far is Sister Simone Campbell, one of the Nuns on the Bus, who spoke at the same convention. See her talk below.

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God Demands Justice
11/17/2011 3:38:12 PM

Many people sit down to read the bible all the way through. They often do so with the idea of finding an answer to the central question of "how do I obtain eternal life." This is the question popular Christianity has presented as what's most important about life. But then people get confused because nearly the entire Old Testanment says little about this question. What readers are confronted with is mostly history, conflict, war, the struggle of the people of Israel to be faihful to their God. And what they will see as the central issue, if they read carefully and clearly, is that the God presented in these scriptures is a God who demands justice in the midst of this very real world, justice in economic relations among people, justice in the relations among nations, justice in the relation between God and his people.

Then, if people are able to read as far as the New Testament they will see how Jesus is presented as continuing this same understanding of God. In fact in Luke Jesus announces the beginning of his ministry with words from Isaiah about releasing the captives just as Israel was delivered from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Jesus witnesses to this same God who demands justice in the pages of the Old Testament.

This God of justice is not the result of speculative reason, it is not the result of personal contemplation or meditation, it is not a warm, fuzzy feeling as a result of therapy. The God of justice is the God revealed in the scriptures and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those theologies or spiritual practices which focus on God as love fail to be faithful to the whole nature of God as a God demanding justice in history. The word "love" tends toward a mushy sentimentality in contemporary consciousness. But the love of a God demanding justice has nothing to do with such sentimentality, it is known through a most catastrophic event, a political death on a cross. To love God and neighbor is to do justice in the world of human affairs here and now and be willing to suffer the consequences.

I am thinking about this today because so many in the church have difficulty understanding how to relate to contempory politics, who question whether they are able to enter into active political engagement. The Occupation movement occurring right now is a movement for justice, it is an outbreak of people starting in the Middle East and now spreading to cities across the United States which is making demands, demands that are being articulated as demands for justice. From my own interpretaion of recent history in this country I can only say that I believe this movement to be in the power of the Spirit of God who demands justice in human affairs. Christians can point to this movement and say: here is a place where God is at work in the world today.

This is not a partisan political movement. In fact, most of the people I have met in the movement are alienated from both political parties, both political parties have failed to stand up against the dominating power of the financial elites in this country. Money rules, money has become the "sovereign" in determining the future. In political theory there are debates over the notion of sovereignty, the one behind the rules who determines the law. Americans are told that they themselves are sovereign, the people rule in a democracy such as the United States. But the fact is that money now rules all the processes of institutional politics in this country. It is not the people but the banks which rule, that's why the Occupy movement this very day, November 17, has made the big banks the target of their protests. As I write in Portland, Oregon, hundreds of protestors have closed several of the largest banks in the city. These folks are doing what they should do in a democracy, peacefully assemble and make their demands known. And Christians especially can fully support these demands because they are demands for justice. It is not partisan politics, it is politics in the larger sense, it is a demand that government serve not the interests of the big banks and the wealthy elite but the very real needs of people to be able to make a fair wage and live in a just society.

For Christians, the ultimate sovereign is a God demanding justice. The call of this God is to join this Occupy movement at this time.

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Understanding Protest Movements
11/15/2011 3:35:52 PM

This past Saturday night I joined a group of clergy marching at 10pm to the Occupy encampment in Portland, Oregon. Mayor Sam Adams had ordered police to remove the protesters from two parks in downtown Portland at midnight. We went to bear witness to peace and justice, carrying candles and singing songs, letting the police know we were watching. A friend of mine, Yousif Jabbary, took a bunch of pictures of the event. Thousands of people arrived that night to support the few hundred who had been camping for over a month. Although there were people of all ages there, most were younger folks. I was inspired by the dedication and courage of these folks. Despite the fact that the parks were cleared throughout the earlier morning hours, this Occupy movement in Portland, as around the country, is not going to go away. Last night I watched as a group of three hundred gathered in Pioneer Square to discuss plans for future events, including a national day of action on November 17th.

The media accounts of these events tend to focus on the breaking of the law. The parks were occupied illegally, no permits were requested. Pressure mounted on the mayor to do something. But it is important to realize that the willingness to break the law is a key factor in protest movements. The "law" is established by "authority" and it is exactly the message of the Occupy movement that the authorities in this country, both political and financial, have become corrupt, that the rules have been rigged in favor of the wealthy one-percent.

The one most important fact I have observed over the past four decades is the astounding growth of the power and domination of corporations over the lives and minds and communities of the people of this country. Money completely controls politics today. The corporate elite have been able to set the rules (the law) in such a way as to allow them to enrich themselves obscenely and in the process to create a financial crisis which has severely damaged the whole country. The rich have been taking much more out of the system than they deserve. I am not opposed to the rich as such. However, the concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a few has now become obscene. When young fathers have to work two or three jobs to feed their families something has gone terribly wrong with this society. When government bails out the wealthy and sends the police after peaceful protesters, it becomes clear who the authorities are serving. The police are used to protect the interests of wealth and power. It is "state violence" against the people.

The fact that young people are standing up against gross inequality and are willing to break the law to do so is a real sign of hope for me. I encourage pastors and congregations to find ways to support the Occupy movement in their areas. Remember that Jesus got into considerable trouble for breaking rules of his day.

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The Republican Attack on Poor Women
2/20/2011 4:59:46 PM

Some voters who elected Tea Party Republicans might be surprised by the priorities of the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives. These lawmakers have not focused on jobs or the economy, but on abortion. Yes, the highest and most important item on their agenda is not a Tea Party concern, but a concern of social conservatives otherwise known as the religious right.

This demonstrates again that the "Tea Party" is not a new thing, it is the way the so-called Christian Right is now expressing itself. These so-called Christians have a history of hiding who they are, their candidates often don't admit to their real priorities. But now we see them for who they are.

Abortion is not a moral issue for these folks, not really. Abortion is a wedge issue masking a deeper hostility against the whole movement of equality for women. In fact, it is part of the political backlash against the civil rights gains of black people, especially poor black women on welfare. For three decades now I have been watching the development of this hostile sexually-based politics on the part of Republican males. Now that the Tea Party has gained control of one branch of congress we see the depth of this hostility in a recent vote to defund Planned Parenthood and services for poor women. I have to say clearly, this whole attack is disgusting to me.

Here you have grown white men standing up for what they claim to be high moral values, a concern for life, when what they are really doing is expressing the worst sort of hatred for the least powerful members of society, poor women. What is this supposed to accomplish for the economy? Nothing. It only damages the economy further. It does demonstrate that the whole political approach of the Republican Party is now absolutely corrupt.

The Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament were absolutely clear about this. Listen to Jeremiah: "seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." (Jer. 7)

The just treatment of widows and orphans is a constant refrain for these prophets, but this is not the concern for Republican leaders today; no, their first priority is to attack programs designed to help poor women, justified by a cynical appeal to abortion as a moral issue. As I say, it is disgusting to me.

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A Real Spirit of Peace
2/11/2011 1:26:05 PM

It has just been announced that Hosni Mubarak has left the presidential palace. The people of Egypt have won a victory but it was not through violence, it was not by force of arms, it was through massive, peaceful demonstrations in the street. Just what is ahead is uncertain, political instititutions must be created through which the will of the people can be sustained over time, no easy task.

What I think is most remarkable is the way this happened, it happened peacefully. The large mobs of people did not turn to violence despite being provoked many times. In further analysis of this movement I will be looking to see who was involved and what was done to make this such an effective but peaceful force.

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek has called it a "miracle" in an article I just placed on this website. It represents a real spirit of peace in concrete terms. Peace is viewed so often as an abstraction, but we are here seeing it in action. And Zizek clearly distinquishes between a true emancipatory movement and hostile, right wing movements based on hatred and exclusion (like the Tea Party and radio talkers in this country). The people of Egypt have put up with an unjust, oppressive regime for three decades and now they have created a space in the world for freedom. It should be an inspiration for us all and it should also help clarify what has been happening in the politics in our own country.

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Facing Death at the Center of Life
6/14/2010 2:13:41 PM

I have placed on the website a couple articles about William Stringfellow. He was a significant figure for me in my intellectual development. When an undergraduate at St. Olaf College someone there believed it was important enough to provide a bus to another midwest Lutheran college to hear a lecture by Stringfellow. He talked about evil, with an example of Marilyn Monroe, not as a person but as a bodily image, how her image was used in the media to represent the perfection of beauty, and how when other women viewed that image they internalized it as a standard of beauty against which they imaged their own bodies negatively, thus rejecting themselves and their own bodies. Evil is that which leads us to reject ourselves, to think of ourselves lesser than we are able to think of ourselves as creatures made in the image of God. We let evil into our minds when we let the standards of this world negate us as unworthy.

Then, later, Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, invited Stringfellow to speak at its commencement ceremony. A group of us who were going into the seminary went to hear him talk. He spoke to the graduates of death. I thought it was a strange topic for an occasion oriented to the future, facing death at the center of life seemed strange. Lutherans were somehow interested in this Episcopal layperson and lawyer speaking about death.

Part of the reason for this was probably that Stringfellow had gone to set up a legal practice in the midst of the black community of Harlem. He was speaking about death from the center of the city, where he saw the results of modern institutions in their total failure to deliver on peace and justice for all in the city in the 1960s. It was from Stringfellow that I received the sense that to really do the work of the gospel one needed to go into the midst of the city, as I later did during an internship on the west of Chicago at Community Lutheran Church. That was in 1965 just as Martin Luther King had decided to come to Chicago to begin his movement to end slums in which I was involved.

While still in college a group of us participated in a field trip to Washington D.C. to study politics and government there. After the conference we drove our car to New York City and one of us remembered that Stringfellow lived there, so we stopped and called him up and asked if we could visit. He invited us to his apartment where we spent a couple hours talking about death. He connected even sex with death. Through sex comes new life but for Stringfellow one could not understand sex without facing death.

Later after I got married it did seem that within the sex act one is spent, one gives up one's self and one's powers entirely to the other. I read Stringfellow's books and it was there that I came to see the radical nature of the affirmative word of God over against the false promises of the principalities and powers of this world, powers such as carried in the images such as Marilyn Monroe. Not that she is evil, not that her body is evil, but the way her image is used for evil which causes death of the human spirit.

It is only recently that I have become aware that Stringfellow was homosexual. We now live in a time, thankfully, when that fact is not something to hold against him. I can now also better understand his experience as one who was rejected and isolated and made to live as if dead. But it is even more amazing for me to recognize in this man the strength of faith which comes from a real hearing of the Word of God at the center of life.

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Send Money to ACORN Now!
9/19/2009 4:52:44 PM

If you were walking down the street and you saw a friend of yours being viciously attacked you would do whatever you could to stop the attack and give aid to your friend. That is happening right now to an organization which is a friend and active participant in the movement for social justice in this country. Fox News is on the attack, it has picked up swords and is slashing away at ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

Glenn Beck of Fox News has been successful in getting rid of Van Jones, was the key instigator of the right wing mob which marched in Washington D.C. last weekend, and is now continuing to attack ACORN. Republican leaders in Congress are now joining in the attack. It seems as if the Republican Party has become the party of hate. It has no real arguments for governmental policy, it now relies on generating hatred based on explicit racism. ACORN is a black-dominated group which has been very effective in working for such goals as affordable housing in the country. Karl Rove hated ACORN and tried to force state federal prosecutors to investigate their successful voter registration drives which brought the poor and minorities to the voting booth. Never has it been so clear that the Republican Party has become a party of the white South determined to make the hate and hostility of racism a central force in the politics of the country.

One way to support ACORN right now is to give your money, read about the Fox attack and then click on Donate in the upper menu to support this friend of social and economic justice. Only if people who reject racism in politics act strongly to support our friends will it be possible to overcome the forces of hate as now being expressed by Fox News.
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Another Big Book on Justice
3/17/2009 4:10:50 PM

John Rawls was the last well known philosopher to write big books on justice and political liberalism, now Nicholas Wolterstorff has written another one, Justice: Rights and Wrongs, which is being urgently debated at The Immanent Frame, a discussion site sponsored by the Social Science Research Council. While Rawls grounds his conception of justice in liberal contract theory, Wolterstorff grounds his on a theory of basic rights which he believes can be drawn from the bible and theistic faith. The article accessed with the above link talks about the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations and says it is based on some of the language of Catholic theology. And goes on to say:
Wolterstorff argues that the “conception of justice as inherent rights was not born in the fourteenth century or the seventeenth century.” Debunking the notion that natural rights are the outgrowth of philosophical nominalism and the European Enlightenment, he pronounces this narrative “indisputably false.”

Along the way, Wolterstorff critiques the notion that rights talk is an offshoot of modern individualism. Questioning Stanley Hauerwas’ claim that the language of rights “underwrites a view of human relations as exchanges,” he presents an account of justice that is irreducibly communal. Wolterstorff also takes on those philosophers who would ground their accounts of justice in the classical Greek and Roman descriptions of the well-lived life. In his judgment, such approaches fail to take into account the inherent worth of human beings.

Rather than treating rights as a modern invention, Wolterstorff traces them back to the early church fathers and the Bible itself. Noting the prominence of the “quartet of the vulnerable” throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, he sees the protection of “widows, orphans, resident aliens, and the poor” as central to the biblical text. Criticizing those who would “de-justicize” the New Testament, he contends it “is all about justice.” Citing the focus of the Gospels on “lifting up those at the bottom,” Wolterstorff celebrates Jesus of Nazareth’s “expanded vision of the downtrodden.”
My first reaction to this is "wow". This kind of talk turns a lot of stuff upside down, including the evangelicals or the religious right who like to pit their version of Christianity against rights talk, which they view as an invention by the secular humanists. And they don't much like the United Nations since they tend to believe that the United States has been uniquely given a divine mission.

Though Stanley Hauerwas has many followers, and there is something to be admired in his thought, he and the so-called "radical orthodoxy" movement, or the "emerging church" movement, have tended to see themselves as creating a separate space for themselves away from modernity rather than provide an interpretation which exposes it and still makes it possible to live fully within it and claim responsibility for it, as finally must be done if one is to be faithful to the breadth of the gospel. The Reformation taught us the church is not a cloister.

So, Wolterstorff says rights are based on the "worth of human beings." Hmmm, sounds sort of, well, logical. Who is it that doesn't believe that today? Maybe those folks who engaged in financial speculations not caring who it would hurt or neoconservatives who feel it is just fine to torture others. The whole economics profession does not have a very high regard for human beings, at least in stated theories. And too many business folks believe the "free market" should be free of any moral considerations as if the economy functions autonomously in its own space apart from society and any public responsibility. The business ethic seems to be: "If you can get by with it and it makes money just do it." At least that's what comes to mind right now in these times when we are becoming more and more aware of gross violations of public trust by those running the largest financial institutions in the country.

So, alas, here is another book to read. If you yourself read the book let me know. I would like to see some discussion about it here.
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