Archives for October 2011
Sojourners has always tried to understand and advocate for “biblical politics.” But what does that mean now, especially as we approach another major election?
I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots — he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, “If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice.”
In other words, poverty isn’t caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.
To change injustice, you must confront politics. British abolitionist William Wilberforce, for example, didn’t only call upon English Christians to release slaves; he wanted to end the slave trade, and that required a long political campaign. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t content to only ask U.S. Christians not to personally practice discrimination against black people; he understood that the nation needed a civil rights law and a voting rights act. Both took leadership from the White House and votes in Congress. All these changes took politics to accomplish.
Another friend of mine recently told me she has watched the powerful movie about Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, five times this year and was deeply inspired. I was too when I first watched the story of the Wesleyan convert who made ending slavery the mission of his life. But I’ve always thought that the movie focused too much on the man and not enough on the movement that swept the United Kingdom and made the political victory possible.
Likewise, it was more than the inspiring rhetoric of King that propelled the civil rights movement. It was the Birmingham campaign, the dramatic events in Selma, and the march to Montgomery that focused the nation’s attention and led to important legislative actions.
It takes a movement to change politics. Change doesn’t ever start in Washington, but if public momentum can be built among millions of people, it eventually arrives in the nation’s capital.
This is what the Bible teaches us. The scriptures reveal a God of justice, not only a God of charity. Words such as oppression and justice fill the Bible. The most common objects of the prophets’ judgments are kings, rulers, judges, employers— the rich and powerful in charge of the world’s governments, courts, economies, systems, and structures. When those who are in charge mistreat the poor and vulnerable, say the scriptures, it is not just unkind but also wrong and unjust, and it makes God angry.
The subjects of the scriptures’ concern are always the widow and the orphan, the poor and oppressed, the victims of courts or unscrupulous employers, debtors whose debts need to be forgiven, strangers in the land who need to be welcomed. And the topic of the prophets’ messages to the powerful are things like land, labor, capital, judicial decisions, employer practices, rulers’ dictates, and the decisions of the powerful—all the stuff of politics.
I believe that makes very suspect those who want to privatize most of these very public decisions, who claim to trust “the market” to work things out, who want to leave the powerful alone and the corporate elites unregulated and to relegate solving poverty to private charity, and who want to further reduce political accountability on those who rule the economy and society by “making government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub,” as they proudly claim as their goal. The question should never be just about “big” or “small” government, but rather about effective and smart government that has the ability to hold both wealth and power accountable to the common good.
But biblical politics is never only about the candidate either, and some have made that mistake in recent elections. Putting one’s hopes in political candidates and parties has only led to disappointment, frustration, and dangerous cynicism. There are systems and structures that undergird and shape the limits of the political agenda, and challenging those limits to get to root causes and real solutions is always the prophetic task. It is always movements that “change the wind,” and only a change in the political wind can change political policies in Washington.
People of faith, at our best, are the ultimate independents, engaged in politics only because of those moral issues that command our attention and willing to challenge all political sides on behalf of them. Moral independents will change politics more than will religious partisans, who make compromises on behalf of electoral victories. Fighting for justice, not partisan political goals, is the core of biblical politics—and that will continue to be our vocation at Sojourners.
Jim Wallis is editor–in-chief of Sojourners Magazine, November 2011.
Please Join Us!
North Lawndale Initiative Town Hall Meeting
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Old St. Patrick’s Church Hall
6:15 p.m. (following the 5 p.m. Mass)
Attending to the needs of the community has always been an important part of the life and mission of Old St. Patrick’s Church. The longer history, reaching back to the founding of the parish in 1846, contains an impressive record of how generations of Old St. Patrick’s members responded to community needs for education, job training, housing, and other social services. St. Patrick’s High School, Marillac High School (now merged with Loyola Academy), Mercy Home for Boys and Girls (originally called The Working Boys’ Home), Catholic Charities, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and Marillac Settlement House are among the many service organizations that had their origin at Old St. Patrick’s or shared our campus for a time.
Imagine the thousands of lives that were touched. Imagine the stories that could be told!
Our shorter history, beginning with the revitalization of Old St. Patrick’s in 1983, also gives a good accounting of how people at Old St. Patrick’s have continued to respond to their neighbors in need. Our Outreach Ministry sends hundreds of volunteers who provide a variety of important services at more than twenty different sites throughout the city. Frances Xavier Warde School offers not only the highest quality education, but by design, serves an economically, ethnically, racially, and religiously mixed student body reflecting the rich diversity of our city and the genuine catholicity of our faith. Our campus is home to caring and highly successful social service providers such as: Horizons for Youth, The CARA Program, the Career Transitions Center, Harmony, Hope, and Healing, and the Global Alliance for Africa. Old St. Patrick’s members frequently sponsor and support food and clothing drives, blood drives, special collections for scholarship funds, Catholic Relief Services, and the Campaign for Human Development. Our special relationships with LIFT, Coprodeli, and Friends of Fabretto help extend our outreach around the globe.
Thousands of lives are touched and many of you can tell those stories.
With such a rich history and so much going on today, there can be a temptation to take the foot off the gas pedal. Not so with the people of Old St. Patrick’s. Seeing the work yet to be done, Old St. Patrick’s celebrated Pentecost this past June by advancing a bold new vision. Expressing that vision in a question, we ask: in the years to come, how might Old St. Patrick’s enter into relationship with people in North Lawndale in a way that recognizes our kinship with each other, is open to mutual transformation, and creates a better city?
Join us for this “town hall” meeting for what is sure to be a great conversation. We will discuss: why North Lawndale? what do we mean by kinship and mutuality? how is the initiative different from our current efforts? what are the possibilities? how do we plan to begin?
In the years to come, what lives will be touched, what stories wait to be told?
We begin with service, service is good but you don’t want to stop there. Service is the hallway that leads to the ballroom, but the ballroom is kinship. The measure of our compassion is not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them. One of the great privileges of my life was knowing Cesar Chavez. I remember once he was being interviewed by reporters and they said, “Wow, these farm workers really love you”. He smiled and he shrugged and he said, “It’s mutual, it’s mutual.”
– Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.
As many of you know, back in June, in celebration of Pentecost Sunday—the day in our calendar when we highlight what being church is all about—I shared with the assembly gathered that we need to keep expanding our mission. If there is one thing that is true about the church of Old St. Patrick’s, the outreach component of our mission is nothing less that strong, vibrant, and exemplary. When I think of the incredible ways in which the people of Old St. Pat’s give of themselves and live out the meaning of the gospel, I am once again reminded of how fortunate we are to be associated with this style of church. On Pentecost Sunday, I announced that after a good deal of conversation and discernment, we felt that if there was one simple phrase that captured the essence of our mission it would be: Gathered and Sent. It may not be the kind of elaborate mission statement one would find in various organizations, but when you think about what we do well at Old St. Pat’s, gathering and forming hearts in the spirit of Jesus and sending ourselves out into the world to make a difference and build the Kingdom of God should stand at the center of our life together. And I believe it does.
Last March, during our Mission series, we were inspired by four All-Star preachers and we were blessed to have each of them. But many would agree that the challenging words of Fr. Gregory Boyle from HomeBoy Industries in California truly captured our imagination when he focused his reflections around the theme of Kinship. As a result, some of us started thinking about what that sense of kinship could possibly look like. Mindful of the many outreach efforts already in place, Old St. Pat’s started thinking about this sense of kinship and how we could build a relationship with one of the most challenged areas right here in the city of Chicago. And so on Pentecost, I announced Old St. Pat’s would begin pursuing some ideas about how we might start a long-term relationship with the community of North Lawndale, located less than two miles away from here. I honestly do not know what this is going to look like but what I do know is that many of you expressed a tremendous amount of interest in this possibility.
During the summer, we began meeting with some leaders in the North Lawndale area to find out more about the neighborhood and if building such a relationship was even feasible. We think it is. Members of Old St. Pat’s also felt that if we are going to enter something long-term, then perhaps we need someone who will get up each day and think about this relationship and keep the project moving forward. We think we found someone who will come on “part-time” and get us moving in the right direction.
I just wanted you to know we have not forgotten about our North Lawndale initiative and I would be grateful if you could hold the evening of Sunday, November 6 in your calendar. Following the 5 p.m. Mass, we would like to host our first Town Hall Meeting to discuss anything and everything about the North Lawndale Initiative.
Finally, just a word of thanks to all of you for supporting the Crossroads Runners for our Inaugural Chicago Marathon Charity Team. Please pray for the runners on this Sunday morning! They have worked hard, and doing a marathon is no small accomplishment.
Have a great week!
Fr. Tom Hurley