Politics, Public Policy and Progressive Faith

17 June

Faith Leaders Fighting Gun Violence, State by State

Eleni Towns of the Center for American Progress has a nice piece showing how faith leaders are working together to fight gun violence and advocate for better gun policy. Towns highlights action in six states–California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland and Washington–and describes a relatively new organization, Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, which sprung up in the wake of Sandy Hook. The group represents 50 diverse faith-based organizations. They took their message to Congress early this year. Though they were unsuccessful in getting legislation passed, they were clear in their intent to challenge the NRA without demonizing its members.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence is urging three federal policy changes:

  • The implementation of universal background checks,
  • A ban on high-capacity assault weapons and ammunition cartridges and
  • Making gun trafficking a federal crime.

Video from their January visit to Capitol Hill:

16 June

Rev. Liz Muñoz: Economics a Core Christian Justice Issue

Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) of the Center for American Progress interviewed Rev. Liz Muñoz, an Episcopal priest with St. James Cathedral in Chicago, about strikes by fast-food workers seeking higher wages, better conditions and more hours. Muñoz works with Arise Chicago, which brings faith communities into the fight over labor issues.

From the interview (emphasis mine):

JJ: Why do you think faith communities and faith leaders are involved with these strikes? What basic principles and values are at stake here?

LM: Well, first of all I would say that it’s biblical. The prophets often warned people about landowners and those who controlled jobs and wages. “Woe to those who did not pay the workers just wages or who withheld wages.” Ezekiel, Isaiah, Micah, all these prophets spoke to this issue. Jesus told many parables of workers being paid just wages and right wages.

In fact, throughout history one of the core Christian justice issues has been economics.

JJ: So it sounds like there is a larger movement at work here—a sort of collaboration between faith groups and the greater labor movement. What connection do you see between these two groups especially moving forward?

LM: In this country we are in an age of crisis—of economic crisis. I don’t think anybody would deny that. As faith leaders we are called to respond to that kind of crisis. This is true throughout the Bible. The prophets have called leaders and people of faith to stand up.

To quote the prophet Ezekiel, “God said, I look for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land.”

I think we as faith leaders are called to stand in between that gap, to point out where injustice is happening, where there are wolves, so to speak, tearing at the net.

As the New York Times reported last summer, a study by the National Employment Law Project found that the recovery is generating more low-wage work than anything else (emphasis mine):

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.

The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

And that’s to say nothing on the still-too-high unemployment rate and the ominous numbers of long-term unemployed. Paul Krugman (nytimeskrugman) addressed this last week in a column headlined “The Big Shrug.” In it, Krugman lamented that the current state of affairs has been allowed to become a new normal, despite the harm it causes. Looking for answers to why this has been allowed, Krugman notes the presence of monetary hawks, warning about the perils of low interest rates. But he also points to two other reasons:

Why isn’t reducing unemployment a major policy priority? One answer may be that inertia is a powerful force, and it’s hard to get policy changes absent the threat of disaster. As long as we’re adding jobs, not losing them, and unemployment is basically stable or falling, not rising, policy makers don’t feel any urgent need to act.

Another answer is that the unemployed don’t have much of a political voice. Profits are sky-high, stocks are up, so things are O.K. for the people who matter, right?


31 May

Don’t wear the sign; be the sign

Sally Steenland (@ssteenland) of the Center for American Progress posted audio and an edited transcript from an interview she did with Sr. Joan Chittister (@joancdc), a Benedictine nun who has served in leadership positions among her Catholic sisters and who is a writer and speaker about spirituality and justice in many forms.

The top of the interview deals with the nature of power, authority and leadership–interesting, if a bit academic in places, at least for me on a Friday night. Then they turn to the new Pope and his advice that nuns not use their vocations to pursue ambition. (Asked for her response to that, Chittister reviewed the competent worker-bee history of nuns in the Church and concluded:  ”Nuns don’t get money, they don’t get power, and they don’t get civil or ecclesiastical positions. So no, I can’t answer the question because I don’t understand it.”)

My favorite part of the interview, however, is Chittister’s response to Steenland’s inquiry about the increase in the share of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, the so-called “nones”; here’s an excerpt from the nun’s take on the nones and how to respond to them:

Well, the way you spread the word is: Don’t worry about wearing the sign; be the sign. You don’t have to wear a sandwich board saying, “I am religious and spiritual and know what you should do.” You do have to be the best of the mystical presence that your tradition brings. Certainly in Christianity, that means that you begin to go through life putting on the mind of Jesus, trying to see the world as Jesus saw the world.

There has always been a great mystical dimension to Christianity. Our saints were mystics. That means they go right into the heart of the Gospel and the spiritual pulp of human life; they’re not as intent on the hierarchical, legalistic, and clerical.

What happens in a world that sees itself as participative and in a state of transformation? People rise up and say, “We’re here too. We want to be part of the discussion. We want to be as honored.” I am a carrier of the best of my tradition; I believe the spirit of God is still alive.

There’s more–on that question, the lives of young women today and other topics. Read the whole thing.