Casey Schoeneberger, Faith in Public Life’s Media Relations Assistant, came to FPL from NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby’s Associate Program after studying economics at Saint Joseph’s University. She blogs about tax and budget issues on Bold Faith Type.
Beau Underwood, FPL Partnership and Outreach Coordinator, discusses the role of faith in the public square during a great interview this week with Liz Essley at The Washington Examiner:
You’ve been doing some work with the Occupy movement. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently said that Jesus would be among the Occupy protesters in London. Do you agree? Would Jesus be camping with Occupy DC?
There’s no way that I, even as a pastor, would ever claim to speak for Jesus. Do I think that when we read through Scripture we see Jesus being extremely concerned about some of the issues that the Occupy movement has promoted? Absolutely. The Bible is laden with references to justice, concern for the oppressed, wanting to make sure that people are treated fairly. And that’s what we’re hearing from the Occupy movement — concern for economic inequality and the way that those who have suffered the most were the least responsible for this crisis. I see an echo there that’s really hard to ignore.
Where do you draw the line between what the government should be doing to help those in need and what the church should be doing?
Throughout the church’s history it has always served those in need, both here in the United States and around the globe. The church will always do that. But when we look at the magnitude of the challenges we’re facing, and the resources of the church, there just simply isn’t enough there. The church cannot carry the burden that society is facing; it’s just not possible; it’s not realistic. You can talk to pastors — they’ll be the first ones to tell you that. Churches are facing shrinking budgets and rising costs. As a pastor in a local congregation who’s trying really hard to serve his community, I’m saying that the church can’t do this all, that charity just is not enough.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
At my core, the belief that I hold dear, and that drives me in everything that I do is the sense that tomorrow can be better today, that just because things are one way today doesn’t mean that they have to be that way tomorrow.
Continue reading about Beau’s faith background and his work at the intersection of faith and politics here.
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The core lie underlying the recent rise of Islamophobia is the claim that Muslims’ loyalty to their faith makes them untrustworthy Americans. As we’ve tracked in the past, Anti-Muslim commentators (and even former presidential candidates) continue to falsely promote this divisive rhetoric, propagating the myth that if Muslims find their religion and loyalty to America in conflict, they would ultimately betray America.
With such an intense focus on the “loyalty” of American Muslims, it should serve as a surprise to anti-Muslim commentators that a new poll from Gallup finds that devotion to one’s faith before country is not exclusively a characteristic of minority religions. American Christians–particularly white evangelicals (who are least comfortable with public displays of Muslim religion and culture) actually report thinking of themselves in terms of their faith first in much higher numbers.
So why don’t pundits and politicians consider American Christians’ allegiance to their faith as a threat to American democracy? It seems unfortunately likely that some conservatives’ attacks on Muslims’ loyalty to “religion above country” has nothing to do with the significance of religion in one’s life, but is merely a pretext to cast a cloud of suspicion over the Muslim community as a whole.
David Sirota at states proposed legislation banning Islamic Sharia law, despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits the government from targeting one religion and “>Fearmongers push these fictional problems as evidence that Muslims are not entitled to the same treatment and religious freedom as every other American.
Andrea Elliott at The New York Times questions the origins of the anti-sharia movement:
Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead, they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an overaccommodation of Islamic law.
“Before the train gets too far down the tracks, it’s time to put up the block,” said Guy Rodgers, the executive director of ACT for America, one of the leading organizations promoting the legislation drafted by Mr. Yerushalmi.
The more tangible effect of the movement, opponents say, is the spread of an alarmist message about Islam — the same kind of rhetoric that appears to have influenced Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in the deadly dual attacks in Norway on July 22. The anti-Sharia campaign, they say, appears to be an end in itself, aimed at keeping Muslims on the margins of American life.
Herman Cain even went so far as to loyalty test” for Muslims holding government office.
All of these efforts, of course, harken back to similar periods of religious suspicion in U.S. history. In the 1960′s, John F. Kennedy had similar charges levied against him for his Catholic faith, with critics claiming he would never be able to maintain his loyalty to the Presidential office and identify as a practicing Catholic. Looking back, the majority of Americans would now find those claims to be unfounded and extreme.
It is a sad testimony to the state of religious freedom and tolerance in the U.S. that members of minority religions are regarded with such distrust, especially when Christians are treated with a presumption of loyalty.
Photo Credit: A Gude, Flickr
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Looking back over the past several months, it’s not easy to tell where the GOP Presidential candidates stand on immigration reform – one of the most critical social justice issues facing America and people of faith.
Back in October, Herman Cain touted an electric fence as a solution to preventing undocumented immigrants from crossing the border. After facing intense criticism over his stance, Cain contended he was only joking.
At November’s CNN National Security Debate, Newt Gingrich appeared to take a political risk by endorsing “humane treatment” for undocumented immigrants already residing in the United States. But a closer look reveals that the “citizen juries” he recommends are actually neither that humane or courageous.
Even so, Newt’s proposal prompted attacks of “amnesty” from GOP rivals. Surprisingly, the loudest attack came coming from Romney, who previously supported a similar plan for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S.
If backtracking on his stance isn’t confusing enough for the American public, Romney also refuses to answer whether he would deport immigrants already living here.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry, after facing intense conservative backlash for calling opponents of his policy letting undocumented high school students qualify for in-state tuition “heartless“, is campaigning with radical anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio. Perry is now calling for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants (as is Rep. Michelle Bachmann) — a move that would undoubtedly cost the American economy millions- if not billions- in lost wages and productivity.
These kinds of devastating consequences are already visible in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia, states whose anti-immigrant policies demonstrate the high economic costs that businesses and local governments are incurring by effectively eliminating their immigrant population.
Hopefully, whichever candidate wins the Republican nomination will recognize that the general population rejects these extreme policies and supports just, comprehensive immigration reform proposals.
Photo Credit: IowaPolitics.com, Flickr
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As the Occupy Movement has grown, a diverse group of faith communities have partnered with Occupiers to bring attention to the growing inequality and needs of the 99%. Paralleling this national conversation, the New Bottom Line coalition’s “Move Our Money” campaign is giving these people of faith an opportunity to put their principles into action to protest the appalling greed of predatory corporations by moving their money from the worst of the big banks.
With a goal of moving $1 billion to community banks and credit unions, the campaign and its supporters are protesting the illegal practices of big banks (like Bank of America, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo) that have victimized millions of people with predatory lending practices, inadequate mortgage modification plans and foreclosed homes–all while raking in enormous profits.
Featured in a Religion News Service story last week, the “Move Our Money” campaign has really just begun, with $55 million in assets moved so far. Following PICO’s national clergy gathering in New Orleans, the campaign gained even more momentum, with “…a broad cross section of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations [pledging] to move an additional $100 million.”
Besides speaking out against unethical banking practices, former customers are telling big banks that if they want to live in their communities, they will need to take a more active role in investing in the communities where customers live.
“In a way, the banks have divested from our communities, especially communities of color,” said the Rev. Ryan Bell, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Los Angeles. “So we’re basically telling Bank of America that we want them to invest in our communities, and until they do that we’re not going to give our money to them.”
To keep the energy going, the “Move Our Money” campaign needs even more religious congregations, non-profits, and individuals to move their money out of big banks and in to community banks and credit unions. Religious leaders and people of faith can make a real difference by encouraging their own congregations to participate. With more movements like these, towns, families and small businesses can once again thrive.
For more information on how to move your money into credit unions and institutions that keep the needs of you and your community in mind, click here.
Photo: LA Voice members explain their decision to divest from Bank of America. Credit: Move Our Money USA
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Last month, the Congressional Budget Office published a report highlighting the dramatic rise in income inequality over the last 30 years. The findings provided a direct rebuttal to conservatives whose response to the concerns of the Occupy movement was to downplay or deny these problems.
In response, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) published his own report attempting to explain how the CBO numbers impact his own economic proposals. Considering the numerous factors that have contributed to inequality in America today, it’s valuable to have a variety of voices calling attention to the (until recently) largely overlooked problem of income inequality. Unfortunately though, Rep. Paul Ryan’s response reaches some very misleading conclusions.
Greg Sargent at the Washington Post interviewed Tim Smeeding, an expert on inequality, about the validity of Ryan’s arguments:
Ryan claims the real problem exacerbating inequality is not income disparity, but the lack of mobility of those at the bottom. Smeeding agrees with Ryan that mobility is key. But Ryan then argues that rather than try to promote equality through redistributive taxation, we should instead “promote upward mobility, increase broadly shared economic growth, and ensure that more and more Americans are able to freely earn their success.
Smeeding, however, rejects this as a false choice. He says we can simultaneously make the tax system more progressive while also pursuing policies that enhance mobility. Indeed, Smeeding argues that those goals are two sides of the same policy coin — they are linked. The goal of raising taxes on the rich isn’t merely to promote equality by redistributing wealth. Rather, it’s about generating more revenue to invest in policies that enhance the mobility Ryan hopes to achieve.
Regrettably, Ryan’s arguments sound more like self-serving exercise than an honest contribution to the debate. As the spotlight on Ryan’s austerity measures has diminished, he seems to be scrambling for a way to insert his tired rhetoric into a changing political debate. It’s telling that the entitlement programs he wanted to essentially eliminate last year are now being blamed for the state of inequality in America.
Tim Noah at The New Republic describes Rep. Ryan’s runaround on entitlements and tax policy:
Ryan says that federal income taxes are more progressive than they used to be, but he doesn’t say that all federal taxes are more progressive than they used to be. He doesn’t because he can’t. When you combine all federal taxes, including the payroll tax (which started out regressive and has become more so), the capital gains tax, the corporate tax, etc., etc., then the federal tax system has become more regressive … just like you thought it had. And that’s before you also factor in the effects of state and local taxes, which also tend to be regressive.
On benefits, I’ll take Ryan at his word that over time Social Security and Medicare have failed to make the totality of government benefits more progressive, because I don’t know whether they have or not. I would merely point out that these programs don’t exist to redistribute income but to provide security to people in old age, when they no longer have jobs and are much more likely to get sick.
By proposing that entitlement programs are to blame for inequality, Ryan essentially lays the fault on the elderly, the sick, and those in poverty. Ignoring the role that tax policy has played creating an increasingly inequitable society is downright deceitful.
Placing the fault on the poor and elderly is nothing new, though. As Nick has tracked, conservatives often deride those in poverty as lazy and dependent on government programs–identifying poverty as a trait of those who simply lack a strong work ethic. In that lens, it is difficult to seriously consider any plan that Paul Ryan puts forward to increase mobility, when he has spent so much time trying to slash or eliminate programs that make mobility possible by improving education, housing, healthcare and nutrition for people who bear the brunt of our economic crisis.
When Rep. Ryan delivers some meaningful and honest policy solutions, he will be welcome to join the conversation on how to genuinely create opportunity and upward mobility for all people. Until then, we’ll keep watching and waiting.
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