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Common ground on abortion: Rooted in evangelical history

February 18, 2009, 6:14 pm | By Kristin Ford

A doctoral candidate at Rice, Blake Ellis, posted a really interesting article over at History News Network yesterday. One of his contentions is that tactics like the removal of family-planning services from the stimulus bill have made it clear that “the goal of the anti-abortion movement is not a reduction in the abortion rate, but rather strict control over the private sexual decisions of the country’s citizens.”

While FPL has worked with a host of pro-life leaders who are interested in reducing the abortion rate (CLURT, Real Abortion Solutions), we’ve also witnessed pro-life obstructionism, which seems hell-bent on policing morality and private decisions than actually preventing abortions. Extreme right-to-life advocates claim that common ground solutions are just smoke-and-mirrors, covering up President Obama’s actual agenda to “promote unlimited abortions… and force [taxpayers] to pay for abortions.” Of course, neither of those claims is grounded in reality–Pres. Obama has repeatedly emphasized his desire to reduce the number of abortions. and we have numerous statutory impediments to government funds going towards abortions (like the Hyde Amendment).

(And don’t get me wrong, we’ve also encountered critics on the left .)

But what’s so fascinating about the HNN piece is that it challenges our assumptions about conservative evangelicals–especially about more “old-school” evangelicals. (Obviously, much has been said about the changing of the guard and the younger evangelicals’ broader agendas.)

Ellis claims that historically many evangelicals haven’t agreed with being fiercely political about abortion, even within quite conservative denominations. One of his examples is Foy Valentine, who pushed the Southern Baptist Convention “toward a liberal stance on issues of race and poverty and opposed Farwell’s near-exclusive focus on opposing abortion rights” in the 1960s and ’70s.

And… get this…he was a proponent of abortion reduction, through prevention and support for women and families. According to Ellis, he advocated for sex education in churches and made clear that Baptists should play a role in reducing the number of abortions in the country.

And in 1971, at an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptists overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for “legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

Ellis concedes that many evangelicals leaders and denominations have taken a harder right turn on abortion since then, but makes this final point:

…The actions of these Baptists serve as a reminder that the alliance of southern evangelicals with anti-abortion ideologues was neither inevitable nor unavoidable; and it may be reversible. …Progressives can build new alliances that might undermine the power of Christian Right leaders who would apparently rather block government support for poor women than work to actually reduce the number of abortions.

That’s what we’re trying to do. Thanks for Ellis for reminding me that’s it possible and right to find common ground on this issue.

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Standard and Sensible: Why the Stimulus Isn’t Anti-Religious

February 11, 2009, 1:54 pm | By Kristin Ford

For 46 years, spending bills in the U.S. Congress have included a stipulation barring the use of government funds for projects that are explicitly religious, like a chapel or a building used for sectarian instruction.

Since 1963, mind you– 46 years!

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Mike Huckabee is claiming, in an email to supporters, that the stimulus is “anti-religious”… for using the same provision that’s been in use since 1963. [By the way, how awesome is the scanned Congressional text with the 1963 law? Thanks Steve Benen!]

As Benen rightly points out, Huckabee is “bearing false witness.”

This is standard practice, not some assault on Christianity. Also, it’s standard practice that sensibly rooted in our Constitution, which protects against the establishment of religion (which some people seem to forget). Church/state balance is a tricky thing– as shown by numerous court cases and the controversy over the faith-based initiatives office– but the ban on direct government funding for something used for sectarian, religious purposes is, to put it bluntly, a no-brainer.

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The Faith-Based Council

February 6, 2009, 1:06 pm | By Kristin Ford

After President Obama unveiled his revamped, renamed version of President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives — the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, along with the accompanying Advisory Council of faith and non-profit leaders, we issued a press release commending the Obama team for assembling such a diverse council, which read in part

Americans of faith are working across ideological and religious divides every day to try to solve our nation’s and our world’s most pressing problems. The religious leaders included in the President’s Council embody this ideological and religious diversity, as well as a shared commitment to results and the common good.

Many of the religious leaders — Christian, Jewish, Muslim; conservative, centrist and progressive — also served as board members for the Compassion Forum. In this role, they asked then-Presidential candidates Obama and Clinton questions on international television that courageously elevated issues of justice and compassion in the election. Now, they will continue bearing witness to the most pressing issues of our day as members of the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Reception of the announcement about the new office and council has been mostly positive, with a few detractors.

We’re anxiously awaiting the announcement of the council’s final 10 leaders. It’s a diverse, visionary roster so far.

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Tackling climate change

January 29, 2009, 12:47 pm | By Kristin Ford

As I write this, I’m nursing a sore ankle… the repercussions of our first real snow/ice of the year and my subsequent fall on the DC metro escalator. It’s hard to think about global temperatures increasing on a day like today, but they are.

And it’s worse than we realized.

An international team of researchers has concluded that global warming can’t be backtracked as easily as we were hoping. Even if we somehow, miraculously figure out how to curb our carbon emissions, the report says global temperatures could remain high for 1,000 years.

To make matters worse, the report goes on to say that if we don’t cut down on the CO2 being released into our environment, we should expect dry-season rainfall— comparable to the 1930s North American Dust Bowl!– around the world, in southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern North America, southern Africa and western Australia.

This is serious, and scary, business, and we need to figure out what to do about it. I think it’s going to require working together as communities, states, and countries and it’s going to require sacrifices.

President Obama has tasked the Environmental Protection Agency with new, tough standards for carbons emissions. Our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has said the US will be “energetic, focused, strategic and serious about addressing global climate change and the corollary issue of clean energy.” We need this attention being paid to the issues, as well as tangible policy initiatives that will change the way we interact with the Earth.

Let’s take some responsibility for human actions and work together to care for the planet. Here are some ideas:

1. Calculate your congregation’s carbon footprint:

2. Take steps in your own life to combat climate change and environmental degradation. Carpool or ride your bike (though not in this ice!). Get educated about politicians’ positions on environmental issues and write to them when you think they’re doing harm not good. Cut down on how much trash your family produces. Recycle! Buy locally grown produce to not only support local businesses and farmers, but also to eliminate a carbon footprint from the transit process of getting your food to you.

2. Get talking with your friends and family about the issue– about the seriousness of it and about our moral responsibility to be good stewards of God’s earth. One passage which I found that helps sum up a Biblical call on this comes from Numbers : “Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell…”

I’m also reminded of God’s command to care for God’s creation when I recite the Presbyterian Church (USA) Brief Statement of Faith at my church. We have this terrific line, which helps hold me accountable:

“[We] threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.

We deserve God’s condemnation.

Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.”

Just as God acts with justice and mercy, so let us too work to redeem creation– ensuring justice and mercy not only to God’s planet, but also to the millions of people around the globe who are suffering from the effects of global warming, whether by drought and subsequent crop failure and starvation or by conflict over diminishing natural resources. The time to act is now.

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America’s shameful secret: human trafficking

January 27, 2009, 2:56 pm | By Kristin Ford

In the midst of rising unemployment and foreclosures, conflict in the Middle East, and everything else, it’s easy to lose sight of less visible victims. Women, men, and children who are caught in sex work, and other forced labor, continue to fall through the cracks of our political and social programs.

Human trafficking is a global problem, and the U.S. isn’t exempt. It’s a multi-billion dollar global industry. And, as CBS reports, “Human trafficking is a low-risk, high-profit enterprise, and because it looks to the casual observer — and even to cops — like garden variety prostitution, it is tolerated.”

We need to stop tolerating this modern form of slavery.

Thankfully, more and more faith-based groups are raising awareness around the issue, and President Obama expressed concern about it. In fact, he co-sponsored a Senate resolution which made January 11 a day of awareness of human trafficking. At the Saddleback Forum, President Obama said that trafficking “is a debasement of our common humanity.”

Awareness is an important first step. After that, we need proactive leadership spurring us to action. We need to reform the way we fight back against trafficking. As President Obama has suggested, we ought to work through community support systems which are already in place — including religious congregations. To effectively do this, those in the community who help trafficking victims need to be protected from immigration consequences or arrest.

We also need to address root causes of trafficking– a lack of regulation of many labor sectors, poverty and economic injustice, wage theft, and other factors.

For the sake of our common humanity, we can’t let it keep happening.

UPDATE: An eloquent and thorough take on trafficking as a common ground issue.

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