The Politics of Poverty?


Photo by Zac Harmon-McLaughlin

I recently gave a sermon focused on the scripture in Luke where Jesus claims,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I focused on the radical vision of justice and concern for the poor and marginalized Christ invokes in this “mission statement” for his ministry, and how that justice is unconditional, lovingly extended to everyone whether they “deserve” it or not.

After the service, I was taken aback when one of the congregants thanked me for the good “liberal” sermon, and joked that he should have worn his “Red-State Democrat” shirt to church that day (the congregation is in Kansas, a majority Republican state). My distress at his comment wasn’t that I was chagrined to be labeled a liberal, but that the message would be taken to be political at all. I don’t believe the message of justice to be liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. It is unfair to assume that conservatives care less about the poor than liberals, just as it is reductive to assume liberals are more concerned about poverty and injustice than conservatives. The political debate is one over the best means by which to attend to the needy and ensure justice: either by the exercise of charity by private citizens/organizations, or by taxation to fund government programs—or (in all reality), some combination of both. To make blanket statements about one side or the other not caring about the poor only exacerbates our current contentious political climate, and worse, potentially alienates our brothers and sisters who may hold different views by denying their good faith efforts to act justly as they understand it.

Sadly there was a kernel of truth in my fellow congregant’s comment: we do find ourselves confronting a cultural climate with an incipient and growing sense that we should not have to care about the poor at all. But this attitude, I would argue, is pervasive throughout our culture, with both conservative and liberal flavors. From one side, we hear that we shouldn’t have to give our money to those who screwed their own lives up; from the other side, we hear a message that abdicates responsibility for the poor to the government and removes any personal sense of culpability for the fate of others. Either way, both liberal and conservative politics have the potential to be selfish and self-serving, obscuring Christ’s message of justice and our personal and collective mission to abolish poverty and end suffering.

Ultimately, the message of justice is not a political one—it’s a Christian one. We may have genuine and (hopefully) productive disagreements about the best course to pursue it, but we should avoid any message—right or left, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican—that denies the worth of all persons and our personal responsibility to honor that worth by actively pursuing justice in our own practices, whatever form that takes.

Nature and Politics

We find ourselves faced with many tough questions in these late election season days in the USA. Questions about what we truly believe is right, not only for ourselves, but for society as a whole. We may not even be sure what we think, yet we are faced with having to make a decision nonetheless. As I search for ways to understand these critical issues, I find it is extremely helpful to look at nature and study what happens naturally. Whether you believe God created nature as it is, or that nature is constantly evolving, nature is intelligent by design.

When faced with how to approach making changes in our constitution there are two roads which one may take. One road, is a revolution, in which a riot creates instantaneous change. We see this in environmental change. For example, an earthquake is one large upheaval which causes massive environmental changes. The other road, starts with a spark and builds momentum. Keeping with the spark metaphor, a massive, environment changing,  forest fire is caused by a small spark. Neither path to change is correct or incorrect. The question then is: which is more plausible? How many environmental changes are caused by an instantaneous cause, versus how many are caused by starting small and growing momentum?

This is so very important to keep in mind when we look at the road of our democratic nation. We must consider momentum being built or lost, or whether it is probable that an instantaneous change will occur. Regardless of candidate or issue, this thought process can be executed.

Change is not the only way to use nature as a window to God’s road map. When we look at ecology, every single organism relies on every other organism. We are currently watching populations and weather patterns spiral out of control, as one single factor goes amiss causes a collapse in nature as we know it. Political issues are no different. When we consider one proposal, we should not consider it as an independent issue. Each proposal ties directly in with another proposal. For example, if we increase the taxes that middle-class families pay, then the inability of families to support children will rise, which will create a need for more birth control, which will create a need for medical coverage to pay for that. Three of the hot-button issues being covered this election. To consider one issue independent of another is to ignore nature.

I write about this from a political viewpoint, as that is what is currently at the forefront of many of our minds. However, when I need advice in my everyday life about which roads or methods to use, I often use this same technique. God reveals things to us through nature, so in nature I seek God’s wisdom.

“We All Must Work for Peace”

Reblogged from: Herald Magazine’s “Connect | Engage | Inspire”
Brad Martell of Peace and Justice Ministries recently visited with Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba, recipient of this year’s Community of Christ International Peace Award. Their discussion focused on nuclear issues and how groups are seeking to Pursue Peace on Earth.

Martell: You were about 3 years old when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What was it like growing up?

Akiba: I was born in Tokyo, and then my family moved to Chiba, not far from Tokyo. I experienced firebombings in Chiba during the summer of 1945. The firebombs were terrifying and—from the eyes of a child—the sparks brightening the night were beautiful. I didn’t understand as a 2½-year-old what the bombs were, but I understood people around me were concerned. It was a mixture of terror and excitement, something unusual. Only later did I understand it as a glimpse of war, connecting it with seeing a movie about the atomic bombings and aftermath of the victims. That was my first experience of an act of war.

Martell: You became a peace activist early in your life, coming to the US in 1969 to earn your doctorate at MIT and joining the anti-nuclear movement. What were those years like?

Akiba: Actually I came to the US for the first time as an exchange student in 1959. I lived with a family near Chicago and graduated from Elmwood Park High School in 1960. Two years ago we had the 50th reunion. I’ve missed only one reunion.
They’ve been a great deal of fun and extremely good experiences for me.

But one thing that was striking when I was in high school was the difference between Japanese and American teaching of history. In Japan we don’t learn modern history. What I learned was new and surprising because I didn’t know anything about Pearl Harbor or much about President Truman’s or America’s stance on the A-bomb.

My American high school history class taught that Japan started the war and the A-bomb ended it, quickly reducing considerably the war deaths—like a quarter million American soldiers and the same number of Japanese lives. I was taught the atomic bombings saved lives and were good things.

I tried to explain to my class that it may be so, but lots of people died, and the A-bomb was a terrible thing for Japan. But I was outnumbered by my classmates, plus the teacher. My English and knowledge weren’t good enough to explain what I wanted to tell them about realities of the bombings.

So in a sense I interpreted the experience later as a “homework” assignment given to me from AFS (American Field Service). AFS was the organization that sent me to the US. It will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014. The organization was started in 1914 during WWI by a group of ambulance drivers. After WWII they started a global exchange program for high school students. That’s the beginning and my history class experience. Without that experience I probably wouldn’t have become the mayor of Hiroshima.

Martell: It would seem you have spent your life working on that “homework” assignment.

Akiba: Right. I feel I’ve kind of half finished it. I gave a lecture at DePaul University in Chicago over 10 years ago. Ten to 15 of my high school classmates came. I was able to explain, as the mayor of Hiroshima, what happened to Hiroshima, what the hibakusha (survivors) have been doing, and what Mayors for Peace was accomplishing. But I don’t believe my homework is done. When we abolish all nuclear weapons, then my homework will be done.

Martell: While mayor of Hiroshima, you also served as president of Mayors for Peace. Tell us about its mission to abolish nuclear weapons.

Akiba: Mayors for Peace was created in 1982. It held meetings every four years, held exhibitions to educate citizens, and protested against nuclear-weapons testing. In 2001, after 9/11, the war against terrorism was declared, and there was a call for using nuclear weapons to counter terrorism. The hibakusha in Hiroshima became hugely concerned. They are quite sensitive to nuclear issues because of their experiences with atomic bombs. They often use the expression “no one else should suffer as we did.” Literally this means everyone, even those labeled as enemies.

It’s a message of reconciliation. Using nuclear weapons against terrorists is not a good alternative because it won’t deter them. Many people realized that, but in the beginning harsh words from leaders advocated for nuclear weapons. The hibakusha asked leaders in Japan to do something. Mayors for Peace responded by creating the 2020 Vision Campaign. We started an aggressive worldwide campaign to abolish nuclear weapons by 2020, sending a positive message for a future world.

Simply opposing something has been done many times, but quite often it’s just a counterforce to be ignored or marginalized.That’s how the media usually treats such a movement. Instead we wanted to be a builder of a future world. We approach cities around the world to join together. With enough cities calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020, our voices will be heard by those people who make decisions at the national and international levels.

We now have more than 5,000 member cities. One reason why cities join is because they have memories of war and other tragedies. It’s the cities that remember, not necessarily nations. Remembering is very important. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Life of Reason).

Cities from around the world also are saying, “Never again” to war and tragedies they’ve experienced. They understand why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are calling for the 2020 abolition of nuclear weapons. Cities are joining in droves. That’s encouraging.

One example is the city of Ypres, Belgium. Ypres was where chemical weapons were first used during WWI by Germans. And the entire city was devastated by conventional bombs. Today, Ypres holds a daily ceremony to remember. Cities remembering their tragedies are the basis for the increase in the number of cities joining Mayors for Peace.

Martell: What has been your experience in returning to the classroom as a professor at Hiroshima University (HU)?
[Read more…]

Pursuing Peace? Bombs, Missiles, and Drones! Oh My!

Reblogged from: Herald Magazine’s “Connect | Engage | Inspire”
by Bob Watkins
Lakeland, Florida, USA
(Reprinted excerpt from Florida USA Mission Center)

This reference to the Wizard of Oz makes Dorothy’s calamitous “Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my!” seem downright tame.

As we Pursue Peace on Earth, it is hard to envision peace while we are bombarded with threats of nuclear holocaust from Iran and North Korea.

Uprisings in the Middle East continue, resulting in deaths of countless young adults raging against harsh governments. Even in our own country, we have seen people “occupying” public places in protest. We seem to be a world at war.

However, an event in 2011 may provide a glimmer of hope. On October 25, the last B53 bomb was dismantled at the Pantex nuclear weapon plant in Texas. Built in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, whose threat is well-known to Floridians, this bomb was heralded for its accuracy. Weighing 10,000 pounds and at the size of a mini-van, it was 600 times more powerful than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima, Japan. It carried the capability of leveling everything within 18 miles of the landing site.

Even as we are assured that this is a first step in reducing instruments of war, we hear that engineers in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are working on weapons to provide a paralyzing force field.

How can we, with our incredible God-given gifts of intelligence and ingenuity, create such monstrous instruments? What do these terrifying tools say about our faith? What does this tell us about our humanity and our commitment to a nonviolent Jesus?

I have the greatest admiration and respect for our military. My father and father-in-law both served our country in World War II. We need a strong, well-trained, and well-equipped military. We are certainly more secure with it at its posts.

Yet, perhaps one day the world will see that weapons of mass destruction do not provide real security. In fact, they inspire others (like Iran) to build similar weapons to ensure an uneasy balance of power.

Doctrine and Covenants 164:9c calls us to

sacramental living that respects and reveals God’s presence and reconciling activity in creation. It requires whole-life stewardship dedicated to expanding the church’s restoring ministries, especially those devoted to asserting the worth of persons, protecting the sacredness of creation, and relieving physical and spiritual suffering.

Perhaps one day our world will realize that real security begins when we align ourselves with the Prince of Peace, end wars, eliminate extreme poverty, and promote democracy through nonviolent means.

True security arrives when we share our wealth with those less fortunate so no babies starve, no families live on the streets, and all people feel a sense of worth.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. —Isaiah 11:6 NRSV

May we, as a faith community, step confidently into a future as children of the Living Christ.

Nuclear Weapons Survey

Nuclear Weapons Survey

U.N. Peace Plaza, Independence, MO, USA.

Deadline has been extended through October.
We need more young adult opinions!

Community of Christ Intl. Peace and Justice Team is seeking global perspectives on nuclear weapons. We will educate and prompt thoughtful discussion in our church community about this issue before and after bringing a resolution to 2013 World Conference.

If you choose not to take the survey, it helps us to know why not. Please drop a note to Adam Wade.

Nuclear Weapons Survey


Human Rights Award Nominations

Human Rights Award Nominations

Two International Human Rights Awards for Service to Humanity will again be presented at the 2013 World Conference. Please consider nominating persons from your field for this honor. The Human Rights Awards are intended to recognize individuals who are in the forefront of organizations and causes working to alleviate human suffering and advocate for basic human rights. Deadline for nominations: October 7, 2012.

Criteria to be used in the selection of two honorees are:
• Maintained a sustained commitment and given exceptional service in affirming the essential rights for peaceful assembly, free speech, specific cultural identities, formation of mutually cooperative human communities, or freedom from fear and threats to personal safety and well-being.
• Been in the forefront of causes working to alleviate suffering and to promote basic human rights.
• Had an impact on a community outside the church – on a local, national, or international level.
• Had an impact on church policy, hymnody, curriculum theology, or other area.

Make nominations by e-mailing the name, address, and a paragraph describing the work of your nominee to Terry Read.

Belated Prophecy

Ok, next month, I PROMISE I’ll get back to the temple vs. cell topic.   I PROMISE.

A month or so ago, I was inspired by a conversation on Facebook. (My apologies, I cannot seem to locate the thread to provide proper reference). The conversation revolved around the relationship of our church’s policies towards homosexuals and our claim to be a prophetic people. Needless to say, I found this conversation to be thought provoking, and my mind has been nibbling on it ever since.

Let’s start with this question.    If you believe that we are a prophetic people, then what “things” would you highlight to backup that claim? In other words, in order to make such a statement, there have to be places, words, behaviors, policies, and so forth that we can identify to make this claim more than just pretty words.

I believe there are.

As a church, I believe we have the processes necessary to be a prophetic people.   I believe we have the artifacts (D&C) in order to document divine counsel. I believe we have the people and behaviors in place to develop the spiritual depth necessary to receive divine inspiration. But I believe we are lacking 1 critical element.   One card in a house of cards, that when removed makes the entire house of cards unstable at best and fall apart at worst.


Words of inspiration either come at a time where you are called to grow OR they come at a time where you need confirmation of where you are at or have been.

As a minister who is passionate for outsiders, the latter for the most part does not matter. Hearing divine words about where you are at hardly matters when you are struggling with the concept of God in the first place.

Divine wisdom and prophetic words are at their best when they are calling us to a place where we or society is not currently at.

I think it’s fair to say that we are lacking here.  We are not 10 years ahead of society, pushing hidden areas to the forefront of discussion, exposing new avenues of God’s grace and mercy. Instead, it feels that we are 10 years behind. Debating issues that most of society and many churches have resolved. Wrestling with conclusions that many have already reached. This is not what prophetic people do, this is simply playing catch up.

How do we resolve this?    I am not sure…

But if our desire is to be a relevant church with a prophetic body, we must take the call to lead society on issues of grace, mercy, and social justice. One that is 10 years ahead of its time and not 10 years behind.

God Bless – Brian