TIME Religion

Immigration Laws Should Serve People, Not Politics

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

Was the law made for people or people for the law?

Throughout both legal history and Judeo-Christian scripture, there has always been tension between the “letter” and the “spirit” of the law. In the gospels, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for focusing too much on legalism instead of grace. He famously said, “The Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath.”

In light of what’s been happening in our political systems, it’s clear that we need to ask: “are our laws made for people?” Or do we believe that people were made for our laws?

I have worked alongside many Republicans who have helped lead the battle for immigration reform. These Republicans care about the 11 million undocumented people in this country who have gotten stuck, stranded, marginalized, and jeopardized in a broken immigration system. These are Republicans who don’t want to deport millions of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants and who don’t want to break up their families. These are Republicans who believe that legalizing those immigrants would be good for the country and the economy and support an earned path to citizenship for those who want to wait at the back of the line to become American citizens, pay a fine for breaking the law, submit to complete background and criminal checks, learn English, and pay American taxes for the good work they do. These are Republicans who believe that helping vulnerable children supersedes ideology. And these are Republicans who want their party to be open and inclusive and ready to welcome the Hispanic American community into their party.

But then there are Republicans who have blocked immigration reform even though a majority of Republican party members across the country now favor it, who want to physically deport or make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they will “self-deport,” and who either themselves accept or are willing to accommodate to what even other Republicans call “racial factors” in their white constituencies. And there are, cynically, Republicans who simply refuse work with the President or Democrats on any issue. And there are some Republicans who are helping to fuel the alarmists that are rising up across the country to attack immigration and immigrants, and now even children from Central America who have recently come as desperate refugees.

The same voices that have blocked immigration reform are now trying to distort a very serious refugee crisis of children fleeing for their lives from the escalating violence in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador into an immigration problem, and are using those desperate and vulnerable children as political pawns in the debate around immigration reform. That is morally reprehensible. In Congress, with their consistent commitment to block anything President Obama proposes, the GOP is refusing to spend the money necessary to care for and carefully process the children who are seeking safety and asylum in America. Children are sitting alone away from their families in processing centers without the adequate resources to care for them.

And most shockingly—and absurdly—instead of doing what’s right and working to address the crisis we’re facing at the border, the leader of the Republican party would rather sue the President over failing to execute the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After a year of political maneuverings and a shutdown of the government in protest over the ACA, Speaker Boehner preferred to sue the president for not enforcing the letter of a law he opposes, than to vote on immigration reform which might have humanely addressed the crisis at the border. I fear the actions on health care and the inaction on immigration reform proves that in Congress scoring a political victory is far more important than alleviating the suffering of people. This is a matter of moral leadership and doing what’s right that should transcend ideology.

Because Congress has defaulted on its moral leadership in favor of political maneuvering, President Obama is considering what options his administration can take to fix particular aspects of our broken immigration system or at least reduce the suffering. But any steps he takes will far fall short of the ideal – because the only sustainable solution is legislative. We should the support the President’s attempts to offer compassion until Congress has the courage to act. He should start with ending the deportations of law-abiding people that would break up their families.

While any action the President takes will certainly be within his constitutional and legal authority, the fact that it will be the executive branch providing relief instead of the legislative branch enacting reform again raises the age old question of what purpose the law is supposed to serve? Too many of our supposed leaders seem to have forgotten that they were elected to serve people not politics and parties. This is a moral test of leadership that John Boehner needs to retake.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Religion

Let’s Treat Children at the Border as Christ Would

This is a moral moment for America and what it means to be an American. And for the church, it is a moment to make clear what it means to be a Christian.

Unaccompanied children are fleeing the escalating violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and presenting themselves at the U.S. border–hoping to find safety from daily fears for their lives in these Central American countries. More than 50,000 have already come and their presence is now creating a political crisis in the United States.

The media has shown alarming pictures of hateful crowds of Americans blocking and threatening buses of young children being processed under U. S. laws. Imagine the fear in the hearts and minds of young children, all alone in a foreign culture, being screamed at by adults they don’t know in a language they don’t understand. Imagine the pain and fear of those families who tearfully sent their own children away from home to protect their lives.

Sadly, it’s not hard to imagine how our polarized political system is turning this complicated humanitarian disaster into another political and ideological war. What’s most reprehensible is how these children are being punished, instead of the politicians who refuse to fix our own broken immigration system which makes difficult situations like this even harder to solve.

So let’s ask how God might see this, and what our faith requires of us—questions hardly ever asked in Washington DC.

First, this is a deeply moral issue and problem. This is not just another political occasion to use for ideological agendas once again. Such political maneuvering at the expense of vulnerable children is morally inexcusable.

Second, these children are indeed “the strangers” among us, and how we treat them is how we treat Christ himself.

Third, the primary question we must ask is what would be best for such vulnerable children, not how this can be used to stoke the political and racial fears underneath the surface of American politics. The right thing to do for these kids is a matter too complicated for simplistic political answers and should generate a bi-partisan, civil, and compassionate conversation among political leaders. We must do our utmost to keep these children safe. Neither quickly returning them to terrible violence, nor encouraging more children to put themselves in the dangerous hands of despicable smugglers—will protect the children. This requires time, patience, compassion, clear messaging, and careful discernment. Politically motivated quick fixes will not suffice and are morally indefensible.

What about some deeper reflection on how the lucrative drug market in the United States has generated the violent cartels that now threaten the daily lives of children in these countries? What about reviewing our own history and policies in relationship to formerly dictatorial and currently corrupt governments in these Central American countries? How could making practical and effective investments in the development of these countries make us all safer? Those are the kinds of questions politicians too often put aside in favor of calculating their immediate political self-interest and gain from a crisis like this. Where is the governing here, instead of the constant pursuit of winning?

This contemporary moral crisis and the political failure of politicians to fix our broken immigration system and the procedures around humanitarian disasters like this may now require the moral intervention of the faith community. Led by our Hispanic brothers and sisters who know the language and culture of these children, we must support the direct involvement of churches in the caring for and processing of these unaccompanied children.

While we can support the timely processing of these children and the resources necessary to do that, we must oppose expediting the deportation of these children for political reasons. And we must publically oppose and obstruct any political motivated policies that would do that to these children—because they are our children too.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these.” Matthew 19:14.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Religion

Immigration Reform Has Some Dry Bones

A message for immigration reform is found in a Biblical prophecy

Immigration reform appears to be dead in this Congress. According to recent reports, Speaker Boehner told President Obama that the House would not take action on immigration legislation this year. This is a moral failure of leadership.

The resounding message from the Republican House leadership is that politics is more important than the suffering of families. In the end, the thousands of stories that evangelical Christians have brought to Republicans don’t matter to them. There is no other conclusion to be drawn.

President Obama responded with an announcement that his Administration will take executive action to attempt to fix some of the inhumane consequences of this horrible system and “try to help relieve the suffering” as faith leaders asked him to do in a meeting at the White House this week. Republicans will likely decry his efforts as “overreach” and claim he is failing to enforce the existing law. But obstructionism on the part of the Republican-controlled House, instead of addressing the moral failures of a broken system, is shameful. The fact that this President has deported a record number of people renders these protests both cynical and dishonest. If those who refused the moral opportunity to fix this broken system now oppose the President’s efforts to protect suffering families and people, many of us in the faith community will say back to them, “How dare you, and shame on you.” And many of us will be at the President’s side and have his back.

This development is deeply discouraging for the vast majority of Americans who support common sense immigration and for the leaders within the evangelical community, like myself, who have invested years urging Washington to act. While there are lessons we should learn and new strategies to formulate, it is important to recognize that we have not been defeated.

In a well-known passage in the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel describes a valley of dry bones. The imagery is clear: death and destruction have won. Then Ezekiel, following God’s commands, begins to prophesy. The bones start connecting, tendons forms, and skin begins to cover them again. Life is breathed back into them. Resurrection has occurred. Hope has triumphed over despair.

This is the reality for immigration reform. Reform will happen. Too many Americans support it, in all our political parties, for politicians to ignore them for much longer. There is enough agreement on the necessary changes—including reforming the visa process, addressing questions about the future flow of immigrant labor, and providing a legal way to become members of our society for the millions of hard working and law-abiding people who have made the U.S. their home—that the policy debate is largely over. It would provide a desperately needed boost to our economy and help secure our borders, goals both parties claim to share.

The question is not whether immigration reform will pass but how many more people will suffer before it does. The answer from John Boehner and the House – at least for now – seems to be that many millions will continue to suffer. That means countless more families will be broken up, parents and children will be living in the shadows of society, and the lives of so many will continue to be jeopardized every day. The thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America highlight the humanitarian crisis being perpetuated by the status quo. An orderly, smart, and humane immigration system could have helped here.

That the outcome of this legislative irresponsibility will be a set of limited actions taken by a constitutionally constrained President, and a continuation of failed policies is worthy of our deepest lament.

Some of the most powerful people in the country will spend the next days, weeks, and months laying blame in order to avoid the public holding them responsible. I hope and believe we are smart enough to see through this ridiculous veneer. The bottom line is that immigration reform failed because an extreme wing of the Republican Party held their leadership hostage out of political and racial fear—and their party leader didn’t have the moral courage to stand up to them. Few others will say that so frankly and succinctly. As a Christian I believe that truth has a liberating power. Those who have blocked immigration reform should be held accountable—and many Hispanic and Christian voters are vowing to do that.

We see the human costs of this moral failure on a daily basis. This is why the faith community will be working tirelessly to breathe life into the dry bones of immigration reform. We are not going away, and we will surround the politicians with our prayerful presence until this destructive immigration system is fixed and healed.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Religion

A Letter to Graduates: Whatever Happened to the Common Good?

When considering what's next after graduation, think of others

It’s that time of year, when eager graduates celebrate the fruit of their hard work and look forward to their first job or graduate school. The air is full of excitement of untapped potential and bright futures.

So to those graduates, I offer you a challenge: in the lives you choose to lead from this point forward, consider how to ensure a bright future for all—not just yourselves or your group.

Because the moral question for the society you’re about to enter is the spiritual battle between “I” and “We.” In culture the “me first” ethos dominates real concern for others. In economics, the metric of “short termism” trumps “stewardship.” In politics, winning replaces governing and instead of solutions, we prefer blame. In religion, private piety is preferred over sacrifice. It is a “selfie” culture, in which the camera is focused on us and our friends, ignoring the beauty of the world. Depending on someone else to take our picture isn’t even necessary anymore.

The spiritual term for these problems is, of course, is “selfishness”–a familiar human seduction and sin. The only redemption from it is to rise above ourselves for something greater.

Yet, almost every day, the news from Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood raises a very pointed question: Whatever happened to the common good?

Public polling shows that most of us believe our country is headed in the wrong direction. Many of us feel that our society’s major institutions have failed. Many feel politically and spiritually homeless in the raging battles between ideological extremes. And most of us would agree that the common good has become very uncommon.

Still, many of us are hungry for authenticity when we see it and desire something larger than our own self-interests—as the response to Pope Francis has demonstrated, from the religious and non-religious alike. As the Pontiff said during his visit to the Middle East: “The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good.”

Indeed, the ancient idea of “the common good” is a vision that helps us live our best values. For Christians, the common good comes from Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves—including “the least of these.” I know of no other social ethic that is as transformational as this one. But most of our faith traditions agree we must love our neighbor if we say we love God. Seeking the common good means that our treatment of the most vulnerable is the test of our society’s integrity. Promoting the common good is the best way to make sure that we are protecting the life and dignity of all God’s children.

Given the political inability to solve the real problems, given our inability, to focus on those who are most in jeopardy, and given how greed and self-interest have overtaken our markets and our politics, we must go deeper into our best values.

The public discussion we need about the common good concerns all the decisions we make in our personal and public lives. The common good may come last to places like Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood, but can turn history in different directions. And it begins with our own personal decisions–the way all social movements start.

And that is what I hope you will consider in your academic and professional careers: how to repair a society that has broken down in fundamental ways. A commitment to the common good is also the best way to find common ground with others–even those who disagree with us.

It’s in your power to lead us now, by urging a new ethic of civility between conservatives and liberals. Both personal and social responsibility are necessary for a world in which the common good is embraced.

It’s in your power now, to choose work and make decisions in those workplaces that restores trust in economic decision-making, mobility, and opportunity. It’s up to you make choices that will promote a “moral economy” by embracing values like human dignity, the common good, and stewardship. Let’s take on the big question about the role of government—how can it best serve the common good in partnership with other sectors?

It’s in your power now to seek the common good in the places we call home. How we live well with those closest to us will shape or undermine a common good culture. Whether religious or not, how can we learn to see our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world as our “parish” for which we are all responsible?

And that is my challenge to you. As you continue your education or embark on your career, consider the personal decisions you can make to seek the common good and promote our best values.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME Immigration

With Cantor Gone, Immigration Reform Is All On John Boehner Now

John Boehner, Eric Cantor
On the day of President Barack Obama'’s State of the Union address, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., at right, talks with reporters after a GOP strategy session at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, Jan. 28, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

With Cantor out, Speaker Boehner, the faith community is counting on you to act on immigration reform

The stunning primary defeat of Eric Cantor could be a blessing for passing immigration reform. Cantor, as Majority Leader in the House and the number two Republican, was no ally of immigration reform and was likely an obstacle to crucial bi-partisan action. Always lurking in the shadows and clearly hoping to be the next Speaker of the House, Cantor was a threat to John Boehner. Apparently, continually working the inside game to become the Speaker, instead of being a member of Congress who represented his district was one of the biggest reasons Cantor lost his election.

But now that Cantor is gone and with him, his threat, we hope that John Boehner will be free to act, to do what his head and heart tells him is the right thing to do on immigration reform. “Bibles, Badges, and Business” have all been pressing Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform as both a moral and economic issue, one in the true spirit of America’s embrace of immigrants, and one in which the gospel is at stake in how we “welcome the stranger.”

What is also now clear is that lawmakers across the political system, who have publically supported immigration reform, won their primaries. Republicans, who have led on immigration reform, won handily. On the same night Eric Cantor lost, Senator Lindsay Graham – a strong champion for immigration reform who co-sponsored the Senate’s Immigration bill -won with roughly 60% of the vote in his South Carolina primary. Lindsay had the support of many evangelical Christians who have united in their support for immigration reform.

Cantor, who would not schedule a vote on the Senate bill that passed last year, lost his primary, while those Republicans who took a clear positive pro-reform stance won theirs. Graham, Representative Renee Ellmers, and others who were most vocal in their support for fixing our broken immigration system sailed through their primaries.

This could clear the path for a bi-partisan political and moral agreement on fixing a broken immigration system that daily breaks up families and is causing the massive human suffering that our pastors and priests are dealing with every day.

For many of us in the faith community, immigration reform is now the moral test of the U.S. Congress. New polls that also came out this week show a majority of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mainline Protestants all want reform. And because the Republicans will decide this in the House, it is now all up to Speaker John Boehner. For us, it will be a moral choice and not just a political one. And one man will make that choice. For many in the faith community, immigration reform will be a moral test of the Republican Party, of the leadership and legacy of its leader John Boehner, and even their own electoral future.

Interestingly, Cantor’s opponent, Dave Brat, a self-described Tea Party leader, also identifies as a man of faith. Brat, who attends a Catholic church, is a graduate of Hope College, a higher education institution well knownwithin the evangelical community for thoughtful leadership and high-quality academics all grounded in Christian faith. While I have not polled Hope’s faculty, staff, and students, I suspect many of them would strongly disagree with Brat’s views. More importantly, we know that evangelicals across the country have been converted on this issue and now believe that how we treat 11 million undocumented people, is how we treat Christ himself. And that evangelical conversion is changing the discussion on immigration reform, across party lines. Most evangelicals—and Catholics– disagree with Dave Brat on what we should do with the “strangers” among us. And this change in evangelical politics will ultimately help change national politics on immigration reform.

So John Boehner, the faith community is now looking to you to lead and to do what you have said lawmakers are elected to do—to solve problems. This is a moral issue and a faith issue for us and as a Catholic, it should be one for you too. Mr. Speaker, you will feel our presence all around you in these next critical weeks in which we must get reform done and show the country that our political leaders can still do something positive and bi-partisan, that our leaders can still make the moral choice, not just the political one. We are praying for you and all of your colleagues in the Congress. May God give you courage and wisdom in these next few weeks.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME Religion

The Questions We Don’t Ask on Memorial Day

Why can’t we ask if these wars were right or wrong, worth the terrible sacrifices, or what we have learned from them?

Monday was Memorial Day, full of family trips and events, lots of picnics and barbecues with friends and neighbors, and a national day off from school and work. For us it was the Northwest Little League All Star game here at Friendship Field in Washington D.C., a family tradition for many years. My wife Joy, the Commissioner, organized the game day, including a wonderful picnic on a glorious baseball day for players, parents, relatives, and many fans–with 300 hotdogs!

It was also a day to remember all the people who have died in America’s wars. For the families of those war victims and so many of their fellow veterans it was a day of remembering and mourning. In the quiet moments of listening to the national anthem while looking at the American flag, our little baseball crowd with hats off might have been thinking about the meaning of the national holiday. But right afterward it was “Play Ball.”

On Memorial Days I always end up listening to the many stories from the families who lost their most beloved ones and from the veterans whose eyes still tear up when they recall their dearest buddies lost on battlefields far away. The emotion and pain always moves me. And watching all the messages of veterans’ organizations, you also see the incredible pain of those who came back from war with injuries and memories that still afflict their bodies, minds, and hearts. But I also wonder why nobody raises the questions about why all these sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, dads and moms–all these best of friends–had to die in those wars.

So why can’t we ask if these wars were right or wrong, worth the terrible sacrifices, or what we have learned from the wars? What was gained or lost? Who decided to go to war? And why do their families often bear the least consequences for the war decisions?

These are very hard questions, and people get angry when they are raised as some already are in reading this. Some will say it disrespects those who have suffered and died. But to raise the hard questions of why wars were decided and who decided them is actually a way to respect those who paid such a heavy price and perhaps would prevent more such horrible human costs.

I almost never hear veterans speak about the merits of their war, or its cause or purpose, or the strategies and ideologies behind the decisions to go to war. They talk about their friends, their brothers and sisters, their “family” who they lost on the battlefield. And the families of lost servicemen and women talk about how their loss was so devastating and life-changing. Hardly any of the Memorial Day testimonies are to the war; they are to the war victims.

The war in my youth was the Vietnam War and I still hardly ever go to the Vietnam Memorial. The few times I’ve gone there, I felt enormous pain. My generation’s names are etched on that long black wall, and when I read and touch them I feel overwhelmed with grief.

The Vietnam War was based on lies and was exposed as a political and moral mistake, but went on even after we knew it was wrong and destined for disaster. Vietnam’s American casualties were disproportionately lower-income and racial minorities. This war sank into tactics that killed many innocents while damaging the souls of our own soldiers. Vietnam violated our nation’s best values and religious convictions, but even then many were angry when leaders like Dr. King asked hard questions about war.

Iraq was another war based on lies, and morally compounded by being a war over oil. Was this a war of necessity or choice? Again, the casualties were significantly lower-income people and racial minorities who volunteered for the military hoping for future opportunities they didn’t have. Only some brave souls questioned why so few were asked to bear the terrible costs while the rest of the nation went on with life as usual. Afghanistan, begun to bring those who attacked us to justice, became the longest war in our history, again without honest answers to what we really have accomplished.

War has become such a business in America, whose beneficiaries are not the people we remember on Memorial Day. The veterans we honored yesterday are not even receiving adequate care when they come home and are being used as political pawns, as the latest Veterans Administration scandal reveals.

As we remember those who died serving our country, Memorial Day should also be a day when we ask the hard questions about our wars, what we have learned, and whether such painful losses are truly worth the terrible cost.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME politics

That Time Obama Showed Up At My Little League Game

U.S. President Barack Obama poses with Little League baseball players and their coach at Friendship Park in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama poses with Little League baseball players and their coach at Friendship Park in Washington May 19, 2014. Yuri Gripas—Reuters

On Monday, President Obama showed up at my son's Little League game. In sports and in life, things are unpredictable, and a spark can change everything.

How do you get your Little League team to get their hitting going? Get a surprise visit before your game from President Barack Obama! Our excited kids won 12-1.

I’ve been a Little League baseball coach for 10 years and 20 seasons; first with my 15 year-old sophomore son Luke who has graduated way beyond his Dad coach to high school varsity baseball, and now with my 11 year old son Jack—who got to meet the President of the United States at his game on Monday night. The expressions on the kid’s faces when Obama walked on to their field were magical and priceless.

It’s rather unexpected to have the President show up on your baseball diamond, talk to your team and shake hands with all your players as a warm-up to your game. But this is Washington. One of the three Washington Post stories featured a wonderful team picture with the President and our Tigers, with his arm around the shoulder of Jack. My wife Joy says we’re going to frame that one.

Some of my baseball parents know that the President has been a friend of mine for a long time. I was a member of his original faith council and have worked with him on issues like poverty and immigration. But I had no idea he was coming and he was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. “Wallis, what are you doing here!” Obama yelled with a big smile as he walked onto Friendship Field. Like the best moments in sports—some things just happen.

The President did an impromptu detour from a trip to a fundraiser to stop for a little while and hang out with some Little League baseball players. Press Secretary Jay Carney has a daughter who was playing in the game at the other end of the field and the President decided to drop Dad off and pay a visit to all the boys and girls on the way to his next event. From the looks on Barack Obama’s face during his time with the Little Leaguers, I would guess he enjoyed it more than the political fund-raiser afterward.

After taking some minutes to talk to the players, shake every kid’s hand, and do a picture with each of the four teams; the President threw out the first pitch to my Tigers catcher, Danny Ringel who was ready for the Pitcher-in- Chief at home plate. When local news stations interviewed the 10-year-old after the game, Danny said, “I don’t see him every day. It’s sort of grand. It just felt amazing,” Like a smart catcher, Danny told the press that the President’s pitch “was outside…but good.” It was a little outside, but Danny snagged it, causing the President to point to Danny and say, “You saved me from grounding. Thanks man!” Danny later told me, “I didn’t know whether to throw it back to him, so I just walked out to the mound and gave him the ball.” The President then signed the ball for Danny, who now has his favorite thing in the world. In the end, the Tigers were victorious. But for Danny Ringel, to be able to catch and keep a ball signed by the President of the United States probably beats just about anything.

The President’s visit inspired our whole Tigers team and they had their best game ever! Twelve runs on 12 hits! Two of our players got their first hits of the season and the Washington Post reported that “Jack Wallis had a double, triple and homer, and Della Carney, one of just two girls in her division, made a stellar catch in left field.” Jack was quite surprised when his mother showed him the article at breakfast this morning; he thought for a moment, and asked, “Do you think this will help with my scouting prospects?”

I got to have a little chat with the President as he was leaving and could see how much he was enjoying himself. A White House note to me later that night said he had as much fun as the kids.

It was already a perfect night for baseball. Then we had a visit from the President and our bats came alive! I told the happy Tigers in our usual post-game meeting that all we needed to win, and to play our best game so far; was for the President to show up! We’ll check his schedule for the play-offs!

In sports and in life, things are unpredictable, and a spark can change everything. Being a spark for change is what Barack Obama hoped he could do as President of the United States. Washington’s dysfunctional politics makes that difficult every day; but it happened Monday night–on our own field of dreams.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME Religion

The Bible Calls for Moral Action on Climate Change

To ignore climate change is to abuse the moral call to care for the environment, and generations to come will suffer

Some of the most inspiring words in the entire Bible are found in the opening pages of Genesis. Here we are told that humans were created in God’s image and given a divine mandate to care for Creation (Gen. 1:26-31). Our vocation—our calling—is to partner with God in preserving and sustaining the earth with all the creatures and species that God has made. The word used in most translations is “dominion,” and the true meaning is what we would today call “stewardship.”

Unfortunately these passages have often been used and abused to advance countless agendas, often to the great detriment of the Earth and its inhabitants. The deep sense of stewardship implied by and inherent in these verses is ignored and the word “dominion” has been interpreted as domination—and a license to destroy. Such thinking is not just unfaithful to God; it is dangerous to all God’s creation and creatures.

The most recent example of this unfortunate mindset can be seen in the recent comments made by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) denying that human activity contributes to climate change. He claimed proposals attempting to address the troubling climate trends were problematic because they might hamper economic growth and lacked international buy-in. We certainly wouldn’t want something as insignificant as the sustainability of our planet to impinge on next quarter’s GDP, or worse yet, a potential candidate’s presidential campaign.

Much attention has been given to Rubio’s denial of climate science. After all, there is overwhelming evidence that climate change is real and humans are contributing to it in significant ways. But what’s potentially more harmful than his devaluing of the widespread scientific consensus is the utter lack of discussion about moral implications. This was in fact a political denial of the facts, for the sake of a voting base he desperately wants to cultivate; but worse, a cover up of both moral and theological imperatives.

And there are serious moral costs to our willful ignorance and political inaction on climate change.

It is time to acknowledge this as the sin of short-termism. By prioritizing the present—and at worst, current political calculations—at the expense of the future we are risking the health and prosperity of future generations. Our nation has long prided itself on leaving the next generation better off, but what sort of example are we now setting and what inheritance are we passing on? It is hard to answer these questions honestly because we are unwilling to admit the truth. Scientific denial is psychologically easier. For some of our elected leaders it is also politically convenient.

While its secular usage is increasing, the word “repentance” remains a deeply theological term. Biblically, it demands both an acknowledgment of the wrong that has been done and a commitment to act differently in the future. You cannot repent if you are unwilling to change. When it comes to climate change, we cannot just lament what has gone wrong. And we must do more than just point to the already alarming consequences of climate change and the catastrophic potentials which lie ahead. Instead, we must repent of the harm we’ve caused and commit ourselves to a new course of action.

In a recent speech, President Obama outlined an agenda for addressing climate change. He clearly named the goals which must be sought: first, a transformative investment in clean energy; second, a significant reduction of dirty energy; and third, a collective commitment in every part of our society to save energy. It’s really as simple as that. So why can’t we agree to the moral narrative that underlies these outlined solutions? The tremendous gains that can be achieved—for both the public and private sector—from increased energy efficiency and a renewed commitment to conservation is something good for our planet, our lifestyles, and our souls.

Here is the moral narrative. What will your grandchildren’s grandchildren ask about why we, and why you, did not do what was necessary for them? Why were we so selfish and short-sighted? Why didn’t we care enough about the future of our world and theirs, to take care of our descendants? And here is the biblical and spiritual narrative: does care for God’s creation really allow us to exploit the earth and its resources for short term economic self-interest? Is that good stewardship and the humble worship of God?

There is much to be commended in the President’s plan and what many scientists are pleading for, but unless we confront the underlying narratives that inhibit faithful progress even the most obvious policy solutions will remain out of reach because of our nation’s dysfunctional politics and short-term economics. The irony is that the moral course of action would bring new economic opportunities. There are more potential good jobs in the retrofitting of the nation to conserve energy, and the re-wiring of our energy grid for a cleaner future; but that would not be in the self-interest of the oil and gas companies that now control the country and its politics.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so often quoted, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Of this I have no doubt. My only question is whether we’ll have the moral courage on climate change to bend it fast enough before catastrophe becomes unavoidable. For the sake of my grandchildren—for the sake of my grandchildren’s grandchildren—I hope we start taking our calling as stewards of God’s Creation a lot more seriously.

It’s time to stop denying science, denying our created instructions, and denying the sovereignty of God. Instead, let’s start acknowledging our moral responsibilities.

Jim Wallisis president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.


Punishing Donald Sterling Is Good, But It Doesn’t Mean Racism is Dead

Racist incidents involving Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling remind us of just how much we have left to do end racism

The ugly racial statements of the Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Sterling sparked a series of hopefully historic events over the last several days. The press conferences on Tuesday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and the player’s representative in this crisis—are worthy of deeper reflection.

With both passion and outrage in his face, NBA Commissioner Silver banned Sterling for life from both the L.A. Clippers and the NBA for his racist comments about African-Americans. Sterling’s despicable racial opinions, made him the ugly and ignorant face of white racism, a dishonor undoubtedly earned due to a his personal history of hateful racial discrimination.

It’s now clear that current players were planning to boycott the play-offs that night if the official response to Sterling was not strong enough. But Silver was adamant that Sterling’ views had “no place in the NBA,” that he would never be allowed to set foot in any NBA facility, and that the commissioner would call upon the other owners to remove him as an NBA owner. The punishment for Sterling’s blatant racism was a lifetime ban from the NBA and that he will lose his team.

All this took place just days after Cliven Bundy, an outspoken Nevada rancher and anti-government conservative favorite, told the world that black people might be better off if they were still slaves. Again such utter stupidity and blind racism was given a particularly ugly face. Former Republican supporters and Fox News commentators disowned Bundy after his embarrassing comments.

But as adamant as the response to such overt racism must be, it is also the easiest kind of racism to oppose. Underneath the racial bigotry revealed by such extremes is a history and pervasive presence of racism in America that runs deep and gets painfully complicated. Kevin Johnson, the former point guard and present mayor of Sacramento put it this way in his press conference, “There will be zero tolerance for institutional racism, no matter how rich or powerful.” But we are a long way from that.

What would a “life-long ban” on institutional racism mean in our economy, our politics, and in our own hearts and lives?

We acknowledge that an NBA owner telling his extremely young mistress that she can sleep with other black people (as she herself is black and Hispanic) but not bring them with her to “his” NBA games—is sick and wrong.

And we acknowledge that saying that black people would be better off as slaves and that “their” young men should be taught to pick cotton again—is also sick and wrong.

But let’s be honest here. Maintaining a criminal justice system where people of color are more often arrested, convicted, and sentenced for much longer than whites —often for the same crimes—has created a racially biased mass incarceration system which is also wrong.

Accepting an economy where structural inequality and lack of opportunity follow clear racial lines and tolerating an educational system that virtually imprisons low-income young people of color in generational poverty is also wrong.

Political gerrymandering of Congressional districts that excludes minority voters and keeps whites in power, or using voter ID laws to suppress the votes of poor, elderly, or young minority citizens is also wrong.

And in all of our hearts and minds, to refuse to recognize and resist the implicit racial biases we have from being raised in a racialized society is also wrong.

Who among us is willing to be as adamant against all of those wrongs , especially when racism can become so nuanced, subtle, and complicated—but no less real?

In a press conference before Tuesday’s game, Doc Rivers, the legendary and coach of the Los Angeles Clippers commented: You know you learn over and over that when something like this happens with the burden of racism, it always falls on the person who has been offended to respond. I’ve always thought that’s interesting. I felt the pressure on my players. Everyone was waiting for them to give a response. And I kept thinking they didn’t do anything, yet they have to respond. So Adam (Silver) responded and I thought that was the sigh of relief that we needed. Is this over, no it’s not over; but it’s the start of a healing process that we need….and that’s very important. The 14 guys that are players, they did nothing wrong and they need support and I think that will happen.

Why is it that those who have been offended are the ones always expected to respond when they again are attacked or undermined by white racism? Why do we whites so often leave the response about racism to black and brown people? Why do white churches leave that to African American, Hispanic, or Asian American churches?

Wouldn’t white people, leaders, and churches speaking out against racism, vowing not to tolerate it, and “banning” institutional racism, be as Doc Rivers said, a sigh of relief to those who are always the ones who suffer the racial offenses?

Any honest response to racism requires admitting what is obviously true: racism damages us all and thus requires all of us—not just the African-American community– to respond. The sin of racism is a societal one and it demands a collective response. All of us are implicated. None of us are immune. These recent episodes remind us how much work is left for all of us to do.

Jim Wallisis president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME Religion

A Different Kind of Spring Training

This Holy Week, I realized God's hope in a place other than church

Proclaiming that the tomb is empty – that Jesus has risen from the grave – is the most powerful witness any Christian can offer. But if our Easter celebration stops at proclamation then we’ve shortchanged the world of the hope and joy it sorely needs. The resurrection must also be about embodiment. It should change the way we live and move and have our being. Easter should transform and strengthen us to participate in God’s reconciling work in the world.

That’s why I chose to spend this Easter worshipping in a very different way and in a very different place. There was no midnight watch service or large family dinner, but there were countless moments of hope and an abiding trust in the possibility of new life.

For the past two years, John McCarthy, whom everyone affectionately calls Coach Mac, has taken a group of young baseball players from Washington, D.C. to join kids in the Dominican Republic (DR) for a week of playing baseball. Major League Baseball teams recruit heavily from the DR. 20 percent of professional baseball players learned the fundamentals of the game in this small country. Baseball is part of the nation’s cultural rhythms. Coach Mac runs a legendary program in Washington, D.C. called “Homerun Baseball” where the t-shirts read “Talent is what you have, effort is what you give.” He is known for using baseball to teach life lessons. He teaches his players how to succeed on and off the field.

One of the issues that has specifically tugged at John’s heart is literacy. The money he raises through his program helps subsidize reading programs in the nation’s capital, Brooklyn, NY, and the Dominican Republic. I believe in his work and was thrilled that my 11-year old son Jack and I could be a part of the Dominican journey last week.

For many baseball fans in the United States, their romantic image of the game is capture by the movie Field of Dreams. Pitches are thrown and bats are swung amidst the growing corn stalks and simple joys of small town America. But in the Dominican Republic, baseball diamonds are surrounded by sugarcane, whose shoots are used for the dugout walls. The scene is almost magical. Watching our boys sit on the bench chewing on sugarcane sticks was a sight to behold. Coach Mac knows I am a long-time little league coach in DC, so I was invited to join his coaching staff in the DR. We led skill drills and coached daily double headers under the hot sun, working alongside our Dominican counterparts. We shared stories of past exploits – my favorite coach, 27-year-old Luis, told the story of his years playing in the minor leagues. Luis showed his commitment to helping other kids escape the grinding poverty that far too frequently dashes youthful dreams in his country.

In the DR, baseball is played hard and well because many believe that it is their only opportunity to escape from poverty. Our kids were able to recognize their own privilege and it amazed them to see how their Dominican teammates come from so little yet bring so much to the field every day. Kids like Mosquito, whose mother died of HIV/AIDS, who is both deaf and mute, but is such a good pitcher that one of our Homerun coaches, a former MLB pitcher himself for 17 years, thinks this 12-year-old could eventually make the Majors. Or Isaac, a big hitter who kept hitting balls over buildings, always with a big smile on his face. Or little Derrick, who snuck onto the bus because he wanted to join our team– to our great benefit because of his great swing and glove in the field! Or even Kendre, who liked to catch for me while I hit ground balls to the infielders. He kept calling me “Coach Diego,” and caught hard throws with the flimsiest glove until I gave him mine to borrow. Kendre could hardly believe his good fortune when I told him at the end of the second day to keep my glove.

Many of the children attend a school started years earlier by the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. These sisters are also a core partner in the baseball program, recognizing too that the truth of the resurrection must be embodied in tangible ways.

At the end of the week, we stood around a huge baseball cake while both American and Dominican players talked about what they had learned. As they thanked each other and vowed to do it again next year, one 11-year-old Dominican player said, “Keep playing baseball and keep believing in God.” Another wished us safe travel “Vamos con Dios!” or “Go with God.”

In a final late night conversation with Jack and his friend Sam, we discussed what we had learned and how our lives might help change the lives of the young players and families we had met. They came up with the idea of a “foundation” to bring lots of baseball equipment from their teams and friends to the DR. That’s fine I said, but asked if baseball will really help many people in the Dominican escape poverty. No, they thought, that will take education and the boys decided we need to include books with the baseball gear. So look out for the “J and S Glove and Book Foundation” coming soon!

This “holy” week drove home to me how the resurrection calls us to bring hope wherever we go. When we can live in that reality—that death and evil do not finally win—we find the strength to participate in God’s work in the world.

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