TIME faith

It’s Time for Whites to Accept Responsibility for Racist Systems

Hundreds march on day of disobedience in St. Louis
Clergy members lead hundreds of protestors march from Wellspring Church to the Ferguson police station in an act of civil disobedience on October 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents

I and many other faith leaders came to Ferguson, Missouri, on Sunday and Monday because of Michael Brown—an 18-year-old black teenager who, though unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer on August 9. My first thoughts when I heard the news were about my 16-year-old son Luke. I knew how unlikely it would be that this would ever happen to my white son in America.

Coming to Ferguson was about Michael Brown. But Ferguson has also become a parable for our nation. Jesus often told parables. A parable is just a story, but often one with a simple but important point.

The Ferguson parable is simply this: black lives in America are worth less than white lives—especially in our criminal justice system. And the parable of Ferguson rings true around the nation, with the many young black men who were and have been assaulted, shot and killed before and after Michael Brown.

The big question for us is, how long will we accept the unacceptable? When will we decide to right this unacceptable wrong? I believe that is a question for parents, and for white parents in particular. How long will white parents accept the fact that the lives of children of black parents’ are worth less in our police and criminal justice systems than the lives of white sons and daughters?

Black parents are friends we meet through our children’s schools, colleagues in our workplaces, and the moms and dads we sit with at baseball and soccer games. Black parents are our brothers and sisters in Christ if we call ourselves Christians. So let’s be honest. If white Christians in America were willing to act more Christian that white when it comes to race, black parents would be less fearful for their children.

Every black parent I know or have ever spoken to has “The Talk” with their sons and daughters. “The Talk” is a conversation about how to behave and not to behave–“keep your hands open and out in front of you, shut your mouth, be respectful, say sir”–when you find yourself in the presence of a white policeman with a gun. But white parents don’t have to have this talk with their kids. That’s a radical difference between the experiences of black and white parents in America. How can we continue to accept that? Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents. That’s why I went to Ferguson this weekend and why I got arrested.

As a Little League baseball coach, I know that all the black parents of kids I have coached have had “The Talk,” while none of the white parents have had such conversations with their children. And most white parents haven’t got a clue that those talks are going on between their son’s black teammates and his parents. So what does it really mean to be teammates?

As Nicholas Kristof said in his Sunday New York Times column: “The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks… We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”

Let me add a tougher conclusion. To my white brothers and sisters: you can’t continue to say you are not racist when you continue to accept and support systems that are. It’s time for white people to take responsibility for our acceptance of racist systems.

These conversations will make people uncomfortable, and they should. I want to ask white parents to ask their black parent friends about “The Talk.” Ask them if they have had the talk with their sons. What did they say? What did their son say? How did it feel for them to have that conversation with their son? What’s it like not to be able to trust law enforcement in their own community?

The time for zero tolerance of racial policing has come. It’s time to right an unacceptable wrong. It’s time for white parents to join with black parents to make that happen. And it’s time for white Christians to join black Christians and say that black lives are important; all lives are important. These kids are not just God’s kids, they are our kids.

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

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Defeating ISIS Will Take More Than Military Action

In order to truly defeat ISIS, we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels

It’s time to make the obvious connections. To keep focusing on consequences for national security, but ignoring the causes will create one terrorist group and war after another. Wars can only ever attack symptoms; peace requires that we deal with fundamental reasons for conflict. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus, not the peace-lovers who keep hoping their government’s latest military strategy will work. And to hope for any lasting peace in the Middle East will mean challenging and changing the unjust oil economy we have helped to create—that not only threatens the planet through climate change, but threatens our lives and our children through constant terrorism and war.

Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad,” is the Chaplain of St. George’s Anglican Church in the capital of Iraq, which is now threatened by ISIS. He was in Washington this week to seek humanitarian aid and protection for the Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq who are suffering at the hands of ISIS. Over breakfast with him, I heard incredibly horrible stories of Christians being slaughtered, with most now fleeing for their lives.

White and Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed, who directs their foundation which administers aid to Iraqis, both described how Christians, Sunni, and Shia Muslims lived together in relative peace until the American invasion of Iraq. Before the war, many in the global faith community, including Pope Saint John Paul II and Christian leaders in the U.S. and the UK, warned that the bombing and invasion of Iraq could destroy and radically destabilize the country, taking many innocent lives and creating more extreme terrorism and hatred toward America across the region. ISIS is a clear result of the American war in Iraq and an occupation which failed to understand and tragically inflamed the 1,400-year sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunnis.

Now, the warhawks still want to bring another full out war back to Iraq.

But let’s give the hawks credit for some honesty. If we fail to deal with the underlying causes of extreme terrorism, their solution of serial American invasions and long-term occupations in many Middle Eastern countries is one credible response to continuing terrorism—Rome vs. the barbarians. Let’s be clear: ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups are indeed barbarians. Yet it is the injustices of Rome and subsequent super-powers that create the grievances that help create barbarians. The early Christians certainly didn’t side with the barbarians, but neither did they side with Rome: the Christians offered another way, and other alternatives.

The modern injustices that lead to our modern barbarians lead right back to our oil economy and the repressive regimes that produce nothing, but instead just sell the fossil fuels under their sands. It’s time to be honest: the West is guilty of creating those states, of actually defining new countries and shaping the unnatural and oppressive geography of today’s Middle East. Many of these regimes are utterly corrupt, run by elites that serve their own wealth instead of their people and systematically oppress women.

As of 2010, about 55% of the population in the Middle East and North Africa is under the age of 25. Massive numbers of unemployed, uneducated, and angry young men are very vulnerable to hateful extremists who speak the rhetoric of revenge, the savage myth of redemptive violence, and the ugly distortions of religion into their ears. Injustice results in barbarians.

To ultimately “defeat” terrorism will take more than one military action after another. It will take the end of our energy dependence on the unjust oil regimes and their fossil fuels. It will take a conversion to a clean energy future and a commitment to the stewardship of God’s earth which would benefit all of God’s children.

This weekend, many of us from the faith community will gather in New York City as heads of state convene at the United Nations for a summit on climate change. We will make the faith argument for energy conservation, for ending our dependence on dirty energy for investing in clean and renewable energy, and for protecting God’s creation from the alarming and growing dangers of climate change—brought on by our use of fossil fuels.

We must also start to make it clear that overcoming our economic, political, and spiritual addiction to fossil fuels is the only way to overcome and defeat the terrorism that is such a threat to our lives, our children, and our religious freedom in the days ahead.

This will be a long term commitment that will take time. But any short and middle term strategies aimed at protecting vulnerable people and pushing back terrorist forces will only work if they go hand in hand with our long-term conversion to a new energy economy.

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

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Ferguson’s Reach: A Shot Felt in South Africa

Racially-based injustice is America’s ongoing apartheid

I was in South Africa on August 9, when a young, unarmed black man was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. It didn’t take long before Michael Brown’s story was on all the news channels in South Africa. After that, in every media interview I did Ferguson came up. “How could this have happened?” all the journalists asked. When I laid out the pattern of this happening regularly to men of color in America at the hands of white police or other men with guns, they were stunned. “White cops couldn’t get away with that anymore in South Africa,” they said.

On my speaking tour I met a new generation of South African leaders who are not content to just re-tell the stories of winning political freedom. They are now laying out their own agenda and vocation—of turning political liberation into economic liberation and gender equality, goals that have yet to be achieved. Economic inequality is actually greater now than under apartheid and gender violence is a frightening epidemic. But a rainbow nation they now are and the image of a young black man with his hands in the air being shot multiple times by a white American policeman was appalling to both blacks and whites.

As a young man, I was deeply blessed and forever changed when I was invited into the South African struggle during the 1980’s. I witnessed the miracle of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and the birth of a new nation which taught me my theology of hope. Back then I learned what it means to “believe in spite of the evidence then watch the evidence change” as I often say.

Now I was blessed again, coming back to South Africa and making a deep connection with a new generation of leaders. I watched Ferguson from South Africa. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of events from our own civil rights movement it’s time for a new generation and a new agenda to be lifted up. At its heart will be reforming a criminal justice system that still reveals America’s original sin of white racism. The myths of a post-racial society have been swept away by the structural racial realities of our arrests, sentencing, and convictions. The mass incarceration of people of color is the fatal flaw that undermines the success of the civil rights movement. This is America’s ongoing apartheid.

Young men of color are vulnerable to white men with guns, whether police officers or new white vigilantes whose violence has become legally justified. Every black family in America, of every class and status, knows that to be true. Every black parent has had “the conversation”—a painful fact to which every parent with young boys must recognize and respond. And when young men of color are rightfully distrustful of law enforcement, our society is in deep moral jeopardy.

The young people I met on my trip know they cannot achieve a genuinely new South Africa without a new relationship between all races. Christians call that reconciliation, but these young people realize it can only be trusted by concrete commitments to racial and economic justice. And that applies to us too. Black churches must not be left alone to fight the mass incarceration of their young people. A racial issue must be turned into a gospel issue for churches and a democratic issue for the nation. Both the gospel and our democracy are being tested by the kind of events that keep happening in places like Ferguson.

A young black South African leader told me what happened to him when he worked for the Salvation Army in the United States. He and two of his young white co-workers were driving one night when a white police officer pulled them over. The cop asked the driver for her license and registration, which were in her bag. When my friend lifted her bag to her the cop pulled his gun and said, “What are you doing?” When he explained the cop holstered his weapon. But when the young man suggested that they turn down the car radio so they could hear the officer, the cop put his gun in the black man’s face and said, “What did you say to me?” This was in Rhode Island, not Florida or Missouri. “I grew up knowing I might get shot in South Africa, but didn’t think I would get shot in America,” my young friend told me.

This behavior is a sin—against our brothers and sisters, against true democracy in America and ultimately a sin against God. The sin must be repented of and turned around. Reversing the sins of a racist criminal justice system must become an agenda for a new generation of Christians from every race and faith community in America.

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

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 faith

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.

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