‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

REDISCOVERING HIS SWAG: President Barack Obama presents his jobs speech before a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

As one of my Facebook friends posted last night, “President Obama has got his swag back.” And right on time, too. Although President Obama has been criticized in recent months for being long on compromise and short on muscle, he combined both in his jobs speech to Congress last night. Like the refrain in a treasured hymn, Obama repeatedly charged Congress to “pass this jobs plan right away” as he laid out the “American Jobs Act.”

In his characteristic commonsensical approach, Obama also told Congress and the country that nothing in his bill was controversial or had not been passed by some of these very Democrats and Republicans in the past. Some of the perks in the bill include: payroll taxes cut in half next year for small business owners, the repair and modernization of at least 35,000 schools, rehiring of laid off teachers, tax credits for companies that hire veterans and people who have been looking for a job for more than six months and a $1,500 tax cut for a typical working family. So what’s not to love in this bill?

After touting some of the benefits that everyone could agree on, Obama got into the nitty-gritty, attacking the sacred cows of the opposing sides. To the Dems, he said that Medicare needed to be reformed point blank and that “we are spending too fast to sustain the program.” And to the Repubs, he said “a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets.” To drive home his point of irony, he mentioned that Warren Buffet has a lower tax rate than his secretary. Can we say a collective and prolonged, “Ouch?!” I’ll wait …

And Obama had a word for the rabble-rousing Tea Partiers too: government, in and of itself, is not evil. He reminded us how government built the transcontinental railroad, launched the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges, passed the GI Bill, and funded research leading to the creation of our beloved Internet. 

And all of this hope and change comes with a price tag of reportedly $447 billion in tax cuts and government spending.

Although Obama attempted to steer the conversation away from an election still over a year away, I can’t help but wonder if his “Clint Eastwood-esque” speech, a speech reminiscent of his best election speeches, is just the bullet he needed to have a fighting chance in the 2012 election. After the debt ceiling fiasco, I’m thinking Congress better act in a balanced way toward this bill (i.e., putting the welfare of Americans first and their political careers last). If not, they will face the biblical principle of what is first being made last. For the GOP presidential candidates, their refrain is the same: spending bad, Obama bad. No surprise there.

The president’s speech may be a good start, but you know what they say about action versus words. In other words, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). If a person needs a job, and we shout, “This person needs a job,” but then no job is offered, what good is shouting? Good deeds must follow faith. Abraham followed up his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son. Rahab the prostitute followed up her faith by hiding the Hebrew spies and leading them to a safe path.

What got Obama elected in the first place was not just his impassioned speeches but the fact that he was not a member of the commanding party that failed to act for the people (instead the corporate elite) as the economy tanked. While Obama will always be remembered as a great orator and even the president that passed health-care reform and took down bin Laden, if he does not inspire Congress to act in a way that produces tangible economic results — i.e., jobs — that can be listed 14 months from now, Obama’s reelection campaign might be dead on arrival.

Of course, the reality is that neither Congress nor the president really controls jobs or the economy. But as Obama’s renewed urgency suggests, that fact doesn’t mean anything to the American voters come Election Day. Likely, the only thing that will matter then is whether they — and their laid-off neighbors and their kids who just graduated from college and their friends from church whose companies went out of business — are working.

Clergy Excluded from 9/11 Ceremonies

Clergy Excluded from 9/11 Ceremonies

The Problem and the Protesters

Progressive Christian leaders including former Democratic congressman Floyd Flake and Sojourners President Jim Wallis held a press conference today near the World Trade Center site to announce that they are adding their voices to the conservative chorus of religious leaders (Richard Land, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson) that has criticized New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to exclude clergy from Sunday’s 9/11 memorial dedication at ground zero, CNN reported.

“But there’s a twist. In addition to criticizing Bloomberg, progressive religious leaders are also taking aim at prominent conservatives who have blasted Bloomberg in recent days, alleging that those critics are stoking division at a time that calls for national unity,” the article said.

Surprised and Disappointed

“Utterly disappointed and surprised” was the response of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City councilman and the pastor of New Life Outreach International church in the Bronx to Bloomberg’s decision, CNN reported.

“There’s certain things that government cannot do, and answering questions of meaning of ‘Why are we going through this?’ and ‘Where am I going to get strength from?’ – those are existential questions that can only be answered from a spiritual aspect,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera and the Family Research Council have collected over 62,000 signatures asking the mayor to allow clergy, prayer and first responders (who have also been excluded) at the city’s 9/11 memorial ceremony Sunday, The Christian Post reported.

The Microphone Won’t Melt

Among Bloomberg’s critics is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani was widely praised for his handling of the 9/11 crisis when he was mayor. He echoed the recommendation of Southern Baptist Richard Land, who said there should be a priest, a minister, a rabbi, and an imam at the event.

“Say a little prayer. The microphone will not melt,” said Giuliani before launching into a brief lesson at the National Press Club on what the constitution says about church/state separation.

Consistent Exclusion

But clergy have never been an official part of the 10 remembrance ceremonies at ground zero; moments of silence have and will be again, The Huffington Post reported.

Bloomberg’s Rebuttal

The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature and this year’s six moments of silence allow every individual a time for personal and religious introspection, a spokeswoman for the mayor told HuffPost.

An Uphill Battle

Critics “face an uphill battle,” Religion News Service’s David Gibson said, because “Bloomberg is not one to second-guess himself” and “tends to get what he wants.” Besides, Bloomberg defended religious freedom when he “championed Muslims’ right to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero” and when he “rejected the advice of secular critics and defended the inclusion of a cross made of girders from the fallen towers in the new 9/11 Memorial.”

Protesting a Call to Compassion

Meanwhile, protests are being lobbed by some Christians because Evangelicals won’t be represented at the Washington National Cathedral’s “A Call to Compassion” on September 11, the Daily Caller reported. The commemoration will include a bishop, a rabbi, a Tibetan lama, a Buddhist nun, representatives of the Hindu and Jain faiths, an imam and an Islamic musician, but no evangelicals.

The idea that a group that represents at least 35 percent of the population has been excluded “is difficult to comprehend, much less to defend,” said Southern Baptist Richard Land.

What do you think?

Are these egregious omissions or much ado about nothing?

How Did 9/11 Change Urban Ministry?

How Did 9/11 Change Urban Ministry?

The Cross at Ground Zero.

 

Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, so we asked three urban leaders who will be participating in memorial events how the attacks impacted urban ministry.

Here’s what they said:

Jeremy Del Rio, Esq., New York

Jeremy Del Rio is executive director of Community Solutions, Inc. a faith based youth and community development agency in New York City. On September 10, Del Rio will participate in Reaching Out, A Sacred Assembly, a prayer and worship service in New York City.

September 11, 2001 exposed gaps in urban ministry in ways that could not be ignored any longer. The church’s response to those gaps demonstrated grace and hope and provided a glimpse of what might be one day.  For me, here are three lessons learned over the last decade:

1) The magnitude of the attack and the scope of its impact required a Jesus who was far bigger than any one ministry or personality to heal. It forced the Church to confront the sad reality that we were too disconnected from each other to be a useful partner to our city during a crisis. It’s impossible to mobilize 7,000 churches quickly when they aren’t already connected and coordinated, so the city didn’t call us initially for help. Pastors and church leaders had to repent for being lone rangers and intentionally link arms during the common crisis in order to respond effectively and be Christ to a city that was collectively grieving in unprecedented ways.

2) September 11 also exposed fear and bigotry among many Christians towards our Muslim cousins.  Suddenly, many who professed a love for Christ and people were parroting suspicions about our immigrant neighbors and perceiving threats where none existed. The Church had to embrace that Jesus’ imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves includes those individuals and communities we might otherwise fear, and wrestle with how to build bridges during and beyond the crisis.

3) The inertia of normalcy has obscured the need to remain vigilant in nurturing the kind of relationships that build trust across denominations and congregations, and with neighbors regardless of their faith and cultural traditions. My prayer for the Church on this tenth anniversary is that we would recapture what it means to love each other in such a way that the world will know we are His disciples.

To read more about how Jeremy and his father Rev. Richard Del Rio ministered in lower Manhattan post-9/11, go here.

Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries, Somerset, New Jersey

DeForest “Buster” Soaries is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, and a pioneer of faith-based community development who has also served as New Jersey Secretary of State and chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission. On September 11, Rev. Soaries will speak at the September 11th Remembrance Service in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

I’m not sure the impact was greater in urban areas or not. The short term impact was to motivate people to think more about God, faith, and church. But long term, we have seen a return to a preoccupation with materialism versus a focus on God. The major ministry need that I’ve experienced and seen around the country is a greater need for focus on mental health ministry. We’ve added a full time therapist to our staff.

Black America has historically been the most optimistic and today all of the data describe African Americans as being more optimistic than the general population on the one hand. On the other hand, in terms of concrete expectations, we’re finding that there’s a greater sense of hopelessness and despair. The way that’s related to 9/11 is that prior to 9/11 our culture perceived itself as being almost invulnerable. What 9/11 did was begin a process of perceived vulnerability. After 10 years of being constantly reminded how vulnerable we are, it has begun to affect us emotionally and psychologically. The church has to create the connection for people between our emotional, psychological, and spiritual status.

While 9/11 was a terrorist attack, we’ve also been victims of a global economic meltdown and I would argue that our sense of helplessness in response to the economic meltdown is directly related to the decline in our sense of national self confidence. Prior to 9/11 we had this sense of “we can make it if we try.” In post-9/11 America, we have a sense of “there’s no way out.”

The economic crisis that we’re experiencing is probably more difficult to climb out of emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually then it perhaps would have been before 9/11. In 1987 we had a tremendous stock crash, but the general sense of the country was “we can make it through this.” Then in 2001, we had another traumatic decline in the stock market, but now what we’re finding is that the kind of optimism that would normally accompany economic decline seems to be accompanied by a general sense of pessimistic projection. I think 9/11 was the singular date when we began to question our ability to really manage our circumstances. The challenge of the church is to make the case that our psychological, emotional, and therefore poltical status, hinges on our spiritual strength.

Shane Claiborne, Philadelphia

Shane Claiborne is co-founder of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia, a best-selling author, and a social justice/peace activist. On September 10, he will co-host Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream, a 90 minute variety show, with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founder Ben Cohen in Philadelphia.

My initial thoughts about the impact of 9/11 on urban ministry relate to the increases in military spending where we’re spending like $250,000 a minute. As the country goes bankrupt, it raises all kinds of questions. In our neighborhood, we can really see what Dr. King meant when he said, “Every time a bomb goes off overseas, we can feel the second impact of it right here.” We’ve got thousands and thousands of abandoned houses, a bankrupt school system, folks needing healthcare. The interconnectedness of that is really evident.

In addition, I think that what one veteran from Iraq called the “economic draft” has become a really urgent reality for our kids in the urban neighborhood here, where they’re selectively recruited. The fliers that they give out say, “Everybody told you to go to college. They just didn’t tell you how to get there. Join the Army.”

We have a drop out rate over 40 percent in Philadelphia. At a graduation I attended this year, they said more kids will be going into the military than will be going to college. That really struck me. The post-September 11 military ethos has grown and affected things dramatically.

This year we’ve got a mentoring program called Team Timotheo, where young men are mentored and  discipled by older men. It’s a football league that was started by guys in our neighborhood. Part of what we’re trying to do is to teach young people non-violence and out of it, deeply rooted faith in Jesus and the non-violence of the cross. We’ve got a homicide rate that is almost one a day in Philadelphia right now. All of that is very interconnected because we’re trying to teach kids not to hit each other and then they see this mess of redemptive violence kind of perpetuated all over the world after September 11.

There’s a kind of spiritual dimension to it. There’s an economic dimension to it. So those are all things that we’ll be talking about on Saturday. Particularly the testimony of the Iraq veteran, Logan. He’ll be sharing about his collision with the cross and the gun. Terry Rockefeller, whose sister was killed on 9/11, has said there was never a moment when she thought violence would be the answer or would solve the tragedy of September 11. Those are credible, important voices. We planned Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream before we realized it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11, but then when we realized it was, we decided that there’s no better way to honor those who died on September 11 and those who are continuing to die now than to try to celebrate the possibilities of another, better world.

*DeForest Soaries’ and Shane Claiborne’s comments were edited for length and clarity. Jeremy DelRio submitted his via email and those were not edited.