Protesters descended on cities across the country to make their cases for the preservation or elimination of federal programs.
1. In politics, the battle over the federal budget raged all year. Lisa Sharon Harper offered thoughts on a Christian approach to it, others debated whether or not to lift the federal debt ceiling, and former New Jersey Secretary of State Rev. De Forest Soaries offered his thoughts on a potential deal, which some described as a Satan Sandwich. As a government shutdown loomed, a congressional “super-committee” failed to compromise, and the battle rages on.
Sparks flew with Herman Cain on the campaign trail. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
2. The 2012 presidential race heated up and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain briefly emerged as a Republican dark horse. We looked at his viability, asked if his candidacy was good for America, realized he wouldn’t be easily written off, and lamented the scandal about which he may or may not have sung as he exited the race. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann speculated that blacks may have been better off under slavery and Larycia A. Hawkins offered the congresswoman a bit of advice. Texas governor Rick Perry limped along, but it seems his ‘Rainbow Right‘ coalition didn’t help him much, and fleeting front-runners Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were such long shots that they had nary a mention here until now.
3. Meanwhile, the Tea Party partied on and we talked to African Americans about the movement. First singer, author, and activist Loyd Marcus assured us that there are black Tea Partiers, then Tea Party activist Jesse Lee Peterson threatened to protest the NAACP’s annual convention and Hilary O. Shelton responded. Finally, LaVonne Neff reminded us that Tea Partiers need government programs too.
The Occupy Movement spread across the country.
4. From the other end of the political spectrum, the “Occupy” movement emerged and encamped across the country, but we asked: Is it too white and is it time for churches to take up the cause?
5. According to members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the biggest religion story of the year was the faith response to the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Here at UrbanFaith, Todd Burke pondered what the terrorist’s death says about America.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.
In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in Somalia, Uganda, Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.
CULTURE & SOCIETY
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August.
On the cultural front, 1.) the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial finally opened, though not without controversy and not without delay. 2.) Historian Charles Marsh reflected on the death of Civil Rights icon and pastor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. 3.) Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’ also died this year and Jelani Greenridge meditated on the entrepreneur’s wisdom. 4.) The nation solemnly observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and dedicated a memorial at the World Trade Center site, as the war in Iraq that those attacks spurred finally came to an end. 5.) The 150th anniversary of Civil War went largely unnoticed, but not by us. And sadly, 6.) legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a scandal over assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged pedophilia. Wil LaViest, Julian DeShazier, and I responded to the horrific news.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
After 25 years Oprah Winfrey says goodbye to her talk show.
1.) In arts and entertainment, Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years and we revisited the “Church of Oprah.” No need to fear a loss of black media power, however because 2.) Forbes named Tyler Perry the richest man in Hollywood. We covered elements of his media empire here, here, here, and here. 3.) The Help opened in cinemas amidst plenty of debate about its merits or lack thereof. 4.) Controversial Gospel music crossover success stories like that of Tonéx got Jelani Greenridge thinking and we mourned the death of cross-over artist Jessy Dixon. 5.) Lastly, BET’s successful relaunch of The Game deserves a mention, even though our commentator didn’t care much for the values of the show (or lack thereof).
CHURCH & FAITH
Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King before she left his church.
In church and faith news, 1.) Bishop Eddie Long agreed to a financial settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, Bernice King left his church in the aftermath, questions continued to swirl about the allegations, but Long didn’t step down from the pulpit until his wife filed for divorce this month. In better news, 2.) The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that the black church is bucking a wider trend toward congregational decline, and 3.) the Southern Baptists got serious about diversity with the election of Rev. Fred Luter as their first African American vice president. We also reported on other denominations that are pursuing diversity. 4.) Pastor Rob Bell stirred up a theological hornet’s nest with his latest book and conservative authors responded. 5.) Finally, Rev. Zachery Tims met an untimely death in a New York City hotel room.
What do you think?
What stories did we miss? Which ones will you remember? What do you think will top the news in 2012?
Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) deserves the colorful language prize of the week for describing the federal debt deal that President Obama signed into law Tuesday as a “Satan sandwich.” “There is nothing inside this sandwich that the major religions of the world will say deals with protection for the poor, the widows, the children,” Cleaver told ABC News.
But a group calling itself Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) sent a letter to President Obama Monday urging him not to protect programs for the poor, as Circle of Protection signatories had recommended, but instead to protect those in need from programs that it says “demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations.”
Timothy Dalrymple, managing editor of the Evangelical portal at Patheos.com and a drafter of the CASE letter, said in a phone interview today that the early CASE signatories are a primarily white, religiously diverse group that came together at a conference about environmental issues. Dalrmyple said he would welcome more ethnic diversity.
“We referenced [Jim] Wallis and the Circle of Protection because, while we agree that the budget is a moral document, we believe that many other moral imperatives are being left out of the conversation. The Circle of Protection was rightly emphasizing the moral imperative to care for the poor … but we felt they were leaving out the moral imperative against the kind of severe, chronic crippling debt that we have, and leaving out the moral imperative of wise stewardship of resources. There are numerous moral imperatives involved here,” said Dalrymple.
“We don’t feel that drawing a circle of protection around one party’s argument is the best way to go,” he said, but pointed out that there are “broad areas of agreement” between the two groups.
“We’re certainly in agreement on the importance of caring for the poor. They are willing to acknowledge the importance of getting our fiscal house in order. There are differences in emphasis, but there is also, on our part, an effort to foster a broader and more nuanced conversation over the moral imperatives at play, and a challenging of the assumption that the measure of your compassion is the amount of money you devote toward ostensibly anti-poverty programs,” said Dalrymple.
At the Washington Post On Faith blog, Lisa Miller asked a handful of Christian ministers and scholars, including CASE member Eric Teetsel, what Jesus would cut from the federal budget. “All deferred an answer. Instead, they raised the same old liberal-conservative political debate that has raged at least since the Reagan years. Left-leaning Christians insisted that the way out of the debt crisis was to raise taxes. Those on the right supported slashing entitlements,” said Miller.
In a NewsOne/BlackPlanet poll conducted Tuesday, African Americans were divided when asked if they thought President Obama gave up too much to Republicans in the deal. Fifty-one percent said no; 46 percent said yes,” News One reported.
At The Huffington Post’s Black Voices, which launched today, Peter S. Goodman revisited a conversation he had last year with an economist who told him most Americans didn’t “get screwed” in the Great Recession. In light of depressing statistics about its impact on minorities, Goodman said, “Black and Hispanic households together comprise 28 percent of the American population. In other words, great numbers of Americans have indeed gotten screwed. And anyone who missed that essentially missed what was wrong with the American economy writ large.”
As to solutions, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is launching cross country job fairs, town hall meetings, job readiness programs, and seminars as part of its “For The People” jobs initiative resolution, News One reported. And concern about hiring discrimination against the long-term unemployed prompted Democrats in both houses of Congress to introduce legislation that would ban employment discrimination, according to Colorlines.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to contribute $30 million of his own money to a $130 million initiative that will address the needs of the city’s minority populations. The program “would overhaul how the government interacts with a population of about 315,000 New Yorkers who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed,” The New York Times reported.
In what may or may not be a pursuit of solutions, talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University professor Cornel West are taking their “anti-poverty tour” to Chicago this weekend, The Chicago Tribune reported. The tour will shine “a spotlight on economic hardships in the president’s hometown” at a time when his former chief of staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is, according to Chicago News Cooperative, shutting down its overnight emergency services shift for the homeless and laying off 24 employees in the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.
One can only speculate what the strain will be on affluent African and Hispanic Americans who are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than low income whites, according to a new study by Brown University sociologist John Logan that was reported in The Wall Street Journal.
Well, it’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks talking about money, a subject financial adviser Dave Ramsey says the Bible mentions more than 800 times. Among those verses is Mathew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” As we debate these issues, perhaps we can remember too that 1 John 4:20 says we can’t love God and hate those with whom we disagree about causes and solutions to our nation’s economic problems.
Rev. DeForest "Buster" Soaries
Rev. Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, and author of dfree: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery. He served as New Jersey Secretary of State under Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman and twice served as a political appointee of President George W. Bush. UrbanFaith last talked to Soaries in December 2010 about his book and the personal debt crisis among African Americans. As President Obama and Congress moved closer to resolving the federal budget debate, we asked Rev. Soaries to share his thoughts on the debt-ceiling controversy, the role of race and class in the debate, and reasons for the bitter polarization in Washington. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
URBAN FAITH: What are your thoughts on the federal budget debate?
REV. SOARIES: Having worked in Washington, it did not surprise me that Congress would have such difficulty coming to an agreement. Most of the legislation that’s passed in Washington goes through similar trauma and drama. It’s just that this one, like few others, was under the spotlight and we were able to see all of the challenges. It didn’t surprise me that it came down to the wire. It didn’t surprise me that there was division on both sides of the aisle. The process is not unusual. This is the way Congress operates.
I’ve read critiques saying there is a lot of unnecessary hype surrounding this debate. What do you think is the cause?
The Tea Party has made the national debt a very serious issue and their success in the mid-term elections put them front and center. When you have single issue type zealotry in the legislative process, the word compromise is a bad word and the legislative processes require compromise. No one ever gets all of what they want. That wouldn’t be democracy; that would be a dictatorship.
The national debt is a very serious issue, but the underlying issue in Washington is not so much how much money we owe. It’s more: what is the proper role of government? The Democrats generally feel that it is appropriate for government to sponsor programs that address human needs and the Republicans generally assume that the primary role of the federal government is defense, to protect the country, and that most other activities should be left to the market and private sector. Conservatism and Liberalism have two very different views of the role of government. Once you establish what your view is on the role of government, you then have a perspective on how government should spend money.
When President Bush borrowed over $6 trillion mainly to subsidize and pay for war, the Republicans did not mind that because they believe that war, defense, and security are appropriate roles and responsibilities for federal government. Over the last 40 to 50 years, the debt ceiling has been raised twice as often under Republicans as it has been raised under Democrats. Republicans don’t mind debt as long as the debt is paying for something that they deem appropriate, and Democrats don’t mind debt as long as it’s paying for something they deem appropriate.
You were an appointee of the Bush administration, but it sounds like you don’t share Republican opinions on this issue.
I’ve never shared most of the opinions of George W. Bush. I was appointed twice by President Bush. The first time I was appointed was to serve on the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. That bank is a part of a system that provides more money for affordable housing than any other source in the country. That’s why I agreed to serve. My second appointment was to chair the Election Assistance Commission that was supposed to correct the voting problems that were revealed in the 2000 election. I was appointed by Bush to chair a bipartisan commission of two Democrats and two Republicans. From the time I was there, every decision was unanimous. I went to Washington for a very specific task, and that was to help states repair their voting systems so that when people vote, we know that the voting has integrity.
You were also New Jersey’s Secretary of State under Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
I was, and compared to the Tea Party, Gov. Whitman was a Democrat. I had no philosophical or ideological conflict working with the Republicans in New Jersey because, prior to Chris Christie, the Republicans in New Jersey were very moderate.
We just published a roundup of potential consequences of the federal budget crisis on the African American community. What do you think the consequences will be?
African Americans are in a very difficult situation. Pew Research just revealed last week that 35 percent of blacks have no net worth or negative net worth. That’s one-out-of-three. The FDIC reported last year that 54 percent of blacks either have no bank account or they don’t use their bank account regularly. That’s half. Our unemployment rate is sky high; it’s over 20 percent in most black neighborhoods. Our savings rate is just about zero. The majority of our people are living marginal lives economically.
Couple that with the fact that over the last two decades, the majority of us who have had good jobs have had them in the public sector. This is what’s so devastating. The majority of blacks work in the public sector and the majority of whites work in the private sector.
When you talk about reducing the size of government, you’re really talking about a disproportionate impact on African Americans. If you talk about reducing and changing the pension construct, you’re talking about a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans whose pensions come from the public sector. Even when you talk about Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security, a disproportionate number of African Americans use those resources to survive.
Philosophically, I don’t think anyone would disagree that government should not be big and taxes should not be high just for the purpose of big government and high taxes, but there is a very explicit racial impact from the fact that, historically, African Americans were denied access to the private sector. Good jobs for black people when I was coming up were teachers and post office employees, or the military. When you consider Washington, D.C., the federal government is basically run by black people. I’m sure that the fiscal conservatives are not all racists, but I’m also sure that they have not sat down and really considered the racial implications of what they say.
Is the reason so many African Americans have public sector jobs because of racism in the private sector, especially in hiring?
Yes, but it’s not just racist acts, it’s the legacy of racism. It’s the private sector basically being owned, controlled, and operated by whites. As government laws to protect the civil rights of blacks were passed, the government held itself more accountable than the private sector. It was easier to document and monitor the behavior of institutions in the public sector than it was in the private sector. So in the military, in the postal system, and in education, government was able to hold its own employees more accountable to equal opportunity and civil rights.
It became culturally accepted among African Americans that a good job, a stable job, is in the public sector where you are protected by civil service laws. If you could get a good job at the post office, you didn’t need much education, you could work there for 40 years and retire and live a comfortable life. That’s the old model. Now that the public sector is incapable of sustaining the level of activity it once had, and it has a devastating impact on African Americans.
Because we have such a shallow political leadership, what happens is if you say that, the first thing the Tea Party types and fiscal conservatives do is back up and say, “I’m not a racist.” That’s a knee-jerk reaction. If I preached a sermon at my church and the majority of the women got together after service and said, “That was a sexist sermon,” I can’t simply say, “I love my wife. I love my mother. I’m not a sexist.” I would have to take seriously their critique. What happens is fiscal conservatism refuses to listen to our critique because, in most of their minds, they are not personally racist. So they’re not willing to step back and analyze the racial implications of their philosophy and their policies, and therefore the discussion goes nowhere.
As the author of a book about debt-free living, you’re clearly not saying that people should abdicate personal responsibility. Are people even able to adopt a debt-free living message in the midst of this economic crisis?
Yes. The first line of defense is to control whatever resources you do have. It requires making some very important decisions. In Texas, black people spend $1.1 billion a year on lottery tickets. The University of Texas did research and discovered 58 percent of the blacks in Texas spend $57 a month on lottery tickets. There’s 1.6 million black people in Texas who are spending $57 a month on lottery tickets. So while I am concerned about the macro-economic issues, my question to them is this: Is that the best use of $57 a month? Fifty-seven dollars a month put into a mutual fund over 20 years will yield some real cash, and it’s more likely that investing or saving $57 a month will yield benefits than it is that you’ll hit the lottery when the odds of hitting the big lottery are 195 million to 1.
Has there been an increased interest in the personal finance courses your church offers given the economic situation?
Oh, sure. I started this ministry in 2005 and things were pretty rosy. People were taking out second mortgages on their houses, refinancing and pulling cash out, and getting approved for new loans in 24 hours. That was then, but this is now. The economic condition of the country and the world has motivated many more people to want to know more about how to handle their money.
Some Christian leaders signed a Circle of Protection document to defend programs that help the less fortunate, and they met with the president to urge him not to balance the budget “on the backs of the poor.” What do you think is the appropriate Christian response to this crisis?
I agree with that. However, having been in government, I understand the challenge that Mr. Obama has. The Congress has much more power over the budget than most people realize. The president doesn’t have a whole lot of power over the budget in terms of what’s authorized.
We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight. There ought to be a balanced, gradual strategy to repair the federal budget. It has to be balanced in that you can’t simply go to programs that support the most vulnerable, even if you agree that it’s inappropriate. On the other hand, it has to be gradual. You can’t do it quickly.
The Tea Party people made commitments last year when they ran for office, and what they have to take into account is that you cannot eliminate $14 trillion in debt in three months. You have to do it gradually because … there is a human story behind every item in the federal budget, and if you don’t balance your fiscal prudence with humane values, then you’ll do what my grandmother used to say: you’ll cut off your nose to spite your face.
Listen to Rev. Soaries explain the role of race in the federal budget debate.