The Gospel and Embodied Solidarity

The Gospel and Embodied Solidarity

Courtesy of TEDx Talks


 “Same God,” a documentary coming to PBS later this year, is about Larycia Hawkins, the first African American woman to be a tenured professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, who set out to highlight the commonalities among the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — and discovered what keeps them apart.

Produced and directed by Linda Midgett, a Wheaton alumna, the film follows Hawkins’ experiences after she decided during Advent in 2015 to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women. Her intent was to explore what it means to embody solidarity with another faith — an inquiry that led her to post on Facebook post that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

At Wheaton, Billy Graham’s alma mater and the United States’ preeminent evangelical school, Hawkins’ gesture of “embodied solidarity,” as she called her wearing of hijab, was merely controversial, but the Facebook post was unforgivable. Despite student protests on her behalf, Hawkins eventually lost her professorship.

Larycia Hawkins wears a hijab in a Facebook post. Photo courtesy of “Same God” film

Hawkins’ story points to a fact that many of us have known for a long time: When evangelical Christians talk about religious liberty, they mean it for everyone but Muslims. But it also raises questions about what it means to be an ally and what exactly embodied solidarity means.

Within American Muslim communities, the idea of solidarity and allyship is vastly complicated and informed by religious practice, intentions, active listening and learning and the willingness to admit and accept one’s own ingrained attitudes about other communities.

Hawkins, now part of the general faculty at University of Virginia’s departments of politics and religious studies, talks in Midgett’s film about how it felt in December 2015 to hear Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, call for “banning all Muslims” from entering the United States.

In discussions she was having with her students at Wheaton, where she taught political science, Hawkins felt compelled by her faith to show solidarity with her Muslim brothers and sisters. After consulting with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, she posted a picture of herself in hijab with an accompanying statement on Facebook. “Women standing with women. That’s what I wanted to see,” she explained in “Same God.”

But Hawkins saw the move as a Christian act as well as a feminist one. “Solidarity in its heart is what the cross is all about,” Hawkins said. “Because the cross was God’s solidarity with humanity.”

At a panel discussion after a showing in Washington, D.C. (the film has also been featured at film festivals in Virginia, Los Angeles and New Orleans), Hawkins amplified on this sacred principle. But sitting in the audience, I hardly needed to listen — I could see in her eyes and body language how fervently she believes in the act of embodied solidarity.

Linda Midgett, left, and Larycia Hawkins on the red carpet at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Sept. 24, 2018. Photo courtesy of “Same God” film

“What I learned about the hijab was a very humbling experience,” she said. “It wasn’t a social experiment. … The hijab as a concept in Islam is about honoring God with our bodies. The hijab is one way of honoring God.”

In my two decades of covering Muslim communities in America and hearing stories about the hijab — why we wear it or take it off, those who are forced to wear it, those who choose not to, the targeting of hijabi women, what Islamic scripture says about it — I’ve had occasion to ask myself, in my capacity as a private Muslim woman who wears the hijab, why is this such a big thing to everyone? Can’t we move on? 

The fascination with the hijab is, of course, a stand-in for our fascination with a host of other social issues: the intersection of modesty and fashion, oppression and empowerment, politicization of religion, tokenism.

But it also remains one of the most visible representations of Islam and as such lends itself to being a display of sympathy and unity with those who suffer for wearing it, or who have to fight to retain the right to wear it. It also remains a flashpoint for those who call the hijab oppressive or religiously unnecessary, pointing to the societies where modest dressing is forced.

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting of 50 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last fall, women worldwide, including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, donned the hijab in solidarity. Some of her fellow New Zealanders, supported by a #HeadscarfForHarmony campaign, followed suit, declaring their oneness with Muslims in their communities.

In this image made from video, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, hugs and consoles a woman as she visited Kilbirnie Mosque to lay flowers among tributes to Christchurch attack victims, in Wellington, on March 17, 2019. (TVNZ via AP)

It doesn’t always, however, read that way to Muslim women. One called #HeadscarfForHarmony “cheap tokenism … a gimmick and pretty distasteful” in a column. “Most people will remove their scarves when Friday ends whilst my mother and sisters continue to be abused — as it’s their religious outfit and not a costume.”

Sahar Pirzada, outreach director for Heart Women & Girls, a Muslim organization that promotes awareness of sexual assault and sexual health, said solidarity was more than “wearing a hijab, thinking that does anything to challenge the systemic issues that have led to white supremacist violent attacks on my community. We need more than performative solidarity.”

I’ve largely greeted wearing the hijab in solidarity as a positive gesture, less for the benefit of Muslim women than as a step for the newbie wearer toward understanding how visible you become when you wear the hijab. I’d never respond with a blanket “No” if someone asked whether to wear it in solidarity.

Larycia Hawkins speaks on Jan. 6, 2016, at First United Methodist Church in Chicago. Religion News Service photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

I will point out that there are many other ways to support Muslim women. Cultivate authentic friendships with Muslims and listen to them. Reject anti-Muslim rhetoric. Read about and spend time researching the roots of white supremacy and anti-Muslim hate. Ask genuine questions.

As my friend Hind Makki wrote recently on Facebook after the Christchurch mass shootings, “We welcome solidarity (who doesn’t?) and intention IS important. But also important is centering the voices and actual experiences of the affected community, not the interpretation by outsiders of those experiences.”

What Midgett’s film shows is that Hawkins has done what Makki suggests, but in a different way. She has centered within herself the actual experience of Muslim women while also bringing the narrative back to Muslim communities living this often tense experience. It is in this that Hawkins truly learned what it meant to don the hijab. She lost her job for it. She walked up to the line that separates evangelical Christians and Muslims, crossed it and took the consequences.

Promotional poster for “Same God” documentary. Image courtesy of “Same God” film

To talk with her four years later is to contemplate what it means to embody solidarity. It goes far beyond performative acts. It means to lay one’s livelihood and belief system on the line to stand with a fellow community of believers. It means to have her Christian beliefs questioned because she dared to say “our Gods are the same.”

Don’t try this popular act of solidarity at home, in other words, without first realizing that the hijab is fraught with complexities for Muslim communities. Hijab worn by non-Muslims must be worn with a deep intention to try to understand, if even briefly, how it feels to be visibly Muslim. It must be done while making sure Muslims are leading that conversation — those who wear hijab, because many of us also don’t. Without this, then it’s just putting a piece of cloth on your head.

(Dilshad D. Ali is a journalist and blog editor for the website Haute Hijab. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

The Gospel and Embodied Solidarity

The Gospel and Embodied Solidarity

Courtesy of TEDx Talks


 “Same God,” a documentary coming to PBS later this year, is about Larycia Hawkins, the first African American woman to be a tenured professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, who set out to highlight the commonalities among the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — and discovered what keeps them apart.

Produced and directed by Linda Midgett, a Wheaton alumna, the film follows Hawkins’ experiences after she decided during Advent in 2015 to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women. Her intent was to explore what it means to embody solidarity with another faith — an inquiry that led her to post on Facebook post that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

At Wheaton, Billy Graham’s alma mater and the United States’ preeminent evangelical school, Hawkins’ gesture of “embodied solidarity,” as she called her wearing of hijab, was merely controversial, but the Facebook post was unforgivable. Despite student protests on her behalf, Hawkins eventually lost her professorship.

Larycia Hawkins wears a hijab in a Facebook post. Photo courtesy of “Same God” film

Hawkins’ story points to a fact that many of us have known for a long time: When evangelical Christians talk about religious liberty, they mean it for everyone but Muslims. But it also raises questions about what it means to be an ally and what exactly embodied solidarity means.

Within American Muslim communities, the idea of solidarity and allyship is vastly complicated and informed by religious practice, intentions, active listening and learning and the willingness to admit and accept one’s own ingrained attitudes about other communities.

Hawkins, now part of the general faculty at University of Virginia’s departments of politics and religious studies, talks in Midgett’s film about how it felt in December 2015 to hear Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, call for “banning all Muslims” from entering the United States.

In discussions she was having with her students at Wheaton, where she taught political science, Hawkins felt compelled by her faith to show solidarity with her Muslim brothers and sisters. After consulting with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, she posted a picture of herself in hijab with an accompanying statement on Facebook. “Women standing with women. That’s what I wanted to see,” she explained in “Same God.”

But Hawkins saw the move as a Christian act as well as a feminist one. “Solidarity in its heart is what the cross is all about,” Hawkins said. “Because the cross was God’s solidarity with humanity.”

At a panel discussion after a showing in Washington, D.C. (the film has also been featured at film festivals in Virginia, Los Angeles and New Orleans), Hawkins amplified on this sacred principle. But sitting in the audience, I hardly needed to listen — I could see in her eyes and body language how fervently she believes in the act of embodied solidarity.

Linda Midgett, left, and Larycia Hawkins on the red carpet at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Sept. 24, 2018. Photo courtesy of “Same God” film

“What I learned about the hijab was a very humbling experience,” she said. “It wasn’t a social experiment. … The hijab as a concept in Islam is about honoring God with our bodies. The hijab is one way of honoring God.”

In my two decades of covering Muslim communities in America and hearing stories about the hijab — why we wear it or take it off, those who are forced to wear it, those who choose not to, the targeting of hijabi women, what Islamic scripture says about it — I’ve had occasion to ask myself, in my capacity as a private Muslim woman who wears the hijab, why is this such a big thing to everyone? Can’t we move on? 

The fascination with the hijab is, of course, a stand-in for our fascination with a host of other social issues: the intersection of modesty and fashion, oppression and empowerment, politicization of religion, tokenism.

But it also remains one of the most visible representations of Islam and as such lends itself to being a display of sympathy and unity with those who suffer for wearing it, or who have to fight to retain the right to wear it. It also remains a flashpoint for those who call the hijab oppressive or religiously unnecessary, pointing to the societies where modest dressing is forced.

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting of 50 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last fall, women worldwide, including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, donned the hijab in solidarity. Some of her fellow New Zealanders, supported by a #HeadscarfForHarmony campaign, followed suit, declaring their oneness with Muslims in their communities.

In this image made from video, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, hugs and consoles a woman as she visited Kilbirnie Mosque to lay flowers among tributes to Christchurch attack victims, in Wellington, on March 17, 2019. (TVNZ via AP)

It doesn’t always, however, read that way to Muslim women. One called #HeadscarfForHarmony “cheap tokenism … a gimmick and pretty distasteful” in a column. “Most people will remove their scarves when Friday ends whilst my mother and sisters continue to be abused — as it’s their religious outfit and not a costume.”

Sahar Pirzada, outreach director for Heart Women & Girls, a Muslim organization that promotes awareness of sexual assault and sexual health, said solidarity was more than “wearing a hijab, thinking that does anything to challenge the systemic issues that have led to white supremacist violent attacks on my community. We need more than performative solidarity.”

I’ve largely greeted wearing the hijab in solidarity as a positive gesture, less for the benefit of Muslim women than as a step for the newbie wearer toward understanding how visible you become when you wear the hijab. I’d never respond with a blanket “No” if someone asked whether to wear it in solidarity.

Larycia Hawkins speaks on Jan. 6, 2016, at First United Methodist Church in Chicago. Religion News Service photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

I will point out that there are many other ways to support Muslim women. Cultivate authentic friendships with Muslims and listen to them. Reject anti-Muslim rhetoric. Read about and spend time researching the roots of white supremacy and anti-Muslim hate. Ask genuine questions.

As my friend Hind Makki wrote recently on Facebook after the Christchurch mass shootings, “We welcome solidarity (who doesn’t?) and intention IS important. But also important is centering the voices and actual experiences of the affected community, not the interpretation by outsiders of those experiences.”

What Midgett’s film shows is that Hawkins has done what Makki suggests, but in a different way. She has centered within herself the actual experience of Muslim women while also bringing the narrative back to Muslim communities living this often tense experience. It is in this that Hawkins truly learned what it meant to don the hijab. She lost her job for it. She walked up to the line that separates evangelical Christians and Muslims, crossed it and took the consequences.

Promotional poster for “Same God” documentary. Image courtesy of “Same God” film

To talk with her four years later is to contemplate what it means to embody solidarity. It goes far beyond performative acts. It means to lay one’s livelihood and belief system on the line to stand with a fellow community of believers. It means to have her Christian beliefs questioned because she dared to say “our Gods are the same.”

Don’t try this popular act of solidarity at home, in other words, without first realizing that the hijab is fraught with complexities for Muslim communities. Hijab worn by non-Muslims must be worn with a deep intention to try to understand, if even briefly, how it feels to be visibly Muslim. It must be done while making sure Muslims are leading that conversation — those who wear hijab, because many of us also don’t. Without this, then it’s just putting a piece of cloth on your head.

(Dilshad D. Ali is a journalist and blog editor for the website Haute Hijab. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

If Obama Wins, If Romney Wins …

If Obama Wins, If Romney Wins …

AND IT COMES TO THIS: After a long, acrimonious presidential campaign, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, American voters will decide whether Barack Obama earned another four years in the White House, or whether Mitt Romney gets a chance to lead the nation. (Photo: Newscom)

During a seemingly endless 2012 election season, at times we’ve felt like the “Bronco Bama” girl in this viral video. When will it end? Presumably, on Tuesday — we hope.

Until then, we’ll continue to endure the attack ads, the conflicting polls, and the toxic bickering in the social media realm. According to various surveys, this year’s electorate is one of the most polarized in years. This forum will not solve that problem, but we thought we’d invite a few UrbanFaith contributors to share their perspectives on what to expect if President Obama is re-elected, as well as what to expect if Mitt Romney should win the presidency. Check out their opinions (which, we should say, belong to them and not necessarily UrbanFaith), then take a moment to give us your response in the comments section below.

Short Memories, Shorter Patience

By William Pannell

Ah, another opportunity to play at being sagacious. If Mr. Obama is re-elected, I would expect that he will face another four years of deadlock on key issues. Since Congress seems stuck on ideology and not the good of the people, I would expect the Republican Party, now in the firm grip of Tea Party ideologues, will continue to play games all the while having no real alternatives to offer in place of the ones they oppose. And of course, Obama will be a lame duck President in the last two years anyhow, so there goes the neighborhood.

I suspect that Mr. Romney will be elected. White, working-class Americans have very short memories. They have already forgotten that it was Romney’s party that got the country in the mess it is in. And we Americans are terribly short on patience, so if the poor man couldn’t solve real problems (which by their nature are now global problems) in four years, throw him out. Mercy, I hope I’m wrong. But I also suspect that white Americans, or many of them, have never felt comfortable with a black man in the White House. They, of course, are not racists; they are merely pro-white and Romney is all that. By the way, I voted for Mr. Romney’s father when he was governor of Michigan. He probably would have made a good President.

Dr. William E. Pannell is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Professor of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary. In the past he has served as a professor of evangelism and as director of the African American Studies Program. He’s the author of numerous articles and books, including The Coming Race Wars? A Cry for Reconciliation (1993), Evangelism from the Bottom Up (1992), and My Friend, the Enemy (1968).

A Turning Point for the Poor

By Walter A. McCray

President Obama’s re-election will renew the now undercurrent spirit of genuine concern for the poor. The civic emphasis will shift from the middle-class to reveal the President’s implicit and visceral aim to center the country’s energies and resources toward those in America who need help the most. We will see a resurgence of the middle-class, not as an end in itself, but as the primary avenue toward uplifting the masses of the country’s poor. The President will challenge the rich and the middle-class to open their hearts to make room for those people who find themselves locked out, left behind, and languishing in economic and social sectors. President Obama’s re-election will lift the spirit of the poor across the country. They will greatly benefit from the good news of his return to the leadership of the country and the free world, and from the significant changes that his policies engender for the lives of millions across a wide socio-economic spectrum.

An election of Mitt Romney to the nation’s highest elected office will cause a rise in social unrest in urban areas across the country, and growing acts of terrorism aimed at the U.S. in the world. Simply, millions will release their pent-up anger and frustrations. Many disillusioned souls will act-out their sense of hopelessness, and their angst against a prejudiced and racist America who once again failed to do the moral and political right thing. African Americans will entrench and push back in their activism. A refreshing commitment of the masses to the historic struggles of African-descended people will refocus on the self-determination and empowerment of black people and communities. In reaction to the military-type solutions of Romney for resolving national conflicts on the world front, a radical Islam will thrust itself to the forefront and make as many terror-laden statements as possible. World de-stabilization will grow.

Finally, whomever the country elects as President, the current Christian theological debate will focus on the true meaning or workability of what is genuine “Evangelicalism.” The 2012 electoral politics will thrust into the forefront of the discussion those who are “Evangelicals” of African-descent. The historical and cultural context of believers and churches in the black experience — in both the U.S. and the African Diaspora — will give rise to the most potent definition of historic and genuinely contextualized Christ-centered orthodox or “Evangelical” faith, and to true expressions of its social, economic, and political way of life. Jesus the Gospelizer — the bearer of Good News for the poor — will center this authentic definition. Electoral politics in the U.S. will be the impetus for Black Evangelicalism to come of age and offer leadership in these theologically troubling times.

Rev. Dr. Walter A. McCray is a Chicago-based writer, a leader in Black evangelicalism, and president of the National Black Evangelical Association. His latest book is Pro-Black, Pro-Christ, Pro-Cross: African-descended Evangelical Identity (Black Light Fellowship, 2012). He defines Black Evangelical identity along cultural and theological lines. His statement above reflects his personal views.

Education Is the Key

By Valerie Elverton Dixon

I believe that President Obama will be re-elected. I believe that he will follow through on his plan to strengthen public education and to open doors of opportunity for more people to have access to higher education and/or job training. When I was a girl, I was taught: “Education is the key.” In my life, that has proved to be true.

Education is the key, not only to a good job, but also to self-knowledge. Education is the key to human moral evolution and to human freedom. I think that President Obama will continue to encourage schools to experiment with curriculum, different pedagogical models and teacher and parental training that will inspire students to love learning. Once students understand that the ultimate subject of their education is their own lives, their own questions, their own striving to identify and to perfect the unique gift they have to give to the world, they will have a made up mind to study. And nothing is more powerful in any field of endeavor than a made up mind.

I expect President Obama to keep his promise to rebuild America. He has said that he will use half the savings from the wars we are no longer fighting to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, including building schools. I hope that he will expand this to enter into public/ private partnerships to rebuild the waste cities, towns and villages in America. This can provide jobs and be the opportunity to exercise an ethics of aesthetics that will make communities beautiful.

If Mitt Romney is elected president, it is hard to know exactly what he will do since he is very often on all sides of all issues. However, I think we can count on him to appoint right-wing Supreme Court justices, to put public education on a glide-path to privatization, and cut taxes for the rich, leaving nothing for community revitalization.

So, I am hopeful that President Obama will win because, in my opinion, this will be the best thing for the nation and for the world.

Valerie Elverton Dixon, Ph.D. is an independent scholar and founder of JustPeaceTheory.com. She is a regular contributor to God’s Politics, The Washington Post On Faith, and Tikkun Daily. Her forthcoming book is Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love and the Public Conversation.

The Rise of Jim Crow Jr.

By Randy Woodley

Since the election of President Barack Obama, we have seen a new wave of racism rise across our nation. The kind of racism expressed over the past four years is different than the more overt, socialized Jim Crow era racism. Today, it is unpopular to be called a racist so racism has become more polite, being couched in political jargon, “dog whistles,” voter suppression and public policy aimed at the least of these in society. Meet Jim Crow Jr. The most overt hatred over the past four years has been directed at President Obama himself. Regardless of which candidate is elected, what I think we can clearly see is that there is a desire on the part of some, to “go back,” ushering in another era of racism that could become socialized and institutionalized in America. Jim Crow Jr. is knocking on America’s door.

An election favoring Mitt Romney is inextricably intertwined in this rising form of racism. I believe a Romney presidency will open wide the door to a new form of Jim Crow directed at non-White citizens of the United States. Regardless of whether or not Governor Romney were to return to a more moderate form of politics, or even disassociates himself with the radical right he aligned himself with to get this far, he is their candidate. They have used him as much as he used them. With the re-election of President Obama we do not know whether or not Jim Crow Jr. will subside but it is likely, especially if there is more democratic control in the House and Senate, that it will take the “wind out of the sails” of socialized racism. Obama is one of the most intelligent Presidents in American history. His story is truly an American story in which all Americans should take pride. If the racist rhetoric and proposed policies should subside during the President’s second term, perhaps more Americans will be able to see him in a better light. There will always be racist among us, but in the past four years they have captured many who would not normally fall in their line. If Obama is elected, perhaps more of those White Americans who have been swept away in the “flurry” will be able to claim President Obama as their President

Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is Distinguished Associate Professor of Faith and Culture, and Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at George Fox Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee and author of the new book Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision (Eerdmans). Randy blogs at The Huffington Post, Ethnic Space and Faith, Emergent Village Voice and Sojourners. 

Our Politics Are Soulless

By Larycia A. Hawkins

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can expect the worst angels of our nature if Barack Obama reclaims the White House. And rather ruefully, I must inform you that you can expect a similar result if Mitt Romney wins. Presidential politics are a soulless affair.

Here’s what you can expect if you believe President Obama’s experiences of four years past can usher in “an economy built to last”: You should brace yourself for intensified partisan rancor as Congress doubles down on its intransigence given the loss of the presidency in a closely divided race where voter nullification may very well be the feeling people are left with if the popular vote winner in the national election loses in the electoral college.  The debt ceiling debate will seem like a piece of cake compared to the looming deficit reduction debate in the next Congress. The middle class Obama purports to champion will be lost in the vitriolic mayhem of civilized debate.

You should prepare yourself for more insidious symbolic racism in the form of racialized rhetoric and images, including, but not limited to “shuck and jive” metaphors of the Commander in Chief, monkey cartoons and evolutionary caricatures of the obviously black President, an unambiguous noose lynching the hope and change President of a country where lynching signified that citizenship and hope and democracy were reserved for whites only, and the racialization of ostensibly race-neutral policies via claims that healthcare is merely reparations from the welfare president.

Here’s what you can expect if you believe Mitt Romney’s the man to “restore America” with his five-point plan: You should reread 1984 to refresh your memory as to the meaning of doublespeak, since the (presumptive) Democratic minority in Congress will strenuously and unanimously oppose all the policies of the newly minted Presidential agenda — even those policies that they agree with — in the name of representation and e pluribus unum. Never mind that a few short years ago, they castigated Republicans for denying a recently enthroned President Obama the same presidential courtesy.

You should prepare yourself for religious wars. While the first freedom of the Bill of Rights is religious freedom — the free exercise clause enabling individuals to choose religion and the establishment clause barring the state from imposition of an official religion, there will be a resurgence of religious intolerance surrounding Romney’s Mormonism. If you think that Romney’s nomination as the Republican candidate for the general election signifies that we are past all that Mormon-bashing, think again. Just as Obama has been characterized by the right as Muslim and foreign-born, expect the left to frame Romney in a similarly disdainful fashion on the basis of his faith. One need only recall recent caricatures of the Christian Right as seeking to engender an American theocracy or the prevalence of media stereotypes which wrongfully equate evangelicals with fundamentalists and which equate both evangelicals and fundamentalists with what are often depicted as solipsist and reactionary cultural practices — homeschooling and having thousands of children. Musicals, movies, and musicians that ostensibly normalize Mormons must be held in tandem with reality shows that portray Mormon men as misogynists and polygamists and Mormon women as oppressed and helpless. Religious intolerance will rear its ugly head if Mitt is the man.

Why, you may ask, is a political science professor avoiding a discussion of the issues that will emerge under an Obama or Romney regime? For one simple reason — the soulless politics of our day incentivizes hateful race baiting and religious bashing rather than substantive policymaking. Yes, bills do get passed under divided government — even landmark policies like the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. But partisan rancor persists amid a seemingly soulless brood of politicians who, on the surface, have more in common than in difference. Rancor proliferates and policymaking is a casualty of the political battle.

While I regrettably expect little of the political context to change come January 2013, I submit that knowing is half the battle. To be shrewd as snakes, we should expect more of the same old politics. To be innocent as doves, we should both demand and expect change from politicians and pundits, especially those who claim to be cross-bearers. Rather than engaging in soulless rhetoric and tasteless tactics, rather than applauding and patronizing the ideologues and elites who propagate misinformation about Mormons and make racist remarks about the first black President, we should demand enemy-loving politics that produces justice-laden policies.

If soulless politics continues, you should look in the mirror. If substantive politics fail to protect the weak and vulnerable, the rocks will cry out.

Dr. Larycia A. Hawkins is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College. She is a co-editor of the book Religion and American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Her research includes projects exploring black theology and its relationship to political rhetoric and black political agendas, like those of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP. Prior to academia, she worked in state government administering federal programs, including the Social Security Disability program and the Community Development Block Grant.

The Church Must Step Up

By Wil LaVeist

If President Obama is re-elected, but the split Congress (Republicans controlling the House, Democrats controlling the Senate) remains, we can count on more of the same gridlock. Republicans will focus on winning seats in the 2014 mid-term election and holding out to win the presidency in 2016. Democrats will do the same. If Mitt Romney wins, but has a split Congress, he’ll face a similar challenge for similar reasons. If either winner gets a Congress that is on their side, they will have a better chance of pushing their agendas. But wait — “the filibuster” looms. Only a drastic threat (war, economic collapse, etc.) would likely shake either party to compromise.

Either way, churches in predominantly black communities should step into the moral gap to inspire people to pursue righteousness, fairness and grace towards others in their own lives — to get their own houses in moral order. We should spark a “moral civic revival” — rallying people to shine their lights on the deepening tragic immoral disparities (health, economics, housing, education, incarceration rates) that exist in predominantly black communities across the nation. Leading by example with solutions, we should urge fellow Christians and Americans of all persuasions to see these growing disparities (rooted in the sin or racism) as a national crisis that endangers all of us. We should demand accountability from elected officials, regardless of party affiliation. Perhaps in this new climate, more public servants will emerge in the spirit of Joseph — willing to serve not their own narrow self-interests, but all of the nation’s people regardless of race, ethnicity or faith. We know the God who lives in us maintains control no matter who lives in the White House. We must act on what we know.

Wil LaVeist is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker, and author of Fired Up: 4 Steps to Overcoming a Crisis, Including Unemployment. Contact him at www.WILLAVEIST.com, and listen to The Wil LaVeist Show Wednesdays at Noon to 1 p.m. on 88.1 WHOV in Hampton, Virginia.

Okay, that’s them. Now it’s your turn. Share your predictions below.

The Problem with Political Prophets

The Problem with Political Prophets

HIT OR MISS: CBN founder Pat Robertson keeps us guessing with his prophecies about politics and world events. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/Newscom)

“I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I’m hearing from the Lord it’s going to be like a blowout election in 2004. The Lord has just blessed him…. It doesn’t make any difference what he does, good or bad.” — Pat Robertson, January 2, 2004

Once upon a time, Pat Robertson prophesied and things happened. He declared George W. Bush was God’s man for 2004. And everything was good for Pat and George on Election Day.

Score one for the prophet of a small media empire and for the president accused of building an empire (you be the judge on the latter).

In November 2007, Pat decided to turn tarot cards again. This time, the anointed one was Rudolph Giuliani.

For obvious reasons, this marriage made in heaven was a strange one. Pat hates divorce. Rudy (apparently) loves it. Pat decries abortion rights. Rudy pledges to uphold them. Nevertheless, Pat Robertson bequeathed the divine blessing to Rudy.

Pat’s rationale for this prophetic endorsement was different than the one for Bush. Giuliani is God’s man to protect Americans “from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists,” Pat averred.

That second time around, however, Pat-styled prophecy failed. In January 2008, after Giuliani performed poorly in the primary elections, Pat appeared on Hannity & Colmes doing a delicate dance of doubletalk — God had revealed to Pat who would win the eventual election (and since Rudy was out it wasn’t him), but he took a vow of silence as to the identity of the future winner.

Prophecy Pat-style always keeps you guessing. So was it any wonder when on January 4, 2012, Pat Robertson deigned to make a prediction concerning our next president? Apparently, God is uttering negative prophecies now, instead of affirmative ones.

So thanks to Pat, we now know that the next President will not be … Barack Obama! As for the identity of the victor, Robertson claims it’s for him and God to know and for us unenlightened earthlings to find out. Apparently this time around, God told Pat to keep his trap shut.

Pat Robertson’s predictions and prophetic interpretations of world events have become something of a painful joke in recent years. His claim that Hurricane Katrina represented God’s judgment on the United States for its tolerance of legalized abortion was dubious enough, but then his declaration that Haiti’s deadly earthquake in 2010 was the result of a curse on that nation for its “pact with the devil” was even more bewildering.

So what are we to make of Pat’s spotty record with political prophecies? Well, one thought occurs to me right off the bat: Don’t blame all Christians for the ill-advised behavior of one believer, even if that one happens to preside over a worldwide media conglomerate that reaches people in more than 100 countries. While it is true that for many of us theology and Scripture inform our views on a myriad of public policy, few of us deign to divine in the name of God the man or woman who would be king or queen.

At the same time, let’s cut Pat some slack — as an octogenarian, perhaps his hearing is getting bad. But let’s allow Scripture (yes, religion) to have the last word for those, like Pat, who invoke God’s name on behalf of a candidate: “… when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

God is not silent. But hopefully, Pat’s presumptuous prophecies are. Be not afraid!

The Journey to 2012

The Journey to 2012

Welcome to that crazy point in the American political cycle where chatter and buzz about potential presidential candidates swell and subside at a seemingly nonstop rate. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen prominent GOP personalities of all stripes announce their addition to or subtraction from the 2012 conversation at a steady clip. Meanwhile, President Obama’s reelection campaign is on. But even after his triumphant takedown of Osama bin Laden, there’s no surefire guarantee of his 2012 success, and poll numbers reveal that the bump in his approval ratings following bin Laden’s death is already waning.

In light of this looming political crossroads, we asked three Christian commentators to offer their thoughts on Barack Obama’s presidency thus far, what he must do to be reelected, and how we can begin changing the polarized atmosphere in America today. Our panel of contributors includes R. Drew Smith on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s influence on Obama’s presidency; Larycia A. Hawkins on how Obama’s reluctance to embrace his “blackness” hurts his presidency; and Andrew Wilkes on why it’s imperative that all Americans take responsibility to “do good” in between elections.

Barack Obama and the Niebuhr Presidency
By R. Drew Smith

Barack Obama has noted the influences on his thinking of prominent, twentieth-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. More than one recent president has cited Niebuhr’s influence, but Obama’s presidency has more strongly embraced core tenets of Niebuhr’s realism about the political importance of approximating rather than absolutizing our political ideals, and about the willingness to take required actions (even when inconsistent with our deeper purposes and preferences) in pursuit of those proximate objectives.

Niebuhr’s analysis provides reinforcement to the adage “politics is the art of compromise.” Most American presidents have been clear on this point — although there have been strong arguments for at least two recent exceptions. The presidencies of Jimmy Carter and of George W. Bush, who both cited Niebuhr as influential in their thinking, were much less given to a Niebuhrian approximation of good than Obama seems to be. Both Presidents Carter and Bush were sharply criticized for their uncompromising leadership styles. Ironically, President Obama has been equally criticized for his compromising style.

For Niebuhr, compromise was not something pursued for its intrinsic value (i.e., compromise for the sake of compromise), nor merely out of a desire to achieve or retain positions of leadership. Compromise was a means for achieving a common good. Similarly, Obama has understood that, in politics, you rarely get everything you want and, in order to set some of what you want, and to govern on behalf of all of the people, you may have to swallow some things you find unpleasant. This has been his approach in each of his major legislative initiatives and in the battles over the federal budget — with his end results being successfully formalized policies that in each instance have been decried on several fronts for their presumed deficiencies.

Here Obama is not being inconsistent with what he projected during his presidential campaign. He was elected in large part because he symbolized a change from politics-as-usual. He represented a bigness in his projection of ideals at the heart of the American political imagination — ideals related to being a nation fundamentally committed to rights, freedom, and opportunity for its citizens and for the world. Obama’s health-reform bill, his economic stimulus program, his budgetary battles over key educational and social-service assistance he believes are definitive of American government, and his diplomatic or military pressures in support of political reforms in Egypt, Libya, and Ivory Coast are more suggestive than not of the idealism supported by voters in 2008.

Obama has certainly not been pitch-perfect in the compromises he has reached. The current budget’s draconian cuts to safety-net programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) smack of a familiar calculation about the political expendability of the poor — or, in Obama’s own words, “asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it.” Should programs effectively responding to persons most in need have been non-negotiable items in Obama’s budget, and in his presidency? Asked another way, was acceptance of the funding cuts to a program like WIC in the interest of a proximate good, or was it an unwillingness to take required actions for achieving that proximate good?

American presidents possess significant leadership capital, and how they choose to expend that capital is what defines their presidencies. What defined Obama’s candidacy was that it embodied something more in the eyes of voters than his personal quest for the office. The fact that he has been able to achieve constructive compromises within America’s polarized, zero-sum political context is a feat for which he deserves applause — and one for which he was singularly well-suited. Nevertheless, his presidential term, and his prospects for reelection, will turn on how well he connects his political actions to a broader good and how well the American people understand those connections.

Dr. R. Drew Smith is Director of the Center for Church and the Black Experience at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Scholar-in-Residence at the Leadership Center at Morehouse College. He has edited numerous volumes on churches and public life, including Black Churches and Local Politics: Clergy Influence, Organizational Partnerships, and Civic Empowerment and New Day Begun: African American Churches and Civic Culture in Post-Civil Rights America. He is currently writing a book on black churches and contemporary public policy activism.


Can I Get a Black President?
By Larycia A. Hawkins

Perhaps Barack Obama’s strategy of racial transcendence during the 2008 presidential campaign was understandable. As an outsider candidate with little name recognition at the provenance of his bid for the White House, Obama had to fashion a broad, patchwork base of the American public. So above the racial fray he went.
But as a former community organizer among black communities, surely he could code switch, that is, speak to the black community in familiar tones (when on the Southside, do as the Southsiders do), galvanizing black support by highlighting particular black concerns, right?

Wrong. Even when engaging the black community on issues of black concerns, candidate Obama spoke the racially patronizing language of personal responsibility. Translation: white middle-class values are the standard of societal respectability, and African Americans? They are a hot mess. During his June 2008 Father’s Day speech at Apostolic Church of God on Chicago’s Southside, Obama did not parlay the pulpit into an opportunity to cast a vision for how he planned to address black concerns, but he instead disregarded a black agenda in favor of castigating black behavior.

The primary glint of a black president has been Obama’s cadence, which when in black communities does sound like that of a black preacher. So, black concerns he will not emphasize, but the black church he will use as a resource when it suits the moment.

President Obama is certainly cognizant of the fact that some policies are of heightened import to black communities. Indeed, in his famed race speech in March 2008, Obama recommended that black Americans, “…(bind) our particular grievances — for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs — to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who’s been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family” (emphasis added).

The President’s conflation of black grievances and broader American grievances–which he personifies as white–is in short, grievous. While joblessness is undoubtedly painful for all Americans, joblessness plagues the African American community with furious ferocity given that black unemployment is double white unemployment. While white women may still struggle to shatter the glass ceiling, black women must still struggle to get a foot past the interview door given the fact that their ethnic names render them less likely than white women to get an interview in the first place.

Can I get a black president who does not talk down to the black community, but who rather acknowledges the peculiar burden of race and the double burden of race and gender?

Can I get a black president who does not capitulate to the post-racial cacophony that renders race irrelevant to crafting policies about problems that differentially affect white and black and Latino Americans?

So what must President Obama do to be successful in 2012? Where race is concerned, nothing is ever simple, but an acknowledgement of the utility rather than the futility of a black agenda will improve the President’s standing among black communities and with the Congressional Black Caucus. Yes You Can be a black President for black concerns, Mr. Obama.

Dr. Larycia A. Hawkins is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College. She is a co-editor of the book Religion and American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Her research includes projects exploring black theology and its relationship to political rhetoric and black political agendas, like those of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP. Prior to academia, she worked in state government administering federal programs, including the Social Security Disability program and the Community Development Block Grant.


A Civic Altar Call
 By Andrew Wilkes

The race for the 2012 presidential election is in full swing. President Obama recently commenced his campaign, released his first ad, and convened a $30,800-per-plate fundraiser in Harlem. On the Republican side, former Governors Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney have both established exploratory committees — which, in plain-folks’ English, means they’re running for President. As we move towards 2012, our attention will increasingly shift towards the drama of electoral politics.

But what if all of us — and not only politicians — are elected for public service? What if God created us in Christ for good works? St. Augustine envisioned sin as the state of being turned inward upon oneself. Given this portrayal, the implication is that election is not only about our hearts flowering open to God, but also about our hearts pivoting, in love, towards the neighbors, enemies, and strangers in our midst.

In a representative democracy, we often assume that our elected representatives will handle all of our public concerns. Everyday folks, we surmise, have to take the kids to school, perform well at work, and wake everyone up for Sunday service. We consider ourselves to be exemplary citizens, moreover, if we watch a presidential debate or two, read a candidate’s policy platform, and set aside the time to vote. Both concerns are legitimate. Private matters should not be sacrificed on an altar of the common good. Informed electoral participation is indeed commendable.

A fuller sense of human flourishing before God, however, involves taking responsibility for our communities between election cycles. The work of democracy relies on a voting public, but also includes the tasks of board governance in nonprofits, broad parent engagement in local schools, and sustained involvement within — or perhaps the reform of — public institutions like libraries, hospitals, and prisons.

Presidential elections are critical inflection points within our society. What happens in November every four years impacts the national budget, the operation of federal agencies, and the resources of state, county, and local governments. Their importance, though, does not depreciate our sacred summons to “do good to all as we have opportunity” (Gal. 6:10). God is issuing a civic altar call to those with ears to hear. Our communities, our congregations, and our precious children await our response.

Andrew Wilkes is a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, as well as a contributing writer for Sojourners Magazine, and a Huffington Post blogger. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Hampton University, he has worked as a Freedom Schools teaching intern for the Children’s Defense Fund, a policy and organizing fellow for Sojourners, and a policy intern during the first administration of Newark Mayor Cory Booker. You can follow him on Twitter: @andrewjwilkes.