While pundits speculate and pontificate on the future political career of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state seems not to be concentrating on 2016—at least, not for now. Last week, Clinton announced the “Too Small to Fail” initiative, a venture of the Clinton Foundation (created by her husband, former President Bill Clinton) and Next Generation—a nonpartisan group that promotes scientific research about early childhood development. A well-polished four-minute clip on the project’s site highlights what many of us have known for some time: the most critical years for any child are the early developmental stages, between the ages of 0-5. Colorful images of healthy parents with their healthy young children playing and reading were complemented by experts briefly discussing the importance of everything from nutrition to brain development. Calling on communities, individuals, and businesses to serve as partners, the video seems more like a vision statement than a plan of action.
The focus is commendable, and the support from non-profits and corporations, alike—I am sure—will follow. From a moral standpoint, I feel we can learn a lot about a nation by how it treats its most vulnerable, which is what gives me pause. With all of our social programs, and countless organizations claiming to concentrate on child welfare issues, none have successfully addressed the increasing education, opportunity, and development gaps that exist among children in the United States. So while this organization is in its infancy stage, I have one simple question for Hillary Clinton: how are you any different? We will get a better sense of how to answer that question moving forward, but there are four things that immediately pop in my head and I will be paying close attention to:
Collaboration with affected communities— Renowned experts and well-intentioned individuals may have led government-sponsored programs like the “War on Drugs” and “No Child Left Behind,” or non-profit initiatives, such as “Teach for America” but such efforts, however, are not new to criticisms about their lack of community inclusion in the creation of programmatic initiatives. This often leads to resistance from communities that feel that their opinions are undervalued or not considered at all; unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations; and the ultimate failure—no change at all. “Too Small to Fail” not only needs to clearly articulate its goals, but also incorporate statements of community partnership and consultation, with a recognition that investment and buy-in from the community will lead to sustainable progress.
Targeting disparities in day-to-day living—A blanket approach to tackling development in children is not going to work. Studies show that a poor child is likely to hear millions fewer words at home than a child from a professional family. Research highlighted in the book “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children” (Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley) revealed that children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour, compared to 1200 words per hour in working class families, and 2100 words per hour in professional families. Now consider the following statistics by the National Center of Children in Poverty:
32.4 million children live in low-income families;
16.1 million of those children living in poor families;
65 percent of black children live in low-income families, compared to 31 percent of white children;
86 percent of children with parents who have less than a high school degree live in low- income families.
What does this mean? In short, before a poor child reaches the age of 1, he or she has already fallen behind middle-class children in their ability to talk, understand and learn. This likelihood increases if you are a poor black child. We cannot target children without targeting their caretakers, and it will be interesting to see what solutions (if any) “Too Small to Fail” will introduce to address these disparities.
Recognizing non-traditional employment opportunities—It is encouraging to hear that ‘Too Small to Fail” will aim to work with the workforce to support practices that support workers—and thus support children. There are so many workers, however, that do odds and ends jobs just to make a living for their families. Furthermore, the demands of the current economic climate are forcing already overworked families to pursue any opportunity for revenue just to meet basic needs. A broader lens is therefore needed to identify the various kinds of employment and be inclusive of “under the table” jobs, which often do not entail a W-2 form.
Understanding the impact of a child’s demographic—A 2009 study by the Urban Institute focused on the impact a child’s living environment has on development. An organization today cannot afford to shy away from the various forms of trauma that exist for many urban youth, including the more obvious ones—such as gun violence and crime—and even more subtle, less discussed ones—such as the impact of being raised by a teen parent, exposure to paramilitary-like school systems, and the residual impact of incarceration. The desire for each child to reach their full potential is incomplete if there is a failure to explore how one’s address can change how you think and develop.
I am cautiously optimistic about “Too Small to Fail.” Only time will tell if this infant organization will develop into a fully-grown solution.
Ify Ike is a former Capitol Hill advisor and counsel, with experience on a variety of social justice issues. She is an original blogger of the faith-blog “The Bold and Fabulous,” founder of the policy and communications firm, Ike Professionals, LLC, and has assisted numerous ministries in program creation, youth outreach efforts, community service, and natural disaster relief. At least once a day, you can find her in a debate about politics or religion.
Yesterday, President Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address at the steps of the United States Capitol. The eighteen-minute speech outlined his public policy priorities, invoked the Declaration of Independence, and attempted to strike a balance between liberty and equality. A video of the President’s remarks is embedded below:
Today, the Washington National Cathedral hosted an inaugural prayer service to seek the blessing and guidance of God concerning the nation’s welfare. As Christians, we can turn to Psalm 72 for instruction on mixing faith and politics. This psalm is the quintessential prayer of Scripture for political authority. It affirms God’s sovereignty and asks that the King of Israel would rule with judgment, equity, and protection for the oppressed. The text is composed in the context of Ancient Near Eastern norms of monarchy; it explicitly mentions the King as the agent to implement divine imperatives of compassion and equity.
The psalm, however, contains enduring relevance for every system and style of government. Christians ultimately trust that God will deliver his creation from the pervasive and pernicious influence of sin. But our legitimate penultimate expectation – our hope in the time between the first and second coming of Christ – is that political leadership governs justly by defending the poor, rescuing the children of the needy, and protecting all who are oppressed. Thoughtful Christians will disagree on the best way for a democratic society to carry out this biblical triad of social responsibilities. What we should all affirm is that poverty, the well-being of children, and the needs of the oppressed should be at the center of our nation’s public affairs – in and out of electoral season. As we move into the second term of Obama’s administration, let’s focus on the political wisdom of Psalm 72 and prioritize prudential conversation about poverty, children, and empowering the oppressed over ad-hominem attacks and excessive partisanship.
Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, speaks to students during the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Awards Public Forum at Temple Deliverance. (Photo: Mike Brown/Newscom)
Last week, I was excited to read the Washington Post article stating that Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers, was going to deliver the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration later this month. This was a historic announcement, since Evers would be the first female who wasn’t a clergy member to deliver what has been deemed “America’s most prominent prayer.” Add to that the fact that she’s a black woman and you can sense the pride I felt reading those words. In a month that marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, to deem this a special occasion wouldn’t do it justice. Not to mention that this is just the second time that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has fallen on Inauguration Day. Later this year we’ll also mark the 50th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In a matter of weeks, an African American man will be sworn in for a second term as the president of the United States. For me, there’s a sense of divine providence in the events leading up to this day. Ms. Evers will stand atop the same steps on which King stood to decry our nation’s treatment of African Americans in this country.
Today, I received some disheartening news. Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was removedwithdrew as a participant in Obama’s inauguration program. According to an inaugural planner, he withdrew over remarks about homosexuality he made in a sermon he preached in the mid-’90s. The sermon was titled “In Search of a Standard—A Christian Response to Homosexuality.” Man, it must have taken a Herculean Google effort to find that one. But that’s how the public vets people nowadays. Google searches produce “little nuggets” about people that others may use against them. President Obama didn’t have to Google Pastor Giglio, though: He had become aware of Giglio’s work combating human trafficking last year after students at the annual Passion Conference in Atlanta raised millions of dollars for the cause. This year the campaign raised over $3.3 million dollars.
In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I attended Giglio’s church for over a year when we lived in Atlanta. We loved it. Giglio was genuine, Christ-centered in his preaching, and humble. Today, he’s been called everything from an unrepentant bigot to a pastor on the outlier of mainstream religious thinking (which might not actually be a bad thing). My dream of seeing a representative of the Civil Rights Movement share the platform with someone who genuinely cares and is doing something about modern-day slavery was crushed today. With more people enslaved today (approximately 27 million) than any other time in human history, this monumental occasion could have had a significant, visceral impact for African Americans. Most of these modern-day slaves are “people of color.”
Instead, we revisit an issue that cropped up in 2009 when Rick Warren was selected to give the benediction—a similar outcry that yielded different results. The difference? The President hadn’t expressed his evolving view on homosexuality at that time. But is this really a civil rights issue? I need not go into the matter of civil rights. I think Voddie Baucham does a pretty good job of addressing the issue here. Dr. Russell Moore suggests that what we may have is a de facto establishment of a state church.
The problem is not that [Giglio] wants to exclude homosexuals or others from the public square or of their civil rights. The problem is that he won’t say that they can go to heaven without repentance. That’s not a civil issue, but a religious test of orthodoxy.
The truth is that politicizing prayer is the first essential step to creating a state religion. We’re starting to enter the politically correct season of public prayer. So what’s the new standard? What’s the prerequisite when vetting someone to pray for our nation? Offending no one? We know from Scripture that’s impossible. Someone will always be offended. In fact, held to this standard, Jesus Himself would have been disqualified. Were that the benchmark, we’d have an empty podium on January 21st.
Giglio released this statement today:
I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.
Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.
Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.
Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.
My greatest desire is that we not be distracted from the things we are focused on…seeing people in our city come to know Jesus, and speaking up for the last and least of these throughout the world.
In my opinion, a grace-filled response to critics. In the coming weeks, the nation will be watching intently. Forget the replacement refs controversy last fall with the NFL—Giglio’s replacement will likely get tons of attention from the faith community, and the nation in general. Not because this person prays more eloquently than Giglio. Not because there’s a symbiotic relationship between this person’s prayer and Ms. Evers-Williams’ prayer. But because the selection will likely represent the evolving ethos of our pluralistic society. Disheartening? Yes. Unexpected? No. When it boils down to it, the words of Robert Godfrey ring true: neither the Republican Party or Democratic Party care about the cause of Christ. But I’m glad there are people like Pastor Giglio in this world who do.
Michael Eric Dyson: America is not a Christian-only nation.
During a recent interview on my radio show, Michael Eric Dyson, the social critic and author who is also an ordained Baptist minister, urged Christians to “get over” their opposition to President Obama’s decision to support same-sex marriage. Dyson, who is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, said that particularly black Christians should be the last people to stand on the side of another group of Americans being denied their constitutional rights.
“Some black people are mad at Obama over the same-sex marriage thing. Get over it. Get beyond your bigotry. Black people are the last people on earth trying to tell somebody who to marry, when we need to get our numbers up, No. 1,” said Dyson, who supported President Obama’s reelection.
Marriage rates among all groups have been declining over the past decades but remain the lowest among blacks. According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies only 52 percent of black women will marry by age 33, compared to 81 percent of white women and 77 percent of Hispanic women. Meanwhile, an estimated 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers.
Dyson continued: “And No. 2, if we’ve been victims of oppression, why extend that? Forget your personal religious viewpoint, there are some people who don’t have your religion and guess what, there are some people who don’t even have religion at all. The nation should protect everybody – the religious believers and the non-believers alike.”
Click to hear the entire interview.
Dyson repeated a position that I’ve written previously here on UrbanFaith concerning the same-sex issue. It’s true that the Bible does not affirm homosexuality and therefore doesn’t bless same-sex marriage. No effort to reinterpret biblical relationships such as, Jonathan and David’s or Naomi and Ruth’s can change that. Claiming that Jesus never discussed the issue doesn’t cut it either. If John1:1-14 is true “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” then Jesus in fact did discuss the issue such as where homosexuality is mentioned in Leviticus 18:22. (This page offers a comparison of contemporary thinking on the Bible and homosexuality.)
If John 1 is false, then we’ve got an even bigger problem. All that Christianity is predicated upon — the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins — falls apart; the world that God so loved that he gave his only begotten son for, is equally doomed (John 3:16).
We Christians ought to remember that our calling as disciples is not to be agents of doom, but of hope. We are to be on the side of freedom, justice, and equality. That freedom includes the free will to make good and bad decisions. If God allows humans this free will to choose his way or the other, who are we to advocate denying this right to fellow citizens?
As Dyson correctly points out, Americans are blessed to live not under sharia law but in a nation that recognizes the freedom of religion and insists on the separation of church and state. The “state’s” (federal, state, and local governments) responsibility is to protect all of its citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless to their religious or non-religious views. The government sets laws to regulate how we interact among each other, so that our rights might be secured. You can’t run a red light in your car without punishment because to do so puts other fellow citizens at danger. You can’t just pull out a gun and shoot someone because you’re obviously taking away their right to life, while potentially putting other citizens at grave risk. Do two taxpaying adults deciding they want to legally commit to each other by marrying under the laws of a state meet the test of putting the rights of other fellow citizens at risk? Besides, people can marry and divorce in America without the church ever being involved.
Sins violate divine laws that separate humans from God. All sins should not be violations of local, state, or federal laws because not all citizens believe in God. If all sins were illegal, divorce, which God hates (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 19:6; Matthew 31, 32), should also be against state and federal laws. Catholics annul (invalidate from the beginning) marriages, but typically divorce proceedings are not conducted in churches. However, in America, Christians divorce in state courts and often for good personal reasons. How would we feel if the state denied us the option to divorce?
We Christians tend to cherry pick the sins to get riled about when it suits our own personal interests, agendas, or traditions. However, life in a pluralistic democratic society is too complex for that. It’s full of a lot of gray, blurry areas. Perhaps this is why God reserves grace and mercy for everyone, but our judgment for him alone.
Dyson urged that Christians should not aim to make America a Christian-only nation, but use Christian principles to help make America a just nation for everyone, regardless of their faith.
As the apostle Paul said, the greatest of these principles to apply is love.
RECONCILER IN CHIEF: Barack Obama stands on stage at Chicago’s McCormick Place after being re-elected president of the United States during his election night watch party on November 6, 2012. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/ABACAUSA.com/Newscom)
In his victory speech at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, President Barack Obama echoed many of the themes that inspired his supporters when he first arrived on the national scene — themes of hope, empathy, and reconciliation. In the wake of a bruising campaign that time and again revealed America’s deep ideological, cultural, and racial divides, President Obama sought to begin the process of healing and unifying the nation for the challenges ahead. Below is the transcript of his speech.
BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward.
It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.
Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.
I want to thank every American who participated in this election … whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time.
By the way, we have to fix that.
Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.
I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign.
We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.
In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.
I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.
And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago.
Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s first lady.
Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you’re growing up to become two strong, smart beautiful young women, just like your mom.
And I’m so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough.
To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning.
But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the life-long appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley.
You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you put in.
I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.
You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity.
You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.
You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse whose working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.
That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.
That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.
But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers.
A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.
We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.
We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this — this world has ever known.
But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being. We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.
To the young boy on the South Side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner.
To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president — that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go — forward.
That’s where we need to go.
Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.
By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over.
And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.
Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual.
You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.
But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.
This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.
What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.
The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.
I am hopeful tonight because I’ve seen the spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job.
I’ve seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.
I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm.
And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.
I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own.
And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.
And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future.
I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.
I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.
America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.
I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.
And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.
Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.