Chuck Colson: A Faithful Steward of the Second Chance

Chuck Colson: A Faithful Steward of the Second Chance

BROTHERS IN REDEMPTION: Chuck Colson (right) hugs an ex-inmate and graduate of Colson's Prison Fellowship program. Founded in 1976, PF is aimed at rehabilitating incarcerated men and women through faith-based education, job training, and aftercare. (Photo: Shawn Thew/Newscom)

The passing of Chuck Colson over the weekend brought to mind the issue of stewardship in ministry. Many of the headlines remembered him as Nixon’s “evil genius” in the Watergate scandal, but for many of us he was even better known for what he did after leaving prison.

Colson, as the founder of Prison Fellowship, lived his post-prison, post-conversion life as a champion for the evangelization and discipleship of incarcerated men and women. His gradual expansion of PF to an organization that included work in the area of public policy and criminal justice reform took the group beyond the norms of many predominantly white evangelical organizations. His mobilization of and influence on theological and political conservatives around issues such as the Second Chance Act, prison conditions, and prison rape showed his commitment to both rescuing fish and cleaning the fishbowl. Countless numbers of people, both those incarcerated and those impacted by incarceration (such as victims of crime, former prisoners, and family members of the incarcerated) have been helped, saved, blessed, and reconciled as God used Brother Colson in providing leadership in this area.

But I am mostly drawn to his sense of stewardship in this hour, because it had everything to do with Prison Fellowship’s ascendancy and the challenge of the organization’s future. Stewardship, because Brother Colson had a public visibility prior to his conversion that God was able to use to strengthen the organization itself and give more visibility to prison ministry as a critical component of the witness of the church. With all that Brother Colson could have done with his visibility, committing it to the service of men and women Jesus identified as “the least of these” rings nobly. This is especially significant in light of the historic tension between white evangelical organizations and indigenous African American congregations and ministries, where the competition for scarce resources often gives advantage to the former while the latter struggles in relative obscurity.

I remember once having breakfast with an NFL quarterback who had just made a five-figure donation to an urban youth ministry organization in Philadelphia. He talked about the great needs there, and the fact that this organization was “on the front lines.” I countered that they were indeed, but that there were countless African American and Latino congregations in that city that could use support — they just don’t have leadership with the visibility and clout of some in the white evangelical community. Colson chose to use his clout to answer Christ’s call to remember the prisoner.

Of course, one alternative to white paternalism in urban ministry is for white evangelicals to take all their marbles and go home — leave the places of pain where, as Bible scholar Dennis Kinlaw has reminded us, “God always gets there first.” And so the fact that organizations like Prison Fellowship continue to witness to a holistic gospel in this era of mass incarceration is important. And Brother Colson took good care of his name as a steward of the visibility he gained from his days at the White House, involvement with Watergate, trial and incarceration, conversion and release. He lived as a vibrant example of a life redeemed — a man of influence, thoughtfulness, and compassion.

FROM 'EVIL GENIUS' TO GOD'S SERVANT: A White House special counsel during the Nixon administration, Colson was a key player in the Watergate scandal. He became a Christian in 1974 before serving a prison sentence.

Like many organizations before it, Prison Fellowship will now face the so-called “founder’s dilemma” in staying the course without Colson’s critical stewardship. But there are other obstacles as well: notably the downturn in the economy, which has affected the bottom line of all non-profits, and PF’s continued search for a way to strengthen its work with indigenous African American and Latino congregations.  During one of his Breakpoint broadcasts in 2009, Colson lauded the prisoner-reentry partnership which had been developed between Prison Fellowship and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the historic African American denomination that counted Martin Luther King Jr. as one of its founding members. Colson’s attempts to bridge this gap between conservative and progressive Christians reflected his sincerity, even if the organization’s infrastructure continued to struggle with how to give this vision legs.

As a sociologist who studies congregations, I have seen such infrastructural challenges from Richard Niebuhr’s original documentations in The Social Sources of Denominationalism, through case studies, to my mentors Bill Pannell and Tom Skinner warning us that your ministry can grow into a monster. Whether it’s a large company or big congregation, infrastructure can outgrow mission both in the size of the organization and the attention of its leadership and staff. But even as PF wrestled with these dilemmas, Chuck Colson worked as a steward of his visibility — championing Angel Tree ministries for the children of the incarcerated, advocating compassion for inmates in overcrowded and inhumane conditions, and demonstrating a dogged commitment not only to the evangelization of inmates but to their discipleship as well (no small feat when the predominant mode of prison preaching follows the script: “You messed up, you got caught, you need Jesus”).

Indeed, there is an irony in saying that Chuck Colson has gone to “be with the Lord.” After all, if we take Matthew 25 seriously, Chuck had already been “with Him” more than most.

Condi Rice Memoir: ‘We Have a Race Problem’

Condi Rice Memoir: ‘We Have a Race Problem’

‘We Have a Race Problem, Mr. President’

In an excerpt from her new memoir published in Newsweek, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she didn’t think much about dire Hurricane Katrina warnings when she left Washington D.C. to watch U.S. Open tennis in New York in August 2005. Turning on the TV after a trip to an upscale shoe store in the city, she saw the devastating images of mostly black faces in New Orleans and knew right away that she should have never made the trip.

“Mr. President, I’m coming back. I don’t know how much I can do, but we clearly have a race problem,” she recounts telling the president. “I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?”

The Lingering Wound of Katrina

Rice admits that Katrina was “the first in a spiral of negative events that would almost engulf the Bush presidency” and says the federal response was slower and more flawed than anyone, including George W. Bush, wanted. Yet, for her, the “lingering wound of Katrina” is that “some used the explosive ‘race card’ to paint the President as a prejudiced, uncaring man.”

“It was so unfair, cynical, and irresponsible,” she writes, saying she remains “appalled” that it was necessary to defend him on this issue.

The Moral Case for Opposing Tyranny

In an interview with The Daily Beast about the book, Rice defends the Bush administration’s “Freedom Agenda,” framing it as both a moral and practical pursuit.

“We pursued the Freedom Agenda not only because it was right but also because it was necessary,” Rice is quoted as writing. “There is both a moral case and a practical one for the proposition that no man, woman, or child should live in tyranny. Those who excoriated the approach as idealistic or unrealistic missed the point. In the long run, it is authoritarianism that is unstable and unrealistic.”

Gadhafi’s “Black Flower in the White House”

A New York Times review of No Higher Ground focuses on clashes between Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney over the war on terror, but includes the curious revelation that recently deceased Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gadhafi was “eerily fascinated” with her and “made a video showing pictures of her while a song called ‘Black Flower in the White House’ played.”

Rice’s Biggest Regret

Neither Katrina nor Freedom Agenda challenges top Rice’s list of regrets, however. In a Q&A with readers of the Charlotte Observer this week, the former Secretary of State answered a question about what she would change from her White House tenure if she could by saying she wishes that the Bush administration had been able to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.

“Because resolving our massive immigration problem is essential to securing a prosperous future for generations, I truly wish we had been able to see those reforms come to fruition,” said Rice.

Asked what has built character in her life, she told readers that throughout every season of her life, “the Lord has built character in me as I rely on Him.”

What do you think?

Was George W. Bush’s Katrina “race problem” the beginning of the end of positive public perception for his administration? Is his record on race defensible?

The White House & Black Unemployment

The White House & Black Unemployment

Obama Is Stepping Up His Game

As Republican presidential candidates continued to rumble their way across the country, the Obama administration stepped up its game this week, publishing a Pathways to Opportunity report that outlined what the administration claims to have done and intends to do to get the unemployed back to work, and engaging with voters on the economy.

While President Obama embarked on the American Jobs Act bus tour, The Root hosted a live-streamed discussion Thursday with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and outgoing Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes about poverty, and African American poverty in particular.

Jarrett and Barnes mostly repeated talking points from the report and promoted the jobs act as they fielded questions from a live audience and from Twitter and Facebook.

Jarrett said Republicans want to see the president fail, but the jobs bill isn’t about him. “This is about what’s good for our country,” she said.

Barnes said the president is resolved to keep pushing Republicans to pass the bill, but the senate rejected a scaled down version Thursday and the Associated Press reported that Democratic support for the measure is dwindling and “future votes on individual pieces of the measure … aren’t likely to fare better.”

Americans Are Fed Up With Government

To make matters worse for the incumbent president, a new Gallup poll suggests that Americans are more fed up with government than with business.

“Americans are more than twice as likely to blame the federal government in Washington (64%) for the economic problems facing the United States as they are the financial institutions on Wall Street (30%),” Gallup reported.

Why Now, Mr. President?

The Root’s Cynthia Gordy asked Jarrett and Barnes why the report and the jobs act are being introduced now.

“We decided to draft the report in many ways to respond to questions about what we have done,” said Barnes, before recounting ways she says the administration has been addressing poverty issues from “day one,” including the 2009 economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, expansion of tax credits, summer jobs for youth, and health care reform.

“We’ve been working on this since we set foot in the White House,” said Barnes.

Barnes on Getting Out of the Hot Seat

Barnes also confirmed reports that she is leaving the administration at the end of the year to spend time with family and pursue private sector opportunities.

Asked what the most significant policy she developed is, Barnes said choosing would be like picking one child over another. Even so, she said she is especially proud of her work on education and described early, primary, and post-secondary education as a three-legged stool upon which to build success.

To illustrate her point, she recounted how her father went to college on the GI bill while she was a little girl and fondly recalled sitting next to him as he studied at the library. She also said her maternal grandmother worked in a tobacco factory and that her mother went to college on a scholarship

“Education changes lives; it changes communities,” said Barnes, as she expressed wonder at how it led to her own ascent to the White House.

Earlier she had recounted how “little old ladies at church” would tell her how proud they were of her, but would balk at the scope of her domestic policy task.

Jarrett affirmed Barnes’ passion, commitment, drive, and “second to none” breadth of policy knowledge. “If I go much further, we’ll both start crying, so I’m going to stop,” said Jarrett.

Is Obama Backing Away From People of Faith?

UrbanFaith asked (via Twitter) what the administration is doing to support the faith based groups that are filling in service gaps, and if the president is backing away from these groups? The broadcast ended before the question was answered, but the Democratic National Committee announced yesterday that it had hired Rev. Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of Washington D.C.’s historically Black Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, as its new director of faith outreach so, at least from a political standpoint, he appears ready to embrace them.

The Middle Class Is Recovering?

Meanwhile, at a Virginia stop on his bus tour, President Obama sounded positively conservative when he said, “It’s going to take time to rebuild the kind of America in which everybody has a fair shot, everybody is paying their fair share; where responsibility is rewarded; where the deck is not stacked against middle-class families.” He also claimed that the middle class is growing, solid, and secure again.

Is Obama Avoiding Black Communities?

But an article at Politico about tensions between the president and California Rep. Maxine Waters contrasted the Congressional Black Caucus’s summer jobs tour with Obama’s efforts, noting that he has largely avoided stops in Black cities and neighborhoods.

The Psychology of Black Unemployment

Setting aside the politics of Black unemployment for a moment, the North Dallas Gazette published a compelling article Thursday about its psychology. In it, University of Michigan Sociologist Alford Young Jr., Ph.D. said the stress of constantly thinking about supplementing insufficient income “provides an interesting spin on the long-standing notion that Black people, particularly lower income folk only live for today.”

The article said challenges remain, but researchers “retain their optimism for the future in part because of the past resiliency and creativity of the African American community.”

What do you think?

Has the Obama Administration avoided African American concerns or has the president done what he could in a political and social environment that rarely prioritizes them?

Obama’s Meekness Is Not Weakness

Obama’s Meekness Is Not Weakness

CIVIL SERVANT: President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the State of the Union address earlier this year. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“The uniqueness of His meekness is too deep to speak / and if you think meekness is weakness try being meek for a week.” – ShaiLinne, “Mic Check 1 2 (featuring Stephen the Levite & Phanatik)”

Let me state a few things up front, so this doesn’t devolve into something from my highly refined, literary alter ego, Captain Obvious (And His Adventures in Missing-The-Point-Ville).

Obviously, President Barack Obama is not Jesus. Our 44th president is not, nor should he be, exempt from criticism. It does not make anyone a bad Christian to publicly criticize his actions or ideas, from either the political right or the left.

So I hope that neither LZ Granderson nor Roland Martin, both professing Christians whom I respect greatly, will take offense when I say that as Christians I think they’re dead wrong about Obama.

Specifically, they’re wrong about how President Obama should respond to House Speaker John Boehner’s latest act of insubordination regarding his upcoming jobs speech.

For the uninitiated, the White House publicly requested a joint session of Congress to assemble on the same day that the Republicans were planning a debate, also surrounding the topic of jobs. In response, Rep. Boehner asked instead for the date to be pushed back, citing security issues.

Don’t cave to Boehner,” pleaded Martin. Then after the White House rescheduled the date. Granderson lamented Obamas failure to respond to a diss to the presidency, as if the primary responsibility of the President of the United States is to avoid being punked. Then Martin lamented further, claiming that the president’s biggest problem is that no one fears him.

I beg to differ.

The primary responsibility of the president is not to show people he’s in charge. His job is to lead people as effectively and prudently as possible. It’s not that he “needs a spine transplant,” and is therefore incapable of standing up for himself. It’s that when it came to this particular issue at this particular time, he chose a more expedient path of action.

He doesn’t need to show people who’s boss, because he’s already the boss. Posturing is what one does when they’re auditioning for the role campaigning for the job. But as the POTUS, Obama must be the boss. He has a very complex and subjective set of priorities to address and keep in balance at all times. It shouldn’t be a surprise that saving face wouldn’t be the highest thing on his list. 

The Uniqueness of Meekness 

Consider the example of the Christ Jesus to whom Obama has publicly, repeatedly declared his fidelity.

Jesus often gets a bad rap in our popular culture for being weak and effeminate (which is one of the reasons why preacher Mark Driscoll is so popular, but that’s for another column). If you read your Bible, though, you’ll see that nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus was constantly challenging and confounding both the religious and political establishment. When he felt like street vendors were making a mockery of the faith, he destroyed their operation. There was a reason why they eventually conspired to kill him.

However, Jesus was not the revolutionary that his followers expected. He never made a play for political office. At the point where his followers thought they were on the brink of an armed revolution, Jesus rebuked one of them for resorting to violence. And then he acquiesced to his accusers, knowing full well the result would be a sham of a trial followed by a brutal crucifixion.

If I would’ve been one of Jesus’ disciples during this time, I’m sure the sense of frustration and disappointment in the air would’ve been absolutely palpable.

Why is he letting them DO THIS?!?!

Jesus was not happy about the events that had transpired. A bit earlier, He prayed to the Father for another way out. But in the end, He chose to be obedient, knowing that there was a larger objective that He was given to fulfill, one that required enduring the cross and all of its horrors.

Believing what Christians do about the resurrection, it’s hard to argue with the result.

When Jesus said “blessed are the meek,” in the Sermon on the Mount, the Greek word he used that we translate today as “meek” is one that referred to a sense of a great strength under useful control. It’s like a fierce fire that could warm a great castle, but that could just as easily be reduced to a pilot light. Or like a wild stallion capable of galloping 100 miles an hour, lightly sauntering under the master’s control.

Meekness is anything but weakness.

Strength Under Control

Meekness is keeping your cool because losing it could jeopardize the prize ever set before you.

It’s the difference between I’m-doing-this-because-I-can and I’m-doing-this-because-I-should.

In my opinion, this is the kind of strength under control where President Obama excels. Sure, it was disrespectful for Boehner and House Republicans to respond the way they did. And sure, Obama probably felt more than little vindictive about it. But Obama has a larger set of priorities in mind, among them being re-election in 2012. And acting out of a desire to be vindicated is something that might win the battle but lose the war.

So no, he’s not Jesus. And no, he’s not infallible.

But if you’re a Christian, and you think Obama is weak just because he chose not to flex his muscles over a scheduling conflict, then either you don’t read your Bible, or you haven’t been paying attention.

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.