Archives For civil rights

1. A ‘devout atheist’ on the role of religion in development
The From Poverty to Power blog, by Oxfam research guru and ‘devout atheist’ Duncan Green, had a post a few weeks ago with an interesting case to make for the importance of religion in international relief, development and advocacy work.

2. New civil rights movement?
The New York Times has an interesting editorial and slideshow on the fallout from Alabama’s “oppressive” new immigration law, suggesting that immigration reform has become a new civil rights movement.

3. Mayan Guatemalans frustrated that their government can’t spell
Guatemalans went to the polls earlier this month for a runoff election in which Otto Perez Molina, a former army general, was elected president. The Christian Science Monitorhad an interesting story leading up to the election about how some 400,000 Mayan citizens have had trouble getting ID cards because of the complicated spelling of their names. Some aren’t buying the government’s excuses, though, saying this is just the latest evidence of anti-Mayan discrimination by the state.

4. A different kind of gold mining in Guatemala
My friend Tomas shared with me this heartbreaking story about those trying to make a living by scavenging through Guatemala City’s landfill in search of discarded jewelry and metal scraps:

At dawn, the scavengers arrive much as if coming to a regular work place. Many are wearing clean, ironed shirts and even whistling. They carry shovels and backpacks filled with their garbage bags, snacks and change of clothes. They leave their dry clothes at an improvised camp and start looking for treasures. Scavenging, which is prohibited by the government, can get particularly dangerous during storm season. The workers say many have died while trying to pick garbage out of water raging through the ravine. Dozens perished one day in 2008 when a mountain of garbage collapsed on them… Still, the “miners” call the dangerous heavy rain “the blessing of winter,” because the increased flow of water improves their chances of finding more metal.

5. Migration & development in Latin America
In October Bread for the World and Church World Service released a fact sheet about the connections between migration and economics in Latin America. Not surprisingly, economic hardship is the number one reason for migration from Latin America to the United States. These two groups are calling for an integrated approach to US development aid in Latin America with domestic immigration reform, which seems like a no-brainer to me. You can’t really address either problem on its own. I’d love to hear a presidential candidate offer a compelling vision for this sort of an integrated approach.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

1. Latino roundtable with President Obama
The president hosted a roundtable the other day where he fielded questions from Latino journalists and citizens about the issues that matter most to their communities. He tackles questions about illegal immigration on a national level, relations with Cuba, the 11% unemployment rate among Latinos, and the ongoing investigation into Arizona’s treatment of immigrants. The White House website has the full video, which is almost an hour.

2. Bill Easterly: Aid grump?
During grad school we read development economist Bill Easterly’s book White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good and had some lively discussions about it, to say the least. If you’re not familiar with Easterly, this recent interview by Tom Paulson at the Humanosphere blog is a great introduction.

3. John Piper on his own racism and the gospel
This is a two-minute trailer for a 20-minute documentary coming soon, supplementing Piper’s new book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. A bold book about the evils of racism isn’t necessarily the sort of book you might expect from Piper, but it looks really good.

4. A word to hymn writers from Fernando Ortega
Last Friday evening I went with Katie and my parents to a Keith & Kristyn Getty concert in Lancaster. The Gettys have been writing and composing songs for the Church for only a decade but they have already contributed so many songs that really transcend the so-called worship wars (and I suspect many of these songs will stand the test of time). Here, Fernando Ortega, a New Mexico-based singer/songwriter and worship leader, has a word to those who would write songs for worship in churches:

Be specific when you write songs about God. Avoid cliché. Avoid convenience. Avoid an obsession with the consumer. Avoid the temptation to make commercial success your central goal. Write with intelligence, employing all the craft, skill, and experience with which God has endowed you.

5. Gospel or justice, which?
Russell Moore from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes that despite assumptions to the contrary within evangelicalism, evangelism and public justice are not mutually exclusive:

The short answer to how churches should “balance” such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grow in Christlikeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the king of his kingdom, and he loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.

6. Know Shelter
The Two Futures Project is a movement to abolish nuclear weapons. I know some people love their nukes, but I’m generally agreeable to the abolition idea. Here’s a video on preparing for a nuclear attack, which will hopefully never happen, but unfortunately isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m a big fan of John Perkins. He’s one of my favorite go-to guys for all things community development, civil rights, racial reconciliation and urban ministry. Last week I read one of his more recent books, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, which he co-wrote with Charles Marsh, a religion professor at the University of Virginia and director of the Project on Lived Theology. By way of introduction, Perkins is black, Marsh is white, and the book is about “beloved community” — the guiding vision for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in the American South where both Marsh and Perkins grew up. I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to do that vision justice, but I understand it to be more or less the vision King articulates in his timeless “I Have A Dream” speech.

Marsh is a scholar of the Civil Rights movement, Perkins is a veteran of it, and their thesis is that what kept the Civil Rights movement grounded and creative and redemptive was its roots in the Christian faith. Marsh writes:

The Civil Rights movement teaches us that faith is authentic when it stays close to the ground. And it reminds us of faith’s essential affirmations: showing hospitality to strangers and outcasts; affirming the dignity of created life; reclaiming the ideals of love, honesty and truth; embracing the preferential option of nonviolence; and practicing justice and mercy… Only as long as the Civil Rights movement remained anchored in the church — in the energies, convictions and images of the biblical narrative and the worshiping community — did the movement have a vision.

At some point after the assassination of King, the movement lost touch with its roots, they say, and that’s when it splintered and degenerated. They want to call us back to the roots of the movement and consider what it can teach us about a twenty-first century embodiment of that vision of beloved community. A big part of that is understanding Christian discipleship through the lens of reconciliation — reconciliation between people and God, and reconciliation among people across various boundaries, including race.

Perkins asserts that poverty and racism are interrelated, and are in fact part of a bigger web of social breakdown, with individual, family and community issues all at play. And the church, he says, needs to step up:

The issue we’re facing is the broken family and the broken community. It really is a single issue. The community is broken because families are broken, and families can’t get back together because the community is broken. This is why family values and social justice aren’t separate issues. The health of the community depends on the health of the family and the health of the family depends on the justice of the community. If the church is going to offer good news in our time, we have to give some alternative to the broken family and broken community that reflect the desperation of our culture… If the gospel of reconciliation is going to interrupt the brokenness in society, our churches are going to have to rethink their vocation… A community where men stand in the rain to beg is broken. There is no peace in that city. It’s that man’s problem, but it’s also our community’s problem. We’ve got to do something to make good work possible for healthy people like him. What does the church have to offer a community where healthy men beg on the street corner?

What indeed?

I wish churches spent more time thinking about how their members could love one another and share a common life by working together as a community. Part of the reason our churches are so individualistic is that we just accept the economic system of our culture without question. We assume that people who can get the good jobs should go wherever they have to and the people who can’t get the good jobs should just take what they can get. But churches that want to interrupt the brokenness of society ought to be about creating jobs in the community and giving neighbors an opportunity to work together. If we take our communities seriously as economic places, we’ll spend more time thinking about creating good work than we spend thinking about more relevant worship styles or bigger church buildings.

All in all, the book is a pretty quick read, but it’s deep, because it gets at the very roots of that which stands in the way of reconciliation, and it’s cause for some soul searching among evangelicals, I think. I hope and pray that my tribe will become known as true ambassadors of reconciliation and that we’ll get to experience some of that beloved community too.


A little over a month ago in Beijing, where free speech isn’t free, Bob Dylan, always the provocateur, did a concert. The Washington Post reported on it:

Rock music icon Bob Dylan avoided controversy Wednesday in his first-ever appearance in Communist-led China, eschewing the 1960s protest anthems that defined a generation and sticking to a song list that government censors say they preapproved, before a crowd of about 5,000 people in a Soviet-era stadium.

He apparently could play whatever he wanted in Taiwan earlier in the week. In China, however,

where the censors from the government’s Culture Ministry carefully vet every line of a song before determining whether a foreign act can play here, those two songs disappeared from the repertoire. In Beijing, Dylan sang “Love Sick” in the place of “Desolation Row,” and he ended his nearly two-hour set with the innocent-sounding “Forever Young.” There was no “Times They Are a-Changin’ ” in China. And definitely no “Chimes of Freedom.”

It seems clear that he took the easy route, submitting to the restrictive whims of an authoritarian government accused of all sorts of human rights abuses. But that’s not the whole story. Over at Get Religion, a blog focusing on the ways journalists often fail to ‘get religion’, Terry Mattingly notes that Dylan has a tendency to send a message, subtle or not, in his opening song. In Beijing, Dylan opened with “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” from his so-called “gospel” years. It begins with these words, hardly comfortable for the Chinese authorities:

Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules
Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules
Gonna put my good foot forward, and stop being influenced by fools.

So much oppression, can’t keep track of it no more
So much oppression, can’t keep track of it no more
Sons becoming husbands to their mothers, and old men turning young daughters into whores.

Stripes on your shoulders, stripes on your back and on your hands
Stripes on your shoulders, stripes on your back and on your hands
Swords piercing your side, blood and water flowing through the land.

Just yesterday, Dylan responded to the controversy. In a letter to “to my fans and followers” he wrote:

As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There’s no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.

In other words, Bob Dylan wins.