- Pastor Ben
This is a fascinating article from today's New York Times. The big idea of the article focuses on research that shows that "relationships between rich and poor" are a critical catalyst for reducing gnerational poverty.
The effect was profound. The study found that if poor children grew up in neighborhoods where 70 percent of their friends were wealthy — the typical rate of friendship for higher-income children — it would increase their future incomes by 20 percent, on average.
These cross-class friendships — what the researchers called economic connectedness — had a stronger impact than school quality, family structure, job availability or a community’s racial composition. The people you know, the study suggests, open up opportunities, and the growing class divide in the United States closes them off.
I think this is a really interesting hypothesis and one that resonates on many levels. Within the long Christian tradition of seeking after and working for justice, there is an interwoven narrative of relationships and kinship. This study seems to affirm that idea.
This has profound implications for those of us commited to justice and fighting poverty. If relationships can be a catalyst for change, how do we go about building those authentic relationships?
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas...
- Pastor Ben
This is a statement from the organization, "Christians Against Christian Nationalism". I have signed it; I hope you will consider doing so as well.
As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy. Today, we are concerned about a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism.
Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.
As Christians, we are bound to Christ, not by citizenship, but by faith. We believe that:
People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.
Patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.
One’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.
Government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.
Religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families.
America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.
Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.
We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.
Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.
Today the Supreme Court released its expected decision effectively overturning Roe v. Wade and taking away the Federally guarranteed right to safe abortions for women (and anybody with a uterus, including transgender men). Beyond the immediate impact of this decision on millions of people, there are also legitimate and serious concerns about how this precedent could also undercut LGBTQ+ rights as well as the right to birth control (and many other privacy rights).
I am not a constiutional expert, but know that these are emotionally charged issues on all sides of the debate. I also know that there are a broad range of beliefs and convictions on this issue, even within our own church. Some may be celebrating today; many our mourning. Some are staunchly pro-choice; others equally strongly who believe that people should not have that choice. And many fall in between. We believe in a "Big Tent", and so whatever your personal position is, we respect you and you are welcome here. Even when we disagree, we have grace for each other.
I find this issue complicated and difficult. After many years of thought on this topic, my personal position is that abortion should be legal, safe and rare. I believe that people should have legal autonomy over their own bodies, and these decisions should be made between a person and their doctor and, when appropriate, significant other and close family.
I also believe that we should advocate for and support social policy and social services that make it easier for people to have children (expanded SNAP and WIC support, childcare support, universal healthcare, access to birth control, programs that fight poverty, make adoption and fostering easier and provide more support for families, etc.)
I am always happy to have a deeper theological discussion around this issue (feel free to reach out), but here I want to address some pastoral issues.
For many people, this decision is causing fear. For millions of people, there is a legitimate real fear about losing access to an important medical procedure. In many states, the ban on abortion will likely include a ban on abortions for victims of rape, victims of incest, and in cases where the life of the mother is at-risk or the pregnancy is not viable. There are many complicated reasons why people choose abortion -- and in my experience, few choose it lightly. For those who fear, first be assured that any change to abortion laws in CT is very unlikely. Second, we need to hear and recognize people's fear -- it is legitimate. We need to stand with people in their fear.
For many people, this decision is causing anger. Many people today are angry. To many, it feels like we have gone back 50 years and taken away a vital right from people. Few things are more sacred than a person's autonomy over their own body. For those who are angry, we get it. We hear you. We stand with you in your anger.
For many people, this decision is causing uncertainty. For manty, the fear and anger comes with a lot of uncertainty as well. Will the Obergfell decision guarranteeing marriage equality be overturned? Will current same-sex marriages be invalidated? If I am legally married to person of the same sex in CT, will that marriage be recognized by other states when we travel? Will other LGBTQ+ rights be at risk? Will access to birth control be lost? What other rights might we lose? Again, luckily, in CT we are unlikely to experience these things, but this could happen in other states and at a national level. These are real and series fears. And we stand with you in them.
For many people, this conversation can be triggering. For people who have made the difficult decision to have an abortion in the past, all of these conversations can be triggering and scary. You can feel judged or shame. You may feel vulnerable or that you have to hide something from your community and even friends or family. Statistically, we know that there are people in our church who have likely had abortions or have family members or loved ones who have made that choice. Please know that at RFC, there is no judgement, no shame. We love you, we honor you, we respect you, we stand with you.
So what do we do now as a community of faith?
PRAY. Scripture teaches us to bring all of our fears, angers and anxieties to God in prayer. What does that mean? Simply talk with God about them. Be open and honest and vulnerable in your prayers. Let the Spirit meet you in the space. And pray for others -- pray for those experiencing fear and anger and anxiety. Pray for our nation. Pray.
ADVOCATE. Use your voice (and your vote). For me personally, that means advocateing for and supporting policies and politicians that will work towards making abortion safe, legal, and rare. This might look different for you, depending on your own position (and I don't presume that you agree with my position or that my position is the only "faithful" answer; I believe there can be multiple faithful answers.)
GET INVOLVED. There are organizations and movements that are mobilizing to help fight these issues on a state level. There are also organizations working on providing resources and support to people that may need to travel out-of-state (or out-of-country) to obtain the medical care they desire. Use Google and find out how you might get involved with this work, if you are so inclined.
SHARE YOUR STORY. If abortion is part of your own story, consider sharing it so that people can understand why people choose what they choose, how this issue can be complicated, and put a real human face on an issue that too many people simply debate in the abstract. This takes risk and vulnerability, but I think it is worth it.
I know that there is some risk posting this piece publicly. Some will wonder how a pastor can support the right to choose an abortion. Others will be angry that I haven't gone far enough in defending the right or take umbrage with my "legal, safe & rare" paradigm. That's ok. I don't mind the critics, the critiques, nor the discussions.
But I think it is important that as people of faith, we think critically about what our position is and why we hold that position. And again, I affirm that different people will come to different conclusions -- and that is OK. We can disagree without being disagreeable; we can hold opposing views (even strongly!) and still love each other as siblings; we can even be repulsed by each others's position, and still worship God together.
Finally, if you are feeling fear, anger, or anxiety, please feel free to reach out. We can meet to talk, pray, or just sit together. I am happy to grab coffee or a vodka soda (only alcohol alloweed on my diet currently) or breakfast or lunch. Please, reach out.
And mostly, let us love each other well. Let us show empathy and grace. Let us model vulnerability and humbleness of spirit. Let us seek to love each other as Christ has loved us -- for this is how people will know that we follow in the way of Jesus.