Category: “Social Justice”

Larry James: “Man Down”

This post on Larry James’ Urban Daily blog caught my attention and stirred my blood.  Larry is an extremely busy man, but he hangs out on a corner on the poor side of Dallas every week talking to the residents of the community.  If he hadn’t made that commitment he wouldn’t have been able to intercede in the situation described below.  Makes you wonder how many horror stories like this unfold everyday in our cities.  AGB

Man Down

I’m boiling.

Yesterday out at “the Corner” I witnessed another example of the daily plight of the powerless who live on our very unforgiving streets.

As I sat in my car taking a phone call that lasted several minutes, an ambulance pulled up at the service station next door.  I noticed the ambulance, but could see no one to whom the crew was attending. By the time I finished my phone call, the ambulance was gone, but I noticed that the patient remained.

A very ill Hispanic gentleman sat leaned up against the outside wall of the service station building next door to the old house where I sit on Thursday afternoons.  He appeared to be semi-conscious and unresponsive.  His friend and protector, Joe, informed me that he had just been discharged from the hospital, but was clearly in trouble.  The ambulance had refused to transport him back to the hospital for reasons I couldn’t understand.

I called 911 and requested that an ambulance return.

In a few moments, the ambulance with the same crew returned.

I insisted that they pick him up and take him back to the hospital.  The man was diabetic and now lying down flat on his back on the concrete pavement.

The crew went to work, placed the man on a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance and drove away.

As they left, my homeless friends were relieved and hurt.

Why hadn’t the ambulance crew responded to their pleas on behalf of their friend?

Why did I get the needed action and not them?

Why had the man been discharged from the hospital?

Was his fate all about money?

Was he “uninsured,” not even receiving Medicaid?

Was he undocumented and thus, fair game for being left to die on our streets?

The situation left us with so many unanswered questions.

God help us!

Are we to conclude that there actually are expendable people today in our community?

Is power concentrated in almost exclusively in the hands and voices of people like me, but not my friends who are simply poor even though experts on the subject of poverty?

I need answers.

I’m steamed.

Crossing the border without papers

Posted by Pierre Berastain

What if the person crossing the border had been a Latin American? What if the person had not been white? It seems to me that no amount of “God-talk” would let that person cross. Our perspectives and attitudes are colored, and they are often colored with shades of injustice or inequalities in the way we treat others. This is an invitation to examine our prejudices.

Task Force to Host Historic Restorative Justice Conference at Harvard Law School

By Pierre R. Berastain

Over the past year, the Massachusetts Restorative Justice Task Force has prepared to convene a daylong restorative justice summit at Harvard Law School. On November 3rd, 2012, Building Communities of Care Wherever We Are will seek to equip participants with tools to build restorative justice and transformative practices in their communities, schools, youth centers, domestic violence and sexual assault centers, faith communities, and prisons, among other contexts. The conference will be held from 8:30am to 5:00pm in Milstein East in Wasserstein Hall at Harvard Law School at 1585 Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge, Mass.

The initiative comes at a particularly important time given the alarming statistics that reflect the inefficiency of the criminal justice system, mainstream domestic violence and sexual violence programs, and the inimical zero tolerance policies implemented in school districts nation-wide. Today, for instance, the United States comprises five percent of the world population, but holds 25 percent of world prisoners. According to the NAACP, “Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, one in every 31 adults is in some form of correctional control.” The cost of these correctional programs amount to over seventy billion dollars annually. The system disproportionately impacts people of color — or people of the global majority. For instance, according to the NAACP, “five times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at ten times the rate of Whites.” And according to The Sentencing Project, “African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).” These issues have special implications in Massachusetts, which spends six times more per prisoner than per public school pupil — a greater disparity than in any other state. In 2007, Massachusetts spent $78,580 per prisoner and only $12,857 per pupil. The disparities in justice and the surging cost of our punitive criminal justice system demand new paradigms of addressing offenses in our society.

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Reflections on Suffering

By Pierre R. Berastain

Photography by Joey Horton


“Every time I think of the crucifixion of Christ, I commit the sin of envy.”

–Simone Weil

I came across this quote during my first year at Harvard Divinity School. At first, I was shocked.  Then, I grew angry.  Weil’s conceptualization of suffering seems deeply rooted in a long-standing Christian tradition that dates to the Middle Ages.  As philosopher and historian Pierre Hadot argues about the time, “Penitence, inspired by the fear and love of God, could take the form of extremely severe self-mortification.  The remembrance of death was intended not only to make people realize the urgency of conversion, but also to develop the fear of God.”  I am afraid such conceptualization has transcended the Dark Ages and pervades in much of today’s practices.

An extreme example rests in today’s practitioners of self-flagellation such as the late Pope John Paul II who, according to a recent book–Why he is a Saint– whipped himself with a belt.  What is perhaps more shocking is what a recent Times article expressed—that “the physical suffering he inflicted on himself may in fact help propel him to sainthood faster than anyone before him.”

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Two conflicting explanations for the decline of the liberal Church

David Hollinger

By Alan Bean

The Christian Century has a fascinating interview with Berkeley Professor David Hollinger who argues that “ecumenical Protestants” (he intentionally avoids the word “liberal”) shifted American culture in positive directions because they were willing to go to the wall on issues like civil rights.

This view conflicts with Ross Douthat’s critique of liberal Christianity, expressed most recently in the New York Times’ Sunday Review that liberal denominations have declined numerically because they are “flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.”

Hollinger disagrees.  Ecumenical churches have suffered drastic numerical declines, to be sure, but for all the right reasons:

Ecumenical Protestants were way ahead of the evangelicals in accepting a role for sex beyond procreation and in supporting an expanded role for women in society. The ecumenical Protestants understood full well that the Jim Crow system could not be overturned without the application of state power, rejecting the standard line of Billy Graham and many other evangelicals that racism was an individual sin rather than a civil evil. The ecumenical Protestants developed a capacity for empathic identification with foreign peoples that led them to revise their foreign missionary project, diminishing its culturally imperialist aspects—and that led them, further, to the forefront of ethnoracially pluralist and egalitarian initiatives as carried out by white Americans. The ecumenical Protestants resoundingly renounced the idea that the United States is a Christian nation, while countless evangelical leaders continue to espouse this deeply parochial idea.

It could be that Douthat chooses to focus on the lame aspects of liberal Protestantism while Hollinger celebrates the heroic side of that tradition.  Both are certainly part of the mix.  The big difference is that Douthat describes Protestant Christians desperately trying to adapt to secular liberalism; Hollinger sees the ecumenical Protestant tradition establishing the foundations for secular liberalism on issues like civil rights, feminism, gay rights and a non-aggressive foreign policy.

Please read both articles and tell us what you think.

Is “evangelical” a white word?

Molly Worthen

By Alan Bean

Molly Worthen’s NYT essay on the social cleavage between white and black evangelicals is a statement of the obvious and a work of art.

Worthen teaches history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and her writing reflects a deep understanding of evangelicals black and white.

The term “evangelical”, in its common usage, refers exclusively to white folks.  This may be the best explanation for a curious fact: only 35% of Americans in a recent Barna poll correctly identified Barack Obama’s religious faith as Christian.  Ask African-Americans about Obama’s religion and I suspect over 95% would get it right.  So I can’t help but wonder about the results from Caucasian respondents.  My guess is that fewer than 25% of white people know that Obama is a Christian.

If we use political affiliation as a rough proxy for race (which, tragically, it is) the figures are interesting.  52% of Democrats know that Obama is a Christian (African-American respondents likely skewed this figure upward); but only 29% of Independents and 24% of Republicans believe that Obama is a Christian (with 18% believing he is a Muslim). (more…)