Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Moving Jeff City Forward

Last night, the City Council of the City of Jefferson, Missouri, finally reached their final vote on a proposal to create a Public Transit Advisory Committee. A community group, Citizens for JeffTran, first proposed the idea for the citizen committee in the spring of 2013. Other groups, such as Faith Voices for Jefferson City, joined the advocacy effort. After more than a year of some City Council members stalling and even criticizing the proposal, the council finally started taking the matter seriously the past few months.

I spoke in favor of the effort during a City Council meeting in June. After that session, which included a strong group of speakers representing the business, education, social work, and faith communities, the City Council started to act. Even then it took about three months to work through the bureaucratic steps. After a year-and-a-half of advocacy, the City Council finally reached its final vote on the proposal last night - and it was a unanimous vote in favor!

The City of Jefferson needs a more vibrant public transportation system, especially since the buses do not run on evenings or weekends. In fact, people who need public transportation can't even make it to City Council meetings since the routes all stop long before the meetings. Not only are people relying on public transportation disenfranchised from their local government, but their absence means their voice might not be heard on the matter.

Fortunately, some churches stepped up to help fix the problem created by the City Council. Both First Baptist Church and First Presbyterian Church used their buses to get people to and from several City Council meetings. Throughout the process, Christian clergy and laypeople played an active role in advocating for the committee. Ministers spoke on behalf of the committee proposal and made announcements in churches to encourage members to speak out.

Living out biblical teachings means engaging in community advocacy. Thus, the three-pronged share hope emphasis by Churchnet involves relational evangelism, congregation ministry, and community advocacy. All three are needed for a holistic gospel. Sometimes, our calling is to speak truth to power.

With the Public Transit Advisory Committee now becoming a reality, the focus must switch to recommending people to serve (who will be chosen by the mayor) and then helping them push the City Council for a more vibrant public transit system. Citizens for JeffTran won't be shutting down anytime soon, nor will Faith Voices for Jefferson City quit advocating on the issue of public transportation. Instead, the groups should feel empowered by the success in moving an issue from facing heavy opposition to unanimous passage.

Advocating with and for those in our community who need public transportation remains a need in our community. I'm glad the mayor and City Council members have been listening, and pray they will continue to do so. Hopefully we can not only move JeffTran forward, but also move Jeff City forward.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Baptists Offer Divergent Responses to Obama's ISIS Speech

As acts of terrorism and violence in Syria and Iraq continues to make the news, President Barack Obama took to primetime on Wednesday night to lay out his proposals for more U.S. military intervention. Even before his speech ended, pundits and politicians took to Twitter and elsewhere to sound off with their take on his speech and ideas. Some religious leaders also offered their opinions. Ethics Daily ran my latest article today on some of those responses. The piece, "Baptists Offer Divergent Responses to Obama's ISIS Speech," covers a variety of comments.

"We really need faith leaders to offer moral critique in war debate, not leave debate to partisan politicians, snarky pundits," Robert Parham explained.

There are some good debates occurring about what should be the moral response. There are also, unfortunately, some Christian leaders instead using the situation to peddle false attacks on another faith. Hopefully Christian leaders can offer a strong moral voice amid the partisan politicians and snarky pundits.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sacred Sign

I find myself driving in downtown Jefferson City, Missouri, a few times a week. Throughout the summer, few others ventured out with me. As I took a regular route near the state Capitol yesterday morning, I suddenly realized the streets were packed with cars sitting at the stoplight and filling all the street parking spots while lots of people - many of them dressed up - walked the streets. Then I remembered: the veto override session. Missouri's state legislators have returned for a couple of days to try and override various vetoes made by Governor Jay Nixon.

The blocks surrounding the Capitol suddenly came back to life. Legislators, lobbyists, and activists roared in today for a whirlwind of debates and votes all day and overnight into today. I turned off my course to drive by the Capitol just to see the action. I'm a politico chaser instead of an ambulance chaser, although there was an ambulance and firetruck parked there with their lights on (which excited my son since he'd like me to be a firetruck chaser whenever he's in the backseat).

On the lawn of the Capitol, a crowd gathered with signs as a speaker belted out demands. Although I just drove by, I quickly realized it was a "pro-choice" rally (and later learned a competing "pro-life" rally also took place). Turns out, abortion was the hot topic at the veto override session and the anti-abortion side won.

As I slowly drove by - and snapped a couple of photos - I noticed one sign that surprised me: "abortion is sacred." It so threw me off that I first read it as "scared" and wondered what was being cast as scary (perhaps dyslexic a bit I am). The protester holding the sign moved into the crowd before I could take a photo, but a local reporter captured a shot (which I was glad to see since I had my doubts about the prescription for my glasses). As I pondered the sign, the rally ended and the group started up the stairs - probably to advocate with legislators.

I consider myself pro-life, but use that label to mean much more than just anti-abortion and often cringe at the hateful rhetoric of some anti-abortion activists. Too often, "pro-choice" activists and legislators are demeaned as being "pro-death" or "pro-abortion" when they might actually be "pro-life" but against forcing other people to make that decision. The sign on the Capitol lawn sent a different message, though one out-of-state protester doesn't speak for everyone there.

I wouldn't have been too surprised if the sign said something about being able to make personal decisions being sacred (though that'd be a big sign). But to call abortion "sacred" is quite different.

Perhaps she wanted to counter "life is sacred" signs sometimes used by anti-abortion protesters. Perhaps she misheard Representative Nancy Pelosi, who when talking about abortion and giving birth made a disjointed comment about "sacred ground" (which a lot of conservative media used to say Pelosi called abortion "sacred ground," though it's not clear in context that was her point). Interestingly, the protester holding the sign told the reporter she's an atheist, so she apparently wasn't using the word "sacred" in a literal sense!

As many protesters do with their political signs, perhaps the protester just wanted to be provocative. Political rally signs or bumper stickers seem like a poor place to discuss theology.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Profiles in Goodwill

Last week, Ethics Daily started a new series called "Profiles in Goodwill." Each one of these is a short profile of an Ethics Daily staffer or board member as a way of introducing people to regular readers. I am featured  in the profile today. Check it out and you might learn something about me!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Church Giving Drops Even as Charitable Giving Increases

Bob Perry, Churchnet Congregation Health Team Leader
Ethics Daily ran my latest article today, which is titled "Church Giving Drops Even as Charitable Giving Increases." The piece covers a study that offers troubling news for churches and denominations as such groups are receiving a smaller share of charitable contributions. Although the report offers declining church attendance as the reason, David Washburn of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and Bob Perry of Churchnet both suggested additional reasons. In particular, they noted that those in younger generations tend to give more to cause-driven charities - even faith-based ones - instead of just supporting churches and denominational institutions. As Perry explained:
"Much church giving in past generations was based on funds that were channeled through denominational-directed ministries. With the decline in loyalty to denominations, more funds, especially from younger givers, are going to non-denominational causes that are frequently involved in direct services to needy communities within the U.S. and around the world."
Read the full article here.