Last week I had the privilege of participating in a referendum request hearing at the board of elections in Washington, D.C. Our team petitioned to have the people of the District of Columbia vote on the recently passed same-sex marriage law before it goes into effect. We feel very strongly that the people’s voice needs to be heard.
As I sat in the chambers, I felt a growing sense of outrage at the audacity of my city’s elected officials and the hubris of our appointed civil servants. There seems to be an amazing assault on the basic freedoms of all Americans, regardless of race. Courts and legislators seem compelled to ignore polls and the heartfelt values of the people. Further, in D.C. the board of elections and the city council have ignored the District of Columbia’s charter, which should act like the “national constitution,” but on city affairs.
Transforming America’s racial and
cultural dynamics is a lot like running a marathon. The only major differences
are time and course. The grueling 26.2 miles of a marathon is run in just over
two hours by world-class athletes, while the race toward King’s dream has
already been over 50 years in the making. Although we have some sense of the
finish line, the end of our course is not in sight. Further, it is hard
to judge our progress. We are not sure whether we should count certain “firsts”
as significant. Others believe that the depth of professional penetration by
blacks, Hispanics or other groups into various professional arenas is a more
appropriate measure of entering a post-racial era. read more
A very disturbing poll was recorded
this December from CNN. It compared the expectations of those peering into the
future at the dawn of 2000 with those of people looking forward into
2010. The survey reported that in 1999, 85 percent of Americans were
hopeful for their own future and 68 percent were hopeful for the world. Today,
however, people surveyed said that only 69 percent were hopeful for their
personal future, while only 51 percent had hope for the world.
There was something almost mystical
about the nation’s entry into the 2nd millennium after the birth of Christ.
I remember all the TV shows that speculated about massive technology
changes along with the fear that everyone’s computer could mysteriously crash -
resulting in a national crisis.
Some religious leaders advocated
storing food and creating bomb shelters. Other spiritual leaders believed that
the earth would experience the “rapture”, as described in Dr. Tim LaHaye and
Dr. Jerry Jenkins’ blockbuster Left Behind series. Surprisingly the
dramatic calendar milestone caused everyday people to think in big picture,
visionary terms. From the boardroom to the janitor’s storage closest and
everywhere in between, we all expressed confidence in our technology, our
business acumen and our American spirit.
We began the new millennium as though
we were opening the Wild West or exploring outer space. We all had a sense of
invincibility and a feeling that we could rise to any challenge. Since 2000, a
lot has changed. We have experienced a few setbacks. Things like the Sept. 11
terror attack, hurricane Katrina, endless political scandals, the bank
bailouts, the American auto industry bailouts and double digit unemployment
have all challenged our national self concept.
It’s obvious that the delicate balance
of government, business interests and our educational system must be
recalibrated. In 2009, we are looking at real problems that need to be
addressed by all sectors of our society. Further, rigid ideological approaches
to our problems are just fueling vitriol and blame shifting. Our focus
today is much more mundane and personal than the global or generational
perspective ten years ago. We are concerned about how to keep our jobs, pay the
mortgage and survive the economic downswing. The pressures of the times have
caused a reopening of two age-old American divisions of class and race.
Recent studies show that we currently
do not have the hopeful feeling we had just a year ago in terms of solving the
race problem in the nation. In addition, a lot of folks are developing a
growing resentment against both Wall Street and the major business engines of
the nation. Our focus today should return to the very core values that
have made America great: personal vision and achievement; a commitment to both
freedom and justice and the belief that the best man or woman will be received
and celebrated in business, politics and the professions.
Let me take a minute to address the
issue of how you and I personally change our world.
Sandra Bullock is quoted as saying that
she had finally met a Christian who “walks the walk”, when she met Leigh Anne
Tuohy, the subject of The Blind Side, the new blockbuster movie. Tuohy’s
desire for the movie is not fame and fortune but that the story might inspire
more people to begin to make a difference.
She acknowledges that many people cannot bring a child into their home
as she did, but people can find something they can do well and change the world
Another person who made a difference is Fannie Lou Hamer.
In 1962 this African-American woman went to the courthouse in Montgomery
County, Mississippi to demand her constitutional right to vote. She, and the
others with her, were jailed and beaten by the police. This defiant act of
civil disobedience resulted in Hamer being thrown off of her sharecropper
job on a local farm. She received numerous death threats culminating in someone
actually shooting at her. Hamer, however, refused to be
Fannie Lou worked at voter registration
all across her county and eventually the nation. In 1964, she challenged the
Democratic Party by demanding that an all-white Mississippi delegation should
not be allowed. She urged the party to include African-Americans. As a result, two African-American delegates
were given speaking rights at the national convention. This spotlighted more
than ever before the problem of illegal tests, taxes and intimidation of black
How did this lady get started at such
an impacting mission? She is reputed to be originator of the phrase, “I
got tired of being sick and tired.” How did she arrive at such an epiphany? Her
personal history sounds almost mythic. The granddaughter of slaves, and
sharecropper parents, Hamer was the youngest of 19 brothers and sisters. To say
that she was born poor would have been an understatement. At 44-years old, she
attended a voter registration meeting. When she learned that African-Americans
had a constitutional right to vote, she decided to take action. She decided to protest
and action nonviolently to change her world. Years later she reflected,
"The only thing they could do to me was to kill me, and it seemed like
they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could
Is there something that you feel has
been killing you for a long time? It’s time for you to follow the advice of
Pastor Miles McPherson, Do Something!
The statement is title of his new book, which I have just started to
read. Pastor McPherson leads The Rock Church whose congregation committed
600,000 “Do Something” hours of volunteer service during 2009. Over 100,000 of
those hours were given to the city of San Diego, alone.
There is certainly a lot of work for all of us to do. Find what it is
that you can do well and help keep hope alive! read more
Last Friday, two historic events
occurred. A signing ceremony for D.C.'s same-sex marriage law and a blizzard
that blanketed the Northeast and left everyone in the capital physically isolated
except for the almost-too-frequent weather updates on TV and radio. Ironically,
the two events bore a strange similarity.
Their similarity was the level of local
media coverage along with the real sense of isolation that most citizens felt.
We either trust in both these situations that "big brother" is looking out for
us or we become concerned and questioning. read more
Last week, the worldwide summit on
climate change in Denmark encouraged some and terrified others. During the past
few years, the debate among many informed people has not just been focused on
whether or not the globe is getting warmer, but about how our nation should
respond to the perceived international threat.
A few years ago Tony Perkins, president
of The Family Research Council, and I decided to tackle the question of climate
change and evaluate popular proposals based on two things: 1.) a measurable
return on investment and 2.) the value of human life. Our thoughts are
catalogued in the book Personal Faith, Public Policy. Based on our
study, we are very concerned about the direction that our current
administration may be seduced into following in the name of saving the planet.
Unfortunately for the U.S., there are always wolves dressed in sheep's clothing
--- supposed "saviors" that may lead us astray. read more
Last week was momentous in the battle for marriage in the U.S. It was a little like riding a roller coaster. On Tuesday, the D.C. City Council finished their first of two readings of their proposed same-sex marriage law. The reading passed by a margin of 11 to 2. The council seems determined to prevent the people from voting on this issue. Their rationale is that "civil rights" is not something that should be voted on by the masses. One councilman, who represents a strong, pro-marriage ward, looked visibly shaken. He spoke with a quavering voice. Ironically Harry Thomas, Jr., son of a former city council member, stated that he would not allow anyone in his ward to be "disenfranchised." Undoubtedly, he meant to say that he did not want anyone to experience discrimination.
Disenfranchisement, however, is exactly what is happening to the average voter in D.C. The council feels that it has a right to vote on this issue, but it will not allow the citizens to vote. They also chafe at the fact that the District does not have a genuine vote on the Hill - it only has a shadow congresswoman. Sadly, there was only voice for democratic justice on the council --- Marion Barry. The former mayor correctly told the group that the city council had not gone far enough in allowing liberty and true democracy to have their way. As a result of the fact the city is "deeply divided," he announced that he would be working for a popular vote on the issue. read more
This past weekend millions ate turkey, traveled hundreds of miles to spend time with their families and showed up at major retailers as early as 5 a.m. As Americans did these things men of the cloth, sociologists and demographers wondered what was on the mind of the average American. Getting the latest, best deal on consumer products certainly got 197 million of us moving through stores, but we ogled and did not buy much. Black Friday sales were only up only .5 percent as Americans went on their traditional day-after-Thanksgiving shopping spree. We know that Wall Street aficionados were worried about the news of the Dubai debt crisis because it is inexplicable and it seems like a harbinger of future problems.
Against this fluid backdrop of concern and financial worry, many people would ask, What's there to be thankful about? Although I am a minister, I avoid preaching in this column; nonetheless the season and the circumstances beg another question in response to the hypothetical question I just posed, How many of us really celebrated the holiday in proper fashion? read more
Last Friday I was privileged to stand with Chuck Colson, Jim Daly, Robert George, Archbishop Wuerl, Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, Cardinal Rigali and over 20 others to represent the first 150 signers of a document called The Manhattan Declaration.
Why the name? The group met a few weeks ago in Manhattan where we read a draft of the document. It was there we concluded that we had to bridge the huge historic chasms separating the major branches of the Christian faith. The famed Chuck Colson along with co-initiators issued a call to all Christians that we must remain true to our core convictions, based upon the scriptures. The group also came together to let the secular community know that increasingly Christians from Catholic, evangelical and orthodox traditions will work together and speak with one voice. read more
Two weeks ago, just after Maine's successful reversal of the state legislature's decision to sanction same-sex marriage, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer asked me a profound question: "Would Jesus have spent $550,000 to oppose same-sex marriage?"
The question was exactly what many secular parties had been asking in Portland, Maine, where she was speaking to me by satellite. My answer was that Jesus would have given the money to oppose same-sex marriage. My reasoning was simple: Jesus would have upheld his own teaching; refusing to be a loving, permanent enabler of a misguided local government. I mentioned in the interview that Washington, D.C. was struggling with the same question. read more
Last week was a milestone in modern American political history. The election results (New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races) and the battle over healthcare show that the nation’s interest in social issues has not waned. New coalitions are forming around the pivotal legislative concerns of our day. From my vantage point, I am noticing a passion among individual citizens to engage in the political process - whether the topic is the economy, healthcare or gay marriage. The average citizen not only wants to express their opinion, but also has become savvy in engaging the powers that be. The insight of these new activists is shown in their ability to organize and get results. Over 20,000 people came to D.C. last week to voice their concerns about healthcare. read more