Deliver Us From Evil

There have been a number of tragedies recently in our world.  In Nairobi, Kenya recent attacks at the upscale Westgate mall by terrorist group Al-Shabaab injured close to 200 people and 67 were reported murdered.  In Peshawar, Pakistan, at least 60 Christians were killed outside a church by suicide bombers this past Sunday. In Washington, D.C., a U.S. citizen and former navy reservist murdered twelve people at the Navy Yard.

The United States is considering military actions towards Syria after the use chemical warfare by the government; the nerve agent sarin was used near Damascus, and left at least 1300 dead and 3600 people displaying neurological symptoms. This attack comes after two years of a civil war that has left around 100,000 dead in the country.  Here, the perpetrators are both “legitimate” government actors and rebel forces.

One of the goals of those perpetuating the violence—whether an individual, a terrorist group, or a government—was to invoke fear.  One response of those in power has been to try and take away the power these violent actors have.  One of the central premises that Gary Haugen argues in The Good News about Injustice (InterVarsity Press, 1999) is that those perpetrating injustice have to be stopped, and if they continue to have power, the abuse will also continue.

However, another response in these instances mentioned above has been to characterize the perpetrators as a special kind of evil.  The incidents above are clearly horrific, as are a number of “normal” events that occur habitually—the marrying off of young girls in forced marriages, the shooting and deaths of young people in many U.S cities, and forced human trafficking that occurs around the world.  Yet recognizing the evil in these acts, and the need to stop those perpetrating evil, is different than categorizing these actors as human outliers in their capacity for evil.

The cause of these horrific events is more complex that evil people triumphing over good people. In Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (Harper Collins, 1998), Christopher Browning considers why Nazi soldiers were involved in the killing and bloodshed of the Holocaust.  In seeing the “normal” character of many of these men (whose interviews he consults), one of the book’s disturbing conclusions is the evil that “normal” people can commit and rationalize.

I’ve been rereading Seymour Lipset’s Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada (Routledge, 1990).  Even as this book is 23 years old, he makes some assessments about the U.S. ideology that still prove useful, and helpful to me in understanding a national tendency to want to see people as evil or good.

 The American Protestant religious ethos has assumed, in practice if not in theology, the perfectibility of humanity and an obligation to avoid sin, while the churches whose followers have predominated in Europe, Canada, and Australia have accepted the inherent weakness of people, their inability to escape sin and error, and the need for the church to be forgiving and protecting (79)

Since Lipset wrote this book, America waged a war where the talk of the “axis of evil” became prominent in national rhetoric.  In contrast to “evil,” stands those who are on the side of what is good and just.  As Lipset writes a couple of pages earlier, “Protestant propensity for moralistic crusades has been expressed in various efforts to reform the rest of the world by war” (77); these wars are often framed as good guys against bad guys.

What does it look like to see the evil in these atrocities, to fight for justice and to stop abuse and violence, yet to also recognize the complexity of why people commit these crimes? These incidents are connected to larger societal stories about political power and alliances, provision of the state, and beliefs about the value of different people based on demographics.

What does it mean to be a part of the fight against evil in this world (a desire, I suspect, many of us have)? As I reflect upon this, I realize I have more questions than answers. As Christians, I believe it requires recognizing that all of us are sinners and capable of great evil.  It calls us to be a Church that walks with those who are suffering, and offers healing to those who are mourning. It means protecting those who are being exploited or abused. It challenges us to serve as a prophetic voice against injustice—not only obvious violent acts, but also the ways systems are also part of that violence.

 

The Church, Immigration, and Advocacy

As I also wrote about last summer, August 15th marked an important change in immigration policy, when young adults without official documentation were able to apply for two-year stays in the country, without fear of deportation. Today we also face the possibility of a significant change to the system.  A bipartisan “Gang of 8” proposal for immigration reform was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill, which heads to the Senate next week, will provide a path to legalization and citizenship for a number of immigrants living in the country, as well as tighten security.

Immigration is an issue where most in the United States see a need to act. A recent Pew Report reveals that almost ¾ of U.S citizens polled think there should be legal options for those without legal status to stay.  Most identify it as a key issue facing the country.  At this time when significant reforms could be enacted, the voices of religious leaders are especially important.

The video above was produced by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of evangelicals and other religious activists. They  have received some recent attention in the news for their calls (and prayers) for bipartisan reform.  While I’m quite disappointed by the fact that the heads of the coalition are all male, there is a diversity of political leanings and racial make-up of the actors and organizations behind the movement.    Yet even as evangelicals are now engaged, other religious leaders have long been active in efforts to support immigrants in the United States. I’m particularly excited to read Grace Yukich’s forthcoming book, One Family Under God (Oxford University Press), which focuses on more progressive religious activities who are often not profiled. While white evangelicals tend to be noticeably absent from the activists she studies, many of the religious concepts these actors use could resonate with many in the evangelical population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I increasingly encounter evangelicals considering (or involved in the process of) international adoption.  A majority of my students—mostly evangelical—have been abroad and involved with mission trips. As Christians continue to go around the world to love our neighbors, it’s imperative that we also more seriously consider what it means to love neighbors here in the United State. As this group that increasingly includes immigrants (documented and undocumented), the issue of immigration reform will impact the lives of millions.  Even for the most politically uninterested, this is an issue that demands our attention, prayers, and action.

Institutional Drift of the Working Class

Has something happened to our working class? While much of my research has focused on racial inequalities in America, these investigations usually don’t leave me too far from the broader matter of social class inequalities. When sociologists talk about social inequalities we usually are referring to those who are making low wages or those who are classified in poverty. In class I tend to refer to them as a vulnerable population since many students are working minimum wage jobs and don’t always connect their experience with the concept of being part of the working class.  For the most part the “returns on education,” particularly college education, is still better than no college education-so for many of these students they intuitively know, or hope, that their job at Ann Taylor or as library assistant is temporary until they land a “real job,” the one that their college degree promises.

The message regarding those in poverty and the working poor is usually the same: life is pretty hard, as this online experiment shows (very useful by the way in teaching). Your pay is just sufficient enough to get by as long as you never get sick, don’t get your hours cut, or have a major transportation problem that leaves you showing up for work late (and potentially fired as a result). You’re more often exposed to natural elements, harsh chemicals, and dangerous machinery which can cause bodily harm if you’re not careful. Typical examples include: migrant agrarian workers, waste management, restaurant staff, valet parking workers, fast food employees, building custodians. Millions of Americans who won’t attain a college degree earn their livelihood from these jobs.

When I read about the recent finding that more than 50% of births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage, (which fellow blogger Mark Regnerus described), [Read more...]

The Real Taboo: Forget Sex, Let’s Talk About Money (and How Much We’re not Giving)

As the 2012 campaigns are under way, we sociologists are paying close attention to the rhetoric and public responses to the rhetoric. Of particular note are the religious overtones in that rhetoric as the most likely Republican candidate (from what I can tell) is a religious minority (Mormon or Latter-Day Saints) and the Democratic candidate is still viewed as Muslim in some quarters (also a minority religious group). Recently Mitt Romney’s charitable donations were under question and as it turns out he gives a heckuva lotta dough to charity, somewhere on the order of $3 million LAST YEAR ALONE. As the New York Times article shows, that’s a whopping 13.8% of his income that went to charity. For his part, Barack Obama gave 14.2% of his income to charity, which amounts to about $245,000. Its a lot less than Romney’s donation but still, could you imagine letting go of that much money in your account?

This brings me to the bigger point. [Read more...]


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