Reclaiming Genuine Apostolic Anointing - The Perils of Being Right and Wrong - That Your Eyes May Be Clear - The Sons of Glory - Made to Measure - Our Moral Audit of the Budget - Reading Peace for Lent - Ending the War on Drugs
March 14th, 2009
Reclaiming Genuine Apostolic Anointing
J. Lee Grady
The Bible tells us there are both true and false apostles. Let's learn to discern the difference.
For many years traditional denominations taught that the ministry of the apostle passed away after the New Testament era. It was assumed that the only people who served in apostolic roles were early followers of Jesus who witnessed His resurrection. Cessationists (those who believe that miracles stopped after the canon of Scripture was completed) believe that healing, deliverance, prophecy and all other supernatural phenomena ceased and that apostles are no longer necessary.
But as Christians in recent years began to experience the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, church leaders and even some theologians began to teach that the gift of apostle is vital if we hope to advance the gospel in our generation. The logic makes sense: If we still need pastors, teachers and evangelists (all part of Jesus' five-fold ministry mentioned in Ephesians 4:11), we also need the apostles and prophets who are listed in the same passage. The Bible never says these functions were discontinued.
During the 1990s there was a renewed interest in the ministry of the apostle. Many books were written on the topic, explaining that the Greek word apostolos refers to God's special ambassadors, or "sent ones," who are commissioned to contend for pure doctrine, preserve unity among the saints, equip leaders, model Christian character and help the church advance into new territory.
But a strange thing happened on the way to recovering genuine apostolic anointing. In true American fashion we began to merchandise it.
No sooner had the first book on apostles been written that some men began to claim the title and print it on their business cards. Apostleship became a fad. Before too long, some men were creating networks of independent churches answerable to a governing apostle who took ownership of their buildings and controlled their congregations.
Some charismatic apostles became mini-popes who carved out their fiefdoms. Suddenly the independent charismatic movement had more invasive authoritarianism than the denominations these pastors abandoned 10 years earlier.
In some circles apostles demanded total allegiance from the leaders who were "under" them. Some required a policy of "tithing up," creating a monstrous organizational structure similar to a spiritual Amway. So-called apostles with huge "downlines" made exorbitant amounts of money. One leader even offered pastors the opportunity to become "spiritual sons" by contributing $1,000 a month to his ministry.
Apostolic covering could now be bought. And apostolic grace was reduced to the level of a motivational coach. May God forgive us for reducing the value of such a precious gift.
I still believe we need the apostolic anointing-and I know many wonderful apostles who have planted churches in many parts of the world. As I have watched them, and studied the life of the apostle Paul, I've seen three key truths we must reclaim today:
1. True apostles are servants. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:28: "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues" (NASB, emphasis added). When carnally minded people read this verse they assume God has set up some kind of ecclesiastical hierarchy, with apostles sitting on thrones at the top.
But if we view leadership in the way Jesus taught it, we know that being first is not about being on top. Apostles are at the bottom of the pecking order. They are the servants of all. And because they serve a foundational role, their work will often remain hidden in obscurity. They are not looking for fame or celebrity, nor are they grasping for a title; their role is to empower everyone else.
2. True apostles are unselfish. I know one apostle in India who goes by the name of Pastor Howell. He has planted 600 churches in the Punjab region, trained countless young church leaders in a makeshift Bible school and led thousands of people to Christ. He has also seen whole villages impacted by the gospel through one miracle of healing. He has never ridden in a limousine and he lives in a modest home with a straw roof that he shares with about 12 Bible college students.
The apostle Paul would have gagged if he could see how some modern American apostles profit from their downlines or how they require pampered treatment. Apostleship has nothing to do with privilege. In fact Paul sometimes made tents for a living in order to avoid the appearance of entitlement.
3. True apostles share Christ's suffering. True apostles live on the edge. They push the boundaries of Christianity forward, into hostile territory-and as a result they encounter more than their fair share of persecution and spiritual warfare. They are never content to live in a comfort zone. Yet even in foreign prisons they find joy and fulfillment.
One of my new heroes is a Nigerian pastor named Tunde Bolanta, who bases his ministry in the dangerous northern area of his country. I spent time with him last month when I was visiting England. He lives in a city where Muslims have killed pastors, maimed Christians with machetes and drowned their children in wells.
For Tunde, apostleship is not about getting the best seat on a plane or having the largest TV audience. It is about teaching his congregation to remain faithful to Christ even when receiving death threats. And it is about sending his church members into difficult regions where they could face martyrdom.
As our nation faces a turbulent economic crisis, I pray that we will allow the Holy Spirit to shake the greed, pride and self-centeredness out of our movement. False apostles prefer the primrose path over the Calvary road. May God grant us true apostolic anointing that is marked by New Testament courage, unquestionable integrity and Christ-like humility.
-J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.
The Perils of Being Right and Wrong
David Michael Green
If I wasn´t quite so busy thoroughly enjoying it, the prospect of one of the two major political parties of the world´s only superpower self-destructing so buffoonishly might otherwise give me pause.
As it is, however, few things could delight me more, and one of my major disappointments in life remains that I live in country where crackers like those in the GOP aren´t considered absolutely certifiable, and sent off to some Abu Ghraib for the ideologically criminal insane, right next to the rapists, child molesters and treasonous conspirators.
I like to have some fun with this stuff, you know, but only some of my words are meant for entertainment purposes. If you think ‘crackers´ and ‘certifiable´ are unfair potshots, have a gander at Alexandra Pelosi´s new film, Right America: Feeling Wronged’, charting the discontents of McCain-Palin supporters from last year´s campaign. I defy anyone to make a meaningful distinction between these people and the ones at Jonestown.
Heck, for that matter, just take a look at the crazies who are supposed to be the responsible leaders of the conservative movement, and at its marionettes in the GOP. They´ve been putting on quite a show lately, and the timing is especially bad from their perspective. Not only is the country in no mood for such tomfoolery now, but the current contrast to regressive idiocy is no longer the adamant insistence of insisting on nothing, courtesy of Harry Reid´s and Nancy Pelosi´s Democratic Party. Now there´s a guy in the White House who´s confident, articulate, popular and sometimes even bold.
I couldn´t help thinking of that contrast watching Rush Limbaugh perform at the CPAC religious revival the other week. He is the antithesis to Obama, and I don´t just mean in terms of body-type. So much bluster (not to mention blubber) covering so much transparent insecurity and neediness. The guy is the ultimate Napoleon or Hitler who got shoved around on the grade school playground and is now seeking revenge on a global scale. But, of course, there will always be clowns like that. The real question is what sickness pervades the mind of those who empower such mountebanks by giving them positions of power, even if only giant soapboxes? More frightening than Limbaugh was the room full of Moonie-like acolytes hanging on his every word, most of them quite young in age. No one should follow anybody quite so religiously, let alone a sick crank, but these folks sure did. Limbaugh told a little ha-ha joke toward the beginning of his speech, in which he half-kiddingly referred to this being his maiden address to the nation, given that Fox Lies was carrying the entire rant (I´m sure they´ll pay equal attention to Noam Chomsky´s next speech as well). Everybody laughed. Okay, no problem it was slightly humorous if you discount the delusions of grandeur he was pretending to self-mock. What blew me away, though, was how he repeated the same line I´m not exaggerating here another ten times over the next hour, and how all the disciples laughed each time, right on cue.
Scary, but in some ways not as much as watching the nominal leaders of the GOP prostrate themselves at the feet of this Jabba the Hut of the airwaves. Prodded into doing so by a politically adroit White House, four or five of them have gotten their backs up and said a ridiculously truthful unkind word or two about Mount Rushmore lately. No sooner did that happen then that he was giving them just the on-air whipping errant sons should get from the angry and disappointed paterfamilias, and no sooner did that happen then that they were crawling back to him also sometimes on air begging his forgiveness. The issue was whether Limbaugh was the de facto leader of the Republican Party. The nominal leaders of the party, their manhood insulted and their masculinity in question, sought to show who was the real boss. They did, too, but it turned out, um, shall we say, a bit different than the way they intended.
That seems like bad news over on that side of the aisle, but in fact, cavemen everywhere should be reassured. I mean, do they want Bobby Jindal instead, doing his impression of Herbert Hoover, complete with the rigor mortis stage presence and embalming fluid circulatory system? Or how about Newt Gingrich, the guy who once impeached a president for marital infidelities, even while he was off having a bacchanal of his own? No worries, though. Newtie´s now apologized for how he dumped Wife #2 on her post-cancer surgery hospital bed to run off with the babe who would become Wife #3. Besides, he´s full of ideas! The only problem is that they literally involve stuff like space flight and reorganization of the military command structure. Ah, the man of the hour in America´s time of need! What voter couldn´t be smitten by that? Or do you prefer Mitch McConnell, instead? He may not be as slimy as Newt, but he is slimier than a newt, and less appealing than a three-toed tree sloth.
That´s the GOP A-Team, folks. Newt, Mitch, Bobby and Sarah, all taking direction from Rush. It´s like some kind of emetic factory, or something.
Not to worry, though. They´ve brought in the big guns to save the day. Michael Steele is the new chairman of the GOP. One month into his new job, and most members of the party are already trying to figure out how to get rid of him (don´t be surprised if he has a tragic ‘accident´ soon). Like they really needed this freakin´ headache now, just as every imaginable disaster is already imploding on them at every imaginable turn.
It´s kinda hard to imagine why Steele is having so much trouble, though. I mean he seems so top notch.
True, he does have a record of massive failure. He couldn´t cut it as a priest, so he went into law, where he failed the Maryland bar exam. He passed the Pennsylvania one instead (Yo, PA: time to up your standards, fellas), and then proceeded to launch a consulting firm so successful that he nearly lost his home. He´s never won an election for public office, though he did manage to produce an ongoing federal corruption investigation into his 2006 smashing defeat in running for the Senate, because of a $40,000 payment he made to his sister´s company. For what, is still unclear. While running, he not only hid from being a Republican, but his campaign workers passed out sample ballots on election day that listed him as a Democrat. Just the kinda guy who should be the top Republican, eh?
But, you know, success can really be overrated. I guess that´s what Steele had in mind when he recently said I always found it interesting that people would cast aspersions on failure, as if it were a bad thing’.
Um, ‘scuse me? Good god, is there a way to clone this man? Let´s get all his cousins and put them on the GOP payroll. Hey, that´s what he´s probably actually gonna do! You know, along with his sis.
Some people think that Steele is merely the most crass and buffoonish opportunist in the Glorified Opportunist Party, but it´s hard to see why. I mean, yes, he is a black man who was recruited to the GOP by Lee Atwater, the same guy who apologized on his deathbed for having run the racist Willie Horton ads back in 1988. But, so what? You know, Condoleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas are black Republicans! Uh, well, never mind about that...
Anyhow, the GOP decided, as the roof was falling in on them, that they really had to go with their varsity squad. True, Steele was elected on the sixth ballot. True, that was only after one candidate dropped out because he was a member of a racially exclusive country club. And, true, another guy also quit the race after the party actually debated whether it was okay for him to have distributed CDs to committee leaders complete with the happy tune, Barack, The Magic Negro’, on them. (Remember that moment in Spinal Tap’ when the hapless metal band is told that the record label won´t let them have the S&M misogynist album cover they want for their new release, Smell The Glove’, because it´s sexist? And they respond, So what? Wot´s wrong with being sexy?’ I think you get the idea here. Rob Reiner, time for Neanderthal Tap’, wouldn´t you say?)
But, you know, the Democrats elected Barack Obama president, so I guess the GOP decided they were gonna go after the young, black, contemporary vote as well, and hence they picked Rapmaster Steele to carry their standard. And so The Notorious M.I.K.E. has promised to give the Republican Party a hip-hop makeover’. You think I´m makin´ this shit up, don´t you? I wish I was capable of such malicious creativity.
And you gotta hand it to the White House they´ve played these fools like fiddles. Calling Limbaugh the de facto head of the Republican Party’ was as sure a bait as imaginable for getting the de jure head of the party to worry about his manhood and thus lash out at the Rustic One by calling him ugly’, among other epithets. Until the next day, that is, when Macho Mike, Man of Steele, was on the phone apologizing profusely to the actual de facto, de facto head of Republican Party and his big fat radio audience, begging to keep his job. He did, so far, but Republican National Committee staff have not been quite so lucky, as around seventy of them have either quit or been fired under the new Steele Curtain regime, and the RNC house is empty these days.
But if it seems like this is all some cartoonish clown show, instead of the leadership of one of the two major parties of the world´s most powerful country, you ain´t seen nuthin´ yet. Ol´ What´s Wrong With Failure’ Mike is just getting started. As he recently explained to the New York Times: ‘I´m very spontaneous,´ comparing working with him to riding a roller coaster without knowing when the next dip or curve might come. ‘Be prepared; you have no idea,´ he said. ‘Just buckle up and get ready to go.´’
Ooooooohhh! Baby! Gangsta! What a manly man! What an appealing swashbuckler! Boy, is he ever gonna peel away the black vote from Barack Obama! Boy, is the GOP ever gonna be getting its act together under Michael Steele´s stewardship!
I give the dude about one more month, after which I expect the Republicans will decide that abortion´s not such a bad thing after all.
Not that it matters a whit, anyhow. Steele´s pompously inflated exercises in idiocy are to the implosion of the GOP what a gnat is to a drowning elephant. Even if the gnat swims real, real hard, the big beast is still goin´ down. With the possible exception of Howard Dean, nobody knows who party chairs are anyhow, and for good reason. Does anyone think Mitch McConnell or John McCain are going to take direction from some staff flunky who´s never even won an election on his own? Does anyone think that a chairman could significantly change the fortunes of a party from where its real leaders are taking it anyhow? This guy could have all the leadership chops and strategic smarts of Alexander The Great and it wouldn´t matter a bit.
The GOP´s problem is its ideology, plain and simple. Their toxic brew of regressive policies, sold through hate-driven marketing techniques, all backed by the engine of kleptocratic thievery, just isn´t getting traction anymore. Just as it was inevitable that Bristol Palin and her nineteen year-old boyfriend, Levi Johnston, won´t be getting married after all (golly, didn´t see that one coming at all!) Republican family values notwithstanding! so was it clear that the GOP would end up being its own worst enemy. Americans show an amazing capacity for stupidity, to be sure, but just the same they will usually figure out in the end that what´s bad for them is bad for them.
The GOP is toast today, not because of the pathetic idiots at the helm, any one of whom could have become the Fourth Stooge, but because it has nowhere it can go, regardless of who leads it.
It has basically three choices, ideologically speaking.
It can stay where it is. But even the anvil-heads within the party can see that that´s a prescription for (more) disaster. Getting your clock cleaned in two elections running has a way of getting one´s attention. Near-death experiences tend to motivate change.
But, of course, that leaves the rather large question of what kind of change. You can see the party struggling with this every day, but I personally don´t see a viable solution anywhere on the horizon. Option Two is to turn to the right, and there are quite a few dingbats in the party who are making that argument right now. Evidently suicide by election is neither rapid nor violent enough for this lot. Of course, having governed with a hard-right agenda for eight years now, it becomes a bit awkward to make the claim that they haven´t been conservative enough. That´s why you´re now seeing the astonishing visage of party flacks trying to recreate George W. Bush as a non-conservative. Here´s John Bolton, for example: Too many people identified Bush as being conservative, and we know that's not the case’. Or Mike Huckabee: Lenin and Stalin both would have loved Bush and Paulsen's bailout plan’. Wow. Lenin and Stalin. Like, THE Lenin and Stalin? Gosh, imagine how bubble-headed Huckabee would have sounded if he had given in to the temptation to exaggerate here!
It´s quite amazing, not to mention absurdly improbable, this astonishing Bush-the-left-winger rap (who knew?). As such, the only thing they really talk about is spending (no war policy, no stem-cell stuff, no Terri Schiavo, no foreign policy issues), and since money is all that it´s really about for them, that´s not such a surprise. Nor is it a surprise that they didn´t object to W back when he was President Bush, rather than now that he´s former President Bush. Nor is it shocking that they don´t also criticize regressive demi-god Ronald Reagan, who presided over a tripling of the national debt in his voodoo economics spending spree. I guess you can only cover so much, you know?
But, golly, even if this made the slightest bit of sense, think of how rigorously batty you´d have to be to believe that if the Republicans only become more regressive, they´ll start winning elections. You know, like, if only they started more wars based on lies! If only they slashed Social Security and Medicare, in order to balance the budget! If only they let more cities drown! If only they intervened into every family´s personal medical crisis with congressional legislation! If only they deregulated Wall Street, so that we could have more frequent and far deeper recessions! If only they could give us further tax cuts to enrich the wealthy even more, and impoverish our children even further! If only they could make sure more of us die by blocking additional scientific research! If only they could make sure more of us die painfully by criminalizing not just medical marijuana, but all remedies! If only they could alienate more young voters with their homophobia, more Hispanics with their xenophobia, more women with their Palin pandering, and more blacks with their Magic Negro routines! If only they could replicate John Yoo, so that even the remaining shreds of the Constitution could themselves be shredded!
What a winning platform, eh?!?! Hard to imagine nobody else has thought of this before!
Of course, the only remotely plausible thing the GOP could actually do to ever hope for subsequent success would be to move toward the center, which is Door Number Three. Even that won´t work for quite some time, if it ever does. People are not soon going to forget the Rushpublican brand, and my guess is that Obama is going to continue to be popular for a long time to come, even if his policies don´t solve the economic crisis he´s been handed. But one could imagine, much as with Labour and the Tories in the UK, that a decade or two from now the Democrats will get lazy and corrupt and stupid enough to lose to a deradicalized Republican Party that runs on a non-ideological appeal purely focused on competence, as an alternative to the messed-up incumbents.
The problem for Republicans is that they can never get there. Perhaps after a third trouncing in 2010, but not now. And I´m even skeptical that that would be enough. This party is owned by the radical right especially the social conservative base. These freaks are not going to let go, and they are going to punish horrifically any defectors from their ideological purity. John McCain is a real object lesson here. Having secured the nomination only by accident when two other candidates split the true-believer vote in a series of winner-take-all primaries, he was never embraced by his own party, who saw him as suspiciously liberal. John McCain! These are people who think and will continue to think that Sarah Palin is a really inspired choice who could make a great president. They even secretly still think that about Lil´ Bushie, though they´re at least sentient enough to realize that it´s impolitic to say it.
Progressives should count their blessings, after decades in the wilderness.
The new president and Congress show some signs of having moderately good politics, to start with.
But, as importantly, the Republicans are fielding their very best team, and it consists of transparent buffoons telling transparent lies. With lousy delivery, no less.
Best of all, though, is that they simply have nothing credible to say right now.
When the best you can offer to a frightened and submerged American public is some cheap and disingenuous rap about earmarks, along with a government that would do nothing to help, your party is going to go the same way as Herbert Hoover.
Because you are Herbert Hoover.
That Your Eyes May Be Clear
I want you to learn to walk in the revelation of My light. Be bold and courageous. My plan is unfolding. Take Me at My word; I have an everlasting love for you.
Turn off the noises and distractions. I want to talk with you. I want to show you what I see, so you will know how to react. It should be of no surprise that I want to release My healing. Wholeness will overtake you as you walk in My light.
My light utterly casts out darkness. My love destroys the fear the enemy would plant within you. Learn to ask for more of Me. I want all of you, so that your past no longer clouds the way of your future.
Seek Me so that your eyes may be clear.
The Sons of Glory
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. Romans 8:18-20
"The time of the great forces of my kingdom are soon to be released upon the earth. For the elements of this earth of rain, fire, smoke, and wind will soon be poured out in fury. This is the time of great changes and upheavals. For the earth itself will be going through upheavals as it waits in eager expectation for the sons of glory to be revealed. For the Son himself has appointed many to shine like the stars in the heavens. He has appointed some to walk as Enoch did; who never tasted death. For you see, it is in this lifetime that he will come back. It is at a time appointed by the Father that the Son will come back to judge the inhabitants of this earth. But he has appointed some to be raised up in these last days who will also sit with him in appointed places in his kingdom. So there have been various trials and events that are preparing you for this. For it is the end of the ages. You are on the brink of those days that have been outlined in Matthew 24. So, stay the course, and wait for my glory to be poured out upon you."
Made to Measure
We have a special path and a destiny, made in the plan of God. No one can live this life for us; no one can take what God has given us, nor break the promises He has made. Our special place is where God has placed us individually, and He loves us all.
When Jesus says "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it", we may be sure that He is doing a work in us according to His plans. The church may be seen as a spiritual temple, where every person is built in as a living stone. Jesus Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone, from Whom we are all "made to measure". This spiritual temple is built by God, and its function is to demonstrate the life and the plan of Jesus, through the lives we live, as we submit to Him.
When we say we submit to Him, it begins first with trusting Him for forgiveness of sins, and through our sincere repentance from all we know to be wrong. The Gospel of Jesus Christ begins right there. This the Doorway into the Spiritual temple which is the church.
When we know this in truth we also know that we may go anywhere and do anything that seems right and good, for we are ourselves the church.
There are many trials and troubles we will meet in our lives, but with Jesus with us, we need not fear. If we trust Him with all we face, He will bring a glorious result and a powerful testimony to His mercy and His love. There will be praise in the spiritual temple, praise and worship to God in the hearts of men and women..
God bless you. Know His hand is most assuredly upon you.
What tho' clouds are hov'ring o'er me,
And I seem to walk alone
Longing 'mid my cares and crosses,
For the joys that now are flown
If I've Jesus, "Jesus only,"
Then my sky will have a gem;
He's a Sun of brightest splendor,
And the Star of Bethlehem.
When I soar to realms of glory
And an entrance I await,
If I whisper, "Jesus only!"
Wide will ope the pearly gate;
When I join the heavenly chorus,
And the angel hosts I see,
Precious Jesus, "Jesus only,"
Will my theme of rapture be.
Our Moral Audit of the Budget
Four years ago, faced with a disastrous federal budget proposal, Sojourners coined a phase, "budgets are moral documents." That phrase has now entered the common lexicon, but it remains our fundamental principle. Budgets reflect the values and priorities of a family, church, organization, city, state, or nation. They tell us what is most important and valued to those making the budget. So, it is important that we do a "values audit" of President Obama's proposed budget, a "moral audit" of our priorities. Who benefits in this budget, what things are revealed as most important, and what things are less important? America's religious communities are required to ask of any budget: what happens to the poor and most vulnerable --especially, what becomes of the nation's poorest children in these critical decisions?
The values of the American people should also be applied to the budget, e.g. fairness (everyone paying their fair share); opportunity for all Americans; fiscal, personal, and social responsibility; balancing important and different priorities; defining security more broadly than just military considerations, as it is related to economic and family security too; compassion and protection for the vulnerable; building community; and upholding the common good.
That's a principle that has been forgotten in the past years. We have trusted in "the invisible hand" of the market to make everything turn out all right, but things too often haven't turned out all right. The invisible hand let go of some things, like the common good. The idea that policies which benefit the wealthiest will eventually benefit everyone has proven false. The president's budget is a step toward restoring the value of the common good to our policy. It is a step to rebalance our priorities, protect the vulnerable, and strengthen the middle.
It contains major investments in the president's three priorities: significantly expanding health care coverage, focusing on climate change reduction and developing renewable energy, and investing in education -- early childhood programs, strengthening and reforming public schools, expanded opportunities for college -- all of which will benefit low-income people. There are also specific changes in important areas such as tax policy, food and nutrition programs, housing, needed aid to veterans, prisoner re-entry, global food security, and increased foreign aid for combating pandemic disease. It's a budget aimed at redressing the imbalances.
The growing inequality in America over decades is a sin of biblical proportions, and it's time to bring our principles of social justice to bear. As columnist E.J. Dionne wrote,
"The central issue in American politics now is whether the country should reverse a three-decade-long trend of rising inequality in incomes and wealth. Politicians will say lots of things in the coming weeks, but they should be pushed relentlessly to address the bottom-line question: Do they believe that a fairer distribution of capitalism's bounty is essential to repairing a sick economy? Everything else is a subsidiary issue."
It is that question that should guide our moral audit of the budget. The fundamental moral question in the upcoming budget debate is whether to begin to reverse the rapid and massive increase in American inequality which has grown over the past thirty years -- and has dramatically increased during the past eight. I believe it is time to stop helping the undeserving rich, under the now demonstrably false assertion that this will then benefit the rest of us. When the top 1 percent of the country now get 20 percent of its income, control 33 percent of its wealth, and pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than their receptionists do (as Warren Buffet has pointed out) -- something has gone terribly wrong in America. The new Obama budget is the first and dramatic step to fix all that, and turn the nation in a different direction.
The new budget proposed by the White House is a dramatic step in the direction of the common good, with strong support for the middle of America, real help for the poorest among us, and the proposition that the wealthiest pay their fare share. And my prediction is that many in the faith community, especially those on the front lines of serving the poor, will rally around the principles and priorities of this budget, bringing their energy and advocacy to bear on the debate that now lies ahead. Because this will not just be a policy debate, but also a moral one; the prayers of the faithful -- along with their watchful eyes, willing hands, and ready feet -- will surround the congressional budget process over the next few months.
Reading Peace for Lent
by Valerie Elverton Dixon
I am a good person.
We make this declaration from time to time, usually when we have done something wrong or when we want to put distance between ourselves and the evil Other. However, calling ourselves good is a dangerous pronouncement, one that even Jesus refused to make. Jesus said: No one is good but God alone’ (Mark 10:18). To think of ourselves as good is dangerous because it hides the fact that we all miss the mark.
Lent is a time when we face the fact of our own shortcomings. If the goodness and the glory of God is the target, then all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We miss the mark by what we do and by what we leave undone.
David C. Maguire, professor of ethics at Marquette University, calls upon Americans to do some hard introspection in his book The Horrors We Bless: Rethinking the Just-war Legacy. It is a scathing jeremiad against U.S. Empire and a foreign policy too quick to go to war.
Maguire´s thesis is: that state-sponsored violence can only be justified in a community context with legal and internationally enforceable restrictions comparable to the restraints put upon our police.’ He thinks we can get to this goal when we remove the glamour from war and see it for the stupid, useless, insane evil that it is. Maguire believes, as do I, that war is a failure of imagination.’ It throws extreme violence against a situation that may well have been solved through the unglamorous, difficult drudgery of peacemaking.
His critique, however, is not only against government. His critique is against us. Speaking of going to war in Iraq, he says: The political leaders in this farce were twice elected by American voters. Dumbness is not restricted to those in charge. ‘We the People´ are also infatuated by the allures of quick-fix violence.’ He reminds us that we get the leaders we deserve.’
He calls our attention to the size of the military budget and lists ways the money could be better used. He reminds us of the constitutional requirement that wars ought to be declared by Congress. Any war that is not declared is illegal, and as citizens we are responsible for illegal wars waged in our name. Unlike me, he is not ready to consign just war theory to the history of ideas. However, he does outline how just war principles have been misused and manipulated for the purpose of going to war. He reminds us that Christianity was a pacifist religion until Constantine.
Mercifully, he leaves us with hope. And that hope is justice. It is a politics of peacemaking. It is our praying tears. It is trust in life-power, diplomacy, imagination, and the human capability to dream, to vision a peaceful world.
Ending the War on Drugs
Will the Obama administration put justice back in the criminal justice system?
By Silja J.A. Talvi
President Obama faces a heap of crises: a major economic recession, crumbling national infrastructure, and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Buried in that heap is another war, one less present in public discourse but no less toxic: the drug war. The concentrated battleground of the drug war has been on domestic soil, with America's so-called interdiction efforts spreading the fight across the world, from poppy-rich Afghanistan to the coca-nurturing Andes to the most brutal battlefield of them all, Mexico, which saw more than 5,600 drug-related murders last year, including several that involved publicly displayed decapitations
With the Obama administration, many see an unprecedented opportunity for meaningful criminal justice/drug war reform. Much of that hope stems from Obama's seven-year track record as a state senator in Illinois--a state with one of the nation's largest prison populations. In Springfield, Obama sponsored more than 100 bills on crime, corrections, treatment, re-entry, racial disparities and the death penalty that were mostly (though not exclusively) progressive in nature.
He also gained respect among younger voters for his willingness to talk candidly about his teenage drug use, and his present-day battle with nicotine addiction. During a campaign stop at Northwestern University while running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama told a crowd of students that he supported decriminalizing marijuana (a position he no longer supports publicly). More significantly, Obama flatly stated that "the war on drugs has been an utter failure."
"Most of what Obama has said previously on criminal justice issues has been good," says David Borden, director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network in Washington, D.C. "If he carries some of that into office, we could see an enormous change in the direction of the drug war and sentencing policies. That said, criminal justice reform, especially when it comes to drugs, has always been the first issue the Democrats drop when it looks like they're being called 'soft on crime.' "
Marc Mauer, director of the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., agrees with this cautious optimism.
"The political climate on crime issues has shifted significantly over the last 10 years or so," says Mauer. "At the national level, there's a modest but growing bipartisan movement for more rational policies. We see it most clearly around prison re-entry issues."
After years of operating on the margins of political discourse, drug war and criminal justice reform movements have reached a new plateau of recognition and respect. Conservative lawmakers, law enforcement associations, health professionals and religious groups have joined the call for fiscal, legislative and social changes in our approach toward criminality. Even mainstream civil rights groups, which often shied away from directly addressing the injustices of the drug war and the class and ethnic disparities in arrest and sentencing rates, have grown more comfortable allying themselves with criminal justice reform.
Yet mainstream Democrats have continued dragging their feet--to the point of pushing the kind of punitive legislation championed by President Reagan.
"We've seen this for over 30 years now, that Democrats have often been reluctant or even hostile to the idea of embracing criminal justice reform," Mauer says. "Our strategy is to continue to reach out to Republicans and conservative constituencies to develop broad support for some of these reforms. We need to give Democrats a comfort zone ... a sense that they're not being 'too out there.' "
The Second Chance Act, signed into law in April 2008, provided just such a comfort zone for Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike. Introduced by Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in the House and by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate, the act was signed into law in April 2008. It was a remarkable step forward for a country that had all but turned a blind eye to sky-high recidivism rates for decades on end. (Of nearly 752,000 people released from U.S. prisons annually, two-thirds will be re-arrested within three years.)
The Second Chance Act provided an initial $362 million in federal grants to government agencies, as well as community and faith-based organizations, for the purpose of providing employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, and other social services known to reduce re-offending and drug addiction relapse. Unfortunately, the Democratic-controlled Congress has yet to authorize that funding.
States take the lead
In the meantime, state legislatures aren't waiting for the federal government to provide cues on how to handle criminal justice reform. Mauer points out that many states have already enacted their own changes. Connecticut, Iowa, Oregon and Wisconsin have specifically enacted legislation to address racial disparities in arrest and sentencing rates--and to ensure that proposed legislation be reviewed for its potential to exacerbate such disparities. (Obama and Biden have also placed racial profiling, as well as a federal version of racial impact legislation, on their national agenda.)
Since 2004, at least two dozen states have enacted policies or legislation that promote alternative sentencing and treatment diversion; diminish the number of parolees sent back to prison for non-serious violations; implement gender-responsive strategies to address the unique needs of females in the criminal justice system; and/or modify mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
And in 2006, the U.S. Conference of Mayors even passed a resolution opposing all mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and called for "fair and effective" sentencing policies.
Legislators and politicians have begun to realize that these kinds of reforms are much more likely to garner public support than ever before--even in red states like Kansas, where an early-release program has been created for prisoners who complete education, counseling or other programming requirements.
With one in 31 Americans now under some form of correctional supervision, mass incarceration is hitting closer to home for urban, suburban and rural residents who never envisioned family members would one day be locked away in remote prisons. Some have even been shipped off to other states. (Out-of-state transfers are routine in the federal system, and increasingly common in overcrowded state prison systems that contract with private prison operators.)
While California, New York and Texas have begun to show slight decreases in their bloated prison populations, the South has become the epicenter of the latest incarceration upsurge: Kentucky (#1), Florida (#5), Virginia (#6), Alabama (#7), and Louisiana (#8) are in the nation's top 10 for imprisonment rate increases from 2000 to 2007. Drug-related arrests--nearly 2 million in 2007--continue to play a major role in driving up the numbers of jail and state prison inmates, while the majority of federal prisoners are doing time for drug offenses (more than 95,000 men and women in 2007).
The human cost of mass incarceration is increasingly visible, and so, too, are the economic costs. According to the Pew Center on the States, total state general fund expenditures on corrections rose 315 percent from 1987 to 2007, while 13 states devote more than $1 billion per year out of general funds to their corrections departments. (At nearly $9 billion, California's annual spending on corrections leads the nation.)
By 2011, the Pew Center's Public Safety Performance Project predicts that the nation's prison population will grow by more than 190,000 men and women, at a cost of $27.5 billion, while immigration-related detention is likely to increase at an exponential rate. Already, the U.S. government detains more than 400,000 immigrants at some point during the year, usually within the confines of privately run facilities.
Overall, the progressive think tank Justice Policy Institute estimates that total annual spending on all facets of the criminal justice system--including policing, imprisonment and the judiciary--adds up to a staggering $213 billion.
Reframing the debate
Officially, the government is waging the drug war to combat illicit drugs. Instead, it has turned into a war against the poor en masse, says Drug Policy Alliance Director Ethan Nadelmann. People of color, who are disproportionately poor, make up 35 percent of the national population, and yet comprise 69 percent of the national prison population.
Jack Cole, a former narcotics agent and founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), says that the frequency of undercover and outdoor buy-bust drug operations in inner-city neighborhoods may make for great arrest numbers, but they do almost nothing to put a dent in illicit drug sales--or use--because they target the poorest and lowest-level drug users and sellers.
LEAP--whose members are current and former police officers and police chiefs, federal agents, undercover operatives and prison wardens--is the first U.S. law enforcement organization to advocate for the full legalization of all drugs. It recently co-commissioned a study by Harvard University economics professor Jeffrey Miron, who studied the cost-benefit of legalizing and taxing drugs in the same manner as alcohol and tobacco. According to Miron's analysis, released in December, tax revenues nationwide would amount to approximately $32.7 billion a year. Miron also found that, if drugs were legalized, the United States would save more than $44 billion annually in costs related to the enforcement of drug laws.
"The repeal of alcohol prohibition had a great deal to do with the fact that we were going through the Great Depression," says Cole. "Now that we're in the worst recession since the Great Depression, people are finally thinking about the economy when they think about the drug war. By legalizing drugs, we could go from spending $69 billion on the war on drugs each year to realizing total savings and revenue of $76.8 billion."
While LEAP eschews the idea of intermediate steps toward drug policy reform, most other progressive criminal justice organizations and think tanks are reaching for middle ground by appealing to Obama's sense of fairness and equity.
Vice President Joe Biden should be a strong asset to Obama in this regard, says the DPA's Nadelmann. The new Congress is likely to take up a bill that Biden sponsored to eliminate the large federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine use enacted during the Reagan years. (It takes five grams of crack cocaine to trigger an automatic five-year federal prison sentence, whereas it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to result in the same mandatory minimum.)
Biden has a favorable reputation on criminal justice issues and racial inequities while still remaining a consistent ally to law enforcement, says Nadelmann, which makes him all the more influential with more reluctant members of Congress.
But Biden's track record is mixed. Early in his career, he was a supporter of punitive, drug war-related legislation. More recently, he touted the RAVE Act--which held club owners and organizers of music gatherings responsible for drug use by participants. When it failed to pass, Biden attached it as a rider to the law enforcement-supported Amber Alert bill (a national alert system to help locate missing children), which Bush signed into law in 2003.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to significant drug policy reform will come from the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its director, the so-called Drug Czar.
John Walters, the Bush administration's drug czar, continued to put most federal funding dollars into law enforcement and interdiction efforts, blithely touting record-high drug arrest numbers as a sign of progress, even as independent surveys indicate rising levels of substance use and abuse among American teens.
Obama has yet to name a permanent drug czar. (He named Ed Jurith, a long-time ONDCP bureaucrat, its acting director, but Jurith is widely considered a temporary placeholder.) Much of the speculation has centered around former Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), a recovering alcohol abuser who favors some treatment options, particularly faith-based and 12-step programs.
But Ramstad also opposes decriminalization, legalization and medical marijuna--to the extent that any debate is out of the question. He also wants to continue the federal ban on needle-exchange funding, a stance Obama does not agree with. Indeed, word of his consideration has brought together a broad coalition of groups in opposition, ranging from Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, to the National Black Police Association, to medical marijuna proponents to HIV/AIDS prevention groups.
Because of the influence of the drug czar on federal policies, LEAP's Cole says that it is unlikely that Obama will have the political will or backing to recognize that "prohibition has always failed."
"Every two weeks, for the last 20 years, the U.S. has built the equivalent of 900 prison beds," he says. "Still, our prisons are bursting at the seams. Over the last 38 years, we've had a cumulative arrest record of 39 million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses. When are we going to say, 'Enough!'?"
The big question is how much concern the Obama administration will ultimately show for people ensnared in the criminal justice system. And what of the plight of prisoners, who collectively constitute the nation's most vulnerable, least-educated, sickest, poorest, mentally ill and socially castigated individuals?
Reformers say they hope the new administration and Congress will take a cue from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is examining ways to alleviate massive national jail and prison overcrowding through sentencing alternatives, drug treatment and support for increased judicial discretion. The commission plans to make its recommendations in May.
During the June 28, 2007, Democratic debate, Obama stood his ground on the need for ongoing criminal justice reform by emphasizing that the system "is not color blind. It does not work for all people equally."
It remains to be seen how far Obama's vision for reform will extend and whether it will shine toward the darkest corners of prison cells, far out of sight and therefore all too easily out of mind.
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