"I'm convinced," said Martin Luther King Jr., "that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-centered' society."

Dr. King, like many other leaders throughout history who strove to affect change, had the daunting task of appealing to the moral conscience of society. Ensuring that the moral arc of the universe continues to bend toward justice is now the responsibility of this generation, for "the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality." Albeit, the complexity of the issue has seemed to grow, the fundamental adjuration is still to recognize and respect the humanity of one another. As a nation we are still making strides toward not judging by the color of one's skin, but by the content of one's character.

Racism, America's original sin for which she has yet to repent, began as an evil ideology, but has now blossomed into an even more sinister institution still controlling the minds and the hearts and the bodies of millions. The embodiment of this is now most noticeable in the prison system. It has been called, "the new Jim Crow" — the disproportionate mass incarceration of Black and brown people in this country. 

Americans make up about five percent of the world population while twenty-five percent of the world's inmates have been incarcerated here. The rate of recidivism is so high in the United States that most inmates who enter the system are likely to reenter within a year of their release. Despite what the general population might believe, the expanding prison population in the U.S. is not a symptom of increasing crime rates. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, crime rates in the United States peaked between the 1970s and early 1990s, but have steadily declined since with rates approximately the same as the 1960s. Crime rates have decreased while incarceration rates have increased. There are many more statistics I could quote here, but the bottom line is this is simply unacceptable and must change immediately. In his book, The Fall of the Prison, author Lee Griffith writes, "Prisons are self-defeating because they foster the very behaviour they purport to control. They generate the hatred and hostility they claim to correct."

As Christians, we must be at the forefront of the movement to end mass incarceration and to abolish prisons not just because of what the Bible says about justice, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration, but also because of what it says about prisons and prisoners and our responsibilities toward them. 

"Scripture records some of the worst crimes and most heinous violence the world has ever known. But nowhere in scripture do we find a divine endorsement of prisons," writes Mark Olson. Hebrews 13:3 states, "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." Here the word remember is loaded. We are called to do more than merely think about those in prison. We are called to care for them and share in their suffering.

If we are to care for those who are incarcerated and for those targeted by the prison-industrial complex then we must also critique "society's increasing reliance on prison as a strategy for social control," says Dr. Christopher Marshall of Tyndale Graduate School of Theology in Auckland, New Zealand. He goes on to say, "Even if we cannot subscribe to a complete prison abolitionist agenda, the direction of biblical teaching, and the logic of God's self-revelation as the One who sets prisoners free (Psalm 102:19-20), should surely drive all Christians to stand against every attempt to expand the prison system." We must fight to move beyond retribution to restoration and healing as the latter is more in tune with biblical justice. 

As Christians and as a society we have been quick to forget and cast aside those incarcerated. We demonize and often look down upon anyone who has served time. We act as if major figures in the Bible, that we now study and love, were not guilty of violent crimes. Where would we be as a faith group if they had not received God's(and society's) grace, mercy, and forgiveness? How can we get people to see the humanity in those who are so vilified? Not everyone in jail or prison is a murderer, rapist, or kingpin drug dealer. How can we appeal to the moral conscience of fellow Christians to garner support for this movement? What would it look like if the outward expression of justice, mercy, forgiveness, peace, hope, and love defined our walk as Christians? 
"I call on the young men [and women] of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
 1. A Christian's journey through Islam
Brussels - All over the globe, the Muslim community finds itself caught in the middle of strenuous societal debates. With Islamophobia on the rise in the West and extremism in the name of Islam growing in the East -evidenced by sectarian violence in countries like Egypt, Syria and Pakistan - the debate is often presented as a clash between Western values and Islamic fundamentalism...continue reading
2. Plant Yourself. Hold Firm and Give Off Light Be A Lighthouse
Many of us are taught, starting in childhood, to never, ever give up. It applies even more so to those of us in the nonprofit, charitable, and faith arenas. We often work with hurting, broken but incredibly valuable people. We want to be the sort of inspirers who those we love and serve will one day be grateful for. And about us, we hope they’ll say, “When every- one else threw in the towel, this person, never gave up! She was always there for me. He never quit no matter how many times I messed up or tried his patience...continue reading
3. 5 Important Biblical Leaders Nobody Likes To Talk About
Henry Louis Mencken, the early twentieth century journalist and satirist, once commented that “on one issue, at least, both men and women agree: they both distrust women.” I’ve wondered how much this sentiment has come to infiltrate the church over the past 2000 years. It is fascinating to note that nearly all of the other world religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and even the religiously unaffiliated) are made up of adherents that are predominantly male...continue reading
4. Pope Francis: We Need You in Washington, D.C.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, and almost miraculously, the values of simplicity, humility, welcome, and the priority of the poor have burst on to the international stage. A new pope named Francis is reminding us that love is also a verb — choosing the name Francis because of his commitment to the poor, to peace, and creation in sharp contrast to the values of Washington, D.C...continue reading
5. Is Immortality Talk Just “Fear of the Dark?”
Renowned scientist and author of such books as “A Brief History of Time” Stephen Hawking suggested recently that it is conceivable in the future that we may be able to upload the contents of the human brain onto a computer so that the information may, in a sense, become immortalized. He readily conceded, however, that such a task was well beyond our current technological capacity, and he offered some measured words of caution for those who sought to read too much into this potential...continue reading

Welcome to the first edition of The Scroll. We have compiled a list of the top five Christian articles from the past week. We will be rolling these out every Friday. Enjoy. - The Ghetto Monk
1.  Doing God’s Work? You May Be Missing The Point
    Thomas Edison once remarked, “opportunity is missed by most people because it dresses in overalls and looks like work.” It is an interesting image, and it speaks to many of us because we have been deeply impacted by a very action-oriented society. So much so, in fact, that we are taught to link our personal value to the value of the activity we are accomplishing. As Christians, we often spiritualize this as well, linking our spiritual vitality with our ability to accomplish tasks for God...continue reading 
2.  10 Myths About the Food Stamp Program (Which Congress is Trying to Gut)
About a year ago, I wrote about my family participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge, which encourages families to try to live on the equivalent of SNAP assistance (food stamps) for one week. It was a growing experience for all of us, and we actually fell short of our intended goal. It turns out that it’s not easy to feed a family of four well — especially without great time and effort — on less than $20 a day...continue reading
3.  Pope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church's Obsession
Pope Francis faulted the Roman Catholic church for focusing too much on gays, abortion and contraception, saying the church has become "obsessed" with those issues to the detriment of its larger mission to be "home for all," according to an extensive new interview published Thursday...continue reading
4.  My DTR (define the relationship) with World Vision.
I liked World Vision right away, but it wasn't love at first sight. I mean, initially, I thought WV was kinda fat and a little self-absorbed, but I was intrigued by the obvious love for humanity and drive for community development (And c'mon, there's nothing sexier than a dude who loves kids!). So, when WV asked me out, I didn't really hesitate to say yes...continue reading
5.  Of Cakes and Christians
Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of being a friend to sinners and to drunkards and to despised tax collectors. He made gallons of wine at a wedding. He treated women of ill-repute with respect. He made a Samaritan–a member of the neighboring race and sworn enemies of the Jews–the hero of one of his most profound parables. He praised a Gentile Roman Centurion–part of the occupying imperial force–for having great faith. He touched lepers. He spoke forgiveness and grace to those who beat and crucified him...continue reading

Just a little over two years ago I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. The main building my classes were in was in the heart of the financial district of San Francisco. Every day I would get off the BART and walk past a number of homeless individuals. San Francisco is often considered the homelessness capital of the United States because of its climate and social programs. The city has anywhere between 7,000 and 10,000 homeless individuals. Anyone who has lived in a major city (and has an ounce of kindness) can relate to the dilemma of how to react when encountering someone holding a sign asking for food.

For many years I would simply give a dollar or two and proceed with my day. On occasion I would take the individual to the closest fast food restaurant and buy he/she a burger. Neither one of these methods satisfied my soul's yearning to truly impact the lives of these individuals.

Time after time, I found myself posing questions about whether or not these were the right actions to take. Most often I would ask, "Is it enough to merely satisfy one's hunger or thirst if what I provided that particular individual with had no nutritional value?" Was what I was doing for these individuals a service or a disservice? I thought I was over thinking the issue until I began seeing articles about the nutritional value of items found on menus in soup kitchens. 

A similar question could be asked to those of us who wish to feed or quench the thirst of those who are spiritually depleted. Are leaders in the church only providing what is necessary to subside the rumbling coming from the stomachs of those spiritually deprived or are they bearing fruit which nourishes the souls of congregants and thrusts them into a healthy and growing relationship in Christ?

Two longstanding traditions play major roles in the malnutrition of congregants.  "Feel good" preaching and "folk" theology serve to keep church goers in a state of spiritual unhealthiness. Often, what is most appealing is not what is best for us . The best example of this is the inclination to eat junk food over vegetables. Vegetables, to most people, do not arouse the taste buds like sugary sweets, but they are undoubtedly better for your health and well-being. 

One author writes, "Feel good [preaching] seems to be a short-cut to happy handshakes, but it falls short of engaging both the text and the listener."

Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson define "folk" theology as, "a kind of theology that rejects critical reflection and enthusiastically embraces simplistic acceptance of an informal tradition of beliefs and practices composed mainly of clichés and legends."

These two things make a deadly combination that can be tremendously detrimental to the spiritual health of those seeking to grow in Christ. While God's Word can be used for the edification of it's hearers and readers, "feel good" preaching usually has an ulterior motive. "Folk" theology has absolutely no place in the church. It is heretical more often than not and stunts the growth of Christians. 

What kind of message are you receiving from the pulpit? Are you receiving vital nutrition? Do the messages you receive merely appeal to your soul or do they change your soul? These are important questions to reflect on next time you are in church.

For those who wish to lead in the church, keep in mind the words of the seminal and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther: "A preacher must be both soldier and shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach."

I was up late the other night flipping through television channels searching for something to fall asleep to. I stumbled across a local broadcast called "Moral Side of the News." Apparently, this show is the longest running community service program in the nation. I had never heard of or seen it until two nights ago. The show consists of a panel of clergy discussing the latest hot topics in the news from a "moral" point of view. The night I watched the show the panel was made up of a female Rabbi, a Catholic priest, two Protestant ministers, and an Imam.

The first topic they discussed and the topic that I would like to discuss is the mishandling of power and leadership in Syria. Last week in Damascus, the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, allegedly used chemical weapons in an attack on Syrian citizens in the suburb of Ghouta. The international medical organization, Doctors Without Borders, announced on Saturday that the death toll had risen to at least 355.

The panel was asked what the response of the United States should be. The answers were almost unanimous that the United States should send it's military to Syria and wipe out this murderous regime. The sole opposition came from the Catholic priest who suggested we find a way to boot Bashar al-Assad through sanctions before military involvement. It startled me that the clergy were so eager to thrust us into another conflict in the Middle East. Were the responses given by these religious leaders true to the values found in the Bible (and in the case of the Imam, the Qur'an)? Surely, any involvement by the United States or the international community in Syria will be met with opposing force. How long would this conflict last? How many more lives would be taken, innocent or guilty?

I began to think about war in general, especially from a Christian perspective. Is there such thing as a just war? Many Christians believe that the battles waged in the Old Testament were examples of just wars probably because they also believe God ordained them. This belief has been problematic for centuries. It has led to the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. It has also led to the colonization and destruction of countless cultures and indigenous people. It is very convenient to label any violent conflict "just" by saying it was ordained by God. This trick is beyond played out, however. 

Many traits can be assigned to the "God of the Old Testament" such as jealously, being unforgiving, vindictive, bloodthirsty, homophobic, racist, and genocidal. The problem with believing that the "God of the Old Testament" can be described in such a manner is that you have to juxtapose those characteristics with love, mercy, grace, hope, and forgiveness which are attributed to the "God of the New Testament." To do that is to deny the immutability of God. 

I am not trying to escape the terror of the Old Testament. It is there. I struggle with it like every other Christian. But I think Derek Flood, author of Healing the Gospel, makes an excellent point.
"In reality the Bible contains a multitude of conflicting and competing voices, articulating opposing perspectives in the form of an ongoing dispute contained throughout its pages. More concretely, we find an ongoing dispute within the Old Testament between two opposing narratives: The first is a narrative of unquestioning obedience that condemns all questioning (often enforcing this through threat of violence). But within those same pages of the Hebrew Bible there is also a persistent opposing counter-narrative that confronts that first narrative as being untrue and unjust, and that upholds questioning  authority in the name of compassion as a virtue."
Traditionally, using the Bible to understand war has resulted in heinous crimes against humanity. But there is always an opposing perspective. Robert Clouse presents one of these perspectives in his book, War: Four Christian Views
  1. Just cause. All aggression is condemned; only defensive war is legitimate.
  2. Just intention. The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain nor ideological supremacy are justified.
  3. Last resort. War may only be entered upon when all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.
  4. Formal declaration. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of private individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.
  5. Limited objectives. If the purpose is peace, then unconditional surrender or the destruction of a nation's economic or political institutions is an unwarranted objective.
  6. Proportionate means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks, that is to say to secure a just peace. Total or unlimited war is ruled out.
  7. Noncombatant immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict (including POW's and casualties as well as civilian nonparticipants) should be immune from attack.
I do not like how the United States always plays the role of international police, but I cannot sit and watch innocent citizens lose their lives without demanding we intervene along with the international community. The dilemma is that rarely are our intentions limited to establishing peace. We usually have some kind of economic or ideological agenda.

As Christians our job is to find peaceful resolutions. Based on just war theories, war is to be the very last resort. After all, violence begets violence. If we were to send troops or air strikes to Syria it would only add fuel to the fire. Is a peaceful resolution possible? Can we avoid the consequences of military involvement in such a hostile region? I pray that we can do both. And I pray for the citizens of Syria. My fear is that it is already too late. 
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