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What we can learn from what Kim Davis and the Pope did this week

Here are the do's and don'ts of faith, ripped from the headlines.

What we can learn from what Kim Davis and the Pope did this week

This week was a pretty big week for God in the news.

Well, OK. Maybe God wasn't the hot topic. But religion certainly was. There were two very big stories that seemed to have little in common, but both can teach us some important lessons about religion if we look closely enough.

The first was the saga of Kim Davis. The Kentucky clerk refused to do her job and sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples in the name of "conscience" and in doing so, she became a national symbol for anyone who opposes marriage equality on religious grounds.




Kim Davis at her church service, er, I mean, rally. Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images.

According to Davis — who spent five days in jail and was greeted at her release by presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and hundreds of cheering, cross-waving supporters — it was her faith and her religious conviction that made her do it.

Contrast that with the second time that religion took center stage this week: Pope Francis encouraged every single Catholic parish in Europe to "take in one migrant family." The call to the region's approximately 120,000 parishes was made in response to the continent's ongoing refugee crisis, which has hit record levels and finally shocked the world into paying attention.



Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images.

“In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be 'neighbors' of the smallest and most abandoned." — Pope Francis

Why should we look at those two stories together? For sure, there are plenty of legal, political, and theological debates that can be had about both Kim Davis and Pope Francis.

But to me, the most interesting part of these two stories — and what connects them — is what they both can teach us about faith.

Strong faith can be a tremendous force for good in the world. It has helped provide education and basic needs for millions of people and has been a foundational component of civil and human rights efforts all around the world, the most famous of which is the 1960s American civil rights movement.

Photo via the Abernathy family/Wikimedia Commons.

But we also know that faith can be very dangerous. It has been used to justify things like slavery, the oppression of women, and most recently, the killing of gays all over the world.

How can something so good do such bad? Or, if you're not a person of faith, maybe you're wondering how something so bad can do such good.

Here's my theory.

I think of faith as the ideas and beliefs that people have about God. But religion is the tricky part — the rules and practices that humans created to figure out how to actually connect with their god.

In all the major world religions, the practices and rules were created in a very specific cultural context (like, for example, 2,000 years ago in "Bible times"). But when cultures change, which they're guaranteed to do, things get tough for religion.

The subtle signs of anti-gay protesters. Photo by Jenny Mealing/Wikimedia Commons.

The kind of faith that relies most heavily on religious rules often focuses on what I call the don'ts:

Don't legalize alcohol. Don't teach sex education. Don't legalize abortions. Don't be gay. Don't legalize marijuana. Don't let people get married. Don't [fill-in-the-blank].

When people of faith make their primary agenda item a don't in order to maintain the cultural status quo, it can:

  • Oppress people and violate rights.
  • Cause very real pain and harm in people's lives.
  • Repel millions of people away from the idea of faith and God altogether.

Faith used in this way ultimately always loses. (See again slavery, prohibition, oppression of women, legalizing abortion, gay marriage, etc.)

That is the kind of faith we saw on display in Kentucky this week.

But when faith focuses on the do's — working to solve problems, meet needs, and serve others — it ultimately wins.

Yes, that is Mother Teresa. Because ... of course. Photo by Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images.

The do's are actions and principles like these:

Do love your neighbor. Do feed the hungry. Do heal the sick. (Free health care anyone?) Do seek justice. Do practice humility. Do give more than you receive. Do take in thousands of refugee families.

Faith used in this way can:

  • Remind us of the simple truths hiding beneath complex issues.
  • Empower us to take concrete action in response to pain and injustice.
  • Connect and draw people together across all divides.

The do's are where the magic happens. The do's are what we saw from the Pope this week. It's the do's that are currently behind the Moral Mondays movement for economic justice and the religious leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement, not to mention the thousands of organizations working to take care of the earth, provide for the homeless, and support women and families.

Kim Davis didn't save a life this week. The Pope just may have helped save thousands.

This tale of two acts of faith teaches an important lesson, not just for those of us who identify as Christian or religious, but for anyone looking for ways to use what they believe to make a difference. The world becomes measurably, tangibly, and practically better with the do's of faith. That, to me, sounds like a major win that all people — religious and not — can get behind.

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Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

via The White House / Flickr

The Biden administration has put a focus back on science, and for most Americans, it's a welcome return.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released on Monday found he has a 63% approval rating, bolstered primarily by his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seventy-one percent of Americans, including 47% of Republicans, approve of how he has handled the pandemic.

The Biden administration has made huge efforts to communicate about the virus in a transparent, science-driven way, and made Herculean efforts to make the vaccine available to all adults. Whereas Trump chose to downplay the pandemic and spread misinformation.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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