The Common Good

Jim Wallis Blog Entries

Who Are the Best Justice Leaders We Need to Know?

Last summer, Sojourners hosted The Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice. It was a powerful gathering of 300 leaders that convened on important issues of faith and justice. The Summit is a chance for leaders to grow, learn, and be encouraged. It is a rare opportunity to be supported by peers who understand the pressures and struggles of public ministry and leadership.

I’m pleased to announce that Sojourners is hosting The Summit 2015 this June in Washington, D.C. It’s poised to be this year’s gathering of cross-sector leaders joining together to effect change in this country and beyond.

And I need your help. We need to you to nominate the best leaders that no one has heard of to attend The Summit . She could be a seminarian or young pastor, an entrepreneur creating jobs, or a civic leader solving problems. He could be an academic, an artist/musician, a philanthropist, or a local leader who has been working tirelessly for years to knit a community together.

That leader could be you. Fill out the nomination form and tell us why.

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Christian Leaders Voice Support for Iran Framework Agreement

This week, more than 50 Christian leaders came together to voice our support for the framework of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany), concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Sojourners published the leaders’ statement as a full-page ad in Roll Call, a Washington, D.C., political newspaper widely read by members of Congress and their staff.

The statement, signed by leaders from all the major streams of American Christianity — Roman Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Orthodox, and Pentecostal — is reprinted below. We want to share this letter with you, the Sojourners community, and the broader public. I urge you to prayerfully consider adding your own voice in support of the diplomatic process and share the opportunity with others. Read it, discuss it in your churches, and add your name. This is a historic opportunity for diplomacy to triumph over armed conflict, and as people of faith, you can play an important role in helping the process succeed.

—Jim Wallis, Founder and President, Sojourners

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A Historic Chance to End Poverty

We have a vision.  

End extreme poverty by the year 2030. 

There has never been a time such as this. There has never been a time in human history where we have been more equipped to do more than just envision a world free of extreme poverty. The empirical evidence is there — extreme poverty can be ended within the next fifteen years. 

But first, we must commit. As a global community we must act guided by the best evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and to use our voices to compel and challenge others to join us in this urgent cause inspired by our deepest spiritual values.   

This is a historic opportunity. The goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 is now possible when it hasn’t really been before. But it will take all of us to accomplish it. 

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Hope but Verify: The Iran Nuclear Framework

For Christians, Easter is not just a day — it is a season, and, indeed, a way of life. This week is Easter: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and so on. Likewise, hope — the message of Easter — is not a feeling, but rather a decision — a choice we make day after day. Hope isn’t easy, but the decision to hope keeps the world going.

Now we have a choice to make: a decision whether to pursue a tough diplomatic process for peace to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The United States and Iran — along with the U.K., Germany, France, Russia, and China — now have the beginning framework of a deal that could accomplish just that. But we would have to give it a chance. Much has to be worked out by the June 30 deadline, and it won’t be easy.

Should we give this hope for peace a chance? I believe Christians should answer yes. Here’s why.

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Religious Freedom or Discrimination?

For the past several days, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has found himself at the center of a political firestorm over his state’s adoption of a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
 
Many believe that Indiana’s law went too far, including many in the faith community, because it could have opened the door for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Pence has repeatedly denied this was the intent — and early Thursday morning, Indiana's Republican leaders announced a deal that they say would make it clear no one will "be able to discriminate against anyone at any time." Read the changes here. The new anti-discrimination language has already drawn a positive response from some of the original law’s critics.
 
Of course, the debate continues, as those on one side say the clarification doesn’t go far enough and those on the other that it was an unnecessary concession. We see the RFRA debate extending to other states, like Arkansas, where amid concerns from Wal-Mart and his own son, Gov. Asa Hutchinson last night said he wouldn’t sign the pending religious freedom legislation until it mirrors the federal law — taking a note from the Indiana dust-up.
 
The dangerous part of the original Indiana law was that by including businesses in RFRA protections, it went further than other state RFRA laws and could even give permission for discrimination.
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Selma and Our Next Bridge to Cross

The Edmund Pettus Bridge was named after a Confederate general who became a Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan. His name, still emblazoned over the top of that now famous bridge, was a powerful and threatening symbol of white power and supremacy in Selma, Ala. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had at one time removed Selma from their list of places to organize because “the white folks were too mean, and black folks were too afraid."

But that didn’t deter a group of courageous African Americans from marching across that bridge a half-century ago, risking their lives for the right to vote in America. They were attacked and beaten by the fierce forces, led by notorious Sheriff Jim Clark, for their resistance to the frightening violence of white power.

Last Saturday, during the 50th anniversary event of “Bloody Sunday,” I spent many hours just looking at that bridge. The words that kept coming to me were “courage” and “resistance.” My question became: what bridge we will now have to cross?

Congressman John Lewis, whose skull was cracked that day as a young man, opened the main event.

"On that day, 600 people marched into history … We were beaten, tear gassed, some of us [were] left bloody right here on this bridge. … But we never became bitter or hostile. We kept believing that the truth we stood for would have the final say.”

Then Lewis introduced the president, "If someone had told me, when we were crossing this bridge, that one day I would be back here introducing the first African-American president, I would have said you're crazy.”

What happened on this bridge, President Barack Obama said, “was a contest to determine the meaning of America,” and where “the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America … ultimately triumphed.”

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Police: From Warriors to Guardians

Some of those protestors were right,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, as he released the Justice Department’s report on the police department in Ferguson, Mo. The report should be read by anyone who believes in racial justice and reconciliation, because it shows us what we are still up against in 2015, 50 years after the Selma march. This is not a post-racial America, especially in regard to our policing and criminal justice systems. Ferguson has become a teaching parable for the nation.

After a detailed and thorough investigation over many months, the devastating report revealed a police force and court system in Ferguson that proves true virtually everything young protestors and local residents have been saying since the shooting of Michael Brown last August.

The Ferguson Police Department replaced its mission of public protection with revenue generation by extracting money from the black residents of their town, using methods that the Justice Department said “may be unlawful.” The report painfully and painstakingly reveals unconstitutional and consistently abusive policing aimed at balancing the city budget on the backs of its poorest and black citizens. The Ferguson police went beyond even racial profiling to direct racist exploitation for a profit, with police apparently more concerned about “ fill[ing] the revenue pipeline” than protecting public safety. The use of traffic stops, citations, court appearances, fines, and even arrests that were specifically targeted at black residents revealed a profound contempt for black people with racial slurs and abuse a daily occurrence. Disgusting racist jokes, even aimed at the president and the first lady, circulated in e-mails from police supervisors and court officials. One joked about a black mother getting a crime prevention award for having an abortion.

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5 Things to Know About ISIS and the Theology of Evil

As an evangelical theologian and pastor, I want to say that ISIS is evil. Evil is a term we don’t normally hear in the media or politics, which is likely a good thing given our lack of public morality and civility these days. Indeed, judgementalism was condemned by Jesus, but is still often practiced by many churches — so humility is always called for. But it is still a responsibility of the faith community to name evil where it clearly exists in the world. And by any standards, the actions of ISIS are evil.

The latest report issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq on “The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Iraq,” catalogues the human rights atrocities committed by ISIS, making it abundantly clear that this group is evil. They include:

  • attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure,
  • executions and other targeted killings of civilians,
  • abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and gender based violence perpetrated against women and children,
  • slavery and trafficking of women and children,
  • forced recruitment of children,
  • destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance,
  • wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms.

The report goes on to identify the targeting of ethnic and religious groups — such as Christians, Yazidis, Shi’ite Muslims, and many others —and subjecting them to “gross human rights abuses, in what appears as a deliberate policy aimed at destroying, suppressing or expelling these communities permanently from areas under their control.” The report describes the actions as possible “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

In light of these sober findings, the faith community must remind the world that evil can be overcome, and that individuals involved in evil systems and practices can be redeemed. But how to overcome evil is a very complicated theological question, which requires much self-reflection. In trying to figure out how to overcome evil, it is often helpful to first decide how not to. Here is a good example of how not to respond to the reality of evil.

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Taking Lent to Repent

Ash Wednesday begins Lent, a 40-day season in the church’s life leading up to the death and resurrection of Christ on Easter. It is traditionally meant to be a time of reflection, reevaluation, and renewal in our lives, both for the community of faith and in our relationship to the world. But the “R” word that is most characteristic of Lent is “repentance.” And repentance, biblically speaking, is not about the fire and brimstone television preachers but rather about the gospel call to turn around and go in a whole new direction.

Already in these first few days of Lent, I am reminded of how difficult confession, humility, and repentance are in our culture. Humility is something Americans are not particularly good at. Neither are we strong in the areas of self-examination, deep reflection, and repenting for things we have done wrong and then no longer doing them.

We tend to believe if people are poor, there really must be something more wrong with them than with those of us who are not. If black young men are having trouble with police, many white people suspect it must be the things that they are doing more than any problems with the systems we perpetuate.

Our family was just away for a week in the Dominican Republic on baseball service and mission trip, where our boys’ baseball teams do “spring training” with Dominican players and coaches. Spending a week in Consuelo with the Dominican players and the adults in their lives, and meeting the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception who helped host us, provided a glimpse into their lives and a kind of poverty that most American young people have never seen.

We played on their rural “fields of dreams” cut out of sugar cane instead of corn, to wonderfully energetic community stadiums in what is truly a baseball culture. In one game, our high school team got to play the Detroit Tigers Dominican Academy teenage players. It was great baseball — but also a “life-changing experience,” as was told to me by many of our players and their coaches. In addition to the baseball skills, reflection, listening, learning, and asking big questions about how our lives affect others were the lessons of the week.

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Dean Smith: Amazing Grace

An early fellow Sojourner, Perk Perkins, reminded me this week that not long after we started Sojourners as a new Christian magazine for justice and peace, I came running into our little office one day and exclaimed, “Dean Smith is a Sojourners subscriber!” 

Here were young Christians in Washington, D.C., saying our faith called us to racial and economic justice, opposing the nuclear arms race, ending the death penalty, and supporting the equality of women. And the greatest college basketball coach in the country was reading Sojourners?! 

Dean Smith died on Saturday. He was 83 years old. 

Monday’s front page New York Times story — not just in the Sports section — was titled, “A Giant of College Basketball And a Champion of Equality.”  

ESPN and everybody else ran the numbers. But all the tributes and comments on the death of Dean Smith have quickly moved on from the numbers. Current UNC coach, Roy Williams, said his predecessor "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people." 

Player after player who were coached by Dean Smith, as famous as Michael Jordan to those who barely walked on to the team and hardly ever played, testified in the last few days to how much more than a coach he was to them — their “mentor,” “teacher,” “second father,” “role model,” life-long inspiration and guide.  

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From Prison to the Pulpit: A Powerful Story of Hope

I want to introduce you to Rev. Darren Ferguson, a pastor who first found his faith while in prison for attempted murder. Rev. Ferguson spent 9 years in federal prison, first at Rikers Island and then at Sing Sing in New York, where Darren and I met. I had agreed to an invitation to discuss my book, The Soul of Politics, which the inmates had been reading. When I inquired about when the prisoners wanted me to come to Sing Sing, the answer came back from a young brother: “Well, we’re free most nights. We’re kind of a captive audience here.”
 
One night, I spent several hours with 50 of those men in a room deep inside the bowels of that tough prison. We had rigorous discussion about the book and how faith must be applied to the fundamental issues of injustice in our time. I will never forget the comment of one of those young inmates. “Reverend, almost all of us in this prison are from about four or five neighborhoods in New York City. It’s like a train that begins in your neighborhood. You get on when you are 9 or 10 years old, and the train ends up here — at Sing Sing.” I remember the testimony and promise of a young prisoner that night who then told me, “But I have been converted, and when I get out of here, I am going to go back to those neighborhoods and stop that train.”
 
Two years later, I was again in New York to speak at a big town meeting on overcoming poverty. And there, up front, was that same young man I had met on that unforgettable night at Sing Sing: Darren Ferguson. He was now back home trying to stop that train. Darren has become an ally, partner, brother, and dear friend. And I want you to hear his whole story. It’s one of mass incarceration and the broken criminal justice system, but it’s also a story of hope — and it has the power to inform and change.
 
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Who's in Control?

I just returned from Davos, Switzerland, where the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is held each year. Leaders from business, government, and civil society all gather here to engage each other, make connections, and, hopefully, make progress on the mission statement of the WEF: “Committed to Improving the State of the World.”

I reflected on that mission statement last year in my remarks to all the attendees at the event’s closing session. I said the deeper meaning of leadership is sacrifice and not just skills — and that the most included people on the planet who were sitting in that famous Congress Hall will be morally evaluated by their relationship to the most excluded, who, of course, are never in that grand auditorium. Many individual leaders in attendance wanted to discuss that challenge further, and those conversations continued this year.

One session this year that drew many people off site was called “Struggle for Survival” — an intense simulation of how 3 billion people in our world actually live each day. Half of the global population exists on less than $2 per day. Run by the Crossroads Foundation, Struggle for Survival was a much more emotional experience than the rest of the sessions at Davos.

My wife, Joy, and I participated in this simulation, and the people running it told us that several CEOs seemed quite affected by the very powerful dramatization of real-world injustice and poverty. It took people out of their heads into stunning revelations of how the excluded really live, prompting feelings of guilt, pain, anger, empathy, and compassion — and then a call to commitment.

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Divesting from Fossil Fuels: We're Putting Our Money Where Our Faith Is

We’re a few weeks into 2015, which means many of us are striving to keep our New Year’s resolutions while others have already seen their best intentions collapse under the pressure of daily routines. Every year, we make promises to be better — we’ll go to the gym, save more money, slow down. But for Christians, every day is an opportunity to make resolutions. We call that repentance.

And this year — today — I am repenting of my dependence on fossil fuels.

While many associate repentance with sorrow or guilt, the biblical meaning of the word is to stop, turn around and go in a whole new direction. Repentance means changing our course and embarking on a new path.

For Christians, humanity’s failure to care for God’s creation warrants our repentance. This is not just a theological claim but a practical moral imperative when it comes to fossil fuel consumption. American Christians need to repent — and quickly!

Our society’s addiction to fossil fuels has had an unconscionable impact on the state of our Earth and on future generations. Coal-fired power plants are giving people cancer and asthma. Oil pipelines are spilling and destroying sacred lands. Natural gas fracking waste is leaking underground, threatening water sources. Through our consumption of coal, oil, and gas, we have enabled this toxic activity.

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State of the Union and Inequality: What Are You Going to Do Now?

This week, there was a lot of commentary about the State of the Union, the title of the president’s annual January speech before a joint session of Congress. I thought it was one of Obama’s best addresses recently because he focused on what is real for this country — growing economic inequality where only a few are doing “spectacularly well” while many families are still struggling just to get by.

The wife and mother from one of those families wrote the president a letter that seemed to have moved him, so he lifted up her “tight-knit family” trying to get through “hard times,” as she sat up in the gallery next to first lady Michelle Obama. Her family became a parable for the nation that is starting to do better economically but still faces hard choices that the president sought to address with very practical suggestions to support what he called “middle class economics."

Obama’s proposals for shifting tax breaks from the very wealthy to the middle class, to make possible child tax credits, days for sick leave, assistance with child care, and some relief from expensive educational costs are all proposals not likely to be supported by the new Republican Congress. But the speech begins to set what could be a long-term agenda to deal with our massive economic inequality — finally. Even the Republicans now might have to face up to the increasingly visible, embarrassing, alarming, and morally indefensible gaps between a small elite and the rest of the country.

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Je Suis … [?] How People of Faith Should Respond to Paris

Our first response to the horrible and frightening violence of Paris should be grief. False religion always makes the religious grieve, but when it engages in ghastly violence against other human beings who are made in God’s image, it should break our hearts as it breaks God’s.

These hateful terrorists, masquerading as religious believers, said on video they were the “avengers” of the prophet Mohamed. As such, they murdered cartoonists in the office of a magazine they identified with blasphemy. What these killers, and those like them, don’t understand is that they are the real blasphemers now by forcing their false and murderous distortions of Islam on the world and on other children of God. Their religion is now violence itself, a blasphemous interpretation of Islam, which in its truest expression is a religion of peace. Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from the Reformed Church in America, has called Paris an “identity theft” of the Muslim faith. Several Muslim leaders have said that the damage terrorists like these do to the image of the Prophet Mohammed is much greater than any cartoonist could ever do.

While the tenet of freedom of speech has been invoked throughout the media coverage of the attacks, the religious implications here run much deeper. They are about how we in the faith community should respond when we are attacked by those who disdain us, disrespect us, distort us — as many believe the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo regularly did — and even viciously attack us. The magazine has often crudely, provocatively, and even gleefully satirized all religions in very offensive ways, suggesting that the fundamentalisms in all our religious traditions completely define the meaning of faith. Charlie Hebdo is apparently driven by its own ideology of secular fundamentalism, which regularly strikes out at all people of faith.

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'Selma's David Oyelowo on Playing MLK and What It Means to Be a Christian

“I do know the voice of God.”

That’s what David Oyelowo, the actor who beautifully portrays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the new film Selma, told me last night. It’s that voice, he said, that called him to play the role.

I was at the December preview of Selma in Washington, D.C., and then took my family to see it at an early showing on Christmas day. I sometimes respond emotionally to films, but Selma made we weep. It also made me grateful that for the first time in 50 years, a big studio had finally made a film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the people in the movement around him in Selma. I believe this movie, unlike most others, could actually change the nation’s conversation about race and reconciliation at a crucial time, perhaps even providentially.

On the premiere night, I met David Oyelowo, who spoke publically after the film about his faith. I don’t hear that kind of talk very much in D.C., but David was open and forthright, saying that playing the great Christian leader became part of his personal calling as a Christian.

In our conversation afterward, I asked David what he meant by those words. His answer prompted me to ask for an interview with him before the film, which debuts this weekend, came out. He and I talked last night (listen to the full interview below).

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10 Resolutions for 2015

Some people don’t like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but I do. We often only use the word in the context of this season, but “resolution” is a nuanced noun. Some of its definitons include:

A firm decision to do or not to do something — see: intention, resolve, plan, commitment, pledge.

The quality of being determined or resolute — see: determination, purpose, steadfastness, perseverance,tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power, dedication, commitment, stubbornness, boldness, spiritedness, bravery, courage, pluck, grit.

The action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter — see: solution to, settlement of, conclusion to, “the peaceful resolution of all disputes.”

In a world of seemingly endless conflicts, I sure like the sound of that. We need more of all of these qualities just now. All three meanings of resolution are wonderfully attractive to me — and timely for this brand new year. So here are my 10 resolutions for this 2015:

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Campfires of Hope

Hope is not a feeling. It is a decision — a choice you make based on what we call faith or moral conscience, whatever most deeply motivates you.

I have said that for many years, but this Advent and Christmas season tests my words — even in my own heart.

This is not a time that many of us are feeling a great deal of hope. I hear that from many friends and allies as well.

In fact, many events this year feel like they have sucked the hope right out of us.

And yet, even in the midst of terrible events and stories, the possibilities of hope still exist depending on what we decide to do for reasons of faith and conscience. In fact, people of faith and conscience are already making a difference in the most difficult situations and places.

And that gives me hope. This season of Advent, in the Christian tradition, is a call to patient waiting.

Christmas is the celebration of God literally coming into the world in order to change it.

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The Myth of Crying Rape

The fact that the journalistic “scandal” got more public attention than the original story should give us pause. And the narrative that is playing out in the story’s wake — the one that says the college campus rape crisis is nothing more than a hoax perpetrated by the left — is disturbing.  

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A Pastoral Letter to White Americans

The stories of young black men being killed by white police are sparking a national conversation. However, public responses to these painful stories reveal an alarming racial divide. From an unarmed teenager killed in Ferguson, Mo.; to a 12 year-old boy shot dead in Cleveland; to a white police officer on video choking a black man to death in New York City; and a startling series of similar stories from across the country and over many decades — our reactions show great differences in white and black perspectives.

Many white Americans tend to see this problem as unfortunate incidents based on individual circumstances. Black Americans see a system in which their black lives matter less than white lives. That is a fundamental difference of experience between white and black Americans, between black and white parents, even between white and black Christians. The question is: Are we white people going to listen or not?

White Americans talk about how hard and dangerous police work is — that most cops are good and are to be trusted. Black Americans agree that police work is dangerously hard, but also have experienced systemic police abuse of their families. All black people, especially black men, have their own stories. Since there are so many stories, are these really just isolated incidents? We literally have two criminal justice systems in America — one for whites and one for blacks.

Are there police uses of force that are understandable and justifiable? Of course there are. If our society wasn’t steeped in a gun culture, many of these shootings could be avoided. But has excessive, unnecessary, lethal force been used over and over again, all across the country, with white police killing unarmed black civilians? Yes it has, and the evidence is overwhelming. But will we white people listen to it?

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