The Common Good
October 2004

Decision 2004

by Ed Spivey Jr. | October 2004

I've always wanted a lawyer. I have a plumber, but it's not the same.

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I’ve always wanted my own lawyer. Even though I’ve come this far without one, I still envy people who, with obvious satisfaction, can say, "I’ll see what my lawyer thinks about that." Having a lawyer elevates one’s status in life and suggests a higher level of security than you get with, say, your own plumber, which I do have.

But it’s not the same. Granted, no one would argue that a plumber is, in almost every way, far more useful than a lawyer. But invoking his name after a minor car accident doesn’t quite carry the authority desired. "You think this was MY fault?! Well, you’ll be hearing from my plumber about this!"

Coincidentally, Sojourners doesn’t have a plumber, but it does have a lawyer. Nice guy, I’m told, although I’ve never seen him around the office. And if I did see him, presumably he would not be wearing a heavy tool belt that made his workpants ride low on his hips, exposing more information than necessary while bending down to repair a leaky legal brief, or whatever it is that lawyers do.

Lately our lawyer has been giving us a lot of advice about what nonprofit organizations can and cannot publish during an election year. Sojourners is a 501(c)(3), a federal nonprofit designation which, as I recall, was also the name of that robot in Star Wars. But then Star Wars is a copyright-protected motion picture that our lawyer advises we shouldn’t even mention. (In that movie the robot also had an intimate friendship with a little robot called R2D2. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And we imply nothing about their relationship, which, according to our lawyer, is also none of our business.)

Obviously, our lawyer is a cautious man. While he understands Sojourners’ calling to speak the truth to power, he doesn’t see why we have to do it out in public, as opposed to, say, inside a windowless room someplace. "Just talk amongst yourselves," our attorney suggests, "preferably using telepathy, so that nobody actually hears you and gets offended." In other words, don’t bother people with your prophetic opinions, he tells us, especially innocent people minding their own business, such as politicians, or the federal government.

TO WHICH I reply "pshaw," maybe even a stronger "feh!" Sojourners will not be silenced. Not by governments, political extremists, or attorneys on retainer. (I had a retainer once...never mind.) We will not hide our light under a bushel (no!), or confine our powerful words of truth to a small room. Unless there’ll be snacks.

But snacks aside, the mission of Sojourners has always been to preach the gospel of peace and reconciliation to a troubled world. We do this from a deep sense of calling, and also because, let’s face it, Spiderman can’t do it alone.

Unfortunately, the first rule of nonprofits—take no partisan political positions—has been difficult in this critical election year. (The second rule—make no profit—we’re already good at.) This is probably the most important vote of our lives and, despite our lawyer’s risk-aversion, a clear moral voice is needed. And since "moral" is our middle name (actually, it was "Beatrice," but we changed it), we feel we have no choice but to endorse a candidate. Our nation is desperate for a positive outcome of this election, even if neither candidate is a plumber and, as a consequence, not particularly useful.

AND SPEAKING of lawyers, let’s look at the two candidates (Ralph Nader, put your hand down). John Kerry is the Democratic nominee and he is running an aggressive campaign to bring a just end to the Vietnam War. Never mind that it’s been over for a while. He’s focused.

George Bush, the Republican nominee, is currently the president, and he may have been a little unprepared for his own war, as revealed in this recent White House meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

RUMSFELD: We’ve got more trouble in Iraq.

BUSH: Where?

RUMSFELD: Najaf.

BUSH: Gesundheit.

To us the choice is clear. Only one man can lead our nation into a dangerous and uncertain future, a future that may be filled with actions of shocking unpredictability, such as Dick Cheney helping an old person across the street. It’s time for Sojourners to endorse the best candidate for the job, and that man is

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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