The Common Good

Changing the Poverty Debate

Sojomail - March 27, 2002



                       S O J O M A I L

          Promoting faith, reason, compassion, and justice
                   in days of violence and fear

                 Brought to you by SojoNet
              Publisher of Sojourners magazine

+++++++++++++++++++++++ 27-March-2002 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+++++++++++++++++ Changing the Poverty Debate +++++++++++++++++++++++++

SEND A FREE GIFT TO A FRIEND - deliver a generous message
to your family and friends to sign up to receive SojoMail:

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *Honest Abe fears the Enron-ification of America

 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *Changing the debate on poverty

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *The hill is alive, with the sound of Ashcroft

 R e l i g i o n   M a t t e r s
     *Religion in the classroom: hands off?
      Views from both sides of the Atlantic

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Sensationalizing worldwide Muslim hatred for the U.S.

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *In Dependence

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Rabbis plant trees for peace in Israel

 P. O. V.
     *Bush and Sharon: America's morality has been distorted

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *The Stinkers: Antidote to the Oscars
     *PBS to air documentary on the nonviolent overthrow of Milosevic
     *More PBS: Church-state battle over the homeless in New York City

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers hit reply


Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that
unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my
country.... Corporations have been enthroned and an era of
corruption in high places will follow, and the money power
of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working
upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is
aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

        - U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Is the country ready for a new debate on poverty?

by Jim Wallis

Call to Renewal had a very bipartisan conversation this 
week. A strong delegation of faith-based organization 
leaders spent Tuesday at the White House and on Capitol 
Hill, talking with Republicans and Democrats about poverty. 
Our immediate discussion was about the crucial political 
debate shaping up on the re-authorization of welfare reform, 
which will greatly impact millions of low-income children 
and families. The deadline is October 1 for Congress to 
pass legislation renewing TANF (Temporary Assistance to 
Needy Families), the program that replaced the decades-old 
welfare programs swept away in the historic 1996 welfare 
reform legislation. The debate is just beginning but it 
promises to be hot and heavy.

What's clear is that there are Republicans who really do 
care about the poor, Democrats who really don't and, of 
course, vice versa. What's also clear is that the political 
debate over poverty in Washington is still stuck in old 
language, historical baggage, and partisan warfare. What's 
"liberal" or "conservative," or what might tip the upcoming 
mid-term elections one way or the other weighs very heavily 
in the political decision-making that will affect the lives 
of our poorest citizens. One key senate staff member 
expressed a longing for new criteria in the debate on 
poverty - perhaps "what's right and what works." 

An ideological cleavage still separates those who see policy 
and funding issues at the heart of reducing poverty from 
others who point to the deep cultural roots in family breakdown, 
sexual behavior, or personal responsibility. I'm always 
amazed at how politicians can make such false choices between 
these very real causalities, while practitioners who actually 
live and work with poor people just shake their heads as they 
hear such an impoverished and futile debate. For example, in 
the upcoming welfare debate we face a battle between those 
who are "pro-funding" in welfare re-authorization and those 
who are "pro-family." Of course, Call to Renewal and all 
the faith-based leaders around our table on Tuesday are 
decidedly both.

When debates are framed wrongly, they almost inevitably 
turn out badly. That happens all the time on Capitol Hill. 
In the welfare debate, focusing on simply reducing welfare 
rolls instead of reducing poverty is still the major 
problem. Most people involved in anti-poverty efforts would 
agree now that helping low-income people find "self-
sufficiency" is far preferable to a system of endless subsidy. 
But what are the best ways to support people in moving from 
subsidy to sustenance? And if work is the best way out of 
poverty (as most of us now agree), how do we make work really 
work in America?  What do people need in support for 
child care, in real education and training, in securing health 
care or affordable housing? 

The TANF re-authorization debate could become a national 
discussion about how to overcome poverty in America. In 
fact, the debate doesn't make any sense apart from the 
goal of poverty reduction. Let's state our goal clearly 
and unanimously - welfare reform should be judged by how 
much we are actually reducing poverty. Then let's have 
the most honest debate we've ever had about how to do that. 

As I travel around the country and listen to people across 
the political spectrum, I often sense that the country may 
be ready for a new debate on poverty that puts the old 
liberal and conservative labels aside. But I also live in 
Washington, where the political elites in both parties are 
clearly not ready for a new discussion. Maybe it's time to 
help them.

You can start by coming to Washington on May 20-22 for 
Call to Renewal's Pentecost Mobilization for the poor. 
We'll help you tell your political representatives how 
you think we ought to change the debate. Check out the 
program and details on the Call Web site: Then come and help change 
the debate on poverty in America.


Have you read Sojourners (the paper version) lately? You ought
to check it out for yourself. Produced by the fine folks who
bring you SojoMail each week.

Get your own copy.


F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
The hill is alive, with the sound of Ashcroft

You thought that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was
only good at generating controversy by restricting civil
rights and promoting the death penalty. Turns out he can
also sing. Sort of. Lately he's been writing and
performing patriotic songs to lift the spirits of a
traumatized nation. It is unclear whether his performances
will give us something we can all have a good laugh about,
or merely add to our trauma. Experience the magic at:


R e l i g i o n   M a t t e r s
Religion in the classroom: hands off?

by Shira Boss

Study about Islam was already part of many school
curriculums. But some parents have raised concerns
about classroom activities they say are tantamount
to practicing the religion instead of learning about
it - and in the process have renewed a debate about
how religion should be addressed in schools.

When it comes to teaching religion, having students
role-play is bad judgment, says Christopher Hayes,
senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment
Center, which has worked with California schools on how
to cover religion. "I think it borders on unconstitutional
to role-play a religious practice." That goes for
reenactments of Seder dinners, the Salem witch trials,
and the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca - all of which have
happened in classrooms, according to educators.
"It undermines the authenticity [of those practices to
the followers of the religion] and can even cross over
into mockery," says Hayes.

Read more at:


Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic: Glasgow
to teach schoolchildren about religious discrimination

Scottish schoolchildren are tackling the deeply embedded
issue of religious strife that goes back generations in
the city of Glasgow, using a new video documenting young
people's struggles with sectarianism. Link to story:


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
Sensationalizing worldwide Muslim hatred for the U.S.

Finally, or so the world thought, a definitive answer
to the question that has haunted Americans since Sept.
11: How much do Muslims abroad really hate the U.S.?

Quite a bit, according to surveys in nine predominantly
Muslim countries by the Gallup Organization, whose
findings were first reported last month by CNN and USA
Today and subsequently by news organization around the

The polling watchdogs were most critical of the numbers
purporting to represent the overall opinion of Muslims
surveyed, such as the finding that 53 percent of all
Muslims had an unfavorable view of the United States.

While too few countries were sampled, too many interviews
came from just two countries. A total of 9,924 adults were
interviewed, but "two-thirds of the Muslims in the nine
countries Gallup studied live in Indonesia and Pakistan,"
according to the National Council on Public Polls.

None of this should suggest that the conclusions would
have been dramatically different if only the country-by-
country figures had been used. But read on to find out
how CNN, USA Today, and other major news organizations
sensationalize questionable numbers. Go to:


S o u l   W o r k s
In Dependence

by Tim Basselin

--11:27pm PST
Such sad fireworks -
A man blown to pieces.
His arm here,
His hand there,
His brother scattered six feet away.

--10:18am in Palestine
Homemade bombs hung upon their hearts,
Throed in a suicidal freedom fight.
They missed a measurement,
And loss their meaning,
Finding only the freedom of suicide.

--10:19am in Palestine
Their mother weeps and watches
The car separating her boys
Drive away;
Its doors only dented
Its passengers merely rattled

--11:28pm PST
The calligraphy of their deaths
Was poorly written,
So the internationals barely noticed
Their sign:


"When the hour came, he took his place at the table."

Easter is the highest and most holy day of the Christian year
and "Living the Word" is a great resource for personal
devotion or pastoral reference for this time when we celebrate
the mystery of faith.

To order "Living the Word: Reflections on the Revised Common
Lectionary," call 1-800-714-7474 or visit:

B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Rabbis plant trees for peace in Israel

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Brian Walt

We were part of a delegation of 10 rabbis and about
60 other Jews from America and Europe who came to
help Rabbis for Human Rights plant trees in defense
of the rights of human beings. We came in solidarity
with Israel and with this brave group of dedicated rabbis -
the only rabbinic organization in Israel that includes
Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and
renewal rabbis, all committed to ensuring that Israel
fulfill its vision as a country that exemplifies the
moral values of Judaism.

Several of these Rabbis for Human Rights rabbis are
Americans who devote their professional and personal
lives to the Jewish people, Zionism, and Israel. They
protect the human rights of foreign workers in Tel Aviv,
poor Jews in poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Jerusalem,
Bedouin nomads in the Negev, and Palestinians in West
Bank villages. They advocate for justice and they teach
Israelis about the Jewish tradition and human rights.

Here in the Negev, Bedouin communities live in
"unrecognized villages." Tens of thousands have lived
there for generations, tilling small plots of land,
moving from small villages in black goat-hair tents to
where their sheep and goats can graze. Since 1948 they
have been Israeli citizens. But the government of Israel
has refused to connect their villages with the electric
grid or the water system, refused to pave the streets.
Only after years of court appeals and orders has it
provided teachers for their children or access to the
national health plan.

Why? The government is trying to force the Bedouin into
large settlements like the slum "development towns" new
immigrants are sent to. This would leave empty large
stretches of the Negev, in which the government could
perhaps then settle Jews. But the Bedouin have refused to
leave their tiny villages, poverty-stricken though they
be. They are practicing a form of quiet nonviolent
disobedience. With them we planted olive trees to affirm
their ancient connection to this earth.

To find out more about this extraordinary campaign, go to:


P. O. V.
Bush and Sharon: America's morality has been distorted

by Robert Fisk

Maybe the Bush administration actually believes that
the man held "personally responsible" by an Israeli
commission of inquiry for the murder of 1,700
Palestinian civilians in Beirut in 1982 really is
fighting America's "war on terror." Maybe America's
moral compass has become so skewed by the crimes against
humanity on 11 September that President Bush simply no
longer cares what Mr. Sharon does.

To read more, go to:


C u l t u r e   W a t c h
Antidote to the Oscars

For the worst of last year's cinema, check out The
Stinkers site. Make sure you also check out "100 Years,
100 Stinkers: The Worst Films of the 20th Century."


PBS to air documentary on the nonviolent overthrow of Milosevic

From the folks who brought us "A Force More Powerful" -
the brilliant history of nonviolence in the 20th century -
comes "Bringing Down A Dictator," premiering March 31
on PBS. This one-hour film documents the spectacular
defeat of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, not by
force of arms as many had predicted, but by an ingenious
nonviolent strategy of honest elections and massive civil
disobedience. Milosevic was strengthened by patriotic fervor
when NATO bombed Yugoslavia in early 1999, but a few months
later, a student movement named Otpor! ("Resistance" in
Serbian) launched a surprising offensive. Audaciously
demanding the removal of Milosevic, they recruited where
discontent was strongest, in the Serbian heartland. Their
weapons were rock concerts and ridicule, e-mail, spray-
painted slogans, and a willingness to be arrested.

To read about Otpor's nonviolent revolution, go to:

To find out when the documentary will be shown on your local
PBS channel, go to:


More PBS: Church-state battle over the homeless in New York City

On Easter Sunday, PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly will
feature a special segment on Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church
in New York City. Fifth Avenue Church filed suit in federal
court last fall after the City of New York ruled that the
church could not continue allowing homeless people to sleep
on its steps. A judge sided with the church, but the city
appealed, and the case is pending before the Circuit Court
of Appeals. For air times in your area, check your local TV
listings for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly or go to:


B o o m e r a n g

Reverend David Kashangaki, CSC, writes from Jinja, Uganda:

If the Global Fund uses condoms as a method of
fighting HIV/AIDS ["Building a Movement" 03-13-02],
then I am not sure why Sojourners would be promoting
them. There must be other organizations concerned with
the struggle against HIV/AIDS that do not contravene
the teachings of the [Catholic] Church. I for one am
disappointed in Sojourner's support for such an
organization, and its tacit approval of condoms as a
means to combat HIV/AIDS.


Regis Lacher writes from Albuquerque, New Mexico:

I'd like to thank you for having such a reasonable and
inviting Christian presence on the Net. I should note,
before I continue, that I am an atheist. However, please
do not take that as an insult, nor as defensiveness on
my part. Rather, take it as a compliment, that a dyed-
in-the-wool unbeliever would take the time to listen to
your opinions. I was raised in an area where the most
prominent Christians often occupied and took advantage
of the most oppressive positions of power. My view of
organized religion is somewhat tainted by this upbringing,
but when I first visited your site, I found myself
appreciating the subtle points of the posted articles.
Your magazine has changed my view of Christians as
backwards oppressors to Christians as possible allies in
creating a just and happy world for us all. I have always
agreed with the teachings of Christ, and I am glad that you
are doing your part to apply them. Keep up the good work.


Byron Borger writes from Dallastown, Pennsylvania:

David Batstone tried hard to get a moral of equity
and justice from the story of the former mayor of San
Francisco, who counseled a Russian diplomatic team in
negotiations with a U.S. energy firm to "Get all you
can." I am afraid that encouraging them to play greedy
hardball with their adversaries - in what seems like a
race to exploit the Earth - was less faithful of a response
than I had expected. "Get all you can"!? From Sojourners?
You've got to be kidding. How about a radical call
to seriously re-evaluate our technological ways, re-assess
our views of progress and economic growth, repent of our
environmentally harmful ways, replacing them with a vision
of care and stewardship? Why not reject the notion that
negotiations are to be "us vs. them" and seek just but
human conflict resolution? Why not invite the Russians
seeking advice to exercise imagination to think of
different ways to "develop" their resources. If this is
all we have to offer as a counter-cultural alternative to
globalization - "Get all you can!" - heaven help us.


Nabil Bayakly, director of The Arabic Language Program
at the University of Minnesota, writes:

In your latest SojoMail [03-20-02] you had an excerpt
and a link to the article "Controversies Swirl: How to
Interpret the Quran?" I was shocked to see this article
referenced here. The article is full of misinformation.
The writer doesn't even know what the meaning of the word
Quran (Koran)is. He doesn't know the differences between the
Semitic languages. He quoted half of a phrase used in the
Quran and tried to make a comment on it. I read the original
article in The New York Times. I even have the original
article that the noted "scholar on Islam" wrote in 1999 in
The Atlantic Monthly. I responded then and I wrote a response
to our local newspaper as well. Also, many concerned individuals
wrote responses all over the country to the newspaper that
reprinted the article. We almost all noted the same things
although we did not coordinate our effort. The mistakes
in the article are clear and vivid to any Muslim or those
who understand the Arabic language.

[SojoMail], please keep your content clean as usual;
otherwise we will all doubt the validity of the
articles you send.


Kathleen Robbins writes from Rochester, New York:

Thank you, SojoMail, for the article about the British
protest of the "war on terrorism" ["Update: British
opposition to war grows" 03-20-02] It's good to know
that the few of us in America who are horrified at
our government's decisions since 9/11 have
allies on the other side of the Atlantic. And, of course,
we don't hear protest stories too much on our own
national media. 


Steve Powell writes from Carole, Queensland, Australia:

Emily Maloney wrote about marching on Washington and shutting
down the government. Please tell me more. As an Australian
outraged by Bush (supported by Blair and Howard) taking us
closer and closer to the brink of annihilation, I seriously
would like to know how we can get these governments to take
us seriously. Governments have not learned anything from the
treachery of bully boys playing war games. I grew up believing
that the atrocities that occurred in World War II were an aberration,
but it seems they are not. They continue to be played out by
those immersed in their own sense of righteousness and power
and supported by apathy, indifference, or sheer despair. Please
get creative Sojo writers and share ways we can nonviolently
get the governments to take notice.


Carla Johnson writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota:

David Batstone clearly anticipated the dismay that would
greet his benchmarks for responding morally to the issues of
stem cell research
[] That's not surprising as all three benchmarks are morally
particularly benchmarks two and three.

In claiming that "not all stem cells are created equally,"
Batstone suggests that destroying a living in-vitro embryo
is morally preferable to taking stem cells from an aborted
fetus. The first embryo is apparently morally trivial since
it has never seen the inside of a woman's uterus, while the
aborted fetus is apparently untouchable (as are infants who
die at birth) since it had seen the inside of a woman's
uterus. It seems morally indifferent to Batstone that the
IVF embryo is living and in the world; the fetus is not
living; abortion is a legally protected personal choice a
woman makes about her own body; and many people who have
children who die at birth want to donate organs or tissue
for medical use. These at least ought to be considered
among the moral stakes.

Benchmark three is expressed in an equally careless manner:
"If you already support in-vitro fertilization, then you have
no grounds for opposing the harvesting of stem cells." This
is obviously false. A person might support an IVF process
committed to implanting all fertilized embryos; she might
support a process that requires either personal use or
donation to other infertile couples of all embryos; she might
support an IVF process that simply allows the unused embryos
to die a natural death. The fact that some embryos will die
"unused" might trouble a utilitarian but it need not be the
decisive moral factor for those whose ethics are not
reducible to efficiency.

Stem-cell research deserves more careful reflection from all
of us and, particularly, from the editor of Sojourners who
happens to be an ethicist.


M. Donaldson Liebers writes from Naples, Florida:

Three cheers for Roger Nehring! [Boomerang 03-20-02]. Every
time I hear someone moaning about illegal aliens in this
country, I bring up the fact that we are all the descendants
of illegal aliens, here under the protection of an army of
occupation. We must clean our own consciences first before we
start on other countries.


Barbara Johnson writes from Greensboro, North Carolina:

Thank you Roger Nehring. Your words were very true and inspiring,
but don't let it stop there. This country is founded on theft
and bloodshed of not only Native Americans but African Americans
as well.... America is a great country, but it is the people of
all colors that make it great. We all have suffered at the hands
of greed, and we all must pay for the damage it has caused. I am
truly sorry for the way the Native Americans have been treated,
as I am truly sorry for the way African Americans and other
people of color have been treated. We are all a part of the human
race, a family who should show love and compassion to each of
our brothers and sisters regardless of race, creed, or color.
It is not the terrorists that will destroy the world; they are
just a means to an end. It will be the oppression brought on
by greed that will cause this world to destroy itself.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of
views. The views expressed are not necessarily
those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice
heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:



  To make a secure donation to support our work,
  go to


......................... E D I T O R I A L ......................

  David Batstone                               T 415.422.6660
  Executive Editor                         

  Jim Rice                                     T 202.328.8842
  Managing Editor                              

  Molly Marsh                                  T 202.328.8842
  Assistant Editor                            
  Rose Marie Berger                            T 202.328.8842	
  Assistant Editor                           

  Ryan Beiler                                  T 202.328.8842
  Web Editor                                 

....................... A D V E R T I S I N G ....................
  Larry Bellinger                              T 202.328.8842
  Advertising Manager                     

......................... T E C H N I C A L ......................

  Bob Sabath                                   T 202.328.8842
  Chief Technologist                         

  Jodi Hochstedler                             T 202.328.8842
  Internet Assistant                          

........................... S 0 J O N E T ........................

  Sojourners                                   T 202.328.8842
  2401 15th Street NW                          F 202.328.8757
  Washington, DC 20009          

  To make a secure donation to support our work,
  go to

  For more information, e-mail us:

...................... L E G A L   N O T I C E S .................

  Copyright (c) 2002 Sojourners. All Rights Reserved.

  SojoNet material may be freely distributed, as long as it
  bears the following attribution:

  Source: SojoNet 2002 (c)

.......................... A R C H I V E S .......................

              For a history of SojoMail, visit

..................... S U B S C R I P T I O N S ..................

     SojoMail is published weekly. Subscriptions are free.

                     SUBSCRIBE online at:
               or by e-mail:

                    UNSUBSCRIBE online at:
              or by e-mail:

            ---- SOJONET IS A SPAM-FREE ZONE ----
  (SojoNet won't trade, sell, or give away your address.)