The Common Good

Bad partisanship or good theology?

Sojomail - November 13, 2002


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+++++++++++++++++++++ 13-November-2002 ++++++++++++++++++++++
+++++++++++++ Bad partisanship or good theology? ++++++++++++

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *Salvador Dali on perfection
 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *Bad partisanship or good theology?

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Microsoft bids to acquire Catholic Church

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Pleading the fifth commandment

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Love and jealousy

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Poll of U.S. public shows support for force in Iraq

 E y e w i t n e s s   N e w s
     *Report from Bali: Fear is a bad counselor

 P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
     *Ballot repellent

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *Why do so many more women than men volunteer?

 C a m p u s   L i n e s
     *Become part of something

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

 W e b s c e n e
     *Best nonviolent practices
     *Desperate preachers site
     *Celebrity ducks for your bathtub
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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"Have no fear of perfection -
you'll never reach it."

           - Salvador Dali
             from "Diary of a Genius"


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Bad partisanship or good theology?

David Timms writes from Fullerton, California:

Jim Wallis' latest plea for the Democratic cause might earn him a job in their next election campaign. But his article last week was a grossly simplistic analysis of the issues. To suggest that Bush's only strengths are war and profiteering for rich capitalists is patently ridiculous. There was a touch of implication that Republicans are therefore all war-mongerers and greedy rich folk. What nonsense, as silly as saying that all Democrats are abortion-loving gays. This kind of political swaggering and stereotyping doesn't encourage dialogue. It stifles it.


Jeff Hudgins writes from Louisville, Kentucky:

I take strong offense at the all-too-familiar liberal view of the American people as simply a collection of votes to be had. Jim Wallis' cotton-candy piece assumes that Americans are stupid sheep waiting to be led. That is precisely the vision the Democratic Party has pushed since FDR began our long descent into socialism. That is only a small part of the reason the vision of the Republican Party, as proclaimed by President Bush, is so wildly popular. Has Wallis - or any of the other members of the elitist, left-wing cadre at Sojo - ever let the ray of reality pierce their thick skulls; to wit, the thought that maybe, just maybe, the vision of the Republican Party actually resonates with American voters because it rings true? Somehow, I doubt it. So, just keep sipping your politically correct java and leave the running of America to those of us with vision and the representatives we choose to push forward that vision for us in our republican form of self-governance.


Jim Wallis responds:

I don't usually feel a need to respond to Boomerang letters, but one reader said my column accused all Republicans of being warmongers and greedy capitalists. Some of my good Republican friends just don't fit that bill. What I did say is that the Bush administration's current message is that military might is the best response to terrorism and that making the latest tax cuts permanent is at the heart of their domestic agenda (cuts that most everybody, including "The Wall Street Journal," will acknowledge most benefit the wealthiest Americans). I know many Republicans who have a heart for the poor, but that was not their message during this election campaign. Nor, as I pointed out in the article, did the Democrats offer any alternative message in the mid-term elections. The point was hardly partisan, as another reader charged; rather, the churches need to offer a prophetic alternative to both political parties at the moment. Let me say a little more about that.

We have seen many moments in recent history when the churches emerged as the leading voice of political conscience and opposition. Certainly there were key times in the South African struggle against apartheid when the churches there became the critical public voice both for political challenge and change. Leaders like Desmond Tutu, Alan Boesak, and Frank Chikane served as both church and public figures at the same time. Who can forget the role of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador during the 1980s, church leaders in the Philippines during the revolution that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, or the critical opposition to communist rule in Poland? In many other oppressive circumstances, churches and church leaders have risen to the call to prophetic public leadership.

But even in democracies, churches have responded to that same prophetic vocation. In New Zealand during the 1990s, when conservative forces ripped that society's long- standing social safety net to pieces, it was the churches in partnership with the indigenous Maori people who led marches, ignited public protest, and emboldened a wobbly Labor party to recapture the government and restore key programs in health care, housing, and social services. During the Thatcher years in Britain, it was again church leadership that reminded the nation of its responsibilities to impoverished urban communities, to the ethics of the common good over private gain, to social justice, and to peace. And, of course, it was in the United States that black churches, under the leadership of Baptist ministers like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., provided the moral foundation and social infrastructure for a powerful civil rights movement that reminded the nation of its expressed ideals and changed us forever.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, once told me that he believed the Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign was the most important movement in Britain since William Wilberforce and the anti-slavery crusade (another faith-inspired social revival, and one led by conservative Christians). Now he and others hope for a new "Marshall Plan" aimed at the developing world in places like AIDS- infected sub-Saharan Africa. Already a U.K.-U.S. trans- atlantic church alliance is emerging in response to the urgent moral call to dramatically reduce global poverty. And churches in the U.S. are telling the Bush administration that such a moral and political initiative aimed at the root causes of global injustice will enable the war against terrorism to succeed far better than dropping more bombs on the children of Baghdad. This may not be the kind of faith-based initiative that George Bush had in mind, but, after the election results of 2002, it may be closer to the witness that many American churches may now be ready to offer.

If my comments imply a preference for defending the needs of the poor over the benefits of the more privileged, and a preference for finding just and peaceful resolutions to conflicts instead of resorting to war, I plead guilty. I don't believe that is partisan political correctness, but rather good Christian theology. And whether the American people resonate with that vision should not be our ultimate criteria for success. But I think if they were ever offered a clear moral vision of economic justice and international conflict resolution, beyond the very flawed agendas of both left and right political options, the public might resonate much more.


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F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
Microsoft bids to acquire Catholic Church

by Hank Vorjes

VATICAN CITY - In a joint press conference in St. Peter's Square this morning, Microsoft Corp. and the Vatican announced that the Redmond software giant will acquire the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock. If the deal goes through, it will be the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion.

With the acquisition, Pope John Paul II will become the senior vice president of the combined company's new Religious Software Division, while Microsoft senior vice presidents Michael Maples and Steven Ballmer will be invested in the College of Cardinals, said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

"We expect a lot of growth in the religious market in the next five to 10 years," said Gates. "The combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people."

Gates described Microsoft's long-term strategy to develop a scalable religious architecture that will support all religions through emulation. A single core religion will be offered with a choice of interfaces according to the religion desired - "One religion, a couple of different implementations," said Gates.

The Microsoft move could spark a wave of mergers and acquisitions, according to Herb Peters, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Baptist Conference, as other churches scramble to strengthen their positions in the increasingly competitive religious market.



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B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Pleading the fifth commandment

In their trial last week, seven D.C. area activists recounted the path that led them to civil disobedience in protest of our government's march to war. After legislators ignored their letters, calls, and visits, and after much prayer, they signed the Iraq Pledge of Resistance []. Finally, they and five others were stopped and arrested as they made a last-ditch attempt to bring their message to Congress before it passed the war resolution. Ironically, the only official to listen was Judge Christian of the D.C. Superior Court, who lived up to his Pilgrim's Progress-esque name and sentenced the seven to the two days they had already served.

The twelve arrests garnered national media coverage [] denied to 200 nearby protesters who did not engage in civil disobedience. "Even more frightening" than getting arrested, says former Sojourners intern Mary Parker, "would be not standing up for what I believe."

The Iraq Pledge of Resistance coalition, which includes the American Friends Service Committee, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, and Pax Christi USA, is coordinating a national day of action on International Human Rights Day, Tuesday, December 10. For more information, see:


S o u l   W o r k s
Love and jealousy

There is no greater glory than love, nor
any greater punishment than jealousy.

                    - Lope de Vega (1562-1635)
                      Spanish playwright


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
Poll of U.S. public shows support for force in Iraq

Passage of a tough United Nations resolution ordering new weapons inspections in Iraq may have helped boost American public support for U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein's regime, shows a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken the weekend of Nov. 9-10.

The poll found 59% support sending U.S. ground troops to Iraq to oust Hussein, up from 54% three weeks ago. That's the highest level of public support for a possible U.S. invasion since June, when 61% backed sending ground troops, but still less than the 74% who favored an invasion in a poll last November.

If Hussein does not comply with the U.N. resolution, 40% say the United States should take military action only with U.N authorization, while 31% say it should go ahead regardless of whether U.N permission is granted. One in four, 24%, say the United States should not go to war at all.


E y e w i t n e s s   N e w s
Report from Bali: Fear is a bad counselor

by Bernard Adeney-Risakotta

The Bali bombings exploded in the hearts of most Indonesians. As many as 40% of the dead and wounded are Indonesians, but their fate is hardly noted. It is the young, white, innocent, Western victims whose horrible deaths have seared the Indonesian conscience. Even after two weeks, total strangers still approach me to express their shame and anguish over the bombings. If Sept. 11, 2001, seemed like some fantastic Hollywood movie, Oct. 12, 2002, was here and now for Indonesians.

In the flash of a car bomb, the absurd assertion that there are no terrorists in Indonesia was blown to bits and the hunt for terrorists began in earnest. Militant Islamic groups ran for cover and the Laskar Jihad, with its thousands of holy warriors, disbanded itself. At the same time, the rumors began to fly with various theories about who was behind the bombings. When I first heard the speculation that the CIA planted the bombs to discredit Islam and neutralize opposition to the threatened war against Iraq, I thought it was too absurd to be taken seriously. To my chagrin, the rumor has grown into almost a conviction in the minds of many Muslims, including some respected and tolerant leaders who hate terrorism as much as I do. How could Indonesians think such a thing?

Many Americans see Islam as the source of fanaticism, repression, and terror, while the West is viewed as the home of freedom, democracy, and justice. In contrast, many Muslims view the West as the source of colonialism, racism, and immorality while Islam is viewed as the fount of equality, justice, and godly civilization. If we are the good guys and they are the bad guys, then the humanity of the other is effaced. Thousands of civilians in Iraq, or hundreds of tourists in Bali, may be slaughtered in our attempt to 'root out the evil.'

If the United States carries out a unilateral attack on Iraq, millions of Muslims in Indonesia will see it as evidence that supports their worst fears about American aggression against Islam. Radical Islam, which remains a small minority in this vast country, will be strengthened, and many more Indonesians will identify the 'Christian' West as their evil enemy. An attack on Iraq may also precipitate an attack on the church in Indonesia.

The Bali bombing provoked great fear in Indonesia, both among Indonesians and Westerners. Millions of people may sink into poverty because of the economic impact on tourism and investments. Foreigners are leaving in droves as Western embassies evacuate most of their personnel and warn against travel in Indonesia. The gap between 'us' and 'them' grows wider. But for my wife and me, the gap does not exist. We are part of them, and they are part of us. Last week I was invited to dress in traditional Javanese clothes and greet the guests at the wedding reception of my wife's brother. As I shook hands or touched fingertips with hundreds of smiling Muslim friends, I wondered how anyone could think of them as enemies. Every day, Muslim young people from all spectrums of belief and politics play ping pong in our house. They would find difficulty in construing us as enemies.

"Fear is a bad counselor," wrote Hans Burke-Fillenz. As we approach the month of fasting [Ramadan] and the joyful season of Christmas, let us pray that fear may not rule, either in Indonesia or in the West.

*Bernard Adeney-Risakotta teaches at a university in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
Ballot repellent

Come out to vote on November 6th
Before you come to vote make sure you pay your
--parking tickets
--motor vehicle tickets
--overdue rent

From an anonymously distributed flyer posted in predominately black neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland, in the days leading up to last week's U.S. elections. Democrats say the flyer, which gave the wrong date for elections (right date: November 5), was a scare tactic meant to misinform and intimidate black voters, who tend to favor Democratic candidates. Republicans denied the charge, accusing Democrats of distributing the flyers in a bid to frame them. The "Baltimore Sun" notes that the flyer has refocused attention on the treatment of blacks on voting day - an issue that rose to national prominence following Florida's election debacle in 2000.


C u l t u r e   W a t c h
Why do so many more women than men volunteer?

by Holly Lebowitz Rossi

People who dedicate a period of their lives to voluntary service usually have a lot in common. They're nurturing, generous with their time and energy, and eager to help make another person's life better. They are also usually women.

Since the founding of [the U.S.], women have given their time to voluntary service, often church-related, mainly because - until only a few short decades ago - they had limited options to develop a career, and unpaid volunteerism is conducive to family life and time spent in the home. In recent years, however, national initiatives like AmeriCorps and America's Promise have led more and more young Americans to dedicate a part of their lives to the service of others. This leaves many wondering: Why do so many of these volunteers continue to be women? It might be added that the overwhelming majority of volunteers is also white; people of color have never represented a significant percentage of the full-time volunteer corps.

Women give more of their time for a number of reasons, which tend to boil down to two major trends. First, despite a general acceptance of feminism and women's equality in this country, social justice activists feel that women are more naturally drawn to service roles that require a nurturing, empathetic manner. Secondly, there is enormous socioeconomic pressure on men to immediately earn a salary after college.

To read the entire essay as it appears in the Nov/Dec issue of Sojourners magazine, go to:


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C a m p u s   L i n e s
Become part of something

by Nate Johnston

It's difficult to feel a sense of belonging in college because, in many ways, you're not really a part of anything beyond your own education. But there's a movement of people - of students like you - who are becoming part of something together by creating "A Pledge of Resistance" against the war in Iraq. They are organizing a national day of resistance on Nov. 20 in which students across the country are encouraged to stand up together in resistance to the war. Check out the Web site for more information and for great campaign organizing material:


B o o m e r a n g

Betsy Barnum writes from Minneapolis, Minnesota:

If David Batstone identifies corporate operations leading to the recent scandals as "sham capitalism," how does he define "authentic capitalism?" The implication is that real capitalism is good and I'd like to hear Batstone defend this proposition.

Marx defined capitalism, and the capitalists of his time and since have accepted his definition, as a system in which some of the value created by workers is skimmed off into the pockets of the owners, who don't do any of the work. The ecological commons is likewise exploited and improperly accounted for. It's an exploitative system and always has been. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the exploitation extends to cheating, lying, overvaluing, cooked books, and all the other practices now being revealed. These practices aren't "sham capitalism." They are the logical evolution of a system that worships money, reveres greed, and equates wealth with power.

Real, authentic capitalism is at its core an inhumane and inequitable economic system that can only exist in a class-based society where the few with great wealth dominate others and exploit the natural world as they see fit - for profit. Such a system can only thrive where democracy, and the rights of all people (and other living things) to freedom, equality, and dignity, are suppressed.


Ed. note: Batstone's new book, "Saving the Corporate Soul" (available in early 2003), tackles this theme.


Bob Barber writes from Hiddenite, North Carolina:

Re: Thoughts from a veteran (Vietnam) on Veterans Day

1. The president visited my wall today - maybe he'll get to break ground on a new one for those he sends to death in his new war.
2. I wondered today what the life status of Vietnam vets was compared to all of the congressmen that have served since Vietnam? I'm told you have to have money now to even be able to run for office and have the ability to send soldiers off to war. Does that mean you must be poor to be sent?
3. This may be the first time in history that the USA has started a war.
4. The Republicans continue to give high-fives over a win that included voting by a tiny portion of Americans. There was no mandate.
5. In my recent reformation to peacemaker and "true" Christian, my biggest disappointment has been this: That in a country of 281 million people, 160 million (over half) claim to be Christians, and not one of them has shown me where it is written that Jesus taught us to bomb innocent people and start wars. In fact, it appears that the majority either support the president or, even worse, are silent. In my own mind I will now refer to them as "Judas" Christians, because they have betrayed Christ's message. At the top of the list is one named Franklin Graham.


Linda Lilley writes from Hartford City, Indiana:

I am appalled that you could support the Muslim publication "A True Word!" With its sexism so prevalent, how could you present it as a favorable publication?! I now even question if I can support any Muslims in their "faith," for the only "true Muslim faith" of any Muslim is inevitably, incredibly sexist! Not that many "Christian" sects and other faith groups are not also guilty of this but they aren't all so unanimous in it - some quite openly even refute it.


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:


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