The Common Good

An Open Letter to the Christian General

Sojomail - October 22, 2003

Quote of the Week Garrison Keillor: Comic book governors
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: An open letter to the Christian General
Soul Works A simple message...
By the Numbers Past their primes? TV viewers turn gray
Politically Connect Greenpeace indictment spells trouble for dissent
Culture Watch America and the church of baseball
Funny Business Sign on the wall at a sales conference...
Building a Movement SojoMail exclusive: An update on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply

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We [in Minnesota] invented the action-hero governor. We wrote that particular comic book.... I doubt the Terminator would win if he were running in Minnesota. We've seen that movie already, and we wanted to leave after the first 20 minutes.

- Garrison Keillor, quoted in Time magazine, August 25, 2003

Backward Christian soldier: An open letter to the Christian General
by Jim Wallis

Jim WallisDear Lt. General Boykin,

You've gotten a lot of press this week, General. Perhaps you didn't expect the things you've been saying in churches to go public - about America's "Christian army," the holy war we're waging against the "idol" of Islam's false God, and the "spiritual battle" we're fighting against "a guy named Satan" who "wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army." You call yourself a "warrior for the kingdom of God," but most of your service has been with the Special Forces and the CIA. You say, "We in the army of God, in the house of God, in the kingdom of God, have been raised for such a time as this." You apparently have no doubt that "America is still a Christian nation," while other nations "have lost their morals, lost their values." You think "George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States," but that "He was appointed by God." You say, "He's in the White House because God put him there." And maybe you believe God has put you in the new position to which you were just appointed as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Because your views sound like a "Christian jihad" at a time when the United States government is sensitive to offending the Muslim world, you have become a controversy. I'm sure you've been under a lot of pressure since the story of your religious views broke in the Los Angeles Times. Your critics say your private religious views are your own business, but when you speak with your uniform on, you're a spokesperson for the U.S. military and government. We don't need to make the Arab world angrier at us than they already are and it doesn't help when you say things like, "Why do they hate us? The answer to that is because we are a Christian nation. We are hated because we are a nation of believers." Or when you describe the Muslim warlords you fought in Mogadishu, Somalia, as "the principalities of darkness" and a "demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy," that "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus."

General, I think the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" must have been written just for you. I'm sure your superiors have already given you a lesson in politics and public relations. And I've heard you have toned down your opinions and said you didn't mean to offend anyone. Whether you keep your job is a political question, the outcome of which we will know soon enough.

But I want to raise some different issues: biblical theology, bad teaching, and church discipline. General, your theology bears no resemblance to biblical teaching. You utterly confuse the body of Christ with the American nation. The kingdom of God doesn't endorse the principalities and powers of nation-states, armies, and the ideologies of empire; but rather calls them all into question. You even miss the third verse of "Onward Christian Soldiers," which reminds us, "Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane, But the Church of Jesus, constant will remain." And let's not misinterpret the famous first verse, "Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before." The cross, General, not the Special Forces.

Brother Boykin, I believe you are a product of bad theology and church teaching. Why were you never given sound biblical tools to help you discern the shape of your vocation? Why were you never taught in Sunday school about the real meaning of the kingdom of God, and the universality of the body of Christ? And why have you never heard that only peacemaking, not war-making, can be done "in the name of Jesus?"

General, I really don't want to blame you for the lack of Christian teaching that you have obviously suffered. But there is a legitimate issue of church discipline here. When a high-ranking military officer espouses a zealous religious nationalism that claims the name "Christian" for both his nation and his army, and when he invokes the name of Jesus - not to love our enemies as he instructed, but rather to target them for destruction - the church must discipline that errant brother and name his public statements for what they are, not mere political incorrectness, but idolatry. General, you have substituted your nation and your army for God, your faith is more American than Christian, the Jesus you claim is not the Jesus of the New Testament, and his kingdom will not be ushered in by the U.S. military.

Whatever happens with your job, I pray that you find a church that offers you the ministry of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration to a more authentic biblical faith.

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A simple message...

Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires.

- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Past their primes? TV viewers turn gray

With the fall television season under way and networks pulling out their most promising shows, the first Nielsen numbers are in for the six major networks - and they show a surprising 12% drop in viewership in the critical 18 to 34 age group. The whole thing is causing quite a stir, because these numbers are used by big marketers and ad agencies to figure out where to place their ads and how much to pay for them.

The networks' audiences aren't nearly as young and hip as they'd like you to think.

By NetworkMedian age of viewer
By TV ShowMedian age of viewer
Friends 37
Sex & the City39.3
West Wing50
Joan of Arcadia53

Comment by David Letterman on "The Late Show" monologue:

"The oldest woman in America has passed away. She was 115 years old. That's amazing, isn't it? I'm just glad she got to see the new fall shows on CBS."

*Source: Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2003


REACH OUT 2003, an ecumenical gathering of people of faith and goodwill in the spirit of Micah 6.8, featuring Rev. Jim Wallis as keynote speaker and plenary leader, and Rev. Ross Olivier, General Secretary of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and co-founder of the Order of Dignity. November 14 and 15, 2003, Shaughnessy Heights United Church, Vancouver, BC, CANADA. For more information visit and to register .

Greenpeace indictment spells trouble for dissent
by Adam Liptak

Three miles off the Florida coast in April of 2002, two Greenpeace activists clambered from an inflatable rubber speedboat onto a cargo ship. They were detained before they could unfurl a banner, spent the weekend in custody, and two months later were sentenced to time served for boarding the ship without permission.

It was a routine act of civil disobedience until, 15 months after the incident, federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Greenpeace itself for authorizing the boarding. The group says the indictment represents a turning point in the history of American dissent. "Never before has our government criminally prosecuted an entire organization for the free speech activities of its supporters," said John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace in the United States.

--From The New York Times, Oct. 11, 2003, Section A

America and the church of baseball
by Carl T. Hall

Abe Books
For 40 years, sociologists and religious scholars have been calling baseball one of America's great "civil religions," a secular affair that is a grubby business of entertainment, but also exists on a plane of pure faith, powered by rituals and lore and immortal records.

"People are incurably religious," said William Herzog II, a New Testament scholar at Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. "We have to have some form of religion, and for some people it's baseball."

To read more, link to:


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Sign on the wall at a sales conference...


Ed. note: If you fail to find this funny, you haven't sat through enough sales presentations.

SojoMail exclusive: An update on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride
by Richard Muhammad

Riding a bus on the Miami route of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, Sister Barbara Pfarr came full circle. Before her current work with the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, she devoted 15 years to helping southern Florida farm workers.

"When I rode into Immokalee, Florida, on the bus, it was very exciting to be back there again. But also it was sort of disappointing because nothing has really changed since I left there in 1991. Housing is still lousy, people are still making the same salaries, the town is just as underdeveloped," said Sister Barbara, of the School Sisters for Notre Dame religious community.

Still, she was heartened by the purpose of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride. Sister Barbara spent more than a week on a somewhat crowded bus with spirited riders, constant music, dancing in the aisles, and vigorous chanting. Bus riders were from among 14 nationalities, and all respected and cared for each other despite differences in language, race, and culture, she said. The goal of the ride was to bring attention to the plight of immigrants and flaws in U.S. policy.

To read the full update, link to:


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Sojourners Classifieds
Amanda Demers writes from Odessa, Texas:

Thank you for David Batstone's column on spam. Like many other internet users, this has been a real thorn in my side for some time, and it seems as though even the most sophisticated software can't stop it. I'm not sure if more legislation with questionable success is the key, but I would urge those concerned about spam to make sure their local lawmakers know how they feel about it. I would also recommend that concerned "netizens" educate themselves on how to avoid spam and make use of the resources on the Internet that help combat spam (such as SpamCop, CAUCE, etc.) Eventually, we can make a difference.


Robert Cannon writes from The Washington Internet Project:

David Batstone calls for the establishment of the U.S. Federal Bureau of spam at the expense of a pile of federal tax dollars and a new edition of the Code of Federal Regulations. And why? Because he finds it difficult to hit the delete key. Government intervention has a benefit; it also has a cost. It is inappropriate where better solutions exist that can easily be implemented. It is inappropriate where such federal regulations intrude on core values such as the freedom of speech.

The first solution to spam is individuals making better choices. I have been on the Net for eight years and am not bothered by spam. I follow simple practices protecting my privacy and patronizing those services that do likewise.


Laurel Schunk writes from Witchita, Kansas:

As nonviolent as I am, I'd love to come up with a great device that would cause all spam to return to its sender and tie his own computer up in cyberspace knots. Perhaps a 1,000-page file would do it? Or do we need something even larger? I get about 300+ pieces of spam every day, and my husband gets about three times as much. We don't utilize *any* of the places mostly likely to spawn spam, we don't open spam, we don't order from the spammers, and we do hope venues like Sojourners don't sell our e-mail addresses to other concerns.

Ed. note: Rest assured, Laurel, we do not sell our subscriber e-mail addresses, and never will! P.S. So don't send us a 1,000-page file!


Tom Mahon writes from Walnut Creek, California:

In response to David Batstone's essay on spam: I'm tired of fighting it, too, and like the guy in "1984," have learned to Love Big Brother....


That Spam-I-Am!
That Spam-I-Am!
I do not like that Spam-I-Am!

I do not like it after dark
I do not want it while at wark.
For now it's just on my PC
But soon, no doubt, on my TV.

I do not want Nigerian bonds
Or an organ weighing several tons.
I shudder hearing "I've got mail"
When chances are it's just a hail

Of bogus offers, false come-ons
That leave me feeling we're e-pawns.
It seems to slur the ersatz ham
I quite enjoyed as a young man.

"Try it, try it, you will see
Spam-I-Am is good for thee."
If I try it, let me be,
I'll try it once, just once you see.

Mmmm, this is quite good, I must agree
As fun as swimming in the sea.
I like the thought of low cost meds
And sights of frisky young co-eds.

I surrender to your scam!
Thank you, thank you, Spam-I-Am!
(Now as I stand on wobbly legs
I wonder, do you sell green eggs?)


Jennifer Matthews writes from Eau Claire, Wisconsin:

I long have been disgusted by Christian hypocrisy. I've never considered myself a Christian because of how Christianity has been used...[to justify] racism, classism, and self-righteousness. Obviously, not all Christians are like this, and by meeting more of those compassionate, inclusive people as well as finding magazines like Sojourners, I've begun to let go of my anti-Christian response. I've been able to consider studying the bible, even if as an "outsider." I've realized that some people take the same biblical passages that others use to spread hate and judgment and instead use them to spread love and assistance.

Thank you for showing me a more intelligent, humanitarian side of Christianity.


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