The Common Good

The Beginning of a Debate

Sojomail - January 14, 2004

www.sojo.net01.14.2004
Quote of the Week Willie Nelson's weapon of mass protection
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: The beginning of a debate
On the Wire Sojourners in the News
Colombia Journal Risks of faith
By the Numbers Campus faith
Culture Watch Tower of power - and prayer?
Politically Connect Which of these things is not like the others?
P.O.V. John Dear: The soldiers at my front door
Web Sitings I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob | Bush in 30 seconds | Under the wire
Boomerang Readers write

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

But don't confuse caring for weakness
You can't put that label on me
The truth is my weapon of mass protection
And I believe truth sets you free

- from Willie Nelson's new song, What Ever Happened To Peace On Earth.

HEARTS & MINDS ^top
The beginning of a debate
by Jim Wallis

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World Vision
We were quite overwhelmed with the response to my December 28 Sunday New York Times op-ed, titled "Putting God Back in Politics." The Times ran several letters to the editor, it created a vigorous dialogue in their chat room, and we received hundreds of e-mails ourselves - the vast majority positive. Nearly 20 other newspapers have either reprinted the piece or quoted it. We've learned it was discussed by several Democratic candidates and their staffs, and a dialogue with them has already begun. We also heard from the White House. Obviously, the topic of religion, moral values, and the election struck a nerve.

Since then, other media outlets have taken up the "religion question" and begun pressing candidates on their views. I've done several talk shows, and, in an interview on Fox News' "O'Reilly Factor," I was amazed to hear host Bill O'Reilly concede that poverty and the environment were issues with religious dimensions. Beliefnet has helpfully published profiles of the religious backgrounds and perspectives of all the presidential candidates, and a debate is beginning on what all that does and should mean in this critical election year.

What I am saying in interviews is that the particular religiosity of a candidate, or even how devout they might be, is less important than how their religious and/or moral commitments and values shape their political vision and their policy commitments. If one's religious and ethical convictions don't shape a candidate's (or a citizen's) public life, what kind of commitments are they? Yet in a democratic and pluralistic society, we don't want to evaluate candidates by which denomination or faith tradition they belong to (and only vote for the candidate in our group) or how often they attended church or synagogue (like a tally of votes missed by a member of Congress), but rather to understand the moral compass they bring to their public lives and how their convictions shape their political priorities.

There are already positive signs. While Howard Dean's initial forays into religion were clumsy at best (surely someone on his staff must have known that his "favorite New Testament book" of Job was, in fact, in the Old Testament), his concern about losing our "sense of community" in America is a deeply moral and religious one. Perhaps knowing what is contained in the books of the Bible is ultimately more important than knowing where they all are! Dick Gephardt is talking in Iowa about health care as a "moral issue," and John Edwards is sounding like a preacher when he declares that poverty is not only an economic concern, but is "about right and wrong," and that "poverty reduction is a moral responsibility." Joe Lieberman seems to be regaining his religious voice when he speaks about the poor, and John Kerry is talking about a "broken value system," and not just his war record. At least a few journalists think that Wesley Clark seems to be more comfortable than some of his colleagues about relating his faith journey to social justice. Dennis Kucinich has spoken of his moral values all along, and of course, Rev. Al Sharpton speaks like the Pentecostal preacher he is. All this is good. When George Bush starts campaigning in earnest, he may also have to be more explicit about how his personal faith applies to those same social issues.

In the midst of this discussion, former Christian Coalition leader and 700 Club host Pat Robertson sailed into the fray by telling his television audience: "I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord that it's going to be a blowout election in 2004. The Lord has just blessed him. ...It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad; God picks him up because he's a man of prayer...."

Robertson and his comrade Jerry Falwell have become dependable media sources of outrageous or just plain stupid remarks about religion. Neither has deliverable constituencies anymore, but they have become ludicrous foils for those journalists eager to discredit religion. Having once claimed to control the direction of a hurricane and that liberals and feminists were the ones truly responsible for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Robertson's powers of discernment regarding the outcome of this election may cause some to doubt his certainty. More important, the public conversation about religious and moral values in this election year might have the potential to be a serious and thoughtful discussion, leaving the Robertsons and Falwells as the humorous asides they deserve to be.


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ON THE WIRE ^top
Sojourners in the News

A collection of recent press clippings featuring Sojourners and Jim Wallis.
(Apologies: some sites may require free registration before viewing articles.)

Candidates should apply faith to all their policies - The Tennessean
http://www.tennessean.com/local/archives/04/01/45342681.shtml?Element_ID=4534268

Politicians miss religion's middle ground - Tallahassee Democrat
http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/democrat/7673805.htm

How would Jesus vote? - Charleston Gazette
http://www.wvgazette.com/section/Editorials/200401074

Dean tries opening up on religion - Atlanta Journal-Constitution
http://www.ajc.com/news/content/news/0104/07godtalk.html

Religious values have a place in politics - St. Petersburg Times
http://www.sptimes.com/2004/01/04/Columns/Religious_values_have.shtml


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COLOMBIA JOURNAL ^top
Risks of faith
by Janna Bowman

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No Sweat
This report was written following a Mennonite Central Committee-sponsored delegation to Colombia last November. "Leonard" asked that his real name not be used, out of concern for possible political repercussions regarding his views.

Leonard, a state senator from the Midwest, is seeking to evaluate where he has come as a "pacifist." His mission in coming to Colombia was to see how the church here "does justice and peace under a totalitarian government," to bear witness to the effects of U.S. policy, and to re-examine his own role in government. "People at the office don't understand what I'm doing here. My wife is scared. But it's time for me to take some risks of faith."

Read more at: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=news.display_archives&mode=current_opinion&article=CO_040114


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Stewart Burns, civil rights historian and author of To the Mountaintop, will speak at a celebration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 16 at Washington National Cathedral. Presented by former Washington Redskin George Starke and others, the event also includes performances by the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Dance Ensemble and the Children's Choir of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Event begins at 7 p.m. Free. Information: (202) 537-2221.


BY THE NUMBERS ^top
Campus faith

Percent of U.S. college students who:

Say they pray: 77%
Consider religion personally helpful: 71%
Believe religious or spiritual beliefs have helped develop their identity: 73%
Are satisfied with their college's "opportunities for religious/spiritual development": 55%
Say their professors never encourage discussions of spiritual issues: 62%

Source: UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute

Read more at: http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1210/p01s03-ussc.html


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CULTURE WATCH ^top
Tower of power - and prayer?

The design of "Freedom Tower" - to be erected on the site of the World Trade Center - plans for it to be the tallest in the world. It will be topped with a series of wind turbines that are to produce a fifth of the building's electrical power. If that weren't intriguing enough, the wind farm's designer wants the rotors to also serve as "prayer wheels" - similar to those of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in which sacred words contained in wheels spin to "repeat" their words in a continuous prayer. "A reflection of mourning, forgiveness, and hope open to all faiths and ethical traditions," comments Erik Baard of the Village Voice, "would give real meaning to the skyscraper's somewhat stilted name."

Read more at: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0401/ebaard.php


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"I Will Feed Them with Justice," Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice, March 5-8, 2004 in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by a broad range of denominations and faith-based coalitions, the gathering will offer tracks on Africa, Asia (Korea), Latin America (Colombia), the Middle East (Israel, Palestine, and Iraq), economic justice, and nuclear disarmament, and will feature Sam Kobia, Syngman Rhee, Bernice Powell Jackson, and Jim Winkler. Contact Leon Spencer, (202) 547-7503; Anna Rhee, advocacydays@earthlink.net; http://www.advocacydays.org


POLITICALLY CONNECT ^top
Which of these things is not like the others?

An influential GOP insider compared the estate tax to the Holocaust and South African apartheid; columnist Richard Cohen objects. (The Bush administration, having gotten a temporary estate tax phaseout through Congress in 2001, is pushing to make it permanent.)

Read more at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57436-2004Jan5.html

For more on the estate tax, see Sojourners' story "Tax the Rich?" by William H. Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins at: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0301&article=030122

For updates on estate tax legislation and to express your opinion, see United for a Fair Economy's Estate Tax Action Center at: http://www.ufenet.org/estatetax


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THE DIALECTICAL DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE: A Methodological Proposal
By Charles Dickinson

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P.O.V. ^top
The soldiers at my front door
by John Dear

It was announced that the local National Guard unit for northeastern New Mexico, based in the nearby armory, was being deployed to Iraq.... I was not surprised when yellow ribbons immediately sprang up after the press conference. But I was surprised the following morning to hear 75 soldiers singing, shouting, and screaming as they jogged down Main Street, passed our St. Joseph's church, back and forth around town for an hour. It was 6 a.m., and they woke me up with their war slogans, chants like "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and "Swing your guns from left to right; we can kill those guys all night."

Suddenly, at 7 a.m., the shouting got dramatically louder. I looked out the front window of the house where I live, next door to the church, and there they were - all 75 of them, standing yards away from my front door, in the street right in front of my house and our church, shouting and screaming to the top of their lungs, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" I was astonished and appalled. I suddenly realized that I do not need to go to Iraq; the war had come to my front door. Later, I heard that they had deliberately decided to do their exercises in front of my house and our church because of my outspoken opposition to the war. They wanted to put me in my place.

I decided I had to do something. I put on my winter coat and walked out the front door right into the middle of the street. They stopped shouting and looked at me, so I said loudly, publicly for all to hear, "In the name of God, I order all of you to stop this nonsense, and not to go to Iraq. I want all of you to quit the military, disobey your orders to kill, and not to kill anyone. I do not want you to get killed. I want you to practice the love and nonviolence of Jesus. God does not bless war. God does not want you to kill so Bush and Cheney can get more oil. God does not support war. Stop all this and go home. God bless you."

Read more at: http://www.johndear.org/articles/soldiers_at_my_front_door.html


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WEB SITINGS ^top
I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob

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Under the wire

Find news and analysis of stories and reporting that flies under the mainstream radar:

http://www.underreported.com


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BOOMERANG ^top
Readers write

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Sojourners job opportunities
Jim Albers writes from Redmond, Washington:

[Regarding David Batstone's column "Companies get lean and mean" SojoMail 1/7/2004]: Folks worried that they'll lose their jobs work harder and more productively (until health problems send them to the sidelines). Families with an accumulation of mortgage and personal debt cannot afford even short periods of unemployment. Hence workers work more, and harder, and more desperately, and quarterly profits grow.... What would happen if more of us could live simply, debt-free, and with a bit of a cash reserve? When an employer tightened the screws, some of us could just reject the newly imposed "social contract" and leave. How many lost employees would make such screw-tightening uneconomic?

In our own lives, we have the opportunity to start opting out of this cycle in small ways. It isn't easy, and it takes education and support within our communities and churches. (I've heard of simple living study and support groups, but haven't had the chance to participate in one.) Sex and money are two great taboos in our churches. Many of us have made real headway learning about, discussing, and teaching about sexuality in our churches. How can we take a similar intentional approach with the role of money in our lives? How we can understand and enjoy our wealth and avoid becoming its servant? How can we become active and effective subversive agents, turning our economy to serve us, and not the other way 'round?

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Tom Mahon writes from Walnut Creek, California:

There is a negative long-term effect that comes of outplacing older (and more experienced) workers from service jobs, and outsourcing manufacturing jobs to other countries. U.S. business is destroying the consumer base that's supposed to buy these goods and services. So inventory builds up and we get another cyclical recession, which puts even more people out of work. (Interesting that the term "goods and services" has a moral component to it - business is not set up to produce "bads and disservice.") As long as businesspeople won't think more than 12 weeks out (to the end of the quarter) and congresspeople more than two years out (to the next election), we will continue to produce ever more manic-depressive economic and political cycles.

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Rev. Liz Simmons of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Phoenix, Arizona, writes:

I think the liberal mainline churches are experiencing something similar to what you describe happening [regarding] politics and religion ["Putting God Back into Politics," by Jim Wallis, New York Times 12/28/2003]. My guess is that mainline churches are much more likely to have conservatives and liberals as members, so clergy in financially viable parishes must avoid alienating those who pledge and support the church by driving them away. I'm seeing this especially in what the Episcopal church refers to as "cardinal parishes," which are in more affluent and prominent areas of town. Clergy who become rectors of these parishes quickly learn not to "rock the boat." And so, in the name of "being pastoral" to everyone, we avoid taking on controversial issues, which almost by definition includes politics, sex, and money (I'm amazed we can even venture to talk about religion in such an atmosphere!).

On the other hand, I wonder if traditional or fundamentalist churches tend to be more homogeneous in membership and political leanings, and so the ministers are more free to expound on any topic as long as they keep it within the accepted theological leaning. The gospel as it relates to those issues is then co-opted by conservatives, and many of our folks, hearing only the conservative voice (in public anyway) on, say, war or homosexuality, believe that the conservative view is the only biblical view.

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Ron Bradshaw writes:

As I see it, the Democratic Party and its politicians fail to publicly endorse religious values because they have simply chosen to become secularists.... A pro-life Democrat seeking high office will not receive the support of their party, yet a Republican will receive their party endorsement whether pro-life or pro-choice. Democrats claim to be the party of inclusion yet this hypocrisy speaks louder than words. I have a very good friend who is pro-life and Democrat (perhaps like some of you reading this). He cannot even get a dialogue with the National Democratic Party regarding the pro-life constituency in the Democratic party. Therein lies Democrats' biggest challenge as it relates to the Christian community. If they continue to be secularists supporting fundamental positions contrary to Judeo-Christian values, the gap will only widen.

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Paul Everett writes from Seattle, Washington:

[Regarding "Bush senior's 20/20 foresight on invading Iraq," SojoMail 1/7/2004]: The world now is markedly different than the world then. The people who committed 9-11 have changed the game, dramatically. Everyone is at risk, all the time. Men, women, children, military and civilian, it makes no difference to the terrorists. We are all in their sights, especially if you are a U.S. citizen. That calls for a different strategy and a different response. The fact that Bush I saw his mission differently doesn't bind Bush II to the same mission or the same outcome. Anyone who says the world isn't better and safer with the removal of Saddam is simply naive, blind, or hates Bush II so much that s/he is willing to say it would be okay for Saddam to be continuing to murder, torture, and in other ways subjugate the Iraqi people. The progress being made in places like Libya, Syria, and Iran would likely not have happened without Saddam's removal because it demonstrated that the days of the dictators are definitely numbered.

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Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: boomerang@sojo.net . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


Sojourners InternsSojourners Internship Program

Stirring things up for 20 years! Sojourners interns are men and women from all walks of life and different parts of the world who have made a commitment to help us stir things up - one year at a time. Applications are due March 1 for the next group, which begins in September 2004. For more information, go to: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=about_us.internships



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