The Common Good

The Gospel, Personal Wealth, and the Commonwealth

Sojomail - March 24, 2004

Quote of the Week Archbishop Romero on wealth
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: A gospel of personal wealth meets the gospel of commonwealth
In the Magazine Haiti: Resisting uncritical allegiance
P.O.V. Same-sex marriage: Pro and con
Action Alert Update Senate committee moves to mitigate media merger mania
Soul Works Mother Teresa on 'true drops of love'
For Mercy's Sake Rock for justice
Web Sitings If you work for peace, why pay for war?
Boomerang Readers write

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"The absolute desire of 'having more' encourages the selfishness that destroys communal bonds among the children of God. It does so because the idolatry of riches prevents the majority from sharing the goods that the Creator has made for all, and in the all-possessing minority it produces an exaggerated pleasure in these goods."

- Archbishop Oscar Romero, "The Church's Mission Amid the National Crisis," August 6, 1979. Twenty-four years ago today, Monsenor Romero was assassinated as he celebrated Mass in San Salvador.

A gospel of personal wealth meets the gospel of commonwealth
by David Batstone

Stop Family Abductions
I took part in a fascinating conference at Wheaton College in Illinois this past week. The conference, titled "Faith, Profit, and Decision Making," explored how the modern for-profit corporation can accomplish social good within human society.

Both Michael Novak and I were invited to deliver keynote addresses, and we had the opportunity as well to share the platform for a discussion about our ideas. In many respects, it was a moment that I have been awaiting for nearly 20 years.

Back in 1984, I was working in a refugee camp in El Salvador. The country was deep in armed conflict. A leftist revolutionary force was attempting to overthrow a military government that upheld the economic interests of a minority of landowners (symbolically called "the 14 families"). In addition to a ruthless military campaign to uproot peasant families, the military and national police organized covert death squads to target tens of thousands of church, labor union, agricultural cooperative, and human rights workers. The refugee camp where I was working housed poor people who had fled military campaigns into the countryside.

Michael Novak is a Catholic ethicist who for decades has touted the virtues of the modern corporation without reservation. He was invited to speak in San Salvador in 1984 by an organization called the National Association of Free Enterprise. I vividly recall the account of his speech on the front page of El Salvador's right-wing newspaper. He spoke of a "theology of creation." God had given to each individual the talents that are necessary for productive work. Foremost among these gifts was that of the intellect, which possessed the creative potential of multiplying capital. It would be a sin, Novak explained, to limit the freedom of individuals to use capital, for God has made us to be creators upon the earth. The fruits of bountiful profits, therefore, were to be fully enjoyed because they are the sign of the divine blessing given to a "faithful steward."

I recall being shocked at the time that a Christian ethicist could come to El Salvador at a time of deep polarization - with the country's wealth so concentrated in a few hands with so many poor living in utter misery - and not say a single prophetic word about the sin of greed. Rather, Novak could only warn against the "sin" of unrealized economic growth.

That same day, I took part in a Bible study in the refugee camp. I met Ana, a widow whose husband had been killed by the military because of his work as a community organizer within their local Catholic parish. She had come to the camp for the sake of her children. During the Bible study, Ana spoke a different kind of "theology of creation":

"I, as a mother, feel the weight of this war. In our country, the law of God is being violated.... A small amount of people are living the way that everyone should. There needs to be a change so that we can all live the way that God desires. Although we are treated like animals and receive no respect from those who have power in our country, we know that we are human beings because God loves us. Isn't that what it means to be made in God's image?"

I chose to share these two theologies of creation to Michael Novak publicly, on stage, at the Wheaton conference. I affirmed the legitimacy of his point of view that a business enterprise indeed may contribute to the well-being of the community and the development of individuals who work within it. But I also made it clear that as Christians we have the responsibility to speak a prophetic word in a time when individuals and institutions fall short of those goals, and hoard for themselves the bounty that is the inheritance of all of God's creation.

Novak unfortunately did not respond directly to my challenge. He followed my stories with a statement of his confidence in El Salvador's economic growth in an era of globalization.

Over the years, Novak has done us a great service when he points out the shortcomings of feudalism and socialism, respectively, as both systems accumulate capital and political power in small pockets of elites (even if they call themselves vanguards). It's a tragedy that Novak is evidently so loyal to the capitalist system that he cannot offer a similar critique when it fails to deliver the same benefits.

I am reminded of Paul's message to the Philippians that they should think of themselves as citizens of a "heavenly commonwealth." He warned against making a god of our belly, or setting our minds on material things, like wealth. Who among us has not fallen into the trap of blind allegiance to a political or economic ideology?

Doing so often prevents us from speaking the truth.

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Haiti: Resisting uncritical allegiance
by Jim Rice

Aristide's rise and fall raises many challenges for people of faith, even apart from the justice issues surrounding his ouster. Many peace-and-justice minded Christians supported Aristide, the then-Catholic priest who stood up against dictatorship and vowed justice for the poor and oppressed. What's our responsibility when such a person devolves into an autocratic ruler himself? There's a temptation to offer blind support when one of "our own" gets into power - perhaps deafened by the seductive rhetoric of liberation, which often becomes self-serving and deceitful when echoing from the halls of power. (We saw that phenomena in the too-often uncritical support some peace and justice advocates gave to the leftist Nicaraguan government after the downfall of the much-worse, U.S. backed right-wing Somoza regime.)

Our loyalty, ultimately, doesn't obtain to any particular person, party, or institution. Our biblically rooted principles can and must guide us into active involvement in the political struggles of our day, and that will mean at specific times supporting (and opposing) specific candidates and policies. But that cannot mean that we give uncritical allegiance where it is not due - and it is never due to the Caesars of the day, no matter how good we might feel about them or how much we might despise their opponents. Our deepest allegiance must remain, now and always, with God and God alone.

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Signs of Hope - Steps for Change is a new CD-ROM produced by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance available free of charge to individuals and organizations. The CD, developed out of the Global Poster Competition against HIV and AIDS-Related Stigma and Discrimination, contains more than 80 of the winning posters in multiple formats for use in local exhibitions. Also included are more than 100 multi-lingual fact sheets, worship resources, theological reflections, and advocacy tools developed to increase understanding about HIV and AIDS, challenge stigma, and empower faith-based organizations to work toward a positive change in attitudes and care within communities.

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P.O.V. ^top
Same-sex marriage: Pro and con

David Brooks: We shouldn't allow it - we should insist on it

"Marriage is in crisis because marriage, which relies on a culture of fidelity, is now asked to survive in a culture of contingency.... The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.

When liberals argue for gay marriage, they make it sound like a really good employee benefits plan. Or they frame it as a civil rights issue, like extending the right to vote. Marriage is not voting. It's going to be up to conservatives to make the important, moral case for marriage, including gay marriage. Not making it means drifting further into the culture of contingency, which, when it comes to intimate and sacred relations, is an abomination."

David Brooks is a columnist and senior editor at The Weekly Standard. Source: The New York Times, available at:

Shelby Steele: The difference between racism and homophobia

"The civil rights movement argued that it was precisely the utter innocuousness of racial difference that made segregation an injustice. Racism was evil because it projected a profound difference where there was none - white supremacy, black inferiority - for the sole purpose of exploiting blacks. But there is a profound difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. In the former, sexual and romantic desire is focused on the same sex, in the latter on the opposite sex.... Racism projects a false difference in order to exploit. Homophobia is a reactive prejudice against a true and firm difference that already exists.

...The stigmatization of homosexuals is wrong and makes no contribution to the moral health of our society. I was never worried for my children because they grew up knowing a gay couple that lived across the street, or because several family friends were gay. They learned early what we all know: that homosexuality is as permanent a feature of the human condition as heterosexuality. Nothing is gained in denying this. But neither should we deny that the two are inherently different. The gay marriage movement denies this difference in order to borrow 'normalcy' from marriage. Thus, it is a movement born more of self-denial than self-acceptance, as if on some level it agrees with those who see gays as abnormal."

Shelby Steele is a fellow of the Hoover Institution and the author of A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America. Source: The Wall Street Journal:

P.O.V. articles offer a range of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners.


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Senate committee moves to mitigate media merger mania

Last May, Sojourners issued an action alert asking the Federal Communications Commission to stop rule changes that would allow the further consolidation of media ownership in the U.S. At the time, David Batstone wrote that, "This proposal feeds a trend that gives corporate conglomerates the license to gobble up media outlets virtually unchecked. Several years ago the FCC allowed the monopolization of local radio. No surprise - three corporations now own half the radio stations in the U.S.... Political conservatives and liberals alike can join arms to oppose the consolidation of power in the hands of a few moguls."

Though the FCC approved the measure - ignoring the outpouring of popular opinion that opposed it - last week the Senate Commerce Committee voted to approve a one-year moratorium on the change. The U.S. House and Senate still need to approve the measure, but there is bipartisan support for a variety of reasons. While many progressives mistrust the domination of media by corporate interests, they have common cause with conservatives, such as Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, who has said, "I am convinced that there is a correlation between media conglomerates getting larger and larger and the increasing violence and indecency we see on TV."

Read more at:

True drops of love

We must not think that our love has to be extraordinary. But we do need to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. These drops are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being quiet, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. They are the true drops of love that keep our lives and relationships burning like a lively flame.

- Mother Teresa

Source: the Daily Dig, available at


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.

Rock for justice

While at a college party, Lamont Hiebert witnessed the sexual assault of a young girl but was powerless to intervene. Now, as lead singer of the rock band Ten Shekel Shirt, he is using his voice to stop global child exploitation and has founded Justice for Children International to "speak on behalf of those who have lost, or never found, dignity, rights, or even a vocabulary to raise an outcry of their own." Currently, the band is on the "Justice for Children" tour sponsored by JFCI and the International Justice Mission. All proceeds will benefit the prevention, rescue, and after-care of sexually exploited children.

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If you work for peace, why pay for war?

Don't like war? Don't pay for it. Here are some links to organizations that offer suggestions on how to resist the use of your tax dollars for military spending:

National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund

War Resisters League

Readers write

Steve Scoffone writes from Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

In response to Jim Wallis' article "Iraq: One year later" [SojoMail 3/18/2004], I would like to remind everyone that a year ago almost everyone thought that Iraq had WMDs. France, Germany, and Russia agreed that he probably had them. It seems to me that they only opposed the war because they did not want to lose money they had invested in that rogue nation. The question was not whether he had them but whether this justified an invasion. In other words, Bush may have been wrong about the WMDs but so was the rest of the world.... At the same time, the fact that al Qaeda is fighting against us in Iraq just proves that we are still at war against a foe that wants to destroy our way of life. They will not stop if we pull out of Iraq. They appear to be against everything we stand for, especially freedom. Yes, politics is probably the main reason Bush wants to pull out by June 30, but I blame this more on the Democrats who want to use Iraq against Bush rather than look ahead to what is best for the long-term peace of the region and the world.


William P. Saxman writes from Sigel, Pennsylvania:

I read the e-mail edition of Sojourners each time it is published and for the most part find it informative and honestly biased. Having said that, as a registered Democrat, I have a question: "Does President Bush do anything right?" I get tired of receiving e-mail that tells me how wonderful and Christian he is, but I get equally tired of hearing that he is a liar and totally off base on everything he does. Liberal or conservative bias should be acknowledged - and you do - but I'd like to see more honest balance.


Brian Wonn writes from Urbana, Ohio:

I don't envy the immense responsibility of the presidency. As one who has responsibility for a group of people, I have experienced times when there has been a need to make tough decisions. How I have cherished the people who have supported me, prayed for me, given me counsel, forgiven me, and walked with me. I am learning to love those who don't fall into those categories, recognizing that I might be difficult for them to love.... How good it would be to see the "Sojourners" sort of people liberated from the Democratic party and the "Focus on the Family" sort of people liberated from the Republican party. Just maybe we could then join together in the great ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us as ambassadors of Christ.


Daniel Gibbons writes from Madison, Wisconsin:

I can certainly sympathize with Mr. Flanigan's distress [Boomerang 3/18/2004] at the way in which a number of vocal reactionaries have been allowed to define much of what appears in the popular media to be the "Christian" position on any number of social issues. But why let the ignorant, malicious, or misguided define what it means to be a Christian?

The only way that a complex, authentic vision of Christianity can emerge and take hold in people's hearts is for those who can articulate that vision to do so publicly and without shame. I know this can be difficult. I am often troubled by the fact that saying the name of Christ can sometimes evoke images of oppression and hatred - things that are worlds away from Christ's message of love. However, instead of running for the hills when we hear people using His name to preach a message of hatred, we need to stand up and provide an authentic testimony to what that name really means. We are called to be evangelists, not fugitives.


Andrea Gerding writes from Ithaca, New York:

I challenge Sojourners to send out one totally happy and good-news oriented SojoMail. Why? Because I could use it; I am overwhelmed. I believe others could use it, too, and may be feeling exactly the same. Socially conscious people often try to know all that's going on, be aware of all the social injustices, get involved in overcoming all the crazy social ills one can. But then suddenly one day you wake up and feel the urge, upon hearing one more negative thing, to either go running screaming or hide under a blanket for a few days. I understand and know the importance of what SojoMail does and the need for this truly wonderful source of spiritually-based timely news and commentaries. But what nourishment for the soul it would be - once in a while - to have this same quality of news and commentaries in one completely uplifting issue. For me, and I suspect for others as well, I could use a big, fat whopping reminder now and again of how people are extraordinary and amazingly beautiful beings, without one mention of the crap we pull. It would just be a breath of fresh air before going back into the burning building.


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: . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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