The Common Good

Are liberal Christians phony?

Sojomail - May 12, 2004

Quote of the Week Second thoughts about the Bush administration
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Are liberal Christians phony?
Soul Works Spring came
Politically Connect Death and taxes
Good News Abundant life in Iraq?
Tech Ethix Who owns the airwaves?
Signs of the Times Virtual church
Culture Watch I love American Idol
Building a Movement Bono, Michael W. Smith share stage to fight HIV/AIDS and poverty
Web Sitings JusticeNet | Corporate fallout detector | Emergent worship
Boomerang Readers write

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"This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts."

- Conservative columnist George F. Will.

Source: The Washington Post

Are liberal Christians phony?
by David Batstone

The query came into my in-box this week, with the obvious inference that SojoMail is both liberal and phony. The accuser identified himself by name, adding that he had his Ph.D. and hailed from the state of Texas.

Without getting caught up in political labels - my self-proclaimed "liberal" friends stumble over some of my faith-informed views - I found his theology intriguing. Without a doubt, he clearly drew borders that zoned Christians into different political territories.

He opened his note as follows:

Liberal Christians have no understanding of the God-given role of Government. Liberal Christians are Peter-Pan Christians who demand that Governments, before the return of Jesus, foolhardily beat their God-given swords into plowshares and live according to the Sermon on the Mount. Liberal Christians do NOT realize that the plow-share things happens during the 2nd Coming of Jesus, when Jesus takes back the swords from Human Governments as He establishes God's Kingdom on Earth. This is why our Hero taught us to pray: "Please hurry Thy Kingdom to come, so Thy will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven."

If you have never had exposure to a "dispensational" view of history, my accuser's stream of thought may make no sense to you. I grew up in an evangelical Christian church that espoused a dispensational theology, so let me explain. God, it is assumed, has divided up history into different eras, or dispensations, and each will run its course. In our present era, the forces of good (God's chosen) battle against the forces of evil (under Satan's spell). God looks to government to practice order and suppress evil with the sword. This current dispensation will end with the second coming of Jesus, who will establish God's kingdom on earth.

I often hear non-Christians ask: How can a person who identifies with Jesus Christ espouse actions that run so counter to peace and justice? This theological device enables many Christians to discount the teachings of Jesus as a guide for living their lives. Forgive your enemies? Feed the hungry? Clothe the naked and care for the prisoner? Not a chance; you'd be foolish to adopt these practices in the dispensation in which we live. Governments must take whatever measures are necessary to defeat evil, and we are commanded to be its loyal subjects.

I guess that's what makes me a fool. I take my faith journey as a challenge to embody the teachings of Jesus in an era that cheapens the dignity of life.

In his condemnation of SojoMail, my accuser indicates yet another key theological marker that is worth sharing:

Liberal Christians live in a world of make-believe because they focus almost exclusively on the New Testament, to the exclusion of the Old Testament. Unfortunately for them, the Bible describes the role of Government in detail in the Old Testament, NOT in the New Testament! It is the Mosaic Law & the Mosaic Government that is ordered by God to put to death any person who commits a heinous crime, and goes on to list about 30 crimes as heinous crimes. In the New Testament Jesus is just a private citizen, NOT a member of Government (Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, etc., were Government Officials). Moreover, Jesus directed His Sermon on the Mount exclusively to private citizens like Himself, and NOT to the Roman Government or the Sanhedrin. Note that Jesus did NOT criticize the Roman Government for not having any Social Welfare Programs. This is because the Romans were doing what was called for in the Old Testament: the Roman Government was using the Sword to maintain Law and Order!

If this viewpoint merely represented a crackpot hiding out on a survivalist ranch in rural Texas, I wouldn't bother to publish it. But it unfortunately has significant credibility among a swath of American evangelicals. With my colleague, Mark Wexler, I have just completed an investigative study of the Religious Right (which will come out in the July edition of Sojourners magazine). It was jarring to realize that many American Christians reject the notion of a separation of church and state as a "humanistic secular plot" to obstruct God's proper ordering of U.S. society. They want to see the establishment of a theocracy that puts into place many of the Mosaic laws as established in the Old Testament. At the moment, they are mobilizing a strong cadre of religious leaders and members of the U.S. Congress to rewrite the legal system.

How ironic that my erstwhile critic praises the Roman Empire for fulfilling the divine mandate for right governance. I fear today that is exactly how the United States is acting in the world - as an empire bent on the expansion of its own interests. If my calling as a Christian is to deliver my full support to that empire, than I indeed must confess that I am a phony.

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Call to Renewal's Pentecost 2004

Call to Renewal's Pentecost 2004"Join us in Washington as we tell politicians and the nation that reducing poverty is a religious and electoral issue in 2004. Our convictions on other issues do not prevent us as Christians from uniting to overcome poverty." - Jim Wallis

Join Us For a Pentecost Show of Unity
May 23-25, 2004
Washington Plaza Hotel, Washington, DC

* Plenary Panels * Washington National Cathedral Worship Service featuring Rev. James A. Forbes * Keynote Luncheon with Bill Moyers * Congressional Prayer Breakfast and more! Register at:

Spring came
by Kendra Peters, age 14

Flinging song of warblers
blooming jade of pine
red tinge on hillside
green in bleached
dead grass of winter
new spears, blood edged,
soon to be tulips
stars of brilliant hues,
cups of gold and white
crocus, aconite
lines blur, soften.
The wonder -- birth
not the cold, wintry orb,
but sun of love
gold, water dances, released,
sings, lulls day slow --
wood cock's vibrations
in earth-scented cool evening
sunset-gold to night
planets, stars dance
look -- and wonder.

Reprinted from

Read more works by young poets at:


Peace Quest

Over 100 hands-on peacemaking activities! Perfect for camps, vacation church school, and summer programs. Special SojoMail sale - limited time, order now! Two books for $25 plus discounted shipping of $3.50. (Regular low price $15.50 each.)

Death and taxes
by Timothy Godshall

U.S. draft law since World War II has acknowledged the right to conscientious objection to military participation. Draftees have been given alternatives to serve their country non-militarily. Tax law, however, continues to draft the tax dollars of conscientious objectors who see no moral difference between killing and paying for someone else to kill.

Despite the lack of legal recognition, conscientious objectors continue to refuse to pay for war, risking fines, bank account and property seizures, levies on their wages, and sometimes jail sentences. Some even impoverish themselves and their families rather than be legally bound to pay such taxes. These are people deeply driven by values born of conscience. In a country founded on ideals of freedom of religion and belief, shouldn't conscientious objectors to military taxation be given a way to pay their taxes without paying for war?

A bill currently before Congress, H.R. 2037, would provide just such an option. The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill would recognize conscientious objection for taxpayers who, on religious or ethical grounds, cannot participate in the funding of war or preparation for war. Taxpayers who now unlawfully withhold the portion of their taxes that support military spending would be able to pay their full taxes once again, while still giving voice to their conscience.

Read more at:


The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund invites you to participate in our annual joint Lobby Day, Friday, May 14, with the Center on Conscience and War (formerly NISBCO). Join with other conscientious objectors to military violence to speak out against forced conscription in the military - whether it is our bodies or our tax dollars that are used to kill. Come to Washington or visit your representative and senators in their local offices. You may contact us at; 1-888-PEACE-TAX;

Abundant life in Iraq?

In the midst of Iraq's escalating violence, shocking images of prisoner abuse, and speculation about the prospects for a transition to real sovereignty, Christian Peacemaker Team member Sheila Provencher shares a story of hope in the peaceful vision of a 5-year-old boy:

Five-year-old Hussein sits with his father, Emir, along Abu Nawwas street across from the Tigris River.... One day I surprised him with a box of crayons. Two days later, he surprised me when he ran behind his father's stand and emerged clutching a 10"x10" piece of cardboard. He had used a cigarette carton as a canvas for a crayon masterpiece.

Hussein's picture teems with life. The Tigris flows a brilliant blue, and pink flowers sway amid a blanket of grass. A donkey munches on a tree bursting with orange blossoms, a duck contemplates a date-palm heavy with fruit, and a rabbit smiles under a smiling sun. A flock of birds soars within the stripe of sky colored across the top of the page. Two fish and a giant duck swim through the river of turquoise, and what looks like a bumblebee (as large as the duck!) flies over it all.

A few days ago, an IED (improvised explosive device) exploded not two blocks away, shattering windows and sending a child Hussein's age to the hospital. But in this picture, there is no broken glass, no guns or tanks or helicopters, no presidential palace. Instead - abundant life. How did Hussein see such a garden in the dust?

Read more at:

Clergy Leadership Institute

Alaskan Cruise and Appreciative Inquiry Training
From Seattle, WA. August 22-29, 2004

Come and enjoy the wonders and beauty of the Alaskan coastal region and complete 20 hours of professional development in Appreciative Inquiry (AI). This is an incredible opportunity for clergy and their partners to share in the appreciative identification of those things that give them life that they may work and love from and within these life-giving resources. Registration must be completed by May 31, 2004.

For registration and information about our other Appreciative Inquiry based programs:
Clergy Leadership Development, Interim Ministry, Coaching, and Appreciative Soul Friending
please visit us on the web at: or by phone at (503) 647-2378.

Who owns the airwaves?
by Bart Preecs

Seventy years ago this month, Congress passed a bill that's probably had more impact on American life today than anything other than a couple of declarations of war.

The 1934 Communications Act laid the foundation of the broadcasting industry. Everything that's come after, from the Nixon-Kennedy debates to Janet Jackson's right breast, has been shaped by the decisions Congress made in 1934.

This week, the Federal Communications Commission will launch an obscure bureaucratic process that may ultimately create more change to the broadcasting industry than anything since 1934. The "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" announced last week and scheduled to be approved on May 13 questions the fundamental premise of U.S. broadcasting, which is that stations must be given an exclusive right to broadcast on a particular frequency. This week the FCC starts exploring the question of whether broadcasting frequencies can be shared.

It's hard to overestimate the explosive potential of this question. Technology industries, seeing the potential for a second Internet boom, want to use spectrum to support wireless broadband, with a huge potential for new content and new services. Broadcasters insist that any attempt to share the broadcast spectrum threatens the quality of their service.

Read more at:


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Virtual church

Is it a brave new church or another sign of the apocalyse? The online "magazine of Christian unrest,", is launching Church of Fools, described as "a three-month experiment in 3D online church." Launched yesterday, the church is intended to be an interactive church experience for people who normally might never enter an actual church building. The site features pixelated pews, collections sent by mobile phone, and animated guest clergy that will move around the church, welcome the congregation, lead the service from a lectern, introduce hymns, and preach from a pulpit to people sitting in rows of pews. The first guest preacher is slated to be the bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres. According to the site's editor, Simon Jenkins, participants will be able to "choose a pew to sit in, introduce themselves to other worshippers through speech bubbles, sing a hymn, listen to the sermon, chat to each other afterwards, and perhaps pray together."

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I love American Idol
by Dwight Ozard

We are now so bored as a culture that the best we can do for entertainment is to watch people make fools of themselves - a pastime especially ripe for social commentators and judgmental pundits when it involves celebrities. Celebrities are (or at least function as) the 21st-century equivalent of aristocracy, and as ordinary people have done since there have been class distinctions, we at once envy and mock (and occasionally seek to destroy) them.

That being said, I love the show. Love it. Absolutely and unapologetically.

I love it largely for the indefensible voyeuristic pleasure of watching people make fools of themselves, that drama of seeing how people respond to criticism, and the occasional surprise of a diamond in the rough.

Read more 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.

Bono, Michael W. Smith share stage to fight HIV/AIDS and poverty

Some of you might be too young to remember Live Aid, the all-star super-concert that drew thousands to Philadelphia's JFK Stadium in July 1985. This Sunday, May 16, will bring an only slightly more modest gathering to the city of brotherly love with an encore appearance by U2's Bono and a renewed commitment among those attending to fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS. The rally on Independence Mall will also feature Michael W. Smith, Rich Stearns (president of World Vision), David Beckman (president of Bread for the World), NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, and Philadephia 76ers President and General Manager Billy King. The rally will be followed by a service of worship and prayer led by the Grammy-winning band Jars of Clay. Though free, the rally requires tickets, which are available at:


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Emergent worship

For articles, links, and resources about the postmodern "emergent" worship movement, visit:

Readers write

Skye Leslie writes from Portland, Oregon:

It was good to read Mr. Wallis' article ["Stop the occupation, start the rebuilding," SojoMail 5/5/2004]. As the daughter of a much-decorated World War II veteran and colonel in the Marine Corps, I had opportunity to listen to and debate the various concepts, theories, and beliefs in support of waging war. My father fought long and hard in World War II, was wounded, watched his men die all around him, engaged in heroic activity, killed many people himself, and waded repeatedly through the detritus of violent death. Although he and I never did agree about the necessity of war, he did teach me that wars of long attrition only serve to bring about the kind of abuse the American and English soldiers are accused of enacting in Iraq. Long-term involvement in war, abuse, and atrocity conforms the participant to the lowest standards of those practices. The soul is compromised, the conscience abandoned in order to focus on the immediate objective, which is to kill. Until we establish a new paradigm in Iraq, as Mr. Wallis suggests, of rebuilding, reconciliation, and peaceful aid to a country now brought to it knees economically and socially - we can only expect to witness the most natural by-product of war - violence, death of innocents, hatred, and abuse.


W. Rennett writes from Caledon Village, Ontario:

I am a retired Canadian Forces officer now a minister in the United Church of Canada. I have followed with great distress the event of this story. As I understand it, Abu Ghraib was a prison used by Saddam Hussein to detain and torture thousands of Iraqi citizens. I find it ironic that a few American soldiers were engaged in the same things. I find it ironic but not surprising. I was a soldier for 28 years and I was taught to kill by depersonalizing and dehumanizing my enemy, as every solider is. You cannot control the violence once you unleash the hounds. If I may be allowed one comment as a friend of America who has served in your country: It is self-deceiving to think that these latest atrocities committed by a few do not represent the sophisticated and vicarious rage of your wounded leadership that will not and cannot begin to even consider a policy of reconciliation before it extracts a thousand-fold measure of revenge. It is easy for the president and the army commanders to express outrage at the actions of a few and to ignore that they represent a spiritual malaise of a wounded nation.


Andrew McMullon, RAF chaplain in the U.K. Joint Helicopter Force, writes:

Notwithstanding the excesses of some of the troops (which I'm certain will be properly dealt with), I think you miss the point. There is no "occupation" because American and British troops know full well that they "do not belong in Iraq" and have no intention of staying there longer than is necessary.

As to the U.N. getting involved, well, they have shown a marked reluctance to do so right from the start. They know that they can't operate in Iraq safely - do you think this would miraculously happen if the U.S. and U.K. troops pulled out? Maybe you would be happier with civil war - at least then your own troops would not be directly involved. However, don't you think that those who wage war have a subsequent responsibility to make peace? There is now no other choice but staying in Iraq until there is a credible government that can take responsibility for the internal security of the country.


Ron Pagnucco writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota:

Desiree Ulrich's essay, "Who are the Democrats?" [SojoMail 5/5/2004], reflects some of the alienation felt by members of the party, especially Christian members.... One way to foster this dialogue and debate is for the members to join groups within the party that represent their views on issues important to them. This is simply part of the democratic process within a political party, and the party is healthier for it. Any party that does not have such democratic dialogue and debate is in trouble.

One issue on which the party elites have stifled and restrained democratic dialogue and debate is abortion. I know that the party's official stance on abortion and its treatment of anti-abortion Democrats has created problems for many Christians. However, anti-abortion party members should not feel alienated - they should get organized and make their views known. One way to do this is to join Democrats for Life America, an organization that includes Democratic members of Congress as well as other prominent Democrats, such as Nat Hentoff. SojoMail readers can learn more about Democrats for Life America at their Web site, Thus far the national party has refused to put the Democrats for Life Web site link on their national Web site. Clearly the Democratic party needs to democratize itself. But don't mourn - organize!


Thomas Pack writes from Ada, Oklahoma:

Last week I told a class of mine that there is no one in Ada, Oklahoma, without access to quality health care with prescription coverage. There was a murmur of disbelief, but I reminded them about the Compassion Medical Clinic, an indigent medical clinic started by members of the community and churches.... Medical professionals and regular people like myself volunteer three or four hours, twice a month to see the hungry fed and the sick cared for, in the same manner that Jesus prescribed.

I think it's interesting how many people continue to fight for the government to insure all Americans with quality health care, when it seems that so few are willing to get their hands dirty and provide the poor, sick, hard to love, and truly unlovely people with health care themselves. Granted, few of us are actually doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, but organization, manual labor, money, and prayer are all necessary as well. Clinics and efforts like this one may not be as comprehensive as what the government provides, and may not provide emergency services, but a smiling face, kind hands, and a lack of governmental red tape is what we as a community have to offer. Petitioning the government for help is a good thing; Jesus commanded each of us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked ourselves, regardless of what the government does or does not do.


Julian L. Houston writes:

How could you write an article on "Saving the church's soul" [SojoMail 4/28/2004] and not mention the One whose body we are. How very, very strange. Your omission is at the top of my list of the deep wounds in the community of Christ's people.


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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