The Common Good

The values debate

Sojomail - July 14, 2004

Quote of the Week Backlash on Bush campaign's congregational roll call
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: As evangelical as an oak tree
Politically Connect Testimony of torture: 'We've known it all along'
Warning: Satire Ridge warns of elevated threat of al Qaeda attack ads
Forums Join the conversation online
Soul Works Romero: Preaching that perturbs
Under the Wire Stories you may have missed
Boomerang Readers write
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"I'm appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way."

- Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, on the Bush campaign's efforts to recruit churchgoers to help turn out their fellow worshipers, including by sending the campaign their church registries.

Source: The New York Times


As evangelical as an oak tree
by Jim Wallis

I debated Jerry Falwell yesterday on Tavis Smiley's National Public Radio show. The subject was the current talk about "values" in the presidential election campaign. Tavis first asked Falwell to name a "short list" of the values issues that were important to him. It turned out to be a very short list indeed. All the Religious Right leader could talk about was the gay marriage amendment. That was it.

I pointed out that overcoming poverty was a values issue, as was protecting the environment, as was fighting unnecessary wars on false pretenses, as was the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. As he often does when he fears he might lose a debate, Falwell eventually began to interrupt what I was saying and moved into personal-attack mode, saying that I was "as much an evangelical as an oak tree." The television preacher from Lynchburg has such a way with words.

But then he really got vicious. He challenged me: "You voted for Al Gore, didn't you, Reverend? Admit it! Admit it!" he demanded. "You didn't vote for George Bush, or George Bush Sr., or even Ronald Reagan!" He had me. I was finally exposed on National Public Radio - a Christian who hadn't consistently voted for Republican candidates. How could I ever again claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who, as we all know, was pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?

It was an absolutely partisan and theocratic moment. There is only one way that Christians can possibly vote: That's exactly what Falwell was saying. And that's exactly what the Religious Right is saying. And they say the only values issues are things like gay marriage and abortion. Forget everything the Bible says about the priority of the poor, about Christian peacemaking, about respecting God's creation, or about the image of God in every human being - including our enemies.

I happen to think that both abortion and gay marriage are important issues, but they are not the only issues. Many Christians are getting tired of the tirades of the Jerry Falwells who repeatedly claim that all values issues have to do with sex and that every Christian must vote for their Republican friends. Family values are important to many Christians, but so are social values. And many Christians are pro-family without being anti-gay the way Falwell is. And many of us believe that a deep commitment to the sacredness of human life requires a consistent ethic of life, which also regards the destruction of war, the death penalty, and the scandal of global poverty as deeply moral concerns, not just abortion.

The future of American politics should be a real discussion of values; that would be a very welcome development. And we may be reaching a "tipping point" when many other Christians and the media who cover faith and politics will decide that the Religious Right should no longer dominate the discussion. Let them have their say, but let other Christian voices be heard. The control of right-wing fundamentalists over the "values" conversation may be coming to an end. And the uncritical alliance between the Religious Right and the Republican Party should be named a theocratic mistake and idolatrous allegiance (as is any religious left's uncritical alliance with the Democrats).

Later in the day, my friend Tony Campolo called and I told him what Falwell had said. Tony is a Baptist preacher and as evangelical as you can get, but he will not likely be voting for George W. Bush. Imagine that. We agreed the next time either of us is in a debate with Falwell, we will name him for what he really is - a fundamentalist who has stolen the word evangelical.

+ Listen to streaming audio of Jim's debate with Falwell on NPR

+ Read more commentary by Jim Wallis

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Testimony of torture: 'We've known it all along'
by Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU

An Ursuline nun and American citizen, Sister Dianna Ortiz was tortured and raped by U.S.-led Guatemalan security forces in 1989. Now an ardent anti-torture activist, she shares her thoughts on the abuse of those detained by the U.S. military.

Our leaders have voiced regret that a "few bad apples" tarnished America's human rights record. In fact, there have been quite a few apologies - but not enough consequences. Rumsfeld, for example, apologized because it happened "on his watch." But does that mean he was responsible? Apparently not. He seems to have suffered no consequences. For this administration, the buck stops with a few bad apples....

I want to say, "Of course. We've known it all along this was going on," but until now, few would listen - perhaps because there were no photographs. But my second reaction is pure horror, or rather, a revisiting of horror. There it is again - this time all over the front pages. What was done to these detainees brings me and many others back to our own prison cells, to our own torturers. Again we live under their control. Again we experience indescribable pain and suffering. Doesn't our government know what it is permitting?

+ Read the full article

+ Read Sister Ortiz's story in Sojourners

+ Read an excerpt from Sister Ortiz's book, The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth

+ Join our campaign to demand Rumsfeld's resignation and an independent investigation


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SATIRE: Ridge warns of elevated threat of al Qaeda attack ads

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge today revealed that there is "credible evidence" that al Qaeda is preparing attack ads to be aired in key battleground states in the hopes of influencing the fall election. "According to our information, al Qaeda plans to run ads attacking President Bush's record on the economy, Iraq, and the war on terror," said Mr. Ridge, who called the potential effect of such ads on President Bush's re-election campaign "sobering."

Mr. Ridge said that the onslaught of anti-Bush attack ads could come "without warning," but offered the American people the following advice: "If you see an ad on TV that seems to be attacking President Bush, close your eyes, stick one finger in each ear and go 'la, la, la.'"

+ Read the full satire


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Join online discussions on Sojourners articles

Race and the Election
While Democrats have mostly been clinging to the old rugged cross of their civil rights era record, Republicans, for the past decade, have been exploiting new wedges in what is now a multiethnic electorate.

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End-of-Life Ethics
When a loved one's life hangs in the balance, who decides the difference between "artificial means" and nonnegotiable, humane care?

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Preaching that perturbs

A preaching that does not point out sin
is not the preaching of the gospel.
A preaching that makes sinners feel good,
so that they become entrenched in their sinful state,
betrays the gospel's call.

A preaching that awakens,
a preaching that enlightens -
as when a light turned on
awakens and of course annoys a sleeper -
that is the preaching of Christ, calling:
Wake up! Be converted!

- Oscar Romero

Source: The Violence of Love, by Oscar Romero, found on The Daily Dig.

+ Read Sojourners' reflections on Romero's "reluctant conversion"


Stories you may have missed

Senate: CIA distorted Iraq data, turned estimates into 'facts'
+ Washington Post

U.S. criticized for blocking scientists from world AIDS conference
+ The Guardian

International Court: Israel must pull down 'illegal' barrier, compensate Palestinians
+ Ha'aretz

Israelis, Palestinians strategize in wake of international court ruling
+ Christian Science Monitor


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Readers write

Bill Hartley writes from Tempe, Arizona:

As a 30-year Christian, I like to think that I have "grown up" in many ways and am no longer the myopic fundamentalist of my teens. But I believe I've also moved beyond my reactionary social liberalism of my early adult years. As balance creeps into my life (my elders always told me this would happen), much of the commentary of Sojourners just seems angry and silly. On the right track, yes, but attitudinally light years from what I would call a mature, balanced exposition of faith-in-practice. I've asked that my subscription be cancelled. As I leave this forum, I'm reminded of a quote passed on to me from a friend (I wish I could cite the author). "Sooner or later, you are going to have to stop worshiping at the altar of anti-fundamentalism." Amen.


Beth Knutson writes from South Pasadena, California:

I applaud all of you with this organization. I am a social worker (Christian) and am passionate about social issues. I have gotten so tired of churches and some Christians identifying with a particular political party rather than looking at issues. I work in the health-care field, and it is a scary industry at this time and it is not going to get any better. Christians need to wake up! It is not a Republican or Democratic problem, it is and will be a huge social issue!


Bernie Kida writes from Atlanta, Georgia:

Reading the latest numbers in the aptly named "Horror's index" [SojoMail 7/8/2004] is disturbing to say the least and sheds light on the brutal cost of war in a myopic way. To that end it is successful. It also made me question something else. It suggests that life in Iraq before the invasion was open and tranquil.

*Contrast the 9,436 minimum estimate of the number of Iraqi civilians killed with Saddam's Anfal campaign against the Kurds, disposing of almost 200,000 people, and destroying 4,000 villages, gassing Halabja, and killing 5,000.
*Contrast the 40,000 Iraqis injured with the number of women who weren't allowed to go to school or work.
*Contrast Halliburton's $160 million spent on meals that were never served to troops with the number of Iraqis cheated in the oil-for-food scandal and the cataloguing of some 270 individuals and entities worldwide alleged to have received illicit oil vouchers worth millions from Saddam.

In any given scenario, innocent people are victimized; this brings to light the larger issue that there is no clear answer to the problems we face in Iraq or in the rest of the world. Taken out of context, your numbers seem one-sided and suggest there is an obvious solution. When a more complete picture is provided one can better understand the net cost of war or (no war in some cases).


Denny Wayman writes from Santa Barbara, California:

I first read Sojourners back when I was in seminary and loved the emphasis on social justice, which is such a vital part of our Christian faith. Over time, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the continual negative exploration of social issues. I agreed with what you were against, but I missed the help that I needed in bringing about real change. I therefore stopped reading for several years. A few years ago I decided to sign up for your e-mail newsletter. I had the same kind of experience now as I had years ago. I am compelled by the need to address the social issues you inform us about - this most recent e-mail is true and needs to be sent and I need to read it. However, the absence of actions to change the issues is tiring. Could you all use your excellent intellects to also speak words of hope into the experiences we are sharing? Aren't there articles that speak hope to you? How are people addressing social justice in local congregations? What is God using to make a difference?

I do not share the hope of those who trust in chariots, whether those chariots are driven by Democrats or Republicans, the Green Party, or no-party-independents. I trust in the power of God unleashed through his people. I would encourage you to be encouraging to us.


Psomi writes:

I was inspired by your article, "Values for Life: Building Arks and Dreams," [SojoMail 6/30/2004]. I am bringing a group of teenagers to Habitat For Humanity in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for three days. Each night the plan is to do something that will gather the thoughts of the day for some sharing, and also to bring in a prayer piece. I love the "ark" idea. I will have the teens "create" three arks - Noah's (the nuts and bolts), the Ark of the Covenant (God's love), and Allentown's Ark (the new covenant of which we are a part of these days.) On each ark, each night, a different group will use magazines, markers, words, pictures, etc., to depict their experience of that "ark" that day. Then they will share with the rest of the group what they came up with. Following this we'll use the scripture verses that have to do with the various "arks" as part of our prayer. I just wanted to thank you for writing the "Building Arks..." article. You really helped me to pull this together.


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