The Common Good

U.S. interests vs. global interests

Sojomail - October 13, 2004

Quote of the Week A U-turn on the road map to peace
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: U.S. interests vs. global interests
Politically Connect Pro-life? Look at the fruits
Religion and Politics Catholics called to vote for the common good
Building a Movement Battling the boring debate blues
Action Alert Take action to stop Israeli settler attacks against peace activists
Web Sitings Debunking the debate | Safe houses of worship | From abortion to Zoroastrianism
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"What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns."

- Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon's former chief of staff, now personal attorney and close advisor, admitting that the primary goal of the proposed withdrawal of 8,100 Jewish settlers from Gaza is to strengthen Israel's hold on its more numerous West Bank settlements and to indefinitely block any political process that might create a Palestinian state.

Source: The Washington Post


U.S. interests vs. global interests
by David Batstone

Clyde Prestowitz is deeply troubled by the foreign relations of the United States. He fears that we are becoming a "rogue nation" that violates international agreements and alliances with scant consideration for the long-term consequences. In short, the U.S. is making the world a more dangerous place, says Prestowitz.

I found his message so compelling that I tracked down a filmed interview with Prestowitz. We offer our SojoMail readers a short cut for your viewing (find the link at the end of the column).

Prestowitz's voice is all the more intriguing given his pedigree. Once a senior counselor to the secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration, Prestowitz is a self-identified "super-patriotic," "conservative," and life-long Republican. He held senior executive posts in major international corporations and wrote an influential book on trade relations between the U.S. and Japan. He currently is president of the Economic Strategy Institute.

Prestowitz is also a born-again Christian and serves as an elder at his evangelical Presbyterian church. He does not turn his deep faith into a divine blessing of partisan politics, however. "Politicians who use God as a prop for their campaigns should remember that God is not mocked," Prestowitz wrote in his book, Rogue Nation. Yet Prestowitz unabashedly says it is his faith in Jesus that informs the way he interprets the world, and the values that guide his actions.

Moral vision. That's what I found missing in the first two presidential debates. Based on the debates, one could not be blamed for thinking that the U.S. and Iraq were the only two nations in the world that mattered (and the latter due only to its tragic bond with the former). Undoubtedly, a debate on foreign policy should include Iraq - how the U.S. military got in there and how it will get out, what sovereignty in Iraq would mean, and whether the U.S. will go it alone in solving the problem or find a significant group of allies (beyond the U.K.) to "win the peace."

But let's put Iraq in proper perspective. Over two debates, I did not hear one question address the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Do we really think that peace will come to the Middle East without resolving that issue? On that note, what has the Bush administration done over the past four years to move a political solution to the West Bank closer to reality? I reckon the policy has been stone-walled...literally.

I heard one question over two debates on Sudan and the genocide taking place there - and the responses of both candidates were terribly tepid and disappointing. Even less attention was given to AIDS and hunger, which loom slightly more extreme on the global suffering scale than what's happening in Iraq. How the U.S. will relate to the looming global superpower, China, also was completely ignored; only passing reference to China was made in connection to a policy toward North Korea. Europe also barely appeared on the debate map; a single question about Russia took care of that continent. Most of the debate kept coming back to two words: Iraq and terrorism.

But my beef goes beyond geopolitical slights. Prestowitz, I believe, is asking the right questions. He morally rejects the idea of a "first strike" by which the U.S. can attack any country that may be perceived to pose a threat to the security of our nation. In a recent interview, he decries the Bush administration's foreign policy as "the kind of slaying of dragons, messianic foreign adventure that traditional conservatives have always been opposed to." In other words, pre-emptive military strikes are immoral. The Pope says so, as do most leaders of Christian churches around the globe.

How telling that during the first debate, Bush believed that he had caught Kerry out when he used the words "global test" as a means to evaluate appropriate foreign policy. The Kerry camp tried to do "damage control," claiming that its candidate indeed would act unilaterally to advance U.S. economic and political interests.

Prestowitz argues that the U.S. once defined its national interests in terms that the whole world could embrace - strong global institutions, due process, and the rule of law. We now make foreign policy on the narrow terms of what is best for America. We once supported international alliances within the U.N. and NATO - we now deem them irrelevant and dangerous to our national interests. We increasingly act alone, without "testing" the wisdom and value of our policy with anyone. This direction for foreign policy should be the subject of moral debate.

You name the foreign policy topic - trade relations, environment, economic aid, energy, agriculture - and the same moral question arises. Do we act justly in consideration of the needs and goals of other nations, or do we blindly follow "America first?" Prestowitz suggests that our leaders have adopted the latter tack, which betrays his deepest Christian values. I cannot agree more.

See an excerpt of the Prestowitz interview made exclusively for SojoMail:

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Pro-life? Look at the fruits
by Dr. Glen Harold Stassen

I am a Christian ethicist, and trained in statistical analysis. I am consistently pro-life. My son David is one witness. For my family, "pro-life" is personal. My wife caught rubella in the eighth week of her pregnancy. We decided not to terminate, to love and raise our baby. David is legally blind and severely handicapped; he also is a blessing to us and to the world.

I look at the fruits of political policies more than words. I analyzed the data on abortion during the George W. Bush presidency. There is no single source for this information - federal reports go only to 2000, and many states do not report - but I found enough data to identify trends. My findings are counterintuitive and disturbing.

Abortion was decreasing. When President Bush took office, the nation's abortion rates were at a 24-year low, after a 17.4% decline during the 1990s. This was an average decrease of 1.7% per year, mostly during the latter part of the decade. (This data comes from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life using the Guttmacher Institute's studies).

Enter George W. Bush in 2001. One would expect the abortion rate to continue its consistent course downward, if not plunge. Instead, the opposite happened.

I found three states that have posted multi-year statistics through 2003, and abortion rates have risen in all three: Kentucky's increased by 3.2% from 2000 to 2003. Michigan's increased by 11.3% from 2000 to 2003. Pennsylvania's increased by 1.9% from 1999 to 2002. I found 13 additional states that reported statistics for 2001 and 2002. Eight states saw an increase in abortion rates (14.6% average increase), and five saw a decrease (4.3% average decrease).

Under President Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed. Given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction.

How could this be? I see three contributing factors:

First, two thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Web site). In the past three years, unemployment rates increased half again. Not since Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration. Average real incomes decreased, and for seven years the minimum wage has not been raised to match inflation. With less income, many prospective mothers fear another mouth to feed.

Second, half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life). Men who are jobless usually do not marry. Only three of the 16 states had more marriages in 2002 than in 2001, and in those states abortion rates decreased. In the 16 states overall, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 7,869 more abortions. As male unemployment increases, marriages fall and abortion rises.

Third, women worry about health care for themselves and their children. Since 5.2 million more people have no health insurance now than before this presidency - with women of childbearing age overrepresented in those 5.2 million - abortion increases.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops warned of this likely outcome if support for families with children was cut back. My wife and I know - as does my son David - that doctors, nurses, hospitals, medical insurance, special schooling, and parental employment are crucial for a special child. David attended the Kentucky School for the Blind, as well as several schools for children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. He was mainstreamed in public schools as well. We have two other sons and five grandchildren, and we know that every mother, father, and child needs public and family support.

What does this tell us? Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues; they form one moral imperative. Rhetoric is hollow, mere tinkling brass, without health care, health insurance, jobs, child care, and a living wage. Pro-life in deed, not merely in word, means we need policies that provide jobs and health insurance and support for prospective mothers.

Glen Stassen is the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, and the co-author of Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, Christianity Today's Book of the Year in theology or ethics.

EDITOR'S NOTE: New information regarding the data in this article is now available. + Click here to read an updated report


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Catholics called to vote for the common good

The following statement by the Catholic peace organization Pax Christi is being placed in Catholic and secular publications across the country. To support this statement, and lend your name to the thousands of faithful citizens who agree with the U.S. Catholic Bishops that we should vote on the full range of issues that impact the common good, click the link that follows.


Life Does Not End at Birth

A Catholic moral framework does not easily fit the ideologies of "right" or "left," nor the platforms of any party.... Our responsibility is to measure all candidates, policies, parties, and platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person, whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good.
- from "Faithful Citizenship," issued by the United States Catholic Bishops.

It is a common misperception of politicians seeking office that the Catholic vote can be courted by addressing a narrow range of issues. In reality, the great majority of Catholics in the U.S., in agreement with the U.S. Catholic Bishops, will vote for candidates based "on the full range of issues, as well as on [the candidate's] personal integrity, philosophy, and performance" (Faithful Citizenship, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 2004).

Members of the media - and indeed a few of our own religious leaders - do a great disservice to our church and nation when they attempt to use one or another issue as the benchmark for Catholic identity.

"The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social doctrine does not exhaust one's responsibility toward the common good" (Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, November 24, 2002, and approved by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II).

The Catholic Church teaches that all life is sacred. A candidate for office must understand that the Church stands against any policy or course of action that diminishes life, dignity or the rights of the human person: abortion, capital punishment, war, scandalous poverty, denial of healthcare, mistreatment of immigrants and racism, to name but a few.

There are 60 million Catholics in the U.S. We take the responsibility of voting seriously. Each of us will evaluate candidates based on what our conscience - formed by reading the signs of the times in light of the example of Jesus in the Scriptures and the teachings of our Church throughout the ages - demands. We will examine the broad range of issues, measuring "all candidates, policies, parties, and platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person, whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good" (Faithful Citizenship, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 2004).

+ Click here to support this statement


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Battling the boring debate blues
by Cori Morse

Reports from the road on Call to Renewal's bus tour, "Rolling to Overcome Poverty":

I have a confession to make. Don't tell Jim Wallis. Promise? Okay, here goes: I hate the presidential debates. They are just so painfully boring! Tonight we'll be watching on a big screen somewhere in Ohio. I'm sure I'll be counting ceiling tiles or studying the contours of my shoes and trying to act interested.

I'm sure this admission is putting my status as a progressive, young, socially and politically aware Christian in grave danger. It's not that I don't care about what the candidates for the highest office in our country have to say about their plans, but rather that I have doubts about the probability of either of them talking about the weapon of mass destruction - poverty - that we have been hearing about in every city we have visited. Thus far, neither seems willing or able to articulate a plan for overcoming the poverty that entraps billions of people around the world. I heard Adam Taylor (executive director of Global Justice and all-around cool guy) describe my feelings perfectly today when he said that there is a "bankruptcy of vision this election season." I just can't muster up much enthusiasm for a debate between two candidates who are both promising to kill more terrorists than the other.

+ Read the full blog report

+ Learn more about the "Rolling to Overcome Poverty" bus tour

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Take action to stop Israeli settler attacks against peace activists

Even as the assault of Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members reported in SojoMail last week receives international attention, attacks have continued against activists escorting Palestinian school children near Israeli settlements. On Saturday, Oct. 9, settlers armed with wooden sticks and slingshots attacked CPT members Diana Zimmerman and Diane Janzen, members of Amnesty International and the Italian peace organization Operation Dove, as well as Palestinian residents. CPT is asking that international supporters contact the appropriate officials with the following questions:

  • Why are the Israeli police not protecting Palestinian children traveling to school? Note that harassment of the children has been ongoing and that the police appear to be choosing not to prevent further settler attacks on international volunteers.
  • What steps is the Israeli government taking to prevent these attacks?
  • Why do the soldiers and settler security personnel prevent the children from walking on the road near Ma'on settlement to get to school, ignoring the permission the children have received from the Israeli District Coordinating Officer and the Israeli police to walk on that road?
  • Do officials understand that allowing settlers to attack schoolchildren and internationals committed to nonviolence damages Israel's reputation?

+ Learn how to take action

+ Read more about the first attack against CPT in The Washington Post


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.


Debunking the debate

Foreign Policy in Focus analyzes 16 whoppers told during last week's vice presidential debate, including Cheney's alternate-reality version of Salvadoran history, and Edward's right-of-Bush skewed view of Israel.

+ Set the record straight

Safe houses of worship

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a new Web site called "Creating Safe Churches," which addresses sexual misconduct. The links help churches create policies, raise awareness of prevention practices, model how to report misconduct, and how to rebuild broken trust when sexual misconduct occurs.

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From abortion to Zoroastrianism

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Society attempts to bring together a state-of-the-art summary of the insights on religion gained by the principal social sciences: anthropology, psychology, and sociology.

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Readers write

Caleb Ruggiero writes from San Diego, California:

In response to Lisa Brough's letter [Boomerang 10/8/2004] asserting that God is a Republican: I am amazed at the small-mindedness of anybody who would dare squeeze the almighty God into the confines of one political party. Just like the political spin doctors, Ms. Brough focuses on only a selected few hot-button issues to make her claim, while ignoring virtually the entirety of the gospels and the prophecies of old. This isn't to say that God is a Democrat or "liberal"; that would be just as great a heresy as saying he is a Republican. I think it's about time we Americans stop trying to get God on OUR side politically, socially, and nationally, and start making sure WE'RE on God's side individually.


Jay Ricketts writes from Emmett, Michigan:

I'd agree with Ms. Brough that God must be appalled at Mr. Kerry's stance on abortion. I certainly am, and it's enough to cause me to withhold my vote. But surely God must be equally appalled at the constant lies and deceit from our Republican leaders as they struggle to justify an unjustifiable war in Iraq. And at Mr. Bush's gleeful run as the "hangin' governor" of Texas. And at the Republican party's awful treatment of the poor, especially with regard to world hunger, and access to medical care.

Bush had the gall to announce a "National Sanctity of Life" day last year, as if the question of "life" begins and ends with abortion. It most certainly does not. To believe in its "sanctity," one must believe that it is God's alone to take away, except in the lawful defense of life (Bush's creative attempts to redefine defense a la Vince Lombardi do nothing to change the true offensive nature of his actions in Iraq). Bush and the Republican party have proven time and time again that they believe it's good to kill "bad people," or send our kids to their deaths in a war with little or no connection to our national security, or accept death and mistreatment of Iraqi non-combatants as necessary collateral damage, or withhold needed medical services from poor people. And the Democrats, long the voice of the vulnerable and voiceless, have completely dropped the ball with regard to these most vulnerable and voiceless humans: the unborn.

Jesus told us there are two great laws: Love God, and love your neighbor. Both parties have fallen far short of the glory of God in both respects. I don't pretend to know the mind of God well enough to say how or if God would vote, but THIS Christian will be waiting for a candidate who believes in the TRUE sanctity of life in all its forms before he casts another vote for president.


Leland Glenna, Ph.D., writes from Pullman, Washington:

Lisa Brough's letter to the editor claiming that God is a Republican would have been more convincing if the premises of her argument were accurate. Contrary to her assertion, the Bible, God's word, does not condemn the termination of a pregnancy. Exodus 21:22-25 is clear. Causing a woman to abort her pregnancy is deserving of a fine, but not deserving of a penalty that a murderer would receive. And there is absolutely no question in this text that the woman's life is valued above her fetus. Christians may decide that there is something sacred about conception and that it is deserving of reverence. But the Bible does not equate abortion with murder. In contrast, God's word clearly condemns the failure to care for the poor, the orphans, and the widows.

As for the gay marriage issue, God's word is more clearly opposed to remarriage after a divorce (Matthew 19:9) than gay marriage. Only self-righteous hypocrites would propose a gay marriage amendment that does not also include prohibition against divorce and remarriage for heterosexuals.


Elliot Werner writes from Wynnewood, Pennsylvania:

Lisa Brough seems to think she knows the mind of God and his stand on political issues in modern-day America. An interesting point of view in light of Isaiah 55:8-9. I cannot find anywhere in scripture a specific prohibition of abortion. One could interpret Psalm 139 in this light, but in Numbers 5:22 the Lord himself seems to command the priests to cause an unfaithful wife to have a miscarriage.

As for God's definition of marriage, scripture seems to indicate that would include polygamy and having children with the servant girls (Genesis 30), and preclude divorce and remarriage (Luke 16:18). Perhaps as Christians we should be more humble and not so arrogant as to claim to know the mind of God.


Roy Hollands, a Brit living in El Paso, Texas, writes:

I found it refreshing to read Vicki Holland's letter in the Oct. 8 Boomerang. I am troubled by the polarization in American society as a whole, where there seems to be so little room for the kind of debate where you try to learn something new from the other people without trying to beat them into your ideological box. As to the idea that God can be defined by a particular political party view, as Lisa Brough claims he is a Republican, I would say that God is pro-life, but not in the narrow way we use it. He is pro-life-more-abundantly (John 10:10), which means he is pro-mercy, pro-joy, pro-peace, pro-sharing, pro-kindness, pro-freedom, pro-respect, pro-forgiveness of debts and sins, and pro-more-than-we-can-imagine. Would Jesus have died for us to be put into another box of legalisms? How can we even think we know enough about God to define what he is in totality?


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