The Common Good

Apocalypse Now and Then

Sojomail - October 27, 2004


10.27.2004 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week Word gets around
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Apocalypse now and then
Sojourners in the News Stay tuned for Sojourners coverage
Debate Life, pro-life, and statistics
For the Record Election dirty tricks, part two
Campus Lines Is life a single issue?
On the Ground Planting seeds that empower women
Colombia Journal A bipartisan appeal for peace with justice in Colombia
Boomerang Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"God is not a Republican, neither is he a Democrat, and their candidates are wonderful Christians, but neither of their parties has a direct line to God.... It is known that the Bible is very accommodating and respects divergence of opinion and our ability to choose. People who use their Bible to reach their own ends do a great disservice to Christianity."

- Zimbabwean Bishop Patrick Mutume of the Catholic Diocese of Manicaland. Mutume was visiting Washington to coordinate efforts with U.S. officials to ease tensions in his country as it approaches parliamentary elections next year.

Source: The Washington Post



BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED ^top

Apocalypse now and then
by David Batstone

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As the 2004 election campaign winds down, it's time to select my favorite bumper sticker of the season:

Bush/Cheney '04: Because you don't change horsemen mid-apocalypse.

Though I appreciate the humor, on a deeper level the message signals how troubled many Democrats (and other anti-Bush voters) would be if George W. Bush were to win a second term. They commonly paint the consequences in near-apocalyptic hues. Left-leaning author Norman Lear suggests (surely somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that the price of real estate in New Zealand is due to rise dramatically if Bush were to win.

Many of my Republican friends likewise threaten to flee the country if John Kerry wins. Consider the e-mail I received last week from a worried friend: "It now looks like Kerry has a good chance to take over the White House. If that happens, good riddance to this country. I don't plan to stay around and watch him drag our nation into a cesspool."

This election is being pitted as a winner-takes-all-the-spoils contest. In reality, however, whoever wins the presidential election next week will govern a bitterly divided body politic. Close to half of the voters will have cast their ballot to keep the winner out of the White House, and in most cases they will have done so with strong conviction.

Does it really need to be said that this scenario bodes ill for the democratic process in the United States? In such a divisive climate, political policy ceases to be evaluated on the basis of merit; rather, it becomes a litmus test for ideological purity.

We do not know if a President Kerry would cross partisan lines to build a broad consensus on critical matters of foreign policy, health care, and judicial appointments. Promises "to unite" the nation flow with ease in a stump speech. The fact that Kerry most likely would face a Republican majority in Congress means that he would be woefully ineffective if he failed to build bipartisan compromise.

We can predict, however, how a second Bush term would unfold. Four years ago, following a controversial intervention of the Supreme Court to decide an election in favor of the candidate who lost the popular vote, George W. Bush took office as if he had a mandate. Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, provides a revealing snapshot of this attitude of political entitlement in The Price of Loyalty (written with Ron Suskind). O'Neill, an ardent Republican, could not find one strong argument to support a massive income tax cut that would make the federal deficit balloon. Finally, exasperated with O'Neill's repeated queries for justification during a high-level meeting reviewing economic policy, Vice President Cheney turned to O'Neill and told him bluntly, "We deserve it." Why? Because we won the election.

Last month President Bush spoke off the record to more than 100 of his most generous financial supporters - known as the Republican National Party Regents - at the White House. In his remarks (leaked by those in attendance), Bush announced his plans during the first two years of his second term to jam his agenda - for privatizing Social Security, continued tax cuts, drilling for oil in Alaska, and completing the mission in Iraq regardless of the costs - into being. In short, he will interpret an election victory as a mandate to finish what he started during his first term.

The political opposition, of course, would mobilize in fervent resistance to these initiatives, and the polarization will deepen. At least half the country will believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction, and animosity will prevail over cooperation.

Truth is, the pressing challenges facing the U.S. and the globe sorely call out for cooperation. Speaking with my business hat on, I am terribly concerned about the precarious heights to which the federal deficit has grown. Its resolution goes beyond left-right rhetoric, as does a needed re-structuring of Social Security. Facilitating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, enabling a transition to sovereignty in Iraq, stemming the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and reversing the greenhouse effect all cry out for reasoned, bipartisan initiatives as well. And it is likely that the next president will select up to three, or maybe even four, new Supreme Court justices. If the Supreme Court is to maintain the respect of the entire nation, the judges must be chosen on the basis of their proven discernment and experience, not their judicial rating from the Christian Coalition or the ACLU.

Enough fighting already. To risk exhausting a tired political slogan, we have met the enemy, and it is us. A nation deeply divided will falter, for it cannot exert the strength of moral will that our times require. Without a vision that can transcend the flames of parochial interest, the people will perish.

+ Read more commentary by David Batstone


Last week, we published "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence" - endorsed by more than 200 Christian theologians and ethicists - challenging the "theology of war" emanating from the highest circles of American government. A complete list of signers is now available with the full text:

+ See the complete list of signers

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SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS ^top

Stay tuned for Sojourners coverage

Sojourners' message is being heard on the airwaves across the nation! In just the last few weeks, Sojourners has had more than 15 radio and television interviews - as well coverage in nearly 40 print publications. Jim Wallis is currently scheduled to appear on the CBS Evening News and PBS's Charlie Rose this week. Check your local listings for details. (Because of the ever-changing nature of television news scheduling, we cannot yet confirm exact times.) In the meantime, here are more clips of our ongoing media coverage:

Jim Wallis on ABC's Nightline
+ See the transcript

God and country: Group has mighty voice
+ Rocky Mountain News

In final push, Kerry tries to close a perceived 'God gap'
+ Christian Science Monitor

Don't rely on single issue when picking candidates
+ Wichita Eagle

Faithful crisscross country to bridge ideological divide
+ The Seattle Times

Most prefer political candidates to be religious, but voting those beliefs is another matter
+ The Ledger (Florida)

Voices given to disenfranchised at event
+ The Catholic Telegraph

Talk that diminishes faith
+ The Washington Post



DEBATE ^top

Life, pro-life, and statistics

In response to Dr. Glen Stassen's column, "Pro-life? Look at the fruits" [SojoMail 10/13/2004], Randall K. O'Bannon and Laura Hussey of the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund have alleged that his analysis is "mistaken and misleading," and questioned his "consistently pro-life" credentials. In their words: "Stassen presents himself as someone sympathetic to the pro-life cause who was shocked and saddened to find out that our pro-life president's policies were not having the pro-life effects he anticipated. That persona is misleading."

+ Read their full article

Stassen has responded in turn, admitting some statistical errors but defending his overall analysis and conclusions. While disputing O'Bannon and Hussey on a number of specific points, he concludes with a challenge and invitation: "I want us to be pro-life in deed, not only in word. I am hoping that here we can find common ground. I respect O'Bannon and Hussey for their very extensive work in checking the numbers, and for their pro-life commitment, and I sincerely hope we could work together."

Stassen further underlines the nonpartisan nature of his concern: "I urge changes in both George Bush's and John Kerry's policies in the directions that I have indicated. Bush does better in words, but his policies have undermined prospective mothers; Kerry does better in supporting prospective mothers, but I am pushing him to make a strong verbal commitment to doing what he can to prevent abortions. Both changes are possible, if they have the will."

+ Read Stassen's full response


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FOR THE RECORD ^top

Election dirty tricks, part two

Two weeks ago, we reported on election-season dirty tricks committed by Republican National Committee affiliates in various states. Reports have also surfaced about dirty tricks and dishonest handling of voter registration forms by operatives on the other side of the political divide, as well as alleged illegal activity that seems to be nonpartisan. One important distinction, however, is that the alleged fraud benefitting Republicans was committed by a RNC-funded organization, while the alleged fraud to benefit Democrats was committed by affiliates of the independent activist group ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).

RNC-funded companies destroy Democrats' registrations, Democrat-leaning organizations return the favor
+ The Washington Post

Duplicate registrations in Nevada, filled out by nonpartisan groups who were paid according to how many voters they registered:
+ Las Vegas Review-Journal

Voter fraud in Ohio, committed in part by ACORN:
+ WBNS 10TV

ACORN's alleged fraudulent activities in Florida:
+ St. Petersburg Times
+ Florida Today

Suspicious registrations in Ohio:
+ Cleveland Plain Dealer

Both parties trade allegations of fraud, obstruction, and intimidation:
+ The Washington Post
+ Boston Globe

Recent activity in key swing states points to dirty tricks aimed at disenfranchising minority voters:
+ AlterNet


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By Rose Marie Berger, Photographs by Ryan Beiler
$2.50 + s/h. 531-040.
During Advent we leave the place of our birth to journey to the birthplace of another. It is an invitation to renewal - to receive comfort and hope in the deep of winter, and be immersed in the eternal unchanging nature of God. These reflections include a phrase from the daily scripture, a reflection, the daily scripture references at the bottom, and the name of a saint or holy person of God who the Christian community remembers on that day. Written by Rose Marie Berger, associate editor at Sojourners. (Quantity Discounts Available. Please call: (814) 453-4955 or e-mail: sales@paxchristiusa.org for information.)


CAMPUS LINES ^top

Is life a single issue?

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In the last week before the election, students at Catholic colleges across the U.S. have organized a T-shirt campaign to encourage conscientious voting based on the full scope of Catholic social teaching. By wearing shirts that ask, "Is life a single issue?" students on 10 campuses across the nation affirm a common call to politics that is not partisan, but principled, and that reflects the concerns of a diverse Catholic community. In addition to wearing the shirts, students on several campuses have taken out advertisements that carry the same message.

The campaign is an effort of the organization Responsible Citizenship to generate dialogue about issues in this national election that matter to young Catholics. Through speakers, forums, and other events, affiliated campus leaders have fostered conversations on how best to promote a consistent ethic of life in the United States. "Unfortunately, some partisan groups want to exploit Catholic ethics by ignoring the full range of Catholic Social Teaching," says founding director Greg Mancini. "We have a responsibility as Catholics and citizens to expand this conversation and to say that all Catholic principles matter in politics and voting."

For more about these efforts and the need to recognize Catholic social teaching as a progressive and dynamic public philosophy, visit www.responsiblecitizenship.org.


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ON THE GROUND ^top

Planting seeds that empower women
by Emily Hershberger


Lilian Njehu
Catholic Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize - a first for an African woman and a first for environmentalism - for her work with the Green Belt Movement, the largest community-based environmental organization in Africa.

Maathai is particularly known for leading poor Kenyan women in a reforestation movement that has planted 30 million trees and for actively resisting the corruption of Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi. At the announcement of the prize, the international press ran photos of Maathai standing tall, proud, beaming - and alone - in the spotlight.

"The Nobel Prize is absolutely a singular recognition," explained Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu, director of the Washington, D.C.-based "50 Years is Enough" debt-relief campaign. "But it is also a collective recognition...[of] African women in terms of a way of valuing women's work that has not been valued."

Lilian Njehu, Njoki Njehu's mother and an early member of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), sees Maathai's accomplishment as a victory for thousands of African women who are challenging cultural norms and empowering their communities through grassroots environmental activism.

+ Read the full article


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COLOMBIA JOURNAL ^top

A bipartisan appeal for peace with justice in Colombia

Religious leaders are urging President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry to give more attention to Colombia by sending a letter to the candidates calling for a "reassessment" of U.S. policy. More than 40 years of war in Colombia has devastated the country, killed thousands, and caused the internal displacement of 3 million people, forcing them to live as refugees in their own nation. Colombia has received more than $3 billion in mostly military aid from the U.S. since 2000. Last year, the U.S. trained more soldiers in Colombia than in any other country, including Iraq or Afghanistan, according to research by the Latin America Working Group.

The letter, signed by some 700 leaders of U.S. denominations and faith-based organizations, including Jim Wallis of Sojourners, urges a "new strategy" that responds to the needs of both nations by focusing on "a greater commitment to a negotiated, political path toward peace." It also calls for more "attention to social concerns" and for "humane drug policies that meet the needs of those most directly affected."

+ Read the full text of the letter

+ Watch Sojourners' multimedia presentation on Colombia

+ Read about the peacemaking efforts of the Colombian churches


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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

Minister Marlon Millner of the Pentecostal Peace Fellowship, Cambridge, Massachusetts, writes:

I want to commend Sojourners on its recent "A New Confession of Christ" [SojoMail 10/20/2004]. It may mark new ground for the group. The new ground is that I hear high, ancient, and orthodox Christological language being appealed to here. This language is important because for Sojourners' work to be meaningful, the church must move beyond liberal and conservative. Of course, as an African-American Pentecostal, I come from a stereotypically conservative tradition. However, many of the folks who support Sojourners come from stereotypically liberal traditions, traditions seeking to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, accomodating modernity's disbelief in his divinity. Here, by invoking resistance to heresy and appealing to doxological language about Christ, we almost sound faithful - then again that is what the confession seeks to be. In that sense it is not new, but renews the church's claim to bring everything under Christ. No appeal to Jesus can have any ethical meaning if ones who call themselves Christians backpeddle or double-talk on the original claim that God has made this same Jesus who (was) crucified, both Lord and Christ.

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Sonny Moon, pastor of Yorkville United Methodist Church, Yorkville, Georgia, writes:

How many mass graves have to be dug up to justify removing a dictator? How many millions of people have to be liberated for someone to say, yes, we should have gone into Iraq. It seems to me to be very naive or just plain apathetic in "our" view of world situations. You and others repeatably bring up "without international help" when in fact France, Russia, and Germany are so bent on trying to make the U.S. look bad, we were never going to and will never get help from those three. It takes courage to lead; it does not take courage to sit back and criticize our president with lofty words. Your head is firmly planted in the sand, and you are using Christ to justify your position. If John Kerry is elected president you will have plenty of company in the sand.

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Jean Walker writes from Edinburgh, Scotland:

Many of us on this side of the Atlantic are praying for you as you approach presidential elections. Party electioneering is never very edifying, but some of what we hear is shocking. We are used to hearing of a vast amount of money used to get votes, and smearing of the candidates or policies of opponents, but the gerrymandering that has gone on in the South astonishes us. The use of God's name to get votes is shocking.

Our Lord was faced with four parties when he started his ministry: the Zealots (military action), Herod and the Priests (collaborate, don't rock the boat), the Essenes (personal piety, no politics) and the Pharisees (moral laws). Jesus could have gained power through each of these ways - and found scripture to support him, but knew this was not the way of God (Matthew 4:8-9). His commandment is to love God and our neighbours, his mission is to save and heal rather than judge, and his concern is for social justice and love for the poor, prisoners, the disabled, addicted, and diseased - all the lost including us (Luke 4:16-21). The Pharisees, like many today, thought that obeying laws was the way to God's heart instead of response to his love and insight into their own need for forgiveness. The gospels are full of Jesus teaching about love - for God, each other, and our enemies - and about not judging and condemning others. We are also told that not everyone who says he is a Christian is recognised by God, but that we can recognise God's followers by their behavior. (Matthew 8:21-23).

No government or party can get it all right, but some subsume everything beneath their own economic interest, so our responsibilty does not stop with voting. We continue to make our voice known, giving encouragement as well as criticism, keeping abreast of news and current affairs, and most of all, praying!

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Trudy Cooper writes from Portland, Oregon:

I share your objection to Pat Robertson's remarks ["Sojourners is 'semi-socialist,' says Rev. Robertson," SojoMail 10/20/2004]. But I am perplexed by your last sentence. You contrast all the good words (and works) we associate with Sojourners as being against "semi-socialism." It is as though Rev. Robertson's empty phrase actually held some clear legitimate content to be countered. But what are we to assume he meant? Totalitarian socialism, like the former Soviet Union? Collectivism? Guilds? Christian Socialists from the mid-1800s? What exactly were you countering?

Like Christianity, and like the U.S. constitution, socialism began with all the same ideals (elimination of poverty, ensuring economic justice and equality). Over time it has differentiated into everything ranging from the Society of Christian Socialists to Bolshevism. Even today, "socialism" includes everything from multi-party parliamentary democracies to China. Rev. Robertson didn't define his apparent slur. So, defending vaguely against use of the word "socialist" as an epithet, as you did, is to dignify Rev. Robertson's empty, unsubstantiated use of language. Orwell describes use of words like "patriotism," "freedom," "fascism," etc., as emotional triggers that allow the speaker or writer to hijack the language, stop thought, or polarize thinking before defining a single idea or substantiating a single conclusion. It's hard to break out of this manipulative cycle once it starts, but I think we can start by responding only to substance.

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Doug Koopman writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan:

I appreciate this e-mail ["Get out the vote and help stop election dirty tricks," Action Alert 10/19/2004]. But if God is truly neither a Republican nor a Democrat, let's be bi- or nonpartisan on this issue, too. There have been reasonably substantiated allegations of groups affiliated with the Democrats, including and especially ACORN, doing essentially the same thing as GOP-connected groups are alleged to have done. Can we protest both?

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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.



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