The Common Good

Progressive Faith Did Not Lose This Election

Sojomail - November 3, 2004

Quote of the Week Be still and know
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Progressive faith did not lose this election
Good News Court rules to protect rights of protesters
On the Ground African oil: There is hell to pay
Culture Watch Mark Wahlberg (hearts) Jesus
By the Numbers Thou shalt not kill, part one
Soul Works Thou shalt not kill, part two
Web Sitings Election humor roundup
Boomerang Readers write
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Preaching the Word is an online resource for preparing sermons and scripture reflections based on the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays. We've done the work so you don't have to. Go to:


"God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
"Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth."
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge."

- Psalm 46


Progressive faith did not lose this election
by Jim Wallis

Religion was a big factor in this election, and "moral values" were named as a key issue for voters in the exit polls. On the Republican side, George W. Bush talked comfortably and frequently about his personal faith and ran on what his conservative religious base called the "moral issues." On the Democratic side, Senator John Kerry invoked the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan, talked about the importance of loving our neighbors, and said that faith without works is dead - but only began talking that way at the very end of his campaign.

We've now begun a real debate in this country over what the most important "religious issues" are in politics, and that discussion will continue far beyond this election. The Religious Right fought to keep the focus on gay marriage and abortion and even said that good Christians and Jews could only vote for the president. But many moderate and progressive Christians disagreed. We insisted that poverty is also a religious issue, pointing to thousands of verses in the Bible on the poor. The environment - protection of God's creation - is also one of our religious concerns. And millions of Christians in America believe the war in Iraq was not a "just war."

So in this election, one side talked about the number of unborn lives lost each year, while the other pointed to the 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq. But both are life issues - according to the Pope, for example, who opposes both John Kerry's views on abortion and George Bush's war policy. Some church leaders challenged both candidates on whether just killing terrorists would really end terrorism and called for a deeper approach. And 200 theologians, many from leading evangelical institutions, warned that a "theology of war emanating from the highest circles of government is also seeping into our churches."

Clearly, God is not a Republican or a Democrat, as we sought to point out, and the best contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or loyally partisan but to maintain the moral independence to critique both the left and the right.

It is now key to remember that our vision - a progressive and prophetic vision of faith and politics - was not running in this election. John Kerry was, and he lost. Kerry did not strongly champion the poor as a religious issue and "moral value," or make the war in Iraq a clearly religious matter. In his debates with George Bush, Kerry should have challenged the war in Iraq as an unjust war, as many religious leaders did - including Evangelicals and Catholics. And John Kerry certainly did not advocate a consistent ethic of human life as we do - opposing all the ways that life is threatened in our violent world.

We didn't lose the election, John Kerry did, and the ways in which both his vision and the Democratic Party's are morally and politically incomplete should continue to be taken up by progressive people of faith.

In a deeply polarized country, commentators reported that either political outcome would "crush" the hopes of almost half the population. So perhaps the most important role for the religious community will come now, when the need for some kind of political healing and reconciliation has become painfully clear. In the spirit of America's greatest religious leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the religious community could help a divided nation find common ground by moving to higher ground. And we should hold ourselves and both political parties accountable to the challenge of the biblical prophet Micah to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God."

+ Read more commentary by Jim Wallis

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Syllables of the Perfect Word: Advent Reflections 2004 available from Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement.
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: for information.)


Court rules to protect rights of protesters

Since 1990, School of the Americas Watch has organized nonviolent protests at Ft. Benning, Georgia, against a U.S. military training program based there that has been linked to some of the worst human rights atrocities in Latin America. As protests have increased in size and media exposure, attempts by local law enforcement and military police to obstruct their activities have also intensified.

Last month, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Columbus, Georgia, issued a ruling upholding the protesters' constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom from unlawful search and seizure. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the search policy instituted by the Columbus city police before the November 2002 School of the Americas Watch vigil violated the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution and that protesters may not be required to pass through metal detectors to enter the rally site in November 2004.

"We cannot simply suspend or restrict civil liberties until the war on terror is over, because the war on terror is unlikely ever to be truly over," Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote for the three-member court. "Sept. 11, 2001, already a day of immeasurable tragedy, cannot be the day liberty perished in this country."

+ Read more about the court ruling, and this November's gathering at Ft. Benning

+ Take Action: Tell your member of Congress to close the SOA


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African oil: There is hell to pay
by Edith Abilogo and Christi Boyd-van Overbeeke

In July 2003, the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline began to move crude oil from the fields of Doba to the Cameroonian coast of Kribi. An international consortium formed by Exxon Mobil (40%), Chevron (25%), and the Malaysian oil company Petronas (35%) built the pipeline of 1,070 km (about 700 miles) from southern Chad to the Atlantic coast. Like an elephant crushing everything in its path, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline has left destitution and desolation.

Before construction, few anticipated the problems that would later surface: people living near the pipeline's course sustained losses but were left without compensation; cultural goods were desecrated and reduced to dust.

Among the worst problems is that the environment has been destroyed and biodiversity irreparably lost. The oil pipeline crosses important rivers and precious tropical rain forests. As it was built near protected areas and fragile forest ecosystems, it has brought in its wake uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources, threatening Cameroon's long-term development.

+ Read the full article

+ Read more about the Chad-Cameroon pipeline in Sojourners magazine


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Mark Wahlberg (hearts) Jesus

In an interview originally published on, director David O. Russell talks about the spirituality of his recent film, I (heart) Huckabees.

Russell: Huckabees is talking about all of these spiritual ideas and putting them in a context without a church. I think they can absolutely live without a church. The ideas are "departure points."

One of the ideas is this - if you're unpretentious about these matters, people can mistake that for a lack of seriousness. That's why we had people wearing suits in this movie and it has this European formality to's because I am serious about it. People are used to seeing these ideas taken seriously in movies that are dramatic like The Matrix or The Passion of the Christ. Or they're satirized by independent cinema. I'm doing something different - I'm taking the ideas seriously in a comedy, even though I'm being off-handed and joking about it as well. I think the most daring thing about this film is its sincerity and its optimism.

Also included is a surprising conversation with Mark Wahlberg, one of the film's stars, and a devout Catholic:

Wahlberg: It all comes down to Jesus. It is all about love and how we all are connected. Coming from the inner city where there wasn't much hope, where there was a lot of violence and drugs, I can relate to the other side, where it seemed like nothing was connected, nothing mattered. It was all dark and painful. I had those feelings when I strayed from my faith, got caught up in the street life, drugs, and crime...and it wasn't until I woke up in prison that I said, "Oh God, I need to straighten my life out." It was God that brought me back and put everything else in perspective.

+ Read the full interview


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Thou shalt not kill, part one

20% Maximum rate of U.S. soldiers who shot to kill while under fire during World War II
55% Firing rate in the Korean War, due to "improved" psychological conditioning by the military
95% Firing rate in the Vietnam War
16% Rate of U.S. veterans from the Iraq war who suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder

Source: Christian Science Monitor

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Thou shalt not kill, part two

"We kill at every step, not only in wars, riots, and executions. We kill when we close our eyes to poverty, suffering, and shame. In the same way all disrespect for life, all hard-heartedness, all indifference, all contempt is nothing else than killing. With just a little witty skepticism we can kill a good deal of the future in a young person. Life is waiting everywhere, the future is flowering everywhere, but we only see a small part of it and step on much of it with our feet."

- Hermann Hesse, German poet and novelist.

Source: Daily Dig


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.


Election humor roundup

These humor sites offer links to some of the best medicine for what ails the election-numbed mind. Of course, things like humor, satire, and good taste are highly subjective, so click with a grain (or pinch) of salt:

+'s Best Humor of Campaign 2004

+ The Onion's 2004 Election Guide

+ Mark Fiore's political cartoons

+ The Daily Show's Indecision 2004 coverage

+ Read Sojourners' commentary on The Daily Show and the sanity-saving necessity of satire


Ediciones Kairos announces the publication of its very timely book Terrorism and the War in Iraq: A Christian Word from Latin America by Latin American theologian Rene Padilla and Wheaton College professor Lindy Scott. Powerful and prophetic!

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Readers write

Andrew Jenkins writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh:

I was greatly encouraged by the "New Confession of Christ" [SojoMail 10/20/2004], so I printed it out and gave copies to colleagues in our office, which is a rural water development project in Bangladesh. It aroused much interest and support from, among others, a Filippina Catholic, a Sri Lankan Buddhist, a Canadian Mennonite, a Bengali Muslim, and myself (British Anglican). Most were surprised and encouraged to find something like this coming from the United States!

An interesting outcome of our discussion was that similar debates are taking place and ideas being put forward to counter the deliberate misuse of religious faith for extremist political ends within other religions (even in Buddhist Sri Lanka). This is especially within Islam, where a huge debate is raging on the true meaning of "Jihad," with many respected clerics reaffirming the fundamental Muslim commitment to peace.

It seems to me that the real divide is not so much between religions (the "clash of civilizations" theory) but within religions - between those who follow the basic tenets that all affirm a commitment to peace and brotherhood, and those who twist the sacred texts to justify their own violent ambitions. Still, there are some practical differences: it seems that Muslim extremist fundamentalists plant bombs that kill innocent people, while their Christian and Jewish counterparts drop the bombs from airplanes.


Joe VanDyke writes from Florence, Alabama:

I have just read, re-read and re-re-read the "New Confession of Christ" and I am truly amazed. I was stunned after the first reading, alarmed after the second, and moved to respond after the third. For one who espouses that "God is not a Republican...or a Democrat," Mr. Wallis has done a good job of making a donkey of deity. At the same time he has launched a spiritual attack-missile toward many of us who share the same scripturally-based social concerns, yet still understand that the absolutes of good and evil do actually exist in our world. No nation should be characterized as wholly one or the other, but neither should we act as though these absolutes and their worldly representatives do not exist (often in the form of world leaders/governments).

I deplore a right-wing rhetoric that cloaks itself with a pseudo-spiritual agenda, and I equally abhor a left-wing response that takes scripture and twists it to support a partisan political philosophy. The latter, in my opinion, is what Mr. Wallis has done with the "New Confession." In all candor, the piece by Mr. Wallis is as offensive and disrespectful to other legitimate (and scriptural) points of view as any right-wing diatribe I have seen. May God help us all (right, left, and middle) to be doers (not twisters) of the word!


Valentine Hellman writes:

I cannot begin to thank Sojourners enough for being the voice I needed to hear at this point in my life. I recently got through a bout with suicidal depression and came out of it feeling like God had abandoned me. After much prayer, I was able to re-evaluate my life and God's blessings and renew my relationship with the Lord. Unfortunately, the political climate was once again starting to drive me away from Christians. I just didn't feel like Christians had a grip on reality, or more importantly, what it meant to be a Christian.

Sojourners has renewed my faith in Christianity. I no longer feel that my friends and I are in the minority. There are others like us. I am once again telling people that I am a Christian. I am not afraid to have religious discussions with non-Christians. As Christians, we shouldn't have to defend ourselves because of the actions of crazy right-wingers. We should be allowed to discuss Christ freely, without having to explain that we are not like those televangelists who spew hate, and more importantly, that Jesus is not like them.


Rt. Rev. Leland R. Somers writes from Clearwater, Florida:

The long discussion of abortion is not about being pro-life ["Life, pro-life, and statistics," SojoMail 10/27/2004]. It is about being anti-abortion and anti-choice. Where is the discussion of the fact that this president, who is supposed to be pro-life, has deliberately sent to their deaths more than 1,000 Americans in pursuit of delusions and outright lies? Where is the discussion of the fact that this pro-life movement is so concerned about 20 or 1,000 cells, but whose silence is deafening in the face of continued state-mandated murder - called execution?

Most of us who are not anti-abortion and are about women's rights in making decisions about their bodies really are pro-life but not about imposing our views on others. We also see that most self-styled pro-lifers are actually hypocrites who carefully are only pro-life when it comes to masses of cells, but not living, breathing, thinking, feeling, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters who are fully human with absolutely no question about the fact that they are human persons.


Jason Tarka writes from Portland, Oregon:

In response to Leland Glenna, Ph.D. [Boomerang, 10/13/2004] and his assertion that Exodus 21:22-25 is "clear" in its non-condemnation of termination of a pregnancy (i.e. abortion), it must be noted that a growing host of biblical scholars, linguists, and theologians disagree with Glenna. While Glenna asserts that "there is absolutely no question in this text that the woman's life is valued above her fetus," one must wonder why Glenna has assumed a questionable hermeneutic in the face of extant scholarship that has been walking in the other direction. Modern translations such as the NIV, NASB updated, and the NLT are just a few that render Exodus 21:22-25 to read that the child was born "prematurely," not miscarried, as Glenna holds. There is no warrant from the text to assume that "miscarriage" is the proper translation. God does care for all life - born or unborn, and this text buttresses that devotion.


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