The Common Good

'Human Life is a Gift from God'

Sojomail - March 24, 2005

Quote of the Week Right-to-life ironies
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: 'Human life is a gift from God'
Religion and Politics End-of-life ethics
Building a Movement Vigils in every state mark two years of war
Culture Watch Good news about global health
Globe Watch Darfur duo
Values for Life Taxes for peace
Soul Works Poetry: The Visitation
Media Watch Sojourners in the news
Boomerang Readers write
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"The case is full of great ironies. A large part of Terri's hospice costs are paid by Medicaid, a program that the administration and conservatives in Congress would sharply reduce. Some of her other expenses have been covered by the million-dollar proceeds of a malpractice suit - the kind of suit that President Bush has fought to scale back."

- NPR commentator Daniel Schorr. Congress met on Palm Sunday to pass a law, signed by Bush, to allow a federal judge to override the decisions of Florida courts to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. The federal judge appointed to the case declined to intervene, though appeals by her parents' lawyers are forthcoming.

Source: NPR


'Human life is a gift from God'
by Jim Wallis

On Monday, the U.S. Catholic Bishops launched a new "Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty." Cardinal Theodore McCarrick opened a press conference by noting: "This holy week is the time Catholics and all Christians are reminded of how Christ died - as a criminal brutally executed." The church first opposed the death penalty 25 years ago, but this new campaign, he said, "brings greater urgency and unity, increased energy and advocacy, and a renewed call to our people and to our leaders to end the use of the death penalty in our nation."

I am against the death penalty in principle. We simply should not kill to show we are against killing. It's also easy to make a fatal mistake, as alarming DNA testing has demonstrated. The death penalty is clearly biased against the poor who cannot afford adequate legal representation, and is outrageously disproportionate along racial lines. Few white-collar killers sit on death row and fewer are ever executed. And there is no real evidence that it deters murder; it just satisfies revenge.

More deeply, as Cardinal McCarrick explained, "For us, ending the use of the death penalty is not simply about politics, it is about our faith. We believe human life is a gift from God that is not ours to take away. ...We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing. We cannot defend life by taking life."

In the past five years, 346 people have been executed in the United States. At the end of 2004, 3,455 people remain on death row. And though the Supreme Court has continued to narrow the scope of who is executed - prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded people and those who were juveniles when they committed a crime - executions continue. Already in the first three months of this year, 12 executions have taken place.

The results of a new poll of Catholics conducted by Zogby International were also released on Monday. John Zogby reported that "support for the use of the death penalty among American Catholics has plunged in the past few years." The just-completed poll showed that 48.5% support the death penalty and 48.4% oppose it. As recently as October 2003, an ABC/Washington Post poll showed 62% support and 34% opposed. And, Zogby noted, "Of particular interest is the finding...that frequent attendees of Mass are less likely to support the death penalty. Traditionally, this group has been seen as among the most politically conservative cohort...." And, unlike the general population, "the most popular reasons why Catholics oppose the death penalty are related to 'Thou shalt not kill' and 'respect for life.' They lead over such important concerns as poor legal representation among the condemned, the conviction and sentencing of some innocent people, and racially discriminatory practices on capital murder cases."

Also present at the news conference were Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, and Kurt Bloodsworth, who spent nearly nine years in prison, including on death row, before being exonerated of a murder conviction through DNA testing. Welch eloquently concluded: "My conviction is simple: More violence is not what Julie would have wanted. More violence will not bring Julie back. More violence only makes our society more violent."

The new Catholic Campaign will continue education within the church. A new Web site,, contains information on church teaching, facts about the death penalty, educational resources, and suggestions for action. The church also will act by continuing its advocacy in Congress and the courts.

I welcome this new campaign, and I am pleased the Bishops have taken this strong and hopeful initiative. It is a new and important step in affirming the consistent ethic of life so strongly emphasized in Catholic social teaching. And, I join Cardinal McCarrick's words:

"I've come to believe the death penalty hurts all of us, not just the one being executed. It diminishes and contradicts our respect for all human life and dignity. ...I hope I will see the day when the nation I love no longer relies on violence to confront violence. I pray I will see the day when we have given up the illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing people."

May that be the hope and prayer of all of us this Holy Week.

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End-of-life ethics
by Julie Polter

While the Terri Schiavo case continues to create controversy, we offer this broader perspective published in the August 2004 issue of Sojourners, commenting on Pope John Paul II's declaration that "the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act," and is, as such, "morally obligatory."

This controversy provides an opportunity for reflection for all Christians, Catholic and otherwise. The decisions to be made in the case of apparent PVS are rarely simple. The determination of whether someone is in a persistent vegetative state is not an exact science - a British study in the mid-1990s found that 43 percent of a group of patients diagnosed as PVS (17 out of 40 studied) were misdiagnosed (later found to be alert and able to communicate). And given the flawed nature of human beings, family members charged with making care decisions for an incapacitated patient may not always have the patient's best interests at heart.

Christian tradition calls us to give special care and attention to the weakest in our community, and to view life as sacred in a way that is not diminished by illness or disability. On the other hand, most Christians believe that the everyday miracle that is our body is not the sum total of our existence. Death, the inevitable surrender of the physical being, is in another way just a step in the life of faith.

All of this is a reminder that, as difficult as the topic may be, we owe it to ourselves and the people who we love to discuss end-of-life issues in our families and with our pastors. Living wills and other forms of advanced directives are not perfect (and are useless if your healthcare provider doesn't know that you have one - a common occurrence). But they are the best vehicle for making your wishes known at a time when you are unable to communicate them, and may make a difficult time somewhat easier for those you love.

+ Read the full article

+ Join a discussion on this topic

Meet-ups for a Movement

Nearly 200 readers have signed up to host God's Politics meet-ups in their local communities. In response to this demand, Sojourners has produced a free study guide to enable you to use the book as a movement-building tool. The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new national dialogue has begun - start your own study group today!

+ Click here to host a God's Politics meet-up event

+ Click here to find a meet-up in your area


Vigils in every state mark two years of war

More than 200 people from Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, an interfaith group in San Jose, California, marched from a worship service - in the rain - to a rally with 2,000 others.
Thanks to all SojoMail readers and local partners who organized and attended 900 vigils across the country this past weekend. Vigils were organized to commemorate the loss of more than 1,500 U.S. lives since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, along with the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis. Vigil-goers gathered in prayer and remembrance, sometimes in silent prayer and other times in vocal protest, calling for lasting peace and security in the region.

Thanks to support from our partner organizations - Working Assets, Pax Christi, MoveOn, and Faithful America, among others - millions of Americans received invitations to attend the rallies. Organizers noted the positive effects of the vigils in their local communities. "It far exceeded expectations," said Claire Hochstetler of the Goshen, Indiana, vigil. "The spirit of those who gathered was excellent - as well as the sharing. We accomplished a positive witness in this community, and it moved my own spirit greatly to be with this great bunch of diverse peace seekers."

+ Read more


Avon Walk for Breast Cancer 2005 Schedule

The popular Avon Walk for Breast Cancer series of fundraising events will come to eight cities in 2005, including a return to the six cities of the 2004 schedule, plus two new events.

Avon Walk for Breast Cancer 2005

Charlotte (new)April 16-17
Washington, D.C.April 30-May 1
BostonMay 14-15
ChicagoJune 4-5
Denver (new)June 25-26
San FranciscoJuly 9-10
L.A. BeachesSeptember 17-18
New YorkOctober 1-2

To walk, crew, volunteer, or donate, visit or call (877) WALK-AVON


Good news about global health

The story painted in the media about health in developing countries is virtually always gloomy. The magnitude of current health challenges - from AIDS to chronic malnutrition - can seem daunting, even hopeless. But this grim outlook obscures a lesser-known reality: that in the past 50 years, the developing world has witnessed spectacular improvements in health. Life expectancy has risen from 40 to 65 years, and the chance that a child will survive to age 5 has doubled. Much of this success is due to major health programs in poor countries that have saved millions of lives by introducing new medicines and technologies, providing improved health services, and fostering healthier behaviors.

A new book, Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health, published by the Center for Global Development, tells the story of 17 of these successes. The cases were selected by a group of 15 international health experts who were gathered to answer the question, "Does anything really work to solve profound health problems that face poor countries?" From the elimination of measles in southern Africa to the control of tuberculosis in China, these case studies provide clear evidence that even in the very poorest countries with limited health infrastructure, major public health efforts can and have changed things for the better.

+ Learn more


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Also receive the Science and Religion Guide, a special section within select issues, devoted to exploring a single topic in depth. Future topics include: panentheism, religiosity and youth, intelligent design, altruism, and emergent theory.

Science and Theology News now offers a free four-month trial subscription. Sign up at, or call (866) 363-2306 and mention code V42484.


Darfur duo

Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) have crossed partisan lines to unite for a greater cause. The dynamic duo introduced the Darfur Accountability Act, which calls for U.S. and international intervention in the African crisis. The bill calls for several specific actions, including creating a new U.N. Security Council resolution with sanctions; freezing assets and denying visas to those responsible for the genocide and other war crimes; and making Darfur a military no-fly zone.

+ Read more


The Romero Memorial Tree Project

Oscar Romero, the humble son of a carpenter, became Archbishop of El Salvador in 1977. Just three years after beginning his passionate ministry on behalf of justice, peace, and dignified life, he was martyred. In celebration of his life and memory, the Foundation for Self-Sufficiency in Central America seeks to plant at least 50,000 trees among the communities he loved so dearly.

+ Your gift of $10 will plant a tree in his memory and help to reforest El Salvador.


Taxes for peace

With one month remaining before tax day, we share this sample letter, created by the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, as an example of the kind of statement you can make when you submit your tax return this year.

Dear Congressperson,

I am trying my best to obey both the duties of citizenship and the demands of my conscience. I am conscientiously opposed to participation in war, yet I am required to fund the military every time I pay my federal taxes. My conscientious conviction against paying taxes for military purposes is not based on mere personal or political preference. It is grounded in deeply held beliefs based on universally recognized moral, ethical, and religious teachings.

My conscience must deal with the double violence of our military expenditures. Advanced weapons do violence not only by their incredible destructive powers. They also cause devastation in our communities by draining essential financial resources needed to address basic human needs. Approximately 31 cents out of every federal income tax dollar will pay for current military purposes in Fiscal Year 2005. It staggers my mind to contemplate what this nearly $600 billion dollars could do to alleviate human suffering and thus reduce the likelihood of future wars.

+ Read a full sample letter and learn more about the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund

+ Read more about war tax resistance

+ Read about the Bush tax agenda in Sojourners magazine


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The Visitation
by Phyllis K. Collier

Far from home in the eternal dark
Where rain is a constant reminder,
My old sins dog me again.
Transgressions long reconciled
Creep in under the dormant clematis,
Dreams peopled with tawdry details,
The deep purple past.

I see in the face of night
One by one my former lives
Tangled in moonflower,
Disguising themselves as errors in judgment,
The thousand spent blossoms
Spaded under, all but forgotten.
Through the endless hour before winter light
I hear the trampling feet,
The low growl of the Hound of Heaven.

In the clammy seaweed of reason,
A glassy inlet at slack tide,
I see these shadows
For what they are:
Mere riffs of the trumpet vine.

Any minute now I will
Swing out to the bells of day,
Sneak past the witchcraft that makes memory.
I begin once more the year
Of my finest resolve,
Let the sea of remorse
Wash over me,
The salty taste of it.

Phyllis K. Collier is an award-winning poet whose first book, Cain's Daughters, is forthcoming from Blue Unicorn Press in 2005.


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.


Sojourners in the news

The God's Politics movement tour is continuing to create a new political conversation in communities across the country. (Some sites require free registration.)

The good fight
+ Washington Monthly

Christians hear call to widen their focus
+ Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Hard line opens door for Dems
+ Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Author and evangelical bring moderate message
+ Lexington Herald-Leader (Kentucky)

'New dialogue' seen on values, politics
+ The Courier-Journal (Louisville)

Values lobbyists have White House's ear
+ The Dallas Morning News (Texas)

Faith important to left and right
+ Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado)

Christians placed other issues at forefront
+ Mobile Register (Alabama)

'Gospel justice' is bond that ties hearts together
+ Deseret Morning News (Utah)


International Community Charter School for child survivors of war seeks experienced teacher/administrator as assistant principal. Send resume and letter of interest to: For more information, visit:

PHOENIX FARM CAMPS IN NH * Wool and wisdom tales, August 5-8, intergenerational (everybody!) * Astronomy camp, age 8 and up, August 11-14 * Art and nature of peace, intergenerational, August 12-21 * * * (603) 876-4562

Progressive essays including "It's Not About God, It's About Religion," and "Where O Where Did All The Saddams Go?" as well as the novel "Dropping the God Bomb 2.0" now available at:

End times got you down? Come to the North Park University (Chicago) April 14-15, 2005, conference, "Israel, the Bible, and the Future," with leading authors offering critical biblical perspectives. Call (773) 244-5786 for brochure or check or

Sisters Online is a collaborative ministry of women religious committed to global kinship, a Web site focusing on spirituality and justice, seeking to be voices for right relationships, and agents of economic/social change. Visit us at:

Religious Left Gear. Visit us at to get bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, etc. This week's featured sticker: "God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts!"


Readers write

Susan Walker writes from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada:

I am so encouraged, as an evangelical Christian in Canada, to hear that 200 Americans have stepped forward to host God's Politics meetings. You are quite right, I think: "The monologue of the Religious Right is over." Blood for oil (and other forms of power and egomania) are not something that most right-minded people will sit by and accept. Yes, the American administration has a lot of power and is funded by people with a great deal of money. It is time for change, and I think that change - huge as it must be - is possible. Blessings on you all as you work to steward God's gifts within your nation.


Richard Clark writes from Salem, Indiana:

I take issue with Bill Samuel's letter [Boomerang, SojoMail 3/17/2005]. Jim Wallis does not "straddle" the issue of abortion. Rather, he states that both pro-choice and pro-life sides should work together to make abortion rare, with viable alternatives. However, this does not mean we have to return to draconian state and government action to recriminalize abortion.


Sayrah Namaste writes from East Lansing, Michigan:

Thank you for sending out an action alert from Justapaz [Pastors under threat need our prayers and action, SojoMail 3/17/2005]. As a member of the Mennonite Fellowship in East Lansing, Michigan, I have been aware of the courageous peace work that pastors and lay people have been engaged in through Justapaz. My good friend is a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team in Barrancabermeja, and his name is on a paramilitary death list for the nonviolent work he does working with Colombians to make peace zones. I am grateful to Sojourners for alerting their readers to take action to support the amazing courage of Christians in Colombia working for peace, and I hope many readers responded.


Susan Reeves writes from Corpus Christi, Texas:

I realize that the scene of angry protestors was a tool to enhance the plot twist at the end of this short story [Baby killer, SojoMail 3/17/2005]. However, I think the author does a disservice to all of us who protest the current war.

I can't speak for everyone protesting the current war, but - from my personal experiences - I have yet to meet a single person who blames the soldiers, even "the brass," for the current conflict. As an age 50 "old hippie" grandmother who often wears her greying hair in a ponytail, I'd like to set the record straight.


Mark E. Roberts writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma:

Eileen Fleming wrote: "Because we have no words from Jesus about homosexuality, I had hoped the leadership would follow his example, and also remain mute over this mystery of love" [Boomerang, SojoMail 3/17/2005]. Jesus is silent in the gospels about this or that form of sexual immorality because such forms were universally condemned within his Jewish world, so the gospels had no need to deal with them. Turning such silence into assent is hubris or (correctable) ignorance.


Bob Barber writes from Hiddenite, North Carolina:

Time and again I read opinions from prominent Christian leaders that use "loyalty to scripture" as an excuse to condemn homosexuality [Boomerang letter from Rev. Canon John E. Schramm, SojoMail 3/17/2005]. There is no mention anywhere in the gospels (our Christian heritage) of this subject. In those areas of the Bible where it is mentioned, these folks "pluck" it out of context to satisfy their own narrow-mindedness. Never do you hear support for bans on shopping on Sunday or wearing jewelry or all the other laws set up to control the Jewish population. "These don't apply in today's world," they say. What must apply is "Love thy neighbor," with no ifs, ands, or buts!


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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