The Common Good

Time to End a Horrific Legacy

Sojomail - October 26, 2005

Quote of the Week : Rosa Parks: 'I wasn't afraid'
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: School of the Americas: Time to end a horrific legacy
Politically Connect : Federal budget update: Human needs still at risk
Building a Movement : Preaching justice for Wal-Mart workers
Globe Watch : Darfur update: A 'make-or-break' moment
Theologically Connect : Curing the affluenza epidemic: Lessons from Katrina and Exodus
Religion and Politics : Robertson comments reignite controversy over missionary groups in Venezuela
Image of the Week : UNICEF bombs Smurfs to aid child soldiers
Media Watch : Sojourners in the news
Boomerang : Readers write
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Work Will Never Be the Same

"The most important questions in business are often never asked: What is our motive? What is our purpose? Are they worthwhile? Motive and purpose guide behavior, color decisions, and add or subtract joy from work."

- Dennis Bakke

Visit to learn more about the Joy at Work Bible Study based on The New York Times best-seller, Joy at Work. Purchase your copy online at


"The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. They placed me under arrest. And I wasn't afraid. I don't know why I wasn't, but I didn't feel afraid. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama."

- Rosa Parks, 1913-2005: Parks, civil rights hero and catalyst for the Mongomery Bus Boycott, died Monday at age 92.

+ Listen to her personal account from a 1956 interview on Pacifica Radio


School of the Americas: Time to end a horrific legacy
by David Batstone

Activists march during the annual vigil to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas. (SOA Watch photo)
Last year many Americans were shocked by the revelation that U.S. soldiers had tortured Iraqi prisoners. Many American citizens felt it was a complete contradiction of our principles to be fighting for democracy in Iraq while violating its practice by abusing human rights.

With that same sentiment, thousands of faith-based activists will gather in a few weeks at Fort Benning, Georgia, to express their conviction that the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas, which trains Latin American soldiers for combat, should be closed down.

If you have never attended the SOA vigil before, I urge you to make your peacemaking pilgrimage to Georgia Nov. 18 to 20. A vote to close down the SOA most likely will come up before Congress during the next nine months. A strong presence at the vigil this year will send Congress a powerful message that public sentiment runs deep against keeping the SOA in business.

The SOA has been controversial for nearly two decades, according to the School of the Americas Watch, a Washington-based organization that has spearheaded the grassroots movement to close the school. In its 50-year life span, many of the school's 61,000 graduates have been involved in major human rights abuses, the watch states on its Web site. Founded by Father Roy Bourgeois, the watch has raised awareness of the involvement of SOA-trained soldiers in the assassination of Archbishop Romero, the massacre of the six Jesuit priests and two women working for them, and other killings.

In 1999 a budget amendment was made in the House to cut funds to the school. Though the amendment lost by one vote in congressional conference committee, soon thereafter the Pentagon introduced a "reform" package. In 2001, the School of Americas was officially closed and replaced in the same location with the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Yet, as the old saying goes, a leopard does not change its spots.

I bear witness to the SOA's horrific practice. I worked in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and surrounding countries for more than a decade. I know what they taught at Fort Benning, and a name change does not alter that legacy.

Many of my best friends in El Salvador were "captured" - kidnapped out of their homes and churches - by security forces that had been trained by the American military. They were tortured by the book - electrodes sending shock impulses to their private parts, chalk lime bags put over their heads intending to suffocate, and worse tortures too terrible to name. Once they were pumped for information - such as the names of other members of their community service project or literacy study group - they would be scheduled for execution.

I established a human rights organization, Central American Mission Partners, in 1984 that aimed to stop these kidnappings from happening. We sent U.S. citizens to live with any Central American targeted by the security forces, otherwise gruesomely known as the death squads. The reason this strategy worked: The military did not want to kill a U.S. citizen and alert the American public of its disregard for human rights. A Salvadoran or Guatemalan gets tortured and killed - we would never hear about it. A U.S. citizen gets killed, and it's often front-page news and the Congress debates whether to keep the aid flowing to undemocratic forces.

Now is another occasion for U.S. citizens to speak up vigorously on behalf of those children of God who are often ignored in the halls of Congress. We must not allow the legacy of the SOA to continue. In God's name, put an end to this awful blemish on the republic for which we stand.

Take action now! The SOA's legacy isn't just Cold War history. As recently as 2002, a SOA graduate was arrested for the murder of a Colombian archbishop. In 2003, several soldiers received training at the school even though they were known to have past records of human rights abuses.

+ Find out more about the SOA vigil in Columbus, Georgia, Nov. 18 to 20

Tell your member of Congress to support HR 1258, a bill to close, investigate, and prevent another cosmetic remake of the SOA:

+ Click here to e-mail your member of Congress

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Federal budget update: Human needs still at risk
by Yonce Shelton

As Congress aims to finish its work for the year in mid-November, a major goal is approval of the 2006 budget reconciliation bill (H. Con. Res. 95). Despite a victory last week in the Senate, the outlook for millions of low-income families remains dire. And tax cuts for the wealthy are still on the agenda.

The House leadership is still trying to increase from $35 billion to $50 billion the mandatory cuts in the budget. Some House members are also calling for across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs, including energy and nutrition assistance for low-income families. A vote to make these changes was scheduled for last week but was delayed, partly because of strong efforts from the advocacy community. However, efforts to make these cuts continue, and the most vulnerable are being targeted to save money.

+ Read the full update


YOU'RE INVITED: Politics and Spirituality - Seeking a Public Integrity

Jim Wallis, Anne Lamott, and Richard Rohr
Jan. 14 to 16, 2006 - Washington, D.C.

Three eminent speakers - Jim Wallis, Anne Lamott, and Richard Rohr - will be together for the first time at the Hyatt Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 14 to 16. Register by Nov. 1, 2005, for the early rate of $195. One-day passes are available, as well as special discounts for international participants. For the complete conference schedule and online registration, visit Sponsored by Sojourners and the Center for Action and Contemplation.


Preaching justice for Wal-Mart workers

Last week we announced the premiere of Robert Greenwald's new film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices, which will be released during "Higher Expectations Week," Nov. 13 to 19. As part of the effort, Sojourners will be working with a broad range of organizations to educate our communities about the negative effects Wal-Mart has had on rural and urban America.

Recent news that Wal-Mart is introducing new employee health plans shows that grassroots pressure is encouraging changes. However, a recently surfaced memo by Wal-Mart executives discouraging the hiring of "unhealthy" employees raises serious questions about its commitment to its workers. It included this candid admission: "Wal-Mart's critics can easily exploit some aspects of our benefits offering to make their case; in other words, our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance."

In addition to hosting or attending a screening of the movie, we are encouraging churches around the country to offer a sermon or message on corporate greed, civil responsibility, or civic justice on Nov. 13. The Wal-Mart Watch campaign has developed sample sermons, bulletin inserts, and other materials at that are available as a valuable resource. We also hope that you will send a copy of your sermon so that other religious leaders can benefit from reading it. Send your sermon to:


Some places are too sacred to sacrifice to oil drilling.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of them. This place remains as wild as when it was first created. It is home to millions of birds, thousands of caribou, grizzlies, wolves, and more. This is the last place on earth for oil development. As you read this, the oil industry's allies in Congress are very close to passing a budget bill that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

Please help The Wilderness Society keep the Arctic Refuge wild by sending a message to Congress today.


Darfur update: A 'make-or-break' moment
by Adam Taylor

We have been alarmed by the escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. News agencies and nongovernmental organizations are reporting that peace talks between rebel groups and the Sudanese government - which have been stalling for months - are at a make-or-break moment with violence mounting. Since July, supporters of Sojourners have organized nearly 100 local events to bring attention to the atrocities and call the United States government to account for its lack of concrete action. Nearly 1,000 handwritten letters have been sent to President Bush, urging him to use our resources to bring peace to this region.

Our prayers and action are needed now more than ever.

In the coming weeks and months, we will be working with our partners to influence our government to take the necessary measures to end this genocide and restore security and hope to the region.

+ Read a Reuters article on the increasing violence in Darfur, as reported by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

»Click here to watch a short video
Sojourners has moved!

We are currently settling into a newer, more modern building space to fulfill our dream of expanded media and organizing outreach. We still need your help in this transition! Please consider giving a gift to our Move Campaign today!

+ Click here


Curing the affluenza epidemic: Lessons from Katrina and Exodus
by Rick Axtell

Hopefully, the churches' renewed encounter with "the other America" will drive us to seek structural solutions to our longer term problems...problems of housing, and health care, and low wages - because biblical compassion necessarily drives us from the realm of private charity to the arena of social justice.

The hurricane exposed something else about us as well, something also hidden below the surface.

It has revealed that biblical people understand the lesson of the manna. The abundance of creation provides plenty for all if we can learn contentment with what is "enough," and use God's providence to meet the needs of others.

The cure for affluenza is the spiritual virtue of contentment - gratitude for God's abundant, generous, undeserved grace. God's grace is sufficient (Philippians 4:11-13, 19; 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10). The church must be a place that helps with that reflection: Is our chief end as humans to have more - or having enough, to be more?

+ Read the full article


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    Robertson comments reignite controversy over missionary groups in Venezuela

    In the wake of Pat Robertson's statement calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan government announced recently that it would expel the evangelical missionary group New Tribes Mission. Christianity Today reports that another mission group wrote in a confidential prayer e-mail, "While we believe that Chavez has been planning to expel foreign missionaries for some time, statements like those made by Robertson have provided him with an excuse to do so and might actually justify his actions."

    Nikolas Kozloff, senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, gives in-depth analysis in his article "Evangelicals in Venezuela: Robertson Only the Latest Controversy In a Long and Bizarre History." He notes that Venezuelan Protestants "only number 2% of the population and by and large are a working-class pro-Chavez constituency," and that "leading Venezuelan Protestants in the country have flatly denounced Robertson's fatwa against Chavez, complaining that his statements haven't made their work any easier."

    + Read Kozloff's full analysis

    + Read Jim Wallis' response to Robertson's original statement


    How can sprucing up your garden rebuild the lives of at-risk youth?

    Tribe One is a Knoxville, Tennessee, nonprofit Christian ministry providing internships to at-risk minority youth in our social enterprises - screen printing, an Internet studio, and a recording studio. This gives them the foundation to grow spiritually, advance educationally, gain financial skills, and to build personal assets. We've designed to empower disenfranchised youth by putting them to work. Purchase one of our beautiful birdhouses, or use our unique fundraising program for your church, nonprofit, or club.

    Beautify your garden while helping lift up your community...and ours. Click here.


    UNICEF bombs Smurfs to aid child soldiers

    As butterflies flutter through the cartoon forest, Smurfs scamper to and fro among the foliage. A Smurf orchestra plays while singing Smurfs dance hand-in-hand around a campfire. Suddenly, their song is pierced by the shrill whine of falling bombs, mushroom houses explode into flames as screaming Smurfs flee among the debris.

    Satire? Hardly. It's UNICEF's latest campaign to bring attention to the plight of child soldiers. Broadcast on Belgian television, the 25-second short ends with the chilling sound of a crying baby and the message, "Don't let war affect the lives of children." The film is intended to help raise awareness and funds for the rehabilitation of former child solidiers in Burundi.

    + See the video (though a cartoon, it is rather disturbing, as intended)

    + Learn more about the UNICEF campaign

    MEDIA WATCH ^top

    Sojourners in the news

    Tune in at 8 p.m. (EST) on Friday night to your local NBC station for a Dateline special on "Evangelicals in America." Jim Wallis will be featured in an interview with Tom Brokaw.

    Religion in America: Wooing the evangelicals U.S. News and World Report

    Loans for living-wage jobs Santa Maria Times

    Author unites left and right The Heights (Boston College)

    Religious communities celebrate food stamp victory The Christian Post

    Changing seasons are time to think of political strategies The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania)

    Faith helps teens, others find truths Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon)

    Noted evangelical to discuss politics and religion The Vanderbilt Hustler

    The religious left The Washington Times

    Jim Wallis to outline progressive Christian view of politics Ekklesia

    Back down memory lane The Weekly Standard


    Amnesty International's National Weekend of Faith in Action this October is an opportunity for faith communities nationwide to devote time to the issue of the death penalty. For more information on the weekend, visit

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    Religious Communities Say: "No" to Proposition 74. "No" to Proposition 75. "No" to Proposition 76. California special election Nov. 8, 2005. For more information go to: It is not too early to start your Christmas shopping. Our store has a great selection of Religious Left merchandise with buttons, shirts, mugs, tote bags, and bumper stickers. This week's featured item: "Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

    BOOMERANG ^top

    Readers write

    Pastor Edward Murrey, of Valleybrook Evangelical Presbyterian Church, writes:

    I am excited to hear we are making a difference, especially with the food stamps. It's absurd to cut taxes at a time when we are already deep, deep into debt, trying to provide hurricane relief, and paying for an unjust war. As an independent, I am ready for regime change in Washington. If Hillary Clinton will adopt the Democrats For Life 95-10 initiative and genuinely work to reduce abortions from the bottom up (as opposed to top down), then I am ready to throw my support behind her or possibly John Edwards.

    We need a vision for the working poor - a vision that helps them bear the brunt of rising gas prices, housing prices, health care, and education. As one with a family of five, I make nearly $40,000 a year and still live hand-to-mouth. I can't imagine how many people are making it with $20,000 a year. It's time to stop the either/or game. Let government, the church, and the private sector work together to help the most vunerable in our country.


    James Vicars writes from Armidale, Australia:

    After reading the Sojourners newsletter I was outraged that your Congress should be giving tax cuts while cutting the budget for the needy. Where is the moral leadership of the U.S.? Your country seems to be systematically reducing its ethical capital to rubble, preferring greed and hypocrisy - and, it appears, from the media, cronyism - to tackling the big problems, the kind your government, your leaders, and representatives are really there for. The U.S., for most of my lifetime, has been the shining paragon of democratic possibility. Sad to say, what is now being done may never be able to be undone and the whole world may be affected by it.

    Is there any (relatively easy) way non-U.S. citizens can add their voices to those trying to draw Congress's attention to the enormous danger of what they are proposing?


    Richard H. Royston writes from Mount Vernon, Washington:

    The extremist Bush administration with its proposed $60 billion cut in Medicare/Medicaid, threatens the health and well-being of tens of millions of us in dire need of medical care. Many would not survive if their present medical care was not available. Seniors, low-income, unemployed, and developmentally disabled folks are victims of these cuts. We need this medical help from necessity, not choice. This is expecially true for developmentally disabled. My youngest daughter is DD, caused by a seizure fever when she was a toddler. She and her housemates aren't able to work full time to qualify for insurance.

    The only Americans these cuts will benefit are HMOs and pharmaceutical corporations who gave tens of millions of dollars for the election of Bush. We know billions are needed to reconstruct the U.S. Gulf Coast. Do this by eliminating more tax cuts for the superwealthy who don't need more tax cuts. Also end the $82 billion-per-year Iraq war. Additional billions for this unnecessary war will continue for years. To stop these heartless medical cuts, e-mail your members of Congress and urge them to vote against them.


    Whitney Mannies writes from Washington, D.C.:

    When Sojo readers were asked, "Do you think Harriet Miers' faith makes a difference regarding her fitness to be a Supreme Court justice?" the option that garnered the most support was, "Her faith is irrelevant - she should be judged solely on legal criteria." Does this not contradict the very decompartmentalization of faith that Sojourners advocates? As Christians, our "law" flows from our faith, and our "justice" from the radical relational truth of Christ. Reconciliation with God and each other is the core of the Christian faith, and I hope our "legal criteria" embody that, not depart from it. Perhaps Sojo readers are frustrated that lately such patently un-Christlike politics garner support with religious rhetoric. But does this crisis result from the combination of faith and politics? No! Rather, this hypocritical stance results from the bifurcation of faith and public life that renders faith, as your question put it, "irrelevant." If a problem exists with Miers' faith, it is that she fails to apply it to the pursuit of justice, for where is justice to be found if not in the work of Christ?


    Cathy Lester writes from Grayling, Michigan:

    In the wake of the earthquake in Pakistan, aid agencies are doing what they can, but they aren't getting the level of contributions that came in the wake of the tsunami or Katrina - this in spite of the fact that a representative of Doctors Without Borders says the need in Pakistan is greater than the need was after the tsunami. Talking heads on TV say we're experiencing "charity fatigue," but I wonder. Are Americans not so interested in helping a country that's seen as Osama bin Laden's refuge? Frankly, I think we should emphasize the Taliban's influence in Pakistan, because we have an unmatchable opportunity to prove their words wrong. Extremists have been telling people in Pakistan that America hates Islam and Muslim countries. Now the more we give in earthquake relief, the more individual Pakistanis will be saying to themselves, "I was homeless...injured...starving...and the Americans helped me!" So for the sake of promoting the truth about our country - dig deep and send to Pakistani earthquake relief!


    Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Because of the volume of letters we receive, concise responses that include a name, hometown, and state/province/country are the most likely to be published. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. E-mail:

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