The Common Good

Jerry Falwell and His Hunt for the Christmas Grinch

Sojomail - November 23, 2005

Quote of the Week : With friends like these...
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Jerry Falwell and his hunt for the Christmas Grinch
Faith in Action : Rose Marie Berger: What I did on the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials
Building a Movement : 'Maladjusted patriots' at Fort Benning
Palestine Journal : Hope for Gaza?
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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With friends like these...

"We want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information form [sic] the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet, and telephone trees." [italics in original]

- Michael Scanlon, former aide to Sen. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), strategizing on how to get conservative Christians to protect existing gambling interests by getting them to oppose competition from riverboat gambling. Scanlon plead guilty this week to conspiring to bribe a congressman and other public officials.

Source: Christianity Today

More light reading: A 318-page evidence document also includes faxes from former Christian Coalition head-turned-lobbyist Ralph Reed to Pat Robertson thanking him and Jerry Falwell for their help.

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Jerry Falwell and his hunt for the Christmas Grinch
by David Batstone

In a yuletide message to the half million recipients of his "Falwell Confidential" weekly e-mail newsletter, Jerry Falwell kicked off his "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign."

In more specific terms, Falwell announced that the conservative legal agency Liberty Counsel is ready to file a lawsuit against any individual or group that misrepresents the way Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces. Perhaps it is best to let Falwell speak for himself since he has a flair for the dramatic: "Celebrating Christmas is constitutional!"

I want to first acknowledge that Falwell taps into a sentiment shared by many American Christians that they are losing their holiday. Schoolteachers fear to lead their students in the singing of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" lest they be charged with violating rules on religious propagation. Nativity scenes in city squares are a target for civil suits. The simple act of wishing a stranger "Merry Christmas" has turned into a social faux pas.

In order to test the depth of that feeling, last week I ran the Jerry Falwell campaign by a study group I was teaching at a Presbyterian church in California. They immediately voiced their exhaustion with the cultural wars that have sucked in our holidays as the latest battlefront. They do not want to force all American citizens to recognize Christmas as the "constitutional" December holiday, but they also don't want to look over their shoulder every time they sing "Silent Night."

I do blame the American Civil Liberties Union and other left-leaning legal agencies for fanning the flames from their end of the cultural divide. In more than a few cases, they have pursued legal action to ban public acts of religious expression, which is constitutionally distinct from the state establishment of religion.

Falwell and his cohorts then use these actions as the impetus for a holy war to take back Christmas. The American Family Association, for instance, last week announced a boycott on all Target stores, because, according to the group, the retailer has chosen not to use "Merry Christmas" on advertising and in-store promotions. Disputing that charge, Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I don't know where they're coming from. We have no such policy on Christmas. You can see it in our stores."

Her denial is unnecessary anyway, in my mind. If a store chooses to honor the holiday traditions of all its diverse shoppers, why should I punish their embrace?

I know that I am not the only American - Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other - who can't be troubled to join these cultural wars. Share the joy of Christmas and Hanukkah - which begin on the same day this year - with each other. And express it in the way that delivers your best wishes. Those who are looking for offense will find their cause. Look instead for ways to celebrate the gifts of the season together.

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What I did on the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials
by Rose Marie Berger

Last week I spent two days in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on trial after being arrested Sept. 26, 2005, while delivering petitions to President Bush at the White House. Several hundred people met on Pennsylvania Avenue that day, bringing boxes and boxes of letters to President Bush demanding that he "redress the grievances" of thousands of Americans regarding the war in Iraq.

Waiting for a reply took several hours. The guards at the gatehouse called the executive office, but apparently no one was able to come pick up the mail. Eventually, roughly 370 of us were arrested for demonstrating on the White House sidewalk without a permit - the largest number ever arrested by the U.S. Park Police, according to one officer. Some of us spent up to 14 hours in handcuffs and all were released with a citation. We had the option of paying a fine or appearing at one of three court dates.

My court date - Nov. 16 - also marked the week of the 60th anniversary of the post-World War II trials held in Nuremberg, Germany.

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'Maladjusted patriots' at Fort Benning
by Tomek Krzyzostaniak

An estimated 19,000 protesters attended the Sunday vigil to close the School of the Americas. (Photo by James Ferguson)
As we drove into Columbus, Georgia, on Saturday, Nov. 19, the local oldies station greeted us with an advertisement for "God Bless Fort Benning Day" at the Columbus Civic Center. Supporters of Fort Benning would have the opportunity to see the Budweiser Clydesdales, take a look inside the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, and inspect a military helicopter.

This patriotic celebration was likely in response to those gathering to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly called the School of Americas, a school located at Fort Benning that has trained Latin American military officers in interrogation, counter insurgency, and - by many accounts - torture.

We "maladjusted patriots," as Rev. Charles McKenzie, one of the Sunday speakers called those protesting, were not tempted with any fun activities or corporate mascots. Our cry to close the School of Americas needed no gimmicks. We had Rosa del Cid and thousands of others who inspired us to be present at this event of remembrance.

Who was Rosa del Cid? She was no famous activist or speaker: She was 20 years old and pregnant when she was murdered by School of Americas graduates in the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. Rosa's name was remembered this weekend, as were thousands of others.

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+ Take action to close the School of the Americas

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Give The Gift of Hope
By Paul Rogat Loeb

"I admire your work very much. This book can even make one hopeful about the future despite so many signs to the contrary." - Bill Moyers

"This might possibly be the most important collection of stories and essays you will ever read." - The History Channel and American Book Association's #3 political book for 2004

"A stirring collection of essays aimed at people who still want to believe that ordinary people can change the world." - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Paul Loeb brings hope for a better world in a time when we so urgently need it." - Millard Fuller, founder, Habitat for Humanity


Hope for Gaza?
by Philip Rizk

Gaza fishermen inspect their nets. (MCC photo by Ryan Beiler)

A friend and I had dinner at my favorite restaurant in Gaza City this afternoon. A deal had been announced that opened the border connecting Gaza with Egypt. A seaport for Gaza is also supposed to have been part of the negotiations. This new accord reveals signs of hope. It speaks of changing a Gazan economy that has continued to fall into decay.

As we sat overlooking the incredible view that I have grown to love, I was awestruck by the beauty of creation, even in conflict-torn Gaza. Waves crashed graciously into the soft sands of the shore. As the sun began to set, its reflection turned the waters into a quicksilver mirror.

Three men - which soon became four, then five, then six - moved along the beach pulling at a rope that disappeared into the waves somewhere within the vast Mediterranean Sea. Toward the end of our lunch, the treasure at the end of the rope finally reached the sandy shore. As the net landed on the beach, silhouettes began to appear. The six men were soon accompanied by young and old, until a group of roughly 15 gathered around the catch of the afternoon. In comparison with the number of spectators, the number of fish was minimal. After five or six minutes of activity, one boy walked away from the scene with the catch in one medium-sized beat-up cardboard box.

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Top story:

Progressive church leaders warn Bush, Congress on budget cuts Beliefnet 11-21-2005
"This isn't a partisan issue, it's a stark moral choice," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical who heads the Call to Renewal anti-poverty campaign. "The House bill is obscene."

More Sojourners in the news:

Jesus wouldn't cut aid to poor The News and Observer (North Carolina)

U.S. should stand against torture The Times-Herald (California)

Unusual Allies: In social action and helping the poor, theology is becoming less of a divider Winston-Salem Journal

Radio spots rap Wal-Mart over benefits The Patriot-News (Pennsylvania)

Unfamiliar with Bush's Bible Technician (North Carolina State University)

Staring at face of poverty Waco Tribune-Herald

Venezuela Protestants challenge Chavez on CIA mission link Ekklesia

Called to serve the needy The Indianapolis Star

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Amnesty International USA Denounce Torture Blog. Get the latest news on abuse and ill treatment in the U.S.-led war on terror and find out what you can do to stop it.

Online Advent devotions. Wait with us and experience the mystery of Christ with weekday reflections, personal stories, poetry, and prayers from Goshen College based on the lectionary. To access the devotions online or sign up to receive them in your inbox, go to:

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Readers write

Laura Abbatemarco writes from Hartford, Connecticut:

I am a social worker in a pediatric clinic. I just read the article concerning the cuts that are proposed to our nation's poor ["A time of moral reckoning," SojoMail 11/16/2005]. I don't think it is possible to find the right words to explain how I feel about what our country is doing. I don't think the people in power really know what it is like to be poor. Every day I work with people who are too busy trying to get through that day to plan for the next. What people forget when they judge the poor, is that with poverty too often comes violence, poor education, and fear. Let's not forget the hierarchy of needs. We need to feel safe, fed, and know there is a roof over our head before we can begin to think how to get ahead. Choices are often tough so poor ones are sometimes made. When the budget gets cut, we continue to take a step backward. I am just so tired of telling families, "I am sorry, I can't help. The program was cut."


Glenn Stockton writes from Kingston, Washington:

Jim Wallis is quoted as saying "...they need to challenge the ways conservatives have co-opted Christianity to advance a narrow, moralistic agenda that focuses on divisive issues like abortion and same-sex marriage and neglects the stronger gospel concerns with poverty, social justice, and peace" ["Religion in America: Churchless seekers," SojoMail 11/16/2005].

Excuse me. While the abortion issue certainly is divisive, it only points to the division between those who favor life versus those who side with death. This is not an unimportant division to make! How the commandment "thou shalt not kill" can be relegated to a weaker gospel concern than the others mentioned is a mystery to me. The gospel of Jesus Christ certainly did not negate this commandment, but refined and amplified it.


J. Ward Pallotta writes from Cleveland, Ohio:

Steve Taylor from Oklahoma City recently wrote that the story of turning the other cheek suggests that Jesus would not defend himself [Boomerang, 11/16/2005]. Taylor was questioning David Batstone's asking "WWJD?" in relation to foreign policy ["Who would Jesus torture?" SojoMail 11/9/2005]. There is another interpretation of that Bible story. In those days, when a person felt the need to strike someone, the strike was a slap across the face with an open hand if the victim was of equal social stature. If the aggressor thought the other person beneath him, he swung from the other direction using the back of his hand. By turning the other cheek, turning the chin into the direction of the slap, the aggressor could not slap again without hurting his hand on the person's chin. If he was going to strike again, he would have to use the open-hand slap, elevating his victim to the status of an equal. Turning the other cheek may not have been about passivity, but about recognizing that we are all equal in the Kingdom of God. Now THAT has foreign policy implications.


Jes Houk writes from Reno, Nevada:

I did not feel that Ms. Snarr was condemning those who shop at Wal-Mart at all [Jean Hunt writes from Nebraska, Boomerang 11/16/2005]. Rather, she is pointing out the vicious cycle that Wal-Mart stores produce: they move into a neighborhood, lowball the businesses in the neighborhood out of the area, and set the wage standard so low that people can only afford to shop at Wal-Mart.... Which in turn knocks out more local businesses.

I make a concerted effort to not shop at Wal-Mart as well, but there are situations where my family cannot afford not shopping at Wal-Mart. Certainly we are not the only ones. I felt that Ms. Snarr treated such families with respect, noting that the conditions that Wal-Mart creates keep those families in their low-income situations. I guess I know the feeling of "What good will my one shopping trip do?" or "What good will it do for me to pay more on my groceries? That won't take Wal-Mart out of business." That is why, while it is important to vote with our money by shopping other places, it is also important to voice our concerns and pressure such companies and, as a self-governing democratic state, to hold those companies accountable.


Chris writes from Seattle, Washington:

Wal-Mart has a nasty little secret when it comes to its supposed frugality. It ain't necessarily so. I know someone who tracks prices of all the local stores for a living and has regular evidence that Wal-Mart plays the same game as everyone else - go as low as you can, but take your profits where you can. Milk can regularly be found cheaper elsewhere. Prices are increased secretly only to be slightly reduced with big fanfare. Every chain store watches the others' prices and adjusts their prices accordingly.


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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