The Common Good

Pray and Act for a Moral Budget

Sojomail - November 30, 2005


11.30.2005 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week : Taking risks for peace
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: Pray for a moral budget
Iraq Journal : Abductions in Iraq and Advent's outbreak
Politically Connect : Seeking just policies for undocumented immigrants
On the Ground : Hotel Katrina
Building a Movement : Abandoning life-and-death illusions
Book Notes : Books for a cause
Boomerang : Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

Taking risks for peace

"Personally it has always worried me that I am a 'cheap' peacemaker.... talking, writing, demonstrating about peace is in no way taking risks like young servicemen in Iraq. I look for excuses why I should not become involved."

- Norman Kember, writing six months before he joined a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Iraq. Kember, another CPT delegate, and two team members have been missing since they were abducted in a Baghdad suburb Saturday. Source: The Independent.

For more information and updates, see "Abductions in Iraq and Advent's outbreak," below:

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HEARTS & MINDS ^top

Come to Washington to pray for a moral budget
by Jim Wallis

"Woe to you legislators of infamous laws...who refuse justice to the unfortunate, who cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey and rob the orphan" (Isaiah 10:1-2, Jerusalem Bible).

There are moments in every generation when a society must decide on its real moral principles. This is one of those moments in history: When our legislators put ideology over principle, it is time to sound the trumpets of justice and tell the truth.

In the early hours of the morning before leaving for their Thanksgiving break, the House of Representatives passed a budget bill that cuts $50 billion, including essential services for low-income families. Funding for health care, food stamps, foster care for neglected children, student loans, enforcing child support orders - all fell to the ax. If the House bill prevails, more than 200,000 people will lose food stamps, people already struggling to make ends meet will have to pay more for health care, and low-income students will find it harder to pay for college loans. When they return, the House also plans to pass a tax cut bill benefiting the wealthiest people in America.

Let's be clear. It is a moral disgrace to take food from the mouths of hungry children to increase the luxuries of those feasting at a table overflowing with plenty. There is no moral path our legislators can take to defend a reckless, mean-spirited budget bill that diminishes our compassion. It is dishonest to stake proud claims to deficit reduction when tax cuts for the wealthy that increase the deficit are the next order of business. It is one more example of an absence of morality in our political leadership. "Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss" (Proverbs 22:16).

The religious community has already helped influence the Senate - its version of the budget cut about $35 billion, with virtually no cuts in services to low-income people. The decision to protect low-income families in the Senate was a bipartisan decision - supported by both Republicans and Democrats. The House decision to sacrifice the poor was a victory of the extreme Republican leadership over all the Democrats and moderate Republicans who voted against the harsh and punitive House bill. Congress now faces a stark choice that requires moral clarity and outrage. The differences between the House and Senate bills have to be resolved in a joint conference committee, and the result brought back to each body for a final vote in mid-December. The convictions of the religious community must be brought to bear in these next few weeks - a final bill containing the House cuts that are an assault on poor families and children must not be passed. Budgets are moral documents that reflect our priorities. The choice to cut supports that help people make it day to day in order to pay for tax cuts for those with plenty goes against everything our religious and moral principles teach us. It is a blatant reversal of biblical values. It's time to act.

Contact your legislators Call your senators and representative during their recess and over the next two weeks and demand they refuse to pass a budget cutting services for low-income people.

And it's time for an altar call to Washington, D.C. Come to Washington: On Tuesday evening, Dec. 13 - as the budget bill is being debated in Congress - religious leaders, pastors, and church workers from around the country who serve the poor day after day will gather for a worship service and training session. The next morning, Dec. 14, we will kneel in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to proclaim the Word of God and to pray for people in poverty. We will pray for those in our own neighborhoods who are under assault, and we will call our nation's political leaders to repentance - recognizing the Bible's insistence that the best test of a nation's righteousness is how it treats the most vulnerable among us. We will pray for poor families and children and for the courage of our political representatives to protect them from the budget assault. And we also hope our prayers will shame those who would sacrifice the poor for political gain and the benefit of the wealthy - and hope to change their minds. Specifically, we will pray that the principle of the Senate's bipartisan bill to protect low-income people will prevail and the efforts of an ideological House leadership to neglect the poor will fail. This act of prayer is likely to result in peaceful arrests for those who are willing. Our prayer will be an act of nonviolent civil disobedience in the tradition of the civil rights movement led by black churches. We believe that this moral battle over the budget can still be won. The punitive House bill passed by only two votes: Hearts can still be changed. We must lift up another voice - a voice in prayer that speaks the truth of God's Word. "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you...and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7).

We urge you to prayerfully consider joining us. For more information go to www.sojo.net/capitol. If you plan to participate, you must sign up on the Web site. If you cannot join us in Washington, I urge you to plan and join vigils at local congressional offices across the country in order to magnify our prophetic voice, and to send representatives or a delegation of faith leaders, service providers, and low-income people to join us in Washington. See tomorrow's e-mail for more details about how to organize a vigil near you.

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IRAQ JOURNAL ^top

Abductions in Iraq and Advent's outbreak
by Ken Sehested

I nearly gagged on my granola Monday morning when I saw my friend Norman Kember's name in the newspaper, buried midway through a longer story summarizing the latest violent outbreaks in Iraq - after all these years, I'm still surprised the way the suffering of those I know stirs so much more sympathy. Having been among Norman's references for his application to join the delegation to Iraq - sponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Chicago-based human rights organization - I am sobered by the implication of such ordinary acts.

Norman, a retired medical physicist and long-time leader of the British Baptist Peace Fellowship, was one of four CPT activists kidnapped in Iraq last Saturday. On Tuesday a previously unknown group, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in a video tape sent to al Jazeera television. Writing to friends prior to the trip, Norman said he was worried about being a "cheap" peacemaker. "Talking, writing, demonstrating" in Britain about peace was not taking risks like young servicemen in Iraq, he said.

+ Read the full article

+ Read more news and updates on CPT's Web site

+ Read more about CPT in Sojourners magazine

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POLITICALLY CONNECT ^top

Seeking just policies for undocumented immigrants
by Tim Kumfer

Undocumented immigrants - those who have either crossed the border illegally or overstayed their visas - come to the U.S. for many reasons: to find work, to reunite with family members, to send money to their home countries, or to live free from political or religious persecution.

Currently, there is a disconnect between economic opportunity for immigrants and the number of visas U.S. immigration laws permit. "It's as if there are 'No Trespassing' and 'Help Wanted' signs posted on our southern border," said Bethany Spicher Schonberg, legislative assistant for the Washington office of the faith-based relief organization Mennonite Central Committee.

In the coming weeks, Congress will begin to debate immigration reform. According to reports by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2005, roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. - making up 30 percent of the foreign-born population and 4 percent of the total U.S. population. Though it is illegal to hire undocumented workers, 92 percent of the men are employed, significantly higher than the national average for males. Often, undocumented immigrants live in fear of deportation and are exploited by their employers. Many working immigrant families cannot receive the access to medical care and social services they desperately need.

+ Read the full article

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ON THE GROUND ^top

Hotel Katrina
by Alexis Greeves

From the gripping film Hotel Rwanda, the scene seared into my memory is that of the evacuating Europeans boarding a bus to take them away from the genocide encroaching upon the hotel. The African employees and neighbors who have sought haven in the hotel watch as the last of the Western expatriates and tourists board to leave the country. What is striking is the disparity between the white faces safely on board and the black faces left for slaughter. In my mind I was screaming, "Get off the bus!" knowing that by remaining at the hotel, the Europeans and Americans could have forced their complacent governments to protect them and the lives of the Rwandans.

After seeing this movie I spent a great deal of time in prayer and in self-examination, looking at whether or not I "get off the bus" in my own life. As a white, educated, well-employed American, I experience the benefits of privilege every single day. So my prayer became, "Lord, show me how to get off the bus."

In early September I was asked to fly to Houston where 25,000 New Orleans evacuees had been brought. I was to provide psychological first aid to the deaf individuals who had been housed at the Astrodome. I jumped at the chance to be a part of the relief effort.

+ Read the full article

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BUILDING A MOVEMENT ^top

Abandoning life-and-death illusions

"It is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life," wrote the U.S. Catholic Bishops in their November statement, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death. "When the state, in our names and with our taxes, ends a human life despite having non-lethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence. The use of the death penalty ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those who are executed, but what it does to all society."

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BOOK NOTES ^top

Books for a cause

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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

James Lusk writes from Chicago, Illinois:

Oh, how refreshing David Batstone's article on Falwell's Crusade was! ["Jerry Falwell and His Hunt for the Christmas Grinch," 11/23/2005]. Many of us watch television or read articles that feature Jerry Falwell along with someone from the American Civil Liberties Union or Barry Lynn from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the commentators tell us that we've just heard all sides of the Christmas culture war. Really? Have we? I appreciated Mr. Batstone calling out both Falwell's pre-emptive threats and the ACLU's own secular crusade. What an underrepresented position by anyone interviewed on Fox, CNN, in The New York Times, or elsewhere! To think, someone who wants to focus more on the birth of Christ and following his revolutionary teachings more than they want to fight over the name of a Christmas card or a holiday tree.

----------

Bob Kuyper, Pastor of Livingston United Methodist Church, Livingston, California, writes:

It would seem to me that you love to quote Jerry Falwell since the media and most liberals disdain him. Why not seek opinions from more solid evangelical leaders like Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, and others. The media tends to go to extremes on both sides; conflict sells. We all enjoy a good fight, but is that what we want to promote?

----------

Jennifer Snow writes from Pasadena, California:

I wanted to comment on David Batstone's remark that the "left-leaning" organizations such as the ACLU "have pursued legal action to ban public acts of religious expression, which is constitutionally distinct from the state establishment of religion." While many people are under this impression, and thus demonize the Left as anti-religious, it is actually a very inaccurate summation of the facts and of history. Public acts of religious expression - in city halls, courtrooms, on coins, in schools, etc. - are not constitutionally distinct from a state establishment of religion, because what is meant by "state establishment" is the use of public monies, public space, or public forums - anything established by the government - to establish or support religious expression of any kind. The constitutional tension arises from the private right of individuals not to be restrained from their own expression of religion.

The desire of the founders was to avoid any circumstance in which any man (and at that time it was all men) would have to see his money, paid into the public tax, used to support a religious expression or organization with which he disagreed. This principle is still a good one today, and is even more important in a nation that includes large numbers of non-Christians, atheists, and agnostics; and the ACLU and "left-leaning" organizations do a great service to all of us by vigilantly defending this separation.

----------

Pete Creelman writes from Phoenix, Arizona:

I wanted to commend you for the very moving and thoughtful account of your trial experience after being arrested for protesting and petitioning the White House without a permit in D.C. ["What I did on the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials," SojoMail 11/23/2005]. What you said encompasses what it really means to be an American and what our true values of petitioning the government for grievances is all about. Unfortunately, the judge could not see it this way and fined you for your effort to petition the government and express your group's views on the Iraq War, its injustice, etc. By fining you and others, the judge is imposing the letter of the law, but doesn't understand the true spirit of the law. If he did, he wouldn't have imposed the fine, but would have commended you for your actions on that day.

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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? 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: boomerang@sojo.net

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