The Common Good

The Real Christmas Scandal

Sojomail - December 15, 2005


12.15.2005 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week : Abraham Joshua Heschel: 'Beyond absurdity'
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: The real Christmas scandal
Building a Movement : Voices of protest: Activists reflect on their arrests
Action Alert : The "inside/outside game": Senate echoes prayer vigil message
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Politically Connect : Missing the point on the Stanley Williams execution
Iraq Journal : Update on CPT hostage crisis
On the Ground : U.S. Christians at Guantánamo's gates
Boomerang : Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

Remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power. Never forget that you can still do your share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and frustrations and disappointments.

- Abraham Joshua Heschel

Source: Daily Dig

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HEARTS & MINDS ^top

The real Christmas scandal
by Jim Wallis

There is a Christmas scandal this year, but it's not the controversy at shopping malls and retail stores about whether their displays say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." The real Christmas scandal is the budget proposed by the House of Representatives that cuts food stamps, health care, child support, and educational assistance to low-income families - while further lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans and increasing the deficit for all of our grandchildren.

That was the message we brought to the steps of the House office buildings yesterday. The day was cold but the message was clear, as hundreds of religious leaders and faith-based organizers who daily serve the poor joined for what became a revival and prayer meeting in the United States capital.

This was the culmination of a yearlong effort by people of faith to teach our nation's political leaders that "a budget is a moral document." I was proud to be one of the 115 pastors and leaders out of that group who were arrested for kneeling in prayer. In the final stages of the budget process this week, after praying and making our best arguments from afar, we decided to take our prayers and presence to the steps of the Cannon House Office Building.

After some powerful preaching on the steps and a press conference that was more like a revival, we continued our praying and singing in front of the entrance, symbolizing the denial of access to Congress for low-income people. "Come walk with us!" we said as we invited members of Congress into our neighborhoods to meet the people who will be most impacted by their votes on a budget that virtually assaults low-income families. We sounded like a choir (and a good one at that) as we sang Christmas carols while being arrested, handcuffed, put into buses, and taken to a large holding cell roughly a mile away.

We all noted how full of faith the day was for those involved. Many of those who took part in the prayerful and nonviolent civil disobedience were from groups such as the Christian Community Development Association, whose member organizations around the country live and work alongside poor people every day. Their founder, John Perkins - who at 75 was one of the oldest people arrested - inspired us all as he has for 40 years of faithful ministry among the poor.

The text we kept repeating at the Capitol Christmas vigil was from the book of Luke - the best words ever about the true meaning of the coming of the Christ child. Mary, the mother of Jesus, herself a poor woman from an oppressed race and an occupied country, prophesied in her powerful prayer of thanksgiving - the Magnificat - about the Messiah whom she carried in her womb.

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Though today on Capitol Hill Mary would be accused of class warfare for uttering such words, they still bear the true meaning of Christmas. And the budget and tax cuts being proposed by House leaders directly reverse the priorities of Mary. For instead of filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty, this budget would fill the rich with good things and send the hungry away empty!

So yesterday, on the House office steps, we tried to put Christ back into Christmas. Thursday morning, The Chicago Tribune led with the headline "Christmas Scandal Outcry!" and the story of the faith-inspired action in Washington was in dozens of newspapers around the country.

Yesterday the faith community across the country stood up and spoke up. Our vigil in Washington was followed by more than 70 vigils in more than 30 states. We prayed for a change of heart in our Washington leaders, we prayed for the poor families we serve, and we prayed that those elected to represent us act to protect the common good in ways consistent with the Christmas message of hope.

The bipartisan Senate budget bill, in contrast, protects low-income families, and yesterday senators passed resolutions vowing not to cut food stamps and Medicaid in the final budget negotiations with the House. They should be thanked and urged to stand firm.

So I have already received my Christmas present this year - the chance to participate in a faithful and powerful witness to the real meaning of the child who is born again to us this season. See the pictures and podcast of the event, and read the testimonies of others - and you will also receive the gift. Merry Christmas.

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BUILDING A MOVEMENT ^top

Voices of protest: Activist reflect on their arrests


Capitol Police arrest civil rights veteran and Christian Community Development Association founder John Perkins. (Photo by Ryan Beiler) + See more photos
The sound of Christmas carols and peace-and-justice singing filled the holding cell, along with great fellowship and lively conversations about how to move our nation toward overcoming poverty. The 115 participants were showered with compliments and praise by the Capitol police, who told us during the course of our detainment and processing that we were the most cooperative group they have been forced to arrest.

Adam Taylor
Sojourners Director of Campaigns and Organizing

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I have lived and worked among the poor for 12-plus years, but I've been changing my attitude about the government's role these past few years. I am an evangelical Christian and we, as evangelicals, need to advocate for the poor. Today was just the beginning.

Michelle Warren
Denver, Colorado

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This was a righteous cause for kingdom people. I know what it is like to be poor, with no voice. It was my duty to stand and be counted.

Tommy Moore
Chicago, Illinois

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After years of study and prayer and preaching, it is time for me to act on what I believe about God's kingdom. I pray my actions will cause others to think, pray, and act. The center of power in D.C. today was not the Capitol or the White House. It was our prayers, on the steps of the Cannon House Office Building, that reflected the power and might of God.

Troy Jackson
Cincinnati, Ohio

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Watching all those legends stand in front of the Cannon Office Building: Ron Sider, John Perkins, Mary Nelson, and Jim Wallis. Their commitment to the poor over the years has not wavered. [I got arrested for] all the children in Mississippi (the poorest state in the union). The very idea of the children that I work with not being able to eat or have heat breaks my heart. I would love for Congress to not forget the poor and realize that all men are created equal.

V. Elizabeth Perkins
Jackson, Mississippi

+ See more photos and testimonies of participants

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ACTION ALERT ^top

The "inside/outside game": Senate echoes prayer vigil message

Yesterday, as hundreds of religious leaders prayed for a moral budget outside the Capitol, many Senate leaders raised their voices for the poor on the inside. By wide margins, the Senate approved three motions to instruct opposing social cuts, directed toward Senate budget conferees involved in negotiating differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bill.

Specifically, Senate leaders asked their colleagues to oppose cuts to food stamps and Medicaid, and to oppose including major changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in the budget process, which would jeopardize child care funding for working families. The House budget makes these cuts.

Although these motions to instruct are not binding, they serve the important purpose of putting senators on record as opposing cuts. This gives conferees a sense of what will and will not be acceptable in the compromise bill.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa offered a motion to protect food stamps. See how your senator voted here.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana offered a motion to protect Medicaid funding. See how your senator voted here.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware offered a motion that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families not be included in the budget process. See how your senator voted here.

Senators who supported these motions should be thanked! Those who didn’t should be urged to reconsider and state their opposition to cuts publicly! CALL NOW!

Click here for the Senate directory.

For more information, visit our budget resource page.

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SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS ^top

Top stories:

More Than 100 Arrested in Capitol Protest Associated Press
U.S. Capitol Police arrested 115 religious activists who were protesting a House Republican budget plan's cuts in social programs when they refused to clear the entrance to a congressional office building Wednesday. "These are political choices being made that are hurting low-income people," said Jim Wallis, the event's organizer and founder of the Christian ministry group Sojourners. "Don't make them the brunt of your deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility."

This article ran in these media outlets: The Washington Post, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Wichita Eagle, The Detroit Free Press, The Canton Repository, Leading The Charge (Australia), The Minneapolis Star Tribune, FOXNews.com, Salon.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, CRI (China), The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Guardian Unlimited (U.K.), The Los Angeles Times, Newsday (New York), and others.

'Christmas scandal' outcry Chicago Tribune
Christian activist Rev. Jim Wallis told hundreds of religious protesters gathered near the Capitol on Wednesday that there is a scandal this December, but it isn't the conservative-stoked controversy about retailers and others using "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

This story was syndicated in the following newpapers: Macon Telegraph (Georgia), Duluth News Tribune (Minnesota), San Jose Mercury News (California), and Herald News Daily (North Dakota).

Protesters against U.S. budget cuts arrested Reuters
More than 100 religious activists protesting proposed cuts to health care and other social welfare programs were arrested on Wednesday after they staged a peaceful sit-in at a government building near the U.S. Capitol.

*The vigil was also covered on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, on December 14.

More Sojourners in the news:

A Religious Protest Largely From the Left - Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority The Washington Post

Wallis challenges U.S. to get it right on peace, justice Lancaster New Era

Of faith, politics and the politics of faith Lancaster intelligencer Journal

Author and Activist Jim Wallis Draws Crowd Lancaster Intelligencer Journal

Facing prison, activist, 79, has no regrets The Capital Times

Books illustrate growing religious sophistication Detroit Free Press

If it's big in today's politics, he's involved Charlotte Observer

Jim Wallis: Progressive Evangelist MSU Alumni Magazine

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POLITICALLY CONNECT ^top

Missing the point on the Stanley Williams execution
by Jake Nyberg

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, 51, was executed just after midnight Tuesday. Many who were arguing against Williams' execution were taking the approach that Williams was a changed man - a man who had devoted his life behind bars to ending the cycle of gang violence - and that a changed person should not be executed. While I certainly cannot argue with the observation that the Williams who was killed today was not the same man who entered prison a quarter-century ago, I believe even Williams' supporters were missing the point.

Killing Stanley Williams was wrong because killing is wrong. Whether a death row inmate has a change of heart, shows remorse, or is exonerated by DNA evidence is irrelevant. Even if Williams had remained the same, his death would still have accomplished nothing. All of us - from victims' families to kids who turn to gangs for a sense of community - were denied a glimpse at the healing, redemptive power of grace.

+ Read the full article

See David Batstone's video commentary on William's execution:
+ RealPlayer
+ QuickTime
+ Flash

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IRAQ JOURNAL ^top

Update on CPT hostage crisis

According to an al Jazeera report Tuesday, their Web site has been flooded with messages of support for the four Christian Peacemaker Teams members who were abducted in Iraq on Nov. 26. Their report also quotes the grand mufti of Palestine, Shaikh Ikrima Sabri, as yet another prominent Muslim leader seeking the safe return of these Christian activists. "It is our duty to support them and to issue a vigorous appeal to the kidnappers to free them," Sabri said. Also, the Iraq Islamic party said in a statement, "The party calls on the captors to free them because their kidnapping is a dream opportunity for the supporters of the war against our country who say that Iraqis cannot tell the difference between those who support them and those who oppose them."

+ Read the full report

CPT has issued a call for letters to the editor that use this hostage crisis as an opportunity to raise the issue of human rights in Iraq. "The media is eager to keep focusing on the 'human interest' story and are delving into the lives of the four CPTers," CPT said in an action alert. "Our team in Iraq urges us to keep telling the 'human rights' story - lifting up the suffering of Iraqis in detention and living under occupation." They encourage letters that focus on "the suffering of our Iraqi friends and CPT's work to address injustice and...the power and conviction of biblical nonviolence and risky peacemaking."

+ Read the full action alert

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ON THE GROUND ^top

U.S. Christians at Guantánamo's gates

A group of 25 U.S. Christians began a water-only fast and prayer vigil on Monday at the gates of the controversial U.S. detention center and naval base at Guantánamo Bay. The group, calling itself Witness Against Torture (many of whom are Catholic peace activists), walked 50 miles from Santiago, Cuba, to the gates of the U.S. military prison where they are seeking authorization to enter the base and meet with prisoners - some 500 of which are being held on suspicion of terrorist activities. The government says the detainees are enemy combatants, not prisoners of war, and are not entitled to the same rights afforded under the Geneva Conventions. In June 2005, President Bush said that those concerned about the conditions in Guantánamo were "welcome to go down yourself...and take a look at the conditions." These Christians are accepting the president's invitation. They hope that President Bush will honor his word and grant them permission to visit inside the camp, where at least 32 prisoners are on a hunger strike to protest cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of American military. Twenty-five of the hunger-strikers are being force-fed through tubes.

Members of the Witness Against Torture group also are praying for the release of four Christian Peacemaker Teams members who are currently being held hostage in Iraq, where they face the threat of execution. Sister Anne Montgomery, a 79-year-old full-time member of Christian Peacemaker Teams who has been to Iraq, is currently part of the witness at the Guantánamo base. "Tom Fox's (one of the CPTers held in Iraq) last communication before he was kidnapped said that love is the only thing that can overcome dehumanization," Sr. Montgomery observed. "We feel that what is happening in Guantánamo represents the dehumanization of the prisoners, the guards, and those that make war. We pray at the gates of Guantánamo that love will overcome this dehumanization."

+ Read more and see photos.

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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

CORRECTION: In last week's SojoMail Special Issue: "Advent in Iraq, Rush Limbaugh, and reality," we incorrectly stated that "1 John 2:17 tells us, 'Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.'" The correct scripture reference is 1 John 2:6.

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L. Michael Higgins Jr. writes from Mobile, Alabama:

Using the impending death of four martyrs as an excuse to decry America's leaders as "false prophets" while nearly acquitting the murderers who hold innocent hostages is completely beyond the pale of decency ["Advent in Iraq, Rush Limbaugh, and reality," SojoMail 12/9/2005]. Let's be a little more careful with our theology and biblical invocations. Since when did any U.S. official claim to be a prophet? Since when did we get to ask that of them? And while we are lobbing Jesus' words around with so little decorum, I have a suggestion, again from the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." The relentless stream of thinly disguised hatred toward America's leaders in which SojoMail has participated under the banner of scripture quotations jerked out of context has got to stop. Are we really that anxious to become the thing we profess to despise?

I will continue, as I have been, praying for the miraculous release of the four captives. But I will also pray for Ryan and the rest of the staff at Sojourners.

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Lee McKenna duCharme, writes from Toronto, Ontario, Canada:

Thank you so very, very much for your reflection. In these days we in CPT are being asked to find language to express the inexpressible, to imagine the unimaginable, to role-play it out in our minds, and to be ready - ready to respond to a world that waits with microphones and cameras, to families that huddle torn in grief, to cynics ready to pounce on any faltering frailty as we grasp hold of the implications of this Jericho road, this Golgotha. Thank you for helping us. [McKenna duCharme is the representative of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America on the steering committee of Christian Peacemaker Teams.]

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Will Byrd writes from Concord, California:

I applaude David Batstone's article "Redemption on trial in California" [SojoMail 12/7/2005]. When will we get it right that "pro-life" means being more than pro-birth? It also means realizing that the death penalty is about revenge, not about healing or resolution. In the case of Mr. Williams, so much more is to be gained by his life than his being executed. And though it's off topic, being pro-life also means not bombing anyone who was made in the image of God, which would include us all.

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Rev. Peter M. Calabrese, CRSP, writes from Youngstown, New York:

How dare you compare the death sentences of four peacemakers with that of a man who has been through due process (everyone claims they're innocent) and boasts of having killed and assaulted police officers repeatedly?

I'm against the death penalty. I think for the most part - like Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and more recently the U.S. bishops - that its use is almost unjustified in Western society, but there are some cases for which society can only be protected by this punishment. Fight this battle in other ways, not by glorifying this man.

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Daniel K. Miller writes from Laredo, Texas:

I've noticed the tendency of some of your correspondents to parrot the Bush talking points, most recently a gentleman from Michigan [Boomerang, SojoMail 12/7/2005]. He refers to the giveaways to the rich as "keeping some of your own money" - as if they had no responsibility for the costs of running the society that they have benefited from so greatly. Then he continues by claiming that tax revenues are up, job creation is up - although he does admit that they were the worst type of jobs - but he tries to spin that they were "entry level jobs" from which the workers were somehow supposed to progress. What he carefully refuses to mention is that the recovery from the last recession in 2001 has been the worst of any recovery on record with the increase in wages being less than the inflation rate. Also, he neglects to mention that the 215,000 jobs last month that President Bush is so proud of is less than the average job growth during the Clinton administration.

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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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