The Common Good

Our Moral Choice

Sojomail - March 8, 2006

Quote of the Week : 'Ignoring brutality has only magnified it'
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: Our Moral Choice
Faith in Action : Cardinal Roger Mahony: Making room
On the Ground : Celebrating International Women's Day: Ethiopia journal
Iraq Journal : Christian Peacemakers shown alive on new video
Building a Movement : Stop deadly delays to debt cancellation
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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"The present Western policy of playing down genocide and hoping it will peter out has proved to be bankrupt practically as well as morally. Granted, there are no neat solutions in Darfur. But ignoring brutality has only magnified it, and it's just shameful to pretend not to notice the terrified villagers here, huddling with their children each night and wondering when they are going to be massacred."

- Nicholas Kristof, columnist, writing from the Chad-Sudan border of increasing violence by Sudanese militias in the region, including cross-border raids against villagers in Chad.

Source: The New York Times [available to TimesSelect readers only]

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Our Moral Choice
by Jim Wallis

On Tuesday, March 7, Jim Wallis spoke on Capitol Hill at a "Rally to Protect America's Priorities" on the proposed 2007 budget, sponsored by the Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities, ACORN, and the U.S. Student Association. Following are his remarks.

I want to begin with what the Religious Community said all last year: A budget is a moral document! That was our clarion cry in the 2006 budget debate. If some political leaders haven't got the message yet - just wait until this year.

You see, we believe that fiscal choices, economic choices are also moral choices and, for us, even religious choices. Who is important? And who is not? What is important? And what is not? Who do we most value? And who don't we value at all? They are fiscal choices, but also moral and religious matters.

Jesus actually got uncharacteristically judgmental about these kinds of choices. He said, "As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me." Are you paying attention yet, members of Congress?

Because of moral pressure - much of it from the religious community who every day care for the poor that our national politics neglect - last year's budget almost didn't pass. It took a fast trip home from Dick Cheney to pass the budget in the Senate and, in the House, the final budget measure only passed by a few votes. Some elected officials were making new moral choices. But the White House and the Republican leadership seem not to have gotten this message from the religious community, by the look of the new budget they now propose. I thought we were supposed to be their base?

You see a budget process is just a series of moral choices: tax cuts for the wealthiest, or services for the poorest? Congressional pork and earmarks, or investments in the common good? Searching for security through endless expenditures for war, or seeking to end the insecurity of poverty to make our nation stronger? Ignoring the costs of deficits for our children's children, and making the most vulnerable pay the price of fiscal responsibility; or sharing the burdens of financial responsibility more fairly by not asking the poor to carry the heaviest load?

These are all moral choices. Those with the power to make budget proposals have made their moral choices; and so will we. They are choosing to bestow more windfalls of benefit on their wealthy donors - that's their moral choice. We will stand up for the low-income families that we know and serve and whom they will again ignore - no, assault - that's our moral choice.

They are choosing the corruption of rewarding the special interests who pay for them - that's their moral choice. We will defend those who have the most need - that's our moral choice. They will place no limits on money for wars that have no end, and weapons systems that have no need - that's their moral choice. We will not let them cut vital programs of nutrition, health care, child care, and education to pay for their bad choices - that's our moral choice.

Here is what the biblical prophet Isaiah says about their moral choices: "Woe to the legislators of infamous laws, to those who issue tyrannical decrees, who refuse justice to the unfortunate and cheat the poor among my people of their rights, and make widows their prey and rob the orphan."

Last Dec. 14, 115 Christians who work with the poor every day, interrupted their works of compassion to come to the Capitol-to pray, preach, and prophesy. And we were taken to jail. Mary Nelson, from Chicago, looked up at the congressional staff and members looking out their windows and invited them, "Come walk with us."

John Perkins, 75-year-old evangelical and Black church leader who has spent his life in faithful ministry with poor people, told the story of his mother's death from a nutritional deficiency when he was seven months old. John said he was breastfeeding at the time and thought for years that he had killed her. Only later, he said, did I realize that a white society doesn't care about the nutrition of poor black women and their families. And now they're trying to cut food stamps from this budget. Then he emotionally said, "This is my last stand," before he was arrested.

Due in part to the pressure from religious community - we saved food stamps from cuts. Now, the proposed cuts stamps are back. People should know that many of those arrested last December voted for George Bush, some twice. Now they get arrested to protest his moral choices. They were his base, they are no longer.

The media noted that the words religious, Christian, even evangelical, are no longer just alongside the words abortion and gay marriage, but now alongside words like food stamps, health care, and education. Get used to it. When the politicians pat faith-based organizations on the back for doing such a wonderful job, they are now turning around and saying, "Stop hurting the people we work with and care about!" Come walk with us.

After the vote, Republicans e-mailed me, "I just want you to know that I voted against this budget and am listening to the religious community." Bless you. Overcoming poverty must be a bipartisan commitment and a nonpartisan cause. The religious community will ask Democrats to stand firm against this budget violence against poor people, to make the moral choice of favoring the poor over the rich - which is also a biblical choice. Democrats must get religion on the budget.

And we will ask Republicans: Follow your conscience, not your party. Help your party make better moral choices than favoring the rich over the poor - stop turning the biblical wisdom upside down - and then having the nerve to claim that you are the religion-friendly party! It's time for Republicans to get religion on this budget.

We've had a year of organizing around the budget in the religious community. We are watching this debate very carefully. We will hold our elected officials accountable in 2006 and 2008 for their votes on this budget - whether they vote for or against poor families.

If you think we were aroused last year, we were just getting started. Budgets are moral documents and we will fight this budget. And that's our moral choice.

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Making room for the strangers in our midst

To take up our Lenten practice this year in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we face a unique challenge in this call to make room for God. In recent months and in different parts of the world, we have seen the escalation of strong sentiments against immigrants. These sentiments appear to be mounting in our own country as well. How might our various Lenten practices such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, our effort to empty ourselves so as to make room for God, relate to the complex reality of immigration, especially in the face of increasing hostility toward immigrants? Pope Benedict XVI's first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love") is helpful to us here. Writing on love as the heart of the Christian faith, our Holy Father says:

...if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be devout and to perform my 'religious duties,' then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely 'proper' but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me...Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment...No longer is it a question, then, of a 'commandment' imposed from without calling for the impossible, but...a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others (Deus Caritas Est no. 18).

To the question: "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus' answer is clear. As his disciples, we are called to attend to the last, littlest, lowest and least in society and in the Church. This Lenten season, join me in committing our Lenten practices to making room for the stranger in our midst, praying for the courage and strength to offer our spiritual and pastoral ministry to all who come to us, offering our prayer and support for the ones in our midst who, like Jesus, have no place to rest their heads (Matthew 8:20).

- Cardinal Roger Mahony, Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, in his Lenten message, "Making Room."

The Los Angeles Times reported in an interview with Mahony, "In his most forceful comments to date, Mahony said he would instruct his priests to defy legislation - if approved by Congress - that would require churches and other social organizations to ask immigrants for legal documentation before providing assistance and penalize them if they refuse to do so."

Sojourners commends and supports Mahony in his faithfulness to the gospel on this issue and his courageous commitment to justice for "the strangers in our midst" - those who Jesus commands us to see as our neighbors.

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Celebrating International Women's Day: Ethiopia journal
by Julie Polter

The strength, wisdom, and determination of girls and women enduring conditions that would have broken me were humbling. A small girl clutched her school book - bashful after someone noticed her reading - then suddenly blurted out a request for electricity for her village, so she could read at night. A teenager rose from an assembly of children, mothers, fathers, elders, and visitors to answer a question about HIV/AIDS, her voice fierce, unwavering. Women are the primary victims of HIV/AIDS, she declared, "because men bring it from outside somewhere and infect us." But she praised the support and educational materials that were coming into the community and noted that husbands were beginning to cooperate. Only 14, she was already married, but thanks to a married girls support group and family planning information, was delaying having a child until she was older. In another region, an older woman, widowed, beamed as she showed off a cow she'd received through a microenterprise project that enabled her to provide for her children and keep them in school.

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Christian Peacemakers shown alive on new video
by Celeste Kennel-Shank

Three of the four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who were kidnapped Nov. 26 in Baghdad were shown in a new video released Tuesday.

The men - two Canadians, a Briton, and a U.S. citizen not shown - entreated their governments and other Middle Eastern countries to work for their release, according to al Jazeera, which aired the tape marked Feb. 28.

CPT, an international violence reduction organization, called for events to mark the 100th day of captivity for the peace workers Sunday. Vigils were organized around the world, CPT said in a statement Tuesday, remembering also "the families of 14,600 Iraqis currently detained illegally by the Multi-national Forces in Iraq who likewise await the release of their loved ones."

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Sojourners and Call to Renewal invite you to:

An Evening with Jim Wallis: Why the Religious Right is losing control and a new generation is stepping up

Wednesday, March 15, 5:30 Dinner, 6:30 Service. All are welcome for a potluck meal (main dishes, side dishes, salads, and desserts welcome), for worship in word and song, and for participation in a discussion led by Jim Wallis. Sojourners-Call to Renewal, 3333 14th St. NW, Suite 200. Rooftop and street parking is available. For information call (202) 328-8842.


Stop deadly delays to debt cancellation
from Jubilee USA Network

Though World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has said 42 countries will benefit from the G8 nations debt deal, the fine print of the World Bank's plan to implement debt cancellation means that beyond an initial 17 nations, any additional countries will have to wait at a minimum until mid-2007 -- a full two years after the G8 Summit in Gleneagles -- for their debts to be cancelled to the World Bank. These countries will have to keep paying their debts in the meantime even after they reach the completion point -- and these payments are non-refundable. Some nations, like Haiti, will have to wait until 2009. This is unacceptable.

+ Please send an e-mail to or call World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and U.S. Executive Director to the World Bank Robert Holland today urging them to stop the policy of two years of delay. They need to hear from you before the World Bank Board meets on March 28.

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Top stories:

What's a 'Red-Letter Christian'? by Tony Campolo for Beliefnet
Who first suggested the label? A secular Jewish Country-and-Western disc jockey in Nashville, Tennessee. During a radio interview he was conducting with Jim Wallis, he happened to say, "So, you're one of those Red-Letter Christians - you know - who's really into those verses in the New Testament that are in red letters!" Jim answered, "That's right!" And with that answer, he spoke for all of us. By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the New Testament, the words of Jesus are printed in red.

Bible Bashers Bash Guardian Unlimited
What makes God's Politics so original is that it is written from a religious perspective, by someone who is breaking ranks with his fellow believers. Like Bush, Wallis is political, patriotic and an evangelical; but he suggests that religion has been hijacked and distorted by the Religious Right. His criticism is not reserved for the Rright. Wallis contends that the Left has lost out by ignoring the religious dimension of U.S. politics. Pointing to the impact of the civil rights movement, which was inspired by religion, he urges both Right and Left to think again.

Rebels With a Cross The New York Times
Shane Claiborne says that: "When you ask people what they think about church, it's sad. But Jesus doesn't have the bad reputation that Christianity has. "What we do looks extreme because it's an indictment of the idea of Christianity that so many of us have settled for. When we look at the early church, it was very revolutionary. Jesus sat down to rethink revolution. He was able to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free."

More Sojourners in the news:

What would Bryan do? Philadelphia Inquirer

Unlikely Praise WORLD Magazine

Wallis packs chapel at Gordon

FBO workers share motivations for helping others Science & Theology News

Minister Takes all Political Sides to Task Chapel Hill News

Summit Gathers for Common Good The Herald Sun

Wallis to Bring Revised Evangelical Message to Town The Greenville News

Life Issues Don't Have To Divide Christians The Daily News Record

Searching for the Democrats - Show Me the Values

Me, God...and Gordon Brown

'Activists Need to Change the Wind' Press and Sun - Bulletin

Chancellor Faces Prophetic Message Over Debt Ekklesia

God's Politics Duke University

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Readers write

Roxanne Ruid writes from Minneapolis, Minnesota:

David Batstone makes some excellent points concerning the controversy regarding the use of vaccine to prevent sexually-transmitted cancer ["The Religious Right's vaccination vexation," SojoMail 3/1/2006]. He misses an obvious argument favoring vaccine use - that parental refusal to allow vaccination of their young daughters against the human papilloma virus endangers their daughters to consequences of sexual assault. Christians often to fail to recognize that coerced sex is a reality for young girls. Not all sex is consensual. Perhaps if we could get rape on the list next to coveting a neighbor's property and dishonoring a parent, we would be more cognizant of this reality.


Dr. James Jones writes from Waukesha, Wisconsin:

About ten years ago I treated a 43-year-old woman with cervical cancer who had had only one sexual partner. By the time I saw her the disease had already spread to her lungs. She died of her cancer. This is now a preventable cancer - to allow a quarter of a million people a year to die of a preventable disease is disgusting. To those who believe it will encourage sexual activity I ask one question: Was fear of cervical cancer the only reason you did not have sex when you were 15?


David Lee Ballard writes from Norfolk, Virgina:

There is no reason at this point in history for anyone to be surprised at the ludicrous behavior of these socio-religious extremists. As a gay man who lived through the first wave of AIDS deaths, I witnessed the abandonment of their children repeatedly - they would just leave them to die with us, declaring that they deserved what they got. It is sad that they are the most public face of modern Christianity; and it is sad for their children that they will grow up with such a distorted notion of love and obedience.


Dedra Keoshian writes from Canton, Ohio:

Aside from the Religious Right issue, I think that it is scary that our country so readily accepts any new vaccine that is introduced. The pharmaceutical companies are so untrustworthy, bent on making more money than on securing health for people. Their lack of true health care, has been documented numerous times, especially towards the poor and people of color arond the world.

As the mother of a vaccine-injured child, I know firsthand how vaccines are introduced with little research as to the side effects. Sure, a vaccine may prevent a certain illness (even that is debatable), but it can cause a lifetime of other problems. The public is not informed but are told that this is what good parents do.


Nathan Eckel writes from Danville, Pennsylvania:

I subscribe to both Sojourners and Tony Perkins' Family Research Council e-mails. Mr Batstone's choice of subject matter regarding FRC's position on STD vaccination befuddles me. Had the FRC opposed all research and use of HPV drugs, I might see his point; however Mr. Batstone even mentioned that the FRC merely opposes forced innoculations for youth, and not the use of such medicines. I would imagine most parents who are raising their children up according to biblical principles would not appreciate the state imposing such innoculations, but that they would use the medicine in the event of an infection. Abstinence is the more difficult choice to make, maintain, and advocate.

Drew Smith writes from Mobile, Alabama:

I was disappointed by the review of End of the Spear ["The double-edged spear," SojoMail 3/1/2006]. The reviewer used the opportunity to do the same thing he said the movie did - focus on secondary issues. The movie was mediocre - especially the forced ending. However, the story behind the movie still brings me chills, tears, and energy. What sacrificial love these men and women showed. Is this not the gospel enacted? They were willing to die for the benefit of the other. The women were willing to forgive and live it out.

I did not see in the movie or the events behind the movie cultural imperialism. Actually, I found great contexualization of the gospel. The changes that were encouraged and adapted were largely beneficial. A people who were caught in a web of self-destruction heard the gospel, and are seeking to live it out in their own cultural context. The gospel helped them deal not only with their own community in less violent ways but also deal with the encroaching "outside world" in less violent ways. Because of the sacrificial love of God evident in these families, the Waodani people have the love of Jesus. I just wish the movie would have communicated that even clearer. If you have to choose, see the documentary Through Gates of Splendor. I found that even more powerful.


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