The Common Good

To Protect the Common Good

Sojomail - May 31, 2006

Quote of the Week : Chaos in East Timor
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: To protect the common good
Building a Movement : Pentecost 2006: Hurry! Register TODAY to receive our special early-bird discount!
Piece of Mind : Steroids, racism, and the home run king
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
Get a free trial issue of Sojourners
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The Secret Message of Jesus

by Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren, one of Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," is back. His latest work, The Secret Message of Jesus, leads readers on a journey as ground-shaking as it is life-changing. The quest: find the essential message of Jesus' life - even if it overturns conventional ideas, priorities, and practices.

"Through the years, I have frequently had an uncomfortable feeling," wrote McLaren, "that the portrait of Jesus I found in the New Testament didn't fit with the images of Jesus in the church." Out of that nagging discomfort arose McLaren's most revolutionary book to date.


"We don't know."

- East Timor Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro, when questioned as to whether files on Indonesian officials under investigation for atrocities committed after the former colony's 1999 independence vote were deliberately stolen during recent riots. The Washington Post reports that the missing files included that of Gen. Wiranto, Indonesia's armed forces chief during the massacres, who was indicted for rights abuses in East Timor by U.N.-backed prosecutors.

Source: Associated Press

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To protect the common good
by Jim Wallis

According to the biblical prophets, the greatest moral offense of poverty is the inequality that often lies behind it. When poverty abounds and the wealthy refuse to share their prosperity, God gets mad. If the congressional leadership has its way, American inequality is about to take a giant step forward with their efforts to destroy or gut the estate tax - an effective measure to combat inequality that has been working for 100 years.

Sometimes, there are public policy choices that simply make no moral sense. When a nation is at war, when deficits are rising at record rates, and when everyone knows that even more budget cuts are coming that will directly and negatively impact the nation's poorest families and children, you don't give more tax breaks to the super-rich. But that is exactly what the administration and the Republican leadership are strenuously trying to do. And with the latest Census Bureau income and poverty report showing that the poverty rate has gone up for the fourth straight year, the moral offense is compounded. There are 37 million Americans now living below the poverty line, 4 million more than in 2001. That includes 13 million children.

So why are George Bush, the Republican leadership, and some Democrats on Capitol Hill pushing so hard to completely repeal or substantially gut the estate tax? It's been in place for nearly 100 years, is a substantial source of government revenue, and has been a major catalyst to charitable giving (including to faith-based organizations, something the administration claims to support). A repeal of the estate tax will cost an estimated 1 trillion dollars in federal revenue over the next 10 years (that's right, 1 trillion), substantially increase the deficit, dramatically diminish the resources available to help low-income families escape poverty, and further increase the pressure on the budget from the high cost of war. The only thing the repeal of the estate tax will accomplish is to make sure the wealthiest of Americans will bear no sacrifices during war-time belt tightening and tough decision making but, rather, will reap a windfall of benefit and be the only Americans who do.

Repeal supporters have cleverly changed the language of the debate by calling the estate tax "the death tax" and claiming that it mostly affects family farmers and small businesses who are unable to pass their farms and businesses along to their children. That is simply not true. To put it less delicately, they are lying to cover up the fact that the estate tax mostly affects their richest friends. The tax affects only the wealthiest half of 1 percent of Americans - estates with a net value of more than $2 million ($4 million for couples). That is exactly what this tax was supposed to do when it was introduced in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican, remember) to counter the European practice of passing on enormous wealth from generation to generation, thereby encouraging aristocracy. The more American idea was to ask those who have benefited enormously by accident of birth to contribute back to the common good and expand opportunity for all. Many wealthy people, such as Bill Gates Sr. and Warren Buffett, agree and vigorously support the estate tax. But that American ideal is now under attack by a political leadership which seems anxious to restore an American aristocracy.

Those who want to retain the estate tax are willing to reform it to make sure that family farmers and small business people are not adversely affected and to ensure that the tax - let's call it a "common good tax" - is focused where it was intended, on those who have benefited so much from the opportunities of America. In a very real sense, the estate tax is a repayment for the public services and infrastructure that enable wealth creation - our transportation system of highways, bridges, and airports; our legal and educational systems; and many other investments we make in our society. It is only right that having benefited so much from the opportunities of America, the wealthiest should be obligated to return some of their good fortune to expand the opportunities of other Americans (maybe we should call the estate tax "the opportunity tax").

Is this the America that we want? One whose top policy priority is to make the rich richer while abandoning the most needed efforts to reduce poverty and protect the common good? That, in particular, was the original purpose of the estate tax, initiated by different kind of Republican president who was committed to the equality of opportunity for every American.

It is time for Democrats, moderate Republicans, and people of good social conscience across the county to draw a line in the sand against this administration's radical policies to redistribute wealth from the bottom and middle to the top of American society. It's time for a moral resistance to such unbalanced social policies and the place to begin is to defeat the dangerous and disingenuous effort to destroy the estate tax. In the name of social conscience, fiscal responsibility, equality of opportunity, protecting our communities, and the very idea of a "common good," it's time for the moral center of American public opinion to say "enough." The repeal of the estate tax would literally be an attack upon the common good and it must not succeed. Instead, we need policies that would create better and more balanced national priorities.

Take Action for Tax Fairness - Stand Up for the "Common Good" Tax

Sojourners and Call to Renewal are partnering with a broad-based coalition called Americans for a Fair Estate Tax to preserve fair tax policies supported by the biblical principles of social justice. Click below to take action on behalf of yourself or on behalf of the organization you represent (if applicable).

Individuals: Click here to e-mail the Senate now!

Organizations: Click here to add your organization to the Estate Tax sign-on letter to the Senate -- Deadline to sign-on is today! (5/31)
Do not sign on to this letter unless you are authorized to sign on behalf of an organization.

+ Click here for more information on the estate tax and irresponsible efforts to gut it

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Pentecost 2006: Hurry! Register TODAY to receive our special early-bird discount!

»Hurry! Register TODAY to receive our special early-bird discount!
Today is the early-bird deadline to register for Pentecost 2006: Building a Covenant for a New America from June 26-28 in Washington, D.C.

Our all-star lineup of speakers - including Sen. Barack Obama, Marian Wright Edelman, and Tony Campolo - make this a MUST-ATTEND event! You will not just be inspired, you will leave this conference with the tools to put your faith into action to overcome poverty in America and throughout the world!

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Rev. Brian McLaren
Rev. Jim Wallis


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Seize the moment. Change the wind. See you there!

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Steroids, racism, and the home run king
by Duane Shank

Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record by hitting his 715th on Sunday. With all the controversy around his alleged use of steroids and the accusations of racism, what's the appropriate reaction? How about: Who cares? The home run record is held by Henry "Hank" Aaron, with 755 home runs, not Babe Ruth. What does it matter who's in second place?

Aaron, who began his career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, set the record with grace and class in 1974, when no one had ever heard of steroids and virulent racism resulted in a barrage of death threats. He remains the home run king. So why the furor about Bonds v. Ruth?

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Jim Wallis, Anne Lamott, and Richard Rohr - Together Again!
Politics and Spirituality Conference: Outer Witness, Inner Faith
Sept. 8-10, 2006: Pasadena, California

SPACE is LIMITED. Click here to register online NOW!

Complete Program will include:

  • Keynotes and book signings by Jim Wallis, Anne Lamott, and Richard Rohr
  • Music by Grammy Award winner Ashley Cleveland
  • NEW Networking Circles and Interactive Sessions.

    For more information, click here.


    Top story:

    Above the Fray The Washington Post
    Jim Wallis (the author of the influential God's Politics ) and others on the religious left have criticized evangelicals for getting Jesus's politics wrong, Wills insists that Jesus had no politics to get, that "his reign is not of that order." Wills wants to see a great wall constructed between American religion and American politics, and he is determined to have Jesus do the heavy lifting.

    More Sojourners in the news:

    Beliefwatch: Verses Newsweek

    American Theocracy The Economist

    Religious Left Unsure of Their Message Baptist Press

    All Great Tales Wrestle with Spiritual Truths News-Leader (Springfield, MO)

    Armageddon for the Religious Right? Creative Loafing

    A Step Toward Diminishing Poverty The Olympian

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    Readers write

    Eric McAndrew writes from Cunderdin, Australia:

    David Batstone's article ["Your guide toward meaningful work," SojoMail 5/24/2006] reminded me of a story I read about a Christian CEO. Commenting about his work and the part his faith played in his success in turning a company around financially, he casually dropped the remark that he only had to get sack half the staff to achieve this "success." If a prime Christian quality is agape, I started to wonder about a meaningful theology of work and whether Christian agape could allow such mass sacking. There was no mention that any of the executives made any financial sacrifices to save livelihoods. The only focus seemed to be on the bottom line. From too many Christian executives I have read the rationalization that "it's just business," thereby immediately disconnecting from their professed faith. Jesus' prophetic words about bringing good news to the poor seem too often to be ignored by those promoting the faith of executives and some allegedly Christian leadership styles.


    Cliff Hadley writes from Huron, South Dakota:

    David Batstone - when he isn't plugging his 3P corporate self-help books - asserts that people make nonprofit versus profit career choices. Let me respond to this with a fourth p: phooey. Nonprofit status is simply a tax choice that can be, in fact, a highly profitable way to go for do-gooders who covet free money (through donations and grants) and the cheap high of moral superiority. Nonprofits must take in more money than they spend, just like profit-making businesses, or they're sunk. One difference: No one makes excuses when for-profit business managers screw up - in fact, many call them evil - but when people at a nonprofit outfit mismanage its wealth, everyone goes, "There, there. It's all right. They had such good intentions."

    Those who prefer to work at nonprofits would do well to explore their motivations, which often are at odds with economic realities. Capitalism, mixed with transparent dealings and rule of law, works every time. Socialism, no matter where it's done, fails every time. Yet many who work in nonprofits (schools, foundations, churches, et al) prefer socialism's sham promises of guaranteed success to capitalism's messy, risky, and humbling ride in the marketplace, where there are no guarantees.


    Melanie Wilson writes from Hampton, New Hampshire:

    I read The Da Vinci Code a couple of years ago, and then attended a church-based women's book group that was discussing it. The book group was led by a female pastor who loved the book and saw it as worthy springboard for exploration. No one in the group really believed in the historical accuracy of the story the book told. What resonated with the group, and with me, were the implicit questions it broached: Who was Jesus? What exactly makes the gospels' version the correct version? Is there room for interpretation? And why, oh why, have women been so under-represented, and misrepresented, by the church from the very beginning? (None of us had needed the book to convince us of this fact.)

    So enough about whether the book or movie is "dangerous" ["Is The Da Vinci Code dangerous?" SojoMail 5/19/2006]. Only gullible children need to be shielded from "dangerous" messages. The truly important question is: If there's not genuine dissatisfaction with the Chrisitan story and message as we've been taught it, then why is this alternative history so fascinating to so many of us? That's the question the church and its representatives should be racing to answer.


    Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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