The Common Good

Poverty is not a Family Value

Sojomail - June 29, 2006

Quote of the Week : Good news
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: Poverty is not a family value
Faith and Politics : Sen. Barack Obama speaks out on faith and politics
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Campus Lines : Young adults confront globalization and violence
Culture Watch : Review: "Who Killed the Electric Car"
Boomerang : Readers write
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"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

- Jesus (Luke 4:18-19)

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Poverty is not a family value
by Jim Wallis

The following is excerpted from Jim Walls' address at the Sojourners/Call to Renewal Pentecost 2006: Building a Covenant for a New America conference.

We are gathering here in the season of Pentecost, as we have done now for 10 years. It is the season when we celebrate the church coming down from that upper room into the streets with the power of the Spirit to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The good news that he proclaimed in his opening mission statement in the little town of Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor."

To a church whose mission statement hasn't always reflected his, we are here simply to say this: whatever else the gospel of Jesus Christ is able to change about our lives - overcome our sinful habits and addictions, save our marriages and families, make us responsible people - IF the gospel that we preach does not "bring good news to the poor," well then, it is simply not the gospel of Jesus Christ - and it is about time that we said that.

To the political leaders of this capitol city, and from the places you all live across this country, we are here to say something else: the days when you could win the support of the religious community by merely speaking the language of family values and the sacredness of life while ignoring the desperate plight of poor people in this wealthy nation and around the world are over. Because for a growing number of people of faith across the political spectrum, you will now be held accountable for how the leadership you offer and the policies you support impact the lives of those whom Jesus called "the least of these." You see for many of us, poverty is also a life issue and as our bumper sticker says "Poverty is NOT a family value!"

We need a new moral logic that merges personal and social responsibility - a more honest assessment of both the individual decisions and social systems that trap people in poverty. And that is the aim of our "Covenant for a New America."

We need a new grand alliance between liberals and conservatives to create effective cultural, political, and economic strategies. We need a moral renewal of our priorities and a commitment to advancing the common good. We can overcome poverty, but only if we act together, and only if all sectors of society do what they do best.

We covenant together here, before God and our neighbors, to work and pray for a new America:
An America where everyone able to work is working and able to support a family.
An America where those who are unable to work are compassionately supported.
An America where no child lives in poverty and goes to bed at night hungry.
An America where every person has a roof over their head.
And an America that opens its heart and its budget to our neighbors around the world.
A new America - where all of God's children have the life and dignity they deserve.

Our message in Washington this week is an invitation.

We invite the churches and the wider religious community to reach beyond our divisions and our differences in order to make a profoundly moral appeal to the nation. The very soul of the nation is at stake in whether America's promise will truly extend to all of God's children and whether Americans will recognize that all the world's children are also God's and, ultimately, our own.

We invite the nation's political leaders to set party divisions and rivalries aside to address this fundamentally moral issue and challenge. We implore them to heed the message of the prophets that the nations will be judged not by their military might or gross national product but by how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst, "the least of these," and we appeal to them to fulfill the American dream of opportunity and the credo of "liberty and justice for all."

While the world fears American domination, it still looks for American leadership. And the very best defense against terrorism would be the example of the world's strongest nation leading the world in the moral battle against poverty, disease, intolerance, and oppression.

God bless you for the work you do, and for joining together this week to begin the campaign that will change the American conversation on poverty.

Listen to streaming audio of Jim's speech:

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Sen. Barack Obama speaks out on faith and politics
by Sen. Barack Obama

I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference, and I'd like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you've given so far about poverty and justice in America. I think all of us would affirm that caring for the poor finds root in all of our religious traditions - certainly that's true for my own.

But today I'd like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments over this issue over the last several years.

Listen to streaming audio of Sen. Obama's speech:

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+ Read the prepared text of the speech (varies slightly from live version)

Other congressional guests at our Pentecost 2006 event included: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). We hope to include links to their remarks as well as soon as they're available.

Watch streaming video of CNN's report on Democrats and religion:

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This week's media round-up

Hillary Clinton Talks Religion CNN

Leading Democrats Get Warm Welcome From Group of Evangelicals McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Will Democrats Put Their Faith in Obama? The Washington Post

Obama - Democrats Have Something to Say to People of Faith Chicago Sun-Times

Religious Leaders, Activists Unveil covenant, rally against poverty Catholic Online

Raising Minimum Wage Will Not Hurt Jobs, Dean Says The Washington Times

Obama: On Faith and Politics Chicago Sun-Times

Dean Urges Higher Minimum Wage United Press International

Holy Unholy Alliances by Isaiah Poole

Christian Convention to Test Right's Hold on Values Agenda by Raising Poverty as Moral Issue Cox News Service

Left Behind: Fault Lines Among the Leaders of the Religious Left Slate

Religious left developing new 'spiritual covenant' Religion News Service

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

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Changing the Face of Hunger

As a member of Congress, Tony Hall was reluctant to wear his faith on his sleeve. But if he was to be true to his faith, he had to find a way to bring God into his political world.

He found his answer in Ethiopia. After visiting, he realized he would travel among the hungry and bring their needs to the attention of Washington.

In Changing the Face of Hunger Tony shares his travels and the issue of hunger worldwide. From the dark corners of a political prison in Romania to barren, famine-stricken Africa, people are suffering and we can help.


Young adults confront globalization and violence
by Tabitha Knerr

Tabitha Knerr participated in this week's Pentecost conference along with more than 200 other "emerging leaders" - young people whom Sojourners and Call to Renewal are nurturing and mentoring as the next generation of activists.

In an ecumenical climate where mainline Protestants are rarely seen in the same room as conservative evangelicals or Catholics, Christian young adults are envisioning a new way of doing ecumenism. A grassroots group of concerned young adults from across the religious and political spectrum have been gathering and gaining momentum to host the third annual Young Adult Ecumenical Forum. The diversity of traditions and perspectives at each year's event have led to a creative tension among the participants.

"We didn't always agree, that's for sure, but I respect the passion and conviction that each person brings to the discussion," said Samantha Warren of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. "Besides," Alex Feldt of the ELCA added, "How can you expect to learn anything when everyone is spouting the same opinion?"

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Christians and Poverty
New Discussion Guide from the Editors of Sojourners DOWNLOAD IT TODAY FOR $4.95

Want to spark discussion, thought and action about how to live out God's call for justice for all our neighbors? Check out our newest discussion guide. To understand the poor in the Bible as only a reference to spiritual poverty is to miss an important part of scripture. The Christians and Poverty discussion guide offers bible study, social and economic analysis, stories of real people, and ideas for further study from a collection of recent and past Sojourners articles. Four sessions, 54 pages. Click here to order.


Review: "Who Killed the Electric Car"
by Ed Spivey Jr.

They say you're not paranoid if people are really out to get you. The same can hold true for conspiracy theorists who walk the earth in constant vigil against the dark collusion behind every thwarted effort for human good. Those twitchy bands of nervous nellies - their pockets stuffed with yellowed news clippings on the Kennedy assassination - are no doubt high-fiving the release of "Who Killed the Electric Car?" a documentary that, at least in this one case, proves them 100% correct.

In 1992, after a billion dollars in research, General Motors produced 200 EVs, an all-electric vehicle that would comply with California's mandate that a zero-emissions car comprise up to 10% of the total fleet sold in that state. To those lucky few who were able to lease one, the car quickly became an object of love, smugness, and downright obsession. As promised, the car could travel at highway speeds for up to 100 miles on a single charge, more than enough for the average daily commute. The drivers reported nothing but passionate praise for their new rides, and environmentalists saw this as the first wave of a technology that would dramatically reduce air pollution and dependence on foreign oil.

They were wrong.

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Click here to learn more.


Readers write

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many of you wrote to inquire how to support NightLight Ministry, described in David Batstone's article, "Shining a ray of light on Thailand's sex trade" [SojoMail 6/21/2006]. Unfortunately, at this time it is not possble to make direct individual purchaes from NightLight, but if you would like more information about how you can support this ministry, please contact


Mr. Jeremy Sutter writes from Bangkok, Thailand:

Thank you for highlighting the efforts of NightLight in Bangkok to help save women from prostitution. I live in Bangkok and my wife works with a similar ministry. Even before she was involved in this ministry, I felt overwhelmed by the shear numbers of women involved, how visible this industry is, and the attitudes and behaviors of so many Western men in this city.

Women want out, but they feel trapped. They need to know there is another way, and in most circumstances, they need someone to create a way for them. Once they have a way, they can walk away. There are four ministries that I know of in Bangkok reaching out to women trapped by prostitution. As mentioned in the NightLight article, there are more women wanting to leave, but lack of financial resources hold ministries back.

My wife is Thai, and she has at times expressed her sorrow that Thailand is known for its sex industry when there are so many beautiful things about Thailand and its culture. Our work is based largely on John 4, where Jesus meets a woman at a well and she goes back and transforms her village with her testimony. We want to see this country transformed and the sex industry ended through the testimony of women who have had their lives changed for the better.

For more information about the sex industry in Thailand and how the church is responding, here are some Web sites of three of the ministries here: NightLight; The Well; and Rahab.


Emily Cantrell writes from Atlanta, Georgia:

After reading "Shining a ray of light on Thailand's sex trade," I was reminded of my trip to Cambodia this past summer. Our mission was to teach villagers about human rights and economic development. It was difficult to ignore the most flagrant of all human rights violations, that is the selling and trading of women and children through the underground sex market. These victims of the sex trade are so far removed from humanitarian aid, often crowded in unsafe, squalid quarters offer that opportunity for escape or advancement seems futile. I met many young girls who reported living in the basements of "massage parlors" as "entertainers." Unfortunately, the United States is one of the sex industry's most high-paying patrons. I want to thank you for publishing this article. It is our calling as Christians to minister to all suffering individuals, regardless of any social stigma attached. Women who have been trafficked, whether it is consensual or voluntary, are given little protection. Please spread the word to your friends and neighbors, many of whom may believe that the slave trade ended in the 19th Century.


Dennis Rossow writes from Lake Zurich, Illinois:

Thanks to your e-mails, I learn about various ministries. I was so moved by the story about the sex trade in Thailand that I've contacted NightLight Ministry, and will be doing a fundraiser at our church for that organization. Thanks for all of your hard work!


Emily Taylor writes from Kalamazoo, Michigan:

As one who has spent part of her childhood inside a cage waiting to see what man would come visit her next, my praises go out to you, Soujourners, for talking about the untalkable. Yet now, in my country, outrage over abuse, torture and trafficking has led to laws that ban this practice, and thankfully, enforcement. Some laws took effect in the 1960s, others, such as the anti-trafficking law in Michigan, just took effect this year. Pray for all who must stop this crime in America, Thailand, Chile, Australia, in Russia, in Iraq, and anywhere else in the world it happens.

The Lord has blessed some victims now that we live and have totally whole lives. So many died, however, of poverty, terror, hopelessness, addictions, and losses to great to bare. Me, I'm in my 40s. I'll simply keep praying as people once prayed for me. Meanwhile, we must get involved on some level. We must use and take seriously the abolition movement to stop trafficking now. I will once again pray in the name of Jesus. It worked for me. Jesus Christ lives. Let's make sure all children have the same chance.


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