The Common Good

America’s Hammer Habit

Sojomail - July 12, 2006


07.12.2006 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week : 'Anti-God acts'
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: America's Hammer Habit
Culture Watch : Review: An Inconvenient Truth
Values for Life : It's a gas, gas, gas
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"[N]uclear arsenals threaten long-term and fatal damage to the global environment and its people. As such, their end is evil and both possession and use profoundly anti-God acts."

- From a statement by 19 bishops of the Church of England, opposing Prime Minister Tony Blair's plan to replace aging Trident nuclear weapons in the U.K.

Source: The Independent

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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.

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HEARTS & MINDS ^top

America's Hammer Habit
by Jim Wallis

The best line I heard in the period leading up to the war in Iraq was, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." It was quoted by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when we were on a panel together in England about the best response to terrorism.

The premise of the panel was that the threat of terrorism is real, that there are real dangers prowling about in our world, and that the problem of evil is a very serious one. The question we were addressing was what the best response to real threats should be.

I now call this the American hammer habit. If we don't know how to solve a problem, we just fight. Diplomacy has become a weak word to those who run our foreign policy and, in the House debate on Iraq in June, Republicans made numerous references to those who are "afraid to fight." Right on cue, Fox News Sunday's Brit Hume accused Democrats of being a party that just doesn't like to fight. And according to the neo-conservatives masquerading as journalists, such as Hume and William Kristol, continuous fighting is the only foreign policy that makes any sense.

Even more frightening is how much their friends such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have the same strong preference for fighting over talking. If they had their way, we would have fought or would still be fighting several wars by now - all at the same time - in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Iran at least, and probably against North Korea, too, if they thought we could win the war. They act as if talking and negotiating with potential adversaries is just a waste of time. It is truly astonishing and even shocking how people who simply question the efficacy and morality of the continuing American occupation in Iraq - including long-time military supporters such as Rep. John Murtha - are so quickly and viciously accused of "cutting and running" or not having the "courage" to fight.

This spring, the hostile rhetoric toward our adversaries that we heard before the war against Iraq turned toward Iran. I was in Australia during the war of words in March between Washington and Tehran, and I was interviewed on one of Australia's top political shows. I was asked whether a stand-off between the "two fundamentalists" (meaning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and U.S. President George Bush), with nuclear weapons in the balance, should concern the world. I said yes.

Again, there was a real threat: The possibility of the Iranian regime obtaining usable nuclear weapons is a very reasonable concern for the region and for the whole world. Yet again, the question becomes what the most appropriate and effective response should be.

Cheney and others quickly raised the prospect of military action - even nuclear attack - against Iran, threatening "meaningful consequences" and saying that "the United States is keeping all options on the table." (In April, The Washington Post reported that "Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices.") A bipartisan list of retired generals and other military experts pointed out that mere air strikes would be relatively ineffective in removing Iran's nuclear threat, and that only a full scale war, invasion, and occupation could guarantee an end to Iran's nuclear program - a solution almost nobody thinks is realistic or prudent. At the same time, the potential disastrous consequences for the region and the world of a U.S. or Israeli military strike against Iran were reiterated by both military and foreign policy elites outside the Bush administration.

Since the early spring saber-rattling, a more reasonable course has emerged, backed by the Europeans, the Russians, and others who are concerned about Iran's nuclear threat but who are also opposed to a military response. And to its credit, the Bush administration is, at least for the moment, supporting this approach which combines incentives with the threat of sanctions. That is good news indeed.

I hope this is a sincere effort, and not one intended to simply expose the "unreasonableness" of the Iranians and then use that to justify a military response, or even to manipulate a national security issue in hopes of discrediting Democrats and helping Republicans avoid a devastating mid-term election defeat. It would not be the first time such things were done in U.S. politics.

Three groups of Americans are now making strong statements against military action in Iran and lifting up instead the better alternatives of incentives, pressures, and sanctions. They are religious leaders, former military leaders, and former foreign policy and national security officials.

If America can resist its hammer habit with Iran, the world may be spared a nuclearized Iran and the disastrous consequences of another misguided military confrontation. The clear witness of America's religious community and our wisest military and foreign policy leaders may be essential to prevent those twin disasters.

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CULTURE WATCH ^top

Review: An Inconvenient Truth
by Steve Carpenter

An Inconvenient Truth may be the most important film to be released this century. It is also one of the best reviewed and most talked about films of the year. This highly autobiographical film centers on a live audience slide show presentation which Gore has presented hundreds of times to audiences worldwide. From this description it may sound like a video recording of a boring college science lecture. Just the opposite is true. Gore, often criticized for being stiff, is quite engaging here. He begins with a self-deprecating joke and proceeds to wow his audience with pictures from outer space, scientific charts, graphs, and personal stories.

Gore is obviously an avid outdoorsman, well-informed about environmental issues. In very personal testimony he describes how an intellectual encounter with his college professor, and the tragic near death of his 6-year-old son, fueled and focused his environmental passion. He plays the role of teacher, scientist, politician, and prophet trying to convince a sometimes reluctant audience that carbon dioxide, or CO2, emissions are causing global warming. Gore, backed by mounds of scientific data, contends this warming will melt portions of Greenland and the Antarctic shelf, thus raising sea levels by as much as 20 feet, placing densely-populated low-lying coastal regions under water.

+ Read the full article

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VALUES FOR LIFE ^top

It's a gas, gas, gas
from Co-op America

It is clear, when it comes to oil and gas, the answer is that less is better. But the reality is that most of America is car dependent. Of course, that leads to the question we often get here: "If I have to buy gas for my car, where should I go?"

Tough question. Co-op America's take: There is no such thing as a "good" gas company. However, some gas and oil companies have taken important first steps toward reforming their business practices. Consumers can use their purchases to applaud these first steps and push for changes in what is still a fairly problematic industry. And consumers can join with investors in calling on companies to disclose fully their environmental and social impacts.

Best options: BP, Sunoco, Citgo
Better option: Shell
Worst options: Chevron, Exxon

+ For details on these companies, read more at Co-op America

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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.


SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS ^top

This week's media round-up

Top stories:

Not a Lost Cause: Progressive Christians are gaining momentum by Loui Itoh in The Harvard Crimson
Last Tuesday, I marched across Washington, D.C., in the pouring rain, hoisting a sign that read, "Poverty is not a family value." Although at Harvard I find myself in the minority as a progressive Christian, that day I was surrounded by 500 church leaders, activists, and college students who had converged on America's capital as participants of Pentecost 2006, a conference hosted by faith-based NGOs Sojourners and Call to Renewal. Unlike conservative Christians, who were mobilized by issues like gay marriage and abortion, we were here to tell politicians that they have a moral obligation to end child poverty in the United States and extreme poverty around the world.

Religious leaders stand up for unity in fight against poverty Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
As the rain fell in biblical proportions on Washington, D.C., more than 500 religious leaders, 200 of them under the age of 30, met in National City Christian Church in late June to join their spirits in revival and start a new political movement. It is a movement based on two primary principles: that poverty should rise in the American conscience as the primary moral issue of our day, becoming a focal point of the 2008 presidential election, and that the religious right should not be the only voice of faith heard in the public square.

More Sojourners in the news:

Obama's Eloquent Faith by E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post

Democrats' new faith still in old wineskins Wichita Eagle

Obama’s Prayer National Review Online

Having Faith and Talking Politics Herald-Sun (N.C.)

Democrats Call This Progress? Dallas Morning News

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners/Call to Rewewal 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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A RETREAT with British writer Margaret Silf, author of Inner Compass and Sacred Spaces, will be held at Kordes Retreat Center in Ferdinand, Indiana, Sept. 21-28, 2006. This retreat has been planned with special consideration for those working for peace and justice. Full description available at http://www.broadwayumc.org/publications/retreatbrochure3.pdf. E-mail AUMCHH@sbcglobal.net for registration or questions.


BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

Doug Parker writes from Englewood, Colorado:

Too often in the past few years, the challenges of being a loving Christian seem insurmountable: bias and discrimination mask themselves as concern for family values; bigotry and greed drive support for an immoral invasion of a sovereign nation; brinksmanship seems to be the new rule in international diplomacy. How do Christians find the strength to prevail? David Batstone provides us with a blueprint ["Heroes turn small steps into grand leaps," SojoMail 7/6/2006]]. I have a dear friend who works tirelessly in our community, primarily with seniors and at-risk teens. This on top of 65-hour weeks running his own business, and never seeming to lack for time to share with his family. I asked him how he does it? "Just one step at a time." It's critical to remind ourselves that no problem was ever solved in one massive stroke. It takes folks like my friend, or like Lucy Borja, to make the first step. Each day, the news reminds us of the terror and turmoil loose in the world. How can one individual make a difference? One step at a time.

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Erik Beutler writes from Evegreen, Colorado:

It is great to hear about an individual who does what is right, rather then picketing or writing the government to fix it. We as individuals will always make a bigger impact on our world than organizations or governments could ever hope to. This is how we as Christians should invest our energy every day with every individual we meet.

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Dr. Bruce Petersen writes from Oak Hill, West Virginia:

A Catholic speaker at Pentecost 2006 used the analogy of the four legs of the communion table to speak of the four legs that support a healthy society: 1) personal responsibility, 2) private organizations, including the church, 3) the free enterprise economic system, and 4) the government. While I wholeheartly support our Covenant for a New America, I'm concerned that it only asks for specific government action, along with its more general pledge to cut childhood poverty in half. If we limit our approach to only the government leg of the table, we run the risk of being marginalized as "just another big-government, liberal organization" and we will fail to draw in a broader coalition of Christians.

Last December, when we blocked a doorway at the U.S. Capitol and got arrested, we were protesting not just $50 billion in cuts in social programs for the poor, but we were also protesting $57 billion in new tax cuts for corporate America and the very rich. We were in effect challenging the misuse of the our economic system by corporate America and the economic aristocracy. We were trying to strengthen two of the legs, not just one. My prayer is that Sojourners and Call to Renewal develops an approach to solving poverty that makes use of all four legs of our communion table.

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Rev. Ron Partridge writes from Lower Halstow, United Kingdom:

I was glad to see the advertisement for Leann Snow Flesher's book, Left Behind?. I would like to draw Sojourners readers to another useful book in this area, End Times Fiction by Gary DeMar. Whereas Flesher's book makes use of "history, context, and literary genre", DeMar's book bases all his arguments entirely on conservative biblical interpretation. Since pre-trib rapture teaching is held and taught entirely within conservative fundamentalist churches, this book is especially useful in refuting it. This is not a liberal-conservative issue, but a matter of sound Christian belief on any grounds. Pre-trib rapture presents us with a dramatic, flattering, and comforting picture of an aspect of Christ's coming, but it is a fashion rather than a revelation, and should be rejected by all Christians as doubtful and unbiblical.

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