The Common Good

A Conversation Our Country Needs

Sojomail - September 27, 2006


There He Goes Again

"I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. She has $300 million so far. But I hope she's the candidate. Because nothing will energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."

- Rev. Jerry Falwell

+ Read Jim Wallis' response to this outrageous statement

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

A Conversation Our Country Needs

In its first week, the God's Politics Blog featured a dialogue between Jim Wallis and Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, on the question: What do values voters value most? The following is Jim's final entry in that conversation. See the full list of posts below.

Ralph, you didn't respond to my criticism of the faith-based initiative. I said it was a good idea, and I have always supported the concept of non-discrimination for faith-based groups. But many of the most important evangelical faith-based groups serving the poor feel it has been undercut by President Bush's domestic policies, which have hurt the poor families they work with. You didn't respond to what their letter said.

I also favor welfare reform, but the right kind that lifts families out of poverty and not just off the welfare rolls. When 5 million more people are in poverty during the Bush administration, when Census data shows that the poorest of the poor are getting poorer, and when 9.2 million American families have at least one full-time worker in their household but are still raising their children (20 million of them) in poverty, we have a big problem. The "Republican ideology" I referred to is to continually cut effective programs for poor families (in the estimation of the Christian groups that work with those families), while cutting more taxes for the rich and making them richer every year. That doesn't sound like the economics of Jesus to me.

I agree that faith-based and charitable organizations have a critical role to play, but the Bush administration has utterly failed to play the responsible role of government and its tax policies have indeed made the rich richer and the poor poorer. George Bush is a reverse Robin Hood.

I believe that the solution to overcoming poverty in America requires recognizing that a lack of personal responsibility and a lack of social responsibility both perpetuate the problem. Liberals must start talking about the problems of out-of-wedlock births, strengthening both marriage and parenting, and wealth creation programs such as Individual Development Accounts and home ownership. Conservatives must start talking about strategic public investments in child care, education, health care, affordable housing, and living family incomes. We need a new "grand alliance."

And on Iraq - I just saw the film World Trade Center and was deeply moved. The immense destruction and enormous human pain of Sept. 11 still brings me to tears. I remember standing on the pile of rubble just a few weeks after the attack and witnessing a kind of devastation I had never seen before. But what I saw then, and saw again tonight in the film, was the amazing response of the first responders - the New York police and firefighters - an extraordinary heroism that I would actually call Christ-like, with so many risking and giving their lives for complete strangers. At the end of the film, one of the two Port Authority police survivors on whose stories the movie focuses said something like this, "Sure it was a great evil that attacked us, but it brought out an enormous good from us." On that day, the whole world stood with America.

But we didn't build on that good; instead we resorted to more evil to fight the evil. Instead of focusing like a laser on bringing to justice those responsible for 9/11 and who plan further attacks (which I have absolutely no problem with), we have seen the death of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks on us but who now have the same horrible stories of loved ones lost under the rubble of war - just as I saw tonight. I remember a woman just days after 9/11 pleading with George Bush, "Mr. President, don't spread our pain." He has, and after so many more innocents killed, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, America no longer has the moral high ground.

Iraq is now a terrorist haven because an American occupation has made it so. Just yesterday we saw the news of a new National Intelligence Estimate that, according to one intelligence official quoted in The New York Times, "says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse." That intelligence estimate says, according to The Times, that the war has recruited a new generation of potential terrorists and increased the threat to America. Only when the American occupation ends will there be a chance for an internationally led effort to restore security and peace to that troubled country. That's not "cutting and running," that's ending a terribly mistaken and distracting war and putting our attention back on ending the real threats of terrorism. And on Israel, I don't support Hamas either, but you still ignore the Palestinian people and their suffering.

We agree that abortion is a moral tragedy, and I am happy to see some Democrats finally talking about the need to find some solutions toward dramatically reducing the number of abortions with a practical new agenda that should become bipartisan. While I don't support making women in desperate situations who see no other choice into criminals, I oppose abortion and strongly support efforts to dramatically reduce the number of abortions. And because of my belief in the sacredness of human life, I also oppose capital punishment, just as the Catholic bishops do.

I also support healthy marriages and strong families. And as a father of two young boys and a Little League coach, parenting is an especially important value to me. I also believe that gay and lesbian people are entitled to the same legal protections and civil rights as other Americans. That's neither liberal nor conservative, but simply common sense.

Finally, let me say that I, too, have enjoyed our dialogue and believe we have indeed modeled a civil discourse, one that the country and the churches really need. And you'll always tug at my heartstrings when you quote Robert Kennedy. Next time you're in town, let's have a cup of coffee and continue talking. Thanks for doing this, Ralph.

+ Read and respond to comments on this article on the God's Politics Blog

Read the entire dialogue between Ralph and Jim:

Jim Wallis: What Do Values Voters Value Most?

Ralph Reed: Rejecting the Liberal "Straw Man"

Jim Wallis: Not Liberal nor Conservative

Ralph Reed: Broad Concerns Are Compatible with a Focused Agenda

Jim Wallis: There is No Substitute for Justice

Ralph Reed's concluding remarks: We've Disagreed Without Being Disagreeable


Video: Jim Wallis on the CBS Evening News

CBS Evening News contrasts the faith and politics of Jim Wallis with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.


Call-in for Immigrant Rights

Last December, the House of Representatives passed a punitive and enforcement-focused immigration bill that would be hostile to the alien among us. But the Senate approved legislation in May, supported by many in the faith community, that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, establishes a guest worker program, and sets up a new temporary work program for undocumented agricultural workers.

Unfortunately, the debate is back to enforcement-only legislation.

Last week, the House passed HR 6061, which would authorize 700 miles of fencing along the southwestern border with Mexico. Bipartisan Senate leaders and diverse religious groups, as well as many others, are speaking out against this approach and in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.

+ Learn more and take action

New voices respond to the question, "What should values voters value most?" Plus, commentary on last week's speech on religion by Sen. John Kerry.

Brian McLaren: Three Values for Voters to Consider

Sister Helen Prejean: On Values Voting

Amy Sullivan: Brother Kerry's Testimony


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