The Common Good

A Coalition of Conscience

Sojomail - August 9, 2007


"Maybe uninsured American children who can’t get adequate health care could masquerade as cotton plants or cornstalks. Then the farm bill would shower them with money and care."

- New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. (Source: The New York Times [subscription required])

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HEARTS & MINDS BY JIM WALLIS A Coalition of Conscience

I am in the U.K. for a family holiday. We're celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of my wife Joy's parents, and our 10th anniversary, in her home country. Everyone here is quite impressed with Gordon Brown's first few weeks in office and the leadership he has shown around the terrorist attack that came just days after he took office, the domestic crisis of flooding, another outbreak of foot and mouth disease among cattle, and his first visit to the United States since becoming the British prime minister. The British press reported how professional Brown was with President Bush, affirming the U.K./U.S. relationship for the long term while keeping the American president suitably at arms length—a great relief for the British people, who almost universally feel that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was much too close to Bush and his policies in Iraq. That Brown made his visit to the U.N. Secretary General in New York the highlight of his trip, and not his time with Bush in Washington, pleased the British public.

In his speech at the U.N., Brown helped to make some real breakthroughs on both Darfur and global poverty. The British newspaper The Guardian reported his description of the situation in Darfur as the "greatest humanitarian disaster" the world faces today, and his announcement that the U.K., France, and the U.S. would submit a resolution to the Security Council mandating a peacekeeping force. The resolution was passed later that same day.

But the heart of his speech was global poverty and the challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals. In the text of his speech, Brown said that after seven years "it is already clear that our pace is too slow; our direction too uncertain; our vision at risk. ... We cannot allow our promises that became pledges to descend into just aspirations, and then wishful thinking, and then only words that symbolize broken promises."

He then challenged his audience:

And so my argument is simple: The greatest of evils that touches the deepest places of conscience demands the greatest of endeavor. The greatest of challenges now demands the boldest of initiatives. To address the worst of poverty we urgently need to summon up the best efforts of humanity.

I want to summon into existence the greatest coalition of conscience in pursuit of the greatest of causes. And I firmly believe that if we can discover common purpose there is no failing in today's world that cannot be addressed by mobilizing our strengths, no individual struggle that drags people down that cannot benefit from a renewed public purpose that can lift people up.

To find that common purpose, he said:

Our objectives cannot be achieved by governments alone, however well-intentioned; or private sector alone, however generous; or NGOs or faith groups alone, however well-meaning or determined—it can only be achieved in a genuine partnership together.

After addressing governments and businesses, the prime minister went on:

Let me say to faith groups and NGOs—your moral outrage at avoidable poverty has led you to work for the greatest of causes, the highest of ideals, and become the leaders of the campaign to make poverty history. Imagine what more you can accomplish if the energy to oppose and expose harnessed to the energy to propose and inspire is given more support by the rest of us—businesses, citizens, and governments.

It was a challenging and inspiring speech. I think we may have a real leader here in the U.K.

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Bill Wylie-Kellermann: Franz Jagerstatter and Nagasaki
Franz Jagerstatter, Austrian peasant and church janitor, is honored on August 9, the day he was executed in 1943 for his refusal to fight in Hitler's army. As a Roman Catholic he has been declared a "martyr of the faith" and is expected to be "beatified" this October. Franz lived the gospel that the church proclaims. He is a solitary witness of nonviolence from whom the community can learn. Today we also remember the people of Nagasaki—victims of U.S. Weapons of Mass Destruction. We recall that city turned to ash and rubble. In Iraq, cities are also turned to radioactive rubble and ash, by the U.S. invasion and continuing occupation.

Becky Garrison: An American Military Observer in Darfur
All my colleagues who served with me in the military did so because we wanted to protect people who couldn't protect themselves from an oppressor. As I was a military contractor observing the cease-fire, we were neutral military observers. We thought we were doing a good job monitoring the cease-fire but in reality that wasn't the case. It became very frustrating and I quit the job because you couldn't do anything but count dead bodies and watch people's lives being destroyed in front of us.

Fr. George Zabelka: The Conversion of the Atomic Bombers' Chaplain
In August, 1945, Fr. George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Army Air Forces, was stationed on Tinian Island in the South Pacific. He served as priest and pastor for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was discharged in l946. During the next 20 years he gradually began to realize that what he had done and believed during the war was wrong, and that the only way he could be a Christian was to be a pacifist. He was deeply influenced in this process by the civil rights movement and the works of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

Ginny Vroblesky: 'The Green Gospels' and Ancient History
Martin Palmer surprised me with a comment that the U.K. had experienced three environmental collapses within historical times. I usually think of these as future events we need to avoid. One collapse coincided with a huge volcanic eruption, blocking sunlight for several years. This was about the time the builders of Stonehenge stopped their work. The third event was the fall of the Roman Empire. The Benedictine Order of monks was active at this time. Benedict taught that a monk’s life had three priorities: prayer, study, and work. They were to go into the most wasted places and rebuild the ecology. They changed a devastated Europe by planting trees, digging new steams and lakes, restoring forests, composting and reviving the vitality of the soil. I looked around the table and there were modern Benedictines. Not monks, but people who were putting their beliefs into practice. Bring on the green gospels. We need these stories. We need to steep ourselves in scripture until it flows out into deeds.

David Duncombe: Fasting for Jubilee on Capitol Hill
If my upcoming fast goes like my previous two extended fasts for debt cancellation in Washington, its effectiveness will depend not so much on what I say on my office visits, but on what is said by the fast itself—the day-to-day silent witness of a body growing visibly weaker. In a sense, a fast like this takes on a life of its own apart from me. There is something of a sacramental quality to the fast, something that carries its own grace and power. I am simply a vehicle for a fasting body, the sight of which seems to touch the souls of others.

Daoud Kuttab: Good News for Palestinian Christians
I first heard about the letter of the evangelical leaders through an e-mail from Professor Ron Sider, who used to teach at Messiah College, where I graduated. It was a gift from heaven after so many bad statements by evangelicals justifying killings, occupation, and the pillage of our land using so-called biblical interpretations. I tried to get the letter to as many media outlets as I know, especially some of the major newspapers and satellite TV stations like al Jazzera and Al Arrabiyeh. I wanted people in our part of the world to know that there are other Christian evangelicals from America who think and speak differently than the Pat Robertsons, Jerry Fallwells, and other Christian Zionists.

Ginny Earnest: Hiroshima: ‘There Will Be a Man on a Streetcar’
Most Americans first heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the way our government ended the second world war. That is true whether you were alive at the time or born after 1945—we were taught and most of us believed that the choice to use the atomic bomb saved the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers—our fathers, our uncles, our husbands, our friends.

Deanna Murshed: Evangelicals and Israel
I've gotta admit, it hasn't been easy being a Christian Arab-American, much less in the evangelical church. How many times can you explain that Jesus wasn't baptized in the Rio Grande, that there are tens of thousands of indigenous Palestinian Christians still living in the Holy Land, and that loving Jewish people and "blessing Israel" (as is oft cited from scripture) doesn't mean giving the modern (and mind you, secular) nation-state of Israel a carte blanche on foreign policy or grant it some sort of biblical immunity from criticism? For too long, such criticism has been deemed by my fellow American evangelical brothers and sisters as not only unbiblical but sometimes even—yes, anti-Semitic. Notwithstanding the fact that Arabs are also Semites, the idea that Palestinians had any right to any part of the Holy Land has long been considered anathema by too many of my American kinfolk. So you can only imagine how tickled I was to read about a letter to President Bush signed by evangelical leaders across America, encouraging a two-state solution.

Justin Alexander: Stating the Odious
When Saddam Hussein's regime executed someone, it required the victim's family to pay for the bullets used. An appalling practice—but one which, Iraqis in the Jubilee Iraq campaign say, bears all too much resemblance to present-day demands that Iraq's people pay debts Hussein racked up during the Iran-Iraq war, which devastated the country and claimed around a million lives.

Gareth Higgins: Antonioni and Bergman's Films and Spiritual Activism
Film buffs began this week greeting the news that two of our greatest artists had died. Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni lived to be 89 and 94, respectively, and were still making films until a couple of years ago. Their work had exerted such an influence over world cinema for over half a century that it is impossible to imagine film culture without them. Antonioni and Bergman made films about the human interior journey—the travels and travails of the soul. They were sometimes preoccupied with the fear that life had no meaning, and at times seemed desperate to produce cinema because the making of the films themselves were part of their own struggle for enlightenment.

Adam Taylor: A Victory for Children's Health
Yesterday the House passed a bill to enlarge the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $47 billion over five years to extend coverage to an additional 5 million children. The Senate will be debating a similar measure to expand the highly successful program by $35 billion over five years, adding 3 million children. Despite President Bush’s ideologically-driven and mean-spirited threat of a veto, we are approaching a veto-proof majority of 70 votes in the Senate. In order to secure 70 votes we need a continuous barrage of phone calls from faith advocates from across the country adding their voices to a growing chorus that calls for a healthier future for our nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.


2007/2008 Spirituality and Social Justice Institute. Join us at Galilee Centre (Ontario) for our 10-week program! Explore the spiritual grounding for your justice, peace, and ecological commitments in a peaceful and communal setting.

Mennonite Central Committee Resource Generation Network Director
, Experience in nonprofit fund-raising with excellent skills in communication and management required. Contact Kathy Jackson at or call (717) 859-1151 for job description and further information.

Caring for Kids with Cancer.
Meet Maryknoll Sister: Kathleen Reiley.

Frederick Buechner Film. Pulitzer Prize nominated writer and Presbyterian minister reflects on 9/11, Iraq, Buddhism, the Bible, Christology, Prayer, and more. Discover the former Phillips Exeter chaplain who helped inspire A Prayer for Owen Meany.

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