The Common Good

The Lion of the Senate

Sojomail - May 22, 2008


They came at night, trying to kill us, with people pointing out, 'this one is a foreigner and this one is not.' It was a very cruel and ugly hatred.

- Charles Mannyike, an immigrant from Mozambique, telling of his experience of anti-immigrant violence in South Africa. (Source: The New York Times )

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail


The Lion of the Senate

They call him a lion. John McCain, on Tuesday, called him the "last lion in the Senate ... because he remains the single most effective member of the Senate." I've always liked lions. I have a beautiful painting of a South African lion on the wall of our living room at home. My boys think it is Aslan, the lion of Narnia, of whom Mr. Beaver said, "'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

The nation got a shock this week. Edward Kennedy, the lion who has been in the United States Senate for nearly 50 years, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. I know Ted Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, and have enjoyed personal conversations with them on a number of occasions over a wide range of issues, including the application of Christian faith to public life. I've found them both to be serious Catholics. And I have worked with Sen. Kennedy on a variety of issues, including legislation for a long-delayed increase in the minimum wage and for comprehensive immigration reform.

When it comes to fighting for economic justice, civil rights, health care, and education, and to opposing unjust and mistaken wars, there has been no greater champion in the Senate, no stronger lion than Teddy Kennedy, as his friends like to call him. And what has been most impressive and inspiring during these last few days since the Massachusetts senator was stricken with seizures is hearing how many friends he really has - on both sides of the aisle. Despite being the archetypal "liberal" in the U.S. Senate, and the favorite whipping boy and consistent poster child for the right-wing ditto heads of talk radio and the egomaniacs of Fox News, the outpouring of respect and affection for Ted Kennedy from his colleagues in the Senate, including Republicans, has been just amazing.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky., Republican leader), said: "Senator Kennedy enjoys great respect and admiration on this side of the aisle. He is indeed one of the most important figures to ever serve in this body in our history."

Conservative Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has become a close friend of Kennedy, said: "He's like a brother to me. I love him. I love the Kennedy family. He's given so much to the country, and he has one of the greatest senses of humor of anyone I've known in my life. You can't help but like him if you get to know him."

This genuine and generous outpouring of love and concern for Sen. Kennedy proves a very important thing. It shows that one can be an advocate, a passionate and relentless champion for clear and controversial causes, and yet still be a bridge-builder, a reconciler, and a seeker of common ground. The conventional wisdom says you must be one or the other, an advocate or a bridge-builder, but never both. Ted Kennedy, once again, proves the conventional wisdom wrong. It is because he is a lawmaker who genuinely wants to get things done, to find real and concrete solutions -- especially for people who really need them. Kennedy is known as a senator who truly wants to be effective and not just right, as so many others, on both sides of the aisle, are too often content to be.

As a Wall Street Journal story said:

Long known as a liberal lion, partisan warrior and scion of a Democratic family dynasty, Sen. Kennedy has, in the gridlocked environment of recent years, played a role as a key deal maker in nearly all significant domestic policy achievements. Many of the most important domestic milestones of the Bush years ... could not have happened without Sen. Kennedy's role as finder of common ground between the two parties.

Ted Kennedy represents a tradition of public service almost unparalleled in American political history. Three of his brothers literally gave their lives in service to their country and the Kennedy family has consistently shown how "the haves" can decide to use their wealth and power to help change the world for the sake of the "have-nots." At 77, his colleagues will tell you that nobody works harder, day in and day out, on the nuts of bolts of lawmaking than Sen. Kennedy, instead of retiring to sail off to his beloved Cape Cod.

On a more personal note, I have met several of the Kennedy children, nephews, nieces, and cousins. Guess who always calls each one on their birthdays -- and often in-between. The youngest of the Kennedy brothers has become the patriarch of the family now, the lion who takes care of all the cubs. Hearing that impressed me as a father and an uncle myself as to the "family values" of one of the most public figures in American political life.

So pray for Ted Kennedy, Vicki Kennedy, and a family that has both given and suffered so much, as more tests, diagnosis, and critical treatment decisions lie ahead. And whatever your political views, thank God for a very human public servant who has focused his entire political career on those whom Jesus called "the least of these," and who once told me one of his favorite biblical texts comes from the book of James, who reminds us all that "faith without works is dead."

+ Respond to this article on the God's Politics Blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Things Fall Apart: Prayer Requests for South Africa and Zimbabwe (by Nontando Hadebe)

When I listen to stories of victims of the xenophobic violence in South Africa and compare those with the stories of victims of electoral cleansing in Zimbabwe, things fall apart because the experiences of violence are similar. How can this be? How can the experience of violence in a democracy be the same as that in a dictatorship? For the victims of violence -- most of whom are the poorest of the poor -- their experience blurs the distinction between a democracy and a dictatorship. Similarly, for the perpetrators of violence, democracy has not changed their material condition and has no real value. Are they the only role-players in this violence? What about our leaders and institutions dealing with welfare, immigration, housing, etc.? What about regional leaders' responsibility to challenge dictatorship? The violence is a collective shame that requires collective responsibility.

'New Year Baby' Documents Khmer Rouge Survivors (by Anna Almendrala)

On Christmas Day a few years ago in Dallas, Texas, Socheata Poeuv's parents called a family meeting to tell her that her sisters weren't really her sisters, and her brother was not her full brother. After 25 years of attempting to live a "normal American life," her parents revealed a shocking family secret that would draw them all back to Cambodia, the home they fled and struggled to forget during the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. As she packs for her trip back to Cambodia, Socheata turns to the camera and confides, "I knew more about the Holocaust than the Khmer Rouge. I knew even less about my own family."

Why We Can’t Wait & Why We Must: The Radical Timing of God’s Movement (by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)

Zack Exley over at Revolution in Jesusland has been offering some careful thought and excellent questions about Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw's new book Jesus for President. His questions are well worth reading in depth, but for the sake of this short response, I'll summarize his concern as this: If new monastics focus on the small and local, how are we ever going to achieve large-scale social and political change? If people with power make the rules, why would Christians of goodwill give up power? Why not organize for shared power so that no one gets left out?

Video: Immigration Raids and Church Response (by Patty Kupfer)

Please check out this moving video shot and edited by our own on-the-ground correspondent, Sojourners Web assistant Matt Hildreth. Matt researched, made calls, and then stopped through Postville, Iowa, last Friday and got some great footage. It features Sister Mary of St. Bridget’s, who has been ministering to immigrant families affected by the raid. Our allies have been spreading this video around among activists all over the country, and they’re thrilled to have some interviews with real people telling their stories. Watch it:

Diplomacy = Hitler Appeaser? (by Gareth Higgins)

President Bush's remarks, made last week in Israel, suggesting that anyone who wishes to talk with a violent enemy is the contemporary equivalent of a Hitler appeaser, are so wide of the mark, patronizing, and simply untrue that they must be challenged. The fact that he used the emotive context of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations as the background for these comments is an abuse of an already misused people. And implying that Sen. Obama wishes to appease terrorism is not only factually inaccurate, but morally troubling. Why? Because this is to suggest that the only two options available to "good people" in responding to terror are to terrorise the terrorisers, or to cower in fear or denial. This has never been true. It does not become the president of the United States, a self-affirmed follower of Jesus, to endorse the sport of violent revenge and the belief that there are certain people in the world who are so irredeemable that we should not talk to them.

A Call for African Solidarity Against Xenophobic Violence (by Seth Naicker)

As a South African, it is a downright shame that brothers and sisters from other countries in Africa are being treated with such disregard. This injustice that has transpired is repulsive, shocking, and disgusting. However, we must put pressure on the government to address this matter of xenophobia. President Mbeki needs to speak out against it, without delay of or need for investigation. The news reports are definitive enough and cannot be denied, so our president must stand up and condemn these acts of violence. The complexity of South Africans acting out in frustration of their own circumstances, as people who are agitated by the non-delivery of democratic promises, can and must be understood, but not to the extent that we take out our frustration on our fellow African brothers and sisters who are need of our support, understanding, and love.

Holy Mischief: 40 Years after the Catonsville 9 and the 'Fracture of Good Order' (by Shane Claiborne)

This past weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the historic action of the Catonsville 9. On May 17, 1968, nine men and women entered the Selective Service Offices in Catonsville, Maryland, removed several hundred draft records, and burned them with homemade napalm in protest against the war in Vietnam. The nine were arrested and, in a highly publicized trial, sentenced to jail. Listen to the words spoken by Father Daniel Berrigan on that day: "Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise." It is acts of courage like this that the prophets were known for. And jailed for. They are an invitation to interrupt injustice with grace. They are an invitation to live with prophetic imagination. These are the kind of prophets who don't just try to predict the future - they try to change it.

Poverty IS an Electoral Issue (by Jim Wallis)

Four years ago, Call to Renewal conducted a 12-day "Rolling to Overcome Poverty" bus tour to say that poverty was a religious and electoral issue. Despite our best efforts, the word was rarely spoken in either campaign, or in the presidential debates. This year, it's already different. The media still sees everything in terms of the political horse race, of course, but the issue of poverty has now become a central one in the ongoing campaign. And for us, as people of faith, it's raising the moral issues that will be our focus during this election season, and poverty will be a key one.

Fearsome, Fearless, and Fearful (by Brian McLaren)

I've remarked to a number of friends lately that there seem to be three main kinds of religious people in the world. First, there are the fearsome -- those who like to make others afraid. Second, there are the fearless -- those who refuse to be intimidated by the fearsome. Then in the middle are the fearful -- those who are afraid to associate with the fearless because they might incur the ire of the fearsome. I've noticed over the years that a favorite tactic of the fearsome is "guilt by association." A small group of the fearsome is using this tactic this week to attack Kay Warren for her participation in the upcoming Envision 08 gathering.

The Catholic Worker Movement after 75 Years (by Eda Uca-Dorn)

Christine Haider, 25, is preparing for her confirmation to the Roman Catholic Church. When asked about her confirmation name, she smiles broadly and says, "Dorothy." Seventy-five years since the founding of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin continue to call a new generation of the faithful to a radical gospel of nonviolent resistance to evil and hospitality to the poor. Started in New York City with a one-penny paper called The Catholic Worker, and eventually two houses of hospitality for homeless women and men, the Catholic Worker Movement has bloomed to at least one house of hospitality and war resistance in most states, along with houses in Canada, Mexico, England, Sweden, Germany, and New Zealand. Working both against the institutional evil of the state -- named once by Martin Luther King Jr. as the triple evils of racism, militarism, and materialism -- and for the victims of the state, the houses spring up in an organic meeting between the unique charism of the Catholic Workers involved and the needs of the community.

Chiquita Paid for Left- and Right-Wing Terror, and Victims of Both Demand Justice (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

I posted last November about legal proceedings against Chiquita for protection money paid to Colombian right-wing paramilitary organizations (AUC) that had been designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. Two stories this week shed more light on the situation and are worth checking out. First, last week's 60 Minutes broadcast included a segment called "The Price of Bananas," which gives a good overview, including the origins of the paramilitaries. The second comes from Christianity Today in an article titled, "Corporate-Sponsored Terror." It describes the lawsuit against Chiquita brought by former missionaries with New Tribes Mission, widows whose husbands were kidnapped and killed by left-wing guerrilla forces (FARC) when they controlled the region where Chiquita was operating.


+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

Reclaiming evangelicalism
Guardian Unlimited

In social movements, religion gets call to duty, speaker says
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Church must 'think carefully' over government partnership
Inspire Magazine (UK)

"An Evangelical Manifesto": Timely or Timeless?

Defining Faith In Faithful's Terms
The Ledger (Lakewood, FL)

Church must think carefully before partnering with government - Theos
Christian Today

Left in Church
National Review Online

We're Not Finished
Christianity Today

"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.


Engage your faith. In war zones around the world, children are at risk from abandoned and unexploded weapons – in fields, roads, even on playgrounds. Everyone deserves to live free of fear and destruction.

The investments we make are part of this picture and that’s why MMA Praxis Mutual Funds engages in stewardship investing, a philosophy of financial decision making motivated and informed by faith convictions. What are your investments promoting?

JustFAITH changes people...those people change the world. Imagine a world where God's justice is proclaimed and lived out. JustFAITH offers a proven way to move people and churches to this experience of the Gospel. or

Sojourners Job Openings Sojourners seeks qualified applicants for a variety of positions in our growing work to articulate the biblical call for social justice. Please see our immediate opening for a Network Administrator. Click here to learn more.

Subscribe to Sojourners and save! Order now and save $10 off the regular subscription price. Sojourners offers award-winning commentary on faith, politics, and culture – plus Bible study, humor, and more! Click here to subscribe!

God's Politics Blog facebook
MySpace YouTube

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.