The Common Good

'People of Faith Challenge Democrats'

Sojomail - August 28, 2008


Civilian deaths are not a NATO problem. Civilian casualties are primarily being caused in airstrikes in support of the counterterrorism mission that the United States is running completely separate from the NATO-run counterinsurgency conflict.

- Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at New York-based Human Rights Watch, who has compiled a report on civilian deaths from airstrikes to be published next month. Although U.S. troops participate in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan under a U.N. mandate, the bulk of U.S. forces fall under Operation Enduring Freedom, a U.S.-only force governed by an exchange of diplomatic notes signed with the Afghan government in May 2003. (Source: The Washington Post)

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'People of Faith Challenge Democrats'

On Monday, I wrote that one of the things I would be looking for at the political conventions was "whether the people of faith who are here are able to offer that prophetic role that faithfulness requires, that would hold politics accountable to real moral values, and would offer the best hope of social change."

I'm happy to report that is indeed the case. The first indication of how prophetic faith might be at this convention came at the Sunday afternoon interfaith service that opened the Democratic National Convention -- another first. I attended, and I was eager to hear the tone that would be adopted by the speakers at the "Faith and Action" service. The theme was "Responsibility -- to our children, our neighbor, our nation, and our world." The speakers focused more on their own religious traditions than on politics, for which I was grateful, and then applied their faith to the moral issues of our time.

Yesterday, I moderated the first "Faith Forum." An AP story caught the tone of the meeting just right. "People of faith challenge Democrats" began:

Religious leaders and people of faith who've been invited to the table at this week's Democratic National Convention are not sitting quietly with their hands in their laps.

The head of a large African-American denomination challenged the party on abortion. An Orthodox Jewish rabbi raised his voice about school choice. A thirty-something evangelical Christian author warned against Democrats who mock believers. ...

"Let's be honest: Religion has been used and abused by politics," said Jim Wallis, an evangelical and editor of Sojourners magazine. People of faith, he said, "should speak prophetically more than in a partisan way." Wallis is not endorsing a candidate and will also appear on a panel in St. Paul, Minn., next week during the Republican convention.

The story notes that one speaker "credited Democratic officials for putting no restrictions on what speakers could say," and then went on:

That freedom also was evident when Bishop Charles Blake, head of the 6 million-member Church of God in Christ, spoke of "disregard for the lives of the unborn." Blake, who called himself a pro-life Democrat, challenged Obama to adopt policies to reduce abortions and chided Republicans for not caring about "those who have been born."

Bishop Blake said the same thing at Sunday's interfaith service, where I spoke to him afterward and thanked him for his courage to speak prophetically. He told me, "I could do nothing else but be faithful to my religious convictions and my constituency of faith."

It was a good first sign of prophetic religion at the Democratic Convention.

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Putting Some Labor Back in Labor Day Weekend Services (by Kim Bobo)

Labor Day weekend is often a slow time for congregations. Members are attending family gatherings. Parents are getting children ready for school. Neglected summer projects are undertaken or (like my garden) abandoned until next summer. Aside from the occasional Labor Day parade, few Labor Day activities seem to have anything to do with honoring labor. Labor Day weekend nonetheless offers congregations an opportunity to lift up the values of work and reflect on our religious teachings on labor.

Cakes, Crumbs, and Surprises in Zimbabwe (by Nontando Hadebe)

The "cake" vs. "crumbs" power-sharing struggle continues in Zimbabwe. One of the reasons for the breakdown in the talks is that the government (ZANU-PF) wants the "whole power cake" and wants to give the opposition "crumbs." The intention of negotiations was to divide the "power cake" evenly so that a transitional government could be installed to stabilize the country and pave the way for fresh elections in two years.

Ordinary Radicals Film Premieres This Weekend (by Becky Garrison)

On Sept. 4, I'm going to Philadelphia to attend the premiere of The Ordinary Radicals, a documentary directed and produced by Jamie Moffett, co-founder of The Simple Way. While I can't speak for the others who were interviewed for this film, I felt my role was to serve as a cheerleader for the ordinary radicals profiled in this documentary. These spiritual souls don't issue manifestos and declarations about their goals to achieve radical shalom throughout the world. But you can find their work etched into the landscape of their communities. There Christ speaks loud and clear.

The Democratic Nomination's Historic Significance (by Leroy Barber)

I have been watching the Democratic National Convention this week, and I think when Barack Obama gives his acceptance speech tonight it is going to be an important historic moment. This is not to tell you who to vote for. That's up to you. But I can't help but anticipate watching a person of color stand in the place he will tonight. I don't advocate voting for him (or not) because he is a black man, but it sure is encouraging to see history unfold. The amount of anguish that comes with being a black leader is overwhelming sometimes, and this is life-giving. This could be a moment of real possibility for the healing of our nation and an opportunity for people to come together.

'I No Speak Good Engrish' (by Eugene Cho)

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) confirmed that players' memberships would be suspended if they don't learn to speak English and pass an oral evaluation. Yuck. And while I know that there are 121 foreign players on the LPGA, this was indirectly aimed at the Korean golfers -- as evidenced by the "mandatory" meeting South Korean golfers had to attend recently. The LPGA is a private association so they have the right to make certain policies, but suspending memberships isn't the answer. It's a double bogey. The LPGA is an association that prides itself as being the premier women's golf tour in the world -- and rightfully so. This is why it attracts the greatest female golf players in the world. And as long as these international players meet the high LPGA "golfing standards," it doesn't seem right that they also have to pass a language exam. But, wait -- according to LPGA officials, the international players were hurting the marketability, and thus the bottom-line Benjamins, of the LPGA.

Invisible Evangelicals' Insight on the Common Good (by Andrew Wilkes)

Evangelical women and minorities, it seems, exist on the muted margins of political discourse in America. If a justice revival is to sweep over America once more, from the suburban megachurch to the urban storefront church, then Christians must pursue a vision of the common good for all -- and not the common good of a few. The public narratives of the media often chronicle the broadening social concerns of white evangelical males such as Rick Warren and Richard Cizik -- and rightfully so. Their story deserves to be told. But their story is not the only one. As an African-American summer intern at Sojourners, I labored alongside two African-American women, two Asian women, and four white men and women -- all of whom persistently link spiritual renewal and social justice. To borrow an image from Gabriel Salguero, this technicolor portrait of evangelicals critiques the Alpine storyline, which is the subtle suggestion that only the broadening social concerns of progressive evangelical white males is newsworthy. Meanwhile, the stories of progressive evangelical minorities and women, the stories I heard at Sojourners, remain as invisible as the protagonist of Ralph Ellison's famous novel.

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What have you heard about the paramilitary leaders extradited to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges? As formally demobilized paramilitary, they were being processed under what is known as the "justice and peace law" and were in the midst of hearings. Their confessions of macabre acts, partial at best, evolved to include naming ties with the Colombian government and international corporations. Testimonies revealed strategies, intellectual authors of crimes, and kingpins of paramilitary structures. These truths fed the "para-politics" scandal, and, at that moment, the Uribe administration effectively cut off the hearings by allowing the U.S. to whisk them off to be processed for drug trafficking. It left me sputtering, "What!?" As the paramilitary leaders are now under U.S. jurisdiction, they are only being tried for drug charges and not for the countless instances of torture, homicides, and other war crimes committed.

Why Faith at the Conventions Matters (by Jim Wallis)

I am now in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, and I will be in the Twin Cities next week for the Republican National Convention. I am speaking at both about the moral issues the faith community believes are important -- among them poverty, the environment and climate change, a consistent ethic of life, strong families, pandemic diseases, human trafficking, war, and peace. The Democrats are, for the first time, having "faith forums" to discuss those issues, and I will be moderating two of those forums -- one on the meaning of "the common good," a central religious concept. There will also be issues forums at the Republican Convention on the connections between faith and politics, which I am looking forward to participating in next week. At both conventions, the media is showing great interest in the connection between religion and the election, and that's the other reason I will be at both places. The proper relationship between faith and politics is a critical issue. In recent decades, religion has often been used, and even abused, by politics and politicians. There is now a legitimate backlash to the exploitation and "politicizing" of religion among many in the churches -- especially a new generation.

A Pop-Star Pastor's Public Fall and the Christian Cult of Celebrity (by Jarrod McKenna)

It was only last month that Sydney newspaper The Herald Sun's Faithworks blog carried a post with this paragraph: "There is an amazing moment on the latest Hillsong DVD, This Is Our God, when Michael Guglielmucci, stricken with cancer, walks on stage with an oxygen tent to boldly sing his song "Healer." He doesn't know how long he has to live, but still proclaims the goodness of his God." Earlier in the year, Mike's overtly Christian worship song "Healer," which he said was inspired by his struggle with a deadly form of cancer, debuted at number two on Australia's official music charts. Tragically, last week another news source headline read: "Pop star pastor lied about cancer."

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Churchgoers across the country are looking at the ways in which religious leaders and communities have been used by political parties – and have used them as well -- and they think, "Let’s just pull back and not talk about faith and politics in the same breath any more." If people are saying they’re tired of pulpits and churches becoming the field for proxy battles between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, I couldn’t agree more. And if they’re saying that pastors and other religious leaders should try to throw their weight around in the political arena, bypassing normal debate and discourse by making theological pronouncements, again, I couldn’t agree more. But if they’re saying, "Let’s go back to the good old days where in church we talked about ‘us and Jesus’ and nothing more," I couldn’t disagree more.

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I'm not much for talismans or religious tokens in the usual sense of those things. I wear around my neck every day of my life a chain with four emblems or medals on it. All in all, however, and despite their overtly Christian character, those beloved pieces of silver that hang daily around my neck are not religious items or even talismans. They are a remembrance from, and of, those whom I have deeply loved in this life. Admittedly, they find their shapes in the iconographic forms of that which I have most completely sworn my life to, but they are not themselves truly icons. No, the only talisman or icon -- if indeed it be one -- that I carry, I carry in my wallet. It is a piece of paper, and it is there for two reasons.

A Multicultural Witness Against the 'Homogenous Unit Principle' (part 2, by Jin S. Kim)

[...continued from part 1] The meaning of evangelism is the proclamation of good news to the world. How can we continue to exclude and avoid those with whom we are not comfortable and live into our evangelical calling at the same time? If we do not shed this primitive tendency, and yet heed the call to be evangelical, do we not risk exporting our ecclesial tribalism far and wide? How can we say we are evangelical if the good news is not good for the whole world? If the gospel is proclaimed under the rubric of the homogeneous unit principle, I would argue that this is distorted news, even false news. The acid test of evangelism must be: Is this good news for the poor?

Two Questions of a Soon-to-be Immigrant (by Gareth Higgins)

In a few weeks, I will make a life-changing journey. After 33 years of living in Northern Ireland, and for very good reasons, I am about to become an immigrant. I'm excited about this move, not least because I believe that doing something new is one of the best ways to grow as a human being. But two questions come to mind as I prepare myself for leaving home. The first is, "What will it feel like to be an immigrant?" The second question is, "What I will miss when I leave?"

An International Day of Peace (by Valerie Elverton Dixon)

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