The Common Good

Beyond Palin's Personality

Sojomail - September 4, 2008


We have done a whole number of things to help low-income families, and it doesn’t show up in the poverty figures. Therefore, we misinterpret the effect of these policies.

- Rebecca M. Blank, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, commenting on bipartisan efforts to reform the federal definition of the poverty line, which has not been updated -- aside from adjustments for price increases -- since the 1960s. (Source: The New York Times)

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Beyond Palin's Personality

While many conservatives have known and admired Sarah Palin for some time, most Americans do not know her. So the intense media focus on the new Republican vice-presidential nominee was to be expected. But some of it has been inappropriate, especially when reporters go after the Palin family's choices. The suggestion that running for vice president with a 5-month-old special-needs child and a pregnant 17-year-old daughter should make her suspect as a mother is a blatant double standard that would not be applied to a male candidate. All four candidates should indeed focus on the needs of their families, and it's clear they all do. But a mother with children should have as much freedom to run for office as a father in the same situation.

Palin introduced herself to the country with last night's speech to the Republican National Convention. She gave the crowd what it was looking for -- the narrative of her life, an all-out defense of John McCain, and strong criticisms of Democrats, Washington, and the media. If anyone had any questions about her being a formidable political figure, those were put to rest last night. Republican leaders are taking pride this morning in Palin's high-school nickname: "Sarah Barracuda." Many found her speech feisty and tough, while others found it negative and smug. But Palin has clearly united the three legs of the modern Republican Party -- social conservatives, economic conservatives, and foreign policy hawks -- and really energized that base, as was evident in the Convention Hall last night. Media commentators across the spectrum commented on the success of Palin's address. But the well-delivered speech still leaves many questions unanswered. As conservative columnist Steve Chapman wrote in the Chicago Tribune,

Palin has another, more complicated task that this speech postponed: reaching out to millions of people who are honestly wondering if she has the experience, depth and temperament to step into the Oval Office. What many of those Americans need to see are qualities like judgment, wisdom, tolerance and flexibility. Those traits were conspicuous by their absence tonight.

With two months to go, the questions will certainly be raised. The most important one that is emerging is which ticket will be most able to reach out to many people in the middle in both parties, and the all-important political independents. Facts will be important. Whose tax policies will most benefit low-income and middle-class families? Who has a plan to reverse the economic downturn? Who has the smartest strategy for countering the real threats of terrorism? And who has the best and most comprehensive response to the full range of moral issues that are of deep concern to people of faith?

Now, all four of the political figures on their respective party tickets have been shown to have compelling personal stories. All four are "real people," as the slogan goes. But this election must not just be about personalities, or inspiring personal histories; it must be about the issues, the records, the leadership, and the facts. May God help us to stay focused on that. Last week belonged to the Democrats, this week to the Republicans. Now, after the showy conventions of the past two weeks, the real work of this election can begin.

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My Summer with Daddy King (Part 1, interview by Becky Garrison)

As I was raised as a white student in the North, I really wanted to get a larger perspective and to see the world through the eyes of a black Christian and the eyes of the Kings. There was a program that was sending white students to the historic black churches, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen and got the Ebenezer Baptist Church. ... The first experience I had in preaching was the very night I got there. We had dinner and then Rev. King Sr. asked me to come to evening prayer. So, I went to the prayer service and in the middle of the first hymn, he handed me a Bible and said, "You're going to preach after the first hymn."

Speeches are Fine, but Real Change Takes a Movement (by Troy Jackson)

We remember Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the 1963 March on Washington not because of a grand event or even a great speech, but because it was an event that galvanized grassroots power built throughout the South and throughout the nation. The 1963 march was not a tactical PR move, but a culmination of a movement that transformed our nation. As we watch people fill arenas in Denver and the Twin Cities, many will be inspired as we listen to compelling speeches from both Democrats and Republicans. But remember, a collection of tens of thousands of people responding to a grand speech never changed anything, anymore than the millions who will gather for NFL and college football games this fall will have a great social impact on our world.

New Study on Abortion Reduction (by Mary Nelson)

The heated abortion debate has up to this time been focused on legal measures. A new study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good concludes that government social spending and economic conditions do more to reduce abortions than legal strategies such as parental consent laws. Joseph Wright (Penn State University) and Michael Bailey (Georgetown University) examined the dramatic drop in abortions in the 1990s. The results are significant. States that spend more generously on nutritional supplement programs, for example, could see up to 37 percent lower abortion rates. Other factors such as cutting welfare more slowly and higher male employment rates had a 20 to 29 percent reduction rate.

Delegate Diversity (by Jim Wallis)

We all should affirm the central importance of racial reconciliation in the life of the church, to racial diversity in our parties and political processes, and to the inclusion of all Americans in our political discourse. Christians should exemplify that commitment to both racial and gender diversity in their respective parties. As Christians on both sides of the aisle have appropriately said, the Democrats should be commended for nominating the first African American for the office of president of the United States, and, similarly, Christians on the Democratic side of the aisle should applaud the selection of a woman by the Republican Party as their nominee for vice president. Those choices for diversity can be praised without necessarily voting for either candidate. Both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin should be evaluated on the basis of their records, ideas, and leadership.

Where Wars Come From (by Valerie Elverton Dixon)

All too often we divide the world into them and us. We call them evil; we call ourselves good. And, when the Other does evil acts, this becomes the justification for our own retaliatory evil. We tell ourselves it is only reasonable to prepare for war and to fight wars in the name of defense or of retributive justice. However, New Testament wisdom also teaches us to be self-reflective when locating the cause of war. James 4:1 asks: "Where do wars and fights come from among you?" James answers: "Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You covet and cannot obtain." Finally, James informs us that we do not have because we do not ask; we do not receive because our motivations are wrong. We only want what we want for the sake of our own pleasure (James 4:2-3).

Letting Reconciliation's Challenge Change Us (by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)

Jason and Vonetta Storbakken have extended a gracious and hopeful invitation to public dialogue about reconciliation's challenge for New Monasticism. I'd like to say in public what I've already said to them privately: Thank you. I'm grateful not only that they have named an issue that we need to continue to grapple with, but that they have modeled the power of God to move us beyond race to a new identity in Jesus Christ. It is no secret that many New Monastics come from places of so-called privilege in the white churches that have dominated American Christianity. Disappointed by the ways our whiteness kept us from Jesus, we relocated ourselves to black and Latino neighborhoods to learn from people who knew the power of God at the margins of society. We came to learn community from our neighbors and to know Christ more fully across the dividing walls of hostility that Ephesians says God has already destroyed.

Searching for Common Ground on Abortion at the Republican Convention (by Jim Wallis)

I'm here at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul, as I was at the Democratic Convention in Denver. We pushed for strong language on poverty and abortion reduction in Denver, and we are pushing for the same things here. The Republican platform draft sent to delegates last week contained this sentence in its section on abortion: "We invite all persons of good will, whether across the political aisle or within our party, to work together to reduce the incidence of abortion." But when the platform committee met to approve the platform and send it to the convention, that sentence had disappeared.

More Baby Steps as We Crawl Toward Reconciliation (by Shane Claiborne)

In addition to the steps mentioned in my previous post, I also wanted to share some things that go beyond our local community to the broader New Monastic movement and my role in it. As I said before, I don't want to give any impression that we've figured this out, or to boast "look at all I'm doing!" It certainly has been difficult and not without much sweat, tears, and mistakes. ... All this is still certainly not enough -- but God is good to fill the gaps and work through the cracks of our feeble attempts to be faithful.

Randy Newman's Harps and Angels and the Fall of the American Empire (by Gareth Higgins)

Randy Newman might be surprised to see himself mentioned on a progressive spirituality blog. In his five decades of making music that is alternately brilliantly satirical and elegant (and sometimes both), he hasn't often smiled on religion or religious people. In spite of his skepticism about spirituality, he also has written some of the most beautiful love songs I've ever heard, and many of these are shot through with regret for his past mistakes.

Baby Steps as We Crawl Toward Reconciliation (by Shane Claiborne)

Vonetta and Jason, first I want you to know that I am deeply grateful for the conversation you've invited and stirred with our private conversations and now your blog post. I take all critique very seriously, and pray and reflect on it. Probably the most personally painful lament and failure of our communities is around race and reconciliation; we are at times paralyzed by the deep history and slimy elusiveness of racial injustice and so-called "privilege." We've been trying for 10 years to figure this out. ... I want to share more publically a few things that I have shared with you in our private conversations -- though I hesitate to do so as it could come across as defensively flaunting all the "progress" we have made. That is by no means the case. I find our pursuit of reconciliation has been riddled with failure and setbacks, and a paralysis of imagination. I share this not as a boastful discrediting of your critique, but rather as a sign that I deeply honor your thoughts and invite your constructive ideas on how we can do things better.

Obama, Perkins, Palin, and a Plea for Christian Civility (by Jim Wallis)

Whew. Take a breath, Christians! I just read all the comments to my post Friday on Barack Obama's historic acceptance speech of a major party's nomination to the highest office in the country -- the first African American to have achieved that American milestone. ... I didn't even comment on the content of the speech, except to say it allowed Obama to clearly and eloquently present himself and his policy ideas, so Americans could agree or disagree. But the heat of the comments to the post was amazing and alarming to me. So I think it is time to plead for some Christian civility in this election year. Let me give an example of Christian civility from Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, which is a leading institution of the "Religious Right" and whom nobody would confuse with a Democratic or Obama supporter.

New Life from an Old Hymn (by Phyllis Tickle)

Episcopalians of whatever degree of enthusiasm do not appreciate overmuch homilizing. Ten minutes tops will do quite nicely, as a rule. In good time, I finished and sat down. The priest moved us through the recitation of the Creed, the prayers, the confession of sin, the absolution, and even through the passing of the peace and the parish announcements. At that point, he and the order of service both called for the offering to be taken. Again, right on schedule. What I hadn’t counted on was the offertory anthem. The ushers were doing their thing with passing the collection plates up and down the rows when the organ commenced and from somewhere behind me there was the rustle of a human being rising to sing. And then he did. Oh, dear Lord in Heaven, he did.

An Historic Speech (by Jim Wallis)

I started what would become an historic day with my favorite historian. As a young man, Vincent Harding was part of the inner circle of the southern freedom movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and later became one of the civil rights movement's best chroniclers and interpreters. Vincent has also been a mentor and trusted friend to me and to Sojourners for many years. Vincent Harding was there at the Democratic Convention in 1964 when the party refused to seat the delegation from the Mississippi Freedom Party, and was close to its leader, famed civil rights activist Fanny Lou Hamer. When he told me that he would be there again this very night, at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, to witness the acceptance speech of the first African American to be nominated by any party for the presidency of the United States, he had tears in his eyes.

Reconciliation's Challenge for New Monastic Communities (by Jason and Vonetta Storbakken)

My husband and I are an interracial couple with a baby daughter, and it is important to us that our community, regardless of the predominant culture around us, is centered in Jesus and reflective of the diversity of the kingdom of God. Although our community -- 17 people who live in three houses around one block -- is blessed with diversity, we have a lot of work to do with regard to racial reconciliation. There are African Americans, Asians, immigrants, and first-generation Americans, and more than half our community are white folks. Although not as representative of our neighborhood as we could be, due to the rainbow of voices in our community we regularly discuss the role of minorities in the New Monastic movement. It is also due to these voices that we know how much work we have to do.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (by Virginia Lohmann Bauman)

"Vote Out Poverty! Vote Out Poverty!" shouted the diverse group of clergy and faith leaders as they marched in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, at our ecumenical public witness event last October. That was the last time I saw Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) in person; she stood on the podium in the crisp October sunshine waiting for the crowd to arrive.

A Cleveland Original (by Tom Allio)

Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones was a Cleveland original. Stephanie never cared about "style points." She only cared about passing public policy that served the common good. No one matched her passion, energy, or voice for the poor and vulnerable. Everyone wanted her on their side. She was ever present in her 11th Congressional District and was tireless in her advocacy for victims of predatory lending, the uninsured, the unemployed, and children.

Charlie Wilson's Warning (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

Whenever I'm reminded of our support for the likes of the mujahadeen, Saddam Hussein's war against Iran, and Manuel Noriega in Panama, I can't help but wonder -- what future enemy are we currently arming and training? Where are we currently focusing on military aid when a more comprehensive approach is needed to create real security? (Pakistan, I'm looking in your direction ...)

Minor Party Pros and Cons (by Marcia Ford)

If you're among the growing number of voters who are disenchanted with both major parties, you may be considering a move to a third party. You're not alone. Some minor parties have seen significant growth in recent years. Oregon's Independent Party likely holds the record, with nearly 24,000 registered members since its inception a mere 18 months ago. But before you make the leap to any third party, here are some questions you need to think about.


Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is seeking a part-time Grassroots and Church Outreach Coordinator to expand the organization’s grassroots advocacy activities, build and resource its congregational network and organize its annual advocacy conference. Click here for a full description.

American Baptist Seminary of the West is seeking a president to lead a multicultural, multiracial theological school in the ecumenical context of the Graduate Theological Union. Apply to Rev. Dr. H. James Hopkins, Presidential Search Committee, ABSW, 2606 Dwight Way, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Come to Rosedale Bible College's third Evangelical Anabaptist Symposium, November 13-15: "Following Christ: Discovering a Vital Biblical Anabaptism," featuring speakers John Roth and Jonathan Sauder. Visit for more information. Rosedale is near Columbus, Ohio.

Saint Paul School of Theology offers a Doctor of Ministry Track in Wesleyan Spirituality, Leadership, and Congregational Renewal. Learn to lead congregations into spiritual growth, evangelical witness, and prophetic social outreach. Application Deadline October 2008.

Does God care about injustice and oppression? Over 3,000 verses on the issue are highlighted throughout the Poverty and Justice Bible. It comes with a study guide to remind us: faith without works is dead. Learn more.

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