The Common Good

Time to Open up a Two-Way Street

Sojomail - November 13, 2008


Why doesn't Iran have an Obama?

- Headline on the cover of the Iranian weekly news magazine Shahrvand-e Emrouz (Today’s Citizen) that was banned shortly thereafter by Iran’s Press Supervisory Board for featuring this message with a smiling photograph of the U.S. president-elect. (Source: The Times)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Time to Open up a Two-Way Street

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Dear President-elect Obama,

I am sending you some wonderful memos, letters, and reflections on what your election means, and what people’s hopes and prayers are for you—from an amazing array of moral and religious leaders from America and around the world. Some of my favorite pieces of their advice include: looking after your soul, loving your family as an example to the rest of us, keeping your intellect connected to your instincts (from Bono), and reading the 25th chapter of Matthew once a week as a reminder of the impact of your decisions on those who Jesus called "the least of these."

My advice to you is about your administration’s relationship to the faith community. We haven’t seen many good models recently, from either party, about how a White House relates to religion and religious communities. I think you could do better. We need to do more than merely having chaplains in the corridors of power, or religion functioning as a power bloc within a party to legislate its own narrow agendas, or mere photo-ops at prayer breakfasts for faith leaders at the White House. I think we all can do better.

Let me suggest another model, and let’s call it "the two-way street."

One direction of the two-way street is for the faith community to offer you its prayers and support. You will need that given all that we are facing. You know how the impact from the prayers of the faithful can be tangibly felt at times, and there will be times when you are going to feel an acute need for those prayers. On that same road is the support from people of good religion and good will, whether or not they voted for you. Your election was a historic milestone in this nation’s life and history, and most of us in the churches, synagogues, and mosques are celebrating that achievement, no matter how people voted. Wanting the very best for our nation at this time of crisis and for you and your family as you seek to lead is a bipartisan religious commitment.

The other direction of the two-way street is what the faith community can say back to you. I believe there is more that the faith community can offer you, which previous administrations, from both parties, haven’t fully availed themselves of.

For example, on the issue of poverty, you know who the people are who live and work alongside the poor in the worst neighborhoods in this country. It is often the faith community who best knows the families, the kids, and the streets in our neediest communities. Nobody is closer to the ground and closer to the poor than many of those who work in faith-based organizations, religious congregations, and community organizing networks, as you know from your own experience as an organizer. I would go so far as to suggest that the knowledge and perspective of the faith community on issues of poverty is greater than the combined expertise of the departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and so on. Street workers and leaders from faith communities often know a great deal about what will actually work to overcome the pain and misery of poverty in America. Let the faith community help you and even serve as your eyes and ears on the ground.

Likewise, I would suggest that the combined experience of internationally respected faith-based international relief and development organizations based here in the United States, the many missions and missionaries sent all over the world from American congregations, and the networks of relationships religious service organizations have in virtually every country in the world might be greater than the Departments of State, Defense, and other government agencies. The knowledge, experience, and critical relationships of those religious communities—especially in some of the world’s most troublesome places and countries—could be a vital resource for you in your most important decisions about foreign policy. The faith community around the world has learned a great deal about what most resolves human conflicts and what exacerbates them—because they have seen that first hand. They understand from their experience the wisdom of Pope Paul VI who once reminded us, "If you want peace, work for justice," and the wisdom of the prophet Micah that we will not beat our swords into plowshares until everyone has their own vine and fig tree and no one can make them afraid. The religious community could be much more effectively used, not just as service providers, but as foreign policy advisors.

And if we are faithful to our religious obligations, we must do two more things.

First, we can bring people together on the great moral issues of our time from across political dividing lines because we have a "ministry of reconciliation." Our communities are diverse politically and always will be. But there are issues now that transcend politics, and these "transcendent issues" include global and domestic poverty, hunger and disease, human rights, a consistent ethic of life, and the urgency of conflict resolution and peacemaking. It is likely that the faith community is better able to bring people together on those big questions than any other sector of society. Because you are calling us to come together to solve our big problems, we’d like to offer you our help.

Second, there will be times when our prophetic vocation will require us to challenge your administration, when that is needed. That is always the hardest thing for political leaders, especially presidents, to accept or even listen to. But I think you could do that and even know that you need that sort of accountability. The voice of religious conscience may be one of the most important for presidents to listen to. It’s really a deeper way to offer our support and to help make you a better leader—by being faithful to our own moral compass.

So I call upon you to open up that "two-way street" with the community of faith—as soon as possible. We are ready for a new relationship, and I believe that you are too.

God bless you my brother,

Jim Wallis

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Read more of the "Memos to the President" that Jim referred to above, or click here for a complete list of God's Politics blog messages to Obama since the election:

Harmony of Intellect and Intuition
by Bono

It's rare to meet a person like you, where intellect and intuition make such a perfect rhyme. Your intuition tells you that the well-being of the American people, spiritually as well as physically, is connected with America's role in the world.
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Great Crises Call for Bold Leadership
by Elizabeth Edwards

Although it has been said that every great president needs a crisis during which to exhibit his greatness, it is also true, but less said, that the greatness is displayed in the bold strokes that man is willing to embrace in such times.
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Tend to Your Soul
by Wes Granberg-Michaelson

Tend to your soul. Your dream of a changed nation, transcending polarization, captured the hearts of millions. Nurture that vision continually.
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Get Two for the Price of One on the Economy and Environment
by Van Jones

If you connect the people who most need work to the work that most needs to be done, you can beat the recession and global warming at the same time.
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Building the Capacity for Neighbors to Help Neighbors
by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

This election galvanized millions of people who yearned to take back our country. People want to contribute their talents, strengthen communities, take pride in what we give and accomplish.
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A Prayer for a New President and a New America
by Shane Claiborne

Give us imagination... that we might not conform to the patterns of this world. that we might shatter indifference and interrupt injustice with grace that we might choose the cross over the sword that we might be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.
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Leaders Are Only as Strong as the Citizens Who Raise Their Voices
by Marian Wright Edelman

Finding the spiritual and political will to do what is right and economically sensible and necessary is the challenge you and I and our new leaders face.
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Even More Will Be Expected
by Richard Rohr

"When a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him" (Luke 12:48), says Jesus.
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Honor Your Call to the Common Good
by Lynne Hybels

As a pastor's wife, a mother, grandmother, and advocate for global engagement, I've decided to make a simple request: that you honor your commitment to call the American people to sacrifice and selfless giving for the common good.
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Challenge the World with Mosaic Leadership
by Gabriel Salguero

Challenge the world to encourage a global mosaic leadership that is representative of God's creative diversity.
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All Americans at the Table
by Angela Glover Blackwell

When you reflect on the grassroots power of your campaign, you can instill that same ethic in the federal government by opening up the process and bringing the concerns of all people to the table.
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A Time for New Transparency
by Sister Helen Prejean

What we need most from you is regular, open communication with citizens about the inner workings of our government and the challenges that we must face and shoulder together.
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+ Read more commentary on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Obama: The Power of a Precedent
by Megan Greulich

For my neighbors, an African-American president sets an attainable standard for their own futures and the future of our country. My friend who lives a few apartments down from me can now say to her daughter, "See? It has happened in the past, so it means it can happen again in the future." And not only does it allow us to hope for what has already been, but also for something even better.
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The Big Shift: Latino Evangelical Voters
by Allison Johnson

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News on how the GOP lost their vote, and what they can do to regain their support.
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Men, Women, and Biblical Equality
by Mimi Haddad

I believe that most, if not all, of the restrictions on women in society have no basis in scripture; and that those maintained in the church are based on an inadequate interpretation of a few restrictive passages which put them in contradiction with the manifest special concern and love of God for women articulated from Genesis to Revelation.
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Seeing the Election Beyond Black and White
by Adam Hamilton

Great national leaders articulate a country's highest ideals in such a way as to inspire others to sacrifice in order to live into these ideals.
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The World Responds to Obama's Victory
by Wes Granberg-Michaelson

I worked in Geneva with the World Council of Churches for six years and have returned here often while serving on its governing board. But in all my visits here, I've never been so popular as an American.
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Soldiers of Conscience: The War Within Those Trained to Kill
by Kaitlin Barker

The film features eight U.S. soldiers and the common ground of their conscience. Each faces the same question: to kill or not to kill. Four of the eight believe deeply in the necessity and morality of war, that the strong must protect the weak, and that war and lethal force are morally justified at appropriate times. The others believe equally deeply that killing is never justified, and that peace can only be obtained by individual stances of courage and conscientious objection.
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Obama's Victory and Middle East Democracy
by Daoud Kuttab

Obama seems to be serious about one promise regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has said that he will not wait four or eight years to get involved but will pursue peace in the Middle East from day one.
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The Upside to the Economic Crisis
by Aaron Taylor

The upside to economic disasters is that economic disasters spur moral reflection. They serve as a wake-up call to remind us that the economic decisions we make every day really do affect other people. They serve to remind us that a day of judgment is coming and that God takes very seriously how our lives affect the poor.
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Campaign Community Organizers as the Foundation for Future Change
by Mary Nelson

Developing relationships and local volunteer leaders was the priority. The push for traditional voter contacts came later. That existing relational network is a legacy of the campaign and an opportunity for our communities, our nation.
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'Impossible' Barriers Breached
by Rachel Anderson

Several days on the other side of Election 2008, these barriers have been crossed. What I thought was impossible is now very real. In place of the common wisdom, I am trying on some brand new beliefs.
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Prayer Beyond the Election
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

As we prayed that God would heal our land, the prayer was no longer about the candidates but became about the soul of the nation and its place in a 21st century world. The election now is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
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The Confession of a Young White Evangelical
by Tim King

Sarah Palin found that fighting the same culture wars that have been fought for the past 40 years sure does stir up the base, but it's not going to grow it. Through the power of his own story of faith and unprecedented outreach to religious voters, Obama had gains in every religious group. The face of faith is changing in this country.
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Obama and the Beloved Community: Are We There Yet?
by Adam Taylor

We can't afford to hail this racial progress at the expense of ignoring real racial pain. Obama's election does not automatically dismantle the considerable barriers that still stifle black and brown opportunity and success.
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Obama and Mandela
by Seth Naicker

It has been reported that President-elect Barack Obama's coming into leading the U.S. is in many ways similar -- and equal in magnitude -- to Nelson Mandela becoming president of South Africa. I would be the first to say yes, it is.
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Latino Evangelicals and the Mosaic Shift
by Gabriel Salguero

I am what some refer to as a brown evangelical -- in short, a Latino evangelical. Usually when the media speaks of evangelicals we are one of the groups that is left out. However, in Election 2008 this was less of the case.
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We Need Post-Election Reconciliation
by Eugene Cho

It's not just because I'm an "independent" voter but also because I feel like my voice in the city, church, and culture is to be a "reconciler" or "peacemaker" that I've been feeling torn over the growing division in the country between RED and BLUE. When you see leaders tear each other apart, how can anything be done to remedy some of the national and global crises? Even more painful has been the division in the church.
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Revisiting Africa: John Prendergrast of the Enough Project on why Africa is a land of endless possibility and a continent of hope.

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Top Stories:

Jim Wallis on Holding Obama Accountable
Christianity Today blog
Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, plans to hold President-elect Barack Obama accountable for his commitment to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.
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Celebrities, theologians, and activists challenge Obama
Ekklesia (United Kingdom)
Celebrities, theologians, and activists, including Bono, Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne have written to President-elect Obama challenging him on a range of issues to address in his presidency. The open letters have been organised by Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States connecting faith and justice.
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Obama faces fight on faith
The Washington Times
Sojourners magazine has a "God's Politics" blog with entries from a mixture of 20 conservative and liberal religious leaders offering you advice on social justice issues.
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Religious progressives happy to watch Obama from sidelines
Winston-Salem Journal
But leaders of liberal faiths said they have little interest in securing White House sinecures, and even less in forming a political machine to match the religious right. They're more concerned, they say, in keeping Obama honest. "Let's put it this way," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, a leading progressive evangelical, "the prophets of God were always more comfortable in the wilderness than in the corridors of power."
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An end to the culture wars, or a regrouping for battle?
The Star-Ledger

Obama shifted some church voters
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

R.I.P. to the religious right
Toronto Star

‘Hope and healing for the world’
Church Times (UK)

Changing of the Guard
Christianity Today blog

The Catholic Vote: Complex, significant but no realignment
Religion News Service

A Post-Evangelical America

Obama made inroads with religious vote
The Chistian Science Monitor

President-Elect Barack Obama: Race Has Been Haunting This Election
U.S. News and World Report blog

"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.


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