The Common Good

Controversy in Wisconsin

Sojomail - July 15, 2010



QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I used to live by goals, I used to live by plans, and very elaborate goals and backup plans. Now I feel like I’m more reacting and keeping an open mind and keeping a strong faith."

- Don Schoendorfer, who has a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Free Wheelchair Mission, a faith-based nonprofit he founded that has given away nearly 500,000 wheelchairs in 77 developing nations. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

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

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Controversy in Wisconsin

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support
Sojourners

It was a nice invitation, not unlike many I’ve received before. Every summer, a number of Christian music and arts festivals convene around the country, featuring musicians and speakers and attracting tens of thousands of young people. I have spoken at many such events over the years and, in fact, met my wife, Joy Carroll, at the Greenbelt festival in England! I’m guessing I’ve spoken there as many as 10 times. Joy is helping to organize an "American Greenbelt" for next summer called the "Wild Goose" Festival, an image that in Celtic spirituality signifies the Holy Spirit.

So when Lifest, a Christian festival in Wisconsin, invited me to come and speak this summer, and the date was free, I accepted. Bob Lenz, who directs the annual gathering, is a wonderful man with a big heart and a powerful ministry among high school kids that has saved many from suicide. He’s the kind of guy you want to say yes to. It was put in the calendar.

Then a firestorm erupted. A local Christian radio station, which had always supported Lifest, and a local pastor started circulating attacks against me, suggesting that I was a communist, a deceiver, and, worst of all, an adviser to Barack Obama. My favorite was that I was an "avowed Marxist" and that any young person that heard me would be in "spiritual peril." They were especially concerned that "the social justice message and agenda [Sojourners] promote[s] is a seed of secular humanism, seeking an unholy alliance between the Church and Government." Does that sound anything like the language of a certain Fox News talk show host who has recently come after "social justice" Christians and me in particular? Oh no, they insisted, this had nothing to do with Glenn Beck.

The intimidation of Bob Lenz and Lifest began, insisting that I be canceled or they would face pull-outs and protests. A letter was sent to local churches to call for my cancellation and, like Glenn Beck, the authors just made stuff up. Under a great deal of pressure, Bob called me to discuss what to do. He believed that these people were spreading lies and didn’t want to capitulate to their threats. But they were really stirring up trouble, and people were coming after him personally. I decided to call the president of the radio station myself, to ask him what his concerns were, and to offer a dialogue with his board or anybody else he wanted while I was in Wisconsin. But he refused the dialogue unless the station’s demands for my cancellation were met (sounds like Glenn Beck again).

He said he was against the "unholy marriage between the government and the church." Me too, I said. When I told him how I successfully worked with the Obama administration to preserve religious freedom in hiring for faith-based organizations who receive any public funds (such as World Vision and The Salvation Army), and spent half of my time on health care in preserving the rule against federal funding of abortion, he became silent and kept moving on to "other issues" – the last of which was Sojourners supporting a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When I reminded him that there actually were Palestinian Christians, and that most mainline evangelical organizations now support a two-state solution, he got silent again. But he refused to change his position about me not speaking, and his final reason was that I had supported the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative! So my openness to a previous president’s ideas for faith-based partnerships in alleviating poverty was the reason I shouldn’t speak at Lifest? This was getting quite silly. But when the wild and fabricated charges they began with all fell flat in face of the facts, they were left with not much of an argument. But they stuck with it and pulled out of the festival.

I didn’t realize how big a deal this had become until I got to Wisconsin. Green Bay and Milwaukee television stations were there, with the story already in their local media and newspapers. I arrived to a series of press interviews and meetings with local pastors who were very sorry about all this and expressed hope that I would still come back to Wisconsin (I assured them that I loved their state and would love to come back).

Finally I got to speak to the young people, which was the reason that I came in the first place. I told them that I came because of them and the hope their generation provides to me. And that I liked the title of the talk I was to give: "The Call to Jesus and his Kingdom of Justice." So that’s what I talked about to a very enthusiastic response from the thousands of young people who were there -- the crowd made even larger because of the controversy, of course.

I said that when we have controversy and conflict in the church and speak badly of one another as Christians, it actually turns people away from Christ. And I said what unites us is not our different cultures, nationalities, or political views. What unites us is the gospel of Jesus and his kingdom, and their job as a new generation was to make that clear. When I quoted Jesus' opening sermon at Nazareth and concluded that "any gospel that isn’t good news to the poor is not the gospel of Jesus Christ," they all cheered.

The front page of the local paper in Appleton, Wisconsin, where I boarded my flight for home the next day, led with the story of the night before in nearby Oshkosh by saying, "Jim Wallis shared his Bible-based message of serving the poor Friday night to a large, welcoming crowd at Lifest despite a small number of boos at his introduction." They reported what Bob Lenz courageously said in his kind introduction: "This is my brother in Christ," he told the crowd. "I think he has a message for God’s church. Part of who I am is because of this man."

I told the young crowd that heeding what the Bible says about serving the poor and seeking justice was not about social action or politics, but rather about nothing less than restoring the integrity of the Word of God in our lives, neighborhoods, nation, and world. Their response to that indicated that many young people today are no longer stuck in the old arguments and divisions in the church.

Most seemed to feel that the controversy and protest looked pretty foolish and unnecessary after the event had taken place. Many thanked Bob for standing firm against some pretty nasty attacks and pressure. But if the attackers had succeeded with intimidation to cancel a speaker they didn’t agree with, there is no doubt that the tactics of distortion and intimidation would have been repeated in other places. That is, after all, how some media celebrities now make their living, and they are encouraging others to follow their example. The newspaper article ended with my saying it was time to "replace the gospel of Glenn, Rush, Sean, and Bill with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John."

When I got to the TSA agent at airport security, she looked at my ID, smiled, and said, "So, you’re Jim Wallis! I hope you felt very welcome here; many of us are very glad you came." I did feel very welcome and am very glad that I came.

E-mail E-mail this article to friends
Facebook Share this article on Facebook
Comment Comment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


Inside Sojourners Magazine

A 'Hidden History' in the Holy Land

Journalist Ben White writes about the Israeli group Zochrot, which seeks to introduce fellow Israelis to the people who lived on the land before them -- and to engage Jews and Palestinians in an open recounting of their painful common history. Read the article now.

+Plus! Resources on Christians and the Middle East


Building a Movement

Dirty Oil Spill, Clean Energy Future

Three months on from the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, we are still waiting for Congressional action on oil spill relief and accountability. We are also waiting for movement on energy reform. Thousands of Christians across the country have begun to choose a new energy future for themselves and their families, pledging to change their energy use and consume less. Personal transformation is a start, but we must also transform our communities and our nation.

+Tell Congress to use its leadership to set our country on a new energy path and provide relief and accountability for the Gulf Coast oil spill.


ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

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

Make it Right: Bring Jobs to the Wetlands
by Majora Carter

Before the Gulf Coast's 100-percent-human-made oil spill disaster, there was Katrina. That hurricane wasn't the strongest to hit New Orleans. Forty years earlier, Hurricane Betsy packed an even stronger punch.
+ Click to continue

The Meaning Behind 'Saved Through Childbearing'
by Jon Zens

Certainly one of the most puzzling remarks in Paul's writings is found in 1 Timothy 2:15, "But women will be saved through childbearing -- if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety" (TNIV).
+ Click to continue

'Gentrification Kills': Confronted by the Writing on the Wall by Kierra Jackson
Every morning I walk to my job -- from my neighborhood that sits on a hill along the edge of Howard University's campus into the heart of Columbia Heights. Today, as I turned onto Harvard St., I came across a message spray painted on the wall of the Alliance for Concerned Men: "Gentrification Kills."
+ Click to continue

How Technology Fought Human Trafficking
by Justin Fung

A couple of months ago, the MetaFilter weblog community came together to rescue a couple of young Russian women from the clutches of a human trafficking ring.
+ Click to continue

After World Cup, Violence Persists in South Africa
by Nontando Hadebe

The World Cup eclipsed our lives in South Africa as we witnessed four weeks of unbelievable soccer and celebration. Instead of basking in the glory of the tournament and reflecting on a way forward, xenophobic violence has once again reared its head.
+ Click to continue

Information Consumers: Let the Viewer Beware
by Jennifer Kottler

During that 33-minute time span, I watched 3 advertisements asking the American consumers to tell Congress that higher energy prices would be bad for the economy, and that an increase in energy taxes is simply untenable in these hard economic times.
+ Click to continue

Why Bad Boundaries Don't Work
by Elizabeth Palmberg

Some authorities in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, are upset that they didn't get a permit to build rock dykes between barrier islands to keep the BP oil spill out of fragile estuaries.
+ Click to continue

Voices from the Gulf: We Arise to the Putrid Scent of Oil
by Jenny Perrin

I live directly on the Gulf Coast, my home being just fifteen minutes to the public beach and a mere bike ride to surrounding marshes, bays, and inlets, which are the local hidden treasures of our tourist community, Gulf Shores, Alabama.
+ Click to continue

A Martyr's Death Puts Faith Into Perspective
by Aaron Taylor

Fatu was 25 years old when her father and his two sons burned her to death. Her crime was converting to Christianity in a Muslim land.
+ Click to continue

A Salvation Army for the Earth
by Jarrod McKenna

This video from "Just Salvos Live" is a great initiative from the Salvation Army in Australia that intros young peeps to some of the issues that surround how climate change affects the poorest of poor around the world.
+ Click to continue

Oil Spill: We've Exchanged Beauty, Hope, and Wonder for Profit
by Gretel Ehrlich

A heart has been pierced, four miles of seabed violated, and the aorta is gushing unabated. There are no tourniquets, finger pressures, or shamanic spells to staunch the wound because none were planned for.
+ Click to continue

Tupac Shakur: Liberation Theologian for Our Times
by César Baldelomar

Many music critics have said that a truly special artist comes around only once every generation. In our generation, we have been blessed to have had one phenomenal rap artist grace us with his music, personality, and profound social concern.
+ Click to continue

Mark Twain's Radical Pacifism
by Nathan Schneider

Mark Twain's antiwar leanings are already common knowledge (or should be), perhaps best of all through his haunting short story "The War Prayer."
+ Click to continue

11 Women Writers You Should Be Reading
by Brian McLaren

Here are some of my favorite women writers of spirituality and theology in no particular order with short comments on why I recommend them.
+ Click to continue

Immigration, the Bible, and the Lawsuit
by Lisa Sharon Harper

Last week President Barack Obama made a bold move. He went on the record explaining, in no uncertain terms, that he is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
+ Click to continue

Friday Links Round-Up
by Jeannie Choi

A missing sculpture. Battle of the wages. Standing in solidarity against SB1070. Here's a little round-up of links from the web you may have missed this week.
+ Click to continue

Deportations that Destroy the Human Spirit
by Maryada Vallet

"Maybe I would be better off just crossing again and going to prison for many years." Upon hearing this, an instant knot forms in my gut.
+ Click to continue

God's Provision in a Recession
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

A few summers ago, my son brought a little white plastic birdbath to my dad's house and set it up in the back yard. Dad kept the birdbath clean and filled with water. "The birds should put me on the payroll," he joked.
+ Click to continue

Vandana Shiva: Gandhi, MLK, and the Way of Jesus in the Obama Administration
by Jarrod McKenna

God gets at us in the funniest of ways. Just this week the Spirit stirred in me while reading an interview with one of my heroes, Vandana Shiva.
+ Click to continue

The Beginning of Justice for Marcelo Lucero
by Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter

In November 2008, a Latino man, Marcelo Lucero, was stalked and murdered on a street in Patchogue, Long Island, by a group of teenagers from the local high school.
+ Click to continue

Everyone Needs to Read This
by Eugene Cho

Everyone needs to read this. Every Christian needs to read this. Every Christian, pastor, leader, community organizer, and influencer needs to read this.
+ Click to continue

SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS

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

Top Stories:

Lifest celebrates service with record-setting crowd service
Appleton Post Crescent
Despite the controversy his Lifest appearance generated, Jim Wallis took the stage Friday and was well received by the crowd despite a handful of boos.
+Click to continue

Gulf spill has spiritual, moral impact
The Toledo Blade
"This is not an act of God. This is an act of human pride, folly, and sinfulness. BP has sinned," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner's magazine.
+Click to continue

Testifying in the Gulf (PHOTOS)
The Huffington Post

What can you really spare?
The Newark Advocate

Lifefest Loses Sponsor over Controversial Speaker
NBC26 Green Bay

Renewing the Call for Reform
Christianity Today blog

An armada of faith leaders tours the Gulf spill zone
CNN.com Belief blog

BP's Gulf oil spill is a sin, visiting clergy say after touring the coast
The Times - Picayune

Christian radio station: Jim Wallis promotes secularism, 'unholy' government alliance
CNN.com Belief blog

Green religion movement hopes spill wins converts
The Associated Press

Lifest kicks off today
Oshkosh Northwestern

"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.




Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!






Big Oil Got You Mad? Get informed and activated for change with resources from Sojourners on Christians and the Environment. Learn more.

Summer reading: Books by New York Times best-selling author Jim Wallis: The Great Awakening, God’s Politics, The Call to Conversion, Faith Works, and the Soul of Politics. Visit the SojoStore.

Scared of being ‘left behind’? What does Revelation really teach us? Explore this question with Sojourners’ four-part study guide, Christians and the Apocalypse. Use it this Sunday with your small group - available online. Click here.

T-Shirts That Teach. Start a conversation everywhere you go with Sojourners' tees on faith and social justice. Click here for more information. Starting at $10.

Wisdom for your commute: Download audio talks by Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, Lucy Winkett and more. Shop the SojoStore.






Click Here!

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

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: sojourners@sojo.net | Advertising: advertising@sojo.net | About Us

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