Hearts & Minds

9/11: What Have We Learned?

Ten years ago, terrorists hijacked four airplanes over the United States. Two were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, a third into the Pentagon, and the fourth was crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania. By the latest count, 2,996 people died, including the 19 hijackers and 2,977 victims.

A few weeks after that tragedy, more than 4,000 religious leaders of all faiths signed a statement that was printed as an ad in The New York Times. We spoke of the moral response to terrorism: "We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be," the statement said. "We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us."

On this 10th anniversary it is appropriate to ask what we have learned. How have we grown as a country? How have we healed, or how have we, in our hurt, turned around and hurt others? In two critical ways, we have shown that we did not learn the right lessons.

First, we have spent much of the past decade deeply engaged in two wars. Less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush began the bombing of Afghanistan, which was followed with U.S. troops. The stated objectives were to capture or kill al Qaeda and to overthrow the Taliban government. Al Qaeda was quickly dispersed, and the Taliban removed from power. Osama bin Laden was, of course, killed this spring, not by the war of occupation but with rigorous intelligence and special forces. Yet more than 100,000 U.S. troops continue to occupy the country.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Men Behaving Badly

It's a consistent storyline in the media, involving powerful men in politics, sports, business, and religion: Men behave with utter disregard for the dignity and humanity of women -- using and abusing them at will, and acting as if they believe that they are entitled to do so. These men seem to think that the ordinary rules of decent behavior do not apply to them. We have a never-ending cavalcade of disgusting stories about men cheating on their wives and abandoning old wives for new ones; engaging in serial philandering as a way of life; sexually harassing and assaulting women; and even committing rape. But when all is said and done, the perpetrators are still playing basketball, football, and golf; they are still holding or running for political office; and they are still at the helm of the institutions of the economy and even the church.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) chief of the International Monetary Fund, John Edwards, and Anthony Weiner have all been in the media lately for sins and crimes past, present, and accused. The stories have recently come out about a longtime affair Schwarzenegger had with a member of his house staff, Trump’s long and blatant history of sexism, John Edward’s indictment for campaign finance law violations in covering up an affair, Anthony Weiner's tweeting lewd photos of himself, and, most gravely serious of all, Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault against a hotel maid.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Things that Make for Peace

When a team of Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in May, most Americans felt a sense of relief. He was truly a dedicated purveyor of violence, a manipulator and distorter of religion for political purposes, and a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Nevertheless, it is never a Christian response to celebrate the death of any human being, as many did, even one so given over to evil. Violence is always an indication of our failure to resolve our conflicts by peaceful means and an occasion for deeper reflection.

The Bible takes evil seriously and clearly says that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and that the state has the legitimate role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes. Osama bin Laden was perhaps the most recognizable face of terrorism in our time. But killing him has certainly not ended the threat of terrorism. And it also did not vindicate the decade of war, the tragic U.S. response to the attacks on 9/11 that has resulted in thousands of other innocent casualties in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

More innocent civilians have become the "collateral damage" of our wars on terrorism than those who suffered the direct assault on civilians by bin Laden’s al Qaeda assassins on Sept. 11. This fact is a grave moral failing by the standards of just war theory, which is at least given lip service in most churches.

Read the Full Article

July 2011 Sojourners
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

What Would Jesus Cut?

The painful combination of high unemployment, falling incomes, and rising deficits has put the nation in a crisis situation.

The painful combination of high unemployment, falling incomes, and rising deficits has put the nation in a crisis situation. Tough choices are now upon us -- but they must be smart, courageous, and compassionate. Unfortunately, the choices being made by those in power seem more political and ideological than responsible.

In its budget proposals this spring, the House is not cutting spending where the real money is, such as in military spending, corporate tax cuts and loopholes, and long-term health-care costs. Instead, it is cutting programs for the poorest people at home and around the world while defending the largesse handed out to big corporations and military contractors. This is not genuine fiscal conservatism; it's just political.

These budget-cutters' priorities are to protect the richest Americans and abandon the poorest. The proposed House cuts are full of disproportionate cuts to initiatives that have proven to save children's lives and overcome poverty, while leaving untouched the most corrupt and wasteful spending of all American tax dollars -- the Pentagon entitlement program. This is not fiscal integrity; this is hypocrisy.

U.S. military spending is now about half of the world's military expenditures and is more than the military budgets of the next 15 countries combined. To claim that all that money is necessary for genuine American security is no longer credible. To say it is all more important than bed nets that prevent malaria, vaccines that prevent deadly diseases, or child health and family nutrition for low-income families is simply immoral.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Fasting for Changed Hearts

As Lent began, the U.S. was in a major struggle over the federal budget. The House majority, under the guise of deficit reduction, proposed a budget that aggressively singled out programs for hungry and poor people, radically scaling them back and capping them to prevent their expansion. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the lead budget-cutter, claimed that the safety net has become a "hammock." We were moving from neglecting the poor to targeting the poor -- an assault against the very people that God specifically instructs us to protect and whose well-being is the biblical test of a nation’s righteousness.

I was feeling a nudge to fast and pray about this, to turn to God for wisdom and direction. As I talked to other leaders, I found I was not the only one. Former Ambassador Tony Hall, of the Alliance to End Hunger, called to say that fasting and prayer was also on his heart. In 1993, as a member of Congress, he fasted for 22 days in response to similar cuts. David Beckmann at Bread for the World, with his deep concern for hungry people, was feeling the same thing. We decided to follow the model, found in the book of Esther, of public fasting, praying, and petitioning political powers to change unjust actions.

On March 28, the three of us were joined by Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worldwide at a news conference to announce that the budget debate was a moral crisis, and that prayer, fasting, and radical action were required. We began a Hunger Fast for a Moral Budget.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

How Egypt Changed the Conversation

In the aftermath of the world-changing events in Egypt, the story of how the uprising came about was slowly revealed. It was clear that such a thing doesn’t “just happen.” The grievances in Egypt had built up over 30 years of dictatorship. An educated new generation was coming of age. They didn’t fall into the old political categories; rejecting both autocracy and theocracy, they were not willing to settle any longer for stability over democracy.

As I watched them in Tahrir Square each night on television, it also seemed that they knew what they were doing in regard to security, logistics, and tactics. When they were attacked by the street thugs Hosni Mubarak’s government sent against them, they responded with disciplined nonviolence. They brought new social media to the old drama of fighting for democracy against tyranny.

I could see that those who were leading this nonviolent youth revolution had some training. Sure enough, we learned how the best tools of nonviolent resistance had been passed on, over the last several years, between activists across national boundaries. They drew on the work of seasoned nonviolent scholars and tacticians such as Gene Sharp, whose books on how nonviolent action could bring down dictators helped create the playbook for young Egyptian activists. It was clear that these young Middle East protesters were drawing from King and Gandhi, and that focused study, key relationships, and serious training had all preceded the public events.

It also became clear that these protesters were not radical Islamists eager for a new caliphate, but rather were young professionals, secular youth, and radically moderate Christians and Muslims working together, taking to the streets with both courage and discipline.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Cost of War

When the Vietnam-era draft ended, I thought it would have little effect on the anti-war movement. I was wrong. In short order, meetings and rallies shrank from mass gatherings to small groups of the faithful. Why? Because the segment of the population that was paying the true cost of the war became much smaller. The sacrifice necessary to continue fighting was no longer spread out over a large segment of society; now only a small number of families would experience the anxiety of sending their children to war.

Today, too few know the cost of war. The financial costs are being put on a credit card for our children and the human cost is relegated to a small portion of society. If the draft existed today, the country would be too busy protesting our continued engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan to pass on false rumors of "death panels" in health-care legislation. The possibility of endless war through permanent bases in Afghanistan has met with little public outcry. If every mother of military-age children knew that her child could be drafted, I wonder if the country would be so quiet.

What weighs on my mind is the growing cost of war and that so few are actually seeing the bill, both human and financial. In the two wars, there have been nearly 6,000 U.S. deaths and 40,000 wounded. Tens of thousands of others suffer from post-traumatic stress and other psychological disorders, and a growing number of veterans are committing suicide. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have died, which is hardly ever a focus of American consciousness.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine February 2011
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Tinkering is Not Enough

Time and again, we heard from President Obama on the campaign trail that Washington was broken and he was running for president to fix it. This was true then, and his presidency has confirmed it -- Washington, D.C., is a broken system that needs to be changed. But early in the Obama presidency, his administration decided that the system was more broken than they had imagined, special interests were more powerful, and the influence of money over everything was almost complete. So they decided to work within that broken system, work inside the way it had always been done, and try to get some things done for people. That was a mistake.

"Change is easy if you're just talking about tinkering around the edges," Obama said in February 2010. "Change is harder when you actually dig in and try to deal with the structural problems that have impeded our progress for too long." What he has found is that change is hard, even when you tinker around the edges, as long as the system is broken. We've seen tinkering around the edges when it comes to the poor, our economic system, the war in Afghanistan, and immigration reform. But these systems don't need just tinkering, they need deep change.

In agreeing in December to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, President Obama got some good things for working families: the payroll and middle-class tax cuts, the extension of unemployment benefits, and various refundable tax credits. But the president is presiding over a massive redistribution of wealth that has been going on for a very long time -- the redistribution of wealth from the middle and the bottom to the top of American society -- leaving us with the greatest economic inequality in American history. This will only grow larger with the Obama "compromise."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine February 2011
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Lessons from the Midterm Elections

In politics there is always a spiritual choice to be made -- a choice between hope and fear. Leaders can build movements by appealing to a vision of what our country can be or by painting a picture of what to fear. Barack Obama won in November 2008, in the midst of a recession, bank failures, and two wars, by speaking to our values as a country and by riding a movement that had reason to hope and was ready to work for change.

But the new president soon lost the narrative, and the "movement" is now on the other side of the political aisle. Sadly, this fall the vast majority of the country voted against rather than for particular candidates or policies.

Scriptures say, "Without a vision the people perish." Soon after he was elected, the president let the vision perish, and the people soon followed. A campaign of "hope and change" and "yes we can" was replaced by the politics of diminished expectations and "they won’t let us." Without a deeper vision, a vacuum formed, and into it grew a different sort of movement. The "new populism" in America is now decidedly on the Tea Party Right.

Washington politics has been frozen solid, with little movement or motivation to solve the nation’s problems. We have seen the opposition party adopt a politics of sabotage more intense than any in years. On cable TV and talk radio, honest and robust political discourse has been replaced by an ideological food fight.

It feels as if civility has died in America, and urgent pleas for a more truthful and respectful public discourse from religious leaders and former lawmakers from both parties have been ignored by a media that loves a perpetual conflict narrative. But many in the country still long for a more civil tone in our political discussion.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine January 2011
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

A Test of Character

This fall we saw a disturbing rise in religious intolerance in the U.S. From the much-politicized opposition to a proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero in New York City to a fundamentalist pastor's threat to burn Qurans, a wave of Islamophobia appears to be sweeping the country.

How should we as Christians respond? There are some key questions that get to the heart of the issue, and our answers say a lot about ourselves, our own faith, and the collective character of our country.

The first question is this: Does our judgment of our neighbors come from their religious labels or the content of their character? I do not advocate a religious pluralism that blurs the significant differences between religions, but I do believe that my religious tradition calls me to be a peacemaker and to love my neighbors, especially when I do not agree with them. When Muslim leaders step up to lead an initiative to reduce tensions and promote understanding, do we judge them by the actions of terrorists (whom those leaders have condemned) or by their integrity and character? This does not mean we have to agree with them on everything, but rather that we're called to love and respect them.

The second question asks: Do we believe in freedom for my religion or freedom of religion? The "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses of the First Amendment were revolutionary statements. They represent ideals to which we aspire but have not always lived up to. Anti-Catholic sentiment, anti-Semitism, and other forms of religious bigotry have reared their ugly heads over and over in our history. But ultimately, many minority groups have flourished here because of our strong history of religious liberty. Whether we allow religious freedom for Americans of Islamic faith -- near Ground Zero or anywhere else -- will give evidence of our own character, the integrity of our faith, and our real commitment to the ideals that have distinguished our nation.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine December 2010
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe