Hearts & Minds

The Real Cost of the Iraq War

President Obama announced at the end of August that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended." Watching the speech and listening to the commentary, I was gripped by a deep sadness. Even now, more than seven years after it began, the goal of the Iraq war still isn't clear.

The war started on a false pretext -- that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them or hand them off to terrorists. The Bush administration's fearful predictions of "mushroom clouds" went along with insinuations that Iraq was somehow involved in 9/11, despite the fact that it was not. Saddam Hussein was certainly a terrible and brutal dictator, but bombing his people wasn't the only way to deal with him, as many church leaders pointed out at the time. And, of course, the U.S. hadn't made war on the countries of every other dictator who was as bad, or worse, than Hussein. But those dictators weren't sitting on deserts full of oil -- always the unspoken reality of our foreign policy in the Middle East.

The "shock and awe" of America's military easily defeated Hussein's army, but the post-invasion strategy was horribly botched. A complete misunderstanding of Iraq’s religious and ethnic conflicts was soon revealed, and incidents of prisoner abuse and torture shamed our image around the world. The decision to fight an unnecessary war in Iraq caused the U.S. to lose the moral high ground we had after the 9/11 attacks.

That's all history, and the president asked the nation to "turn the page." But what makes me so sad is the enormous human cost of the war, and the massive number of people -- in America and Iraq -- who have had their lives ended or changed forever; they will have a hard time turning the page.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2010
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Time to End This War

Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander in Afghanistan, was pictured in The Washington Post after his confirmation this summer with a broad smile and thumbs up, proclaiming, “We are all firmly united in seeking to forge unity of effort.”

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2010
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A Time for Moral Reckoning

We have seen unbelievable pictures of endless swaths of brown oil mixed with the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, of dying wetlands and marshes, of miles of contaminated coastline, of dead birds and animals, of helpless and hopeless Gulf Coast residents sadly witnessing their livelihoods and their way of life slipping away.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2010
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Is Christian Ministry Illegal in Arizona?

This spring Arizona enacted the harshest enforcement bill in the country against undocumented immigrants. It requires state law enforcement officials to require identity documents from anyone they have “lawful contact” with and have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, and to detain them if they are. Those not carrying identification papers, even people who are U.S. citizens or green card holders, are subject to arrest.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2010
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A Covenant for Civility

Over the last few months, the political polarization of our society has reached a new and dangerous level. Honest disagreements over policy issues have turned into a growing vitriolic rage against political opponents; threats of violence against lawmakers are now being credibly reported. With the upcoming debates on immigration reform and a Supreme Court nomination, it will likely get worse as the fall election campaigns approach.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2010
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Christians for Social Justice

Glenn Beck picked a fight with the nation’s churches when he said that “social justice” is a “code word” for “communism” and “Nazism,” and that Christians should leave their churches if they preach, practice, or even have the phrase “social justice” on their Web sites. Contrary to Beck’s claim that “social justice is a perversion of the gospel,” he has now learned that Christians across the theological and political spectrum believe that social justice is central to the teachings of Jesus, and at the heart of biblical faith. Because Christians couldn’t “turn in” their pastors to “church authorities” as Beck suggested (the pope would have to turn himself in to ... himself), many have started turning themselves in to Glenn Beck as “social justice Christians”—50,000 at last count.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2010
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To Cut the Deficit, Cut Military Spending

It’s the largest federal budget in history. President Obama’s 2011 budget totals $3.8 trillion and contains a deficit of $1.3 trillion. The president’s priorities are clear: jobs and the military. Many people are deeply concerned about the rapidly growing deficit.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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Time to Move Your Money?

I’ve been talking with people in desperate circumstances more and more these days, as have pastors around the country. The foreclosure crisis has become both a personal and a pastoral issue for us, and we are struggling to make sense of the fundamental unfairness that underlies it. The financial institutions whose behavior is most responsible for this crisis have been saved from failure by the American taxpayers, while many of those least responsible are losing jobs and homes.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2010
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Asking the Right Questions

I have written a new book—one I didn’t plan to write, but which emerged as we responded to the economic crisis that has gripped the nation and the world. I wrote it as a tract for the times, and it’s titled Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street—A Moral Compass for the New Economy.

The book is about the moral recovery that must accompany the economic recovery. It suggests that we must not go back to business as usual, but instead need a “new normal.” It is about the values questions that are at the heart of how we got into this crisis, and that are critical to getting us out of it. It describes the new maxims that overtook us, such as “greed is good,” “it’s all about me,” and “I want it now”—values that wreck economies, cultures, families, and even our souls. Instead it calls for a return to new/old virtues, such as “enough is enough,” “we’re in it together,” and evaluating our decisions by their impact on the seventh generation out.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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A Revival for Justice

In November, Dallas hosted Sojourners’ Justice Revival. Com-bining the tradition of Billy Graham with that of Martin Luther King Jr., Dallas churches came together across racial, theological, and geographic boundaries to connect personal faith to social justice.

Rev. Zan Wesley Holmes Jr. preached the opening night. Dr. Holmes, who has been ministering in the Dallas area for more than 50 years, said of the Justice Revival, “This is historic ... we have never come together like this.” He added that he had been waiting for this his whole life.

On that first night, a young man stayed afterward to talk to me. “I’m ready,” he said. “Ready for what?” I asked. “Ready to change the world!” This young African American told me that he was the youngest Methodist minister in the state of Texas. He drove into Dallas every night from the small, rural town he is serving.

Church historians say that spiritual activity doesn’t get to be called “revival” until it has changed something in the society. This revival had specific goals laid out by the pastors who came together—creating at least 25 church partnerships with Dallas public schools and advocating for 700 new units of permanent housing for chronically homeless people. The Revival has already hired a full-time organizer to make sure those goals are met. “What has changed,” the pastor of an evangelical megachurch said to me, “is that our church used to be just internally focused, but now it is externally focused.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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