Inside Story

Inside Story

The problem of modern slavery is staggering. Today, 27 million slaves exist in the world, according to Not For Sale, a new book by David Batstone, author of this month's cover story on human trafficking. Tens of thousands of them live in the United States, and thousands more arrive each day. Selling and trafficking human beings for sexual exploitation, domestic or commercial labor, or for use as soldiers, in places such as Uganda, are among the most lucrative businesses on the planet.

The sheer scope of this scourge invites depression and discouragement. But there are signs of hope, examples of abolitionists willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and money -and, in some cases, their lives- to lift others out of slavery. People such as Pierre Tami, who established a center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for women who had suffered violence and exploitation. Not only has Hagar Shelter helped more than 100,000 women and children through its social programs, its three entrepreneurial spin-offs have generated job skills training and secure employment for many. It's a remarkable story of vision, hard work, and faith.

We can also learn from early abolitionists, such as William Wilberforce and Elizabeth Heyrick, who worked much of their lives -using many of the same tactics activist groups use today- to end the British slave trade. Assistant editor Elizabeth Palmberg shares the story of how they and others were able to form a coalition broad enough to ultimately succeed. Parliament voted to abolish the slave trade in the early 1800s throughout the entire British Empire. They are lessons well worth applying today.

-The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine March 2007
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Inside Story

Why is it that so many jobs in America don't pay the bills? For this issue, we invited several writers to look at this phenomenon of barely-getting-by, as well as policy reforms that would help low- and middle-income working Americans to make enough to thrive, not just survive. One essential factor: jobs that pay a living wage. Also essential: ensuring adequate health insurance and affordable housing, as well as putting programs in place that help employees in low-skill, low-wage jobs receive education and training so that they can advance. After all, argues contributor Paul Sherry, a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it. These writers provide a set of achievable policies that would not only honor and reward hard work, but create an economic climate that is fair and just?one that provides opportunities for all workers.

And speaking of work (especially the kind that keeps you whistling), this issue marks the 150th(ish) appearance of "H'rumphs," our back-page humor column by Ed Spivey Jr. He may call his columns a monument to "intellectual superficiality," but we call them funny. We hope his words have made your step a little lighter and your load a little easier. (If not, we're not responsible.) Thanks, Ed, for lining the road of faith, politics, and culture with wit and humor all these years, even if a lot of it is wildly inappropriate.

- The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine February 2007
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Inside Story

As of this writing, we're fresh off the midterm elections and glad to see the end of divisive campaigning for a while (though we're not naive enough to think the shouting is all over). As with most elections, the political buzzwords lobbed with abandon into our living rooms and public spaces often carried all the subtlety of heat-seeking missiles.

"Pro-family" has to be one of the most used and abused phrases. We spend a lot of time fighting over who constitutes a family -as associate editor Julie Polter writes in this issue, even Tony Soprano could be considered pro-family by some definitions- yet, what does it really mean? And what would truly pro-family policies look like? As she argues, once we pick our way through the political landmines these slogans contain, there are concrete policies and practices that we as individuals and as the church can work toward that are in line with Jesus' commands to care for each other.

That impulse is the driving force behind a movement of young people, dubbed the "New Monastics," who are saying no to the violence, materialism, and individuality of mainstream culture. About 500 of them gathered in June at an East Tennessee farm to worship, exchange ideas, and play. Shane Claiborne, part of Sojourners/Call to Renewal?s Red Letter Christians, was the main instigator behind the "People Against Poverty and Apathy" festival, reports former Sojourners intern Josh Andersen. Their aim isn't just to get people talking and acting differently, but to actually transform their communities according to gospel values. Now that is something to celebrate. -The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine January 2007
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Inside Story

While Advent is the particular season of the church year in which we anticipate the coming of Jesus, the word can also mean "a coming into being," an opportunity for old ways of thinking and being to yield to new ways. Whether these opportunities are triggered by external or internal events, we experience an ongoing cycle of death and rebirth, of pain and joy, for we can't grow without letting go of the old thoughts and beliefs.

The subjects of our incarnation focus this issue have lived this cycle again and again (sometimes in almost literal ways). The world held its breath when Christian Peacemaker Teams members James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden, Tom Fox, and Norman Kember were abducted in Iraq last year. In an eloquent essay, Loney writes about their days of captivity, the humanity of their captors, and the questions he was forced to confront again and again: What does it mean to die to one's self? To be born again? To love one?s enemies?

No doubt these are questions John Perkins has asked himself many times. The venerable community development and civil rights activist, now in his 70s, has spent decades ministering to others, often at great cost to himself. A lifetime of confronting racism and greed has left its scars, but Perkins' service has taught others a new way of being, which in turn has brought new life to his community.

These are important stories to carry with us into Advent, to ponder as we await the One who continually invites us into new ways of being. -The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine December 2006
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Inside Story

The fall months tend to be busy-no doubt you can relate-and the pace around  our office has been brisk.

We started out September with a Politics & Spirituality Conference in Pasadena, California, and followed with the launch of our Faith and Justice Churches congregational network, Red Letter Christians campaign, and God's Politics blog. (See www.sojo.net for more information on these.) Jim Wallis hit the road again for a book tour with the paperback edition of God's Politics, and activities related to the Covenant for a New America - a results-oriented plan we unveiled in June to tackle the persistent problem of poverty - are in full swing. Also, as we do every year, we had the joy of welcoming new interns to our staff - nine this year, from both coasts and in between - to help us fulfill our mission and goals. We're grateful for their energy and new ideas (except occasionally when they make us feel old).

We're also thankful for those outside the office who contribute to our work. Bob Roth has served as our trusty Living the Word writer for the past 18 months, which means he's provided thoughtful reflections for 78 Sundays in a row, no small feat. We appreciate the way he embodies theologian Karl Barth's adage to teach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Malinda Berry, a Mennonite doctoral student studying systematic theology, will take over the reins from Bob in the next issue. We look forward to introducing her to you.

-The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine November 2006
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Inside Story

What makes a Christian college Christian? Fear of the Lord. Prudence. Righteousness. Justice. In "A Red Letter Campus," Eastern University president (and former Sojourners board chair) David Black looks at these and other commitments Jesus espoused and how they can be the basis of a university that's Christian in character. "A Christlike college," Black writes, "teaches students to be in but not of the world, loving their neighbors with the love of Jesus, a love that demands sacrifice and persistence."

Those attributes are required of more than institutions of higher learning, of course. They're asked of each of us, and in sometimes impossible-seeming situations. Jason Webb, graduate of an evangelical Christian college in California, joined the army as a telecommunications operator in 2004 and was soon sent to Iraq. It quickly became clear to him that he couldn't stay. "I cannot kill, participate in warfare, or support any organization that does," he wrote in his application asking for honorable discharge as a conscientious objector.

Kevin Hicks found himself in a similar situation when an Iraqi man asked him to explain why he was in Iraq. He couldn't. Hicks and Webb are part of a growing number of American soldiers seeking CO discharges, longtime Sojourners contributor Stacia Brown writes in "Valor, Honor, Conscience." In these times--indeed, in any time--peace isn't just an option, Hicks says. It's a necessity.

The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2006
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Inside Story

This summer's tango between the Bush administration and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program provided an object lesson in how not to do diplomacy. Threats and rhetoric dominated the discourse, with Iran refusing to step back from its "right" to develop nuclear power and the Bush administration refusing to rule out a military attack - even a nuclear attack - on Iran. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote to President Bush, asking, almost in so many words, "What would Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) do?" Bush rejected the overture with a dismissive "there's nothing new here."

As Jim Wallis points out on the facing page, what's not new here is the Bush administration's bellicose approach to the rest of the world, which Wallis calls the U.S. "hammer habit." David Cortright, a Sojourners contributing writer and president of the Fourth Freedom Forum, suggests one foundational requirement of a less warlike stance: the willingness to engage in dialogue. And Brian McLaren pens a cautionary "history" of the 21st century - a troubling path that still can be avoided.

Longtime Sojourners friend Nane Alejandrez once lived a life of violence, a never-ending cycle of guns, blades, and gangs that cost him 14 family members and countless friends. Now, through his work with Barrios Unidos, he brokers tough truces between rival Latino and African-American gangs and counsels kids who face the same struggles he did. Countries aren?t gangs, but the principles used by Barrios - dialogue and nonviolent conflict resolution - might just have something to offer on the international scene as well.

The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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Inside Story

As with most of our articles, the words in this issue developed out of relationships - connections that are decades-long as well as some more recently established. Ched Myers' deep friendship with Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, also beloved sister to many of us at Sojourners, led to his challenging reflection on baptism. Adam Taylor's analysis of the difficulties facing the South African church came from his conversations with friends, old and new, during a recent trip to Cape Town. Julie Polter's commentary on child marriage rose from her experiences in Ethiopia, where she met with girls and women about the customs, policies, and religious beliefs that often produce painful results in their lives.

Relationships, of course, help bring the world into focus. Take immigration. It's a complicated subject and there is no shortage of opinions about how to "fix" it. But when we move beyond the statistics (and bullhorns) to hear from those who live as "undocumented" persons, we have a better chance of understanding what's at stake - and then moving toward solutions.

We also touch on the curious relationship between celebrities and their fans, particularly when it comes to social issues. An increasing number of celebrities have gotten involved in humanitarian aid projects, helping to raise awareness by redirecting those ever-present cameras toward the crisis in Darfur, for example, or to sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. But do they help or hurt? Kate Bowman Johnston, a former Sojourners intern, looks at whether the increased attention actually brings relief, or if it's just the latest way for celebrities to increase their star power.

The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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Inside Story

Is there such a thing as the "Catholic vote"? Commonweal writer Maurice Timothy Reidy and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., both practicing Catholics and avid Catholic-watchers, dive into the fascinating swirl of Catholic theology and electoral politics. Reidy charts a historical route, mapping the political allegiances of Catholics throughout the last century, while Dionne offers an analysis of more recent elections. With midterm elections just around the corner, it's an important and invigorating discussion--for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Also invigorating are the conversations in these pages with Glenn Kumekawa and Marilynne Robinson. Kumekawa was a teenager when he and his family were sent to a Utah internment camp for Japanese Americans. He shares those experiences with associate editor Rose Marie Berger, including his later move to college where--interestingly--he was befriended by William Stringfellow, who went on to become an early Sojourners contributor and friend (and one of the most influential theologians in the country). Robinson, a Sunday school teacher and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead, talks to Tom Montgomery-Fate about the connections between the creative process of religious faith and the creative process of writing. Both involve seeing the holy in everyday life.

Seeing the holy can sometimes involve seeing the "signs and wonders" of healing, a subject that provokes widely divergent views among Christians. Dee Dee Risher tackles a subject that's personally close to home, but also has significance for the wider church--particularly in the global South. But more important than Jesus' message of healing, she reminds us, is his command to love each other. Seeing the holy in each other, including our political opponents: Now there's a challenge.

The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine June 2006
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Inside Story

Our move to a new building last fall brought us many gifts: a more efficient space, working heat and air conditioning (most of the time)--and a giant sparkling supermarket one floor below. It's a three-minute walk to wide aisles of gleaming produce, freshly made sandwiches, whole roasted chickens, and a salad and soup bar. We return to the office with happy grins, our telltale plastic bags bulging with apples from New Zealand, raspberries from Santiago, and microwavable turkey pot pies from food mega-conglomerate ConAgra.

With such convenience and choice--right downstairs!--who has to plan ahead? Why save our shopping until we can get to the local farmers market? We have ease, efficiency, control. That's progress, isn't it?

But as our writers for this special issue tell us, there's more to the food story. Much more. What seems cheap and convenient isn't really either; when our food travels thousands of miles before reaching our tables, it's not cheap, no matter what we've paid for it. And we doubt many farmers and migrant workers find aspects of our present food system "convenient."

But there's good news. Eating ethically is easier than we think, and our writers outline new ways of thinking about food and our relationship to it--how we can ensure what we eat is healthy, local, and produced in a sustainable way.

Food is about joy, about communion with others. We have been welcomed to God's table with love and grace. Let us welcome others in the same way.

The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine May 2006
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