Activism

Taking Action

• Write your members of Congress to demand that they not renew the president's "fast track" authority on trade agreements, which ties Congress's hands by allowing it only to approve or reject trade agreements, not amend them. Fast track will expire this June unless it's reauthorized.

• Ask Congress to direct the U.S. Trade Representative's office to give antipoverty, environmental, and religious groups at least as much access to trade negotiations as corporations have; also ask it to commission impact reports of how any proposed trade agreement will affect the poor, women, and the environment, in the U.S. and abroad.

• Ask Congress to move its supervision of the U.S. Trade Representative from the overworked people who are doing it now (the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee) to a select committee on globalization—one whose members bring expertise in poverty fighting, the global AIDS crisis, equity for women, labor rights, and the environment.

• Write a letter to your local newspaper when it misuses the term "free trade" and parrots the market-fundamentalist party line.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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With Eyes to See

Kay Warren has a confession to make. For a long time she thought AIDS was somebody else's problem. "It didn't have anything to do with me because it was a 'gay disease,' and I didn't have to care," says Warren, who co-founded Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, with her husband, Rick, in the early 1980s. That attitude is "not something I'm proud of," she admits.

Then, in 2003, Warren met Joana, an HIV-positive woman in Mozambique who was near death. Suddenly AIDS had a face and name. And Warren knew she couldn't pretend it was none of her business anymore. After returning from Africa, she set up an AIDS office at Saddleback and began running informational forums for church members. She also started attending AIDS conferences to find out how her church could best help people with AIDS.

Warren spied a familiar face at one of those conferences—her friend Lynne Hybels, co-founder (with husband Bill) of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. As Warren and Hybels talked, they realized they were involved in the same fight. Both were convinced the evangelical church had to respond—in a public and powerful way—to the AIDS pandemic. And both were committed to making it happen.

Since then, Warren and Hybels have become two of the most influential evangelicals in America. With their husbands (and a rock star named Bono), they've put AIDS and poverty at the top of American evangelicals' public agenda.

When it comes to U.S. megachurches, Willow Creek and Saddleback belong to the jumbo variety. They are two of the three largest churches in the United States, according to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, with weekly attendances of 20,000 and 22,000, respectively. First is Joel Olsteen's Lakewood Church, which draws 30,000 people each week.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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Regaining a Moral Compass

From 1963 to 1966, while teaching art history at Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y., I was in a Catholic religious community blessed with questioning and concerned women. I was already convinced the Vietnam War was wrong—a conviction born of morality and scripture, but with little political analysis. Martin Luther King's words in spring 1967 expressed some of my consciousness: "I was a clergyman ... and ... I accepted as a commission to ... bring the ethical insights of our Judeo-Christian heritage to bear on the social evils of our day. War is one of the major evils facing humankind."

How profoundly our lives today are molded by the racism, materialism, and militarism about which Martin spoke so powerfully. How do we hold ourselves, each other, our communities, our churches, and our nation accountable? Perhaps it is the same way we carry forward King's idea that our national identity is secondary to our spiritual identity. How do we speak to an imperial nation that assumes it is entitled to dominate and control not only the earth and seas but all of outer space? We know that it has the intention and it has the means—nuclear stockpiles with world-destroying capacity.

King's insight has been realized in the United States. Our nation's "war on terror" is but the latest example: an epidemic of violence in the service of the rich and powerful. President Bush continues the war of the powerful against the powerless, with new excuses, new imperatives, new lies. The war has cost upwards of a trillion dollars. We have experienced the hostility of the Islamic world, the anger of our allies, the diminishment of our system of government, the complicity of the media, the silence of Congress, and the apathy of citizens. War has not made us more secure; it has made us less free.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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Dreaming America

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most important speeches in American history at Riverside Church in New York City. In it he decisively and prophetically extended his public ministry beyond narrowly defined civil rights by calling for an end to the U.S. war in Vietnam. "'A time comes when silence is betrayal,'" preached King. "That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam."

The Riverside speech (variously called "Beyond Vietnam" or "Breaking the Silence") named the sickness eating the American soul as "the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism." It was a watershed moment.

King's address was drafted for him by his friend, historian Vincent G. Harding. King made minor changes, but essentially delivered Harding's original text. "It's important to know that for about as long as the war was going on, Martin was raising questions about it," Harding, a retired professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said in a recent interview. Harding and his wife, Rosemarie, often attended Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta when King was preaching. "It was clear that Martin was opposing the war," Harding explained, "and that he was opposing it from a deeply Christian perspective."

In smaller venues King had linked the issues of civil rights, economic justice, and peace, but he had never united the three in such a powerful and public way. He had never dissected the history of U.S. military imperialism with such thoroughness. But most strikingly, King launched his deepest, sharpest theological critique of America. No longer was he only holding America accountable to the ideals of her founding documents. Now King was addressing the mechanisms of empire—not just its bitter fruits—and holding America accountable to God.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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Keeping Christians Cool

More than 1,500 young evangelicals from across the U.S. signed a statement in November promising to reduce their personal use of fossil fuels and urged the government to back legislation that does the same. The statement, called “Cooling Our Future,” follows the Evangelical Climate Initiative signed by more than 85 evangelical leaders last February. That initiative attributed most climate change to human activities, acknowledged that the poor would be hit hardest by climate change, and cited the biblical responsibility to care for God’s creation.

Students from 83 state and private colleges and universities (35 of them evangelical) sent letters to President Bush and members of Congress urging them to make global warming a political priority and to support new measures to fight climate change. “We are your children and from us will come your children’s children,” they wrote in the letter. “We ask you to bless our future with wise actions today.”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2007
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Restorative Circles

Two articles in the November 2006 issue overlook a powerful old means of communication that is being rediscovered—face-to-face storytelling in circles (sometimes called “peacemaking circles”). In “Words! Camera! Democracy?” Molly Marsh limits herself to print, broadcast, and Internet media. Reading “Doing the Write Thing” makes me want to tell Julia Alvarez how circles combine art and activism.

As a circle of public school students shares their stories, troubled youth gain self-insight and self-confidence, shed negative shame, receive and give caring, and find a sense of belonging—a healthy alternative to being suspended for behavior problems. Such circles are an art.

In a community conference I facilitated recently, my co-facilitator shared her emotional story of being a victim of employee theft and of reaching a point of truly forgiving the offender—an act that finally broke through “our” offender’s defenses. Such restorative justice practices are not only a way to heal victims and restore offenders to responsible lives. They are a way to build real face-to-face community in our technologically preoccupied society.

Roger Brooks
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Sojourners Magazine February 2007
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A Carnival for Christ

East Tennessee swelters in the summer. Everywhere there are mosquitoes and sunburns and the constant clamor of air conditioning. But in a particular valley last June, a new sound joined the cacophony.

At a farm just south of Knoxville, radical sermons mingled with the sounds of avant-garde music, a “bartering barn” overflowed with the trading of folks interested in creating an alternative (cash-free) economy, and the sound of celebration—of a raucous family reunion—filled the fields.

The reunion was called PAPA Festival (People Against Poverty and Apathy), and the family consisted largely of “New Monastics,” a movement of young people gravitating toward intentional, communal living in America’s inner cities.

It is an extended family of people such as Leah Eads, of Evansville, Ind., a soft-spoken young woman who finds herself frustrated with the disconnect between the things Jesus preached and the way mainstream churches in Evansville choose to follow.

“Big, rich, white, suburban,” she says of many churches in her hometown. “[They have] the best intentions, don’t want to be greedy, but somehow [are] pretty isolated from the poor and real needs. It’s easier to give a check in the offering plate, which ultimately goes to pay the electricity and the air conditioning for the building and the huge staff, and doesn’t do a lot for the poor in your own community, much less the rest of the world.”

Leah shades her face from the pounding sun and smiles at the concept of New Monasticism being, in fact, new. “I think there’s always a pocket of this,” she says, referring to the New Monastic emphasis on unplugging from societal structures while simultaneously trying to change them. “My parents brought me up this way so I’m thrilled to see so many other people. At the same time it still feels like a very small group.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2007
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'The Survival of the Fittest'

Jesus was a political revolutionary—not the meek figure he is commonly portrayed as—whose teachings have been diluted, if not corrupted, by those in positions of power, writes Obery Hendricks, professor of biblical interpretation at New York Theological Seminary. Following is an excerpt from his new book, The Politics of Jesus.

Despite their very public professions of Christian faith, conservatives seem to owe their ideas and attitudes toward poverty more to the ideas of Herbert Spencer, the British philosopher, than to Jesus and the Bible. Although he lived and wrote in England, Spencer had great influence on American political thought in the last decades of the 19th century. A measure of his enduring influence is that his notion of the “survival of the fittest” remains an important part of our social lexicon (the phrase was coined by Spencer, not Charles Darwin).

Spencer argued that the pressures of impoverishment and constant struggling for subsistence were actually a positive thing that, in the end, would have a positive result: It would lead to human advancement, for the crucible of poverty would allow only the best from each generation to survive. Those with the most skill, intelligence, ingenuity, and tenacity would rise, while those of lesser talent, smarts, and character would fall by the wayside. In other words, only humanity’s strongest and “fittest” would survive. But in order to allow this superior caste to evolve naturally, Spencer reasoned, it was important that the poor be given no assistance at all. No matter how harsh their plight, no matter how many pressures and conditions were beyond their control, they should be allowed to rise or fall on their own.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2006
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Creating Reel Change

Movie and television directors, producers, and writers interested in saying something of substance to their audiences have often been confronted with a quote generally attributed to former studio head Jack Warner: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Despite this adage’s implication that films and TV programs should avoid the political and stick to entertaining (and make their studios and networks gobs of money), a number of movies and TV shows over the years have dealt with vital issues and encouraged pro-social behavior.

Now—whether because of, or in response to, opportunities offered by newer media such as the Internet and cable television—a variety of untraditional film and documentary makers seek to do more than portray positive action on the screen. These companies and artists want to motivate their audiences to get better informed on their issues, volunteer to help the subjects of the movie or program, and even advocate for legislation that offers protection to victims and tries to right the wrongs portrayed.

Probably the most publicized of these filmmakers is former eBay president Jeff Skoll, who through his company Participant Productions has committed an estimated $100 million to co-financing and producing a slate of theatrical releases. These movies include An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary on global warming released earlier this year, and the current Fast Food Nation, about a marketing expert’s odyssey to discover how his hamburger chain really makes its meat.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2006
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