Class

Movers and Shakers

When I first entered politics in the late 1960s, I had never heard the term “evangelical.” If I did, I certainly didn’t know what it meant. Now it’s a word you hear everywhere—in the news and at political rallies, on college campuses, and even in Hollywood. You especially hear the word in religious circles. However, it is not by happenstance that this word has become so commonplace. “Evangelical” has changed from being an adjective that describes a kind of activity to a noun that defines a particular kind of person. That change is powerfully chronicled in D. Michael Lindsay’s Faith in the Halls of Power.

This well-written history of the rise of evangelicals in American society provides a scholarly account of the motives and methods of how this new religious movement has reached the peaks of power in politics, academia, business, media, and philanthropy. The book is thorough and full of facts, outlining what makes a person evangelical and how evangelicals have acquired so much influence. Lindsay describes how certain individuals in the past 30 years thoughtfully targeted areas of power, devised plans to infiltrate particular leadership circles, and then implemented networks that often took years or decades to mature. Lindsay interviewed more than 360 influential people in pursuit of his answers, and he delivers a clear picture of how evangelicals have become a dominant force in the United States.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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Bring It On

In the recently published collection of excerpts from William Sloane Coffin's speeches and sermons - Credo - appears this gem: "When the rich take from the poor, it's called an economic plan. When the poor take from the rich, it's called class warfare. It must be wonderful for President Bush to deplore class warfare while making sure his class wins."

The administration's 2005 federal budget amply illustrates Bill Coffin's point. As The Wall Street Journal put it, "The budget reflects the president's top political priorities - taxes and security - at the expense of other domestic programs."

Once again, the highest priority is more tax cuts for the wealthy, which have become the centerpiece of the Bush domestic policy. The budget proposes to make permanent the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 that benefit high-income people, while not extending tax breaks for middle-income families. The second priority is further huge increases for the military and fighting terrorism. The budget proposes a 7 percent increase for military spending and a 10 percent increase for the Department of Homeland Security. And all that's before returning in the fall for what the administration admits will likely be as much as $50 billion in additional funding for the continuing occupation of Iraq.

And what of domestic priorities - especially the vast array of programs that benefit poor and working families? According to The New York Times, the budget calls for the elimination of 65 programs and cuts in 63 more. Those to be eliminated altogether include community development block grants, HOPE VI public housing renovation, rural housing and economic development, and juvenile crime prevention grants. Those cut include a 7 percent reduction for the Environmental Protection Agency, along with programs to deal with dropout prevention, support for local police and firefighters, and funds for guidance counselors in elementary schools.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2004
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Class Warfare

I did a right-wing talk show the other night on Fox News. Whenever you mention poverty in a venue like that, they scream that you're engaging in class warfare and promptly declare war on you.

I've decided that the right wing is correct on this: There is a class war, but they and their political allies are the ones who have declared it. As Episcopal Bishop John Chane said at a recent Sojourners/Call to Renewal chapel service: "We've gone from a war on poverty to a war on the poor."

Last year, Susan Pace Hamill, a University of Alabama tax law professor, took a sabbatical to earn a Master of Theological Studies degree. She wrote her thesis on "An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics." In it she applied "the moral principles of Judeo-Christian ethics" to Alabama's tax system, seeing reform as "a critically important step toward ensuring that Alabama's children, especially children from low-income families, enjoy an opportunity to build a positive future."

Those "moral principles" came into sharp focus in three news stories this summer. The first related directly to Alabama and its Republican governor's proposal to reform the state tax system. The other two showed the same principles on the national scale. One was about the exclusion of 7 million low-income working families—and their 12 million children—from the child tax credit that other families are receiving. The other was the latest IRS annual report, showing huge increases in the wealth of America's 400 richest taxpayers.

In all three, the moral contradictions are too great to ignore. The deepening injustice of America's growing wealth chasm is increasingly impossible to justify. It's becoming a moral, and even a religious, issue.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2003
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A Coalition of Power and Hope

William Julius Wilson has a way of shaking things up. In his landmark 1978 book The Declining Significance of Race, he argued that class and economics plays a more significant role than race in causing inner-city poverty. His last book, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor—which the New York Times Book Review named one of the most notable books of 1996—examined the devastating effects of the loss of jobs on individuals, families, and neighborhoods in our cities. For these and other works, Time magazine named Wilson as one of America’s 25 Most Influential People, stating, "No thinker has done more than William Julius Wilson to explain why the black underclass sank into such misery and isolation at the same time millions of other African Americans were escaping from the ghetto to create a vibrant middle class."

Wilson, who taught for 24 years at the University of Chicago and was a MacArthur Prize Fellow, is now the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University. His next book, The Bridge Over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics (University of California Press) is due out in October. He was interviewed in May in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Sojourners editor Jim Wallis.

Jim Wallis: How do you explain the stunning silence in this country about rising social inequality?

William Julius Wilson: Messages about rising inequality probably would have resonated more if they had been presented forcefully a few years ago, rather than today, because of the strong economic recovery.

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