Leadership

Behold, The Dreamer Cometh

A few weeks after the October 2002 plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, and five others, a Lutheran confirmation class visiting D.C. from Minnesota decided to stop by Wellstone’s office to pay their respects. As the group went through security at the Senate office building, one of the students—who had worked on the senator’s re-election campaign and was still wearing a Wellstone button—set off the metal detector. The officer took her to the side to wand her. As he was checking her, the guard said, “Not one other senator in this place knows my name; Paul Wellstone knew my kid’s name.” He and the student hugged each other, and both started weeping.

Paul Wellstone touched people’s lives in profound ways, mostly because he genuinely sought to live a life of integrity, in both public and personal matters. He once advised, “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak,” and those who knew him best said he honestly tried to follow that advice. (A Midwest political observer said the Right never knew what to do with Wellstone, because he lived “conservative values” at home while working for progressive change in the public sphere.)

Wellstone’s political career began when, as a political science professor at Minnesota’s Carleton College, he started working with farmers to block electric lines forcibly run through their farms—and he continued to organize and agitate on behalf of regular people for the rest of his days.

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Beyond 'Superman'

I'VE BEEN INVOLVED in public education for more than 15 years—as an urban public school teacher, a researcher and policy analyst, a teacher trainer, a parent, and an advocate. I never dreamed I’d live to witness such raucous and juicy debates about how to improve our nation’s lowest-performing public schools. Throughout my career, public education garnered the occasional feel-good story about a phenomenal, mythical “inner city teacher” and, more often, the litany of stories about how urban and rural schools are in complete disarray.

But during the last few years—oh my! We’ve witnessed the onslaught of message-laden documentaries such as Waiting for “Superman” and The Lottery, which are celebrated by many and derided as teacher-bashing propaganda by others. The birth of the “education reform” movement has generated such groups as Democrats for Education Reform, Students for Education Reform, and Stand For Children. Again, lauded by many, these groups are vigorously criticized by others because of the way they push against policies, structures, and institutions in public education.

Regardless of what side of the education reform debate we may choose, most Americans agree on one thing: Public schools must improve. The academic achievement gap between wealthy white students and low-income students of color must be eliminated. It’s unconscionable that 50 percent of kids growing up in poverty drop out of high school. How do we allow a system to exist where poor children in the fourth grade are already performing three grade levels behind children in wealthier neighborhoods? What future do we anticipate poor and minority children will have with these academic outcomes?

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The Vocation of Presence

A FEW YEARS back, Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis and I did a talk together at Northwestern University. After the event, the line to see Jim was dozens of people long. They wanted him to sign their books, to offer encouragement on their new social justice projects, to meet their kids, to give pastoral advice on a problem they were having. Jim talked to each and every one of them, some for several minutes. It delayed our dinner by at least an hour.

As we were finally sitting down in the restaurant and tucking in to our salads, I asked Jim why he stayed for so long. Why not do what so many other public figures do—leave right after your part of the show is over?

“I am a preacher and a pastor,” he answered. “An important part of my vocation is spending loving time with individuals. The period right after a public talk is an excellent opportunity to do that.”

“Plus,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “listening to other people’s stories may be the best part of this work.”

I just hit the 10-year mark of running Interfaith Youth Core, and the 15-year point of my first involvement with interfaith work. I haven’t logged as many miles or given as many speeches as Jim, but my schedule tends in a similar direction. The image of him talking to all those young people after that event at Northwestern sticks in my mind every time I board an early flight or prepare for a day of workshops followed by a late-night keynote.

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Caring for the Poor is Government's Biblical Role

Jim Wallis
JIm Wallis

There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."

But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether ours is fulfilling them. So let's look at what the Bible says.

The words of Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be "God's servant for your good" (13:4). Today we might say "the common good" is to be the focus and goal of government.

So the purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disparage government per se  to see government as the central problem in society — is simply not a biblical position.

Mars Hill Bible Church Names Rob Bell’s Successor

Mars Hill Bible Church has appointed a new teaching pastor, months after founding pastor and well-known author Rob Bell departed for California.

In an email sent on Wednesday to members of the Grandville, Mich., church, leaders announced Kent Dobson had accepted the lead position.

Dobson served as a worship director in the church’s early days and has preached as a guest speaker in the months since Bell left. He is the son of Ed Dobson, pastor emeritus at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids.

Anglican Breakaway Groups Confront New Power Struggle

The saga of the Anglican Mission in the Americas sounds like the words to an old country song: "Why have you left the one you left me for?"

Founded by breakaway Episcopal priests who left their former denomination because they felt it was too liberal, the Anglican Mission is now in the middle of another ugly church feud.

Last time the fight was over sex and salvation. Now the fight is over money and power, between the Anglican Mission's U.S. leaders and the overseas Anglican group that adopted them.

"It's like my mom and dad just told me they are getting a divorce," said the Rev. Brian Hardin, pastor of the Four Winds Mission in Spring Hill, Tenn., which is a member of the Anglican Mission.

Jim Wallis and Richard Land: Join the Great Conversation

People of faith -- including evangelical Christians -- will be voting both ways in the upcoming election. It is simply not true that they will be voting only on one or two issues.

And, if evangelicals focus on many of the issues central to their faith, rather than becoming partisan cheerleaders, they might be able to raise some critical issues in this election and to hold both sides more accountable, even in a campaign that both Richard and I suspect will be one of the ugliest in U.S. history.

At the end of the evening, Amy remarked that if the upcoming election debates were as civil and substantive as this evening was, we would all be very grateful.

A Decade of War (and Football)

Afghan_village_patrol

Let’s face it — while lawmakers are picking their own battles in Washington, they aren’t fighting on the ground in Afghanistan. Winning elections has become more important than implementing winning foreign policy strategies that would end the war and bring our service men and women safely home.

And it’s my generation that’s being sacrificed.

The Gospel Should Be Offensive

kibera1

Scripture constantly should be challenging our assumptions about our lives and in every aspect of society. Transformation is needed on a personal and also a political level. Scriptural priorities shouldn't be glossed over in order to protect political ideologies and comfort zones.

If we believe that what Jesus taught remains just as relevant today as it did when he physically walked among us, then it should still be a comfort to those on the margins of society and offensive to the wealthy and powerful. That doesn't mean that the wealthy and powerful can't be good and faithful followers of Christ, but Jesus did warn them that their walk will be a hard one. Wealth and power bring unique and difficult temptations ... If you never feel uncomfortable when you read the Gospels then you aren't paying attention.

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