News Bites

No Cheap Grace

At the Christian Amahoro gathering in South Africa in June, former apartheid-era Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok publicly washed the feet of Sean Callaghan, a young white South African man who had been conscripted as a medic into Vlok’s counterinsurgency unit at age 15. In a powerful demonstration of biblical reconciliation, Callaghan returned the gesture.

Callaghan, who testified to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the psychological damage he suffered after his time in the counterinsurgency unit, told Vlok, “Whenever I would swear, I would never use a swear word, Mr. Vlok. I would use your name.” In Vlok’s address to the conference, he described how his conversion to Christ led him to seek reconciliation and forgiveness from those he wronged.

Vlok was granted amnesty in 1999 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the only cabinet minister to have admitted committing crimes—including civilian bombings, torture, and assassinations. In 2006 Vlok also washed the feet of Rev. Frank Chikane, whom he had tried to assassinate years earlier.

“Seeing Vlok wash Sean Callaghan’s feet,” conference attendee Brian McLaren told Sojourners, “would be like seeing Donald Rumsfeld apologize for his role in the Iraq invasion and occupation. But, even while we celebrate Vlok’s change of heart, the problem isn’t as simple as dirt on the feet. Its deep scars will require a lot of time and a lot of grace to heal.”

—Joey Ager

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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Catholic-Labor Rights

LABOR UNIONS, CATHOLIC health-care providers, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made significant strides for worker justice with the release in June, after a 10-year process, of the document “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions.” The agreement will assist nearly 600,000 workers from a network of 600 hospitals and 1,200 health-care agencies in making informed decisions on whether to be represented by a union, and guarantees employers will support workers’ choices without undue pressure. The document, rooted in Catholic social teaching, states that “health care is a human right” and asserts two key values: the central role of workers in choosing their representation and the principle of mutual agreement between employers and unions to protect workers’ free choice in representation.

“In the midst of the national conversation about the Employee Free Choice Act,” Kim Bobo, executive director and founder of Interfaith Worker Justice, told Sojourners, “the release of this document demonstrates the problems workers face when they try to organize, even in religious institutions, and the need for significant changes in the process for workers making a choice about whether or not they want a union and getting a contract in a reasonable time period.” —Laurel Frodge

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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War on Drugs

THE PRICE OF cocaine in the U.S. has steadily decreased from 2004 through 2007 while purity has remained high, according to a study released in April by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). While the price of cocaine per pure gram has fluctuated in the past two decades, researchers are noting a severe and distinct decrease from $613 per gram in 1981 to $122 per gram in 2007, re-emphasizing “the importance of focusing greater attention on demand reduction and harm reduction, while deliberately lowering expectations for what supply-control strategies can achieve,” WOLA senior associate John Walsh said in a statement.

22%
The percentage by which the price of cocaine had decreased in 2007 from 1999. Cocaine’s average retail purity, however, has remained relatively steady since 1988.

500,000
The estimated number of people in U.S. prisons for drug offenses today—more than 10 times as many as in 1980.

13%
The percentage increase of potential worldwide cocaine production from 2000 to 2007.

76%
The percentage of voters in 2008 that considered the “war on drugs” to be “failing,” according to a Zogby/Inter-American Dialogue national survey.

Source: “Lowering Expectations” (Washing-ton Office on Latin America, April 2009).

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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Minority Reports

Last November’s election was the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Young African-American voters had the high-est turnout rate—58.2 percent—of any racial or ethnic group ages 18 to 29, compared with 51 percent overall in that age group. African-American women had the highest participation rate among all voters at 69 percent.

65.3%
The overall percentage of African Americans who voted—an increase of 4.9 percent from 2004.

19.5 million
The number of Latinos eligible to vote in 2008—an increase of 21.4 percent from 2004.

49.9%
The 2008 voter turnout rate among Latinos—a 2.7 percent increase from 2004.

3.3 million
The number of Asian Americans who voted in 2008—or 47 percent of the Asian-American population.

65.7%
The percentage of women who voted in 2008, compared to 61.5 percent of men.

Source: “Dissecting the 2008 Electorate” (Pew Research Center, April 2009).

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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No More Droning On

In April, 14 Christians were arrested at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, from where drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan are guided, in the first major U.S. public protest against combat drones. “These crews in Nevada actually guide the drones that kill 10 to 100 civilians for every ‘high-value target,’” organizer Jim Haber told Sojourners. “We’re obviously creating more enemies than we’re killing.” Between January 2006 and April 2009, 60 cross-border drone strikes from Afghanistan into Pakistan killed 14 suspected terrorists, along with 687 civilians.

Since 2005, pilotless aerial systems, or “drones,” originally developed for intelligence gathering, have been used as combat weapons. Drone operators at Creech AFB take 12-hour shifts, watching the close-up aftermath of each attack, then return home to Las Vegas. “The base chaplain told me that they are having problems helping the drone operators handle issues with their missions and that they are affecting their families,” Franciscan Louis Vitale, who was arrested at Creech AFB, told Sojourners. “Drone squadron commander Col. Chambliss told a journalist that he needed more chaplains and psychologists to help the crews cope, particularly the sensor operators who are new in the military and about 19 years old.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in April that the 2010 defense budget calls for fielding and maintaining 50 Predator-class drones.

President Obama’s 2010 military budget represents a 62 percent increase in drone capability over the current level and 127 percent from a year ago.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Tiananmen Square Conversions

Twenty years ago, on June 4, 1989, tanks rolled into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to suppress an estimated 100,000 peaceful protesters. The Chinese military killed perhaps thousands of civilians. More than 10,000 Chinese citizens from all over the country later were sentenced to death, according to the U.S.-based Christian organization ChinaAid. To mark the 20th anniversary, 80 Chinese Christian leaders, many of whom were student leaders in the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, issued a statement calling for repentance, truth, and reconciliation.

“We have received the great love of God’s salvation,” declared the leaders. “It is precisely this love that makes it impossible for us to forget the tragedy.” They describe the massacre as having “rocked our souls,” “awakened our sense of social justice as intellectuals,” and “showed us the sins of tyranny.”

“The massacre brought much pain, which led many involved in the Tiananmen movement to salvation in Christ, including myself,” Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid and a drafter of the declaration, told Sojourners. Despite China’s unprecedented economic growth over the last 20 years, said Fu, the progress of fundamental human rights in China is close to zero. —Kaitlin Barker

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Postville: One Year Later

In May, hundreds of people returned to tiny Postville, Iowa, to mark the first anniversary of the largest immigration raid in U.S. history, when 900 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers led a military-style raid on a meat-packing plant and arrested 389 people. Since then, 1,200 people have left Postville—about half the town’s population. The raid has come to symbolize the shameful criminalizing tactics of the Bush administration’s immigration policy.

The day began with a prayer vigil and tolling bells from Postville’s Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches. “We must work so that there would no longer be any immigration raids,” said Catholic Archbishop Jerome Hanus during the service, “no more immigration raids to traumatize a people, to separate families, to destroy businesses, to shatter towns, and to scar hearts forever.” All the speakers, including some arrestees forced to wear GPS ankle devices, called for comprehensive immigration reform.

The Obama administration issued guidelines in early May directing ICE to target employers, not workers. In 2008, only 2.5 percent of worksite arrests were employers. The Supreme Court ruled recently that federal identity-theft charges can’t be applied to most undocumented workers using false social security numbers to obtain work. —Joey Ager

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Cookie of Christ

Diba M. Wikline wants to bring “people to God’s table, one cookie at a time.” In 2007, she founded the California-based, family-run business The Jesus Cookie Company. Made with evangelical ingredients (coconut for the manger’s straw and red jelly beans for Jesus’ blood), Wikline’s product comes ready to bake. Please note: All cookies are produced in a certified dairy-kosher facility. No doubt that makes Rabbi Jesus smile.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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Global Death Penalty

The number of executions world-wide nearly doubled last year compared with 2007, according to a study released in March by Amnesty International. At the same time, Europe and Central Asia have become virtually death penalty-free zones, with only Belarus still maintaining capital punishment. The United States is the only country in the Americas that consistently executes, but the number of executions in 2008 was the lowest since 1995.

138: Countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice—more than two-thirds.

9: Countries since 1990 that are known to have executed juveniles (those under 18 years old at the time of the crime), including China, Iran, and the U.S.

93%: The percentage of the world’s executions carried out by the five countries with the highest rate of executions: China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S.

72%: The percentage of the world’s executions carried out by China in 2008.

Source: “Death Sentences and Executions in 2008” (Amnesty International, March 2009).

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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Twitter Against Nukes

The recently launched Two Futures Project is twittering us into a non-nuclear future. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, a 31-year-old Baptist minister, is using Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and every other social network he can to enlist a new generation of Christians in the biblically grounded fight to abolish nuclear weapons. “The weapons we counted on for our ultimate security have become the ultimate threat to us all,” Wigg-Stevenson told Sojourners. “It’s global nuclear disarmament or global nuclear catastrophe.”

The Two Futures Project (2FP) brings together a unique blend of religious leaders opposed to nuclear weapons for religious reasons—the sanctity of life and stewardship of creation—and Cold War pragmatists who now acknowledge that nuclear deterrence is a failed policy. The latter include “the four horsemen of the non-apocalypse”—former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former secretary of defense William Perry, and former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn. “President Obama’s Palm Sunday speech in Prague [calling for a world without nuclear weapons] was a fantastic start,” said Wigg-Stevenson. “But one president can’t do it on his own. That’s why we need a generation of fiery faithful whose commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world is devoid of any partisanship.”

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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