President

Time to Come to Washington

The son of a Kenyan student and a woman from Kansas has become president. I honestly never thought this possible. I thought this day would never come in our lifetime, but it did. I’m still pinching myself.

On Jan. 20, as President Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address, it seemed that the more I listened, the better it got. Here is a leader who wants us to face how serious our situation really is, I thought. Here is a leader who extends an invitation to us to make the hard choice to have hope, which has always been the strength of this nation when facing difficult times. And here is a leader who says this isn’t really about him, but about us and what we decide to do together. Here is a leader who calls for a “new era of responsibility.”

The new president also pledged that the poor of the world would not be abandoned anymore. “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds,” Obama said, extending America’s promise to all, including those at the bottom of the economy.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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America in Black and White

Right now we may still be in the euphoria stage. All Americans, even many who voted for John McCain, may be enjoying the moral buzz of having chosen the country’s first African-American chief executive. But, sooner or later, tough questions will arise. The mainstream media’s loose and frequent use of the term “post-racial” to describe the Obama era foreshadows the discussion.

The first tough question is, of course: Exactly what is “post-racial” supposed to mean?

If it means that the United States is no longer, in any real sense, the “white man’s country” that it was 100 years ago, then we’ve definitely arrived. The U.S. president is not a prime minister; he is the embodiment of the nation and its state. And a substantial majority of the nation, widely dispersed across geographic regions, has chosen a man of African descent to embody us.

For nearly 300 years, from the late 1600s to the mid-20th century, a persistent undercurrent of racist mythology in white America equated the physical characteristics of sub-Saharan Africa with subservience, inferiority, and even savagery. At some deep level, white America needed that myth to justify its toleration of African slavery and later of the Southern system of disenfranchisement and segregation.

But now, after less than a half-century of legal equality between the races, that equation has been largely erased. That is not insignificant. And as the novelty wears off and our black president becomes a commonplace, the significance of the change will become even greater. People of African descent will be seen less and less as creatures of those old mythologies and more and more as folks among folks, Americans among Americans.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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Reduce Military Spending

After reading (for the second time) the “Dear President Obama” letters, I was disappointed that no one mentioned the need to reduce the huge U.S. military budget. Also, our relying on the military rather than diplomacy to solve the Middle East problem was nowhere to be found. Surely the new president will need to reverse the course the nation has followed for the past eight years if we wish to be held in high esteem internationally and regain the prestige we have lost.

Victor Goering, North Newton, Kansas

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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Check Your Terms

[Regarding “A New Faith Coalition,” by Jim Wallis, January 2009]: Those who characterize abortion as “single-issue politics” often use the goal to “reduce the number of abortions” as justification to support a pro-choice candidate. Neither term has any place in the social justice discussion. The phrase “reduce the number of abortions” implies there is an acceptable number with which the culture may be satisfied. Social justice proponents do not use the term “reduce the number of children dying by starvation” or “reduce the number of partner abuse.”

The terms “reduction” and “single-issue politics” demonstrate an unacceptable equivocation of the issue and a complete misunderstanding of the effect of the pro-life discussion in such areas as disability rights and the rights of the elderly. Equi­vocation of the rights of the un­born guarantees equivocation of the rights of all.

Brigit M. Barnes, Dubuque, Iowa

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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Sharing History

During some moments of pre-Christ­mas calm, I had a chance to read the memos to President Obama (“Dear President Obama,” January 2009). As I read each essay, I became more aware of the historical moment and excitement that awaits so many of us with the newly elected leadership in Washington, D.C. My mind drifted to the great civil rights struggles that took place in my lifetime, with an appreciation for how far we have come. The essays did not shy away from the challenge and scourge of abortion. I felt at home with so many focusing on our collective responsibility to assist the least. Read­ing the memos was like being in a room with friends. We may not always agree, but it is good to share a historic moment together. That is what Sojourners has been for me these last 30 years.

David Buer, OFM, Tucson, Arizona

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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War No More

The memos to President Obama in the January issue are interesting for what they omit as well as for what they include. Twenty-four leaders wrote to the president of the world’s greatest military “superpower,” and 18 of them did not mention war or peace. A good number of the total focused on a single issue, but not one focused on war and peace, or violence and nonviolence.

War is the elephant in America’s room. We can try to ignore it, but in the end it will not ignore us. There is a movement afoot in the world to redefine power itself. If people of faith are not a willing—indeed a leading—part of that movement, they have copped out.

John K. Stoner, Akron, Pennsylvania

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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