President

A Time to Act

At a forum broadcast live on CNN last spring, Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis asked then-Sen. Barack Obama if he would commit to the goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years. Sen. Obama responded, “I absolutely will make that commitment. Understand that when I make that commitment, I do so with great humility be­cause it is a very ambitious goal. And we’re going to have to mobilize our society not just to cut poverty, but to prevent more people from slipping into poverty.”

Too often, poverty becomes just a post-election afterthought, but President Obama’s answer provides an unprecedented political opening—one that requires even greater leadership from the faith community.

Now the threat facing low-income families has become even more acute, with the economic crisis devastating many families across America. Our new president must pay attention not only to the current struggles of the middle class, but also to the nearly 37 million people who were already below the poverty line and struggling to make ends meet before the recession started. Increasing hunger represents just one warning sign of the troubles to come: The number of people on food stamps went up by 2.6 million from August 2007 to August 2008.

From April 26 to 29, Sojourners is convening a gathering of thousands of people of faith in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate our support for the goal Obama articulated and to hold the new Congress and administration accountable to that vision. The Mobilization to End Poverty, aided by sponsors including World Vision, The ONE Campaign, Oxfam, and others, has the potential to be a historic moment in the fight against poverty at home and around the world.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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The Digital New Deal

For the past six months, I’ve been having serious 1932 flash­backs.

Not literally. My own parents were toddlers when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president. But I grew up hearing about the Great Depres­sion. I knew my parents were raised in homes without electricity and far from a paved road. And I knew that President Roosevelt changed all that.

Maybe President Obama won’t change the American scene as profoundly as FDR did. But I have good reason to hope that just as Roosevelt brought electricity to the rural homes of my forebears, President Obama will bring an effective, affordable broadband Internet connection to mine.

Of all the activist groups that gathered under Obama’s big tent, at this writing media reform advocates are among the happiest with the signs emanating from the Obama transition. From the start of his campaign in 2007, Obama took unwavering positions in favor of net neutrality and the allocation of spectrum and financial subsidies to spread broadband access to the underserved. As a senator, he was a powerful voice protesting the Federal Communications Commission’s loosening of rules on concentrated ownership of media outlets.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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Tackling the Unspeakable

On Jan. 20, the United States of America inaugurates its first African-American president and first Catholic vice president. As a nation—and as an ideal—America has reached a watershed point, a kairos moment.

Barack Obama’s election symbolizes a resurgence of what some theologians call a “passion for the possible.” It’s essentially a spiritual experience—even if those to whom it’s happening don’t understand it in those terms. The church calls it “hope.”

However, genuine hope often incites a backlash. If we take seriously Paul’s description of the fallen “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6), then palpable, prophetic, authentic hope will provoke a response from “the spiritual forces of wickedness,” evil, or “the Unspeakable,” as Trappist monk Thomas Merton phrased it.

In a groundbreaking 2008 book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, Catholic theologian and nonviolence leader Jim Douglass probes the role of the principalities and powers in the assassination of John Kennedy, the first Catholic president. JFK is the story of how President Kennedy nearly started a nuclear war, then turned toward peace with the enemy who almost started it with him—and why that turning got him murdered. It’s an old story of prophets, kings, and consequences.

Douglass’ years of meticulous scholarship, including fresh interviews and access to White House memos only released in the mid-1990s, prompted Gaeton Fonzi, former staff investigator for the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations, to write that JFK and the Unspeakable is “by far the most important book yet written on the subject.” Douglass tells the story that, until now, America has not had ears to hear.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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