The Common Good

The Religious Right Votes. Do You?

Sojomail - November 12, 2003

Quote of the Week Iraq's Christians at risk
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: The Religious Right votes. Do you?
Funny Business Everybody loves Reagan
By the Numbers What about the rest of us?
Religion and Politics Rejecting emperors and idolatry: The legacy of St. Marcellus
Building a Movement Stop the wall
Culture Watch Living in the shadow of suicide
P.O.V. General Boykin's fitness for service: A military perspective
Boomerang All about Boykin
Web Scene Go organic | Farmer-to-farmer know-how | The Meatrix

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"We had a very good situation until the fundamentalists began to appear and we were affected.... They changed the idea of Christians among the people and from then on we have suffered. Because America and Britain are Christian countries, they blame us for the war. We are terrified. We really don't know what the future will hold."

- Iraqi Christian Roger William, quoted in The Daily Telegraph

The Religious Right votes. Do you?
by David Batstone

David BatstoneA friend vented with me the other day over the dynamic influence of the Religious Right in setting the country's political and cultural agenda. She couldn't understand how a movement so out of step with values of compassion, fairness, and justice could wield such power on both a local and national level. In response, I asked her if she was registered to vote. She admitted that she wasn't, and gave me a look as if to say, What does that have to do with anything?

Lots. I am immersed in an in-depth investigation of the Religious Right for an upcoming Sojourners magazine feature. I have been most impressed - and more than a little terrified - by the movement's strategy and discipline to transform the United States into its image of a moral nation. Nearly two decades ago, the Religious Right began working at the grassroots level to get its members elected to school boards and local political office. Every effort was made to register members of religious congregations and get them out to vote. In most churches that identify with a Religious Right platform, voting participation is 95% on up. Having made inroads on the local scene, the movement progressively (I'll let the irony of that word's use stand) expanded its reach to state and federal politics. Nothing insidious here, just roll-up-your-sleeves-and-make-your-vote-count democratic politics.

I would guess that less than half of our SojoMail readers (who are citizens of the United States) are not registered to vote. For most, it's a matter of civic apathy and maybe disillusionment - I can hear the voices: "What good does voting do? They're all crooks!" For others, it's a matter of principle - based in a theology and politics of resistance. Somehow by removing themselves from the "system" - and not getting involved in the political process - they will form a "remnant" of the righteous who can act without compromise.

You can't fault them for this logic; the political process is always about compromise. But it doesn't have to be a compromise of values. It's more the kind of compromise that we make if we get married. We have to negotiate day by day with someone beyond ourself, a person who likely has a different sense of timing and priority, and together we craft out a life. Crafting out a life in the larger body politic is much more complex and messy, of course. But it's no less necessary to make a social covenant work.

This past week the country of Guatemala had an election for its next president. If you know much about the history of Guatemala, you realize how momentous it is to hold a free election, the results of which are honored. News reports indicated that nearly 85% of the populace exercised their right to vote. At one polling station, two people were killed as a crush of Guatemalans rushed the voting booth, anxious that they might not get a chance to cast their vote.

In the United States, on the contrary, most of us take so lightly the privilege of walking into a voting booth and making a selection without fear of reprisal. Voting, of course, is only a baby step toward making a democracy function. But it's a critical step all the same. Take it away and democracy crumbles.

Sojourners is launching an energetic campaign to "rock the vote" in the religious community. We do not take a partisan stand - in fact, with respect to our charter we cannot support specific candidates. But it is clear to us that we cannot see a politics of compassion, fairness, and justice take root unless we can mobilize more people with deep values to get involved in the political process. We know there's a mass of people in this country who identify themselves "religious," but not "Religious Right." Twisting the words of that other, minority movement, we're making a call to people of faith: Let's take our country back.

If you're not registered to vote, get that taken care of now:

Register, Pray, Vote! Register to vote, update your address, or change your party registration - because your vote matters! Go to:

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Everybody loves Reagan
by Andy Borowitz

No Sweat
Under pressure from loyalists of former President Ronald Reagan, CBS announced that it would shelve its controversial Reagan miniseries starring actor James Brolin and would instead air a new miniseries, "Everybody Loves Reagan," starring former "Baywatch" star/recording artist David Hasselhoff. Critics of the Brolin film were wildly enthusiastic about the Hasselhoff version, brushing aside criticism that some of the events depicted in the film never occurred.

"President Reagan definitely would have saved the earth from a deadly asteroid if the liberal Democrats in Congress had only let him," said Bill O'Reilly, of the Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor."

Read more fair and balanced satire at:

What about the rest of us?

"How can Congress give itself a $3,400 pay raise while nearly 9 million people are unemployed?"

-Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, on opposing the Senate's self-approved pay raise. Feingold has a policy of returning to the Treasury any pay in excess of the salary with which he began his six-year term. Source: Newsweek, November 3, 2003.


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Half-hour sets of their best songs - songs that make you think, feel, and take a stand.
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Rejecting emperors and idolatry: The legacy of St. Marcellus
by Tobias Winright

Tree Givers
In the wake of this year's pre-emptive war against Iraq by the United States and its handful of allies, including Great Britain, I find myself reflecting on the life and witness of a saint whose feast day is on October 30, namely, Saint Marcellus, the Centurion, who was martyred on this date in 298 C.E. for refusing to continue to serve in Caesar's army.

Marcellus was a centurion, or captain, in the Roman legion of Trajan, which was stationed at Tangier in North Africa at the time. During the celebration of the emperor's birthday by the soldiers, Marcellus stood up and declared in front of the company, "I serve Jesus Christ the everlasting King." In addition to his declaration of faith, Marcellus cast aside his soldier's belt, with its sword, and his staff, which was a sign of his authority as a centurion. "With this," he added, "I cease to serve your emperors, and I disdain to worship your wooden and stone gods, who are deaf and dumb idols."

Read the full story at:


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Stop the wall

In June 2002, Israel began building a massive wall through Palestine's West Bank, a wall designed to physically separate Palestinians and Israelis from one another. Called a "security barrier" by the Israeli military, the Wall is part of the largest land grab Israel has launched since it occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 1967. The wall is dividing Palestinian cities, towns and villages, trapping Palestinians in open-air prisons reminiscent of apartheid South Africa and depriving them of access to their livelihoods, markets, hospitals, and schools. When completed, the wall will in effect annex nearly 50% of the West Bank to Israel.

This week has been declared an international week of action against the wall. Learn more about this campaign at:

Read Ed Spivey Jr.'s article about the wall in the November-December issue of Sojourners:

Living in the shadow of suicide

Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide, produced by Mennonite Media, is a one-hour documentary to premiere on the Hallmark Channel early next year. The film looks at positive and negative ways people have faced the after-effects of suicide. It focuses on stories of hope from survivors: people who have experienced suicide in their families or among their loved ones, and how they have found hope amid terrible pain. As people gain hope for moving beyond this life-altering experience, suicides are prevented among a population at high risk (families of victims). Interviews include: Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatrist who has bi-polar disorder, professor at Johns Hopkins University, and author of the book, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide and Dr. Lloyd Carr, professor emeritus at Gordon College, author of the book, The Fierce Goodbye, speaking to Biblical references to suicide and Protestant theological views.

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P.O.V. ^top
General Boykin's fitness for service: A military perspective

As controversy continues to swirl around Gen. William Boykin for various remarks he has made about America's "Christian army" ["An open letter to the Christian General," SojoMail 10/22/2003], military colleagues are stepping forward in his defense. In a recent article in the Washington Post, retired Lt. Col. L.H. "Bucky" Burruss, who helped run the assessment and selection program when Boykin was training for the elite Delta Force, testifies to the compatability of Boykin's religious beliefs and fitness for military service:

A religious soldier would not be disqualified unless his beliefs "would interfere with him committing slaughter on behalf of the United States," Burruss said. "If so, he should not be a combat arms officer. You have to have officers and soldiers prepared to commit slaughter on behalf of the United States, when provoked and when necessary.... I remember the first OER - officer efficiency report - I wrote on Boykin," Burruss said. "I remember writing, 'Jerry Boykin is a Christian gentleman of the highest order.'"

Read the full story at:

All about Boykin

Sojourners Classifieds
Elliot Werner, M.D., writes from Wynnewood, Pennsylvania:

Letter writer Joseph Allen Kozuh, Ph.D., [Boomerang 11/5/2003] makes reference to George Washington's farewell address in connection with defending General Boykin's recent remarks. It is noteworthy that neither the word "God" nor the word "Christian" appears anywhere in Washington's address. In an address that runs to 10 single-spaced pages, one paragraph is devoted to religion. Here is that paragraph:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Washington's point is that public and private morality are essential to good government and that morality without religion cannot be sustained. Washington does not mention any specific religion nor does he advocate government sponsorship of religion as public policy. He certainly does not advocate conflict with another religious group. The contrast with General Boykin's remarks could not be more striking.


Stephen Webb writes from Crestview Hills, Kentucky:

I must fervently disagree with the suggestion of Dr. Kozuh that General Boykin's comments in some way echo those of American founding father George Washington!

I am a veteran of the armed services who appreciates the dangers of using military "shock and awe" as a political act of revenge. Christ would have no part of such misguided action. I am saddened that so many Christians see our invasion of Iraq as an act of righteousness sanctioned by God. In my own adult Sunday school class, prayers of thanks were offered for the deaths of Hussein's sons. It is no wonder that many in the Islamic faith would see our attack as another Christian Crusade.

God, bless America! Forgive us, for we are a people no less sinful than any other people on earth. Show us your will, calming the voices of hatred and making us instruments of your peace throughout the world. Amen.


Rev. David Lee Smith writes from Alpena, Michigan:

Thank you for your campaign against General Boykin. I just retired from the military (34 years - four active, 30 Army and Air National Guard; not as chaplain) and I am an ordained clergy. I have never used my military uniform to preach and have worked hard to be clear about my roles. Separation of church and state is an extremely important issue. And nowhere more significant today than in the mixing of military leadership and the pulpit.


Todd Schuett writes from Littleton, Colorado:

We're already seeing the lines drawn for a holy war with zealots on both sides demonizing their enemies. General Boykin's words encourage zealots, for he promotes the very same ideology as terrorists, only dressed up as American and Christian. Islam isn't the enemy of Christianity, nor Christianity the enemy of Islam. The enemy is hatred and intolerance, the sad children of resentment, fear, and pain. Let's fight the real enemy, but not with guns, bullets, precision-guided missiles, and strategic strikes. This is a war against ideologies promoting hatred and intolerance, and the only way we'll win such a war is with a better ideology, not bad theology.


Rev. Steve Berube writes from Riverview, New Brunswick, Canada:

Titus Collier wrote, "I find your attack on a true American patriot such as General Boykin despicable." I would respectfully ask Mr. Collier, What does patriotism have to do with following Jesus? I can find no warrant for that in the scriptures. General Boykin is undoubtedly a brave military leader. But, as a follower of Christ, I am deeply troubled by a public figure who would twist following Jesus into something that I am sure would offend the one we call the Prince of Peace.

To me, Sojourners follows in the steps of the prophetic ministry of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Jesus, and the others who dare to speak the truth to the powers that be. I thank God for the faith, insight, hope, leadership, and call to action that comes from brave Christians, such as Jim Wallis, David Batstone, and the other contributors to SojoMail and Sojourners.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to:

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