The Common Good

Open letter to the Catholic bishops

Sojomail - June 24, 2004

Editors' Note Sojourners magazine: August cover survey
Quote of the Week In oobleck up to our chins
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: An open letter to the Catholic bishops
Sight and Sound Philip Yancey streaming video
P.O.V. Why I believe in human rights
Global Vision Genocide in Sudan
Culture Watch The dumbing of democracy: Why campaign ads are so lame
Soul Works Praying Into the Equidistance
Web Sitings Tell your story | Voter countdown | Made in the U.S.A.
Boomerang Readers write

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Sojourners magazine: August cover survey

Earlier this week we asked a segment of SojoMail subscribers for your feedback on two possible directions for our August cover. More than 4,000 of you responded, and a majority (53%) favored a photo of Bill Moyers over an illustration of a cracked "pillar" of democracy.

We appreciate the feedback. Perhaps even more than the raw "vote," we benefited from many astute opinions and observations. (We learned, for instance, that in American Sign Language the gesture Moyers was inadvertently making with his fist resembled the sign for the word "toilet," probably not exactly what he intended to convey. Needless to say, we're working with an alternative photo of Moyers.)

We found the process very helpful as we made our discernment (and you'll see the "photogenic" results of our decision in your mailbox or on newsstands in about two weeks). And given the enthusiastic and insightful response from so many of you, we're inclined to do something of this nature again with future issues.

Thanks again for your help!

The editors of Sojourners

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"ME...ME say I'm sorry! Kings never say 'I'm sorry!' And I am the mightiest king in all the world!"

Bartholomew looked the King square in the eye.

"You may be a mighty king," he said. "But you're sitting in oobleck up to your chin. And so is everyone in your land. And if you won't even say you're sorry, you're no sort of a king at all!"

- Dr. Seuss, Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Found on: Daily Dig

An open letter to the Catholic bishops: Reclaim the full gospel of life
by David Batstone

Dear Esteemed Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States:

I write to you as a friend and brother in faith who is confused, and concerned, about your public stance on morality in the United States. A number of you have threatened to deny Holy Communion to all members of the Church who support the right of a woman to choose an abortion. Several of you have even issued in this presidential election year a ban on Catholic politicians - or even Catholic voters - from receiving Communion unless they recant their support for abortion rights.

I am not among those who would criticize you for taking a strong public moral position on behalf of the rights of the unborn. The Church has for a long time held fast to that conviction; it is consistent with, and an irrevocable thread to, the Church's "gospel of life." The word 'consistency' is significant here, for it is your lack of consistency in other grave matters that today undermines your moral authority.

I am quite familiar with Catholic social teaching - in addition to my editorial role at Sojourners, I am a tenured professor of ethics and moral theology at a Catholic university. Each semester I happily share with my students the depth and wisdom of the social teaching of the Church.

It is precisely because I am so familiar with the tradition that I am perplexed why you have chosen the abortion issue as a litmus test for "full communion with the faith of the church." Sorry to speak so boldly, but you have no basis for so selectively narrowing your rich moral tradition.

Allow me to pursue one example - though I could name others that you selectively choose to de-prioritize - at depth. We recently have witnessed in the United States a decision and act by our political leaders to pre-emptively invade a sovereign nation-state. The social teaching of the Church explicitly prohibits and condemns such aggressive behavior. Pope John Paul II certainly understands this fact, as he made clear in an audience with President George W. Bush last month.

Even on humanitarian lines, one would ask for irrefutable moral grounds that might justify the military attack of one country against the people of another. The fact that the Bush administration each day revises, redefines, and rewrites the reasons for taking the United States to war is sufficient proof that its justification was at best flawed and at worst fabricated.

I have not heard one U.S. Bishop even suggest that Holy Communion might be withheld for any politician who enacted, or voted for, the immoral pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. Yet the consequent loss of human lives - both Iraqi and American - and the devastation of Iraqi society have been nothing short of tragic. Furthermore, this act of spiritual arrogance - invoking God's guidance while invading - has deepened historical animosities that surely will lead to more senseless bloodshed in the Middle East and across the globe.

A few weeks ago I was in Europe and saw on the newsstands a widely distributed German magazine (Der Stern) with a cover photo of the president of the United States. The photo was accompanied by the caption, "Morally Bankrupt." The cover captured a broad sentiment, which exists throughout Europe today, that the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq - not to mention the inhumane treatment exercised by the U.S. military against Iraqi prisoners - represented a shocking nadir of ethical behavior by a modern democratic state.

Why is it that the bishops of the U.S. Catholic Church are unable to see this serious breach of morality? Over 250 of you are gathered in Colorado this week, and you only see fit to make public pronouncements about a sole moral issue.

Friends and brothers, I fear that your narrow-mindedness is turning the voice of the Church into something far worse than irrelevant. You risk stumbling into hypocrisy. I urge you to reclaim the full gospel of life, and announce it prophetically to those who would trample on the rights of the defenseless - those who have already been born as much as those yet unborn.

+ Read more commentary by David Batstone

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

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Philip Yancey streaming video

See video highlights from the Sojourners interview with popular evangelical author Philip Yancey:

"God had worked with first one person - Abraham - and then a family, and then a tribe, and then a nation. But all of that was to prepare for Jesus who came to establish a new kingdom - a kingdom that could take root in communist China, or atheist Myanmar, or 'Christian' United States of America. And our allegiance is to the kingdom of God, but that's not a kingdom like Israel was a kingdom, it's something that goes across geographical boundaries."

Click to watch with RealPlayer Click to watch with Windows Media Player

+ Read the Philip Yancey interview in Sojourners


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P.O.V. ^top
Why I believe in human rights
by Glenn Penner

I am often asked why so few Christians in Canada have an active concern for their persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. While many reasons could be cited, I am convinced that part of the cause is a direct result of a relative dearth of careful thinking concerning religious liberty and human rights in the evangelical community. We have tended to leave the field to our mainline church counterparts and condemned them (and the issue itself) when they mistakenly confuse religious tolerance with religious endorsement.

With the spread of postmodernist thought in our society and the corresponding weakening of moral and objective truth in the minds of many, even among evangelicals, the role of apologetics and evangelism has increasingly been disparaged as inappropriate actions for Christians in a multicultural society such as Canada's. Evangelicals must begin to do the hard work of reclaiming a part of our legacy: the field of human rights.

P.O.V. articles offer a range of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners.

+ Read the full article

+ Read Ivy George's article on religious persecution in Sojourners magazine

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Genocide in Sudan

320,000 deaths are predicted in Sudan this year, a result of the government-authorized purge of all members of the Zaghawa, Masalit, and Fur tribes by an Arab militia called the Janjaweed. This may sound like genocide to you and me, but the Bush administration is still deciding whether this ethnically motivated mass murder and rape qualifies for that definition. Meanwhile, the world continues to turn its head while members of these tribes, located in the Darfur region, are being methodically slaughtered and their villages razed.

New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof investigated and interviewed some of the victims, including Magboula Muhammed Khattar, a 24-year-old widow who also lost her parents and home to the raiders. The story he tells helps to translate numbing statistics into the personal reality that is the Darfur crisis. Should the U.S. and the rest of the international community intervene in what has already become an ethnic cleansing of grave proportions? One need only ask Ms. Khattar.

+ Read Kristof's recent columns on Sudan


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The dumbing of democracy: Why campaign ads are so lame

This election year, Americans will be educated about candidates more by television ads than any other medium, reports The Atlantic Monthly's Joshua Green. While studies have shown that political ads haven't veered far from formulas developed in the 1950s, the rate at which they are aired has mushroomed since the advent of the medium, suggesting that the ads induce a numbing and less persuasive effect on the public. The low-grade media blitz stands in marked contrast to the sophistication and cleverness of many consumer ads today. Puzzling, considering that a voter's choice of candidate supercedes in urgency, say, the Bud Light versus Miller Lite dilemma.

Republican media consultant John Brabender, who takes a refreshingly creative approach to political ad production, suggests that the "consultant culture" is to blame for the mediocrity. Everyone involved in the campaign, from pollsters to managers to the candidates themselves, want their input in the process. The result is often a confusing, conforming ad, chock-full of way too much information for the average viewer to process.

+ Read the full article


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Praying Into the Equidistance
by Fredrick Zydek

You must learn to say prayers
that become time travelers,
prayers that can trumpet past
a guilty conscience, past our attics
of guess and superstition.

You must find a way to enter
into the flash of nerve processes
that blink like road signs in the mind
and see the world from the core
of what makes them tick.

You must pray past the mantra
and beads, past the guru, the priest,
the sounds of little bells, the wonder
of fire, the clean repetition of air
rushing in and out of your lungs.

You must find a way to turn the inner
citadel of the soul into a thing
of light, then follow it above, beyond
and through the merchandise
of matter, the clatter of regret,

the distractions doubt brings on its
frail but deadly wings. You must
coax the ego and id to follow; lead
them like lambs into the mystery,
and let them graze until they're full.

Fredrick Zydek lives in Omaha, Nebraska. His most recent books are Tacopachuk: The Buckley Poems (Winthrop, 2004) and Dreaming on the Other Side of Time (Holmes House, 2004).


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.

Tell your story

The Library of Congress is seeking first-person accounts of the Civil Rights Movement - past and present - for "a special archive and possible publication." + Learn more

Voter countdown

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Made in the U.S.A.

The manufacturer claims it's an inside joke aimed at their company president that the French translation of the fabric care instructions on their luggage includes the message, "We are sorry that our President is an idiot. We did not vote for him." Unamused critics have denounced them as "treason tags." + You decide

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Readers write

Justin Donner writes from Elgin, Illinois:

I graduated in May. I feel like I was robbed at my commencement service. Dennis Hastert (the Speaker of the House) gave the commencement speech at my graduation. The first part of it was pretty good but the second half was a big load of patriotic propaganda. I felt sick to my stomach and considered leaving. Jim Wallis, I want to thank you for giving the speech that I wish I would have heard at my graduation ["We are the ones we have been waiting for," SojoMail 6/16/2004]. Thank you Sojourners for making me think about my faith critically and deeply. I have been enriched and challenged by reading the newsletters.


Rick Raab-Faber writes from Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Larry Bellinger made a good point about us photographing ourselves at our worst ["Abu Ghraib: Is this America?" SojoMail 6/16/2004]. I was disappointed to see the link to the lynching postcards though. Not because of the graphic nature of the cards. Rather it was that Bellinger (or whomever created the link) made mention of the Jim Crow laws and selected an image (out of seventy-some postcards) of a black man being lynched. Yes, indeed we photograph ourselves at our worst. And yet there were images of whites who had been lynched as well... Yes, the lynching of blacks as a result of the Jim Crow laws was a tragic and evil part of our history. But is it any more tragic than the lynchings of anyone else? Misdirected reactions like these are the sort of thing that gives liberals a bad name.

Bellinger's statement, "That our soldiers abused, tortured, and killed Muslim prisoners and then photographed the acts to be shared and enjoyed by their compatriots is an indictment of our attitude toward the "sand-niggers" of the Middle East regardless of whether we want to believe it or not," was equally erroneous. That our soldiers did this is as much an indictment of military culture as anything. During my 6-year army stint in the Cold War, I heard very similar actions taken by M.P.s against fellow soldiers in training situations (granted, falling short of murder, but nonetheless, equally brutal and humiliating.) Bellinger misdirects the blame and misunderstands the situation in classic knee-jerk reaction.


Emily Taylor writes (town withheld, up north in Mid America):

Your article comparing the humiliation, torture, and photographs of Iraqi prisoners to 1930s' lynching post cards struck a chord with me. In the 1960s and '70s, the Klan was also active in the North, although this is rarely spoken about. It was both a painful time and a fearful time for the many families who got caught up in their trap of evil. As a 6-year-old child, I was led past a tall orange fire that contained the corpse of what was once a breathing, living being. Beer-drinking Klan members looked on, some smoking cigars, others enjoying women, and still others, back in corners, committing what can only be described as crimes against humanity. I have no doubt that there is a whole library of their pornography still kept somewhere - I can still remember the cameras and the cold detached glee with which they made their films. In 1969, child pornography was not illegal. It is a legacy that will forever remain in the minds of those who survived. My poor mother still cannot even begin to talk about this era, yet it too is America. As I think back, one thing comes to mind. For this, Jesus came to save. I am forever thankful.


Mary Arenberg, MD writes from Plymouth, Wisconsin:

I lived overseas for a year during Reagan's reign. It was much easier to see how awful his presidency was from Sierra Leone ["Reagan Roundup: Perspectives you may have missed," SojoMail 6/16/2004]. It is only all these many years later that I realize how desperate people (Americans) have been to feel good about themselves, even if it means believing in lies. We claim the moral high ground without having done any of the work since, I would guess, World War II. We want to believe that we would only go to war under the most noble of flags when in fact the "freedom" we are fighting for is another illusion - when my parents' generation responded to the demands of world war it was with a preparedness to sacrifice everything. Now, if we have to pay 10 cents more at the pump to fill the tank on our Suburban we flame with indignation at the people or country "responsible" for attacking our way of life. We are willing to send our neighbor's kids over there to protect it, too. Never mind that the American way of life is insupportable economically and ecologically and impossible to justify on a global scale. I have never been so ashamed of being an American. We are a lunatic people; we are mad, greedy, and shortsighted. We are deluded and want to stay that way.


Ronald C. Greene writes from Great Falls, Montana:

I have a great idea on a meaningful way to honor President Reagan. It's such a great idea that I'm sure others have already thought of it as a means of bringing all Americans together in celebrating Ronald Reagan's presidency. Let's put his face on the $10 bill and raise the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour. This move will prove that Reaganomics have a trickle-down effect for the working poor, including Burger King moms.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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