The Common Good

Democrats Getting Religion

Sojomail - June 30, 2004

Quote of the Week WWJD on the beat
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Democrats getting religion
Values for Life Building arks and dreams
Under the Wire Women's rights in Africa
On the Ground Israeli soldiers break the silence
Web Sitings Strong at the Broken Places | Open sesame | Extra! Extra!
Boomerang Readers write
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Preaching the Word is an online resource for preparing sermons and scripture reflections based on the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays. We've done the research so you don't have to. Go to:


"My position in life is to treat people like I want to be treated...That's what Jesus taught. That's what I instill in my children."

- New York City Police Officer Eduardo Delacruz, who faces a departmental trial that could cost him his job and pension for his refusal to arrest a homeless person. Source: The New York Times


Democrats getting religion
by Jim Wallis

Local Air Checker
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At the end of June, I made the long trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. That's where the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee was having its final hearings; they wanted testimony from some faith-based organizations, especially those working on poverty. Democrats haven't always asked for religious input, and by not doing so have too often conceded the issue of religion to the Republicans. And the Republicans, in turn, have been able to define "religious issues" only in terms of issues like gay marriage or abortion, ignoring the deeply biblical issues of economic justice, the environment, or war and peace.

I decided to accept the committee's invitation to testify, on behalf of Call to Renewal and Sojourners, because it was a good opportunity to link the issues of faith and justice. Our partner, Bread for the World, was also among those testifying. Over the past several years, I have met with President George W. Bush and the White House policy staff to discuss the "faith-based initiative" and how "compassionate conservatism" ought to produce a domestic policy that effectively assists low-income families in escaping poverty. So I was happy to also speak to the Democrats. I would have willingly testified before the Republican Platform Committee as well, if they had asked.

I quoted Isaiah to the Democrats, and urged them not to avoid moral and religious language in expressing their concern for economic justice. One member of the committee responded to my testimony by saying that Democrats did have "moral issues" at the heart of their agenda when they stood up for poor people. I said I thought that was true, but suggested that they have often hesitated to use moral and religious language when they spoke to those questions, and it was time to do so. Heads were nodding all around.

The committee was made up of elected officials, civil rights and labor leaders, academic experts, and grassroots organizers. I could tell that some were clearly religious people, and a few were struggling not to keep saying "Amen" as I went along. But all were very attentive and seemed quite taken by the discussion of faith and politics, even at the end of a long day of hearings. At the end of my testimony, questions, and discussion, the acting chair, Los Angeles City Councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa, thanked me by saying, "Reverend, you have given us a spanking that we needed."

Clearly the Democrats are trying to take religion seriously, more than they have in recent years. Some Democrats remember when the party was allied with the civil rights movement in the 1960s - which, of course, was led by black churches. And no one in American history ever linked religion and politics better (or more prophetically, democratically, and inclusively) than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Two weeks before Santa Fe, the newly formed Center for American Progress held a significant and well-attended conference on "progressive religion" in Washington, D.C. Led by John Podesta, the Center is challenging Democrats to remember that religion has fueled most of the progressive social change movements in American history. The conference served to "validate" the importance of religion in this election year and beyond. The message was that "religion is progressive and progressives are religious."

All these are encouraging signs. Religion should not be the exclusive possession of the Republican or Democratic Party, the right or the left, but must be able to critique and challenge both. And clearly, in this election, Christians will be voting both ways, because of their faith.

Below are the links to Jim's testimony at the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee and his presentation to the Center for American Progress conference:

+ Read Jim's platform testimony

+ Read his presentation to the Center for American Progress

+ Send this SojoMail to a friend


The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC/USA) is seeking a Development Coordinator to develop and carry out fundraising activities, along with some administrative tasks. Founded in 1982, GHRC/USA has played a unique and leading role in the struggle for full respect for human rights in Guatemala. The Development Coordinator will work closely with the Executive Director to help the organization fulfill its mission to monitor, document, and report on the human rights situation in Guatemala, while advocating for and supporting survivors of human rights violations. For complete job description, contact Patricia Davis, Executive Director, GHRC/USA, 3321 12th St, NE, Washington, DC 20017, FAX (202) 526-4611, or e-mail: Deadline: July 1 or until filled.


Building arks and dreams
by Nancy Mayer

Crayon stubs and colored construction paper in hand, I sat in my bedroom feverishly drawing Noah's ark. Brown for the boat. Pastels for the rainbow. Black dots with long straggly legs for the ants. Orange for the lions' manes. Purple for the elephants. Polka dots for the horses. Squiggly lines for the snakes. I knew lots more animals but had run out of coloring space. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how Noah got all of them on the boat. Baffled but content with my efforts, I ran to the kitchen, found my mother, and showed her my artwork. Feigning praise she added my latest masterpiece to my other ark renditions covering the refrigerator.

Today when I think about the story of Noah what baffles me most is that he built a boat at all. The resources and time required to construct such a vessel are mind-blowing.

Some weeks ago I went to Harlem to help Habitat for Humanity renovate abandoned buildings for working-class families who can't find safe, affordable housing. Our project leader informed us that with high-tech power tools and volunteers it would take 10-14 months to complete this venture. Noah didn't have this sort of help. How long was he at it? What dedication and determination. ...

Noah wasn't the wealthiest guy. God didn't wrap the ark in a red bow and leave the keys under the Christmas tree. Yet under God's tutelage, Noah built his family a houseboat and in turn is credited with saving the human and (not-so-human) race.

+ Read the full article


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Women's rights in Africa

These stories document acts of resistance by both women and men within deeply traditional, religious cultures:

Genital Cutting Shows Signs of Losing Favor in Africa
+ Read about it

Nigerian Woman Spared Death by Stoning
+ Read about it

Ethiopian Rape Victim Pits Law Against Culture
+ Read about it


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Israeli soldiers break the silence
from Christian Peacemaker Teams

On June 22, 2004, Israeli Military Police raided the "Breaking the Silence" photo exhibit in Tel Aviv, confiscating video clips of statements by soldiers serving in Hebron and a folder of articles about the exhibit.

"The exhibit has two goals: For the Israeli public to know what we're really doing in Hebron and what it's doing to us," according to former soldier Yehuda Shaul, now serving as a reservist in the Nahal Brigade currently stationed in Hebron. Shaul is an organizer of the "Breaking the Silence" exhibit, which portrays life in Hebron from an Israeli soldier's perspective. The photos include pictures taken through the scope of a gun (including one of a Palestinian boy feeding his pigeons), of soldiers on patrol, of detained and blindfolded Palestinian men, of Palestinian shops with the Star of David painted on them, and of settler graffiti such as "Arabs to the gas chambers!" The exhibit also contains a display of keys that Israeli soldiers confiscated from Palestinian drivers, which serve as a mute contradiction to statements from official Israeli military spokespeople that soldiers do not confiscate keys.

+ Read the full article

+ Read Washington Post coverage of the exhibit

+ See Sojourners' multimedia presentation about Palestine, Occupation and Resurrection


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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.


Strong at the Broken Places

The documentary film Strong at the Broken Places focuses on the human cost of the war in Iraq as expressed in the words and faces of the soldiers themselves and their families. Max Cleland, a decorated Vietnam vet and triple amputee, tells stories of soldiers and their families to show that suffering in war can transform its victims into advocates for justice and healing.

+Learn more

Open sesame

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Extra! Extra!

See the front pages of 302 newspapers from 38 countries - updated daily:

+ Read all about it


Readers write

Kevin Dance of Hobart, Australia, writes from New York:

Thanks from the heart to David Batstone. Your open letter to the Catholic Bishops of the United States of America was what I needed to hear and wanted to say. I am a Roman Catholic priest. Though not a citizen of this country, I have felt strangely let down by the vehemence of some Bishops' statements and the narrow focus of their threatened action against politicians who are Catholic and who do not insist that Catholic teaching on reproductive matters must become the law for all citizens. I have pined for some clearer words of challenge to remind us of the need to be respectful of life at every phase of its unfolding.

In these times that are so clouded by self-interest and vindictiveness, can we not keep alive the whole message of Jesus? I hear, "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full," as a gift and an invitation to act with justice, reverence, and love towards every person at every stage of life.


Kathy Bardsley writes from Orange County, California:

As a committed Catholic, I am becoming more and more concerned about the Church and its inconsistent proclamations [" An open letter to the Catholic bishops," SojoMail 6/24/2004]. We continue to drift farther from the teachings of Jesus, his love for the poor and the sinner, and his radical message of peace. To condemn those who do not support the ban on abortion and to laud those who participated in the illegal and immoral rape of another sovereign nation is beyond absurd. The hierarchy of the church, in its exclusion of so many voices, especially those of women, has lost its right to moral authority. I love the Eucharist and I love my parish community, but I am bound by my conscience and not my bishop. I will continue to receive and to serve Holy Communion and practice the truth of Jesus to the best of my ability.

The Church is ripe for revolution; I hope the Holy Spirit works in a powerful way to cleanse the Catholic Church and restore it to its mission to serve the poor and the oppressed, to support the development of loving and peaceful communities and nations, and to actively speak out and cast the light upon violence and greed in the world.


Kathlyn Meisfjord writes from Spokane, Washington:

David Batstone's open letter to the U.S. Catholic bishops raises a number of important issues. Though I've no doubt he wrote from a perspective of charitable concern, he indulges in rhetorical overkill. He addresses the bishops as though they had spoken as one body to deny Communion to select Catholic politicians. Not so. Those pronouncements were made by a handful of bishops. An equal number - at least - have taken the opposite stance, including the president and vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, two cardinal archbishops, and one bishop who is the author of a widely used adult catechism. A number of bishops - including the bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, the conference's vice president - have urged dialogue and persuasion. You can read Bishop Skylstad's thoughts on the issue in a column titled Engaging the Culture.


Lance Goldsberry Obl.SB writes from Minneapolis, Minnesota:

I am very relieved to read David Batstone's open letter to Catholic Bishops. I am a Catholic, and I have been extremely disturbed by the stance of some bishops. I too, think that abortion on demand is a moral evil. But I can't buy that it always trumps every other consideration, and that I have to blind myself to all the moral evil I see in the policies of the current administration. There is something very wrong about singling out one issue, it renders everything else meaningless. What some Catholics, laity and clergy alike, seem to say is that the fetus is more valuable than any other human life. That is wrong on its face.


Rachel M. MacNair writes from Kansas City, Missouri:

I think the open letter to the bishops could be much improved with further thought. I see two major problems:

The first is with the wording that communion is to be denied to church members "who support the right of a woman to choose an abortion." This takes the pro-abortion side, not recognizing abortion as violence - killing children, and callously inflicting a wrong on their mothers. Though the letter later speaks favorably of protecting the unborn, this wording has canceled the sentiment, along with the sympathetic hearing from pro-lifers you might have been able to get.

The second problem is the idea that a concern about intentional, massive, direct baby-killing is narrow, and therefore not important enough. One of the major problems that those of us who promote the consistent life ethic have is that other pro-lifers accuse us of using it as an excuse to water down the importance of abortion. To the contrary, consistency is intended to strengthen the case. Abortion is an issue of violence that belongs with other issues of violence, not a mere matter of sexual ethics or family health or religious dogma.... But let me ask this: If the bishops had decided to do this denial of communion only on the issue of the war in Iraq, would you have written an open letter saying they should also have included abortion?


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