The Common Good

Take Back the Faith

Sojomail - August 11, 2004

Quote of the Week Sharing suffering
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Take back the faith
Globe Watch Sudan: Intervention isn't 'all-or-nothing'
Warning: Satire Pentagon launches covert operation in response to Bush misspeak
Forums Join the discussion on today's tough topics
Under the Wire News and views you may have missed
Web Sitings A better America | How to be creative | This land is your land
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"I want to share in the suffering of these days.... That is putting it too strongly, perhaps; I mean I want to be affected more directly.... Sympathy is often difficult and soon becomes hollow if one feels no pain oneself."

- Sophie Scholl, member of the White Rose, a German organization dedicated to nonviolently resisting the Nazi government.

Source: Letters and Diaries of the White Rose, found on The Daily Dig


Take back the faith
by Jim Wallis

Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back. An enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. Many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American? And how do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions?

That rescue operation is even more crucial today, in the face of a social crisis that cries out for prophetic religion. The problem is clear in the political arena, where strident voices claim to represent Christians, when they clearly don't speak for most of us. We hear politicians who love to say how religious they are but utterly fail to apply the values of faith to their public leadership and political policies. It's time to take back our faith in the public square, especially in a time when a more authentic social witness is desperately needed.

When we do, we discover that faith challenges the powers that be to do justice for the poor, instead of preaching a "prosperity gospel" and supporting politicians that further enrich the wealthy. We remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it, and exerts a fundamental presumption against war, instead of justifying it in God's name. We see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions and prefers international community over nationalist religion, and we see that "God bless America" is found nowhere in the Bible. And we are reminded that faith regards matters such as the sacredness of life and family bonds as so important that they should never be used as ideological symbols or mere political pawns in partisan warfare.

The media likes to say, "Oh, then you must be the Religious Left." No, and the very question is the problem. Just because a Religious Right has fashioned itself in one predictable ideological guise does not mean that those who question this political seduction must be their opposite political counterpart. The best public contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable nor a loyal partisan. To raise the moral issues of human rights, for example, will challenge both left- and right-wing governments who put power above principles. And religious action is rooted in a much deeper place than "rights" - that being the image of God in every human being.

Similarly, when the poor are defended on moral or religious grounds, it is not "class warfare" but rather a direct response to the overwhelming focus in the scriptures that claims the poor are regularly neglected, exploited, and oppressed by wealthy elites, political rulers, and indifferent affluent populations. Those scriptures don't simply endorse the social programs of liberals or conservatives, but make clear that poverty is indeed a religious issue and that the failure of political leaders to help uplift those in poverty will be judged a moral failing.

It is precisely because religion takes the problem of evil so seriously that it must always be suspicious of concentrated power - politically and economically - either in totalitarian regimes or in huge multinational corporations, which now have more wealth and power than many governments. It is indeed our theology of evil that makes us strong proponents of both political and economic democracy - not because people are so good, but because they often are not and need clear safeguards and strong systems of checks and balances to avoid the dangerous accumulations of power and wealth.

It's why we doubt the goodness of all superpowers and the righteousness of empires in any era, especially when their claims of inspiration and success invoke theology and the name of God. Given human tendencies for self-delusion and deception, is it any wonder that hardly a religious body in the world regards unilateral and pre-emptive war as "just?" Religious wisdom suggests that the more overwhelming the military might, the more dangerous its capacity for self- and public deception.

The loss of religion's prophetic vocation is terribly dangerous for any society. Who will uphold the dignity of economic and political outcasts? Who will question the self-righteousness of nations and their leaders? Who will question the recourse to violence and the rush to wars long before any last resort has been unequivocally proven? Who will not allow God's name to be used to simply justify ourselves, instead of calling us to accountability?

In an election year, the particular religiosity of a candidate, or even how devout they might be, is less important than how their religious and/or moral commitments and values shape their political vision and their policy commitments. Understanding the moral compass they bring to their public lives and how their convictions shape their political priorities is the true litmus test.

This commentary originally appeared in the September issue of Sojourners, and in The Boston Globe on July 13

+ Read more commentary by Jim Wallis

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Sudan: Intervention isn't 'all-or-nothing'
by Elizabeth Palmberg

With more than a million people displaced and in danger of starvation, 30,000 to 50,000 already dead, large numbers raped - and the Janjaweed militias responsible for this ethnically targeted violence still attacking villages and refugees - Darfur, in western Sudan, remains the world's worst humanitarian crisis. And Sudan's government in Khartoum, which has promised to send security forces to reign in the militias, has simply been putting Janjaweed in police and other government uniforms, according to a Human Rights Watch report released today.

In recent weeks, the world has taken some notice of the atrocities. Within the United States, progressive and African-American activists have joined with conservative Christians (who, to their credit, are willing to advocate for Darfur's Muslim population, as well as for southern Sudan's Christians). On July 22, both houses of Congress voted to denounce the crisis as "genocide." Eight days later, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution threatening unspecified measures if Sudan does not disarm the Janjaweed. While disappointingly vague, this is better than nothing.

+ Read the full article

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SATIRE: Pentagon launches covert operation in response to Bush misspeak
by Ryan Beiler

An apparent misstatement by the president has been taken all too seriously by overzealous military planners. Bush told high-ranking military officials while signing a $417 billion defense bill: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.*" In immediate and unquestioning response to his remarks, $23 billion were earmarked for the hastily conceived "Operation: Harm our country and our people."

"We'll come up with a better name later," said an unnamed Pentagon source. "FOX News is working on it with some focus groups, and I bet they'll do some really cool graphics too. Those guys are awesome."

Initial plans of curtailing civil liberties, despoiling the environment, and launching pre-emptive wars to swell anti-American terrorist ranks were quickly rejected. "Been there. Done that," said one official. "As the president said, we need to be innovative - Dr. Evil innovative. We're talking about secretly replacing Folger's crystals with depleted uranium, robotic "Terminators" posing as Mormon missionaries that strike anytime, anywhere, and four more seasons of Amish in the City.

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, whose running mate is the son of a millworker, responded to the news: "It's important to stand with our president in this time of crisis, so I support this plan. But if later it turns out badly, I will criticize its implementation."

While polls indicate the public's overwhelming opposition to being harmed, a determined Kerry strongly asserted his determination and strength: "Bush would know a lot more about harming people if he had fought in Vietnam like I did." He underscored that claim by appearing with a "Band of Mothers" from Vietnam, who praised him for his bravery and skill in combat. Said Nike sweatshop worker Phuong Dinh Tran: "The way he fought our husbands and sons, then later threw away some of the medals he got for fighting them, and then later took credit for those medals brings honor to us and to him."

Though publicity surrounding "Operation: Harm our country and our people" has crippled its chances of being successfully implemented, one Pentagon source admitted, "We'll certainly keep it on file in case it ever comes in handy...against evildoers."

*Actual quote


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Join online discussions on today's tough topics:

Talking Politics in Church
Can church leaders - and churchgoers - be prophetic without being partisan?

+ Join the discussion

Playing Doctor, Playing God
Does stem cell research offer miracle cures, moral quagmires - or both?

+ Join the discussion


News and views you may have missed

Though a recently passed resolution mandates phased and selective divestment from "products or services that cause harm to Palestinians or Israelis or both," opponents have leveled charges of anti-Semitism. + Presbyterian News Service

Though sharp in his criticism of Bush's unliateral rush to invade, Kerry said that even knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction, "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." + Washington Post

"Ms. Klarich said that she had planned to send a copy of the church's directory to the Bush campaign, which she said was a common practice." + The New York Times

"Jesus says, 'Sell your possessions and give alms,'" Rev. Martin Luther Agnew said. "I'm convinced that what we keep owns us, and what we give away sets us free." Amen. + Associated Press

"It is ironic that Obama, who may have the opportunity to be the only black U.S. Senator next year, exemplifies not only black excellence and diligence but also white privilege." + AlterNet


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A better America

For "a positive vision of world community," and a Christian response to the occupation of Iraq, visit Church Folks for a Better America.

+ Learn more

How to be creative

For encouraging tips about pursuing your artistic or creative dreams, check out "gapingvoid." First piece of advice: "The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you."

+ Get creative

This land is your land

A hilarious, bipartisan - and definitely PG-13 - parody of the Woody Guthrie folk classic, featuring refreshingly candid performances by George W. Bush and John Kerry.

+ Sing along


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.


Readers write

Jason Welle writes from Washington, D.C.:

While I can appreciate the concerns expressed in Mr. Batstone's article ["The machine ate my vote," SojoMail 8/5/2004], what specific device does he suggest is used to avoid both the potential problems he has detailed, as well as the debacle of the now-infamous hanging chads? The use of the punch-hole ballot was so heavily criticized after the 2000 election, and the device selected to address that problem is now criticized, but I'm not hearing any reasonable alternative being presented.


Grace Cangialosi writes from Richmond, Virginia:

Regarding David Batstone's column, I'm afraid it sounds all too true. I read that in at least one state where touch machines are being used, people are being encouraged to vote by absentee ballot and then make a copy before they send it. It sounds like a very good idea to me.


Thomas R. Pack, citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, writes:

While it is admirable for the Congress to want to try to make things right between Congress and American Indians, the proposed "apology resolution" (S.J.R. 37) falls short in several areas ["American Indians deserve more than 'We're sorry,'" SojoMail 8/5/2004]. For instance, this resolution acknowledges the atrocities committed by the people of the United States, but fails to acknowledge the atrocities committed by the government itself against American Indians.

It also seems ironic to apologize for past atrocities committed against American Indians by the United States when the government is failing miserably in fulfilling its trust responsibilities to native peoples today! It's important to note that American Indians aren't a racial category, but rather a political category. We are "domestic dependent nations" (to quote Justice John Marshall) with whom the United States has a special trust relationship. Please, stand with the National Congress of American Indians in calling Congress to make these important changes to the proposed resolution. It is especially timely with the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on September 21, where these issues can come into the national spotlight.


Robert T. Neely writes from Jefferson City, Tennessee:

The recent letter ["James Lusk writes from Orange Park, Florida," Boomerang, 8/5/2004] is symptomatic of the loss of independent thinking and political judgment advocated by many southern protestant (i.e. Baptist) denominations. The church should not tell us whom to vote for, should not try to set a "tone," should not try to dictate codes of social behavior, and should not assume that one side (Bush) is the side of religious piety - the good side. The church should educate our consciences, not brainwash us.

We need more independent thinkers such as Mr. Batstone. We need more provocation toward learning about issues and judging for ourselves. We need people who do not wink and look away at the blatant lies, dishonesty, and dirty tricks being practiced in the present election cycle. The "Christian image" is just one more tool being used for political gain. Is there not intelligent Christian thinking, and not merely blind acceptance of a co-opted party line? I hope so.


Rev. Susan Vanderburgh writes from Oakland, California:

I am a reader who strongly agrees with most of the opinions expressed in David Batstone's "Letter to the Bush-Cheney Campaign" [SojoMail 7/28/2004]. However, I also am committed to striving to become more of a peacemaker, and I found myself rather uncomfortable with the harshness of Batstone's tone in his article. So I appreciated the gentle admonition by James Lusk: to attempt to emulate the tone of Jesus Christ even as we speak up to voice our understanding of the positions of Jesus Christ. I believe those of us who have disagreed vehemently with many of the Bush administration's policies would do well NOT to emulate the arrogant posture that often has accompanied those policies. If we wish to encourage people to really consider the concerns we raise, it is less than useful to beat them over their heads in our zeal.


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