The Common Good

Responding to President Bush's speech

Sojomail - September 3, 2004

Quote of the Week Darned if you do, darned if you don't
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Responding to President Bush's speech
Media Watch Sojourners in the news
Building a Movement Sojourners election seminars in my hometown?
By the Numbers Churches talking about politicians talking about church
Palestine Journal From the Midwest to the Mideast
Culture Watch The Iraq war uncovered
Piece of Mind Sojourners responds
Boomerang Readers write
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"If the protesters do something outrageous, they benefit Bush; if they don't do something outrageous they don't get covered. They are the answer to the question, 'If a tree falls in the forest, does it make any noise?'"

- Kieran Mahoney, a Republican political consultant, on the hordes of protesters that descended on New York City to protest the Republican National Convention, resulting in some 1,800 arrests. Source: The New York Times

In related news:

Jurist Holds City in Contempt of Court, Saying Dozens of People Were Held Without Charges
+ The Washington Post


Responding to President Bush's speech
by Jim Wallis

After the scurrilous (one could say vicious) attacks on John Kerry by Republican convert Zell Miller at Wednesday night's Republican convention, and Dick Cheney's speech - in which he didn't seem to care about facts (no apologies for his certain claims about imminent threats from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq), I really was hoping for something better from the president of the United States.

And it was better. The president spoke about many important issues - education reform and opportunity, health care security, job training, and support for low-income families and neighborhoods. I disagree with some of Bush's Democratic critics who found nothing new in the domestic portion of his speech. There are new and promising directions in his notion of "an ownership society," which focuses on things like tax credits, educational equality, and home ownership for lower-income families as an alternative to relying only on entitlement programs. In an interesting article in The New York Times magazine last Sunday, conservative writer David Brooks laid out a vision for "progressive Republicanism," which has a clear role for the positive action of government to make work actually work for low-income families through a range of wage supplements and wealth creation for poor working families. There were signs of such a vision in the Bush speech. I also appreciated the president's self-deprecating humor, which softened his image as a leader who is less than reflective and dismissive of mistakes and flaws.

But what the president failed to deal with was how his central domestic priority, "making permanent" his tax cuts that most benefit the wealthy, will simply not allow such positive government initiatives - because of a lack of resources. Nor did the president acknowledge or take any responsibility for the largest net job loss in any presidential administration since Herbert Hoover; the country's record deficits; the rise in the number of Americans living in poverty in each of the last three years (now one in eight of us); or the one million Americans who have lost their health care insurance each year he has been in office. As we have continued to say, poverty is a religious issue.

The Brooks vision will never be possible if Republicans stick to their characteristic anti-government ideology (present throughout the Republican Convention) and best summed up by Republican strategist Grover Norquist. He openly states the conservative goal of making government so small "it could be drowned in a bathtub." The Republicans have some serious internal debating to do.

But the visioning of new domestic possibilities was followed by yet another personal attack on John Kerry (as opposed to clear distinctions to his record), attacks that stained this whole convention. Honest comparisons between the candidate's policy proposals and records are, of course, valid in a political campaign, but the Republican Convention went over the top again and again (as Al Sharpton did at the Democratic Convention). The president's most offensive line in that regard was, "If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I'm afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values." Come on. I don't know anybody in America who believes that about Hollywood. And which convention was it that featured a Hollywood action hero as one of their rising stars? (And a parenthetical question I've puzzled over - has anybody heard the "family values" preachers of the Religious Right say anything critical of the notorious womanizer and body-builder?) Wouldn't it be better to see a serious campaign debate on important topics like whether the privatization of social security is a good or bad idea? Don't count on it.

But the heart and passion of President Bush's speech and of this Republican Convention throughout was a ringing defense of the administration's war on terrorism, especially in Iraq, and attacks on John Kerry as weak, indecisive, and unfit to command. The Republican Convention has laid down the gauntlet, bolstered by the "Swift Boat" attack ads on John Kerry's Vietnam record.

In the furious August debate on that topic, the press eventually began to scrutinize the accuracy of those attacks on Kerry's military service (after the damage had already been done), but mostly stayed away from the most controversial question about Vietnam - whether the war was fundamentally wrong and characterized by the regular commission of "war crimes." That's what the young and decorated naval officer John Kerry testified to Congress when he came home from the war. I was a young anti-war organizer then and say today - 30 years later - that it was the truth then, is still true now, and it was John Kerry's finest political hour.

But the country is still polarized over Vietnam and is again over another war. There is no disagreement in America about the need to protect our families, our nation, and the world against terrorism, and that this vicious and, yes, evil terrorist violence must be defeated. But whether that goal and our national security were advanced or whether they were seriously damaged by the war in Iraq is indeed the real and divisive question. Nobody was willing to "take the word of a madman" as the president caricatured his war opponents, but many of us, including most every major Christian body in the world, believed this "war of choice" to be unnecessary and unjust.

Even as an opponent of the war, I found the most moving part of the president's speech to be the stories of his times with military families who had lost their precious loved ones. Those losses are heartbreaking for all of us (as the loss of Iraqi lives should be too). But the most heart-wrenching question is whether they were tragically unnecessary, and whether the call to virtual permanent and pre-emptive war is the most effective and moral response to the real threat of terrorism.

President Bush's speech last night was summed up in the line, "You know what I believe and where I stand." Yes, we do. And that will be the issue when each of us walks into the polling place on November 2.

+ Read more commentary by Jim Wallis

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Sojourners in the news

America is taking notice! The following media outlets and news services have covered our "God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat" petition campaign this week. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to spread the word!

NOTE: Jim Wallis' scheduled appearance on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" was postponed due to breaking coverage of the Kobe Bryant case. Yes, cable news has its priorities. We'll keep you informed if and when it does air, and will provide any available links to coverage for those without access to CNN.

Religious Peace Groups, Faith-Based Themes Prominent in GOP Protest + Religion News Service

The politics of religion + Capital Times (Madison)

GOP keeps faith, but not in prime time + The Washington Times

The tactical worship of a war hero + The Washington Times

God and politics + Newsday (New York)

Ad Blasting Bush Quotes Falwell + ABC WSET-TV (Virginia affiliate)

Faith and politics - where's the middle ground? + CBS KHOU-TV (Houston affiliate)

God's politics [scroll to bottom of list] + Courier-Journal (Louisville)

God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat; Christian Leaders Refute Religious Right's Claim that Bush is God's Candidate + U.S. Newswire

Political parties don't have monopoly on God, ad proclaims + United Methodist News Service


Sojourners election seminars in my hometown?

The Sojourners election seminar schedule is finally here (and still in progress)! If you live in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, Sojourners is bringing a free Election 2004 Seminar near you! Learn how to effectively express your passion for peace and justice between now and November 2. >>See the seminar schedule

If you don't see a seminar close to your home listed, you can help organize one. We're adding seminars on a daily basis, so e-mail us at or call (800) 714-7474, x259. Seminars will be held in September and early October, so time is of the essence.

Don't live in any of these states? Check out Sojourners' Election 2004 Faith in Action Resource Center to see how you can take action in your community.


Coordinator for Presbyterian Hunger Program - Louisville, KY

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a faith-based organization, seeks a Coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. The Coordinator will direct the work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, its nine staff members and the denomination's Hunger Action Network. Job functions include planning and program development, providing network support, developing educational and fund-raising resources and strategies, and ecumenical representation. Email resume: or mail to: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Attn: HR W04-08-43, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is an Equal Employment Opportunity employer.


Churches talking about politicians talking about church

A new survey found that the following percentages express the beliefs of a random sample of Americans:

51% Churches should express political views
25% Churches should endorse political candidates
65% Churches should not endorse political candidates
72% A U.S. president should have strong religious beliefs
52% Republicans are friendly toward religion
40% Democrats are friendly toward religion

24% Bush mentions his faith too much
10% Kerry mentions his faith too much
53% Bush mentions his faith an appropriate amount
56% Kerry mentions his faith an appropriate amount

27% Politicians in general mention faith and religion too much
31% Politicians in general mention faith and religion too little
32% Politicians in general mention faith and religion the right amount

Source: Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life


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From the Midwest to the Mideast
by Phil Haslanger

Abier, a mother of three, invited the seven Midwestern American 50-somethings for lunch in her West Bank home at the flash point of religion and politics in the Middle East. By the end of the afternoon, the news and rhetoric of the latest battles between Israelis and Palestinians had taken on a very human quality.

The Americans were all members of a United Church of Christ congregation in suburban Madison, Wisconsin. Their pastor, Rev. Bonnie Van Overbeke, was spending seven weeks in Israel and Palestine on a sabbatical. The other six joined her in mid-June at Christmas Lutheran Church, their partner church in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Van Overbeke is a former elementary school teacher who became an ordained minister in 1991. Her husband is a retired director of finance for Oscar Mayer Foods. With them were a retired forestry professor, a retired electrical engineer, a retired occupational therapist, a utility company employee, and a school teacher.

Now far from their comfortable lives in the United States, they were sitting in the living room of a Palestinian Christian family on a Sunday afternoon, learning what it is like to live under occupation.

+ Read the full article

+ See the Sojourners multimedia presentation: Occupation and Resurrection


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The Iraq war uncovered

For those who found Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 too sensational - or for those who were left hungry for more - Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The War on Iraq may be the low-budget documentary that satisfies both camps. Rather than Moore's rock-and-roll flair, Greenwald offers an extensive slate of current and former defense, intelligence, and diplomatic professionals - making up for production value with a breadth and depth of credible testimony. The film's agenda is clear, however, as it carefully demonstrates how before, during, and since the invasion of Iraq, intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction was distorted in the service of a broader foreign policy agenda by neoconservative members of the Bush administration.

Among those offering their expert opinions is former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, interviewed in the November-December 2003 issue of Sojourners.

+ Read the Sojourners article

+ Visit the official Uncovered Web site


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.


Sojourners responds

As you may imagine, we've gotten quite a few questions about our "God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat" petition campaign. We've posted our responses to some of the most frequent questions on our Web site:

52% of SojoMail readers recently voted to create a "God is Not a Republican...or a Democrat" sticker, and they're available now for only $2 (discounts apply for volume orders). >>Order today!


Readers write

Rev. Karl A. McKinney writes from Baltimore, Maryland:

While I agree with the slick ad that "God is not a Republican...or a Democrat," I believe the national political arena is not the place for the body of Jesus to sort these things out.... [Unfortunately], whether in black churches or white churches, in conservative circles or liberal circles of the church, the church upholds an unrelenting allegiance to political parties that will not even yield to the authority of the Messiah. Christendom is not only the problem of evangelicals, it is the problem that plagues liberal Christians as well. We are prevented from living faith in Jesus the Messiah, not by leaders of our particular religious clubs but by our own idolatry. We don't need to "take back" our faith; we need to do things far more radical, like live it out without the aid and support of either political party.


Benjamin Parra writes from Chile:

As a Chilean, I am not involved in voting in November at the U.S. election. However, as a Christian involved in the often difficult and unpopular task of thinking about my faith and my commitments through the teachings of the whole scriptures, I fully agree with your extraordinary efforts to tell your country that God is not aligned with partisan views and convictions.

I remember times in Chile when evangelicals here used to say that Pinochet was something like "God's one," designated to save Chile from Marxist revolution. I am personally far away from Marxism, and I believe God is involved in history and life, but it is quite difficult for me to believe that God could back up the horrors of the repressive machinery Pinochet and his lieutenants ran during those years in my country.

I would say that even if a Christian feels that he or she would prefer to vote for Bush, this should not be on the grounds that this is God's will - or commandment. This is a crude way of avoiding the responsibility to promote, by thinking and action, a civil and social life in which the acts of a ruler are under the judgment of truth and justice - beyond the ruler's personal beliefs. I salute your standing for responsible Christianity.


Stephen Bender writes from Gainesville, Florida:

I was delighted when I found your magazine. Previously, I spent a lot of time wondering if all Christians were single-issue voting Republicans, and now I know it is not true. I appreciate your thoughtful and often scripture-based articles on current issues. I also enjoy the satirical pieces (as David Batstone's response to the Bush-Cheney Election Campaign [SojoMail 7/28/04]), with the understanding that satire is part of the art of writing and more generally of interlocution. Even Jesus used verbal satire when making illustrations, especially concerning the religious leaders of the day.

My reason for writing is a concern with your satirical flash video on the "Heavenly Convention" of the Religious Right. I don't doubt your sources, and I am deeply disturbed by the Right's use of religion to promote the election of President Bush, but I find this video to be disrespectful and ultimately divisive like so many other media creations from the supporters of one party or another. Most who agree with the viewpoint will find it funny. Likewise, most who disagree with the viewpoint will be inflamed. Couldn't you have explored a more "loving" way of pointing out the error of your brothers in Christ?


Jim Senter writes from Durham, North Carolina:

While I agree wholeheartedly that religion in this year's election is a very strange and dangerous thing...I was deeply troubled by your Web animation. The bluegrass soundtrack, the poorly done Southern accents - it all manifests a most unfortunate anti-southern bigotry. As if ignorance and narrow-minded religions were a monopoly of the South. Though the most visible leaders of the movement are from the South (a purely historical artifact), fundamentalist Christians live in every state of the union. Anti-Southern bigotry is one of the few bigotries that are still socially acceptable in progressive circles. I expect more from Sojourners.


Nancy Cagle writes from Waco, Texas:

I really enjoy your e-mails. I send them on to several newspaper editors, liberals, conservatives, and college folks who I know will enjoy them one way or another. I'm one of those who wish heartily that "none of the above" was a viable ballot alternative. I've even been thinking that I'd prefer Hillary Rodham Clinton and Teresa Heinz Kerry as candidates; they seem to be capable of turning the U.S. government and the world upside down, in better fashion than the men. Laura Bush is indeed a nice lady, but I don't think she reveals her "true self" much at all. I think she has caved in to that right-wing conviction that women belong in the background, period. Your satirical video of "The Heavenly Convention" is dandy. Thanks for doing it.


Joel Solliday writes from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota:

Admit it. You just loath Christians on the right with a seething passion. Your video clearly demonstrates that. For as partisan as you are (and that is okay), you should seek no cover in the technical fact that you may not officially endorse a particular candidate. I am on the Christian right but am no fan of Falwell or Robertson. Yet, their apparent endorsing of Bush is more a mark of forthright honesty than your hiding behind the refusal to officially do that for his opponent.


Skip Ward writes from Charlotte, North Carolina:

Grow up. God is clearly a Democrat. All this "nonpartisan" talk is destructive to the very ones I know you want to help. Everything is partisan in a capitalistic republic. Just try to get a street light fixed or provide medical care for the 40,000,000 uninsured. Keep up the good work, but don't be naive.


[name withheld by request] writes from St. Petersburg, Florida:

Because of their religious beliefs, my mother's ancestors were expelled from their home country 320 years ago. To stay was literally to be put to death. They had no sooner landed on these shores than they began to persecute anyone who did not subscribe to their particular brand of Judeo-Christianity, and they do so to this day.... Their cruel, controlling, repressive behavior has caused me to detest and fear Judeo-Christianity in particular and organized religion in general, and they treat me as if I were an atheist, which miraculously I am not....

I wish that someone (preferably sooner than Judgment Day) would hold these people's feet to the fire and demand that they either act like the Christians they claim to be or else stop claiming to be Christians. Believing that Jesus is the son of God is not enough. We must DO WHAT HE SAYS TO DO. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.

I have just discovered Sojourners, and you give me hope that perhaps Christ's teachings have not been totally lost after all. Thank you.


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.


CORRECTION: Last week we reported that Johnny Cash was neither a Republican nor a Democrat [Quote of the Week, 8/27/2004]. His legacy, however, is being preserved by a dot-org and definitely not a dot-com (as we erroneously linked). So, visit www.defendjohhnycash.ORG to learn more about activists who are defending The Man in Black's working-class honor.

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