The Common Good

A new confession of Christ

Sojomail - October 20, 2004

Quote of the Week Irrigating justice
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: A new confession of Christ
Media Watch Sojourners is 'semi-socialist,' says Rev. Robertson
Building a Movement Poverty knows no stereotypes
Campus Lines 'Sorry, wrong school'
Culture Watch John Sayles' Silver City
Politically Connect Anti-protest tactics enforce the right to remain silent
By the Numbers U.S. perception versus global reality
Web Sitings Dear America... | The Sudan challenge
Boomerang Readers write
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"It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, 'Let justice roll down like mighty waters,' and quite another to work out the irrigation system. Clearly there is more certainty in the recognition of wrongs than there is in the prescription for their cure."

- William Sloane Coffin

Source: Daily Dig


A new confession of Christ
by Jim Wallis

Because of a deep and growing concern about an emerging "theology of war" in the White House, the increasingly frequent language of "righteous empire," and official claims of "divine appointment" for a nation and president in the "war" on terrorism, I have joined with several theologians and ethicists in writing the following statement. A climate in which violence is too easily accepted, and the roles of God, church, and nation too easily confused calls for a new "confession" of Christ. The statement names five key points of Jesus' teachings, while rejecting false teachings that nullify his message. It has been signed by more than 200 theologians and ethicists - many of them from theologically conservative seminaries and Christian colleges. We share it with you and ask that you send it to friends and present it to your churches if you resonate with its concerns and convictions.

Confessing Christ in a World of Violence

Our world is wracked with violence and war. But Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). Innocent people, at home and abroad, are increasingly threatened by terrorist attacks. But Jesus said: "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). These words, which have never been easy, seem all the more difficult today.

Nevertheless, a time comes when silence is betrayal. How many churches have heard sermons on these texts since the terrorist atrocities of September 11? Where is the serious debate about what it means to confess Christ in a world of violence? Does Christian "realism" mean resigning ourselves to an endless future of "pre-emptive wars"? Does it mean turning a blind eye to torture and massive civilian casualties? Does it mean acting out of fear and resentment rather than intelligence and restraint?

Faithfully confessing Christ is the church's task, and never more so than when its confession is co-opted by militarism and nationalism.

- A "theology of war," emanating from the highest circles of American government, is seeping into our churches as well.

- The language of "righteous empire" is employed with growing frequency.

- The roles of God, church, and nation are confused by talk of an American "mission" and "divine appointment" to "rid the world of evil."

The security issues before our nation allow no easy solutions. No one has a monopoly on the truth. But a policy that rejects the wisdom of international consultation should not be baptized by religiosity. The danger today is political idolatry exacerbated by the politics of fear.

In this time of crisis, we need a new confession of Christ.

1. Jesus Christ, as attested in Holy Scripture, knows no national boundaries. Those who confess his name are found throughout the earth. Our allegiance to Christ takes priority over national identity. Whenever Christianity compromises with empire, the gospel of Christ is discredited.

We reject the false teaching that any nation-state can ever be described with the words, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." These words, used in scripture, apply only to Christ. No political or religious leader has the right to twist them in the service of war.

2. Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. The wanton destructiveness of modern warfare strengthens this obligation. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, Christians have a responsibility to count the cost, speak out for the victims, and explore every alternative before a nation goes to war. We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies.

We reject the false teaching that a war on terrorism takes precedence over ethical and legal norms. Some things ought never be done - torture, the deliberate bombing of civilians, the use of indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction - regardless of the consequences.

3. Christ commands us to see not only the splinter in our adversary's eye, but also the beam in our own. The distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another, or one group and another. It runs straight through every human heart.

We reject the false teaching that America is a "Christian nation," representing only virtue, while its adversaries are nothing but vicious. We reject the belief that America has nothing to repent of, even as we reject that it represents most of the world's evil. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

4. Christ shows us that enemy-love is the heart of the gospel. While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). We are to show love to our enemies even as we believe God in Christ has shown love to us and the whole world. Enemy-love does not mean capitulating to hostile agendas or domination. It does mean refusing to demonize any human being created in God's image.

We reject the false teaching that any human being can be defined as outside the law's protection. We reject the demonization of perceived enemies, which only paves the way to abuse; and we reject the mistreatment of prisoners, regardless of supposed benefits to their captors.

5. Christ teaches us that humility is the virtue befitting forgiven sinners. It tempers all political disagreements, and it allows that our own political perceptions, in a complex world, may be wrong.

We reject the false teaching that those who are not for the United States politically are against it or that those who fundamentally question American policies must be with the "evil-doers." Such crude distinctions, especially when used by Christians, are expressions of the Manichaean heresy, in which the world is divided into forces of absolute good and absolute evil.

The Lord Jesus Christ is either authoritative for Christians, or he is not. His Lordship cannot be set aside by any earthly power. His words may not be distorted for propagandistic purposes. No nation-state may usurp the place of God.

We believe that acknowledging these truths is indispensable for followers of Christ. We urge them to remember these principles in making their decisions as citizens. Peacemaking is central to our vocation in a troubled world where Christ is Lord.

Take action: Share this important theological statement with your friends, family, pastor, and church!
Use the button below to send this critical message - signed by more than 200 theologians and ethicists from across the theological spectrum - to as many people as possible. Spread the word that as Christians, our allegiance to Christ takes priority over any national or political identity:

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Sojourners is 'semi-socialist,' says Rev. Robertson

The following transcript is from a CNN interview of Pat Roberston by Paula Zahn, Oct. 19:

ZAHN: But there are a lot of Christians out there who take umbrage at what you're saying. There is this magazine called "Sojourners" magazine.


ZAHN: Which, by its admission, is a liberal Christian magazine.

ROBERTSON: Semi-socialist.

ZAHN: But they're running an ad right now that rebuts your claim that God has taken a side in this election.

They say - quote - "We believe that claims of divine appointment for the president, uncritical affirmation of his policies, and assertions that all Christians must vote for his reelection constitute bad theology and dangerous religion."

ROBERTSON: I would never say somebody had to vote for anybody. That would be terrible. I haven't said that.

I just said, I think God's blessing [Bush], and I think it's one of those things that, even if he stumbles and messes up - and he's had his share of goofs and gaffes - I just think God's blessing is on him. And you remember, I think the Chinese used to say, you know, it's the blessing of heaven on the emperor. And I think the blessing of heaven is on Bush. It's just the way it is.

+ Read the complete transcript

Sojourners Executive Editor David Batstone responds:

Rev. Robertson's depiction of Sojourners reflects how far from the real world - and a biblical faith - his political commitments have taken him. Sojourners is a deeply Christian magazine that raises concern for how the global poor are treated, whether prisoners are dealt with fairly, how we tend God's creation with our environmental policies, whether the thirsty have access to affordable water, and whether workers in the fields receive just compensation. Those are teachings that I see in the Bible in my daily reading. Rev. Robertson's statements betray the fact that he has made the gospel into a pro-rich, pro-war, America-right-or-wrong gospel. I trust in Jesus, and live in respect for one of the greatest political documents ever designed by human hands, the U.S. Constitution. How is it that the pursuit of justice, liberty, and equality came to be regarded in some political circles as "semi-socialist?"

In other news, check out ongoing coverage of Sojourners and our partner organization Call to Renewal's efforts to encourage a broader definition of what is a "religious issue" this election year. Some sites may require free registration before reading articles.

It's Time to Free Religion From Party Politics
+ The Washington Post

Without a Doubt
+ The New York Times Magazine

Liberal Christians Mobilize to React to Religious Right
+ The New York Times

Poverty needs to be key part of national political discussion
+ The Capital Times (Madison)

Wheels roll to beat poverty
+ The Capital Times (Madison)

GOD OR MAMMON: Becoming a Visible Witness
How shall the church invest itself in the life of the world, in the face of the powers of injustice? Will we confront our complicity in destructive economic systems? Join ULRICH DUCHROW, professor of systematic theology of the University of Heidelberg, on Wed., Nov. 3, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m., at the Festival Center/Servant Leadership School, 1640 Columbia Road NW, Washington, D.C. $10 suggested donation. Register by Fri., Oct. 29, by leaving a message at (202) 387-9300.


Poverty knows no stereotypes
by Helena R. Brantley

Reports from Call to Renewal's bus tour, "Rolling to Overcome Poverty," which concluded Sunday:

When we rolled into the small west Michigan city of Grand Rapids (population of 250,000) it appeared, on the surface at least, stereotypically suburban. The tree-lined city streets are quiet and clean. Bright orange pumpkins for sale lined the grass perimeter of the church and remained so overnight. To an outsider like me, raised on the edge of New York City, my first thought was that poverty isn't a big problem in Grand Rapids.

So I was a surprised when a middle-aged, well-dressed woman, presumably of Dutch ancestry - the overwhelming ethnic majority in Grand Rapids - quietly walked to the front of the church and began to talk firsthand about her own homelessness.

+ Read the full article

+ Learn more about the "Rolling to Overcome Poverty" bus tour


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'Sorry, wrong school': Renewal and reconciliation at a Baptist university
by J. Christopher LaTondresse

There is never a dull moment on a university campus in the fall of a presidential election year - especially when your school boasts one of the largest college Republican organizations in the nation. The sheer number of George W. Bush signs taped up in dorm windows, alongside occasional posters of inspirational Bible quotes, serves as a constant reminder. At Bethel University, a Baptist General Conference School in St. Paul, Minnesota, the vocal majority of my fellow students love to wear both their faith and their politics on their sleeves.

The College Republicans (CRs) had set up a table where students could register to vote in the upcoming election. They were also handing out campaign materials and stickers to passersby. There is nothing wrong with this. It's healthy. It's democratic. The fact that they were encouraging their fellow students to vote was admirable. Then it took a turn for the worse.

As a student walked by the table she was approached by one of the CRs. He enthusiastically asked her if she would like to show her support for the president by registering to vote. As she continued walking she politely turned to him and said, "Sorry, wrong party." He immediately retorted, "Sorry, wrong school." The implication was clear. You go to a Christian school. Whatever your faith inclinations are telling you are wrong. Christians vote Republican. Democrats have no place here.

In light of this event and many others like it that are going on around Bethel University, a group of students has begun to work to change the tone on our campus. Our mission is to help bridge the gap between people of faith who find themselves disagreeing politically, to equip Jesus-followers with information to help them make biblically informed decisions about their voting choices, and to provide a safe place for Bethel students to register to vote who do not strongly identify with one political party or another.

+ Read the full article


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Skewering the politics and media industry: John Sayles' Silver City
by Leon Howell

Silver City, John Sayles' newest film, opens brilliantly. Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dickie Pilager (played by Chris Cooper) - known to some as "Dim Dickie" - stands beside a lovely lake and stumbles over his lines as cameras shoot an environmental spot. Suddenly his pretend-fishing effort turns serious. He reels in the body of an immigrant. His controlling campaign manager - marvelously played by Richard Dreyfuss - immediately clears out the media. Convinced this is no accident (in fact it was murder but unrelated to this event), he soon hires a private detective to find who is trying to undermine Pilager's campaign. Pilager - no subtlety in this name - is the flunky of the industrial interests in Colorado and the son of the senior U.S. senator. They're all in the same game.

Now that's the last specific scene from the movie I'm going to reveal. But it sets up the twin engines of the movie. It's a highly political film, but it is also a lively murder mystery.

+ Read the full article


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    Anti-protest tactics enforce the right to remain silent

    The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests last November saw the advent of the "Miami model" of police action: mass, pre-emptive arrests of peaceful protesters and non-corporate journalists. At the Republican National Convention this year, for example, police arrested more than 1,800 protesters, and the city was held in contempt of court for holding some detainees nearly three days.

    Now, better late than never, an independent Miami-Dade County review panel has issued a report to "strongly condemn and deplore the unrestrained and disproportionate use of force by various police departments in Miami during the FTAA.... We extend our heartfelt apologies to the visitors who came to our city to peaceably voice their concerns, but who were met with closed fists instead of open arms.... Civil rights were trampled."

    + Read the full report


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    U.S. perception versus global reality

    It's hard to know who to blame - the administration, the media, or lack of public interest - but Bush supporters mistakenly believe that the current administration supports the following international agreements by these percentages:

    66% International Criminal Court

    72% Mine Ban Treaty

    69% Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

    51% Kyoto Accords on global warming

    Source: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy


    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.

    WEB SITINGS ^top

    Dear America...

    Read a sampling of letters sent to filmmaker Michael Moore from U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. Note: they are frank and explicit in their descriptions of war, attitudes toward Iraqis, and their evaluation of President Bush.

    + Something to write home about

    The Sudan challenge

    While many of the most vocal advocates on the Sudan crisis are religious conservatives, this site sponsored by the American Progress Action Fund offers resources - including multimedia, sample letters to officials, and links to analysis and coverage - to help the progressive community understand the conflict and take action.

    + Learn more, take action


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    BOOMERANG ^top

    Readers write

    Jim Forest writes from Amsterdam, Netherlands:

    I agree with Glen Stassen's argument that a significant decline in the economic situation or the rising cost of basic health care is likely to push up the rate of abortion ["Pro-life? Look at the fruits," SojoMail 10/13/2004].

    It seems to me that the struggle to end abortion has several components. There is the work of forming conscience: it's not an "it" but a "who" at stake. There is the hard work of trying to create legal structures that provide protection to the unborn. Finally there is the issue of social support for women who feel that they have no other choice than abortion. The day-to-day problems they face are too overwhelming.

    Though not illegal here, the Dutch rate of abortion is very low. As of a year or two, it was the lowest of any country keeping abortion statistics. At present it seems mainly to involve immigrant women. I think the reasons for the rarity of abortion here are several.

    One factor is the good work being done by the principal pro-life organization, VBOK - the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. I continue to be impressed at their effective ads in train, bus, and metro stations. The standard headline is, "Unplanned pregnancy? There is help for both mother and child." Another major factor is the health care and social support available to women who might, under other circumstances, be tempted to abort their child. There is no charge for birth assistance whether at hospital or home, nor for basic health care for both mother and child. Also there is a quarterly financial grant for every child up to the age of 16. Other assistance is available if needed: rent subsidies, etc. Probably the third factor is the sex education program in high school.


    Rev. Cindy Maddox writes from Asheville, North Carolina:

    I am certainly not an ethicist like Dr. Stassen, nor do I have his credentials for considering the reasons for the increase in abortion rates since Bush took office. However, as an associate pastor teaching sexuality education to our youth, I believe I can add one more reason to Dr. Stassen's list: this administration's insistence on "abstinence-only" education. Many studies support the claim that comprehensive sexuality education actually delays sexual activity in most adolescents, and those who do choose to be sexually active have a much higher rate of condom usage. If our young people are not taught how to protect themselves from disease and from unplanned pregnancy, the innocent will pay in more ways than one.


    Betsy Dreier writes from Rochester, Minnesota:

    I must admit that I am disappointed with SojoMail for not presenting a Christian pro-choice view. While I appreciate the fact that the issue has been explored with moral deliberation, I turn to Sojourners as an alternative Christian voice in these times that we live in that seems to endorse a "family values", anti-cultural approach to Christianity. And I am disappointed that you have come off so strongly pro-life when it is possible to be a Christian and pro-choice, even though the dominant thinking is that you can't be a Christian and pro-choice.


    Shirley Nelson writes:

    Thanks, David (and Mr. Prestowitz), for saying what so few others are saying ["U.S. interests vs. global interests," SojoMail 10/13/2004]. Judging by the information we have on hand now, after the election, regardless of who is in office, we are facing four morally vacuous years, self-serving to the core, and without the imagination to find alternatives or the courage to act on what is right. In these respects the election presents no hard choices. How we interact in the years that follow will be the real challenge.


    Susan Price writes from Tucson, Arizona:

    I just have to say, "Thanks." Your "God is not a Republican...or a Democrat" is especially wonderful. I'm a young woman in between being a starving undergrad and a starving grad student, and was raised a strict Republican. My entire family, both immediate and extended, is Republican - an uncle doesn't like Rush Limbaugh because "he's too liberal." Among my Christian friends, I am the only one who's not a Republican and though it's ridiculous to feel this way, I still somehow feel like I'm committing some sort of sin whenever I don't vote a straight Republican ticket.

    I write all of that to say this: It is incredibly freeing to find a community of believers who feel the same as me. It's reassuring to find that the conclusions I've come to (I'm decidedly more liberal, now) are not wrong, misguided, or un-Christian. So, thanks! Thank you for being out there and for speaking for all of us who are religious, but not the Religious Right.


    David Welch writes from Austin, Texas:

    For the third Sunday in a row, Senator John Kerry gave campaign speeches from the pulpit of not just one, but two churches in one day. So far I have yet to see any repudiation from Sojourners toward these cynical abuses of houses of worship for political advancement in the same way you have publically rebuked the Republican Party's infiltration of conservative evangelical churches. But knowing that Sojourners is dedicated to balance and the pursuit of just causes, I expect to see such a repudiation of Democratic tactics any day now, perhaps even before election day.


    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.

    Sojourners and Call to Renewal invite you to 'Worship On Wednesdays'

    Join us for a monthly gathering in the spirit of justice, rooted in biblical tradition. This Wednesday, October 20, Jim Wallis will lead discussion on the 2004 Elections. Potluck Dinner - 5:30; Worship - 6:30. 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. Questions: (202) 328-8842

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