The Common Good

The Real Debate

Sojomail - November 17, 2004

Quote of the Week Easier said
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: The real debate
Multimedia Streaming video: Jim Wallis moderates dialogue on America's religious divide
Colombia Journal Weaving a web of solidarity
By the Numbers Oh, Canada
Politically Connect 100,000 Iraqi casualties? Details and analysis
Good News Africa educates
Culture Watch Cornel West: Democracy Matters
Warning: Satire Church creates section for huggy, touchy couples
Boomerang Readers write
Get a free trial issue of Sojourners
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Help Marti's wish come true!

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This holiday season, Marti's wish is for all children with disabilities who need Easter Seals services to receive them.

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"There is such an enormous gap between our words and deeds! Everyone talks about freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, and peace; but at the same time, everyone, more or less, consciously or unconsciously, serves those values and ideals only to the extent necessary to defend and serve his own interests, and those of his group or his state. Who should break this vicious circle? Responsibility cannot be preached: it can only be borne, and the only possible place to begin is with oneself."

- Vaclav Havel

Found on: Daily Dig


The real debate
by Jim Wallis

A flawed exit poll question has sparked an enormous and important political debate in America, and one that will be with us far beyond this election. Voters were asked to name the most important issue that influenced their vote and almost 22% chose "moral values," just edging out terrorism and the economy. That poll result has sparked a firestorm in the media and in Washington's political circles about who gets or doesn't get the "moral values issue." Conventional wisdom holds that the Republicans do get it and the Democrats don't, and the "moral values" answer on the survey simply indicated voters who are against abortion and gay marriage.

But of course a Christian who cares deeply about peace likely would have checked the war in Iraq (one of the choices) instead of moral values, and a Catholic coordinator of a food pantry likely would have checked the closest thing to poverty, which would have been the economy or health care. The single "moral values" question was a whole different kind of choice to the rest of the "issues," ignoring the moral values inherent in those other concerns.

A post-election poll conducted by Zogby International a few days later confirmed that when a list of specific issues was asked, the results were quite different. When asked which "moral issue most influenced your vote," 42% chose war in Iraq while 13% said abortion and 9% said same-sex marriage. The "most urgent moral problem in American culture" resulted in 33% selecting "greed and materialism," 31% "poverty and economic justice," 16% abortion, and 12% same-sex marriage. The "greatest threat to marriage" was identified as "infidelity" by 31%, "rising financial burdens" by 25%, and "same-sex marriage" by 22%. See the full Zogby poll

Almost a year ago, I wrote in Sojourners and in an op-ed piece for The New York Times that too many Democrats still wanted to restrict religion to the private sphere and were very uncomfortable with the language of faith and values even when applied to their own agenda. And that Republicans wanted to narrowly restrict religion to a short list of hot-button social issues and obstruct its application to other matters that would threaten their agenda.

Well, after a year of political campaigning we ended up at about the same place. While some Democrats are now realizing the importance of faith, values, and cultural issues, a strong group of "secular fundamentalists" still fights to keep moral and spiritual language out of the liberal discussion. And while some Republicans would like to see an expanded application of faith, the "religious fundamentalists" still want to restrict religious values to gay marriage and abortion. A very smart group of Republican strategists effectively appealed to both the faith and the fears of an important conservative religious constituency.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne covered our "God is not a Republican...or a Democrat" campaign as a real sign of hope. Days after the election he wrote, "What's required is a sustained and intellectually serious effort by religious moderates and progressives to insist that social justice and inclusion are 'moral values' and that war and peace are 'life issues.' As my wife and I prepared our three kids for school the day after the day after, we shared our outrage that we in Blue America are cast as opponents of 'family values' simply because we don't buy the right wing's agenda. No political faction can be allowed to assert a monopoly on the family."

Later that day, E.J. told me that when he called for that deeper discussion of religious issues and moral values, he was thinking of Sojourners. "That's your job!" he challenged me.

It's time to spark a real debate in this country over what the most important "religious issues" and "moral values" in politics are - and how broadly and deeply they are understood. Religion doesn't fall neatly into right and left categories. If there were ever candidates running with a strong set of personal moral values and a commitment to be pro-poor and pro-peace, it could build many bridges to the other side. Personal and social responsibility are both at the heart of religion, and the two together could make a very powerful and compelling political vision for the future of our bitterly divided nation.

+ See the full Zogby poll

+ Read the Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne

+ Read other commentaries by Jim Wallis

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Sojourners Interns

It only takes a year to change your life forever.

Every September, a new group of women and men come to the Sojourners intern house in Washington, D.C. For a year they work together, live together, and grow together. And their lives are changed.

Click here for more information or an application, or call (800) 714-7474. Deadline for applications for the 2005-2006 intern year is March 1, 2005.


Streaming video: Jim Wallis moderates dialogue on America's religious divide

With John Kerry's concession to George W. Bush, the United States has its president-elect. What we don't have is a way forward that transforms the angry limbo of "blue vs. red" dominating electoral maps into meaningful discussions, relationships, and a more civil society.

On November 16, at historic Trinity Church in New York City, Sojourners magazine editor Jim Wallis led a panel discussion that symbolized the kind of conversation citizens throughout the country must have if the country is to move forward.

Panel members included Rev. J. Bryan Hehir of Harvard University and the Archdiocese of Boston, Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America, and Rev. Dr. James Forbes of Riverside Church, a prominent interdenominational church in New York City, which co-sponsored the event.

+ Watch streaming video of the event


Syllables of the Perfect Word: Advent Reflections 2004 available from Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement.
By Rose Marie Berger, Photographs by Ryan Beiler
$2.50 + s/h. 531-040.
During Advent we leave the place of our birth to journey to the birthplace of another. It is an invitation to renewal - to receive comfort and hope in the deep of winter, and be immersed in the eternal unchanging nature of God. These reflections include a phrase from the daily scripture, a reflection, the daily scripture references at the bottom, and the name of a saint or holy person of God who the Christian community remembers on that day. Written by Rose Marie Berger, associate editor at Sojourners. (Quantity Discounts Available. Please call: (814) 453-4955 or e-mail: for information.)


Weaving a web of solidarity
by Janna Bowman

Ricardo Esquivia
In early 2004 Sojourners joined Christians and activists around the world in defense of Colombian Mennonite leader Ricardo Esquivia, founder of Justapaz, a Christian center for justice, peace, and nonviolent action, when he was threatened with arrest by the Colombian government. Your voices had a crucial impact in preserving his freedom. "If it weren't for the intervention of many people from the large global faith family and solidarity community," says Esquivia, "my current situation would be entirely different." Three other peace-seeking Colombians who were similarly accused at the same time did not have international networks pressuring officials on their behalf. Tragically, their fates were different: two were arrested and one assassinated. The coordinated efforts of many individuals secured Esquivia's freedom and furthered the realization of his vision. As planned, he has moved to conflicted and impoverished areas on the Caribbean coast to concentrate his efforts in development and peace work with churches there.

Witness for Peace, a politically independent, grassroots organization with more than 20 years experience in accompaniment and solidarity in Latin America, invites you to see Colombia through the eyes of Ricardo and other Colombian partners February 26 - March 5, 2005. See the realities of the Colombian people impacted by harsh U.S. policies that further escalate the protracted war and violence in that country. Return further empowered to change U.S. policies that are harmful to our Colombian sisters and brothers.

Esquivia writes: "To all of you who invested yourselves in the struggle for my freedom, thank you profoundly for your selfless action. I invite you, and others who want to join in, to continue the international accompaniment through your physical presence. I invite you to visit and see the reality of the cause for which you lobbied. Come, get to know the people for whom you intervened. Come and meet the governmental authorities from the area. Share in our corner of the world. This human contact will communicate the web of affection that you have been weaving through your actions of solidarity."

+ Learn more about the delegation, "Creating hope in the Crossfire: Community-based Peacebuilding from a Faith Perspective"

+ Learn about other Witness for Peace delegations

+ Read about Ricardo Esquivia's case and Sojourners' efforts on his behalf

+ See Sojourners' multimedia presentation about the Colombian churches, "Suffering Servants"


Democrats and Republicans Can Agree!

"A wonderful roadmap to follow during the difficult journey through God's Time. Contemporary events make Professor Hill's treatment all the more compelling and his evaluation of popular biblical interpretations all the more urgent." - Mike McCurry, White House Press Secretary (1995-98); Senior Advisor, Kerry Presidental Campaign (2004)

"In God's Time not only makes eschatology understandable to laity but explains why it's important to every Christian in today's world. And Hill writes beautifully." - Fred Barnes, Executive Editor, The Weekly Standard

Find out more about In God's Time and other exciting adult education courses for your church at


Oh, Canada

115,000: Number of hits made by U.S. users on the Canadian immigration Web site the day after the U.S. election.
20,000: Usual number of hits per day.

Source: CNN


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100,000 Iraqi casualties? Details and analysis

On Nov. 1, 2004, SojoMail first reported on a study claiming 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq. Because of intense interest about the methodology and accuracy of the report, we present these further details from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which conducted the study:

Civilian deaths have risen dramatically in Iraq since the country was invaded in March 2003. Researchers found that the majority of deaths were attributed to the military actions by coalition forces. Most of those killed by coalition forces were women and children, though researchers stressed that they found no evidence of improper conduct by the coalition soldiers.

Researchers randomly selected 33 neighborhoods of 30 homes from across Iraq and interviewed more than 7,800 residents about the number of births and deaths that occurred in the household since January 2002. The researchers compared the mortality rate among civilians in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion with the period following the invasion. Excluding information from Fallujah (where excessive violence from combat could skew the overall mortality rates), they estimated that 100,000 more Iraqis died than would have been expected had the invasion not occurred. Eighty-four percent of the deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of coalition forces.

+ Read more


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  • GOOD NEWS ^top

    Africa educates

    Millions of children have poured into schools across Africa, thanks to civil society pressure that forced the World Bank to back off from demands that even the poorest children pay school fees. The sudden influx of pupils poses huge challenges, but it also testifies to poor families' deep hunger for and belief in education.

    + Read more


    $60,000 in prizes for effective faith-based organizations!

    Announcing the 2004 Partners in Transformation Awards Contest, co-sponsored by FASTEN and the Points of Light Foundation. Is your faith-based organization running an effective community service program with positive, demonstrated, tangible results? Are you doing the program in partnership with some group OUTSIDE the faith community (e.g., schools, police, government)? If so, you could win $5,000 and public recognition in your state and among numerous private charitable foundations.

    Visit for details.


    Cornel West: Democracy Matters

    "A decade ago I wrote Race Matters in order to spark a candid public conversation about America's most explosive issue and most difficult dilemma: the ways in which the vicious legacy of white supremacy contributes to the arrested development of American democracy. This book - the sequel to Race Matters - will look unflinchingly at the waning of democratic energies and practices in our present age of the American empire. There is a deeply troubling deterioration of democratic powers in America today. The rise of an ugly imperialism has been aided by an unholy alliance of the plutocratic elites and the Christian Right, and also by a massive disaffection of so many voters who see too little difference between two corrupted parties, with blacks being taken for granted by the Democrats, and with the deep disaffection of youth. The energy of the youth support for the Howard Dean campaign and avid participation in the recent anti-globalization protests are promising signs, however, of the potential to engage them."

    - from an article by Cornel West, "Democracy Matters Are Frightening in Our Time."

    + Read more


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    SATIRE: Church creates section for huggy, touchy couples

    When Margie and Dan Banks listen to the sermon at their Assembly of God church, they often fall into a habit that's hard to break: He scratches her back lightly in a slow circular motion, and she rubs his neck, sometimes twirling his hair around her little finger. "We honestly don't realize we're doing it," Margie says.

    But other church-goers have found it so offensive that finally their church, like many others, added a "couples section" for the "affectionately gifted" - those who can't keep their hands off each other on Sunday mornings. "It was getting to be a problem," says Pastor Dave Towns of his church's touching issues. "During my sermon, people would get up and change seats because someone was touching their mate in a way they felt was distracting. I got complaints."

    + Read more


    Singers, choir directors, music teachers: SINGPEACE, internet distributor of download-and-print sheet music for singing about peace, justice, diversity, and the environment. Preview and hear entire scores before you buy! "Why not sing PEACE?"

    American Lung Association Flu Shot Locator. Get your flu shot today - it can save your life! Click through and enter your zip code for a list of local clinics, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.

    BOOMERANG ^top

    Readers write

    Dave Foley writes from Columbia, Maryland:

    David Batstone's "God-talk and moral values" column is one of the best observations of religion in America that I've read in recent months [SojoMail 11/9/2004]. However, he states that evangelicals see themselves on God's side when I would argue they think more that God has chosen theirs. With that thinking, there really isn't much difference between Jerry Falwell's doctrine of "Blow them all away in the name of the Lord" and bin Laden's doctrine of blowing away Americans.

    Keep doing a great job. Sojourners provides hope to me that there are still people out there who believe in the example of Christ and not just in the American civil religion that some like to call Christianity.


    Treva West writes from San Jacinto, California:

    [Batstone wrote]: "Liberals are all in favor of regulating economic activity, on the other hand, in large part because they do not trust the avarice of either individuals or corporations. Yet they tend to be libertarians on social values, convinced that personal moral behavior that deals with sex/body is no one's business but their own. How do conservatives and liberals make sense of these contradictions in their own positions?"

    I'm a liberal so I can answer that part of the question. The "moral behavior that deals with sex/body" only directly affects the person making the decision, not other people or the society in general. Corporations/powerful individuals' monetary decisions, on the other hand, affect a lot more than just themselves.


    Ryan Holler writes from Conway, Arkansas:

    David Batstone says, "George Bush believes God told him to level a military strike against Iraq." I have not heard George Bush say that and find it hard to believe he would. I'm guessing that Mr. Batstone deduced that from the fact that President Bush claims to pray over all decisions and that he did "level a military strike against Iraq." If the latter is true, then I take issue with Mr. Batstone's conclusion that President Bush believes a decision made during or after prayer amounts to a directive from God.


    Kyle Eller writes from Duluth, Minnesota:

    David Batstone caricatures conservative Christians and does so to the detriment of the values he professes. As a Catholic, I am not an "economic libertarian" but a fiscal moderate, open to arguments on either side, in defense of the common good. I'm opposed to the death penalty. I opposed the Iraq war. And I voted for George W. Bush along with millions of other "values voters" because John Kerry represented the gravest threat to human life of any presidential candidate in my lifetime.

    My opposition to abortion, same-sex "marriage," embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia have little to do with what people do with "their bodies" - that silly canard. Abortion, ESCR, and euthanasia are violent attacks on other people's bodies. Same-sex "marriage" radically redefines, by judicial fiat, the basic unit of civilization without regard to permanence, procreation, and fidelity. That is why the Democratic Party has been "rendered suspect" to so many voters otherwise inclined to its policies.


    Janice Blandin writes from Kansas City, Missouri:

    I am a consistently pro-life voter who voted for Senator Kerry this time, partly because President Bush's policies make me fear for the future of all life on earth, and partly on the basis of the SojoMail article about how the abortion rate declined during the Clinton administration, but has been increasing since Bush took office ["Life, pro-life, and statistics," SojoMail 10/27/2004].

    We are doing our Democratic friends no favors by letting them continue to lose elections this way. Although abortion was not mentioned in most of the debates, we saw many experienced, well-qualified Democrats lose to less-qualified, really conservative Republicans because the latter were pro-life. We need to explain to the Democrats that being pro-life is not only the right thing to do, it will get them enough votes to advance our other issues.


    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.


    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.

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