The Common Good

Must all religion be Right?

Sojomail - July 28, 2005

Quote of the Week » If Democrats are Pharisees, does that make Republicans Sadducees?
Hearts & Minds » Jim Wallis: Must all religion be Right?
Debate » Divestment dialogue
Multimedia » Sacred music, Saturday night and Sunday morning
Haiti Journal » Haitian priest assaulted, then arrested for murder
Soul Works » Thomas Merton: Fed up
Culture Watch » In the wake of The War of the Worlds
Global Vision » What's the point of short-term missions?
Boomerang » Readers write
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5. Fairness means treating everybody differently.

6. Principles and values must guide all decisions.

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If Democrats are Pharisees, does that make Republicans Sadducees?

"It's a little bit like biblical Pharisees, you know, who basically are always trying to undermine Jesus Christ.... You know, it goes on the same way. If they can catch him in something, they can then criticize and the outside groups will go berserk."

- Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), on Fox News, describing the nature of potential Democratic opposition to Supreme Court nominee Judge John G. Roberts Jr.

Source: The Washington Post


Must all religion be Right?

Joe Loconte is on a mission to make sure all religion in America (or at least the political expressions thereof) will be dependably right-wing, like his Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation. Any moderate or, worse, "progressive" religious deviation from the Republican Party line is anathema to Joe, who feels called to stamp out such heresies.

In his recent Wall Street Journal commentary, "From Gospel to Government," published July 1, 2005, Loconte, a Heritage Foundation fellow, derides all such progressive religious groups as having "no obvious grassroots constituency," as being "composed mostly of mainline clergy and church elites who are often culturally out of step with the rank and file," and as people who "treat traditional religion with either suspicion or outright contempt." Wow. That certainly is true for the "secular fundamentalists" who exercise the same undue influence over the Democratic Party as the "religious fundamentalists" do over the Republican Party, but certainly not for orthodox Catholic and evangelical Christians (like me) who simply don't share Loconte's right-wing politics. It's hard to find ourselves in Loconte's diatribes.

He charges that such non-Religious Right heretics "leap directly from the Bible to contemporary politics" without the proper theological and political nuances. Interesting. Wasn't it Religious Right leaders who in a Nashville "Justice Sunday" event said that Christians who don't support all of President Bush's judicial nominees are not really "people of faith?" "Imagine my surprise," said an evangelical seminary professor from Asbury, Kentucky, at an alternative religious service when he realized that despite his biblically orthodox upbringing, he was not really a Christian unless he backed the Republican president's choices for the federal court. In his op-ed, Loconte attacked "religious progressives" for being "allied" with George Soros and MoveOn.Org when I know of no connections to those liberal funders and groups that are as direct as the Religious Right's ties to right-wing funders and think tanks such as Loconte's Heritage Foundation. Perhaps a good test of religious independence would be to examine how critical faith leaders and groups are of their natural political allies. I'd love to compare the religious left and right on that score.

Loconte referenced the "best-selling book God's Politics" that I wrote and accused me of deriving from Isaiah a "blueprint for government welfare spending." On that book tour (in which we spoke to the constituency Loconte claims none of us have), we reached nearly 70,000 people face to face over 21 weeks in 53 cities and reached millions more through the media. What I found was a silent majority of moderate and progressive religious people who don't feel represented by the shrill tones and ideological agenda of the Religious Right, nor the disdainful attitudes toward religion from the secular left. But they do feel that poverty is a moral value and religious issue (there are 3,000 verses on the poor in the Bible), that protecting the environment (otherwise known as God's creation) is also matter of good faith and stewardship, and that the ethics of war - whether we go to war, when we go to war, and whether we tell the truth about going to war - are profoundly religious matters. The people I met don't see federal spending as the only answer to poverty (and neither do I), but they do believe that budgets are moral documents and that all of society is responsible (public, private, and civil society sectors - including faith-based organizations) for working together to overcome poverty.

In a recent National Public Radio commentary, Loconte accused all churches and religious groups who had questions about the war in Iraq of being hopelessly utopian pacifists, and invoked the example of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's opposition to Hitler as the more realistic path. The problem is that Pope John Paul II, who opposed the war in Iraq, and the current Pope Benedict are not pacifists. Nor are the majority of church bodies around the world who studied the rationales for the war in Iraq (including the majority of evangelical churches worldwide) and concluded it did not fit the traditional just war categories. And Niebuhr, suggest many of his students (including his theologian daughter), would have been quite alarmed at the Bush theology in the war on terrorism, which too easily sees our adversaries as evil and us as good, denying the evil that runs through all human hearts and nation states.

So what's Joe's problem? I think he's worried about what I saw and felt around the country as I met the constituency he hopes doesn't exist. The monologue of the Religious Right is now over, and a new dialogue has just begun on the application of faith and values to politics. Joe wants the Religious Right's monologue to continue and to make sure that no serious dialogue about faith and politics in America gets a chance to really begin. His attacks do, however, serve one useful purpose. He gives credible evidence to the subtitle of God's Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn't get it.

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Divestment dialogue

As churches and other organizations struggle with how to promote peace with justice in Israel and Palestine, one controversial option is divestment. Generally, this means the removal of trust and pension fund investments from activities that promote, perpetuate, or profit from violence in the conflict. The August issue of Sojourners magazine presents several points of view on the topic, including those of two American rabbis and a Presbyterian theologian.

Is Divestment Anti-Semitic? by Haim Dov Beliak
Constructive engagement must ensure safety for both Israelis and Palestinians.
+ Read the article
+ Join the discussion

A Question of Tactics by Arthur Waskow
Is divestment the right tactic?
+ Read the article
+ Join the discussion

Should Churches Divest? by Don Wagner
The Presbyterian Church (USA): A case study.
+ Read the article
+ Join the discussion


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Sacred music, Saturday night and Sunday morning

Sojourners' Rose Marie Berger talks with Indigo Girl Emily Saliers and her father, Don, about music as the mediator between God and our souls. Stream or download audio of the interview in the following formats:

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Haitian priest assaulted, then arrested for murder
by Bill Quigley

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- On July 21, 2005, Father Gerard Jean-Juste went to St. Pierre's Catholic Church to participate in the funeral of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche. Father Jean-Juste is a cousin of the Roche family; members of the Roche family had once protected him from a mob earlier in his life. Father Jean-Juste went to express spiritual comfort and reconciliation to the family.

Roche's tragic kidnapping has been taken up as a cause by those opposed to the Lavalas party. Roche was identified as a supporter of the people calling themselves the group of 184, who by force overthrew the democratically elected government of President Aristide, the leader of the Lavalas party, in February 2004. Aristide's opponents say that because Roche's body was found in a poor neighborhood he was executed by the Lavalas party, which is very strong in the poorest neighborhoods. For those of us in the U.S., this is much like blaming John Kerry for inner-city deaths because most of the people in the inner-city vote Democratic.

Father Jean-Juste went to the funeral to pay his respects to the family and express his open remorse and opposition to the killing of anyone, no matter their political affiliation.

Roche's coffin was in the chapel next to the sacristy and main area of the church. At 10 a.m. the bishop and about seven priests robed in white with purple stoles paraded out of the sacristy to the chapel to say blessings over Roche's coffin. When Father Jean-Juste walked out, people started yelling at him. They called him "assassin" and "criminal," and yelled out to "arrest and kill the rat."

Men and women continued to scream and threaten Father Gerry as they moved by us into the church. Then a crowd of 15 or 20 young men, not dressed for the funeral, came into the sacristy and the mood turned more menacing. At that point, the security forces melted away. The young men continued screaming and then started pushing and hitting Father Jean-Juste. At that point a young woman emerged from the crowd and embraced Father Jean-Juste, shielding him with her body from the blows and increasingly loud and angry young men. She started praying loudly, saying, "Mon Pere, mon Pere."

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Fed up

"You are fed up with words, and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean.

It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right....

The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important."

- Thomas Merton

Source: Daily Dig


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In the wake of The War of the Worlds
by Jake Erickson

With Tom Cruise's recent outbursts and with more people rushing out to the movies to see Steven Spielberg's version of H.G. Wells's classic The War of the Worlds, I decided to avoid the initial crowds. Being the good college English major I am, I instead decided to sit down and actually read this classic about invading evil Martians, crafts from outer space, and, to my surprise, faith.

The book is a terrifying read, and as part of a somewhat younger generation, I'm now beginning to see how Wells's famed radio broadcast would have been petrifying. I share a quote from the book, however, that shook me the most. Following the destructive attacks of the Martians, the narrator encounters a curate (a vicar or priest) in a wretched, fearful state. And the narrator tries to get the curate's act together:

"You are scared out of your wits! What good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God had exempted Weybridge? He is not an insurance agent."

Wells places the heavy burden of representing all religion in the curate. In fact, the critiques of the curate's actions raised by the narrator are directly applicable to popular conceptions of the current role of church in the world.

+ Read the full article


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What's the point of short-term missions?

Christianity Today recently presented a dialogue on the value of short-term missions sparked by Calvin College Professor Kurt Ver Beek. His recent study claimed that "short-term missions as done now are not having the impact that people think or want, even if done to levels of excellence." Ver Beek's interviews with the beneficiaries of Honduran hurricane relief found that if given the choice, they'd prefer short-termers stayed home and just sent money, "thereby using less resources on their own travel expenses and more on the people they intend to help."

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Readers write

Russ Eanes writes from Johnstown, Pennsylvania:

I appreciate David Batstone's questions about the effects of the mass media on our children and thank him for letting us know about the Boomerang! progam ["Mass media aliens are sucking out your kids' brains," SojoMail 7/20/2005]. I wonder, though, if this is still inadequate. As a parent of six children I encourage us all to think of alternatives to the mass media itself, which is responsible for making so many overweight, glassy-eyed couch potatoes out of the younger generation. How about playing games outside, swimming, taking walks, hiking, camping, biking, reading books, making music together, just to mention a few - all the things that make us healthier and more rounded?


Joan Barber writes from Spokane, Washington:

It's really pretty simple to cure the mass media problem, but it takes some real spine. Don't subscribe to cable TV, listen to radio more - there is less children's programming there but usually more music of all varieties - and avoid shopping malls as much as is humanly possible. Furthermore, involve your kids in community service and improvement events. They will learn that giving is the most having anyone of us can experience! Basically, the argument many media people promote is that they are "just providing what the public wants." Take away the public from the media maniacs and see just how long a particular market will stand.


Liana Rowe writes from Phoenix, Arizona:

While I agree with David Batstone about the dearth of alternatives available for children within the popular media, I think the notion that the media producers are completely to blame is weak and shortsighted.

I have three children for whom TV and computer games are severely restricted, mostly because I think a conscious adult of conscience needs to be present to help them process the constant stream of messages containing the kind of content Batstone refers to. But what I think is more realistic than demanding that media make sweeping changes is to give the children the skills they need to critically evaluate what they're being told on all levels. For example, with our kids, when they see commercials, we often ask "What's being sold?" For the younger two, that is challenge enough, but for the eldest one, we've begun to ask, "In what way is it being sold? What are the sellers trying to get you to believe about their product that will make it appealing to you?" Those questions can certainly be adapted to the messages from shows, movies, and computer games as well. "Does that scene represent how life is as you understand it or wish it to be?" That might get a child thinking differently about how the media portray retributive attitudes in the media they absorb, and keep their brains from being sucked out of their heads. Thinking children grow into thinking global citizens who are able to articulate their shalom vision for the world.


Jeff Carroll writes from Bowie, Maryland:

Mr. Shelton is absolutely right in his assessment of the present administration's irresponsibility on fiscal matters ["Budgets, Social Security, and the common good," SojoMail 7/19/2005]. It is unconscionable to send soldiers into two wars that we cannot afford with our current tax revenues and then offer a tax cut to those who stay at home. When spending escalates, like it did in unparalleled fashion under this administration, a tax cut is actually a tax deferment. It is a tax passed on to our children, and that is morally wrong. We are called to leave an inheritance, not a deficit. We are called by our constitution to ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and future generations. The present course is morally wrong and unpatriotic.


Gary Casebier writes from Saginaw, Texas:

I have just read the article on Social Security and I am somewhat disappointed. Why? Because it really is not the government's job to begin with. The church has been too influenced by F.D.R.'s programs, which were to stimulate the state and local economies. Even with that said, I think on a federal level a lot can be done but I really think that the federal branch has to assist the states in developing effective community programs. Where are the "bottom-up" ideas? Also, why is there no push toward a national sales tax that would bring a much higher level of income without the troublesome time to figure out deductions? The solutions are there without the need to attack anyone.


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.


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