The Common Good

A Time of Moral Reckoning

Sojomail - November 16, 2005

Quote of the Week : Give 'em hell, Hagel
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: A time of moral reckoning
On the Ground : Zarqawi's big lie and the Amman bombings
Faith in Action : Before the judge: Going to court for protesting the war
Iraq Journal : An interrogator's testimony
P.O.V. : Veterans speak against torture
Soul Works : Dorothy Day: 'It is hard to love.'
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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Give 'em hell, Hagel

"The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them.... To question your government is not unpatriotic - to not question your government is unpatriotic."

- Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), responding to the president's suggestion earlier this week that critics of the war in Iraq are "sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."

Source: The Washington Post

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A time of moral reckoning
by Jim Wallis

For the past few weeks, thousands of you have been calling and e-mailing your members of Congress, urging them to oppose budget cuts that would hurt people living in poverty. Last Thursday, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on its budget bill. Only minutes after the House convened, the leadership called for a recess. One can only imagine the arm-twisting and deal-making that was going on behind closed doors. But as the hours went on, it became clear it wasn't working. A unified Democratic caucus and a group of moderate Republicans refused to go along. Finally, in the late afternoon, the leadership announced they did not have enough votes, pulled the bill, and adjourned for the Veterans Day weekend.

That announcement by the House leadership showed that enough political leaders were listening - and wanted to do the right thing. Many of us who were working and praying that these massive assaults on our poorest families and children would be thwarted are grateful that we were successful, at least so far.

People of faith believe the budget is a moral document. And they are teaching Congress that moral values extend beyond just those wedge issues often used to divide people. The wins over the past weeks - protecting food stamps in the Senate, reinstating prevailing wages in the Gulf, forcing the House to rethink the budget - show that a partisan and ideological agenda that hurts both poor people and the common good is being called into question. For some time now, religious leaders from across the theological and political spectrum have been standing together against poverty - and we stand ready to support political leaders who speak out for a more compassionate and just budget.

Some of those leaders last week were members like Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), who said in a statement: "The poor bear an unfair burden of the proposed reductions. I'm concerned about cuts to higher-education funding, child care, child welfare and food stamps. These are simply the wrong priorities."

Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) also said in a statement, "...the proposal of significantly reducing student loans, food stamps and a host of other social programs at a time of many wrenches in the economy appears un-compelling."

I applaud leaders in the House who have championed better budget priorities all year - as well as those who are now doing some soul searching, digging down deep, and taking a stand for the less fortunate. I hope and pray that we are experiencing a turning point in how Congress will act to help "the least of these." Our health and security as a nation depends on that. This is a unique opportunity for elected leaders to prevent bad priorities from moving forward, a time of moral reckoning for our country.

The House leadership intends to try again this week to pass their budget, possibly on Thursday. I urge you to continue telling your members of Congress that we will not support budget cuts that hurt poor and working families - not last week, not this week, not next week, or next year. It's time to take a stand.

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Zarqawi's big lie and the Amman bombings
by Jim Rice

Last Tuesday, we stood in the lobby of our hotel in Amman, Jordan, and watched an exuberant wedding party singing and clapping as they sent off the newlyweds. The next day, shortly after we left the city, our small delegation of U.S. Christian journalists heard the tragic news that a similar celebration a block away from our hotel had been devastated by one of three terrorist blasts - Jordan's 9/11, as many have called it.

On our own 9/11 four years ago, we stood at our office windows and watched the smoke billowing from the Pentagon as we gradually realized that the world had changed. In Jordan, that realization seemed much quicker in coming as Amman was added to the list of recent terror victims, joining London, Madrid, Riyadh, Bali. But there is a lot more to Jordan, and the Middle East, than the current political and military crises.

+ Read the full article

+ Statement by delegation of U.S. Christian journalists in Jordan

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Before the judge: Going to court for protesting the war
by Rose Berger

My presence is requested today by U.S. District Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein at the U.S. District Court House in Washington, D.C. I, along with America's most famous military mom - Cindy Sheehan - and 370 others face penalties of up to six months in jail and $500 fines for our arrest at the White House on Sept. 26, 2005, while holding the Bush administration accountable for what we now know is an illegal war in Iraq.

This particular act of civil resistance - with clergy, Gold Star families, military families, peace activists, and veterans - proves false the division between those who seek peace for reasons of faith and conscience and those who risk their lives in war and through military service. As Americans we are united - soldier and civilian, dove and hawk, Right and Left, peacemaker and peacekeeper - in calling to account an administration that has put America and Americans in harm's way. In the words of Dr. King, "Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good."

I go to the court today with trepidation. But also with the encouragement of Paul to the community at Ephesus: "Live as children of the light - for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.... Everything that is exposed by the light becomes visible."

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor of Sojourners, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

+ See Berger's column about her civil disobedience

+ See a press release with more information

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An interrogator's testimony
by Joshua Casteel

It is easier to isolate narrowly confined incidents and behavior. Scowl and point a finger at eight lower enlisted personnel, but never ask a question aimed at understanding our own governing dynamics. When all the cameras of the world turned on Abu Ghraib, I interrogated prisoners under the gaze of cameras and visiting dignitaries. We dressed to the nines and followed procedure. Nothing truly CNN-worthy ever happened during my six-month stay. And we heard about it when visiting interrogators showed up on base. "Abu Ghraib is soft," they would say. Things work differently "out there." And we saw it on the bodies of detainees not sped to the rear [sent out of the custody of the combat units who captured them] like doctrine dictates. Is it odd things like this continue to happen in an atmosphere of intentional policy obfuscation? Or am I the only one unsure of what Rumsfeld means when he uses phrases like "in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions"? Is that like believing deep down in your heart that you're a good person despite continued sins against your neighbor?

+ Read Casteel's full story

+ Take action to stop torture

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P.O.V. ^top

Veterans speak against torture

David F. Adams writes from Homewood, Illinois:

I personally witnessed prisoner abuse during the Vietnam War, and by witnessing and remaining silent became a participant....

When I saw the photos from Abu Ghrab prison, particularly those showing the use of dogs, I relived the incident seared into my mind 35 years ago. Would I, a young 22-year-old airman, have had the courage to say "no" if ordered to terrorize the prisoner with my dog? I regret I cannot say clearly that I would have. It would have been a no-win situation of defying an order on the one hand, and living with ignoring the higher law that exceeds orders given by mere mortals.

Our elected leaders have the responsibility to ensure that those who serve in uniform are not placed in no-win positions that will cause them to compromise their integrity and spiritual connection to God. In this, our elected officials have failed miserably. The inhumane incidents at Abu Ghraib were not the sole action of a "few bad apple MPs," as President Bush has contended; they were the direct result of this nation's decision to turn its back on the Geneva Conventions.

+ Read Adams' full story

Thomas F. Dewey Jr. writes from Clyde, Ohio:

I was an Army JAGC officer in the 1970s, and one of my duties was to teach classes to the troops on the Geneva Conventions....

It seems clear to me that Jesus Christ would not support a policy of prisoner abuse, and yet so many of our leaders who profess to be firm believers in Christ choose to sidestep the issue of what duty each of them has to oppose the practice of prisoner abuse. I wonder if George Bush had been called to active duty as a pilot during the Vietnam War and shot down over Hanoi, would he have wanted to be treated as a prisoner under rules of the Geneva Conventions, or under rules that would permit him to be beaten, drugged, humiliated, and possibly even killed by his captors for the crime of being an American? Someone should ask him such a question. It would certainly be interesting to hear his reply.

+ Read Dewey's full story

+ Take action to stop torture

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'It is hard to love.'

"It is not love in the abstract that counts. Men have loved a cause as they have loved a woman. They have loved the brotherhood, the workers, the poor, the oppressed - but they have not loved [humanity]; they have not loved the least of these. They have not loved "personally." It is hard to love. It is the hardest thing in the world, naturally speaking. Have you ever read Tolstoy's Resurrection? He tells of political prisoners in a long prison train, enduring chains and persecution for the love of their brothers, ignoring those same brothers on the long trek to Siberia. It is never the brothers right next to us, but the brothers in the abstract that are easy to love."

- Dorothy Day, "Meditations"

Found on: Daily Dig

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Top stories:

Religion in America: Churchless seekers U.S. News and World Report
Wallis makes the sensible argument that liberals need to put aside their somewhat hidebound secularism and acknowledge the importance of faith in our public life. Just as important, he says, they need to challenge the ways conservatives have co-opted Christianity to advance a narrow, moralistic agenda that focuses on divisive issues like abortion and same-sex marriage and neglects the stronger Gospel concerns with poverty, social justice, and peace.

Democrats Learn Lessons on Religion from Kaine Victory
Jim Wallis on NPR's Morning Edition with Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

+ Listen to the streaming audio

More Sojourners in the news:

Officials discuss possible cuts The Reidsville Review (North Carolina)

Democrats fight against bill that cuts funding The Daily Tar Heel (North Carolina)

Budget deception Magic City Morning Star (Maine)

Majority Report Air America

The Al Franken Show Air America

Beyond compliance: Companies embrace ethical ways to work The Christian Science Monitor

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Readers write

Alan Hatfield writes from Florey, Australia:

As new instances of abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. forces continue to be raised, I find it almost beyond belief that the U.S. is actually debating the issue of torture and its use by U.S. forces ["Who would Jesus torture?" SojoMail 11/9/2005]. There can be no justification under any circumstances of abuse of another human being - physical, mental, emotional, etc. - none. Not only is it abhorrent to any reading of the Christian gospel and the opening statements of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, it is no more than lowering yourself to the very standards that you profess to abhor. I am amazed that it can even be considered as a possibility in a modern democracy.


Leland Dolan writes from Houston, Texas:

During the 2000 presidential compaign, George W. Bush declared openly that Jesus was his mentor. What puzzles me is that most of the president's policies seem more based upon pragmatism than upon the example set by Jesus Christ. In the gospels, the one person who most exemplified political pragmatism was none other than Pontius Pilate. It seems like Pilate is the patron saint of today's politicians, be they Republican or Democrat!


Steve Taylor writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:

As usual, I find David Batstone's commentary thought-provoking. And while he makes a strong case for the McCain proposal to draw a clear line in the sand about the U.S.'s treatment of detainees, prisoners, etc., I must question his use of the WWJD framework in doing so. I see that question/template used and misused in many corners of Christian practice, but I certainly find it problematic to apply to matters of foreign policy for any country. While the simplest answer is completely obvious: Jesus wouldn't torture anyone; we can go further and say Jesus' teaching on turning the other cheek would suggest he would never defend himself either. By extension, no Jesus country should ever defend itself against any aggressor or attacker. If that's the case, then perhaps Batstone should move more clearly to articulate that bottom line. If that's not the case, then it would help us (readers in the hinterland) to have some help in applying the WWJD question more thoughtfully. Or perhaps international affairs is an inappropriate context for such an application.


Jean Hunt writes from Nebraska:

Re: C. Melissa Snarr's recent article, "Wal-Mart and frugality's folly" [SojoMail 11/9/2005]. Is she suggesting that low-income and middle-class families are being selfish and self-serving when they look for the best bargain? I take offense. We would like to abandon our every-man-for-himself budget, and trade it in for a we-are-all-in-this-together plan. How and when will that happen? I agree that Wal-Mart has followed a policy of greed, and that they need to share their profits with their workers (who, by the way, make those profits possible). But Ms. Snarr, do not condemn those of us who shop there. Do you have health insurance? Does your workplace provide a pension? If so, consider yourself in the lucky minority. There are many families who, while not living paycheck-to-paycheck, still need to save where they can.

When I make purchases at locally-owned stores or at other large chain stores, I wonder how much difference it really makes. I know for a fact that a great many of them do not carrry health insurance for their employees, and their wages aren't much better than Wal-Mart's.


Dan McGrath writes from Basking Ridge, New Jersey:

How can we proclaim dead that which never was ["The death of compassionate conservatism," SojoMail 11/7/2005]. Compassionate conservatism was a slogan dreamed up by Karl Rove to attract moderate voters to vote for George Bush, despite their better instincts. It was contrived out of Bush's opportunistic record as Texas governor, focusing on education as a key accomplishment, and it grew to include the Medicare prescription drug boondoggle for pharmaceutical stockholders, designed to attract senior voters while increasing corporate welfare. True conservatives despise that program, and the truly compassionate wonder how their elderly, non-Web-savvy parents will be able to choose from among the many discount cards available: different ones for different ailments.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Because of the volume of letters we receive, concise responses that include a name, hometown, and state/province/country are the most likely to be published. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. E-mail:

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