The Common Good

What We Accomplished Together in 2005

Sojomail - January 5, 2006

Quote of the Week : The 'dirty details'
Faith in Action : What we accomplished together in 2005
Sojourners in the News : Our best coverage in 2005
Action Alert : The moral battle for the budget isn't over
Iraq Journal : Waiting for news of hostages, Christian Peacemaker Teams to launch D.C. witness against Iraq War
Culture Watch : The cultural year in review
On the Ground : A prison carol
Signs of the Times : Season's greetings from Homeland Security
Boomerang : Readers write
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"In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action. But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations."

- A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004.

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What we accomplished together in 2005
by the Sojourners and Call to Renewal staff

Thanks to you putting your faith into action, 2005 was a watershed year in which SojoMail served as a powerful online movement in improving the political and spiritual health of our nation. With every SojoMail update and alert, we worked to offer compelling and politically effective ways to advance the cause of kingdom building. We are deeply grateful for our greatest resource - your voice. As we recap the highlights of the past year, we celebrate real victories in promoting peace, justice, and spiritual renewal, while also committing to redouble our efforts.

God's Politics - Jim Wallis' newest book was published in January, and thanks to your efforts entered The New York Times best-seller list at number 11. It remained on the list for 15 weeks, and through extensive media coverage, its message penetrated the popular culture. At 85 venues in 48 cities, events on college and university campuses, churches and seminaries, bookstores and conferences reached tens of thousands of people. Through Meetup technology, you created more than 500 book studies for God's Politics as a study guide and organizing tool for congregations to begin a new dialogue in America and strengthen a new movement. With your help, God's Politics changed the national conversation on faith and politics.

G8 Summit - You sent thousands of emails to President Bush calling for a bold breakthrough at this year's G8 Summit in Scotland. On the eve of the summit, Sojourners co-convened a religious forum with more than 50 prominent Christian leaders from the U.S. and the U.K., hosted at Lambeth Palace by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Through meetings with senior U.S. officials and Chancellor Gordon Brown, we were able to amplify your calls for bold leadership. Our voices joined a wave of public pressure, under which G8 leaders agreed to cancel 100% of the debt owed by 18 of the world's most impoverished countries and to double foreign assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. Christian leaders put forth a powerful statement on the G8 that serves as a critical theological and political framework for mobilizing the church's prophetic voice on global poverty.

U.N. World Summit - Eight thousand of you joined us in fasting and prayer during the World Summit, breaking the silence on the tragic deaths of 30,000 children daily due to poverty-related causes. The campaign asked the U.S. government to meet its commitments toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Churches across the country used our anti-poverty materials during their worship services, and children from as far away as Hong Kong handwrote letters to President Bush asking him to stand up for children around the world. After threatening to withdraw U.S. support for the goals, President Bush issued a clear statement endorsing them at the summit. We must now call for a concrete plan on how the U.S. will follow through on that pledge.

Budgets are Moral Documents - This year you stood up for the least of these affected by misguided spending priorities. Throughout the yearlong campaign you generated 100,000 calls and e-mails to Congress campaigning on the biblical commitment to view the federal budget as a moral document. Your efforts have influenced political leaders, the media, and other faith groups who have extensively quoted and used our initiative's messages and framing. As the vote approached to cut billions of dollars in health care, child care, food stamps, and student loans, you organized actions in cities and states across the country. You held more than 75 vigils in 34 states to speak out against these cuts. More than 300 clergy and faith-based service providers traveled to Washington, D.C., to provide a prophetic witness against the scandalous budget cuts to programs that protect the most vulnerable among us, culiminating in the arrests of 115 religious leaders and activists in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. While the budget passed the Senate by one vote - Vice President Cheney had to fly back from the Middle East to break a tie - we were successful in removing more than $574 million in cuts to the Food Stamp Program. Since the closely divided House must vote once more on the budget bill, there is still hope for preventing final passage.

Hurricane Katrina and the Davis-Bacon Act - Hurricane Katrina washed away our national denial around the pervasiveness of poverty in America and the persistent link between poverty and race. More than 40,000 of you signed the Katrina Pledge, which contained both a personal and political commitment to rebuild the devastated region while also reordering our national agenda to prioritize the needs of people living in poverty. After President Bush announced in September he was removing wage protections for construction workers by suspending the Davis-Bacon Act in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, you joined political leaders, the religious community, and the labor movement in efforts that led him to reverse that decision.

Social Security - We worked to infuse the debate over Social Security with biblical principles and priorities in a Covenant for the Common Good. You sent more than 50,000 e-mails to Congress and the president to oppose privatization of the system. We also worked with grassroots activists to organize town hall meetings on Social Security in 10 cities in Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ohio. Our partners even hosted a "Tailgate Party for Social Security" at the Philadelphia Eagles home opener football game.

National Mobilization on Poverty - More than 800 of you participated in the four-day national One Table Many Voices conference co-sponsored by Call to Renewal and Bread for the World. More than 1,300 people representing 35 faith traditions and diverse ideological perspectives filled the National Cathedral for an Interfaith Convocation on poverty.

Darfur - As atrocities occurred in the Sudan we worked with Rev. Brian McLaren and the Cedar Ridge Community Church to organize five interfaith worship services in the spirit of justice targeting Washington, D.C.'s key media and policymaking institutions to generate awareness and pressure to end the crisis in Darfur. With our support you organized more than 100 concurrent events throughout the country. We will continue to lift up Darfur in future actions until peace and security is restored.

Iraq War - On the second anniversary of the Iraq War you mobilized more than 900 vigils, held in all 50 states, to count the deadly human and political cost of this war. During the year, we also supported a plan by a bipartisan group of members of Congress, led by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) for phased withdrawal from Iraq. Nearly 25,000 of you urged Congress to support the successful efforts of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to prohibit torture of prisoners held by the U.S.

Countering the Religious Right - We spoke out against attempts by the Religious Right to hijack Christianity for their own agenda. For example, Sojourners responded to the Justice Sunday event held at a Louisville, Kentucky, mega-church that included speeches by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, and Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler, joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on video. Sojourners spoke out against this attempt by the Religious Right to claim that stopping the Democratic filibuster of judicial nominees was a test of faith. Nearly 13,000 of you spoke out and told Senator Frist, "Please don't play the faith card by telling people of faith that we must align ourselves with one narrow set of policies." Jim Wallis participated in a highly publicized counter-event, an interfaith Freedom and Faith service, which was attended by more than 1,000 people. We also participated in several interviews by national news outlets. Throughout the coming year, Sojourners will continue to serve as an alternative voice to the Religious Right through our own media and in the public media.

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Our best coverage in 2005

Though they don't always say it as we would, the press has given our efforts extensive coverage this year. Here's a brief round-up:

God's Politics

The amazing true story of the liberal evangelical The Boston Globe

Democrats turn to leader of the Religious Left The New York Times

G8 Summit

A priority for U.S. churches: Africa's poor The Christian Science Monitor

Churches join to urge aid to Africa Los Angeles Times

U.N. World Summit

Faith groups pray and fast to overcome poverty as U.N. meets The Christian Post

Budgets are Moral Documents

Backlash may save food stamps funds The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

More than 100 arrested in Capitol protest Associated Press

Hurricane Katrina

What has become a matter of fairness The Chicago Defender

Katrina brings rude awakening of poverty in U.S. The Tennessean


Darfur in darkness: Liberal evangelicals are picking up where conservative evangelicals left off The American Prospect

Iraq War

Vigils planned to mark war's 2nd anniversary Duluth News Tribune

Countering the Religious Right

One more 'moral value': Fighting poverty The New York Times

The politics of faith U.S. News and World Report

Religious Right, Left meet in middle The Washington Post

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The moral battle for the budget isn't over

The House and Senate both passed a morally irresponsible budget in December. But because of your efforts we have one last opportunity to prevent cuts that hurt the poor.

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What can you do? The house is scheduled to vote a final time on Feb. 1. This month, you can identity public events near you where your representative will be speaking or be accessible. (Check local papers, his or her Web site at, or call his or her district office for info on town hall meetings or other events.) Attend those forums and urge them to oppose final passage of the budget reconciliation conference report (during Q-and-A, as they talk about community concerns, or another segment).

Your message is simple: This budget does not reflect your moral priorities and you want them to VOTE "NO" in February. Stay tuned for more in coming weeks.

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Waiting for news of hostages, Christian Peacemaker Teams to launch D.C. witness against Iraq War
by Celeste Kennel-Shank

While members of Christian Peacemaker Teams wait for word on their colleagues - kidnapped in Baghdad more than a month ago - they are planning a two-week event in Washington, D.C., to highlight detainee abuse in Iraq.

Since the Nov. 26 disappearance of Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, James Loney, 41, Tom Fox, 54, and Norman Kember, 74, Christian Peacemaker Teams "has been overwhelmed by the expressions of support," the Chicago-based nonviolent activist organization said in a statement Friday. "We hope this campaign might provide a framework by which Christians, Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths can continue to use that supportive energy on behalf of justice for all those detained and victimized by the war in Iraq," they said.

Lasting from Jan. 15 - birth date of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. - through Jan. 29, the "Shine the Light" campaign will feature processions, candlelight vigils, and a bit of street drama.

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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 1-800-714-7474. Deadline for applications for the 2006-2007 intern year is March 1.


The cultural year in review
by Gareth Higgins

This year brought its share of cultural glories and tragedies - from the controversy surrounding the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer - The Opera to the worldwide audience for Live 8's semi-successful promotion of the Make Poverty History campaign, from the return of Batman to the unleashing of King Kong, from a new Umberto Eco novel to new albums from Kate Bush, Sufjan Stevens, and Neil Diamond.

As for literature, I developed deep admiration and affection for the writing of Anne Lamott, and her Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith is the book that has most enriched my everyday spirituality this year. I was pleasantly surprised by Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, in which he proposes that popular culture may actually be making us smarter - by educating the audience in complex problem-solving by means of Jack Bauer's anti-espionage tactics in 24, or through building a whole society in Sim City, for instance. It will change the way you watch TV. For me, though, the greatest pleasure came with the publication of The Complete New Yorker - every single issue of the cultural and political weekly published since 1925. It's a treasure trove of information and analysis, and a beyond cool experience to read pieces such as analyses of Hitler's personality written before he invaded Poland, the unfolding of Watergate as it happened, and the reviews of Star Wars printed before it redefined financial success.

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Tell Congress: Children Do Not Have to Suffer or Die

In the next 24 hours, nearly 30,000 children younger than age 5 will die from preventable or treatable diseases - that's over 10 million lives lost each year. The four major killers of these children are diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, and measles. Malnutrition contributes to more than half of these deaths. These children do not have to suffer or die. Simple and affordable tools - vitamins, vaccines, antibiotics - exist to save them. Tell Congress to pass the CHILD and Newborn Act and reaffirm our commitment to child survival around the world.


A prison carol
by Edward Morgan

Imagine a semicircle of chairs on a chapel dais and five music stands across the front. Eighteen men in state-issue green sit nervously holding black binders. They're facing 80 fellow offenders dressed in the same state-issue green. And the play begins....

I've done a lot of plays over the years, including several versions of A Christmas Carol. I've never witnessed a performance more appreciated or relevant than this one. It's partly because the very act of doing a play here is so unique, so special. But it's also because of the story. A man reviews his past: He sees the present anew and longs for a future redeemed by a changed life. By the play's end, that longing hangs in the chapel like a specter.

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Season's greetings from Homeland Security
By Rose Marie Berger

The 25 members of Witness Against Torture returned from their vigil at Guantanamo on Sunday night, Dec. 18, and were not given a very warm welcome by Homeland Security agents. The group of Christian peace activists had walked 50 miles from Santiago, Cuba, to the gates of the controversial American detention center at Guantanamo Bay to set up a vigil and encampment at the closest point they could reach to the prisoners held there. "After repeated appeals to the White House and the Guantanamo base commander," said Art Laffin, vigil participant and Catholic Worker member from Washington, D.C., "we were denied an opportunity to perform a simple work of mercy - to visit the prisoners." On Thursday the vigil participants ended a three-day water-only fast with a liturgy at the Glorieta Cuban military checkpoint, about 10 miles from the tortured prisoners. On Sunday they headed back to the United States.

However, 14 of those who flew via the Domincan Republic and landed at Newark Airport were met by U.S. agents lacking Christmas cheer. The Witness Against Torture members were interrogated by Homeland Security and U.S. Customs agents. "We had to fill out a special Cuba form explaining why we went to Cuba without a license and what we did," said Laffin. This information, they were told, will be turned over to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the Treasury Department that deals with people who travel to Cuba without a government license. The office is the government agency that recently fined Voices in the Wilderness $20,000 for taking medicine and medical supplies to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions laws. "It remains to be seen what will happen," continued Laffin. "We give thanks to God for what we were able to do and pray that God will now guide us in the next steps we take on behalf of the Guantanamo prisoners."

+ Learn more about Witness Against Torture

+ FBI spies on Catholic Workers

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by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself through 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, MI 48126.


Readers write

Rob Vranich II writes from Austin, Texas:

Thank you so much for putting in the article of the 1914 Christmas Truce ["A Christmas truce, a New Year's prayer," SojoMail 12/28/2005]. That has been my favorite Christmas story since I was a kid. My great-grandfather used to tell me about World War I (he wasn't there yet at the time of the truce; he was an American), and reading articles about the truce always is a tearjerker. To think of their suffering in those trenches and taking the chance with their enemies like that - I think it helps me remember that God can never be driven away no matter how hard we may sometimes try and he is always there for us.


Cindy Ley writes from Wadsworth, Ohio:

Chris Peltier writes from Shutesbury, Massachusetts, "Where are the pro-life Democrats? I think we would see the supposedly monolithic evangelical voting block disintegrate if we had a viable option which combined life ethics and care for the poor" [Boomerang, 12/28/2005].

A group called Democrats for Life of America has introduced a 95-10 Initiative, which is a comprehensive package of federal legislation and policy proposals that aim to reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years. More at I agree that some people will always vote Republican, thinking it is supposed to be the pro-life way to vote, and that will override all other issues for them. In actuality, abortions are not necessarily lower during Republican administrations, but it is surely a way to keep people voting Republican anyway.


T.A. Metreger writes from Chicago, Illinois:

I agree with Chris Peltier that Sojourners should remain nonpartisan, and I have faith that they will be equally critical of the shortcomings of the next Democratic administration. However, it's a shame that Chris is caught up in the pro-life/pro-choice war successfully manufactured by those in power to divide the country. Overall, abortion rates are no lower in areas where abortion is restricted by law. Shaming desperate women and branding doctors murderers only causes resentment and bitterness among those in the pro-choice camp. While pro-lifers display their devotion to the cause by dutifully voting Republican and displaying the proper bumper sticker, they have yet to ignite any serious debate as to how we can reduce abortion rates in this country. The lowest rates are in western European countries where abortion is broadly permitted. If pro-lifers sincerely wish to improve our own rates, they would look to those countries as examples and support research to determine what factors account for their lower rates. Could it be nationalized health care? Better access to contraceptives? Lower poverty rates and higher expenditures on social programs? Perhaps the reason the pro-life movement has failed to spark any serious debate on the subject is because they fear they just might discover that the true pro-life party is that of the Democrats.


Dave Carroll wrties from Wilmington, North Carolina:

As a broadcaster, I have been caught in the crossfire of the so-called War on Christmas. Being flanked by Bill O'Reilly before and Michael Savage after me, my little 5 to 7 show gave the red-meat defenders of Christmas their chance to spout off about their run-ins with store clerks who they gleefully punished and rebuked for daring to wish them a happy holiday!

I was particularly pleased by David Batstone's wonderful piece on Christmas ["Materialism and greed might ruin your Christmas," SojoMail 12/21/2005]. I reserved the last five minutes of my Friday (Dec. 23) show to read the piece to my listeners in a hope that, for the vast majority of the self-described Christians who listen to my show and who had adopted such a hostile stand against the secularization of the holiday season, perhaps, they would be reminded why they were supposed to be celebrating the season in the first place. I was pleased by the number of voice mails and e-mails I received from my listeners who thanked me for the reminder. While it is true that there are even more altruistic ways to commemorate Christmas, Batstone's piece will hopefully remind those holy warriors on the frontlines of the War on Christmas that battering an elderly woman at Wal-Mart over an X-Box really isn't the reason for the season.


Chris McGregor writes from Epping, Sydney, Australia:

I read again [Ryan Beiler's] essay...and just had to write to say thank you ["Advent in Iraq, Rush Limbaugh, and reality," SojoMail 12/9/2005]. Thank you for making me feel that I am not insane. Sometimes when I look at the Christian spokesmen we have in politics in both our countries I truly despair. It used to be hard to talk about Christianity in my secular workplace because people thought it was irrelevant. Now it's even harder because people think it's irrational. I don't know which is worse! There's a reason courage is embedded in the word encouragement - that's what you give me.


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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