The Common Good

It's Not Over!

Sojomail - January 12, 2006

Quote of the Week : The man who stopped the My Lai massacre
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: It's not over!
Soul Works : MLK's quest for peace and justice
Theologically Connect : Laboring for God's transformation
Iraq Journal : Conquering fear with laughter
Verbatim : Robertson offends everyone with Sharon statements
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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"I mean, I wish I was a big enough man to say I forgive them, but I swear to God, I can't."

- Hugh Thompson, former army pilot who landed his helicopter between Vietnamese civilians and the U.S. soldiers who were killing them at the My Lai massacre. Thompson died of cancer last week at age 62.

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It's not over!
by Jim Wallis

It's not over! Our campaign for a moral budget is still crucial in this new year. We can still stop budget cuts that will affect low-income people. The House, caught up in scandal, is in a struggle for new leadership, and only a handful of Republican moderates changing their vote would defeat the budget.

On Dec. 21, just before leaving for their Christmas break, the Senate passed the budget conference report. Vice President Dick Cheney had to cut short a diplomatic trip to the Middle East to cast the deciding vote as president of the Senate, 51-50. Many news stories simply reported that the budget had passed. Lost in the stories was the fact that the report was changed from what the House had passed. The House must now approve the Senate's version, and members have scheduled a vote for Feb. 1, 2006. A vote on making permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest will follow shortly after. The moral contradiction will be hard to avoid with these back-to-back debates and votes to cut services for the poor and then taxes for the rich.

While the religious community's involvement in the budget debate helped save food stamps for poor families, the bill still contains many provisions that harm low-income people. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the increases in Medicaid co-pays and premiums, and reductions in benefits, will total $42 billion over 10 years, affecting many families who live just above the poverty line. These cuts could affect all of the 28 million children who receive health care through Medicaid, and many working poor families. Federal student loan programs are cut by $12.7 billion over five years, making it more difficult for low-income students to afford higher education.

The reauthorization of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) remains in the report. It increases work requirements, but only provides $1 billion in additional child care funding - far less than needed by single mothers trying to escape both welfare and poverty - and $11 billion less than the CBO estimates is needed. Funding for child support enforcement is reduced by $1.5 billion over five years and $4.9 billion over 10 years, resulting in payments for low-income single mothers and their children going uncollected.

What we have said all year now needs repeating - budgets are moral documents that reflect our priorities. The choice to cut supports that help people make it day to day in order to pay for tax cuts for those with plenty goes against everything our religious and moral principles teach us. It is a blatant reversal of biblical values. A time of war, rising poverty rates, record deficits, and natural disasters is no time to cut supports for the poor and taxes for the wealthy.

President Bush will deliver the annual State of the Union message on the evening before the House vote (Tuesday, Jan. 31). Early news reports indicate that he will ask for even more budget and tax cuts in next year's budget. Sojourners and Call to Renewal are planning "State of Our Values watches," encouraging people to gather in churches and homes to watch the speech. We will listen carefully to see if the president speaks to our values - values of economic justice and peacemaking - or to more war and more budget cuts for the poor. And then we will respond to the media, to our members of Congress, and to our communities. You'll hear more details on the "State of Our Values watches" very soon. The day after the president's speech will be the crucial budget vote in the House of Representatives.

We've come a long way this year. One year ago we began our campaign to tell our political leaders that "Budgets Are Moral Documents" that reflect the values and priorities of a family, church, organization, city, state, or nation. A budget demonstrates who and what are most valued by those making it. Who benefits and who suffers, who wins and who loses, what things are revealed as most or less important? We said that the question America's religious communities must ask of any budget is what happens to the poor and most vulnerable - especially the nation's poorest children - in these critical decisions.

And we really made a difference. Many political leaders (from both parties) and reporters told me that they have never seen the religious community so deeply engaged in a budget battle. As we enter 2006, an old South African anthem can guide us: "We will not give up the fight, we have only started." It's not over.

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MLK's quest for peace and justice

"We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: "Improved means to an unimproved end." This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern [humanity]. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual "lag" must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the "without" of [humanity's] nature subjugates the "within," dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.

This problem of spiritual and moral lag, which constitutes modern [humanity's] chief dilemma, expresses itself in three larger problems which grow out of [humanity's] ethical infantilism. Each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war."

- Martin Luther King Jr., in his Nobel Peace Prize address, Dec. 11, 1964.

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Laboring for God's transformation
by Naim Ateek

The theme of the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches - "God, in your grace, transform the world" - is a prayer that speaks to many people in various ways....

It is a plea that is directed to God. We recognize the need for transformation, and we go in prayer straight to the one who is able to bring such transformation about. Ultimately, it is God, the fountain of life who renews and transforms us. In times of pain, distress, and oppression, the human spirit turns to God as the source of healing, comfort, and liberation. Palestinian Christians and Muslims living under the Israeli occupation of their country constantly direct their supplications to God. Faith and trust are placed in the power of God and not in the power of human beings.

It recognizes God's way of transformation. God relates to us through grace, mercy, and love. It is not through violence or war that God brings about the transformation of the world. God's grace encompasses all of God's wonderful attributes. To pray for God's grace is to reject the way of empire, which brings about change through the destructive forces of violence and war. Equally, it is a rejection of the methods used by religious extremists who kill others in the name of God. To appeal to God's grace is to seek God's will in the world and to do that will. God's will is justice, peace, and reconciliation, and not domination and oppression.

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    Conquering fear with laughter
    by Greg Rollins, Christian Peacemaker Teams

    How do you laugh in the middle of something as serious as an abduction? How do you keep the enormity of it at bay? If you try to add humor to the situation you run the risk of looking inconsiderate, uncaring, or thoughtless. At the same time, if you don't laugh you run the risk of drowning in severity. So what do you do?

    We have a running joke on the team that those who took our colleagues must be men. We gave them our phone number, but they haven't called us.

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    Worship on Wednesday with Sojourners: Gathering in the spirit of justice, rooted in the prophetic biblical tradition. Join us at Sojourners' new office at 3333 14th St. NW, Suite 200, Washington D.C. on Wednesday, January 18 for a potluck dinner at 5:30 and service at 6:30. For more information, please call 800-714-7474.

    This month we welcome as guest speakers Reverends Romal and Leslie Tune. Rev. Romal Tune is vice-chair of the Faith and Public Life Resource Center, a national interfaith organization brought together by the Center for American Progress. He is currently the president and CEO of Clergy Strategic Alliances. Rev. Leslie Tune works as the director of communications for the Washington Office of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.

    VERBATIM ^top

    Robertson offends everyone with Sharon statements

    "[H]ere he's at the point of death. He was dividing God's land, and I would say: Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations, or the United States of America. God says: 'This land belongs to me. You'd better leave it alone.'"

    - Pat Robertson, commenting on the possible causes for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent stroke.


    "Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don't have a place in this or any other debate."

    - White House spokesman Trent Duffy


    "I'm appalled that Pat Robertson would make such statements. He ought to know better.... The arrogance of the statement shocks me almost as much as the insensitivity of it."

    "He speaks for an ever-diminishing number of evangelicals, and with each episode like this the rate of diminishment accelerates."

    - Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention


    "I know hundreds of people who are just terminally frustrated with the idiotic public statements of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and the idea that these people represent us. They don't."

    - Evangelical author and social commentator Os Guinness


    "Pat's comments were most unfortunate. I don't think this served our cause very well."

    - Donald Wildmon, head of American Family Association


    Sources: The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, The Washington Post

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    Top story:

    Protesting an 'Immoral' Budget The Christian Century
    It is immoral to cut taxes for the wealthy as Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom the Bible says came to "bring good news to the poor," said Sojourners founder Jim Wallis. "There is a Christmas scandal in this nation...but it has nothing to do with shopping malls saying 'Happy holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas,'" Wallis said. "The Christmas scandal is the immoral budget coming out of this Congress."

    Other Sojourners in the news:

    The fundamental problem with narrow, violent religion The Baltimore Sun

    Hostile Takeover: Theocracy in America Tikkun

    Nearer, My God, to the G.O.P. The New York Times

    Left Justified: The True Reason for the Season Rock River Times

    Evangelicals Direct Clout at Global Warming The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Would Jesus recognize Christmas? Lufkin Daily News

    'Tis The Season The American Spectator

    A Social Justice Christmas Story Cook County News Herald

    Year in Review The American Enterprise

    Is God Green? Boise Weekly

    How is Forcing Clerks to Say ‘Merry Christmas’ Advancing Christ’s Love? Black America Web

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    Sisters Online is a collaborative ministry of women religious committed to global kinship, a Web site focusing on spirituality and justice, seeking to be voices for right relationships, and agents of economic/social change.

    BOOMERANG ^top

    Readers write

    Vince Gamma writes from Houston, Texas:

    A quick comment on the article "Season's greetings from Homeland Security," by Rose Marie Berger [SojoMail 1/5/2006]. I'm always intrigued at how groups such as Witness Against Torture are so concerned about the perceived "rights" of the jihadists being held in Guantanamo Bay, but yet don't raise a peep about the documented beatings, tortures, executions, etc., being committed on Christians in Islamic and Communist countries. If one cares about real horrors that are being visited upon truly innocent persons whose only "crime" is spreading God's love (unlike our Taliban friends at Gitmo), go to

    [Editor's note: Sojourners has published several articles on persecuted Christians, including: The Persecuted Body, and Christians in Burma: 'We feel we are known by no one.']


    Jeff Hendricks writes from Topeka, Kansas:

    I read the article from The Washington Post about the Bush administration and the CIA's policies in the war on terror ["The 'dirty details,'" SojoMail 1/5/2006]. I see nothing wrong with those policies. We are fighting an insidious evil that seeks to destroy all religions other than Islam. These ruthless fanatics will stop at nothing to impose their religious point of view on the world and its governments. We must use all means necessary to stop them. They have no regard for Geneva Conventions or other world authorities. They obey no laws except the radical, misguided beliefs of their insane leaders. We must use every means we can to protect American and other peoples' lives from these would-be leaders of the world.


    Rev. Bonnie Shullenberger writes from Ossining, New York:

    The article about Christmas in Bethlehem made me weep ["In the wall's shadow, pilgrims return to Bethlehem," SojoMail 12/28/2005]. It brought to mind my Christmas in Bethlehem in 1993, just after the end of the first intifada. My husband, son, and I were staying in the guest house at St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem when we learned that we would be able to join a group of pilgrims to go to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. It was going to be the first time Bethlehem was "open" for several years, we were told. So after dinner we joined what turned out to be a couple of hundred people in the parking lot across from the cathedral. There we were searched by soldiers before being allowed to enter the buses provided. Once the bus was filled to capacity, the doors were shut and sealed. I think there were four or five buses. Once every bus had been boarded and sealed, we set off. There was an army jeep with a mounted machine gun between each vehicle. We were taken directly to the Church of the Nativity and let off the buses.

    The experience of the church, a strange and wonderful place, was overwhelming, and we knelt and kissed the stone where it is said our Lord was born. But to visit his birthplace in such a fashion shook us to the core. Surely he was not born for this. We could never think about the birth of Jesus or the situation in Israel/Palestine in the old ways again. I have no doubt that the people profiled in the article would say something similar. I am no politician and cannot say how peace can be achieved in that field. But I do know that praying for the peace of Jerusalem is not enough; I must pray for the peace of Bethlehem as well.


    Eric McAndrew writes from Western Australia:

    To Chris McGregor [Boomerang, SojoMail 1/5/2006] may I suggest Christianity is not ir-rational, but extra-rational. Christians have a grasp on a form of reality or rationality that the secular shuns in fear because it knows, but only subconsciously, that would mean giving up power. Secularism responds with ridicule or violence as a form of defence against something that it senses will expose the bankruptcy of its core. Regrettably, much of what passes for Christianity is a comfortably disengaged holier-than-thou piety that reveals its own inconsistency - it seems to ask for a perfection in others that it cannot achieve among its own adherents - trapped in forms rather than finding reality in servanthood.

    Sojourners appeals to me as an engaged form of Christianity that's prepared to get dirty and bruised in the process of speaking up for those whom Jesus said he was sent to: the poor, blind, and the captives in whatever forms that poverty, blindness, and capitivity take. It is a form of loving your neighbour as yourself, derived from loving God and engaging the whole person with God - not just the detached warm fuzzy-heart feeling or the detached analytical intellect.


    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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    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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