The Common Good

State of the World, State of the Union

Sojomail - February 1, 2006

Quote of the Week : Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: What would Jesus do at Davos? | 'Speeches come and go, but policies continue'
Faith in Action : America watches the State of Our Values
Iraq Journal : New video shows kidnapped Christian peacemakers to be alive and exhausted
Palestine Journal : A Palestinian pastor reflects on Hamas' electoral victory
Culture Watch : The gift of difference in The Ringer
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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"I believe that there is a plan and a purpose for each person's life and that there are forces working in the universe to bring about good and to create a community of love and brotherhood. Those who can attune themselves to these forces - to God's purpose - can become special instruments of his will."

- Coretta Scott King, in her 1969 autobiography My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. She died in her sleep Monday night at age 78.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Stop the Stealth Attack on Our National Parks!

The Bush administration has launched yet another attack on America's most treasured wild places - our national parks. Their plan would dramatically reduce protections for our parks, which could lead to increased off-road vehicle use, additional commercialization, smog and other forms of degradation. These changes could erode the look and feel of places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. We only have until Feb.18 to weigh in on this outrageous proposal - click here to submit your comments now.

Grand Canyon National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.


What would Jesus do at Davos?
by Jim Wallis

Once each year, the quiet and spectacularly beautiful Swiss mountain village of Davos is taken over by top business and political leaders from around the globe for the World Economic Forum. The motto of the event is "Committed to Improving the State of The World." Last week, 1,200 of the world's elite gathered, carefully protected by 8,000 security personnel. The topics were wide-ranging, the panelists among the most famous people in the world, the discussions often quite provocative.

The kind of globalization that drives for unbridled economic growth and unlimited corporate profits, while imposing financial conditionality on poor countries - often to their detriment - has been a persistent problem for real development in the global south, and an offense to the requirements of justice. Yet, in the many sessions I participated there was a serious critique of those very practices and structural problems, especially in regard to the global health care crisis and the serious reduction of extreme poverty. That was a sign of some hope.

Since Sept. 11, a few religious leaders have been invited to join the conversation with the hope of creating interfaith dialogue to breach dangerous divides and add broader moral and ethical perspectives to the deliberations over the "state of the world." During a West-Islamic World Dialogue meeting the first morning, the diverse religious leaders said they hoped to "understand the differences, and affirm the commonalities." This year, 24 religious leaders came from around the world to talk with each other and with the gathered business and political leaders. The group was convened each day by my old friend, Lord George Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury, and then regularly dispersed to listen and present to the many interactive sessions with the leaders of governments, corporations, and civil society. Six of us came from the United States.

I was encouraged by the frank conversations about global poverty and disease that so adversely affect the world's poorest people. One session pointed out that of the 10 million children who die every year, one quarter could be saved by the vaccinations that routinely prevent their diseases in developed countries but are still not widely available in developing nations. About a 20-year gap exists between when new lifesaving and life-enhancing drugs are introduced in the rich and poor parts of the world, and the difference in life expectancy between the two parts is now at a shocking 40 years.

Business people such as Bill Gates of Microsoft pointed to the "market failures" of a health care system that caters to the rich world, and called for "grand risk-taking" to save many lives. It was impressive to see how the world's greatest architect of computer software has so thoroughly educated himself on the world's greatest health crises and begun to invest so much of his fortune and of himself in finding answers. Underneath the discussions was the dramatic disparity and acknowledged moral indictment of how life is less valued in the world's poor places than the rich ones - about 100 times less, one presenter estimated.

In an extraordinary session on "Next Steps for Africa," panelists spoke of 2005 as a year of glaring promises, but that 2006 must become a year of delivery and of monitoring those commitments. Nigerian President Obasanjo offered a consistent prophetic voice as a leading African reformer who has courageously taken on both the corruption in his own country and the corruption in the dealings of wealthy nations and companies with African countries. Irish musician and activist Bono spoke strongly about the need for trade justice if impoverished nations are ever going to escape poverty, and called for "preferential treatment" for the poorest countries. He said agricultural subsidies in the West, which pay every European cow the equivalent of $2 a day, could make Africans living on less than $1 a day wish they were cows instead of people.

And Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Great Britain, quoted Martin Luther King Jr.'s comments on democracy in hoping that the "promissory note" of Western pledges for development would not end with "insufficient funds," and then offered his creative vision of "innovative financing" to meet the most urgent global needs - like universal education and health care for the world's most vulnerable children. Most agreed the answers lay both in African empowerment and responsibility taking in the rich countries.

In her opening address, new German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to honor her county's development aid pledge of 0.7% of its GDP, despite domestic pressures to renege on those commitments. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz didn't speak to U.S. commitments, but acknowledged that many problems in development in poor countries still exist, such as start-up business fees in many places of up to $500. These, he said, would only be "an expensive lunch" for many of the people at Davos, but a tremendous obstacle for most of the world's people.

I spoke to a session called "Should We Despair of Disparities?" and showed how the biblical prophets only rose up when inequality became a societal problem (as it is today), and to another titled, "The Hand of God in U.S. Politics," in which many Europeans were relieved to hear that the Religious Right isn't the only faith-inspired movement in America. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, and I met for the first time in Davos and found that we shared many common commitments. We talked at length about how the "pastoral agenda" and the "prophetic agenda" for the churches could complement each other in the struggle to overcome poverty.

Many of the likely candidates for U.S. president in 2008 were on hand, including Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz), Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.), and former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia. Former President Bill Clinton packed the house when he spoke of the three greatest threats in the world today - global climate change, social and economic inequality, and religious and cultural conflict - but called the assembly of talented and powerful people to believe these problems have solutions if we work hard and persevere.

Among those gathered at Davos were an impressive and hopeful collection of emerging leaders and social entrepreneurs who are already making a real difference. I met one of them at a session on "delivering services and doing good" - a young Swiss man named Pierre Tami who became a Christian and went to Cambodia where he began to rescue women and children caught up in sex trafficking. In 12 years, Hagar, the Christian development organization he founded, has touched the lives of 100,000 women, many of whom have been freed from sexual slavery and have found new ways to live and work through a myriad of successful small businesses started by Hagar. After I spoke to the group, Tami told me, "I know who you are.... I get SojoMail!"

Davos is the ultimate networking experience, and the religious community is playing a greater role in this global town meeting. One Christian leader commented that he believed Jesus would have come to Davos if he were invited. A nearb rabbi whispered under his breath, "But I'll bet he would have overturned a few tables." Indeed.

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'Speeches come and go, but policies continue'
by Jim Wallis

The president's State of the Union address sounded like it was cut and pasted from so many old speeches. There was nothing new last night. Easily agreed-to rhetoric about freedom, growth, opportunity, and civility hides the facts:

1. George Bush's foreign policy, and the way he fights his war on terrorism, is making our families less safe and secure, not more. His war in Iraq was based on false pretenses and has utterly failed. Yet, the president doesn't seem to have the capacity for self-examination, or the moral sense to change the nation's course.

2. George Bush's former rhetoric of compassionate conservatism has all but disappeared, and his domestic policies have clearly increased poverty in the United States. Overseas, shining promises to reduce global poverty have fallen tragically short. Last night he promised to continue down the path of moral hypocrisy with tax and spending cuts that further enrich the wealthy and impoverish the poor.

The facts of George Bush's policies undercut the moral values that many Americans, especially many of us in the religious community, hold dear. When rhetoric hides the facts, moral integrity suffers. Speeches come and go, but policies continue. And the facts of the Bush administration's policies will continue to turn true moral values voters away from this president.

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"A touching narrative on the nature of faith...powerful and shocking." - The New York Times

A documentary film by Martin Doblmeier

National PBS broadcast Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. EST (Check local listings).

NPR interview with filmmaker Martin Doblmeier on Speaking of Faith.

Special Screenings:

Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.
Washington National Cathedral
Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues, Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by the Cathedral College and Sojourners.
Admission: $15 at door. With Martin Doblmeier.

Feb. 2 at 7 p.m.
James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway at 121st Street, New York.
Sponsored by The Hartley Film Foundation in collaboration with
Auburn Theological Seminary. Admission: free. With Martin Doblmeier.


America watches the State of Our Values

In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush spoke at length about his version of moral values, national security, and fiscal responsibility. Immediately following his speech, Sojourners supporters in more than 160 communities in 40 states and the District of Columbia responded to local media with their alternative vision of moral values and priorities - values that reflect the biblical call to social justice and peacemaking. Many thanks to those of you who made your prophetic voices heard by hosting or attending a State of Our Values Watch in your hometown!

Here are a few of the news stories the Watches generated:

Evangelicals Branch Out Politically Los Angeles Times

Gathering at church brings faith perspective to address The Denver Post

Locals React to the State of the Union WVLT Volunteer TV, Knoxville, Tennessee

Optimistic tone in Bush's speech not shared by all The Daily Herald, Everett, Washington

Washington Group Urges 'State of Our Values Watch' Charleston Gazette, Charleston, West Virginia

Church and Community Leaders to Discuss "State of Our Values" Baylor University Magazine, Waco, Texas

Bipartisan gathering looks at speech from religious, moral perspective Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado

Speech draws concern at Salem Event The Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon

An Interview with Adam Taylor on "The State of Our Values" Campaign The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy

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Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice
March 10 to 13, 2006 - Washington, D.C.

"Challenging Disparity: the Promise of God - the Power of Solidarity" is the theme for the 2006 Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference. Worship, workshops, and speakers will inspire and prepare participants to shape a U.S. policy that nurtures peace, alleviates poverty, and protects the integrity of God's creation. Register online now!


The cost of discipleship: New video shows kidnapped Christian peacemakers to be alive and exhausted
by Rose Marie Berger

It has been an aching 66 days since four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq were abducted in Baghdad by a previously unknown insurgent group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. On Jan. 28 a new video was released by the captors. The four men - Harmeet Singh Sooden, James Loney, Tom Fox, and Norman Kember - are alive and appear to be exhausted.

The Jan. 28 video - which lasts 55 seconds - shows our four brothers to be haggard and gaunt. They've lost weight. They are unshaven. They appear to be in the same clothes as when they were abducted. They are speaking, but there is no sound.

"In response to the newest video, we are focusing on the positive aspects," Michele Naar-Obed, 49, Baghdad team member, told Sojourners in a phone interview on Sunday. "We are very grateful to know that our friends are still alive. This is the first we've been able to see them since the last video. They appear to be in relatively good condition. They are alert. They didn't appear injured. All of that is a great relief to us. We remain hopeful that they can be released in safety and good health."

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+ Read Berger's complete interview with CPT's Michele Naar-Obed

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A Palestinian pastor reflects on Hamas' electoral victory
by Rev. Mitri Raheb

It will take some time to absorb the far-reaching ramifications of the election. Yet, once this is done we have to analyze what is really happening in our society. A friend said yesterday, "You have been always good in talking about the endless opportunities behind the tremendous challenges. Can you still see this here too?" I replied, "Definitely!"

I am not minimizing the threat and danger behind this green revolution. Neither do I dismiss the possibility of the society's Islamization, a potential clash between Hamas and Fatah, or the likely isolation of Palestine internationally. Yet, one must see the other side of the coin. This is the only time in the Middle East that a one-party rule has ended peacefully by democratic elections. We must accept this as the best way to rotate political power. The people decided that enough is enough with Fatah and its rule. They opted for change. This change has not only to do with the power of Hamas but also with a process that is necessary for our society. In reality, this change means the end of the PLO as we know it, since its parties and structures do not relate anymore to the issues of Palestinian society. A new political landscape has to emerge now. This brings with it endless possibilities. The identity of Fatah after Arafat has to be shaped. The leftist parties in Palestine have to wake up from their sweet dreams and ideologies, to unite, restructure and to develop a new vision. Hamas is now obliged to show their capability of delivering what they were promising, and to learn how to build a government rather than being in the "lazy chair" of the opposition. The people of Palestine have to get used to regularly calling their representatives to accountability through this medium of democratic elections.

Finally, what about us Palestinian Christians? My answer is that we are called not to be afraid, neither to panic nor to withdraw from the public sphere. We are called not to feel as if we are just spectators but rather to participate with many in this quest for a new Palestinian identity.

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"The best part of the program is building God's kingdom through justice, love, and service." - John

"The most life changing part of the program is the chance really to be part of a Christian community: to share meals, laughter and tears, all the big and small parts of daily life." - Celeste

"I love the parties!" - Tomek

There are as many reasons to be a Sojourners intern as there are Sojourners interns. Want to find your own reason to join us? For information click here or call 1-800-714-7474. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2006.


The gift of difference in The Ringer
by Melissa Bixler

Sitting through the film The Ringer is a bit like finding yourself in the uncomfortable part of a Flannery O'Connor story, the part where a well-educated or proper protagonist experiences a revelation delivered via a freakish character and is then promptly gored by a bull, shot by a highwayman, or robbed of a wooden leg.

While you might expect angry bulls and false limbs in a Farrelly brothers' film, an embedded conversion story seems less likely. After all, the film comes from the same minds that conceived Dumb and Dumber and Stuck on You. Then there's the plot.

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Top story:

This isn't your father's Moral Majority Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jim Wallis, founder of the group Sojourners and author of the bestselling "God's Politics," was among 115 people arrested on Capitol Hill last month during a protest by evangelicals of cuts to anti-poverty programs like food stamps.

More Sojourners in the news:

The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria Spiked-Online

In my opinion It's time for moderate evangelicals to speak out Lancaster Sunday News

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VOLUNTEER IN AFRICA OR LATIN AMERICA The Comboni Lay Missionary Program is accepting preliminary applications from Catholics desiring to live out a three-year commitment working in Guatemala, Peru, Kenya, South Africa, or Eritrea. Visit

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Readers write

Micah Carver writes from Marietta, Georgia:

There's nothing like a little satire to get your day going, and I hope I'm not alone in appreciating Matt Ching's preemptive piece on the State of the Union address ["Magic 8-Ball says: Outlook not so good," SojoMail 1/25/2006]. He approached the subject with a lot of humor, as well as a good deal of insight. It is unfortunately all too easy to become despondent when I hear the president speak (sadly it's his truthfulness and sincerity that I have the hardest time believing), but Matt Ching's words served as a subtle reminder to take a deep breath, have a few laughs, and trust a sovereign God that will never leave us nor forsake us.


Maggie writes from San Francisco, California:

I was disappointed with Matt Ching's commentary on the Democrats regarding the upcoming State of the Union address. Far from being "boring," the Democrats' response to Bush's State of the Union address is one vital check against all the bald-faced lies this administration will be dishing out. The fact that the Democrats are not repeating Karl Rove's spin verbatim shows that they have backbone to stand up for what they believe in and the desire to get some honest answers out to the American people. Their truth-telling (however newfound) is a big improvement for our government. Let's encourage that, not put it down.

I understand the objective of your organization to remain as nonpartisan as possible. I was not partial to either party either until the last eight years. I've heard one too many lies from this administration and seen them do an about-face one too many times - they pass laws and budgets that do exactly the opposite of what they say. At this point, I would rather be partisan than swallow another one of this administration's lies and pretend that everything's okay. That would be against my conscience. I'd rather seem partisan if this means I will be fighting for the poor and disenfranchised, fair elections, and rooting big money corruption out of our government. (I stand with Rev. Wallis to the very end on social justice!) You could say the prophets of old were partisan, too. I'm proud to let my light shine on this one. Let's encourage more truth-telling from our elected leaders.


The Rev. Paul L. Lubold writes:

Reading Matt's piece on his Magic 8-Ball got me anxious (for the first time) for the State of the Union Address. I really appreciated Matt's clever wit. However, I believe his Magic 8-Ball is terribly inaccurate with its final comment. I happen to be from Pittsburgh!


Pastor Jim Taylor, of Mosaic Community Church, writes from Seguin, Texas:

I agree with the confusion articulated in the article, "Jesus, Daniel, and Earl" by Donovan Jacobs in SojoMail 1/25/2006, regarding the controversy generated by the Religious Right over NBC's recent TV series, The Book of Daniel. I first learned of the disgust of the Religious Right in the article, "The Book of Daniel Controversy," where pastors from the Austin, Texas, community criticize the television series for being, among other things, "offensive, inappropriate, and inaccurate." As a Christian, what I find offensive and inappropriate is their myopic concern over a T.V. show!

Instead of missing an opportunity, I watched the show with a guy who's had very little positive exposure to Christianity. It's interesting that I was able to relationally connect with him and allow the show to spark an extended spiritual discussion. Where these other Christians can only see a false dichotomy - either/or, black/white, in/out, positive/negative - I see another way. It's a way that is depicted by Jesus himself - God incarnated, living gracefully among us, in our often messy and scandalous lives. If Christians are going to have a prophetic voice by being the presence of Christ in the world, perhaps we should choose our causes a little more carefully than boycotting a T.V. show!


Linda Maloney, of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, writes from Enosburg Falls, Vermont:

Thanks for Donovan Jacobs' article, which was on target. So the series has been cancelled. Well, that retrieves an hour of Friday night for me. I felt compelled to follow the show, lest someone in or out of the church ask about it. In truth, the characters' actions and reactions in the series seemed driven not by faith or hope or charity, but by fear of social embarrassment - perhaps naturally enough, given that they were definitely members of the upper crust. There could be a lesson there, having to do with camels and the needle's eye, perhaps?


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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