The Common Good

Big Changes at Sojourners

Sojomail - August 16, 2006

Quote of the Week : Washington's interests in Israel's war
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: Big changes at Sojourners
Biloxi Journal : Charity, justice, and love on the Gulf Coast
Action Alert : Katrina Anniversary: Season of Prayer and Action
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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"The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits. ... Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran."

- a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel, quoted by Seymour Hersh in his New Yorker article, "Watching Lebanon: Washington's interests in Israel's war."

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Big changes at Sojourners
by Jim Wallis

We seldom write about Sojourners, the organization, in this space. Instead I write about the issues of faith, politics, and culture that we seek to connect. But some significant changes have just occurred for us organizationally that I think you will want to know about.

First, a little history. Sojourners was founded in 1971 - 35 years ago - by a little group of seminarians at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago. Right from the start, the original mailing list of index cards in a shoebox began to grow quickly as we encountered people across the country and around the world who were hungry to connect their faith to the fundamental issues of justice and peace in their times. The original name of our publication, The Post-American, changed to Sojourners when we moved to Washington, D.C., in fall 1975. We remain today in the same neighborhood where we began in the nation's capital, having recently moved into the newly renovated Tivoli Theatre building in our own Columbia Heights neighborhood. The life of the Sojourners community has changed in many ways over the decades, but it has always been defined by the mission of articulating a biblical vision of social justice - writing, speaking, and mobilizing; challenging the church, the media, and the government with a progressive Christian message.

Eleven years ago, we founded Call to Renewal, with many other partners and organizations, to specifically focus on poverty by uniting churches and faith-based organizations across the theological and political spectrum to lift up those whom Jesus called "the least of these." While disagreeing on many other issues, we all agreed on the biblical priority of the poor and wanted to come together around a common mission to overcome poverty. But to do that, we needed a new organization for that specific purpose, one that didn't have the history of any existing group.

We needed a new organizational identity to organize around poverty - one that was, at the same time, more narrow in scope than Sojourners (which continued to focus on a wide range of justice and peace issues) and yet also more broad than the constituency Sojourners had been able to attract up to that point. To build a new faith-inspired movement on poverty required a new wineskin, not tied to the past. Many wondered whether it would work, and whether Call to Renewal could develop the broad constituency we needed, including evangelicals, pentecostals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, black churches, and the Latino and Asian-American Christian communities. It worked, and Call to Renewal has, for more than a decade, convened the broadest Christian table on poverty in America.

Our recent Pentecost mobilization demonstrated the strength of that table when more than 600 faith-based activists from 44 states converged on the Capitol to launch the "Covenant for a New America," a results-oriented plan to end needless poverty in America and overseas. From the heads of denominations and national organizations to some of the nation's best preachers, from 200 "Emerging Leaders" younger than 30 to senators and members of Congress from both parties (who knew we now represent and reach constituencies they have to deal with), we called for a vision of dramatic poverty reduction that transcends the old divisions of Left and Right. The wide national media coverage of the event continues (including attention to a very significant address on faith and politics given at the conference by Sen. Barack Obama).

The other big change in our organizational life has been the success of the book God's Politics. It was the right book at the right time, coming just after the 2004 election in which religion and "moral values" played such a major role. The book simply revealed what was already there in America; it became a national best-seller and turned book signings into "town meetings" around the country, with its message reaching millions of people through extensive media appearances. We're very grateful for the ways that God's Politics has extended the mission of Sojourners and Call to Renewal (greatly increasing both the magazine's circulation and our online constituency of SojoMail), but it has added enormous new pressures, such as up to 50 new invitations for speaking and media each week.

The boards of both Sojourners and Call to Renewal soon realized that our organizational capacities were falling short of our mission potential, and that some fundamental changes were necessary. After much discussion and prayer, we have decided to merge the two organizations into one. It was not efficient to have two separate staffs for organizing, media, fund raising, and outreach, nor for me to lead two organizations. With the broader constituency that Call to Renewal has attained, and the much larger reach that God's Politics has made possible, even the identity of Sojourners is different now - especially because of the new generation of faith-inspired young people our work now regularly attracts.

So in June it became official, with the boards of Sojourners and Call to Renewal joining forces to create a new and much stronger organization. For the moment, we are simply calling it "Sojourners/Call to Renewal." We have begun a deliberate process on our mission statement, our identity, our strategy, and even how we name ourselves. A new board, which meets for the first time in October, will be comprised of half former board members of the two organizations and half new members. Together, they bring great diversity and gifts to guide our future direction.

The creation of this new organization will not just serve its own institutional goals. It has the particular vocation of seeking to build a movement that puts faith to work for justice. The particular mission of Call to Renewal in overcoming poverty will continue, and now even more strongly with the Covenant for a New America and a commitment to put poverty on the forefront of the political agenda by the 2008 elections. But we will also serve larger and broader purposes that Sojourners has stood for over the last three decades.

Thirty-five years ago, we young seminarians often felt like voices crying in the wilderness. Now, a new and powerful movement that connects faith to social justice is emerging across the country and around the world - one I see and feel every time I go out on the road. This new organization will serve that movement - and all other organizations that are a part of it.

As always, I am eager for your feedback and, even more, for your involvement with us. The best years of this organization, I believe, are still ahead of us.

This article also appears in the September-October 2006 issue of Sojourners magazine.

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Charity, justice, and love on the Gulf Coast
by James Ferguson

+ See and hear the stories of Katrina survivors.

Editor's note: This is a reflection on a weeklong trip to the Gulf Coast made by Sojourners/Call to Renewal staff members in July to help in home rebuilding. The group was led by Jeff Stinehelfer, director of major gifts, and Robin Fillmore, director of internship, education, and hospitality, and included staff members Ryan Beiler, Jackie Spycher, Geeyung Li, Nadia Stefko, Elise Elzinga, and James Ferguson; Sojourners supporters Brian and Christine Kahl; Stinehelfer's son Jim; and members of Pilgrim Church, Stinehelfer's congregation.

... Each morning we left our air-conditioned oasis of hospitality for dust, sweat, and infuriation with our inability to use a tape measure properly at our work sites in Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi. My site received frequent visits from the owner, Miss Eva, a quietly dignified African-American woman who looked much younger than her eight decades. She would bring around ice-cold Kool-Aid at the end of each day (which I have never appreciated more), and on the last day she prepared a magnificent soul food spread. More touchingly, Miss Eva would simply watch us work, sharing her gratitude by her presence, her smile, and the pride with which she would sweep the floors of her gutted house at the end of each day. Somehow, though we were the ones hanging drywall, I ended up feeling grateful to her just for being there with us.

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Katrina Anniversary: Season of Prayer and Action

One year after Katrina, Sojourners is supporting the National Alliance to Restore Opportunity to the Gulf Coast and Displaced Persons call for a Season of Prayer and Action to embrace our mutual interdependence and responsibility for one another's well-being and to urge upon the federal government the role we know it must play if we are to respond adequately to this continuing disaster. We hope that you will join us in commemorating the anniversary of Katrina's landfall by including a prayer and participating in an action on the weekend of Aug. 25-27.

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This week's media roundup

Top story:

AIDS Pre-Conference: Faith Communities Called by God to Be 'Caregivers' The Christian Post
The biblical story of David and Goliath was used by the Rev. Adam Taylor, director of campaigns and organizing of Washington, D.C.-based Sojourners to illustrate the Church's response to HIV/AIDS. He said David's five smooth stones used to defeat Goliath can be compared to the five "resources" God has given to the church to overcome the epidemic. »read more

More Sojourners in the news:

The Evangelical Sanhedrin and Republicanism Vive Le Canada

Going, Going, Green The Washington Post

The Right and Left Hand of God The Decatur Daily (Alabama)

They mix religion and liberalism The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.)

Evangelicals Spar Over Climate The Washington Times

Nothing New Under the Sun The American Spectator

Another look at the values debate

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

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Readers write

Kevin Lewis writes from Crawley, United Kingom:

Thank you for the encouraging article entitled "Reflections on the Lebanon I know" [SojoMail 8/9/2006]. As a U.K. reader, it is really encouraging to see messages like yours coming from evangelical U.S. Christians. Usually the loudest voices are the evangelical Right, as you know, who tend to be so very one-sided on many issues, particularly anything to do with Israel. As with many in the U.K. and around the world I have been shocked and outraged at Israel's so-called "defensive" strategy, and at the impotence of the U.K., U.S., and U.N. to speak out. As Christians we have to think about where Jesus would be in a situation like this, and I imagine he would probably be in a bunker with an Israeli family in Haifa as well as with a Lebanese family trapped in Tyre. People are people. Thank you for your work and thoughts and reflections, which I am sure are not always popular in your country.


Rabbi Michael Goldman writes from Durham, North Carolina:

I found Deanna Murshed's piece very moving for its loving account of Lebanon's diverse inhabitants, its cool teens sharing the street with tweedy intellectuals and "ankle length-skirted fundamentalist Baptists." Your average Israeli reading Ms. Murshed's article would say: "That sounds a lot like my street in Tel Aviv." It is crucial, that we do our utmost to put a human face on the imagined the Other, all the more so during times of war.

In my close attention to the media, and in my conversations with real Israelis, I have heard nothing but expressions of sorrow for the loss of civilian life that has come with this war. Where are their Arab and Muslim counterparts, expressing sorrow for the loss of life through rocket attacks in Israel? Ms. Murshed contrasts the polished rhetoric of Israelis "in nice suits" with their more threadbare and accented Arab colleagues, and concludes that the Israeli message comes off sounding better because it has more money behind it. Perhaps there is another reason for this disparity. this is that journalists and statespeople in the Muslim world have to be a lot more careful about what they say than do Israelis. If a Lebanese official were to publicly express regret for the loss of Jewish life, Hezbollah would kill him.


John Donaghy writes from Ames, Iowa:

I was moved by Deanna Murshed's reflection on the people of Lebanon. In my ministry at a Catholic Student Center I have met a number of Lebanese Christians - students and a faculty member - who are very different from the images in the media. As the fighting started I sent a e-mail with my prayers to a young faculty member from Lebanon (whom the student newspaper cited as the best-dressed professor on campus). A reply came from Beirut where he was visiting his family. I don't know how he is now but he and all the people of Lebanon are in my prayers.


Caroline Furnari writes from Ocean Pines, Maryland:

I know the type of Lebanese people Deanna Murshed speaks of in her article. In the early 1970s, as an American flight attendant, I visited the cosmopolitan city of Beirut, Lebanon, and I was deeply impressed by its beauty, people, and culture. It was not until many years later when I witnessed the horrors of the 1975-1990 civil war on my living room television that I decided to take a closer look at the multi-layered Lebanese society. It was then that I discovered, through my studies, that a minority Christian population had all too often oppressed and neglected the growing Shiite Muslim population. To this day, though the Shiites represent close to 40% of the Lebanese population, they have only 10% representation in parliament. Perhaps in the past, had the Christian and Sunni Muslim government not neglected their Shia Muslim brothers and sisters, the Shia would not now be turning to Hezbollah for their very survival.


Nancy Mannikko writes from Omaha, Nebraska:

I was prompted to write in response to Bernadette of Corpus Christi who said she opposes raising the minimum wage because if it goes up, she and her husband will not be able to survive as small business owners [Boomerang, SojoMail 8/9/2006]. This assertion is the classic Republican line, but economic studies have shown that when the minimum wage goes up, so does overall employment. Business owners face fluctuations and increases in a plethora of expenses - supplies, maintenance, rent, and so on - and manage to stay in business. Why should they prove incapable of adjusting successfully to an increase in the price of labor? If the minimum wage is increased, every business they compete with will be in the same situation and facing the same increased costs, which means if they have to raise their prices to stay in business, so does everyone else.

Quite frankly, if the only way a person can stay in business is to openly exploit the desperation of other people, perhaps he or she should do some soul searching. We all know that quite a few minimum wage jobs are dead ends involving work that has to be done to keep society running (housekeeping in a motel, for example). To pretend that there's an infinite number of high school and college students doing this work part-time before moving on to something better is delusional.


Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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