The Common Good

Changing the Conversation

Sojomail - August 31, 2006

Quote of the Week : A one-man NGO on Darfur
Hearts & Minds : Changing the conversation
Building a Movement : Simple fairness: A lesson from my grandfather
Theologically Connect : Witnesses to all the earth
Politically Connect : Missouri creates stumbling block for 200,000 voters
Creative Writing : 'Cut and run?' or 'Stay the course?'
Boomerang : Readers write
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A one-man NGO on Darfur

"As a one-man nongovernmental organization, he has done more than any other individual or group I know of to keep the crisis in Darfur on the agenda of political leaders and the public."

-Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, speaking about Eric Reeves, an English professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, whose writing campaigns have helped push for action in Darfur.

To read the full story in The Christian Science Monitor, see

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Changing the conversation
by Jim Wallis

Jim WallisThe paperback edition of God's Politics comes out this week, along with a new companion volume, Living God's Politics, that we put together especially to aid the book study groups that are proliferating in churches and schools around the country. So I wanted to take this opportunity to say a few words about what has happened because of God's Politics and the opportunities that now lie ahead of us.

Many people have said that God's Politics became the book that "changed the conversation" about faith and politics in America. Nothing could be more heartening to me, and, frankly, it was a long time coming. For far too many years, the Religious Right had dominated that conversation and controlled the stage on which the faith and politics discussion took place. It is very good news to a great many people that their monologue is over, and that the loud voices of the right-wing religious partisans are no longer the only ones - now they have to share the stage. They don't like that, but it's a good thing for the church and for the country. We now have a real dialogue about the ways faith should relate to politics and around a much wider range of issues.

God's Politics turned out to be the book that opened the door to that new and wider conversation. Publishers tell me it has opened up space for a long list of new and upcoming books on the subject. The media now profiles many diverse voices on religion and public life, not just the same old cast of characters on the Right. Political leaders from both sides of the aisle are entering into the important discussion of not just whether faith should influence politics, but how. And, perhaps most important, the faith community (especially a new generation of young people) is speaking and acting on a wider and deeper range of moral issues beyond just abortion and gay marriage - including poverty, the environment, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, human rights, and war and peace.

In the new paperback edition, I have added new material about how much things have changed since God's Politics was released almost two years ago. New revelations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the unraveling of Iraq and the Bush administration's war on terrorism have underscored the message of the book. There are signs of hope and change in churches, on campuses, in politics and the media, and throughout our society. And we face a new set of exciting challenges and opportunities.

From the first week on the road with the God's Politics book tour, I could feel the new thing that was happening. It became the right book at the right time, revealing what was already present in America - a clear alternative vision and constituency to the Religious Right just waiting to be called forth and mobilized. I can't tell you how many people told me "I don't feel alone anymore," and how hopeful they felt to see so many people coming out to book-signings that turned into town meetings in their communities. People have also been deeply gratified to see our message (and theirs) now becoming visible on national and local television and radio, and in their hometown newspapers. Perhaps most moving to them (and to me) has been to see their children and a whole generation of young people responding so deeply to the message of God's Politics - for many the first time they have been drawn to any vision of faith.

This summer I got to speak to gatherings of 45,000 Lutheran teenagers, ages 14 to 18, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, and tens of thousands more at youth, arts, and music festivals in the U.S. and the U.K., all full of young people eager to put their faith into action and make their lives count for something important.

There are still many more people who need to see and hear an alternative vision that reflects the biblical vision of justice and peace. And the "conversation" needs to keep changing. I just want to say how much I appreciate your support and how glad I am that we are in this together. God bless you.

Now available at a 32% discount:

Click here to order God’s Politics in paperback.

Click here to order Living God’s Politics -- the new companion guide for putting your faith into action

Let’s continue to change America’s conversation about faith and politics!

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Simple fairness: A lesson from my grandfather
by Amy Ard

My grandfather grew up in south Louisiana in a climate that by today's standards would be considered uninhabitable. Humid air, thick as Jell-O, made even the slightest physical activity laborious, "air conditioning" was achieved by rapidly flapping a hand fan, and rumor had it that some of the bayou-bred mosquitoes were actually hardy enough to carry off small livestock. It was in this alligator-filled, Spanish-moss-and-live-oak landscape that my grandfather, as a young boy, began his life as a laborer.

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Witnesses to all the earth
by Steve Thorngate

I realized a couple years ago that I've grown up to be a bit of a church nerd. And, while I've been involved in many types of churches and think they all have their bit to offer, in recent years I've sort of become a partisan: I'm devoted to ancient tradition, to smells and bells, to liturgy, and especially to the lectionary.

I grew up in a particular kind of evangelical church, in which the sermon frequently began with "Bear with me; we're gonna be flipping around a lot today," flipping pages of the Bible around to create some composite text and pet reading from a dozen favorite verses, often stripped from their contexts. So I've come to appreciate sermons based on just one or a couple more substantial passages. And I especially like that, in a church that follows a lectionary, the subject of the day is defined by something larger than whatever the pastor happens to want to talk about.

One person's novelty is another's tired routine, and perhaps it's in part the fact that I've only been out of low-church evangelicalism for four or five years that makes the lectionary and church year so meaningful to me. I'm very taken with the idea: Each year, in the context of Christian community, we systematically trace the life of Jesus and of the very early church. Following the church calendar for Sundays and other holy days, we observe Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension each once a year, on appointed days.

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Missouri creates stumbling block for 200,000 voters
by Meg E. Cox

Some 200,000 Missouri residents must jump through new hoops if they plan to vote in November's congressional elections. This is the number of registered voters in the state who lack state or federal photo ID, which will be required at the polls this fall under a new law passed in June.

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'Cut and run?' or 'Stay the course?'

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Readers write

Dan Terpstra writes from Oak Ridge, Tennessee:

The two-part article on the work trip by Sojourners/Call to Renewal staffers to Biloxi brought back intense and poignant memories of a similar trip to Biloxi taken last Christmas. My daughter Sarah, a college freshman, and I accompanied about 200 other Presbyterians from Tennessee to spend Christmas week roofing houses on the Biloxi coast. The Christmas gift we thought we were giving turned out to be ours to receive. Sarah's New Year's Eve recollection of her experience is hauntingly similar to your staffers. It can be found on a blog we kept of the experience at:


Rick Lee writes from Miami, Florida:

Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution, by André Trocmé (available as a free e-book from has a provocative couple of pages comparing and contrasting Gandhi and Jesus in their use of nonviolence as a tool and a message (pages 154-155). What they share in common is affirming. Where they differ is world-changing. I recommend it to all who are curious about the subject.


Denny McBride writes from Old Hickory, Tennessee:

I was saddened to read about the extremely low pay and deplorable conditions for workers picking tomatoes for McDonald's sandwiches. My wife and I are state employees, and although we make considerably more than $50 per day and live modestly, we struggle just to pay the bills. Low pay is an issue that is close to my own wallet. Other than possibly in the epigraph (Malachi 3:5), your article does not mention illegal immigrants, and I can't help but wonder how many of the Immokalee workers are here illegally. I scanned the Coalition's Web site but did not find any reference to illegal immigrants there either.

I have not yet decided exactly where I stand on the issues surrounding illegal immigrants today. While Malachi 3:5 discourages pushing aside aliens, it does not prohibit pushing aside illegal aliens, or at least deporting them to their homeland until they can return here through the proper legal channels. For now, I believe that instead of being urged to increase wages, McDonald's and other large employers who engage in similar labor practices should be encouraged to be more diligent in their efforts to keep illegal immigrants from becoming a part of their workforce. The loss of all those laborers will give the remaining legal workers a much stronger position from which to bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.


Peter Roth writes from Portland, Oregon:

Thank you for sending the information on McDonald's and their unfair labor practices. I always appreciate you all keeping me informed and, more importantly, giving me the avenue to act and help. I wanted to let you know of some good news in the corporate coffee industry. Check out what Peet's Coffee & Tea is doing with Las Hermanas coffee. It's a great story of women and quality coffee beans down in Nicaragua: It's nice to get good news sometimes, isn't it?


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