The Common Good

'Heroic Conservatism'

Sojomail - November 1, 2007


Chiquita's money helped buy weapons and ammunition used to kill innocent victims of terrorism. Simply put, defendant Chiquita funded terrorism.

- the U.S. Justice Department, in court filings last month against Chiquita, which was found guilty of giving $1.7 million to the AUC, a right wing paramilitary organization in Colombia, and fined $25 million. According to USA Today, Chiquita earned $49.4 million in profit from its Colombian operations between Sept. 10, 2001, when the AUC was designated a terrorist group, and January 2004, when its payments stopped. (Source: USA Today)

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'Heroic Conservatism'

Due to our common interest in overcoming poverty, I knew Mike Gerson before he became George Bush's speechwriter. I recently had lunch with him to reconnect since he's left the White House and heard some of the stories he's now written about in his new book, Heroic Conservatism.

This morning's Washington Post has a good news piece on Gerson and his book.

For Michael Gerson, the pattern became discouragingly familiar. A proposal to help the poor or sick would be presented at a White House meeting, but Vice President Cheney's office or the budget team or some other skeptical officials would shoot it down. Too expensive. Wrong priority.

By the time he left the White House as President Bush's senior adviser last year, Gerson by his own account had grown weary of the battle, becoming an irritable colleague disillusioned by the conventions of a political party and a government that seemed indifferent to the plight of the downtrodden.

The article quotes from Gerson's book

"Traditional conservatism has a piece missing - a piece that is shaped like a conscience," he notes in Heroic Conservatism. His ambition, he says, is to help "save conservatism from its worst instincts" and build "a conservatism elevated by a radical concern for human rights and dignity."

Now an op-ed writer for The Post, he has a column today making the same point. He says there are two competing belief systems in the Republican Party – libertarianism and Catholic social teaching - and writes,

The difference between these visions is considerable. Various forms of libertarianism and anti-government conservatism share a belief that justice is defined by the imposition of impartial rules - free markets and the rule of law. If everyone is treated fairly and equally, the state has done its job. But Catholic social thought takes a large step beyond that view. While it affirms the principle of limited government - asserting the existence of a world of families, congregations and community institutions where government should rarely tread - it also asserts that the justice of society is measured by its treatment of the helpless and poor. And this creates a positive obligation to order society in a way that protects and benefits the powerless and suffering.

Gerson is right – how any society treats "the least of these" is God's measure. And by that measure, our society is sorely lacking.

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Video: Gerson on The Daily Show (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

As an addendum to Jim's post on Mike Gerson and his new book, I thought I'd share Monday night's Daily Show interview with Gerson, who held his own quite well. If he hadn't provided the speechwriting for Bush's rush to war, I might really really like him, instead of just liking him. But for now I'll leave the skewering to Jon Stewart.

The Catchy Name is Catching On (by Tony Campolo)

The name "Red Letter Christians" is catching on! Increasingly within the Christian community (and even in the general public), people are becoming aware of the growing number of us who are basically evangelical in our theology but who shy away from designating ourselves as "evangelicals." They know us to be Christians with a high view of scripture, who affirm the doctrines of the Apostles' Creed, and who believe that salvation comes from surrendering our hearts, minds, and souls to the resurrected Christ — but are reluctant to call ourselves evangelicals. They realize that is because the label "evangelical" has come to be almost synonymous with the "Religious Right." While holding to the same theology as evangelicals, we do not want to be known as being anti-gay, anti-environment, pro-war, anti-feminist, and pro-gun — all of which have been pinned on all evangelicals (perhaps unjustly) by the secular media.

Seven Degrees of Bob Dylan (by Becky Garrison)

Poet, prophet, outlaw, fake, star of electricity, rock-and-roll martyr, born-again Christian ... all of these words have been used to describe Robert Allen Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan. I've lost track of all the "unauthorized" books profiling this mysterious man that have crossed my desk over the years. So I was intrigued to learn that Todd Haynes had obtained the music and life rights to Bob Dylan's work from his longtime manager Jeff Rosen. I saw Haynes' feature film I'm Not There last month at The New York Film Festival (NYFF). Suffice to say, he redefines the well-worn term "biopic." Using six actors to portray seven personifications of this larger-than-life star, Haynes weaves through the different periods of Dylan's life, beginning with a preteen African-American runaway who goes by the name Woody Guthrie, and ending with Richard Gere, aka Billy the Kid, living in self-imposed exile.

Unextraordinary 'Rendition' Raises Profound Questions (by Gareth Higgins)

Rendition is not a great film by any stretch. Its characters are mostly uncomplicated - Reese Witherspoon, for example, rarely seems more than mildly inconvenienced by the fact that her husband is being tortured in North Africa. But it would be a shame if the weaknesses of the film drowned out the wider questions it raises about the absurdity of the practice of rendition, and, wider still, the contemporary values that appear to endorse the use of horrific violence in response to perceived threat.

Evangelical Leaders Meet Rice on Middle East Peace (by Ron Sider)

On Friday, Oct. 26, I was part of a small delegation of evangelical leaders who met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We were there to follow up the letter we sent to President Bush in late July to encourage more vigorous U.S. efforts to promote a fair, two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. Secretary Rice understands the formidable obstacles. She spoke of a little moment of opportunity, but she also underlined the urgency. If the Palestinians do not soon have a realistic prospect of their own state for the near future, the extremists will take over the Palestinian cause and things will be much worse. The Arab states are frightened at the danger of a stronger Hamas backed by Iran. Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders know that the window of opportunity for realizing a two-state solution will not remain open very long.

A Word of Hope Between 'Us and Them' (by Brian McLaren)

Last week I wrote about the possibility of waking up to war with Iran. My fear that we are sleeping now, and should be in the streets and taking action, turns all of my anxiety into a feeling of profound nausea. But at the very moment of nausea, I see a glimmer of hope. A group of 138 Muslim leaders from around the world and across the various denominations of Islam have come together to reach out to Christians through a statement titled "A Common Word Between Us and You." In this document, they affirm that they share the same commitment to the great commandment of Jesus that we hold dear: the call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This command, they make clear, means that they see Christians as their neighbors, and to be faithful to their faith and values, they want to reach out to us in our faith – in love, as neighbors.

'Hm, She's Cute' (by Bob Massey)

So that night we took a little tour of Mumbai's red light districts. To the American eye, they're no seedier than anywhere in the city, and if you weren't paying attention you wouldn't notice the prostitutes. They don't dress flashy or sexy (other than wearing too much eye makeup). But they stand around in the same way that prostitutes everywhere stand around. Pimps loiter nearby. But otherwise it's merchants, tons of people in Muslim dress, street kids - buying, selling, talking, eating, walking, honking, biking, avoiding this or that, etc. So it was in that context that I was looking at the girls-we-were-told-are-prostitutes and I caught myself noticing one in particular and thinking, "Hm, she's cute." And, in a flash, there it was....

Tackling Abortion: The Cruel Connection (by J. Christopher LaTondresse)

As we move into the 2008 presidential election cycle, let's quit demonizing each other and get to work meaningfully addressing the cruel connections underlying America's heartbreaking abortion statistics. The most important debate is not between "pro-life" and "pro-choice," but between those who will continue to be demagogues on this issue and those who will choose to pragmatically work together to save unborn lives.

Willow Creek Repents? (by Diana Butler Bass)

After an extensive study of their congregation (and several similar churches), Willow Creek's leaders concluded participation in programs did not inculcate Christian discipleship and that they had spent "millions of dollars" on programs thinking that they would help people grow—only to find that there was no real increase in parishioners' love for God or their neighbor. "We made a mistake," says Hybels: "What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self-feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."

Three Things I Didn't Expect to Learn from Joel Osteen (by Aaron Graham)

I went into this gathering as a critic of TV evangelists and superficial gospel messages. I could list a number of things I find problematic about the Joel's ministry, but rather than just criticize a brother, I thought I would focus on how we as a Christian social justice movement can learn from him.

A Real Awakening (by Jim Wallis)

The cover story of yesterday's New York Times Magazine is a long feature by reporter David Kirkpatrick on "The Evangelical Crackup." It's a comprehensive look at how the evangelical landscape is changing – theologically and politically.... Everywhere I speak, I come to the same conclusion as Bill Hybels told Kirkpatrick: "People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening."

What Little Girls Should Get to Do (by Bob Massey)

One of the genius moves of this anti-trafficking program in Mumbai is that they don't just bust bad guys and rescue girls from sex slavery. They spend as much effort helping those girls recover. The girls are set up in a group home where they're cared for, educated, trained for the workplace - but primarily loved. Most of them were sold into slavery by impoverished parents. So you can imagine (actually, no you can't) some of the feelings they must deal with.

Twelve Army Captains Offer Front Line Frankness (by Rose Marie Berger)

"Our best option is to leave Iraq immediately." This is not from a Democratic pundit or a Christian pacifist like myself. It's from 12 former Army captains who served in Babil and Baghdad, Najaf and Ninevah, and beyond.


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Top Stories:

The Evangelical Crackup
New York Times Magazine
Wallis has long argued that secular progressives could make common cause with theologically conservative Christians. "What Jim has been talking about is coming to fruition," Hybels said.

Turning the other cheek
Guardian Unlimited

New Century, Same Crisis: Walter Rauschenbusch & the Social Gospel

Fault lines in modern evangelicalism
Get Religion Blog

Who are these evangelicals?
Roanoke Times

Young evangelicals differ from their elders
Daily Camera

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