Sunday 28 November 2004

Is there any viable alternative to the violence in Iraq?

I read an important message today from Cliff Kindy, an experienced Christian Peacemaker Teams member who has spent a lot of time in the Middle East, including Iraq. He shares some insights here about non-violent alternatives to the current strategy in Iraq and describes how the use of these alternatives staved off an earlier crisis in Faluja. An international coalition of peacemakers who adovcated for similar alternatives before the recent conflagration were simply brushed off by the American military leaders. Now Faluja is in shambles at a huge cost -- waste of lives and infrastructure, only complicating any way to extract from the quagmire in Iraq.

Cliff is a personal acquaintance and lives not far away in North Manchester, Indiana. If you or your group wants an excellent speaker who knows what he's talking about, get in touch with him!

Monday 1 November 2004

This election won't be over when its over!

As always, Joan Chittister's thoughts are provocative - making the rest of us think hard. Her article in this week's issue of the National Catholic Reporter sets up the "big picture" of what is really going on at the macro level of our culture in ways that call for thoughtful response and dialogue. I'm reprinting it here in its entirety, and inviting that to happen here.


"This election won't be over when it's over", by Joan Chittister, OSB

Asked why she was supporting John Kerry rather than the incumbent, George Bush, a woman said, "Because I'm Catholic and I think that to be pro-life is to be more than anti-abortion. We have to support all the life issues, not just one."

Asked by a reporter why he would vote for George Bush if what he was worried about was medical insurance, Social Security, jobs and family services, a man on the street answered, "Well, those others things -- taxes and school and medicines -- can wait. First we gotta kill off the terrorists."

Clearly, this election won't be over when it's over. The entire country seems to be worrying about which candidate will prevail in the vote count this time. Maybe we're worrying about the wrongthing. It may not be the election we should be concerned about at all. It may be the very spirit and vision of the American people that is our basic problem.

Otherwise, how do we account for so divided an electoral mandate? This "nation under God" -- these "united" states -- seems to be hanging together by a thread these days. We are not witnessinga difference over the wisdom of various social programs in this year's presidential arm wrestling match. We are seeing a difference in political worldviews more extreme perhaps than atany time since the Federalists and anti-Federalists. Then we were debating the role of the central government in this country. Now we are debating the place and nature of the country in theglobal arena.

What's more, we are debating much of it from the point of view of religion.

George W. Bush, a good man, a good American, represents those who believe that America is so good that it needs to be exported to the rest of the world. They sense, perhaps, that the world, asMarshall Macluan warned us years ago, has become a world village. They want to know the tribe in charge. They want the U.S. to be the tribe in charge. And they want morality and culture asit was defined when they themselves were children - before the new science that controls sexual reproduction, that enables stem-cell research, that normalizes homosexuality, before globalismand its multiple religious perspectives, before pluralism and the rise of a truly pluralistic community alongside (or within) the traditional Christian ethos of the country.

John Kerry, an equally good man, a fine American, represents those who believe that the rest of the people of the world are so good that they can decide for themselves what kind of governmentthey want and still be productive, valuable members of the human race. Even if different than we are in their political organizations. Even if socially, culturally, theologically distinctfrom us. They want a morality that honors other moralities.

Both of these men and the people they represent want to lead a morally good, culturally sound and internationally productive nation. But George Bush is preaching preemptive war and powerand U.S. domination to secure us -- whatever we do and whatever the internal cost to this nation as a whole. John Kerry is preaching internal prosperity and global partnership and U.S. integrationinto the world community to achieve it.

More than likely, neither position is entirely possible. The whole world is in a state of upheaval, after all. There are "wars and rumors of wars" everywhere. Civil wars. Ethnic wars. Tribal wars.Religious wars. Regional wars. Wars for land and wars for water. The struggle to control violence and oppression, to defend ourselves and do right by others, will be with us for a long time.

At the same time, the poor of the world are fighting for survival. They have nothing to lose by dying for it in bombs of their own making. If truth were known, in many cases death would be ablessing. For many, war is not worse than the way they live from day to day. All around the globe, frustration has turned to rage in lands where all employment is slavery and the land is dry andfood and resources, cars and jacuzzis, exist only elsewhere.

The need to really be pro life everywhere for everyone will challenge us for years to come.

If we really want peace we will have to do justice to all the peoples of the world. Preemptive war does not secure us from such things. It only plants the seeds of the next war as we strike out at theinnocent in an attempt to block the guilty rather than make the innocent themselves our allies.

Sooner or later, if not now, we will need to confront the historical reality that power can only suppress revolution; it cannot stop a revolution that has already begun in the souls of a people. Romelearned that lesson the hard way. And so did France. And so did the U.S. in Vietnam. And so did the communists in the Soviet Union. No, military domination won't solve terrorism,however many the number who vote for it.

Only international cooperation, only international humility, can do that. Only a real commitment to life, all life as well as our own, will do that. Clearly, we are not dealing with a "clash ofcivilizations" between East and West as much as we are dealing with a "clash of cultures" within our own seeping borders. We are choosing now how we shall go about being America in a globalworld. This question no election can completely resolve for us. That we have to do for ourselves long after the election is over in this divided nation.

From where I stand, the real problem is clear: This election is about us, the electors, and the way we see our role in the world, not simply the candidates. We're a divided people and the religious visions that are dividing us must themselves come together if we are ever going to resolve it. That won't end on November 2.


It isn't enough to talk about peace.
One must believe in it.
And it isn't enough to believe in it.
One must work at it.
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Putting Faith To Work...

Being a "freewheeler", I decided to delve into a controversial issue on my very first blog:

Has anyone else been noticing the excellent debate between Jim Towey and Amy Sullivan -- highlighting what I think should be one of the most important issues in this presidential election?

Mr. Towey, the current director of President Bush's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, discusses the attempt to put "Compassionate
Conservatism" into action (see the news article "The Initiative Is Working" at:

A "must read" is Amy Sullivan's article, in the Washington Monthly, revealing reality on this issue. It's entitled "Faith Without Works":

This aptly illustrates both sides of an important argument regarding the Bush administration's priority to channel federal money to faith-based charities -- one of Bush's major campaign planks as a candidate four years ago.

Now its obvious that Jim Towey (a pro-life Democrat) is trying to put his own faith to good work after being asked by the Bush administration to come in to try to salvage the cause -- and I am personally for it. As I read the interview of Towey, I can appreciate that some progress has gone in the right direction. However, so far, the reality is only a fraction of the original vision expected by faith group leaders around the nation and from both sides of the aisle, politically speaking. Why is that?

There is a preponderance of external evidence that the President has not really increased the amount of money for the poor by his strategy of "leveling the playing field" and permitting faith-based organizations to receive federal funding. Instead, President Bush (by executive order) and his policy makers have merely redistributed existing money away from secular liberal organizations to "not-so-liberal" faith-based organizations. While this might represent smart politics, but it has not done very well in helping the plight of the poor in reality.

Have you noticed how both major presidential campaigns have artfully dodged the "P word" -- poverty -- and mislead voters with a myopic vision of terror? As Jim Wallis from the Sojourners said recently, "Whoever is elected, we had better be at their front door to make clear that poverty is the weapon of mass destruction for America. It touches everything else, in its social costs and connections to terrorism. Investing in a different future makes sense and is the right thing to do. But neither party seems to have that kind of vision."

What is most damaging to President Bush's credibility is that while he originally emphasized "results, results" in pushing for the faith-based organizations to receive the funding, he (ironically) actually omitted requiring that the impact of the faith-based organizations be measured and compared with prior recipients of federal funding. As a matter of record, NOTHING was budgeted toward finding out what those results really are! However, as Sullivan notes, certain private foundations have tried to study those "results" -- and their conclusions are bound to raise hackles.

Furthermore, its really quite sad, what happened in the back rooms of Congress to effectively derail the fast-track legislation -- which originally enjoyed broad bi-partisan support and would have spurred incentives to channel billions in charitable giving into faith-based organizations that really could (and probably do) make a difference. Amy Sullivan reveals all in recalling that history...and her conclusions are noteworthy.

A bus tour, going from Minneapolis to Philadelphia, was organized recently by a group known as Call to Renewal, which describes itself as a faith-based movement to overcome poverty." (One of those groups really trying to make a difference!) It brings together a wide spectrum ranging from evangelicals to mainstream Protestants to Catholics, black churches and peace churches and Pentecostals in an effort to get folks within faith communities to pay attention to issues of poverty in these last weeks before the election.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development does an annual survey of public attitudes toward poverty. Last fall, the survey asked how many people are currently living in poverty in the United States. Half of the respondents guessed 2 million or less. Compare that with the actual number: 35 million. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, voters do have worries about poverty.

That same Campaign for Human Development survey last November found that 89 percent of adults in this country said they were very or somewhat concerned about poverty. They rated lack of education and lack of jobs as the prime causes of poverty - not the perceived personal failings of the poor. And almost half - 48 percent - said that government had the prime responsibility to deal with poverty.

What the folks on the bus tour were trying to do is to ignite some of that sentiment in order to put some heat on candidates to address issues like housing for the poor, education for their children, adequate income, nutrition and health care.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could actually get our congress members' faith to really work -- together -- and put their money where their mouth is the next time around? Maybe its high time to remind everyone that God is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican!