Page 1

WASHINGTON WATCH HEIDI UNRUH

Budgeting Justice This speech by a hypothetical governor is what I wish someone in office would say: Our budget crisis is not a comfortable subject, but one we cannot, no pun intended, afford to avoid. But let’s consider a different perspective. Money is not an end in itself but a symbol of what we value. So the foundational question is this: What do we value? Success is not defined solely by closing the budget gap. If we balance the budget but don’t expend our resources on what matters most, we have failed. You don’t liquidate your stock to pay your bills unless you plan to go out of business. Grinding the seed wheat to put food on the table is a recipe for starvation down the road.You don’t let your lifeblood drain to spare a bandage. The lifeblood of our state, I believe, is our children. Regardless of what we do today, these children are going to grow up.Will they grow up with healthy bodies and healthy families, or will our future workforce suffer from sickness and stress? Will they get stuck in low-wage jobs, needing public assistance to feed their families, or will they be equipped to move up the vocational ladder, paying taxes along the way? One reason we’re in this budget mess now is because a generation ago every part of society failed kids in some way. Some parents have prioritized career advancements or drugs or one unstable relationship after another; some have abused or neglected their children. Many potential citizens never got the chance to be born. Employers have paid parents barely enough to get by and punished them for staying home with a sick child. Urban developers and banks have pushed policies that siphoned resources from low-income neighborhoods, uprooting their youngest residents. Wealthy com-

munities have shoved environmentally noxious and morally questionable industries into parts of town where children are mostly poor and non-white. As for government, we’ve spent more on prisons than on schools, looked the other way when kids dropped out or never mastered reading skills, neglected to enforce child support laws, failed to protect vulnerable little lives in our foster care system, and let special interest groups smother proposals to expand healthcare for children. And too many religious institutions stood by and allowed all this to happen without speaking out or crossing the tracks to help. These choices come with a buynow-pay-later price tag. So here we are paying — in social services, public safety, anemic enterprise, and lost revenue. Our lack of investment in children has helped drive our present deficit. It’s foolish to believe there’s a simple fix for all these challenges, but even more foolish to repeat the same mistakes. I’m not saying it’s government’s responsibility to make sure our kids turn out right. No, that’s everyone’s job. But those of us in government better make sure we do our part. We can ensure children’s basic needs for food, shelter, health, and safety are met — preferably by empowering families and communities, but stepping in to provide directly where necessary.We can give every child access to a first-rate educational system, starting with early education; help working parents afford quality childcare; weed out policies that destabilize families; and end racial bias in the juvenile justice and child welfare system. Every dollar we spend wisely on children today means a healthier, more educated and less dependent constituency tomorrow. This fuels economic development. If our budget puts children first, imagine our competitive advantage in 15 years against states now slashing children’s health insurance programs, school funding, child welfare and proPRISM 2010

32

tective services, childcare subsidies, and early childhood education. We tend to find ways to pay for what we really want. Our federal government has never failed to fund its acts of war. That’s the kind of resolve we need to safeguard our highest priority — children and their families. To pay for this we must ask: s What can we do more cost-efficiently? Let’s audit our public energy use and consolidate administration, for starters. s What can we cut without causing significant harm? This includes certain public works projects, grants, and tax deductions. We won’t cut critical services for populations vulnerable to serious hardship (seniors, people on disability). s What can we delegate? Explore privatizing some non-essential functions and harnessing people-power via a civil volunteer corps. s What expenses can we avoid? Reduce prison costs by revising sentencing guidelines, improving post-release programs to prevent recidivism, and not imprisoning non-criminal undocumented immigrants. s What revenue can we raise? Implement small increases on income tax and sales taxes on items like alcohol and cigarettes, and eliminate targeted tax exemptions. As the poet Gabriela Mistral reminds us,“Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot.” Cheating our children of nutrition, healthcare, education, and protection from abuse is just another way of indebting the next generation. Putting children first pays off — but the bottom line is that it is the right thing to do. We must create a budget that overcomes our moral deficit as well as our economic one. + See “A Balanced Approach to Closing State Deficits” at CBPP.org. Heidi Unruh directs the Congregations, Community Outreach and Leadership Development Project.


WASHINGTON WATCH Tyler Wigg-Stevenson

The Hawk Shall Nest with the Dove Politicians and citizens alike are beginning to talk again about a topic that has been mostly ignored for two decades. But these conversations often rely on outdated, Cold War-era assumptions about the nature of nuclear security. Most Americans think that nuclear weapons are a necessary evil. We don’t ever want to have to use them, but we need them to deter the bad guys from getting us. Given the horrific consequences of even a single nuclear incident, even those who disagree with this kind of pragmatism must concede the plausibility, at least, of basing a moral calculus around the prevention of nuclear attack. During the Cold War, the distance between nuclear pragmatism and a more purist anti-nuclear viewpoint proved to be a divisive conversation-stopper.Those on the right thought that the anti-nuclear crowd was willing to risk millions of lives by sacrificing deterrence on the ephemeral altar of ethics. And those on the left thought that the pro-deterrence crowd staked far too much on the infallibility of nuclear deterrence. As we enter the third post-Cold War decade, however, there’s an increasing awareness of the long-term risks of relying on deterrence as a security strategy. Today, deterrence — and, more significantly, the arsenals required to sustain it — point eventually toward significant and catastrophic consequences. The main concern is that deterrence leads to nuclear terrorism. Because nuclear weapons cannot be made from materials found in nature, keeping weaponsquality uranium (HEU) and plutonium out of the hands of terrorists is a top priority. And, because only a nation-state

has the resources to carry out the massive industrial effort required to produce bomb material, it is critical not to let the number of nuclear powers — currently nine nations — expand any further. But preventing the expansion of the atomic club now requires a commitment to eliminating it altogether. In the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, the non-nuclear powers agreed not to build the bomb — in exchange for a pledge from the existing nuclear powers to eliminate their arsenals eventually. Now, with the Cold War a generation gone, the nonnuclear states are questioning whether the nonproliferation regime is intended for the security of all or is simply a permanent, discriminatory global norm. What this means is that the nuclear status quo  is actually profoundly unstable. Prolong-ing the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and the significant security benefits it offers to all nations, requires getting serious about going to zero nuclear weapons. That’s why current advocates for the total elimination of nuclear weapons include figures who aren’t known for being idealists, like former Cold War hawk Henry Kissinger. They support a world free of nuclear weapons not because they’re naïve do-gooders with too much time on their hands but because they believe that the pursuit of such a world is the only solution to the massive nuclear security crisis that the future otherwise holds. Their nuclear abolitionism hasn’t replaced their absolute commitment to American security — it’s a consequence of it. Of course, a commitment by the existing nuclear powers to the eventual abolition of their own arsenals won’t magically solve today’s ongoing nuclear crises, like Iran and North Korea. But these problems, and those that the future will hold if we follow the present course, are fundamentally unsolvable without such a commitment. A willingness to take seriously our own disarmament commitPRISM 2 0 1 0

40

ments is a key component of securing a post-atomic age. We’ve come a long way: The work of Cold Warriors like Kissinger, George Shultz, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn has established the elimination of nuclear weapons as a credible policy option.A new coalition called Global Zero is convening unprecedented international consensus toward that end. And President Obama has repeatedly stated his commitment to the goal of a nuclear-free world. But our progress depends upon our ability to advance some key concrete steps over the next few years: 1. The successor to the US-Russian START treaty could further reduce the Cold War powers’ bloated arsenals — which comprise 95 percent of the global total. But extremists in the US Senate are threatening to derail decades of trust-building by treating the new START as a political football. Ratification with a strong majority is key to moving forward. 2. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would ban all nuclear testing, placing a huge obstacle in the path to nuclear breakout/terrorism. But the road to the global entry-into-force of the treaty runs through the US Senate. In 1999 the CTBT was rejected on a party-line vote — ratification in 2010 would be a huge boon. 3. T he Global Security Priorities Resolution, presently in the US House, calls for tying nuclear reductions to spending reallocation that would combat nuclear terrorism and promote child survival. It’s an important bipartisan step and a welcome reminder that security entails a comprehensive commitment to human life. ★ Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is the founder and director of theTwo Futures Project (TwoFuturesProject. org), a movement of American Christians for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.


WASHINGTON WATCH Cliff Cobb

Climate Change vs. the Poor

when Innis criticizes the cap and trade or carbon tax schemes as regressive, we must listen. However, we must listen with discernment, particularly since Innis makes clear that he is serving as a mouthpiece for oil and gas interests, even as he defends the poor. The beginning of wisdom is reverThe climate change debate has taken a new turn of late, with at least one tra- ence for God — and skepticism about all ditional civil rights group, the Congress human claims to knowledge.That applies on Racial Equality (CORE), siding with- to economics as much as it does to cliout reservation with the oil and gas lobby mate change modeling. Every branch of in the fight against regulatory limits on human knowledge has been politicized —  greenhouse gas emissions. At the 2009 for centuries. In the case of economic International Conference on Climate models, there is good reason to be skepChange, held last March in New York tical of many of the assumptions on which City, CORE Chairman Roy Innis noted they are based.Thus it is difficult to know that “rising energy prices discriminate what to take seriously. For example, most models that conagainst the poorest among us. It is a de facto regressive tax on the activity of life.” sider a tax on petroleum presuppose that He then went on to denounce any effort the tax will be shifted either forward to to use the price system to discourage consumers or backward to producers energy use. In this case, his targets were according to the elasticity (i.e., price cap and trade schemes or carbon taxes. sensitivity) of consumer demand and Every honest person finds these issues producer supply. A factor almost never a moral thicket. The inevitable uncer- considered by economists, however, is tainties in climate science (which reveal that some part of the price of oil reprethe vast scope of human ignorance) are sents economic “rent,” which is based on played upon by climate change skeptics, the cost differential between easily obtainwho use those uncertainties to find a able oil and the oil that requires a huge mote in the eye of the climate change investment to extract. If the price of oil activists and fail to remove the log of is $80 a barrel, and the cost of extracting economic triumphalism from their own. it is only $10, then $70 is economic rent. (By economic triumphalism, I mean the If the cost of extraction is $65, then the idea that maximal economic growth serves rent falls to $15. Another way to think of rent is as a sort of secular deity that has little biblical justification.) Simple prudence “supernormal profit.”To the extent that and Christian humility suggest that we a tax on oil falls on these supernormal should err on the side of caution when profits, then the oil company pays 100% confronted with our potential destruc- of that portion of the tax. Thus, the tion of God’s creation. This applies to actual incidence of a tax on oil hinges overfishing in the oceans, decimation of entirely on factors internal to the oil busirainforests, species modifications, nano- ness. (A cap and trade system has the technology, and many other forms of perverse effect of increasing oil company human transformation of the earth —  rents by effectively transferring property rights in the atmosphere to them.) not just the climate change issue. But the fact that we are called upon Ignoring rent or supernormal profits to be good stewards of creation does not entirely skews the debate, and convemean that we can turn our backs on the niently allows the oil companies to hide poor while we care for the earth. Thus, their profits and to claim falsely that PRISM 2010

40

the poor will bear the entire burden of taxation. The neglect of rents or supernormal profits is far from the whole story, of course. The correct aspect of Innis’ argument is that the poor do spend a disproportionately high part of their income for energy products — particularly for home heating oil and gasoline. Either a tax or a cap and trade system will restrict the supply of energy and result in higher energy prices, and that is regressive (falling disproportionately on the poor). Must we then forego any measures that seek to correct the underpricing of energy in relation to longterm costs? The answer must be “no.” There are many ways of rebating the higher taxes on energy to the poor through other means. One aspect of the debate must be over which of those forms of making the poor whole is most effective and least demeaning. Innis is correct that the poor do not want “energy welfare.” But a rebate program that increases job opportunities or raises the earned income tax credit or increases Social Security benefits to the low-income elderly cannot reasonably be characterized that way. The deeper question is whether we as a nation are willing to tackle the problem of poverty independently of rebates on environmental taxes. If not, then this issue will arise continuously and hamper every effort to protect the environment. The general solution lies in shifting the entire tax burden from consumption to wealth. In recent years one strand of the environmental movement has been seeking to unite respect for the earth with the call for social justice. Innis reminds us that we cannot lose sight of the importance of those combined efforts. ★ Cliff Cobb (cliff.cobb@gmail.com) has worked in recent years for Redefining Progress and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation on both environmental and economic justice issues.


Faithful Citizenship H arold D ean T r u lear

A Historic Partnership

denomination dedicated to social justice, joined forces to certify hundreds of individuals and congregations in prison ministry through a series of training events that culminated at the PNBC’s national convention in August. There both PF and PNBC staff equipped When I team-taught the prison ministry attendees for a fully orbed engagement course at then Eastern Baptist (now Palmer) with the criminal justice system. Theological Seminary in 1994, the course In his May 8, 2009, “BreakPoint” met in alternate weeks in the Holmesburg commentary, Chuck Colson called our Prison in Philadelphia, Pa. My co-instruc- times “the perfect storm” for new coltor, Dr. Leah Gaskin Fitchue (now president laborations and partnerships, and he of Payne Theological Seminary in Ohio), included this new partnership in his list had arranged for inmates in that facility of examples. It took such a perfect to take the course along with the semi- storm to bring together a politically connarians enrolled in the class. The mix servative evangelical organization and made for some interesting discussions. the denomination cofounded by Martin One such discussion concerned Luther King, Jr. It reminded me of the the relationship between Muslims and cooperation between evangelical and Christians incarcerated in the facility. Roman Catholic traditions around the The inmates enrolled in the course issue of abortion, and the discussion included members of the Islamic faith, between King and Billy Graham in the and they were eager participants in the 1960s concerning the possibility of doing discussion. But their presence caused joint crusades — imagine if they had some discomfort for the more theologi- been able to pull that off! cally orthodox students from the seminary, especially as the inmates discussed their efforts to “work together” to help “Religious differences take a mentor some of the younger inmates. back seat to saving lives.” This discomfort prompted one inmate, Bible in hand, to respond, “In here, religious differences take a backseat to saving Some in PNBC’s leadership had deep lives.” Chimed in a Muslim inmate, “We misgivings about working with PF, citaffirm our common belief in God and ing significant political differences. PF, go from there. Under the intense con- for its part, has admitted its struggles in ditions of the prison, we don’t have developing true partnerships with contime to argue theology.” gregations, particularly in the African I think of this partnership bred of American community. But in a historic urgency when I consider the historic meeting between PNBC leadership and partnership recently forged by two dis- PF executives last fall, they decided to similar groups of Christians to address join forces to engage and equip the conour nation’s rise in prison population gregations of the PNBC in a national and the record numbers of inmates now effort to develop strong ministries to the returning to society. Prison Fellowship incarcerated, those returning from pris(PF), the most visible national orga- on, and their families. PNBC leadership nization invested in prison ministry, included Revs. DeeDee Coleman and and the Progressive National Baptist Owen Cardwell of the denomination’s Convention (PNBC), the nation’s Social Justice and Prison Ministry preeminent African American Baptist Commission. PF Director for Training PRISM 2009

31

Dave Heffington agreed to bring his organization’s training material to supplement the curriculum PNBC had developed in consultation with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Titled “What Shall We Then Do? A Family Freedom Kit,” the PNBC curriculum focuses on ministry to men and women returning from incarceration as well as their families. Research shows that keeping families connected during incarceration greatly increases the likelihood of successful reentry, and PNBC had already begun using their curriculum in Detroit, Richmond, Gary, and other cities, serving hundreds of inmates and their families.The curriculum stresses the need for churches to begin by working with families from within their own congregations, drawing on the existing pastoral and community care functions of the church.The PF component of the training consists of strategies for volunteer and leadership development for prison ministries. I don’t minimize the importance of theological or political difference, but want to point to the urgency of criminal justice issues, which are sadly waning in the current political ethos.The politics of the PNBC and PF differ, as did the theology of the inmates at Holmesburg. But the difficulties of the hour have created a “perfect storm” where the limited resources created by a tough economy have combined with a sense of urgency around crime, criminal justice, and incarceration to motivate persons of faith to pool their efforts and save lives. It is tempting to imagine what other unlikely collaborative efforts could emerge if people of faith concentrated and combined their efforts to seek truth and justice for those on the margins of society. n Harold Dean Trulear is associate professor of applied theology at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC, and a consultant for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Faith and Families Portfolio.


WASHINGTON WATCH Ruth Melkonian-Hoover and Dennis R. Hoover

Lessons from the Coup in Honduras This summer most analysts of Latin American affairs praised the Obama administration’s quick response to the Honduran military’s ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. The US did not hesitate to label the ouster a coup (unofficially) and to call for Zelaya’s return.These acts of verbal diplomacy were seen by most analysts as simple and appropriate steps to take, for the US cannot be seen to be explicitly supporting military coups that damage the cause of democracy in Latin America. Decisions about other steps the US administration should take, however, have been anything but simple. As one senior US official put it, “This is an extremely difficult and delicate situation.” Indeed, the early pattern of US responses collectively suggested a priority on pragmatic preservation of flexibility, not aggressive use of US foreign policy tools to promote democracy. Early in the crisis, the US continued to label the event an unofficial coup, because an official coup would have required some cutoffs of aid that the US did not immediately want to impose. The US also had not rescinded Honduran trade preferences, nor had it recalled its ambassador (as had many Latin American and European nations). All these (non)actions gave the US greater maneuverability in addressing a complicated situation. Latin America has a painful history of military interference in governance (e.g., on behalf of economic elites concerned with labor agitation and national expropriations). However, in spite of widespread international condemnation of the coup, for many in Honduras the ouster of Zelaya did not comprise a clear case of unwarranted military intervention.These Hondurans

point to Zelaya’s abuses of power as troubling signs of a different problem that has long plagued Latin American governance — presidential usurpations and abuses of power. For instance, prior to his ouster Zelaya appeared to be engaged in unconstitutional angling to stay in power beyond the legal term limit, in defiance of legislative and judicial rulings. He had also fired a military chief who refused to help administer an illegal referendum to enable constitutional reforms on several issues, including presidential terms. In fact, many Honduran legislators urged the military to step in, and the Supreme Court also supported the military’s action, which it saw as an appropriate defense of democracy. Popular protestors supportive of the ouster defended it as a needed maintenance of the rule of law. In April President Obama pledged to break from the US history of blunt domination of Latin America and would instead behave more as a partner in the region.The initial reaction of the US to events in Honduras this summer could be read as confirming this pledge, as it came alongside others (the UN, the OAS, Honduras’ neighbors) in quickly criticizing the military. We should acknowledge this as smart diplomacy, but at the same time we should not be under any illusions that the US is a player like any other. The US has a history of neocolonial involvement in the region, provides substantial aid to Honduras, serves as Honduras’ primary trade partner, and engages in joint military drug interdiction efforts with Honduras. The US is one of the only players that has major sway with both the military and the executive. This is not to suggest that the US should engage in any overt or covert manipulation of Latin American affairs (as it has been known to do in the past and as Venezuela continues to do in the present). However, it should support— firmly, transparently, and consistently— free and fair governance. The US was PRISM 2009

32

right to criticize the recent military coup, as only democratically and legally legitimate means should be used to deal with executive abuses and conflicts between branches of government. However, when we take a broader view, the US can also be criticized for not doing more diplomatically to help persuade the military against the coup, and indeed for not making greater investments long ago in Honduras’ democratic consolidation. As well, the US will be criticized postcoup if it does not use its power and influence to help ensure a bloodless resolution. The US is right to speak against hyper-militarism and overreliance on nonelected officials when conflicts involving elected officials emerge. But the US should also be unafraid to speak publicly against hyper-presidentialism — against caudillo (strongman) behavior by executives any time democratic limits on power become inconvenient. The inability of some executives to share power with parallel institutions, the frequency with which they resort to dubious forms of populist politics, and their circumvention of other powerholders via extraconstitutional means has been a barrier to democratization in the region for some time. American Christians should advocate for a foreign policy approach in the region that is not silent about military or executive overreach but critiques all abuses of power in the name of justice. Pinochet is not the model for Latin America, but neither is Chávez. The US should focus its efforts on the smart and strategic use of its foreign policy tools, primarily its soft power, to support sustainable economic development and democratic governance under rule of law in Latin America. ★ Ruth Melkonian-Hoover is assistant professor of political science at Gordon College. Dennis R. Hoover is editor of the Review of Faith & International Affairs.


WASHINGTON WATCH Bret Kincaid

Miracle at What Price? Physicians, scientists, and others desperately wanting treatment for an alphabet soup of diseases and injuries are eagerly seeking cures from the scientific research of stem cells. They seem to hold much promise. Adult stem cell (ASC) research has already led to cures for many ailments, and no moral controversy surrounds their use. That cannot be said of research on embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the cells that naturally multiply and differentiate into any kind of cell type, which can then (probably) be used to treat organ ailments. They have been crowned the “gold standard” in stem cell research because they “offer great benefit,” have “enormous life-saving potential,” and are most versatile—that is, “most useful.” These are the words we hear over and over again about these miraculous cells. But the miracle has its price: the destruction of the human embryo from which they come. Despite this cost, many in the pro-life camp are supporting President Obama’s recent lifting of some of former President Bush’s 2001 federal restrictions on financing embryonic stem cell research. In April, the National Institutes of Health issued their guidelines (open to public comment) that “allow funding for research using human embryonic stem cells that were derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose.” A Rasmussen poll in March found that most selfidentified pro-lifers oppose Obama’s expansion of embryonic stem cell research, but about a third either support it or are undecided. Both sides in this internecine debate

in the pro-life camp use pragmatic arguments to make their case. Opponents appropriately point out how productive adult stem cell research has already been, but they often overstate its promise. And then even while leaders in this camp criticize scientists for claiming too much for the promise of ESC research— rightly pointing out that there are many known and unknown pitfalls not only in the research but also especially in translating research discoveries to viable cures—pro-life opponents promise too much from a recently discovered and celebrated method of reprogramming adult stem cells into “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs) that act like ESC for research and (hopefully) curative purposes. Likewise, pro-life supporters of ESC research rely heavily on the argument that since IVF embryos will be destroyed anyway, we should put them to good use. As Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a pro-life

Christian pro-lifers should admit what science and “American can do” won’t: There are moral limits that science must not properly ignore or skirt. The biblical story makes this abundantly clear. If, for instance, one’s biblical interpretation leads one to an absolutist pro-life stance, then other competing goods are subordinate, whether executing a murderer deters crime, killing noncombatants wins a war, destroying an embryo saves an Alzheimer’s victim, or exaggerating the promise of iPSC research sustains the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a law that prohibits the federal government from funding the production of ESC for purposes of experimentation. John H. Yoder used to remind us that when early Christians were a powerless, persecuted minority they had faith that God was in control of history, so they could be as patient with history’s direction as God was. Rather than killing others to make history turn out

There are moral limits that science must not properly ignore or skirt. Catholic, clumsily put it, “to be pro-cure is to be pro-life.” Coursing through both arguments is American pragmatism, a narrow focus on results.This is a problem not because results don’t matter. They do! But consequentialist reasoning in public discourse too often overwhelms the notion that some goods ought to be protected no matter what, that in some cases means cannot justify ends. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “The means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” In addition, in the public case made by opponents of ESC research, results language comes off as duplicitous, since most listeners already know that what is really driving the policy position of these pro-lifers is their fundamental conviction that embryos are human beings and that therefore nothing should be done to harm them. Less politic but more truthful, PRISM 2009

40

right, Christians loved their neighbor with every available ethical tool. But when Christians began to assume public leadership, the church came to believe that it was now responsible for history’s course. In our appropriate desire to be responsible and relevant, Christians since have grown increasingly compelled to reach beyond the public language and policy options worthy of a disciple of Christ. In love for our ailing neighbors we will naturally discern and weigh in on public policy designed to produce cures. The God of the biblical drama passionately wants the ill and injured restored to health and wholeness. But may we do it faithfully, as if the one who said “I am the Truth”— and not results — is Lord of history. ★ Bret Kincaid teaches political science at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pa.


WASHINGTON WATCH Amy E. Black and SHANNON MICKELSON

Crisis Opportunity Economic crisis has captured headlines worldwide. Banks have curtailed lending. Americans have witnessed their savings for education and retirement plunge. Unable to access the credit needed to sustain operations, businesses continue to lay off employees or close doors altogether. Families have no choice but to tighten their budgets and reconsider their spending and credit habits. But another aspect of this crisis rarely captures media attention. The mortgage crisis has a ripple effect in society, and the outliers—the poor,the disenfranchised— bear the brunt of it. The wealthy may face substantial monetary losses, but they will still have plenty. The middle class may find they must accept a lower—and, perhaps, wiser—standard of living. But what about the poor among us? Last October, Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Ill., garnered national attention when he temporarily suspended the enforcement of eviction notices. His deputies found themselves facing a tragic situation—evicting tenants current on their rent, but unaware that their landlords had defaulted on loans. Refusing to be a party to removing law-abiding renters, Dart demanded new policies requiring that tenants receive notice if their landlord was nearing foreclosure. Millions of property owners faced foreclosure last year. More than 2.3 million filings were reported in 2008, up a staggering 81 percent from the year before and accounting for almost one of every 50 housing units. Approximately 20 percent of the properties in foreclosure were rentals, while in some regions more than half were multi-family dwellings. Foreclosures affect rentals across the economic spectrum; even Section 8 properties are among the casualties. What rights do tenants have when their land-

lords face default or foreclosure? Years of paying rent for the same apartment do not guarantee a family a home. In most states, foreclosure nullifies existing leases. If a property owner defaults on a loan, many banks that take possession evict existing renters, often with little or no notice. At best, leaseholders are likely to move to month-tomonth agreements, with the added uncertainty those bring. Compounding the problem, evictions affect credit ratings, making it more difficult for displaced renters to enter into a new lease even though they are not at fault for the eviction. This situation inadvertently penalizes those who have done everything “right”—those who worked diligently to find shelter, faithfully pay their rent, and provide for their families’ basic needs—placing them at risk of homelessness because of the misdeeds of others. Hesed House, a shelter and comprehensive resource center for the homeless in Aurora, Ill., regularly sees the fallout from these tragedies. According to Associate Director Neil McMenamin, the mortgage crisis has an intense trickledown effect. Before the crisis, people who had never experienced home ownership before had been marginally making their way upward.The top renters moved into ownership, thanks to plentiful and easy credit, while the top tier of those who could not previously afford housing filled the vacated rentals. As banks relaxed credit requirements, rents flattened or decreased to fill units, and many families and individuals living on the margins found homes. However, this system could not and did not last. Now the marginalized are hurt the most. Ryan Dowd, executive director of Hesed House, notes that many of the homeless clients they serve today are not there as a result of their own mortgage problems but rather are victims of the mortgage crisis swirling around them. Some face uncertainty because of their landlords’ foreclosures; others can’t afford PRISM 2009

32

spiraling rent increases. “We’re seeing people who got into the rental market marginally [now] being forced out of it….Landlords promised month-to-month arrangements—‘Pay us cash, we won’t put you out.’ Now,” says McMenamin,“we’re seeing people coming in whose landlord [renegotiates] on the 23rd of the month and says, ‘If you don’t like it, move out.’” How do we show compassion and work for justice in the midst of this crisis? State and federal legislators are beginning to pay attention. Legislation introduced in the 110th Congress sought to amend the Truth in Lending Act to offer more protections for renters caught in the mortgage crisis, including provisions to lengthen notices for terminating monthto-month rentals and protecting leases after foreclosure.The bill passed in the House of Representatives but died in the Senate. A few states have enacted measures to strengthen tenants’ rights, and others are considering similar legislation. Our hope is that Congress and state legislatures will do more to address these issues. Meanwhile we can minister to those affected by the mortgage crisis, regardless of income, and seek new ways to share Christ’s love and hope. We must be more creative in meeting the needs of those trapped in poverty and homelessness, recognizing the complexities of each situation while seeking holistic solutions. We also must recognize the spiritual opportunity this crisis presents.The present crisis may help evangelistic efforts to find more fertile soil and may prompt biblical teaching on stewardship, generosity, sustainable lifestyles, and the joy of fellowship when we strive for everyone to have enough (2 Cor. 8-9). More daringly, we have opportunities to imitate the early church in sharing our goods as well. ★ Amy E. Black is an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. Shannon Mickelson is a senior political science major at Wheaton College. She interned at Hesed House in 2008.


WASHINGTON WATCH Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney

Stopping Traffic The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president has electrified the country with the promise of meaningful change. As a member of Congress, I am excited about the opportunity to work with the Obama administration to effectively confront 21stcentury challenges.The 111th Congress is in a position to make great strides in confronting one challenge of critical importance: the fight to end human trafficking. Human trafficking is a $10 billion, worldwide industry and one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. It is 21stcentury slavery. According to some reports, upwards of 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders for labor and commercial sex purposes each year; the number is in the millions when trafficking within borders is counted. However, trafficking is not just a problem in other countries but is happening right here at home, in communities across the United States. The lives of trafficking victims are pure horror. Many are tricked into the country, fooled into believing that they’ll be doing legitimate jobs, such as restaurant or childcare work.They arrive, often with limited English skills, and have everything taken from them; even their travel documents and IDs, if they have any, are held by the trafficker. They see very little, if any, of the money they earn and are cut off from the outside world. They have no freedom of movement and no friends or relatives to come to their aid. I became involved in this fight several years ago when I learned that a company called Big Apple Oriental Tours was promoting sex tourism in my district in Queens. Since then, I have worked with my colleagues in Congress, including former Representative Deborah Pryce (R-OH), to pass several

important pieces of legislation, among them the End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act (P.L. 109-164), which addresses the problems of domestic trafficking. I have also sponsored legislation that would combat human trafficking by using the tax code to put traffickers in prison. This past December, the House and Senate passed, and President Bush subsequently signed into law, groundbreaking anti-trafficking legislation: the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. This legislation authorizes funding to combat trafficking, helps the victims, and includes critical provisions that represent a paradigm shift in patterns of law enforcement against sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry. Among other provisions, the legislation will require the Department of Justice to develop a new model state law focusing on a more comprehensive approach to investigating and prosecuting human

Human trafficking is 21st-century slavery. trafficking, establish a presidential award for extraordinary anti-trafficking efforts, expand protections for trafficking victims and their families, authorize increased assistance for all victims of trafficking (including US citizens), and enhance the penalties against traffickers.The William Wilberforce bill will do more to ensure that exploited persons know that they have rights, make appropriate services available, and shift the focus of law enforcement activity away from victims and toward the traffickers and abusers. The passage of this bill is a testament to the commitment of Congress to anti-trafficking efforts and a significant step in the right direction. In the 111th Congress, my colleagues and I continue the fight. This is truly a bipartisan issue that has brought together Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. With leadership from my PRISM 2009

32

co-chair, Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), and others in the Congressional Caucus on Human Trafficking, we will work to expand membership in the caucus and raise awareness about this devastating issue. In addition, I look forward to continued work with the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which provides tools to combat trafficking in persons and assists in the coordination of anti-trafficking efforts both domestically and worldwide. The Annual Trafficking in Persons Report, as mandated by Congress, is one such tool that gives policymakers a detailed assessment of country-specific data on traffickers and the actions foreign governments are taking to combat them.This information is invaluable as we strive to make effective policy decisions that move us closer to our goal of ending human trafficking once and for all. I am confident we have an opportunity, with President Obama and the new Congress, to continue making real progress in putting an end to this deplorable trade in human lives.The issue is clear: Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Congress must provide law enforcement with the necessary tools to hold traffickers accountable and protect their victims.While we have begun this process with legislative accomplishments that have put us on the right path, we continue to be mindful that it is unconscionable that this barbaric industry continues to exist in the 21st century. I believe that through our collective efforts, we can make a difference. ★ Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) has been a congresswoman for New York since 1993. As a renowned champion for domestic and international women’s issues, Maloney helped passed legislation to target the demand side of sex trafficking and provide annual mammograms for women on Medicare. Maloney also authored the Debbie Smith bill to process DNA kits, which has been called the most important anti-rape legislation in history.


WASHINGTON WATCH Kathy Lee

Hard Work Ahead I am writing this just three days after the historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States, although many of you will be reading it just before, or even after, his inauguration on January 20, 2009. As a Christian who happens to be, among other things, a political science professor at a Christian university and a Democrat, my mind is reeling and probably will continue to do so for some time. This long election has been a roller coaster of emotions, and my next sabbatical project will simply be labeled “to recover from 2008.” Surely the university administration will be sympathetic to my trekking to a New Mexico monastery where I will receive no newspapers, watch no CNN, forsake a daily check of RealClearPolitics.com, and simply read the desert fathers and mothers. But right now I must gather my thoughts, and I begin with what I celebrate. Perhaps November 4, 2008, will be one of those moments when many of us will remember where we were when we heard that the son of a Kenyan immigrant and a white woman from Kansas would be the 44th president of the United States.Too many times it seems that tragedies, not celebrations, are historical markers for us—assassinations of presidents and political leaders, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11 come to mind. No matter whom one voted for, we can celebrate this historic moment of racial reconciliation.Watching the tears on Jesse Jackson’s face and listening to Rep. John L. Lewis, both who served on the frontlines of the civil rights movement, moved me to tears. The morning after the election a black colleague cried and hugged me, telling me that on the way to work a white man had pulled up beside her in a car and motioned for her to roll down her car window. She wondered what might be

wrong, maybe a taillight was out.The man told her that he had voted for McCain but, seeing her Obama bumper sticker, wanted to congratulate her and said,“He’s a good man.” In class a black student amused us all by recounting his speeding through the streets of Philadelphia, making it to the polling place just moments before it closed at 8 p.m. Using his persuasive skills, he told the exhausted poll worker who was ready to pack it in, “But this is for my mother!” The poll worker begrudgingly let him vote. I have been teaching for over 25 years, and never before have I witnessed such engagement by young people. Eastern University extended invitations to both campaigns to send candidates or surrogates to campus—only Sen. Obama’s campaign responded, sending Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, a book that is required in one of our first-year courses, Introduction to Faith, Reason, and Justice. According to a November 7 New York Times article, 32 percent of young evangelicals between 18 and 29 voted for Obama, a doubling of the percentage for Sen. Kerry in 2004. This was borne out in my introductory course in American government, where students voted 28-7 for Obama the day before the election. One wonders whether this demographic group will continue to stay politically engaged. I pray that it does. I celebrate the grace we witnessed in Sen. John McCain when, in his concession speech, he said,“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him [Sen. Obama], but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.” Sen. McCain is a public servant of the highest order. But my celebration of this election is PRISM 2009

33

tempered. Sen. Obama soberly reminded us in his acceptance speech of the daunting challenges ahead and called upon us to “sacrifice”— a word that should have been used much more frequently by both candidates during the campaign. Too often we think as Americans we can have it all — low taxes and a working infrastructure, low gas prices and energy independence. I was distressed when Dr. Dobson posted on the CitizenLink.org website a letter titled “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America,” a fictitious letter describing terrible things that would be instituted by an Obama administration. To his credit, Jim Wallis quickly responded, asking Dobson to apologize.Why did Christians forward emails to other Christians that stated misrepresentations such as that he is Muslim, that he is not a US citizen, and, most outrageous of all, that he is the Antichrist? Demagoguery masking itself as Christian witness is no witness at all. My celebration is also tempered by fear for the poor in this country who were already struggling before the economic tsunami hit in September. Neither presidential candidate mentioned the poor in a single debate; the focus was entirely on the middle class. In 2007, in Louisville, Ky., 58,000 school children came from families whose income was low enough that they qualified for reduced-price or free meals under the National School Lunch Program. The total number of Louisville school children qualifying in 2008 was expected to reach 62,000. It is never a good time to be poor; right now it is even worse. The celebration will end; much hard work lies ahead.We must “keep on keepin’ on,” doing the work of the kingdom of God. ★ Kathy Lee is a professor of political science and a department chair at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. She is recovering from the election by listening to her favorite singing group du jour, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.


WASHINGTON WATCH David Beckmann

Foreign Aid That Fights Hunger The cost of a gallon of gas has shot up —to 25 cents. A loaf of bread costs 21 cents; milk is even more expensive at $1.50 a gallon.You can buy a new home for $12,500. The average income of an American family is $5,315. Kids in school learn about the world through filmstrips. There are wars going on—the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Africa is throwing off the cloak of colonialism. Military regimes rule Latin America. South Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world.And President Kennedy just signed the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act into law. It’s intended to help poor countries worldwide get on their feet and build stronger nations as a defense against Soviet intentions to rule the world. Nearly 50 years later, not much remains the same in the United States or in the world. But the way the United States delivers aid to the world’s poorest nations is still being driven by the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. Currently about half of US foreign assistance is focused on reducing poverty. The other half is directed toward economic assistance for political allies and purposes, military training and equipment to countries, and funding for the war on drugs. Long-term development assistance aimed at reducing poverty includes aid for agriculture, nutrition, and clean water initiatives; investments in schools and teacher training; anti-retroviral medications for people suffering from HIV/ AIDS; and investments in economic development to break the cycle of poverty. Development assistance helps raise people’s incomes and improve their nutrition and overall health so they have an economic safety net and can build bet-

ter lives for their children. Poverty-focused development assistance from the United States is making a difference for millions of people around the world—but it could be made far more effective. Right now development policies and programs are scattered across 12 departments, 25 agencies, and nearly 60 government offices. A more efficient foreign assistance system—with better coordination, better accountability, better clarity—means that people get help faster and more effectively. We also need to ensure that other key foreign policies do not undermine the impact of development assistance. Why is this so important? Consider Bangladesh, where more than 150 million people live in a land area slightly smaller than Iowa. Since its birth as a nation in 1971, Bangladesh has struggled to overcome daunting problems. One-third of this low-lying nation floods every year during the monsoon season. In 2007 the average person’s income was just $470. While Bangladesh is overcoming these setbacks and making progress, it is just not enough. From 2000 to 2004, its economy grew at an average rate of 5.8 percent annually. With 2 million more people entering the labor force each year, economists estimate that Bangladesh needs to grow at least 7 to 8 percent annually so it can pull itself out of poverty. In 2006 Bangladesh received more than $85 million in US development assistance. However, Bangladesh paid the United States more than $487 million in trade tariffs in 2005. That’s nearly six times more than it received in US aid. Bangladesh is not the only country facing this problem. The leading British medical journal, The Lancet, recently found that the amount of assistance available worldwide for nutrition—assistance that saves the lives of vulnerable babies and toddlers—is “vastly outweighed” by the cost to rural populations of agricultural subsidies and protectionism in highPRISM 2008

32

income countries. US trade policies should support developing country farmers, not make their work more difficult. Our country needs a plan to identify and respond to contradictions like these. Better coordination is not a matter of bureaucracy—it is a matter of the United States doing all it can to end extreme hunger and poverty in God’s world. Right now the world is in the midst of a global hunger crisis, a “silent tsunami” that threatens the lives of millions of people. This crisis should be a wakeup call for the United States to rethink foreign assistance and elevate global development as a national priority. In 1961, 33 percent of the world’s population suffered from hunger. Today that number has decreased to 17 percent. If foreign aid is fixed, there will be fewer hungry people, fewer children will die, and parents will be able to feed their families in the years to come. In 2009 the new US president and Congress will be presented with a oncein-a-generation opportunity to make US foreign assistance more effective in reducing poverty. Bread for the World’s 2009 Offering of Letters campaign will press decision-makers to fix foreign aid. Thousands of Christians will write, phone, and visit their members of Congress. Churches will take up a nationwide offering of letters to Congress. Campuses and other community groups will join in this effort to make ending poverty a national priority. The world is different today from what it was in 1961. But hunger feels the same: an aching emptiness. And it can still kill. We can stop it—if we act now and make changes that are decades overdue. ★ Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger. To learn how you and your church can participate in Bread for the World’s 2009 Offering of Letters campaign, visit Bread.org.


WASHINGTON WATCH BRET KINCAID

Choosing a President As followers of Jesus preparing to cast our vote for president, we should ask a fundamental question:Which candidate would likely be best for the nation and for the world? Many of us will be tempted to vote based on one or two policy issues we feel particularly passionate about. Abortion, climate change, poverty, what have you—each impacts our neighbors and relates to important biblical values. But voting based strictly on one or two issues ignores the fact that so many other issues have enormous effect on people’s lives. Furthermore, issues are often interrelated. For instance, a constellation of factors, such as social or economic conditions, affect abortion rates but are unrelated to abortion laws. Making abortion rare or nonexistent, then, requires we vote to influence the relevant factors in addition to abortion law. Either Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama will be given the opportunity to have a profound effect on US citizens and the world. Both are reformers, men of character, and share instincts on policies like immigration and political reform and climate change. And though choosing a president is a speculative exercise, there are at least three key general factors to keep in mind as we prayerfully decide between them. Ability to govern: We’ve heard a lot about their policy positions, but policies are no more than ink on paper if they are not enforced or executed. Whoever wins the White House will need to persuade many federal bureaucracies, employing almost 2 million civil servants pressed by interest groups, to administer policies as he wishes—a formidable task indeed. Neither McCain nor Obama has had

executive experience. And though making laws for over a decade or two surely provided them with wisdom about what it takes to marshal legislative majorities to support their policies, lawmaking isn’t governing. Obama’s three-year experience as a successful community organizer is probably more relevant than military experience because he learned about the muddled nature of implementing policy in a less-than-controlled environment. At any rate, both have led legislative offices and successful election campaigns. Questions you might consider: How well did each raise money? (Persuading people to invest in a public vision is a relevant governing skill.) What kind of people did each hire? (The winner will have to hire about 3,000 political appointees to help him govern.) How well did each respond to challenges, mistakes, and the like? (Governing leadership requires deft responses to many bumps in the road.) Foreign policy leadership: Obama and McCain have made national security their top priority, both focusing on Iraq, Afghanistan, and fighting international terrorism. The biggest difference between them is over the stay of US troops in Iraq and the mix of diplomacy and military force. McCain has consistently supported US military intervention in Iraq, but he opposed President Bush’s military strategy. Obama opposed the impending war for reasons that seem prescient today. Not surprisingly, McCain, a Vietnam veteran and POW, intends to do more than Obama to build up the US military and is willing to keep more US troops much longer in Iraq than Obama. McCain, of course, has extensive military and war experience, which may be helpful for understanding the risks of using the military. Both candidates support multilateral and diplomatic efforts in foreign policy, but McCain is averse to negotiating directly with traditional US enemies, like Iran and Cuba, and is more likely than Obama to rely on sancPRISM 2008

38

tions and other forms of coercion as a first resort. Biblical policy values: On pages 46-48 of this issue of PRISM, Ron Sider examines many policy positions of both presidential candidates. Comparative inspection of the range of domestic policy positions suggests two competing patterns of policy values. Both candidates believe government and free markets play critical roles to improve society, and both support equality, social order, and individual freedom—all policy values at the heart of biblical justice. However, Obama more often than McCain will likely pursue policies that rely on government to increase social and economic equality.For instance,Obama,not McCain, emphasizes universal healthcare coverage. McCain more than Obama will probably use government authority to achieve a more traditional social order, one that, for example, prohibits or restricts gay marriage and abortion and privileges law enforcement authority. And even though both highly value individual freedom, Obama more often than McCain will likely favor government attempts to achieve equality even when it constrains personal freedom, while McCain favors restricting freedom for the sake of preserving the conventional social order. Keep in mind that either candidate as president will choose judicial appointees who he thinks will make judgments based on similar policy value tradeoffs. One more thing: As each of us considers how to weigh each factor, let’s engage those of like mind and otherwise. Discussing these factors with family, friends, coworkers, and others will enrich our civil society and provide us and others guidance in making this important choice. ★ Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pa., and the editor of ESA’s Public Policy community (esa-online.org/publicpolicy).


WASHINGTON WATCH Joelle Morabito with Bret Kincaid

Seeking Shalom in Iraq We’re more than five years into the Iraq War, and the question on many minds is whether the US military should stay in Iraq and, if so, for how long. This presents a false choice. The real question is how we can help Iraqis create a society that is politically, economically, and culturally sustainable. Sectarian violence has plagued Iraq since its creation as an imposed amalgamation of ethnic groups following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Much as in the African colonies, the British defined the territorial limits of the Iraqi state without regard to the politics of or relationships among the different ethnic and religious groups, and bloodshed has long plagued relations between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Today, after so many lives lost and billions of dollars spent, it is painfully clear that an Iraqi solution will not be a military one. The solution must be political, but how can a civil society be developed in Iraq that encourages bridging ethnic and political cleavages and provides opportunities for cooperation across sectarian lines? The biblical principle of shalom implies harmonious relations with God, ourselves, others, and nature. As Walter Brueggemann reminds us, shalom is both a gracious gift of God and a task we are called to pursue.There is a tension inherent in shalom in that God is its primary source, and yet God gives fallen human beings the responsibility to serve as his agents to create the conditions that make shalom possible. Second Corinthians 5:19 tells Christians that we have been charged to be agents of reconciliation and to work for biblical shalom as God desires for our individual and communal lives.

But decades of oppression have distorted, factionalized, and infused with mistrust the relationships among Kurds, Sunni, and Shiites. Recent efforts at stability and statecraft have been consistently undermined by this mistrust among competing sectarian groups. Iraq today is not Germany or Japan of the 1940s, yielding readily to the political will of occupying forces. It is more like Bosnia of the 1990s—a country divided by ethnonationalist groups centripetally driven by internal and external forces. How can the US encourage shalom in fiercely factionalized Iraq? Whether the US stays or not, it owes Iraq a stable social condition from which it can develop politically and economically. It doesn’t owe Iraq a democracy: Indeed, the only enduring democracy will be one that Iraqis forge themselves. The US does owe Iraq a working infrastructure, one that can effectively deliver energy, education, healthcare, jobs, and security. But the most difficult thing the US owes Iraq is a real opportunity for political reconciliation and an environment that encourages the development of a viable civil society.

How can we help Iraqis create a politically, economically, and culturally sustainable society? Affirming General David Petraeus’ and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker’s belief that Iraq is “fragile” and mostly in need of a “political settlement,” the US should wholeheartedly support Security Council Resolution 1770 mandating the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to establish a space for political reconciliation among key Iraqi and regional actors. Carlos Pascual, director of foreign policy at Brookings Institution, advocated as much to the Senate Foreign PRISM 2008

32

Relations Committee in April. He said, “It will require unequivocal political backing, careful calibration of expectations, and skilled diplomacy. To undertake this task, the UN needs a special team and a flexible mandate. It cannot be business as usual.The lead negotiator should report to the secretary general, and must be empowered to engage regional and international actors directly.” He likened it to the process leading to the Dayton Accords for Bosnia. “The meeting must be a carefully orchestrated process of negotiating among an inner circle of key Iraqis while engaging…a wider contact group of the neighboring states,” he said. The US and Britain began pushing for this kind of UN effort last summer, before the Iraqi parliament passed a few reconciliation measures this past winter. To help shape their implementation, the US should follow up its reconciliation initiative by giving UNAMI its full support. This would also go a long way in repairing the damage done to UN credibility by the US blow as it rushed to war. Concomitantly, civil society in Iraq needs nourishing. But doing so may be done more effectively if addressed indirectly. We suggest the US should fund the indigenous design and implementation of many more civil society projects that require cooperative efforts across sectarian lines. Working together to rebuild the degraded infrastructure is likely to create jobs and a functioning public works system and, more importantly, foster the trust necessary to undergird a viable civil society. This surge in diplomatic efforts would reflect in practice the apostle Paul’s written echo of his Master’s life: overcome evil with good. ★ Joelle Morabito is a Templeton Honors Scholar and political science major at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., where Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science.


WASHINGTON WATCH MAX FINBERG

Praying for the Peace/Feast of Jerusalem You’ve heard the story about the rabbi, the imam, and the priest? Well, throw in a retired cardinal, a congressman, a princess, and you have some amazing stories that—somehow—barely made the news. The following is an account of three historic gatherings that are truly inspiring in their quest for peace, reconciliation, and the sharing of our prosperity with the least among us. In November 2007, the leaders of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land met for the first time in Washington, DC. The council is made up of the chief rabbis of Israel, the chief Sharia judges of Palestine, the patriarchs of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the Lutheran and Anglican bishops of Jerusalem and Palestine. Fourteen of the top religious leaders from the land that all three Abrahamic faiths call holy came here to seek common ground. Hosted by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a retired priest, and Ambassador Tony Hall, a retired politician, they met with members of Congress and their American theological counterparts. They came to build mutual understanding and agreed to a six-point program of how they can support peace in the region, including an historic agreement regarding the Holy Sites of Jerusalem. They recognize that their role is to support peace, if the politicians can ever agree to one. In one touching example of the mutual understanding that is possible, one chief rabbi and one head sheik visited the Holocaust Museum together and concluded their visit in prayer. A few weeks later,Cardinal McCarrick continued the efforts of mutual under-

standing by leading a response to a fatw¯a condemning terrorism. This religious edict was issued by the Fiqh Council of North America (think Catholic,Protestant, and evangelical authorities rolled into one). It quotes the Qur’an, which “considers the unjust killing of a single person equivalent to the killing of all humanity,” and condemns suicide bombings as “barbaric acts of criminals, not ‘martyrs.’” This is a clarion response to the people who ask about moderate Muslim voices willing to condemn terrorism. This initiative, “Uniting to Protect,” featured a response by Christians and Jews and is encouraging grassroots action around interfaith reconciliation. It was launched at the National Press Club but failed to garner many headlines, despite its historic significance. McCarrick concluded,“We can all work together in helping the poor.The Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an all speak about helping those in need.” Mere days later, in Jordan, Princess Basma bint Talal hosted a regional forum to promote national alliances against hunger in the Near East. She is the sister of the late King Hussein, the peacemaker. She is the head of the Jordanian Alliance Against Hunger and runs one of Jordan’s oldest development organizations. Princess Basma is truly an impressive leader who cares about the poorest in the kingdom, especially women. She gathered together representatives from government, non-governmental organizations, the UN, and the private sector—from Morocco to Iraq, from Syria to Yemen. In a region not known for its robust civil society, she stressed that it is only by working together across sectors that the Middle East (or any other region) will meet the first Millennium Development Goal of cutting hunger in half by 2015. The US Alliance to End Hunger brought together a truly interfaith delegation of a Jewish businessman, a Methodist minister, a Presbyterian laywoman of the year, a Palestinian woman, and a relief professional for an evangeliPRISM 2008

32

cal organization, among others. Jordan itself has made a great deal of progress on hunger. Over the years, US taxpayer money has financed the UN World Food Program’s food-for-work programs.These programs led to the planting of most of Jordan’s olive trees that now generate food and income for hundreds of thousands of Jordanians. But the country still has a long way to go in feeding its entire population, especially given the 1.5 million Palestinian refugees and approximately 750,000 Iraqi refugees who live there. Jordan wants to follow the lead of its neighbor Israel in starting a food bank. The Israeli Forum on Food Security, working with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and other American Jews, has launched Leket: Israel’s National Food Bank. Leket is Hebrew for gleaning and reminds us of the command to gather leftover food to feed the widow, orphan, and immigrant. Efforts like these deserve to be promoted and encouraged. The Interfaith Cooperation Initiative for Israel and Palestine chaired by McCarrick and Hall was created and funded by Congress. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), working together with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), directed taxpayer money to be invested in this worthy cause. We need more of our collective resources (currently less than one penny of every tax dollar) to go towards the sharing of prosperity. Specifically, if the US were to provide more and better development assistance, we could use “smart power” to create a more just world. So as we pray to ensure daily bread for everyone and no trespassing against others, let us also lift our voices on behalf of the voiceless. Senators and representatives who sit on the appropriations committees will be making decisions about how to spend our money, and they should know what we think. ★ M. Finberg is director of AllianceToEndHunger.org.


WASHINGTON WATCH BRET KINCAID

Discriminating Choices Ask most progressive evangelicals whether they oppose employment discrimination and you’ll get a resounding yes, a response likely grounded in a passion for social justice, inspired by the biblical story, and shaped by the civil rights movements of the last century. Ask the very same people whether the government should require an independent Christian bookstore to hire an openly gay job applicant, and they might very well respond with a resounding no. I suspect this ambivalence is often due, at least in part, to a clash of two cardinal biblical values—religious liberty and employment justice. This clash has been at the heart of the three-decade debate over the Employment NonDiscrimination Act (ENDA). Last November, the House finally passed ENDA, a bill that would add “sexual orientation” to the list of federally protected classes—race, color, sex, national origin, and religion—under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is likely the Senate will vote on it early this year. According to Gallup, almost 9 in 10 Americans now favor equal opportunity in employment for gay persons. Although Americans have been roughly split down the middle over gay marriage, the vast majority appear to believe that employers should not discriminate against gay persons. A majority-rule system would slam-dunk ENDA into the legal code. We live in a democracy, however, in which the majority has no constitutional authority to trump government-protected liberties and rights. But which should government protect when a longstanding civil liberty and a contended civil right clash? Evangelicals offer three kinds of response.

For many conservative evangelicals the answer is obvious: Religious liberty beats sexual liberty hands down, especially when the question is whether to protect gay applicants and employees. Many conservative evangelicals believe that a person’s sexual orientation is a choice rather than genetically determined from birth. Additionally, they take their cue from the Bible’s negative references to gay behavior and the longstanding Christian belief that homosexual practice is immoral.Consequently, they argue that Christian employers should not be forced to hire gay persons. Many conservative evangelicals, however, are equally (or even more) influenced by a strong private-property principle. For instance, Family Research Council Vice President Peter Sprigg argues that “what is most significant about this bill is not...the impact on religious employers [but] the ratcheting up of federal government interference in the free market.” He qualifies his support of laissezfaire for purposes of protecting historically discriminated groups or, in the case of protecting people of faith, if the Constitution specifically requires protection. But people with same-sex attractions do not, according to Sprigg, fall under either of these qualifications. Reformed evangelicals in the Kuyperian tradition view ENDA from a different angle.They believe government ought to protect the authority of the “sphere” of faith-based institutions. Among them there is debate over precisely which institutions should be designated as faith-based but not over whether faith-based institutions have the proper authority to discriminate against gay persons.The Kuyperians believe they do. Stanley Carlson-Thies of the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) recently argued that ENDA proponents should “ditch” the bill, not because it ignores the moral stature of gay persons but because it “fences in” religious liberty. Though some Kuyperians might believe Christian instiPRISM 2008

40

tutions on Christian grounds shouldn’t discrimate against gay persons, they believe the jurisdiction of faith should be free from government interference. Progressive evangelicals, who resonate with the nonviolent, social-justice public agenda of Anabaptists, have a strong sympathy for any socially estranged group, partly because their ancestors were also estranged.Their Protestant and Catholic brethren hunted down, tortured, and killed them for their religiously motivated but allegedly immoral practices and heretical doctrine. As a result, these evangelicals were predisposed to be very sensitive to the biblical justice themes about liberation and protection of marginalized people. But Anabaptists were also one of the first groups to seek religious liberty.Thus progressive evangelicals are torn between wanting government to ensure employers can hire according to their faithmotivated consciences and wanting to protect gays from job discrimination. Not surprisingly, many progressive evangelicals believe, like those in the other two evangelical traditions, that ENDA defines faith too narrowly, while other progressives favor ENDA because they worry more about protecting gays from job discrimination.These evangelicals are less confident than conservative evangelicals that homosexuality is a choice, and even if it is a choice, they recognize adherence to a faith is equally a choice, one which enjoys government protection. ESA President Ron Sider says he strongly opposes all forms of gay bashing and insists on the civil rights of everyone, but he believes that ENDA is neither necessary nor desirable. He fears that “ENDA would be one step in a process that may lead to government restriction of the religious freedom to live out what most evangelicals believe with regard to homosexual practice.” ★ Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pa.


WASHINGTON WATCH MICHELE LEARNER & KIMBERLY BURGE

Bread for the World: Taking Action for Hungry and Poor People Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled. Mark 6:41-42 Offered with faith, five loaves and two fish once fed thousands. When we turn our faith into action, God uses our voices. Our actions are multiplied. Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice, takes this kind of action by urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.We work to change the policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist. God’s grace in Jesus Christ moves us to help our neighbors, whether they live in the next house, the next state, or the next continent. We seek to provide help and opportunity far beyond the communities in which we live. The United States has promised to work with other countries—rich and poor —to help meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. In 2000, our country and 189 others agreed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight achievable targets for human development. Goal #1 is to cut hunger and extreme poverty in half by 2015. We are more than halfway to the deadline. The world has made a good start, but much remains to be done. We need to finish the job. In 2008, Bread for the World is renewing the push for more and better devel-

opment assistance.We’re asking Congress to meet the commitments we’ve made to hungry and poor people and to pass the Global Poverty Act, which will better coordinate U.S. assistance to reach our goals. U.S. development assistance is critically important in helping poor countries meet the Millennium Development Goals. Since 1999 our country has tripled federal funding for effective development assistance to the world’s poorest countries. More children are being immunized. New wells give people access to clean water for the first time. Hundreds of thousands of AIDS-infected Africans now receive lifesaving medication.Where poverty has been persistent, hope is replacing despair. Why did this happen? People raised their voices. Concerned people of faith wrote letters to their representatives in Congress; others called and e-mailed. They told their elected officials that helping our neighbors—even those in other countries—is the right thing to do. All people deserve the opportunity to live productive lives and provide for their children. We’ve won some incredible victories. But our work is not over. Even with that tripling of funding, the United States currently gives less than 1 percent of our federal budget to programs that fight poverty worldwide. The world still has nearly a billion people living on less than one U.S. dollar per day. This kind of poverty forces families to spend most of their income on food, with little left over for shelter, clothing, medical care, and education. And very often they still face hunger and malnutrition. When a family has so few financial resources, parents and children must do without many of the things we would consider basic necessities. U.S. development assistance can fill some of the gaps in ways that promote long-term improvements in health, education, and economic

potential in poor countries. Here’s an example from Zambia, a small country in southern Africa. Malaria is the number-one killer of Zambian children under the age of 5. In Kampekete, a rural area about 30 miles outside the capital, 200 women and their children gather under the only tree large enough to provide a bit of shade from the glaring noonday sun. As a woman and her baby lie on a table serving as a bed, community health volunteers demonstrate how to use a bed net to keep mosquitoes away as they sleep. People are also advised to wear long sleeves and skirts for coverage, especially in the evenings. Then packages of bed nets—purchased with U.S. development assistance funding—are distributed to the mothers. Since this type of distribution has begun, local health clinic reports show that the incidence of malaria is decreasing. We in the United States can make these changes happen, because with the stroke of a pen, U.S. policies are made that redirect millions of dollars and affect millions of lives.When our voices are heard in Congress, we’re helping to pass laws that are more compassionate to people in need. Please add your voice, and the voices of people in your church, campus, or community, to call for more development assistance focused on reducing poverty.Write a letter or organize an Offering of Letters —then watch the actions multiply and bring about improvements in people’s lives. For more information about Bread for the World’s work and how you can get involved, please visit bread.org or call 1-800-82-BREAD.We can offer resources and connect you with other people in your area who are also seeking to put their faith into action. ★ Michele Learner and Kimberly Burge work in Bread for the World’s communications department.

PRISM 2008

32

pgs 01-40.indd 32

12/13/07 10:48:11 PM


WASHINGTON WAT C H BRET KINCAID

SCHIP and Sustainable Representation A diminutive caricature of President Bush, exhibiting elongated ears and furry brows, sits behind his big desk vetoing the SCHIP bill while the GOP elephant exclaims, “You can’t veto that! It will hurt the most vulnerable.” A disgruntled Bush looks up and asks, “Since when do you worry about poor kids?” The elephant, clutching a 2008 ballot, shouts, “I’m talking about me!” Amusing, but its humorous cynicism misses the principled politics behind the fight over extending and expanding the 10-year-old, bipartisan State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Sure, congressional Republicans have infinitely more at stake than Mr. Bush. His veto of the bill that would substantially expand SCHIP in order to cover 4 million more low- and moderate-income children likely won’t hurt his presidential stature, already tanked by his abysmal approval ratings and lame-duck status. However, the fact that over 70 percent of Americans polled support the substantial expansion of SCHIP scares the stuffing out of Republicans up for reelection. One rarely knows precisely why a particular member of Congress votes the way he or she does, but the Republican vote was likely a demonstration of the strength of the reelection connection between voters and their representatives. Members want to win reelection, and voting with a supermajority of the public makes winning more likely. And this makes for good representation.The people’s voice was heard loud and clear through their elected representatives. But what stunned many was the fact

that so many Republicans rejected the expansion of SCHIP. The Washington Post’s David Broder likened their vote to “Following Bush Off a Cliff.” And yet this vote against majority opinion is also an example of good representation. Many of these members voted with the opinion of their conservative constituents, who make up a solid majority of their constituents.The others likely voted their conservative conscience or party loyalty over their electoral prospects. Conservative members realize what left-of-center E.J. Dionne, Jr., acknowledges: “This battle is central to the long-term goal of universal coverage” (see his “The Right Fight for Democrats” column in the Washington Post, September 25, 2007). We are about to embark on another nation-wide conversation about how to ensure equal access to medical care for the 45 million or more who do not currently have health insurance. Many conservatives in Congress believe that supporting the expansion of SCHIP’s government-financed medical care right now would make it more politically difficult to convince the American public later that a competitive market-based approach is more effective than a government-financed one to achieve universal coverage. Letting legislators who are closer than constituents to the complexity of the policy vote with their conscience or with their party is good representation as long as we have the regular opportunity to turn legislators out of office. But elections are not enough to ensure strong representation. Quality representation is a two-way street. Reps should be in touch with the lives of their constituents, as well as their policy opinions. Most are. But reps also need to help constituents develop their opinions. Many citizens are confused by or otherwise ignorant of the differences among competing policy options before Congress. This requires leadership based on trust

PRISM 2007

32

and knowledge of complex issues and the various relevant political values that shape each policy option. SCHIP is a complex policy addressing the problem of uninsured children. Reps ought to be casting a clarifying light on the problem in ways that many middle- and upper-income people can understand, helping to build empathy and perhaps some solidarity across class lines. As legislators, reps are also particularly well-suited to lay out for their constituents the policy options and the underlying values of each, even as reps make a compelling case for why their own policy choice is best.This is the kind of representation that is able to sustain representative democracy in this large, pluralistic republic. Without it, political apathy sets in, representation is easily short-circuited by unelected interest groups, and citizens become increasingly suspicious of government. Unfortunately, reps or would-be reps too often squander leadership opportunities by issuing attack ads and bumper sticker slogans to win elections. For instance, my own rep is now heading up the campaign to punish the Republicans who voted against SCHIP. Soon after the SCHIP vote, he announced, “We’re going district by district to tell Republicans and President Bush to stop obstructing progress and start putting children first. Republicans who continue to vote in lockstep with President Bush and against children will be held accountable.” It is fine to put money and effort into persuading or, if unsuccessful, defeating political opponents, but his rhetoric is misleading and shrill, which contributes little to public learning and civility. Our civil society, indeed our republic, deserves better representation. ★ Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., and editor of ESA’s Public Policy Community (esa-online.org/PublicPolicy).


WASHINGTON WAT C H R E B E C C A YA E L W E I S S B U R G

Watching for Sudan Moves In May, President Bush announced that the U.S. was imposing tougher sanctions on Sudan. The announcement, which many believed the president was going to make six weeks earlier at his April 18 speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, laid out four steps that the government would take to attempt to bring an end to what the White House has called the “genocide” taking place in Darfur. First, the State Department released the names of 31 Sudanese companies that are, effective immediately, barred from doing business in the U.S. or transacting business in American dollars. Second, the U.S. imposed individual sanctions on two top Sudanese officials and one rebel leader who have incited violence and obstructed the peace in Darfur.Third, the U.S. will increase enforcement of the existing economic sanctions against the 130 Sudanese-owned companies that are already barred from doing business with the United States. Fourth, and most importantly, the White House has instructed Secretary Rice to work with the U.K. and our other allies to seek UN approval for an international arms embargo against Sudan and the imposition of a military no-fly zone in Darfur. What does the U.S. hope these sanctions will accomplish? The State Department has said that it wants to see an immediate end to all aerial bombing attacks on villages in Darfur, which have continued, and even increased, since the April 18 speech. It wants the Sudanese government to accept the UN-AU Hybrid Force and support the UN-AU peace process. It wants a full and immediate disarmament of the Janjaweed in accordance with the Darfur Peace Agreement and a full implementation of the

March 28 Joint Humanitarian Communiqué signed by Sudan and the U.S. earlier this year. As best as we can tell, the White House delayed announcement of these new sanctions until May for two primary reasons. First, Bush wanted to give diplomacy in Sudan one last chance before he increased economic pressure on the Sudanese government. As mentioned above, the president was expected to make this announcement six weeks earlier. The day before the planned speech, however, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called Secretary Rice and asked her to delay the president’s announcement in order to give him more time to come to a diplomatic agreement with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Second, the White House chose to make its announcement in May because the following week the president left for the 2007 G-8 Summit in Germany, where Darfur was to feature prominently on the docket.The day after Bush made the announcement, Secretary Rice was in Germany meeting with her Group of Eight counterparts to draw up consensus among member countries before the presidents met the following week. It is laudable, especially in light of our recent history with the UN over Iraq, that the president gave Secretary Ban more time to talk to Bashir and try to work out a diplomatic solution. But six weeks was plenty of time to see change. Instead, Khartoum has continued to support the Arab militia, has not accepted the UN-AU Hybrid Force or implemented the March 28 communiqué, and has continued to bomb villages in Darfur, once even in a military aircraft painted white to look like a UN plane.The time for diplomatic discussions is over. But what kind of effect will these new sanctions have? Realistically, not much. According to State Department officials, most of the 31 newly sanctioned companies do not currently do business in the United States or with U.S. companies. PRISM 2007

32

Many of them do the majority of their business in U.S. dollars, but these new sanctions will, at best, prove to be an inconvenience. Strengthening enforcement on the previously sanctioned Sudanese companies is likewise an admirable act, but it will have little effect in Khartoum. Only four of the 130 companies are petrochemical, the industry from which the Sudanese government derives 70 percent of its export revenue. Most importantly, the sanctions are all bilateral. And while the U.S. may be a major trade partner with much of Africa, China is quickly catching up. China, which buys 70 percent of Sudan’s oil, has little to no interest in seeing the Darfur crisis resolved.And oil isn’t China’s only source of income from Sudan: Since 1996, China has invested more than $10 billion in Sudan. Symbolically, however, the announcement may have an effect.The announcement’s timing made Darfur a top international issue. The G8, from which China is excluded, had a jumpstart on discussing the crisis and will hopefully set the tone for increased cooperation in the UN and stronger international pressure on China to vote for multilateral UN sanctions in the Security Council. In the meantime the U.S. should continue to call the crisis in Darfur what it is and continue to do all it can alone while insisting that its friends and allies join it in pressuring Khartoum to end the violence in Darfur. Likewise, the White House should not take the threat of U.S. sanctions on Bashir himself off the table. And finally, it should continue to pressure China to pull out of Sudan and support international sanctions, at the threat of boycotting the Olympics and taking away Beijing’s favored nation status with the U.S. Because in Sudan, the yuan talks louder than the dollar. ★ Rebecca Yael Weissburg is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.


WASHINGTON WAT C H R E B E C C A YA E L W E I S S B U R G

Olympian Pressure It’s become all the rage for celebrity activists to use their star power to champion causes—whether it’s Angelina Jolie bringing the faces of African refugees to the homes of millions of Americans, Bono educating young adults about the importance of free trade, or Alec Baldwin… well, we don’t actually know what he does. Sometimes, despite their missteps, celebrities really can make a difference in international politics. At least that is what the last few months seem to indicate. On March 28 Mia Farrow and her son Ronan Farrow published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Genocide Olympics.” In it they highlight the role that China continues to play in the conflict in Darfur: Numerous times China has used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to obstruct efforts by the U.S. and the U.K. to send peacekeepers to the region. But that’s just what goes on in plain view. Behind closed doors, China purchases “an overwhelming majority” of Sudan’s oil exports each year, not to mention the fact that the China National Petroleum Corporation—a governmentowned enterprise—is a majority shareholder in both of Sudan’s major oil companies. In turn, Khartoum uses up to 80 percent of the revenue from these oil sales to fund the Janjaweed, the Arab militia group that has been brutally attacking non-Arab Muslims in Darfur for years. Surprisingly, the op-ed did not fall on deaf ears. On April 13 the New York Times ran a piece detailing the effect that the Farrows’ piece had on the way the Chinese government is dealing with the crisis in Darfur. As the first two lines of the article suggest, “For the past

two years, China has protected the Sudanese government as the United States and Britain have pushed for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Sudan for the violence in Darfur. But in the past week, strange things have happened.” Indeed. Just days after the publication of the Farrows’ op-ed, Beijing sent a top-level official to Khartoum to encourage Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir to accept UN peacekeeping troops. Not only did Zhai Jun travel to Khartoum, but he also visited three refugee camps in Darfur—an incredible reversal in Chinese rhetoric and actions since just a few months ago. So how did this happen? China is particularly vulnerable right

China has an enormous amount of leverage in Sudan, and as a “responsible stakeholder” it should use it. now, with more and more scholars and activists criticizing China’s close relationship with Sudan in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. Many have threatened large-scale demonstrations or even a boycott of the Olympics. In response, China, a country in which shame can be an immensely motivating factor, has begun a campaign to shape up its global image. As a Chinese friend recently told me, “You won’t see one homeless or handicapped person on the street in Beijing next summer.” The call for China to shape up, however, isn’t a new one. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, in a now famous speech from 2005, challenged China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in a world system that allowed

it to become the global player that it is. At a meeting with his Chinese counterparts, he encouraged China to “work with the United States and others to sustain, adapt, and advance the peaceful international system.” Darfur has now become the test case for whether Beijing is ready to embrace that role. Of course, a few words from a senior Chinese official and a visit to a few refugee camps do little to alleviate the suffering of those whose lives have been devastated by years of genocide. And China shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this and nothing more. But Zhai’s visit does signal a shift in China’s thinking about the issue, which, with enough pressure, may turn into a shift in Chinese policy. As mentioned above, China has an enormous amount of leverage in Sudan, and as a “responsible stakeholder” it should use it. China can begin to do so in three ways. First, Chinese president Hu Jintao should personally encourage President al-Bashir to accept UN peacekeeping troops in Darfur. Second, Beijing should give Khartoum a deadline by which it either stops funding the Janjaweed or China pulls out its investments in Sudanese oil companies. Third, and most importantly, China should cooperate with the United States and the United Kingdom in the UN Security Council and vote for a resolution to send UN peacekeepers to the region. This would send a strong message not only to Sudan but to other countries as well (Chad, Iran, Eritrea, for example) that they can’t expect China—now a major global player—to turn a blind eye to their sins, not to mention support them. In the meantime, American activists, diplomats, and, yes, movie stars, should continue to put the pressure on Beijing to either pull out of Darfur or face the consequences. ★ Rebecca Yael Weissburg is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

PRISM 2007

32

pgs 01-40.indd 32

6/19/07 10:47:49 PM


WASHINGTON WAT C H R E B E C C A YA E L W E I S S B U R G

Responsibility to Protect Ban Ki-moon’s grace period is over.The new secretary-general of the United Nations is well into his first year as leader of the most influential international organization in the world, and it is time for him to step up to the plate. In his oath of office address, SecretaryGeneral Ban vowed to strengthen the three pillars of the U.N.: security, development, and human rights. No issue could be more fitting—or urgent—than the genocide taking place in Darfur. The U.N., however, has refused to call it genocide, despite the fact that the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the Genocide Intervention Network, Genocide Watch, President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the U.S. Congress, to name but a few, have. “Humanitarian catastrophe,” “tragedy,” and “mass murders,” yes, but despite the fact that the U.N. has cited the Coalition for International Justice’s statistic of over 400,000 deaths related to the conflict, the U.N. and its leadership have skillfully skirted the ominous word. Not that this should come as a shock. It would be impossible to erase the memory of U.N. and American officials referring to “acts of genocide” that took place—indeed that were taking place—in Rwanda while avoiding calling the conflict itself a genocide. History, as they say, repeats itself. On Ban’s first trip to Africa in his new role, he met with Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, and, according to a U.N. statement, held talks that were “useful and constructive.” According to Ban,“I expressed my deep concerns over the continuing violence and deteriorating human rights situation in Darfur,

which afflicts millions of people,” and “I urged President al-Bashir, as I urge all parties, to cease hostilities, as an essential foundation for a successful peace process and humanitarian access.” AlBashir, for his part, agreed “to facilitate such access, and expressed willingness to cooperate with international efforts toward that end.” What exactly this means, or how the secretary-general plans to enforce it, remains a mystery. It’s safe to say, however, that Ban’s mild persona certainly won’t do the trick: He has been described as a “patient negotiator” and a “conciliator” who is “unlikely to make public statements that will give offense to one party or another.” Ban is not, of course, the sole person responsible for solving the crisis in Darfur, but as the leader of the United Nations and as an avowed proponent of U.N. reform, he should certainly be at the forefront. According to Lee Feinstein, senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and International Law at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ban should “take genocide prevention as a mission statement and mandate, and place it at the center of his and his organization’s agenda.” In September 2005—more than a year before Ban took office—the U.N. General Assembly took a step in the right direction by endorsing the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. As the 2005 World Summit Outcome document states, “Each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity... This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.” The document goes on to say that if a state is unable—or unwilling —to fulfill its responsibility to protect its people, it forfeits the right to forbid others from intervening. PRISM 2007

32

But in Darfur and Beyond: What is Needed to Prevent Mass Atrocities, a recent study produced for the Council on Foreign Relations, Feinstein argues that countries like Sudan “continue to engage in mass atrocities, in part because they believe it will be tolerated by the rest of the world.” Well, it’s time to tell Sudan that its actions will no longer be tolerated. Ban should begin by taking away Sudan’s vote at the United Nations General Assembly and on any of the committees on which it sits. Kicking Sudan out of the U.N. only further ostracizes it from the international community and prevents it from being confronted by other member nations. Allowing it to sit in on hearings and see countries voting for resolutions condemning it, however, is a step in the right direction. In addition to taking away Sudan’s vote, a member of the Security Council (preferably not the United States, for obvious reasons) should introduce a resolution calling for comprehensive sanctions on Sudan. The resolution won’t pass—China, after all, has a veto in the Security Council—but introducing the bill would send a reasonably strong signal to Khartoum that it needs to shape up. Finally, the U.N. needs to deal with the very real China issue. China needs to be held accountable for its investments in Sudan and its refusal to allow the U.N. to seriously address the crisis. Currently on the docket at the Security Council are three pending resolutions on Darfur, and each one calls for a different set of experts to report to the council periodically. The United States takes over the presidency of the Security Council this month (May).You can bet that Ambassador Wolff will introduce a tougher resolution before the council. Let’s hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. ★ Rebecca Yael Weissburg is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL WEISSBURG

The First 100 Hours

ciency is at least as important. As Americans have become used to hearing, millions of aid dollars are wasted every year, whether because they serve to prop up friendly regimes, buy limousines for corrupt officials, or simply disappear into the black hole that is the Last November control of Congress was aid world. With a new party in Congress and officially handed over to the Democrats. For some this is a breath of fresh air, for a divided government, however, comes others a disappointment. But regardless more scrutiny and, hopefully, greater of one’s political leanings, it is clear that accountability. A divided government things on the Hill are going to change. means that every decision that is made Nancy Pelosi and the House lead- in theWhite House or State Department ership have promised to set the course will be dissected and inspected. Ideally, for the next two years in the “first 100 this means that the money that is spent hours” of the 110th Congress. Topics on foreign aid, though perhaps smaller on the agenda include the minimum in dollar amount, will be more effectively wage, oil subsidies, Social Security, and targeted and less politicized: If both Medicare. Little—in fact, nothing—has parties need to agree on who receives the been said about foreign aid. And for money, chances are that those who do receive it will be the least politically congood reason. According to a new study by the tentious of all. Likewise, any waste or Center for Global Development, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the relative priority of aid to Africa has been equal under Republican and Democratic presidents. Indeed, it is not the party in control of the White House or the party in control of Congress that is the key factor in determining aid to Africa but rather the relationship between the two. When both Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party, aid to Africa—both in terms of absolute flows and as a percentage of total aid —is higher; when Congress and the White House are controlled by different parties, aid is lower. If history is any guide, this means that U.S. aid to Africa—including money invested in presidential initiatives such as the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account—will actually decline now that the Democrats are in control of Congress, rather than increase, as most would expect. How will aid to Africa be affected Thankfully, numbers aren’t all that by the new Congress? matter. In the case of foreign aid, effi-

PRISM 2007

32

pork stuck into bills or agreements by Republicans will likely be sniffed out by Democrats eager to have the last word. And, though foreign aid isn’t on the Democrats’ agenda for the first 100 hours, trade is. Speaker Pelosi has promised a “thorough review” of free-trade agreements (FTAs) made under the Bush administration as well as previous administrations. In July, President Bush’s “fast-track authority” is up for renewal, meaning that unless Congress reapproves it (which is doubtful), the president will no longer be able to negotiate FTAs without congressional amendments. Slowing the FTA process down could, unfortunately, mean another blow to developing countries who desperately need access to U.S. markets. On the bright side, the free-trade debate is likely to spur discussions about “fair trade,” which comes into play when the farm bill comes up for renewal later this year.As the Washington Post’s Sebastian Mallaby has noted, the current subsidy program “lavishes more than $20 billion a year on farmers, almost twice what gets spent on subsidizing college for poor children. About 70 percent of the money goes to the richest 10 percent of farmers, so the rhetoric about supporting struggling family farms is hogwash.” Debates about the farm bill, though not in the first 100 hours, will hopefully open up the door to discussions about the important role that the trade policy of wealthy nations plays in reducing global poverty. Democrats, traditionally thought of as the party that cares about Africa, need to make sure they set the tone not only on domestic issues and the war on Iraq, but also on issues of trade and foreign aid. The country is already divided on too many issues. The last thing we need is for aid to get lost in the first 100hour shuffle. ★ Rebecca Yael Weissburg is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.


WASHINGTON WAT C H R E B E C C A YA E L W E I S S B U R G

Fencing with Reason I’m glad I couldn’t see the Statue of Liberty today. This morning President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law, authorizing the construction of a 700mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. The double-layered fence, which will run across parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, will likely cost close to $6 billion and, though not yet funded, comes in addition to the $10.4 billion spent on “border security” in 2006. And why spend this kind of money on border security? According to the president,“we’re modernizing the southern border of the United States so we can assure the American people we’re doing our job of securing the border.” Is it just me, or is this a really bad case of circular reasoning? But blame shouldn’t go solely to the president; the real shame of this act belongs to Congress, which voted to pass the bill and tighten border security, while scrapping every reference to immigration reform. Forget about taking a closer look at the real problems that exist in our immigration laws; instead, our elected officials are playing politics and scaring Americans into believing that their jobs, communities, language—even their lives —are in danger. But it’s immigration reform, not border security, that should be at the forefront of American minds. A new study by Lant Pritchett at the Center for Global Development addresses the issue of immigration reform, and it has caused quite a stir here in Washington. Let Their People Come: Breaking the Gridlock on Global Labor Mobility explains how immigration reform, and in particular labor migration, is key to alleviating poverty in the developing world. According

to the study, if developed countries were to ease restrictions on labor mobility by allowing the equivalent of 3 percent of their labor force to temporarily move to a developed country to fill low-paying jobs, the benefits to the people of developing countries would be $305 billion a year. That, writes Pritchett, is almost twice the annual benefits that would be realized from full trade liberalization ($86 billion), foreign aid ($70 billion), and debt relief ($3 billion) combined. Not only would relaxed labor mobility laws be a much more effective way to help developing countries, Pritchett argues, but unlike debt forgiveness and aid, it doesn’t require a large infusion of cash. It does, however, require policymakers—as well as advocates—to take a fresh look at international migration, and it challenges the long-held assumptions of voters and their elected officials. International advocates—celebrity and otherwise—have pigeonholed the international development debate to focus on the big three: debt relief, foreign aid, and liberalized trade.While these three things are important, and worthy of championing, until now no one has brought to light the importance of migration reform to the international development debate. Knowing that his idea is controversial, Pritchett puts forth six accommodations that would make his plan feasible, including a greater use of temporary work permits (which is exactly what Congress recently cut from the immigration bill), a reliance on bilateral agreements between rich and poor countries (instead of vast, multilateral agreements that are nearly impossible to make and enforce), and the protection of migrants’ fundamental rights. It’s high time that someone stepped into the immigration reform argument and offered some sensible recommendations—to both American voters and policymakers—that go beyond the circular reasoning of building a fence to make Americans think that the government is PRISM 2007

32

doing its job. Having been born overseas, I’ve always admired this country’s commitment to taking in those who are persecuted and downtrodden. Lately, however, it seems that immigration is tied to what newcomers to this country have as opposed to what they lack. Computer scientists from South Korea, tech-savvy entrepreneurs from India—these have no problem entering our borders. But Mexican laborers who live on less than $2 a day? Forget about it. The fence being built around this country is both a waste of money and a betrayal of American ideals. In the words of Emma Lazarus: Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame With conquering limbs astride from land to land Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Mother of Exiles? I think she’s blushing. ★ Rebecca Yael Weissburg is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL WEISSBURG

Supporting Democracy Early this month, millions of Americans will have gone to the polls to tell their leaders how they feel about the direction this country is taking. Several elections served as referenda on particular politicians and their personalities, ethics, or local politics, but overall our votes were based on the simple formula of whether we approved or disapproved of the way the country is headed. Historically, mid-term elections in second-term administrations have been unkind to the majority party in Congress, as evidenced by the opposition party’s average gain of 33 House seats in such elections between 1900 and 1990. In other words, we elect certain leaders to carry out various policies, but six years into an eight-year administration, a significant number of us decide that those leaders/policies are either wrong, ineffective, or both.We Americans, it seems, are a fickle bunch. Or are we? Granted, a Congressman can be a presidential candidate one day and two years later be unsure of winning in his own district, but overall the trajectory of the United States has remained fairly consistent over the last two centuries. Certainly, we’ve had our imperial as well as isolationist moments, as well as our eras of illiberalism at home, but gradually we have been moving toward an internationalist (as opposed to isolationist) foreign policy and a domestic policy which places the rights of its citizens at the forefront. Particular bills in Congress or specific policies may lead us to doubt this in the short term, but I would argue that over the long term the United States, more than any other country, has been formulating a coherent (if not perfectly executed) pol-

icy of engagement, focused on the rights of its citizens. Which is why it is so important that we be supporters and proponents of democracy—because for all our faults, all our fickleness, it seems that we citizens actually do know what we want. We want a society that respects both its citizens and its neighbors. We want a society that recognizes that peace within our borders is not enough, one that recognizes the importance of peace outside our borders and in countries that are thousands of miles away as well. Indeed, it seems that political engagement creates the most stable and humanitarian societies. Stable and humanitarian societies are important for several reasons. First, a society that defends the rights of its citizens—freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion—is in the interest of all humanitarians and, I would hope, all Christians. Second, a stable and humanitarian society is more likely to engage in the international arena and seek to be in the company of other stable and humanitarian societies. For all our cynicism (both justified and unjustified) about the war in Iraq, it can be said without a doubt that in January of 2003 the majority of this country believed that Saddam Hussein was an evil man and that the people of Iraq deserved to live under a different kind of government. We certainly disagreed (and continue to disagree) about how best to go about achieving that outcome, and whether achieving it was our country’s responsibility at all, but the majority of Americans believed the people of Iraq deserved better—whether or not we got involved. Likewise, we believe that the people of dozens of other countries deserve better. Many of these countries are virtually unknown to most Americans, but we cannot turn on the evening news or open the paper these days without hearing about the people of Iran, North PRISM 2006

32

Korea, and Cuba, to name just a few. But not only do stable and humanitarian societies encourage the growth of similar societies, these countries are also the most engaged in addressing the world’s greatest challenges. Neither Iran, North Korea, nor Cuba—not even China, whose robust economy does not prohibit it from doing so—is attempting to come up with a vaccine to fight malaria in Africa. None of these countries is seriously involved in implementing a longterm strategy to fight AIDS outside their own borders. None of these countries is a positive contributor to the non-proliferation debate—in fact, quite the opposite is true. It is countries such as the United States and other liberal democracies— like England, France, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Australia—who lead the way in these fields. And this is not a coincidence. Countries that begin by respecting their citizens at home inevitably find themselves caring for the citizens of the broader global community. Supporting democracy means more than just encouraging countries to adapt to our particular form of government. Democracy will look different in each and every country because a true democracy is reflective of its culture and society. But we do a disservice to honest, good, and often courageous people—not to mention to ourselves—when we turn a blind eye to those who (fickle or not) don’t even have a say. ★ Rebecca Yael Weissburg is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute (www. aei.org/nai).


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL WEISSBURG

Proper Allegiance

a source of encouragement. Not only that, but facing such outright antagonism and often hatred also forced us to bond together as a community and keep our eyes on the real struggle. Many times we would remind each other that “our struggle is not I recently returned from a trip home to against flesh and blood”—as living for Israel and found it a country much decades in the eternally conflict-ridden changed since my last visit in 1998. Middle East will often make you think— Although the situation has been signifi- “but it is against powers and principalicantly better this year than in the last ties...” Facing such spiritual oppression several years, certain things about the made us turn our eyes to Christ and country seemed completely foreign to focus on the things above. Unfortunately, this seems no longer me. Getting into the country was a hassle, getting out even more so. Entering to be the case amongst the believers I every restaurant, store, and office involved once knew. And, interestingly enough, revealing the interior of my purse to a this seems to be more the case with the security guard and often walking through non-Jewish Christians in that commua metal detector. Even getting on the nity than with the Jewish believers. Everywhere I went, I heard Christians bus, I noticed both plainclothes and uniformed security guards and soldiers in Israel talking about the political situscanning the crowds for possible threats. ation, about the Gaza pullout, about the But the biggest change, sadly, was in eschatological implications of every single the Christians I met while in Jerusalem. action of the Israeli government and I grew up in a Messianic Jewish military. Many in the Christian commufamily and congregation. Most of us nity even started wearing blue or orange were of Jewish heritage and ancestry, and ribbons (symbolizing either the pullall of us believed in Jesus, the Messiah. out or stay-in Gaza camps) in solidarity This was not an easy role to play in with their preferred political party. Sadly, this has changed the focus of Israel, where Jewish secularists are the norm and Jewish atheists and even Jewish the Christian community. Instead of Buddhists and Hindus are accepted. A focusing on things above, thoughts, conJewish Christian, however? That was versations and even sermons seem to be considered beyond the pale—something focused on earthly things, causing disno good Jew, practicing or not, could unity and strife within the community. Congregations have split apart; friendever be. This attitude certainly made it hard ships have been ruined. Not that all of this is new to Christians. to share the Good News with Jewish friends and neighbors, and it made it As a recently confirmed Anglican, I know hard to live out the gospel in an open that this is not simply a problem facing and unabashed way. But at the same the Christian community in Israel. Similar time, it was very good for us. We were problems face my Anglican community often reminded of Christ’s words in the here in the U.S. But it was particularly Sermon on the Mount:“Blessed are those sad for me to see such bitter rifts in a who are persecuted because of righ- community that for so long had looked teousness, for theirs is the kingdom of to Christ and truly depended on each heaven.” Although we were never phys- other simply to survive in what could ically persecuted, we were persecuted often be a very harsh environment. I am not saying that Christians anyin other ways, and Christ’s words were PRISM 2006

32

where should be uninvolved in politics. As someone who studied international politics and now lives and works in the political world in Washington, D.C., I think it is extremely important for Christians to be involved in politics. Without them, the political world would truly suffer. However, our love for Christ and our passion for politics should be clearly separated—not by doing one six days a week and focusing on the other on the seventh, but rather by acknowledging that a separation of church and state is important not only because the two should not be conflated, but because the church—and by this I mean the Body of Christ, the communion of saints—occupies a place far above that of the state. This is something we Christians in Washington would also do well to keep in mind. A friend recently told me that she could not imagine being a Christian Republican. Another friend recently told me the exact opposite. How sad that we often lump the two in the same category—our faith and our political bent. Going back to Israel was a good reminder for me that I am first to be a citizen of heaven, and only then a citizen of a particular country and a member of a political party. May this month be filled with thoughts from above. ★ Rebecca Yael Weissburg is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute (www. aei.org/nai). P.S. Since writing this piece, war has erupted in the Holy Lands. Unfortunately, the current situation has only hardened many of the Christians on both sides of the conflict—both Israeli and Palestinian/Lebanese—who seem to be more concerned with propaganda than prayer, more intent on administering justice and revenge than showing mercy and forgiveness, qualities that while not wholly appropriate for governments should be characteristics of all Christians, regardless of political leanings.


WASHINGTON WAT C H R E B E C C A YA E L M I L L E R

Mr. Hu Goes to Washington Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington is by now old news. But it shouldn’t be.The visit, which began with over-the-top pomp and circumstance and was followed by embarrassing heckling, is unfortunately all too characteristic of the U.S.-Chinese relationship. The inflated welcome ceremony, held for President Hu on the White House lawn, began with a 21-gun salute and a review of the troops, an honor reserved for few visiting heads of state. The visit continued with a photo-op in the Oval Office as well as dinner with President Bush and the First Lady, among others. Despite the White House’s insistence that Hu’s trip to the U.S. was not a state visit, it sure looked like one. Sure, some elements were missing (an official state dinner is the only one that comes to mind), but most weren’t: among them, a whole lot of pageantry, a meeting that emphasized style over substance, and a not-socurious aversion to talking about the real issues. But, as is often the case, ignore a real issue and it will eventually make itself known.About 10 minutes into the official welcome ceremony on the White House lawn, a Falun Gong protester interrupted the ceremony and yelled at Presidents Hu and Bush (to their dismay and to the media’s delight).“Boo Hu,” headlined the New York Daily News the day after the heckler, Wenyi Wang, taunted the presidents with the now-infamous “Mr. Bush, stop him from killing!” and “President Hu, your days are numbered!” Although the Falun Gong’s tactics may not meet up to Emily Post’s standards, Ms.Wang had a point, because President

Bush really can stop President Hu from killing—much more easily than he could Saddam, or bin Laden, or Ahmadinejad, or... This administration is rightly concerned about China’s rise and its regional and global implications. Whatever we may think of it, the U.S. is the world’s sole hegemon, and frankly, it’s a comfortable thing to be. Being one of two superpowers in the world is, conversely, one of the most uncomfortable things to be (just ask anyone who remembers the days of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, or Reagan, or has ever taken a U.S. history course). The U.S. is right to keep an eye on China —it’s the sensible thing to do—but this administration and those that come after it need to make sure that the cacophony of pomp and circumstance doesn’t drown out the cries of those calling for reform in China. Economically, China has come a long way since the communist takeover in 1949. Small businesses are thriving in Beijing and around the country, international companies and multi-national corporations are investing in China like never before, and the country’s export surplus puts the U.S. to shame. And as if that weren’t enough, new roads, stadiums, and buildings are sprouting up in preparation for their 2008 hosting of the Olympics —an international signal to the world that China is, economically speaking, ripe for the picking. Politically, however, far too little has changed in China over the last 50-plus years. Political expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press are all severely restricted in China. Likewise, when it comes to foreign policy, China has not softened its belligerent stance against “provinces” such as Taiwan and Tibet. It is time for the U.S. to put on its game face.This administration continually cites China’s rise as one of the most

PRISM 2006

32

dangerous threats to the U.S. over the next several decades. Whether economically or politically, the U.S. is concerned that China will take away its edge in the high-stake chess match of geopolitics, but rarely is a harsh word spoken about China’s deplorable lack of respect for human rights. Don’t get me wrong:Words are mumbled about the situation, but when it comes to backing them up, we usually back down. China is just too big, or too strong, or too valuable to do anything about. If this administration really is as concerned about human rights as it says it is, if it is really as bent on promoting liberty worldwide as it claims to be, then it needs to start acting it. And China is, in fact, not a very difficult place to show our concern. The U.S. is currently China’s second-largest trading partner, with imports of over $243.5 billion a year. In its new-found economic boom, China cannot afford to lose this partner, or to part with the PNTR (Permanent Normal Trading Relations) that the U.S. has granted it. Of all places, China is a country where economic “weapons” could actually prove useful. Their economic liberalization shows that their communist ideology is not as entrenched as it once was. If the U.S. strains them economically, it won’t be long before they liberalize politically as well. If the U.S. is pro-democracy, it should be pro-democracy everywhere, and not just when it’s convenient. If the U.S. is pro-human rights, it should be prohuman rights all the time, even when that is not economically comfortable. Until then, both China and the United States deserve more hecklers. ★ Rebecca Yael Miller is on staff at the New Atlantic Initiative of the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org/nai).


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL MILLER

What We Can Do B Y K I M B E R LY B U R G E A N D J E N N I F E R C O U LT E R S TA P L E T O N

“God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love...” 2 Timothy 1:7 In the September/October 2005 issue, Ron Sider told readers about a growing movement to overcome global poverty. He reflected on his time with faith leaders from the United States and the United Kingdom who came together prior to last summer’s Group of Eight (G8) Summit to call for increased aid to developing nations, more debt cancellation, and more just international trade practices. We’ll echo his words here: A bold movement of the Spirit is sweeping through nations of the world. In recent years—in churches, on campuses, and in community groups across the United States—hundreds of thousands of Christians and other concerned people of conscience have rallied together, raising their voices on behalf of hungry and poor people around the globe. Christians in this movement, often divided theologically or politically, are united in their response to God’s call to end extreme poverty, hunger, and preventable disease. Those voices have been heard.Together we have helped win significant increases in effective development assistance to help reduce poverty worldwide. Our nation has committed to working with other countries, rich and poor, to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut extreme hunger and poverty by half and substantially improve health, education, and livelihoods in developing countries by 2015. President Bush and other world leaders heard our message and made impressive promises. At last summer’s G8 Summit in Scotland, the president pledged to double

aid to Africa by 2010. At last fall’s 189nation U.N. Millennium Summit in New York, he promised to double foreign assistance in order to meet the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015. These promises are remarkable, but the initiatives must now be funded by Congress. That movement to overcome extreme poverty continues with increasing momentum and is reaching a critical point in the coming months. The U.S. Congress is deciding now on the fiscal year 2007 federal budget. Bread for the World, a Christian citizens’ movement against hunger, and others in the movement to overcome global poverty are urging Congress to fund a robust increase—$5 billion—in poverty-focused development assistance. Our 2006 Offering of Letters—One Spirit. One Will. Zero Poverty.—gives people of faith a way to urge Congress to fulfill the promises President Bush has made on the international stage. By writing letters, making calls, and visiting your representatives in Congress, you can join your voice with other Americans calling for an end to extreme poverty. Allocating additional money toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water, and food would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries. Currently, the need is great. More than 852 million people in the world go hungry. More than 38 million people around the world are infected by HIV/ AIDS, 25 million in Africa alone. Most sobering, every three seconds, a child in the developing world dies as a result of AIDS or extreme poverty. But well-spent, poverty-focused development assistance from the United States and other wealthy nations has already made huge improvements in the lives of people in developing countries. Children around the world are now half as likely to die before age 5 as they were 40 years ago. U.S.-funded programs have PRISM 2006

32

helped 1.2 billion people gain access to clean drinking water in the last decade. And 1 billion more people are being fed as a result of investments by the United States and other donors in better seeds and agriculture techniques. While the need is great, the opportunities God is giving us are incredible. Now is the time for the United States to make good on our word to help the poorest people in the world by increasing poverty-focused development assistance—a catchall phrase to describe those accounts within the U.S. foreign aid budget that most effectively provide assistance to poor countries to meet the challenges of reducing poverty and investing in broad-based economic development. In 2005, the United States provided more than $19.5 billion in aid to countries around the world. But only $9.6 billion (a little less than half) of that aid was resolutely focused on reducing global poverty and helping countries build the kinds of institutions and infrastructure that enable people to improve their livelihoods.The other half of that aid is used for political, commercial, and national security purposes—for example, support for military assistance and anti-narcotics programs. Corruption is most likely to occur when aid is given for political ends rather than development objectives. The Micah Challenge, the ONE Campaign, the Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty, and similar campaigns in many other countries around the world are all part of this Spirit-filled movement to end extreme poverty. Bread for the World’s One Spirit Offering of Letters is a vehicle to call for those changes.To get involved, visit www.bread.org. Through the work of the Spirit and the will of the people, we can end poverty. If we can, we must. ★ Kimberly Burge and Jennifer Coulter Stapleton work in the communications department of Bread for the World.


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL MILLER

Vowing to Benefit the Community My commute reading at the moment consists of Street Sense and Modern Bride, and the difference couldn’t be more pronounced. A church-run newspaper written and sold by homeless vendors, Street Sense is a way for D.C.’s poorest to make their voice heard and work to escape the streets. It features poems, photographs, and biographical profiles of the vendors. Modern Bride, on the other hand, is packed with glitzy ads and features ballrooms you can rent for your wedding reception and pricey caterers. Reading the two side by side has prompted me to ask if there is any way to integrate these contrasting worlds. I’m getting married in May, and since my fiancé and I got engaged, I’ve noticed that we’ve been thinking a lot about ourselves:What will our wedding look like? What kind of food do we want at the wedding? What gifts should we register for? Where will we live after we are married? While these questions are legitimate, I’ve noticed that they reflect an unhealthy trend.With all the planning and organizing that we’re doing, it’s easy to become preoccupied with ourselves—to think only about what we want and how all these decisions affect us and reflect on us. Obviously they do, but there is also a tremendous opportunity with an upcoming wedding to benefit those less fortunate than ourselves, especially those living right around us in the city of D.C. So we decided that without compromising on the quality of our wedding—after all, this is a celebration of our lives and of our families joining together, and it should be a joyous

occasion—we would do our part to use our wedding to bless those around us and to start our marriage off on the right foot. First, and most importantly, we are each taking time over the next several months to do something that is decidedly others-focused. For example, my fiancé is spending next week with a team from our church that is going to New Orleans to help clean up the city, rebuild homes and churches, and distribute food. Second, we spent several hours of research finding a diamond that was guaranteed to be a non-conflict diamond. Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds as they are sometimes called, are diamonds that are mined in countries (usually in western and central Africa) where they finance, and often spark, civil wars. Charles Taylor, for example, the recently deposed dictator of Liberia, was long known to have been financing civil wars in his country and in neighboring Sierra Leone so that he could single-handedly reap the profits of the diamond trade. Third, we are also coming up with creative ideas to use the wedding itself as a ministry to those in the city. Instead of using a traditional catering company to do our reception, we have hired Fresh Start Catering, a subsidiary of the DC Central Kitchen (dccentralkitchen. org) to cater our wedding reception. Fresh Start Catering employs formerly homeless men and women who have graduated from DC Central Kitchen’s culinary arts job training program. The program prepares their employees for permanent employment in the food service industry. All proceeds from Fresh Start go to support the DC Central Kitchen’s charitable programs. Fourth, we are using an online gift registry program (many stores have them: Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.) that donates 5-12 percent of each purchase (at no extra cost to us or the purchaser)

PRISM 2006

32

to a charitable organization like the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity. We are also registering for gifts at unconventional stores, like Ten Thousand Villages, that promote fair trade and help create jobs overseas. Fifth, instead of giving traditional gifts to our wedding party, we are making a donation in their names to individual charities that we know each of them cares about. Finally, there are plenty of ways to give to others after the wedding.Whereas most couples send leftover food and flowers home with their wedding guests, most guests won’t be offended if you tell them that you are planning to donate the leftover food to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Likewise, flowers can be sent to a hospital, hospice, nursing home, or other ministry. I am also planning to donate my wedding dress to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, which accept wedding dress donations and offer them at a discounted price to those who cannot afford a new dress. It’s so easy to get caught up in the joy and glamour of a big wedding, especially in this city, where the size and cost of your wedding says a lot about your status and importance. Making the wedding not only about us but also about those less fortunate than we are keeps our minds and hearts in the right place, and hopefully makes a difference in the lives of others. I hope those of you who are planning your happy day can glean from these ideas and come up with some of your own to make your wedding day even more special. If you have other ideas about how to make our wedding day meaningful to others,email me at rebeccayael@gmail. com. I’d love to hear from you. ★ Rebecca Yael Miller is on staff at the New Atlantic Initiative of the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org/nai).


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL MILLER

One (More) Thing We Just Can’t Do Alone In my last column I wrote about the need for bipartisan dialogue on today’s important issues, highlighting the work of the Aspen Institute’s Global Interdependence Initiative, which recently brought together scholars and practitioners from both sides of the aisle at a roundtable co-hosted by Madeleine Albright and Sam Brownback (R-KS). The roundtable highlighted four major issues that the group felt needed to be dealt with from a bipartisan perspective: religious freedom, trafficking in persons, genocide, and refugees. In spite of major disagreements between the right and left as to how these issues should be handled, the group agreed that no progress could be made without honest dialogue and significant help from both sides of the Atlantic. Nuclear non-proliferation is another important issue. Many people, when they hear the words “nuclear non-proliferation,” either roll their eyes, recalling the days of “star wars” and hiding under their desks for cover, or they turn the page, thinking it is too complex an issue for the average Joe to understand. But it’s actually quite simple. And although I’m too young to remember the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the fear of an imminent nuclear war, I believe (as do most experts) that the threat of a nuclear attack somewhere in the world in the next 15 years is more probable than it was during the Cold War, when nuclear weapons were owned and wielded as threats by nation-states. Although we believed that the Soviet

Union was likely to use a nuclear weapon on us (as they believed about us), at least we had in our toolbox a variety of effective approaches for dealing with states, such as negotiation (as with the Cuban Missile Crisis) and the threat of a nuclear retaliation (as with the often-referenced policy of Mutual Assured Destruction). Today, however, although the thought of a nuclear Iran or North Korea is a frightening one, the real threat lies with non-state actors, namely terrorists. In this day of suicide bombings and 9/11style attacks, there is no reason to believe that if terrorists were able to get a hold of a nuclear weapon they wouldn’t use it. And yet, so far, our foreign policy has been schizophrenic when it comes to non-proliferation. On the one hand, we have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which states that nuclear countries will provide access to peaceful nuclear technology to countries that forgo nuclear weapons. On the other hand, we have not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans countries from testing nuclear weapons. On the one hand, we condemn countries like North Korea for backing out of the NPT. On the other, we agree to special nuclear trade agreements with countries like India, which has never signed the NPT. So why cooperate with other countries on non-proliferation issues? Wouldn’t it be easier and more effective to ensure —on our own—that nuclear weapons don’t get into the wrong hands? The short answer is “no,” for several reasons. First, it would be impossible to secure the world’s nuclear material on our own. Russia alone has enough nuclear material to make 80,000 nuclear bombs. According to most sources, 60 percent of those nuclear materials are unsecured and extremely vulnerable to theft. Second, working with Europe on

PRISM 2006

32

non-proliferation issues is an easy way to boost transatlantic relations. Since the war in Iraq, relations with Western Europe have sharply declined. Although relations seem to be warming with France and Germany, among other countries, the current administration is looking for ways to strengthen our nation’s oldest and most trusted alliances. Nonproliferation, which is in the interests of all Western nations, is a good issue to help strengthen this important friendship. Third, the world is sick of the United States’ go-it-alone mentality, for obvious reasons. Working with willing countries across the Atlantic to prevent nuclear proliferation would be a much more effective public relations campaign than shaking a few hands for a photo-op. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, history has taught us that international cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation actually works. In the early 1960s five states possessed nuclear weapons, and that number was estimated to grow to 25 by the 1970s. But because of international cooperation through the NPT, the number of nuclear states has grown to only eight. Likewise, since the NPT was signed, three countries that inherited nuclear weapons after the breakup of the Soviet Union—Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine—have given up their nukes. Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, South Africa, and South Korea have all given up their nuclear weapons programs. Most impressively, since the NPT was signed we have cut the number of nuclear weapons worldwide by half. It’s time we learned that, despite the fact that we’re the largest military and economy in the world, there are certain things we can’t do alone. Nuclear nonproliferation is at the top of that list. ★ Rebecca Yael Miller is on staff at the New Atlantic Initiative of the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org/nai).


WASHINGTON WAT C H R E B E C C A YA E L M I L L E R

Bipartisan and Proud of It! Plastered on the billboards of D.C.’s metro system is TIAA-CREF’s brilliant new ad campaign. In massive letters the financial service provider announces to Washingtonians: “Yeah, but we’re your 800-pound gorilla.” Which got me thinking: How do we make the United States the world’s 800pound gorilla? I’m not one for advocating diplomacy by force or throwing the weight of the United States around the world whenever and wherever we please, but if we are an 800-pound gorilla on the world stage, shouldn’t we use this unique position of power for the good? Shouldn’t we try to be the world’s 800-pound gorilla? To deny that the United States is an 800-pound gorilla is to be blind to the facts. But to argue that the fact is necessarily a bad thing is to be blind to potential. With this much power comes a tremendous potential for good. But this good cannot be achieved alone. As we have learned in Iraq and are learning in the fight against poverty and AIDS, among others, it will take more than just an 800-pound gorilla to achieve measurable goals. It might, in fact, take two. The United States needs a strong and willing partner to engage with the rest of the world and carry out policies that really are to the benefit of the disadvantaged. In light of recent tensions in transatlantic relations over the war in Iraq, it is easy to look away from Europe and try to do things on our own, or with a different partner. But we shouldn’t. Europe and the United States both have a lot to gain from working together, and the world has a lot to benefit from our partnership. Why Europe? Because, believe it or not, we have common goals and share

common values. Granted, there is a lot we disagree on: Iran, genetically modified food, and global tribunals come to mind. But there is a also a significant list of things we agree on and on which we can and should cooperate. Among the most notable items on this list are genocide prevention, the elimination of sextrafficking, religious freedom, non-proliferation, debt reduction/development, and the fight against AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. So how can the transatlantic community work together to become the world’s 800-pound gorilla? I plan to dedicate my next several columns to addressing these most important challenges and suggesting practical steps to face these issues while simultaneously improving transatlantic relations. Before attempting to bolster transatlantic cooperation, however, advocates in the United States need to join together in discussion, avoiding the partisanship that tears us apart and prevents our country from addressing important global issues. Granted, we won’t agree on everything. Abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment, gun control—these are all issues that are unlikely to be solved by bipartisan dialogue. But there is an impressive list of issues that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on, and it is in our interest (as well as the world’s) to discover bipartisan solutions to them. Take, for example, the Aspen Institute’s Global Interdependence Initiative (www.aspeninstitute.org/gii), to be held in November in Washington, D.C. In cooperation with Sen. Sam Brownback (the ranking Republican from Kansas) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (under President Clinton), the initiative is hosting a public roundtable discussion to advocate bipartisan action on major human rights issues.With advocates and policy-makers as the target audience, the event, “Uncommon Leadership and Common Values: Bipartisan Action on Human Rights,” seeks “to PRISM 2005

32

create momentum behind the idea that Americans from across the political spectrum can come together to achieve progress on some of the hardest and most important global humanitarian issues.” A member of the organizing committee explains that bipartisan action on these issues has taken place “on an ad hoc basis; our goal is to recognize those accomplishments and move beyond them.” The conference will highlight four major humanitarian concerns: the promotion of religious liberty, stopping genocide, halting trafficking in persons, and caring for refugees and internally displaced people—issues that, while challenging, this bipartisan group feels it can make progress on. The buzzword in the Christian community, and especially among progressives, is “inter-religious dialogue.” We have all heard of the importance of engaging Muslims and Jews, understanding their culture, religion, and history. It is much less common to talk about the importance of bipartisan dialogue. But bipartisan dialogue, especially on international humanitarian issues like those mentioned above, is key to making advocates’ voices heard both in the halls of our own government and abroad. I recently attended a Christian conference which sought to raise awareness about global poverty and advocate increased U.S. participation in global humanitarian issues. Unfortunately, most of the conference seemed more like a Bush-bashing, Republican-hating fiesta than a cry for help on behalf of the voiceless. In a fantastic op-ed in the Washington Post, the president of Africare writes, “While the United States, as the richest nation in the world, should do more to address poverty, it has already provided or promised substantially more financial assistance to developing countries than any other nation. When Bush first took office, this record appeared in Continued on page 39.


listener recognize that as well. In the end, Edwards’ central message is a resounding “Let Your Kingdom come!” It might seem strange then that it was a non-Christian friend—the coowner of an independent record label that puts out metal, hardcore, and experimental music—who introduced me to Wovenhand. Surely, openly Christian music that is this rough-edged and lacking in lyrical subtlety would not last more than a minute on a non-Christian’s CD player? Wrong. Not only did my friend genuinely enjoy Consider the Birds, he started passing copies around to all of his friends, most of whom are nonChristians, and they were uniformly excited and impressed. I asked what they found so attractive about it, and, by and large, the answer was that Wovenhand’s musical style was stunningly different —and its lyrics “truly honest.” It would appear that the conventional wisdom of CCM does not apply here. Indeed,

presenting a sweetened gospel in a slick, contemporary package no longer seems either important or necessary. In fact, it’s probably counterproductive. Wovenhand’s surprising success in the secular underground (my friends aren’t the only ones taking notice of this record) points to some important truths about the creative climate for Christian artists today. In the new generation of listeners, where every consumer gets to be a critic, most aren’t concerned with stylistic trappings and cultural identifiers. They want two things: excellence and authenticity. In that light, the practice of carefully hiding a Christian message inside pop music that is indistinguishable from the mainstream trends appears ridiculous. As Wovenhand dramatically shows, it doesn’t matter if a songwriter rains politically incorrect hellfire and brimstone from the soapbox. The responsibility of the Christian artist is not to fit in but to stand out—to push bound-

Sharing the Burden of Christmas continued from page 20.

He’ll probably be disappearing soon— putting on his jeans and secondhand golf shirt and heading back down south to pick oranges. But maybe he’ll be back next year. The clothes closet at the First Baptist Church will be ready. ■

ethnic food is a novelty in places like Sparta, population 1,800, where the nearest Wal-Mart is 45 minutes away and you still do your shopping downtown. Filipe is lucky to find an apartment on Sparta’s quaint Main Street. He can walk to the church, the supermarket, or one of the Mexican stores. He likes it so well that he is rethinking his plan to follow the migrant trail back to Florida after the Christmas tree harvest. He wants to stay here in the mountains, where it’s cool and quiet and la migra doesn’t bother to inspect. Christmas tree work can last 10 months a year if you find the right boss. There are also sawmills and a few factories, but competition is fierce for those jobs and Filipe doesn’t have a brother or cousin to smooth the way.

Jesse James DeConto is a freelance writer living in Chapel Hill, N.C. His research was made possible by a grant from the Phillips Foundation. Contact him at deconto@email.unc.edu.

Washington Watch continued from page 32.

aries with adventurous excellence, while making it absolutely clear that out of the authentic abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Hopefully, more artists can follow Edwards’ lead in rising to that challenge. Matt Weed is a visual arts major at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he also runs a small recording studio with people from his band, Rosetta.

important achievements.” Yes, it’s true: we could always do more to help spur development, and yes, Republicans and Democrats will disagree on how best these things can be done. But acknowledging accomplishments like those above and coming together in sincere bipartisan dialogue will bring us much closer to solving these problems than will demonizing and vilifying each other. It’s high time we recognized that, despite our differences (however real they may be), we are committed as a society to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that these things will never be achieved unless both sides of the aisle work together to achieve them. ★

jeopardy. When he leaves office, if he sustains his commitment to peace, health, and development in Africa—which was Rebecca Yael Miller is on staff at the New completely off Candidate Bush’s radar in Atlantic Initiative of the American Enterprise 2000—it could stand as one of his most Institute (www.aei.org/nai). PRISM 2005

39


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL MILLER

Striking At the Root of Injustice Every day as I walk home from work I see the same three homeless men standing outside my local metro stop.They are always there, no matter the day, no matter the weather. The first, a good-looking man in his mid-30s, tells all the women walking by that they look pretty today and asks if they have any spare change.The second, a haggard 40-something, stands on his one leg, shaking a tin can at the passersby. The third lies on a window ledge, face away from the crowd,curled up into a ball. My reaction to each of these men is always the same.When I pass the first man, I smile shyly and awkwardly look at my feet.When I pass the second man, I get a lump in my throat.When I pass the third, I keep my head up and look straight ahead. Sometimes—oftentimes—I wonder what these reactions say about me. Am I the Priest and the Levite that Christ speaks of,too busy with my own thoughts or too caught up in my own importance to stop and reach out? At the same time, I am a young woman living in the middle of a city known for its high crime rate, and whose streets are “home” to more than 14,000 people (out of a population of less than 600,000). The vast majority of these homeless men and women live in the city’s North East (my neighborhood) and South East districts.The first thing I was told when I moved to D.C. was to avoid eye contact with people and never, never to give someone change. So where does that leave me? Should I continue to look at my feet, ignore the lump in my throat, and keep walking? Somehow, this doesn’t seem like the charitable thing to do. I know I am called to justice.

Scripture is unequivocal on that matter. But am I called to charity? Certainly I am called to have a spirit of charity toward my neighbor, to take the love that God has directed toward me and offer it to my neighbor, who is also an object of God’s love. But what is the relationship between justice—which I am commanded to carry out—and charity? Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), wrote that “charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account… Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt themselves from the great duties imposed by justice.” In other words, while charity is good and can be a tangible representation of

What is the relationship between justice—which I am commanded to carry out—and charity? my faith, it is justice—the transformation of evil social structures—that I am called to. Charity responds to an immediate need. It is a private, individual act that requires repeated action and is directed at the symptoms of injustice. Justice, on the other hand, seeks to respond to a long-term need. It is composed of public, collective actions that attempt to resolve structural injustice, directed at its root causes. Striking at the root takes time and patience—and discernment, in order to distinguish the leaves from the roots. Again, Pope John XXIII: There are some people who, in their generosity of spirit, burn with PRISM 2005

32

a desire to institute wholesale reforms whenever they come across situations which show scant regard for justice… We would remind such people that it is the law of nature that all things must be of gradual growth. If there is to be any improvement in human institutions, the work must be done slowly and deliberately… Justice consists not in the overthrowing of an outdated system, but in a well-designed policy of development. For those of us living in Washington, that means working in and through the institutions of power that are on every block of this town. It means challenging our friends on the Hill, in the White House, at the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development to address the structural roots of injustice in their workplace. To my friends Department of Housing and Urban Development:What is your congressperson doing to change the structures of injustice in his home district? Is she listening to all her constituents, or just those she thinks are the most influential, with the most money or votes at hand? Where does your senator stand on agricultural subsidies,welfare reform, aid for international development and why? To my friends at the Department of Health and Human Services:What is your department doing on a day-to-day basis to combat the spread of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis? Are you allowing sectarian differences to divide you, to the point that your personal opinion about condoms or abstinence is leaving hundreds of thousands of potential victims at risk? To my friends at the Department of Housing and Urban Development: Are you more concerned with whether or not the Supreme Court should allow the repossession of low-income homes for “public” use, or what causes people to Continued on page 39.


intro, but “Firefly” is a wonderful exception, the highlight of the album.The song starts with Berquist playing straight piano chords and repeating the signature line from the chorus,“My memory will not fail me now.” She arpeggiates the chords on the verses, low to high, but when the chorus returns, it’s with distorted electric guitar, bean-shaker percussion, bass tremors, and Berquist’s voice at its sensual, soulful best. This is the sort of intensity more frequent on albums past, especially Eve and Films for Radio. Drunkard’s Prayer ends with a cover of the classic jazz ballad, “My Funny Valentine.” It’s romance without sentimentality, best shared with the woman I love. But I am driving away. I listen to the CD twice more before I get to work. Around 11 p.m, I’m ready to sleep on my hosts’ couch. I have some work planned for tomorrow, but it could wait a few weeks. My wife calls to say our 9month-old daughter won’t go to sleep unless I’m there to rub her back. I know what I have to do.Yeah, it’s a long trip. But Over the Rhine will take me home. J. James DeConto surprised his then-fiancée by flying from New Hampshire to Ohio to take her to an Over the Rhine concert in the fall of 1999.They sat close to the stage, from where Berquist and Detweiler laughed at their, uh, public displays of affection

Washington Watch continued from page 32.

In Like Manner…the Women continued from page 7.

resort to low-income housing in the first place?What are the long-term consequences of gentrification and urban renewal? Tomorrow I am attending a lecture by a well-known financial analyst, and I plan to ask him some really tough questions about the role of the government in economic reform.After that, I plan to come back to the office and talk to my coworkers about what we can do, in the long run, to change the systems of injustice in this country. And perhaps, on my way home afterwards, I’ll go against all the advice I’ve received and try simply looking each man in the eye, greeting him with the respect due any neighbor, so he sees that I recognize his God-given human dignity. That just might be the most charitable—and just—act of all. ★

hosted by Dr. Suzan Johnson Cooke ( w w w. w i m i n c o n f e r e n c e . c o m ) , October 9-11 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Trust me, you’ll be encouraged and blessed to go forward in the work God has for you. Although it may hurt to lack the blessing of man, we must desire so much more the blessing of God. God’s blessing comes through our obedience to what God has called us to do, and sometimes fulfilling that call comes without the blessing of those from whom we desire it. Nevertheless, step out into your calling, searching first God’s blessing, and looking forward to the fulfillment you’ll receive by ministering to those whom God shall have you bless. ■

Rebecca Yael Miller is on staff at the New Atlantic Initiative of the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org/nai), an international nonpartisan network of think tanks, business leaders, journalists, and prominent political and cultural figures dedicated to revitalizing and expanding the Atlantic community of democracies and to combating the dangerous drift and self-absorption that infect American and European politics.

Elizabeth D. Rios is co-pastor of Wounded Healer Fellowship in Pembroke Pines, Fla., academic advisor and adjunct professor at Trinity International University, founder of the Center for Emerging Female Leadership (www.cefl.org), and a doctoral student in organizational leadership. Visit her weblog at http://latinaliz.typepad.com

W

Ron Sider, continued from page 40. the budget they will approve in early fall) the full request by President Bush for foreign economic aid. (The House cut the president’s request by a couple billion dollars!). In fact, tell them that the evangelical community wants Congress to authorize even more than the president requested. • If you don’t get ESA’s weekly ePistle,

sign up now (send an email to e-pistle @esa-online.org) so you can receive regular updates on this expanding campaign. We stand at a historic moment of unusual opportunity to dramatically reduce global poverty. Evangelicals are strategically placed to play an especially

PRISM 2005

39

crucial role.As I look back on the almost 30 years since I first wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, I am amazed at what God has already done—and very excited about what God wants to do through us in the next decade. Let’s seize this opportunity! ■


WASHINGTON WATCH REBECCA YAEL MILLER

Turning Enemies into Friends “Who is the greatest hero among heroes? He who turns his enemy into a friend.” Avot of Rabbi Nathan 23:1 As is often the case in this town, Washington is abuzz with rumors about “what’s really going on in the Middle East.” I hear the questions in the office, on the metro, even at Starbucks:Will Sharon dismantle the settlements? Does Abbas have the street power to follow through with his commitment to rejuvenating the peace process? What is the role of the U.S. in all of this mess? As a Christian who grew up in Israel, I’ve been thinking a lot lately not only about the role of the U.S. in this conflict, but about the role of Christians in its resolution (if such a thing can be hoped for). I, for one, refuse to give up hope. I believe that true peace is possible in the Middle East. But achieving true peace is going to take a lot of rethinking about how we “do peacemaking.” We can no longer afford to define peace as bulletproof vests for both parties. A peace that is built on the sandy foundation of political rhetoric and conditional ceasefires will not endure if the hearts of those involved are not changed, if children are still learning at school and at home to hate and demonize “the other,” and if each side still views the other as the enemy. What we need is a shift from an emphasis on immediate outcomes to an emphasis on lasting results, from coercing enemies to lay down their guns to turning enemies into friends. Certainly, there are political realities in the Middle East that must be addressed before the reconciliation process can be fully implemented.Ceasefire negotiations, withdrawals, and a renunciation of vio-

lence are necessary steps in the peace process. The problem, however, lies in addressing only hard-power political realities,such as terrorism and occupation, while ignoring the social, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of instability in the region: namely, long-standing mutual animosity.These deeper realities must be addressed before true peace can be achieved. In Thoreau’s words, we must strike at the root of evil instead of hacking at its leaves. The notion of using reconciliation to solve deeply embedded conflicts is not a new idea. Other countr ies, most notably South Africa, have emphasized reconciliation and forgiveness as a means of healing polarized societies. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), suggests that in addressing past wrongs, “the central concern is the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator.” In a conflict where everyone is both victim and perpetrator, the need for restoration and reintegration is even greater. Several lessons should guide the process of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. First, the reconciliation process must clearly emphasize the importance of truth-telling on both sides. Palestinians must face Israelis and say, “We blew up your innocents and sought your destruction.” And Israelis must stand before Palestinians and say, “We razed your homes and treated you with indignity.” Although it is painful and difficult, truth-telling is important in the reconciliation process because it reintroduces the human element into the conflict, allowing Israelis and Palestinians to view each other as fellow human beings instead of terrorists hiding behind armored tanks and explosive-laden vests. As the TRC’s final statement notes,“without forgiveness there is no progress, no linPRISM 2005

32

ear history, only a return to conflict and cycles of conflict.” South Africa’s experiment also serves as a reminder that the role of religious leadership in the reconciliation process cannot be overemphasized. Archbishop Tutu was an integral part of the success of the TRC; his character, moral leadership, and religious fervor lent him not only credibility but also the invaluable support of the people. If there is to be a genuine and sustainable reconciliation in the Middle East, it must be guided by the moderate religious communities on both sides of the conflict, because they are the ones that will bring about either the degeneration or the preservation of peace. Finally, Christians can and should play a role in the reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians—regardless of their eschatological beliefs—just as they should in every conflict-ridden region of the world.As the Apostle Paul writes: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Our gospel is the gospel of reconciliation, for it reconciles us to God and to our fellow human beings. The ministry of reconciliation has been entrusted to us; God is pleading through us. Therefore, not only is reconciliation a Christian calling, it is a Christian imperative, both in the Middle East and in every hate-torn corner of the world. ★ Rebecca Yael Miller is a program director at the Institute for Global Engagement (www.globalengage.org).


WASHINGTON WATCH

Prioritizing the Poor BY REBECCA YAEL MILLER

Making the two-hour drive from my home on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to my parents’ home in rural Pennsylvania is always an enlightening experience. Rural Pennsylvania is “Middle America” at its best—countrymusic-listening, four-wheel-driving, apple-pie-baking Middle America. As leftover Kerry/Edwards stickers fade into Bush/Cheney billboards, and federal office buildings are replaced with grain silos, I always wonder how this peaceful bit of nowhere could exist only two hours from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s—and the world’s—capital. Those of us who live in Washington tend to forget that most Americans live in this “peaceful bit of nowhere.” We get so consumed with what bills are on the House floor and who got appointed to direct what department that we forget that most of the country lives a life completely different from the one we do. Likewise, most Americans—middle, urban, or otherwise—tend to forget that most of the world lives a life completely different from our American one.What to us are items of subsistence—an extra pair of shoes, prescription glasses, access to a lawyer—to three-quarters of the world are items of luxury. It is easy to see what Washington has to do with the rest of the world: Washington sets foreign policy, distributes foreign aid, manages foreign affairs. But how does Kentucky affect Kenya? What does rural Wisconsin have to do with West Africa? A lot, actually. This year, U.S. subsidies to cotton

growers alone will total $3.9 billion. U.S. foreign aid to sub-Saharan Africa will total less than $1.5 billion.The average American cow receives more than $2 a day in government subsidies, while 75 percent of Africans live on less than $2 a day. Oxfam International, a confederation of development agencies, estimates that sub-Saharan African countries lose $305 million a year due to U.S. agricultural subsidies. It is time for us to reevaluate agricultural subsidies and how their effects stretch far beyond the cornfields of Iowa. Romanticizing Middle America is quaint, and it makes many of us feel as if we are somehow preserving the heart and ideals of our country—even the morals and principles that accompany them—but it comes at a costly price. Agricultural subsidies support the rapidly dwindling number of rural U.S. farms (and largely go to the wealthiest of those), allowing them to make a living off an increasingly less-thanprofitable livelihood. But subsidies also flood the market by encouraging overproduction and facilitating the dumping of excess crops overseas. Tacking artificially high prices on domestic crops leads to artificially low prices overseas, thereby undermining the livelihoods of subsistence farmers in the two-thirds world. So when do African farmers take priority over American ones? In answering this question it is helpful to look to our Catholic brothers and sisters, who, in my opinion, get it right. Catholic doctrine teaches a “preferential option for the poor”—a principle that takes literally Christ’s command to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The preferential option for the poor assumes that when developing public policy we ought to “prefer” those who are less fortunate.We should be willing not only to give of our excess to those who are in need, but even to take a cut for them. PRISM 2005

30

Truly this is an uncomfortable thought, and not one that is likely to garner many votes. But if last year’s elections taught us anything, it is that we Christians, and in particular those of us who consider ourselves evangelicals, have a voice, and not only a voice, but one that is heard in Washington and therefore affects policy. Being a politically cognizant (and thus effective) Christian goes far beyond how one votes on abortion, gay marriage, or Middle East policy. It is not easy. It involves digging deep into a broad range of issues, asking ourselves the hard questions—not just the sanctimonious ones—and yes, sometimes preferring others’ comfort to our own. When should African farmers take priority over American ones? When they have a lot more to gain (or lose) from the policies we set. When they have no second option or fallback plan. When American cows are receiving more money from our government than the majority of African farmers can expect to make in a day. We would do well to keep in mind the words of the Apostle Paul: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little’” (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Cutting agricultural subsidies to American farmers will not be easy. For some of us, voting against our own interests will certainly not be easy. But since when has taking Christ at his word been easy? ★ Rebecca Yael Miller is director of the Research Associate Program and executive assistant to the president at the Institute for Global Engagement (www.globalengage.org).


WASHINGTON WAT C H

Making Hunger History BY KIMBERLY BURGE AND SHAWNDA HINES EIBL

Members of the 109th Congress have sworn their oaths and settled into their offices on Capitol Hill. Now begins the hard work of fulfilling promises made on the campaign trail—and making decisions about issues of national interest. Concerns at the top of the list for this session of Congress include the war in Iraq and Social Security reform. But members of Bread for the World —thousands of Christians from every congressional district in the United States, Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and Protestants—want to put hungry and poor people back on the national agenda. It’s not that the war on terror and Social Security reform aren’t important to us. Rather, it’s that we see hunger and poverty as indivisible from these and other problems. The problem with our current Social Security system is not just about balancing the budget; it’s about ensuring that elderly people don’t have to choose between nutritious food and their medications.The war in Iraq is not just about fighting terror; it’s about cultivating a land of abundance, a place where people’s basic needs are met and where democracy can thrive. It may seem naive to imagine a United States, let alone a world, free of hunger. But our country has both the vision to end hunger and the ability to make it happen. More than 40 years ago President Kennedy told delegates to the first World Food Congress,“We have the means, we

have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime.We need only the will.” We still need the will. In its 30-year history Bread for the World has learned a lot about how to build the political will to reduce hunger, and takes courage from its successes. The global Jubilee campaign of 1998-2000 is one example. Millions of concerned people helped convince nations of the world to write off $60 billion in unpayable debt held by poor countries, redirecting some debtservice payments into basic health and education for poor people. This year Bread for the World is working to generate the same sort of movement to see an end to hunger in our own country.The groundwork has been laid. Millions of volunteers and tens of thousands of community organizations are already working to help hungry people, mainly through charitable assistance. But churches and charities cannot do it all.We need to get our government to do its part. At the 1996 World Food Summit, the U.S. government committed itself to the goal of cutting U.S. food insecurity in half by 2010.Yet our actions as a nation lag far behind our words, and little progress against hunger has been made. In fact, hunger has increased steadily in recent years. More than 36 million people, including 13 million children, are at risk of hunger. Now is the time for our country to rekindle its commitment to the achievable, accepted goal of ending hunger in the United States. Christians and concerned citizens in the United States have the power to build the political will to end hunger. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can use the God-given gift of our citizenship to match words and action.We must remind Congress and the president that fighting hunger should be a priority for our country. In its Make Hunger History cam-

PRISM 2005

32

paign, Bread for the World is inviting individuals and congregations across the country to participate in a nationwide “Offering of Letters” to Congress.The letters are calling on Cong ress to embrace the goal of cutting U.S. food insecurity in half by 2010 and actually ending hunger in our nation by 2015. The campaign and accompanying legislation will urge Congress and the president to develop specific plans for ending hunger. The legislation would also strengthen grassroots anti-hunger advocacy across the nation, expand hunger research, and take the first steps to strengthen and improve our national nutrition programs. Using our voices to show solidarity with hungry people, Christians in congregations around the country will write letters to Congress in support of hunger-fighting legislation during their worship services and place them in the offering plate. As Bread for the World members have done for decades, we will give to God an offering more valuable than our fiscal resources. In witness to the life-giving power of God in Christ, we will dedicate the gift of our citizenship in the most powerful nation of the world. As a U.S. citizen with the power to make your voice heard, you, too, have a role: writing, and encouraging others to write, letters to members of Congress, reminding them that hunger is unacceptable in our prosperous nation. If we work together, if we all play our individual roles and commit to the tasks at hand—in a spirit not of timidity, but of power and love—we can rekindle the gift of God within us. We can put hungry and poor people back on the national agenda.We can “make hunger history.” ★ Guest columnists Kimberly Burge and Shawnda Hines Eibl are staff members of Bread for the World at its national office in Washington,D.C.


WASHINGTON

FRED CLARK

Anti-Faith Extremism BY JAMES SKILLEN

Robert B. Reich, labor secretary in the Clinton administration, used his monthly column “The Last Word,” in the July, 2004, issue of The American Prospect to express indignation over the fact that the Bush campaign and members of Congress were trying to find ways to organize conservative churches to support Bush’s reelection. Reich’s concern about the politicization of churches and other nonprofit organizations is quite legitimate. But his diatribe against Bush and conservative Christianity expresses such antireligious extremism that one can hardly distinguish it from religious bigotry itself. Here is Reich’s concluding paragraph: “The great conflict of the 21st century may be between the West and terrorism. But terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The underlying battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist fanatics; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe blind

WATCH

allegiance to a higher authority, between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is no more than preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe that truth is revealed solely through scripture and religious dogma, and those who rely primarily on science, reason, and logic.Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism is not the only danger we face.” Reich’s red-faced, high-blood-pressure anger needs to be exposed for what it is. First, it is a distortion of the religion he is maligning, to the point of lumping evangelical Christianity together with radical Islamism.There are many closed-minded, fanatical religious folks in this world, to be sure, but Christianity does not represent “blind allegiance to a higher authority,” or a belief that “human life is no more than preparation for” a future existence, or belief that truth is revealed “solely through scripture and religious dogma.”This use of an extreme to represent the totality of what the author wants to discredit represents the old tactic of constructing a straw man that one can easily push over. The second way in which Reich’s fanatical diatribe needs to be exposed is by highlighting its religious fervor, its evangelistic intention, its dogmatic character. From Reich’s point of view there are only two roads one can follow, the old road to a dark hell or the road to a sane, rational, and nonreligious life in this world. Only one of these roads makes any sense to him, given his faith in modern civilization over “anti-modern” fanaticism. In opposition to blind allegiance to a higher authority, Reich gives blind obedience to science, reason, and logic. In opposition to the priority of a future life, Reich insists dogmatically on the priority of this life. His aim is to denounce the devil of the anti-modern by urging the renewal of faith in modernism. And if the reader happens to

PRISM 2005

36

belong to the wrong faith community, then she should convert today and join Brother Bob in the camp of the true faith. Neither of these paths of faith will lead us away from bigotry and close-mindedness. Instead, a life of open-minded, thankful-hearted allegiance to the God who created us can lead to the highest possible elevation of the worth of individuals and human communities.The light of the Scripture illumines the path of life in this world along which the legitimate truths of creaturely experience, deliberative judgment, and scientific study have their proper place. Terrorism is, indeed,not the only danger we face.Those who denounce as extremism that which they do not understand are also a danger —especially a danger to deliberative democracy and the survival of an open pluralistic society.

Homeland Insecurity Back in 2000, more than a year before September 11th, a controversy arose in Palos Heights, Ill., over the plans of the Al Salam Mosque Foundation to purchase a church building and property. When word of the plans caught the attention of residents who feared Muslims and Arabs, an attempt was made by two city council members to thwart the purchase.They urged the city council to buy the church to use as a recreation center and to pay the Al Salam Mosque Foundation for its initial costs in trying to purchase the building. The mayor at the time was Dean Koldenhoven, a member of the Palos Heights Christian Reformed Church, a Republican, and, later, because of the stand he took in this incident, the win-


WASHINGTON

WATCH

ner of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.After weeks of controversy, much of it taking place behind the scenes, Mayor Koldenhoven vetoed the city council’s decision to purchase the church.The council could not muster a large enough counter-vote to override the veto, so the mayor’s decision stood. The controversy was never really about the town’s need for a recreation center, but about fear of Arab Muslims by a large number of town residents. Mayor Koldenhoven said he made his decision because of his commitment to protect the Constitution’s First Amendment and because Jesus said to love your neighbor. Among the mayor’s supporters was Michael VanderWeele, professor at Trinity Christian College, who could not fathom how town residents—many of them members of the town’s more than 21 churches—could condone racism or religious discrimination. This story of fear and courage, of hatred and love, in Palos Heights in 2000 is just one of many stories about Middle America—the American homeland— told in Homeland (Seven Stories Press, 2004), by journalist Dale Maharidge with photographs by Michael Williamson. It is a book well worth reading. The stories the book tells illuminate American life today, divided as it is along several fault lines. Maharidge traveled the

country, stopping in small towns and rural areas off the beaten path, inquiring into remarkable incidents and the heartdeep concerns of different kinds of Americans. What he found was two distinct Americas, one in places like Silicon Valley and Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the other in small, often poor, hard-up towns. In the story about Muslims seeking entrance to Palos Heights he concluded that the tension was not so much racial as it was religious, with roots going back as far as the medieval Christian crusades. For many Americans, the United States is a Christian country, and the entrance of too many Muslims would mean its demise. Regardless of what President Bush or any other president does to build a Homeland Security department, many Americans in heartland and elsewhere will feel “homeland insecurity” as long as the Muslim population is growing. But is America the kind of country that should privilege Christians and secularists over Muslims? Or should we try to build an open society that rejects religious discrimination? Koldenhoven and VanderWeele believe that Christians are called to do the latter, but it takes work and listening to one another.And that is difficult to do in times of deep need when people are losing jobs and feeling abandoned.

One of Williamson’s photos shows the abandoned Homestead steel works in Rankin, Penn.Tough, hardworking men who once made steel there helped build America and also helped to defend it by working overtime during World War II.Today other countries produce steel at lower cost; jobs have moved elsewhere; and whole towns have lost their vitality.The old spirit of the steel works survives, however, in those who produced the bumper sticker that Williamson photographed on a truck in Phoenix, Ariz. It said,“God, Guns, and Guts Made America: Let’s Keep All Three.” Is there another way to think about God and America’s future than in terms of guns and guts? Or perhaps we should ask, is there a better way to think about protecting the freedom of citizens who have the courage (guts) to honor God and to serve their civic neighbors today? Koldenhoven showed guts in the decision he made.Where will we take our stand in the months and years ahead on the issues that now divide America? ★

Postcards From the Road continued from page 26.

Art & Soul continued from page 28.

Ron Sider continued from page 40.

by Micah, finds its counterpart in Jesus’ Big Three (again in the form of a prosecutor’s accusation, in Matthew 23:23): “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” May we not be found negligent, but “let justice roll down” in all of life: my life, your life, the life of the church, and in our world. ■

that feed our souls and keep us moving. Considering the darkness our cities continue to endure, I can’t help but long for more artists like Mako, for more beauty that points us upward, and for more encounters with I AM. ■

Dr. James Skillen is president of the Center for Public Justice (www.cpjustice.org). In addition to editing the Center’s quarterly Public Justice Report (from which this column was adapted), he is the author of In Pursuit of Justice: Christian-Democratic Explorations (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

Most important, pray that the evangelical world will not only endorse but actually implement this declaration. One-quarter of all U.S. voters are evangelicals. Think of the impact if half of them started lobbying and voting on the basis of this “biblically balanced agenda.” Just a dream? Some dreams come Jo Kadlecek writes frequently on urban life and the arts. Her first novel, The Sound of true. Join me in praying that this hope My Voice, will be published this spring by becomes reality. ■ WaterBrook/Randomhouse. PRISM 2005

37


WASHINGTON

FRED CLARK

Limited Government: Calvin & Hobbes Christians turn to the Bible not only to learn about God but also to learn about ourselves. One thing we’ve learned is that we’re all rotten to the core.This is a lesson from theology that is reinforced by studying history and current events. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr joked that the doctrine of original sin was the one Christian teaching that could be verified empirically. Christians haven’t been the only ones to notice this truth about human nature. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes, for example, described human society as a “war of all against all.” Bill Watterson had a great deal of fun with this idea in a comic strip that regularly demolished sentimental notions about children being innocent and inherently good.That comic

WATCH

was called “Calvin & Hobbes” —a nod to the philosopher and the great reformer and to their pessimistically accurate assessment of human nature. John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes agreed on many points about humankind’s essential corruption. But Calvin also believed something else at the same time, and this additional truth led the theologian to a dramatically different idea of government than that suggested by the philosopher. Considering the rotten state of humanity, Hobbes judged that the only way for us to be governed is with an iron fist. He described a “leviathan” state that was large and intrusive enough to police every aspect of our unruly and vicious squabbling. But for Calvin—and for all Christians —depravity and original sin are not the final or only words about the human condition. There is also this: We are all made in the image of God. Although every part of all of us is fallen, every part of all of us also bears the spark of the divine. Humans are sacred, glorious creatures, made only a little lower than the angels. This allows—and demands —that we be governed by something better than Hobbes’ leviathan state. These two truths about human nature have led Christians over the centuries to embrace democracy as the most just form of government. Depravity and original sin make democracy necessary, because any government composed of wicked humans must be limited and held in check. Common grace and our bearing the image of the triune Creator makes democracy possible.They enable popular sovereignty to transcend the war of all against all and to consider what we Christians call the “common good” and what the American Constitution calls the “general welfare.” Niebuhr, again, put this well:“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

PRISM 2004

32

Contrast the American constitutional idea of limited government with Hobbes’ vision. He saw a wicked people that the state must have unlimited power to constrain. James Madison and the other drafters of the Constitution recognized that this same wickedness would, inevitably, be present in the people who constituted the government. Therefore they empowered the people to constrain the state. I do not want to overstate the Christian case for democracy here or to suggest that the American Constitution was uniquely ordained by God or clearly spelled out in Scripture. But centuries of Christian thinking and teaching have led us to agree, at least, with Winston Churchill, who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” Democracy, then, is at least congruent with Christian teaching. And democracy requires limited government. This is part of the lesson that Samuel tries, and fails, to teach the people of Israel when he warns them against the idea of a king with unchecked power over the people.“Limited government” does not mean that government is bad of itself or even that “big government” is bad.The state, after all, is ordained by God and must not shirk its God-given duties and responsibilities. What limited government means is that liberty is the default position. Liberty is not constrained without good reason, and whatever is not expressly prohibited is permitted. Contrast this, again, with the leviathan, totalitarian state in which all that is not expressly permitted is forbidden. A society in which there is no presumption of liberty will inexorably tend to become more and more like that totalitarian state. A recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States upheld this principle in the case of Lawrence and


WASHINGTON

Gardner v.Texas. Many Christians celebrated this decision as an affirmation of liberty, democracy, and limited government. But a great many more Christians were viscerally upset by it. This latter response was shaped by the particulars of the case, which had to do with homosexuality—a peculiar fascination for many American Christians. The Supreme Court ruled, rightly, that a Texas law prohibiting “sodomy” (the biblical appellation stems from bad exegesis) among consensual adults was unconstitutional. Ignoring the distinction between sin and crime,many Christians loudly denounced the court’s ruling. Some, like my junior senator, Rick Santorum (R-PA), even went so far as to argue that the principle of privacy, on which the court based its decision, was a legal “fiction.” If there is no such principle—no such thing as a right to privacy—then there is no presumption of liberty and whatever is not expressly permitted is forbidden. See above for where this leads. It is a call for unlimited government, for an unconstitutional leviathan whose powers reach into our homes and every aspect of our unprivate lives. Imagine, if you can, how such a state could be constrained if it is granted the authority to police even our most intimate relationships. I cannot. A limited government cannot be granted the power to police all of our sins and vices and still remain a limited government.This was one of the lessons reinforced by the failed experiment

WATCH

of prohibition—the “teetotalitarian” era in which the Constitution was read (and rewritten) to exclude the idea of a right to privacy and the presumption of liberty under a limited government. That experience—in which good, Christian folk sought to expand the state’s powers in order to outlaw other people’s vices—ought to serve as a warning. “Warn them solemnly,” God told Samuel, “and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. The doctrine of original sin reminds us of our “capacity for injustice” and forcefully underscores the wisdom of preventing the concentration of power. Beware any system in which the only check on the concentration of power is the presumed benevolence of those who wield it. The idea of a benevolent dictator or a philosopher king might be nice if we weren’t fallen creatures living in a fallen world. But since we are, such ideas are frightening. Christian teaching affirms the wisdom of the American Constitution, which recognizes that no person or group of people is so virtuous that they can be trusted with unlimited power. The Constitution, unfortunately, does not help to shape the international order. And there we find that this idea—unlimited power checked only by an assumed inherent goodness—holds sway. ★ Find former PRISM editor Fred Clark at http://slacktivist.typepad.com.

PHOTO © JAMES STIPE

Hunger is one problem we can actually solve ♦ In Africa, severe drought and

famine threaten the lives of 35 million people. In the United States, one out of ten families lives in poverty and struggles to put food on the table. ♦ Fortunately, there are time-tested, cost-effective ways to provide food and nutrition, as well as training and tools, that enable hungry people to feed themselves and their families. ♦ By taking just a few minutes of your time, you can help persuade our nation’s decision-makers to take steps to end hunger.

To receive our FREE 12-page booklet What You Can

Do to End Hunger —

Call toll-free 1-800-82-BREAD l YES, please send me — free of charge — What You Can Do to End Hunger, with its practical tips for helping end hunger. NAME _______________________________ P L E A S E

P R I N T

ADDRESS ____________________________ CITY _________________________________

“I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others.And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments.”

STATE _________ ZIP __________________

Visit our Web site at www. bread. org.

Bread for the World Seeking Justice. Ending Hunger. 50 F Street NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20001

—C.S. Lewis, 1946, from “A Reply to Professor Haldane” AD03P

PRISM 2004

33


WASHINGTON

FRED CLARK

Solidarity 101: What’s Love Got to Do with It? America’s two-party, winner-take-all political system seems to have shaped the way even we American Christians approach our thinking about politics, citizenship, and government. We have a religious right and a religious left. Each is concerned with a separate set of values, which is derived from their religious faith and for which each campaigns in the political arena. These groups—and the myriad organizations and networks that compose them—function like any other interest group. Their advocacy and lobbying tend to be on behalf of their given religious values,rather than on behalf of some vested financial interests, but otherwise they operate much like their more sophisticated counterparts on K Street.

WATCH

That’s not how it ought to be. As we saw last issue in our discussion of the principle of subsidiarity, Christian thinking about politics, citizenship, and government ought to go well beyond interest-group advocacy on behalf of “values.” Here we’ll explore an even more fundamental principle underlying any Christian approach to politics: the principle of solidarity. Like many elementary ideas, solidarity can seem so basic that we forget to acknowledge it exists.Yet it both undergirds and transcends much of what we’re trying to get at with our talk of values. Solidarity, essentially, is the opposite of selfishness. Consider again our hypothetical old man sleeping in the doorway of a church. This is a free country. Each of us is free to see an abandoned, helpless stranger in need and to do nothing to help.We are free to put our own interests ahead of the interests of others.We are free, in other words, to be selfish. But that selfishness, ultimately, can erode our freedom. The more we choose to ignore and avoid the concerns of others, the more the State will be forced to expand to attend to those concerns. A wholly selfish people can ultimately be gover ned only by a Leviathan state. (Or, alternatively, they could be left to an unfettered Darwinian struggle with no government at all. In which case the law of the jungle supplants the rule of law.) A free people must also, therefore, be a good people. But what do we mean by “good”?

Quine’s Landlady The philosopher W.V. Quine provides a delightful illustration of what we mean in his book Quiddities (Harvard University Press, 1987). His actual topic is the idea of what he calls here “altruism.”But what he means by that, as you’ll see, is some-

PRISM 2004

26

thing very much like the Christian idea of solidarity. “Altruism is the main stem of morality and the primary concern of moral principles,” Quine writes.“The landlady says of her student lodgers that they are good boys, while knowing full well that they gamble, curse, drink, drive to endanger, and consort with loose women. What does she mean? Just that they are reasonably altruistic.” Quine’s landlady clearly is judging “goodness” by some different standard than that employed by the virtuecrats and professional moralists who do the noisiest fretting about other people’s morality here in America. She is not ignorant of the vices of the “good boys” renting her rooms. Nor is she ignorant of the viciousness of those vices. But she also recognizes that goodness—virtue —is something greater than the mere avoidance of such vices. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan seems closer to the view of Quine’s landlady than to that of the virtuecrats.The story begins with two members of the moral majority, a priest and a Levite, upr ight men who we can be sure abstained from gambling, cursing, drinking, and consorting with loose women. They left a man bleeding by the side of the road. This is an important point that our preoccupation with values can obscure. We have come to believe that it is impossible for the landlady’s lodgers to be “good boys”if they also “gamble,curse, drink, drive to endanger, and consort with loose women” because we have reduced the meaning of “good boys” to merely those who do not do these things. My point here is not to defend the indefensible behavior of our rowdy student lodgers. Gambling, driving to endanger, and consorting with loose women are rarely victimless crimes. But Quine’s landlady is also aware that goodness depends on something greater and


WASHINGTON

deeper than the mere avoidance of such things. That something is what Quine calls altruism. “Altruism,”he writes,“ranges from a passive respect for the interests of others to an active indulgence of their interests to the detriment of one’s own. It ranges from the barely ‘erogatory’ on the one hand to the supererogatory on the other.” The shorter, more direct word that the Bible uses for this idea is love.This is the love that, Jesus tells us, fulfills “all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40). This is the love without which, Paul tells us, all our righteous acts are “nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). It is the love without which, John tells us again and again in his first epistle, we cannot claim to be followers of God. Solidarity is an expression of this love.

The Politics of Love The ideal of Christian love as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount is what Quine describes as “supererogatory,” demanding “an active indulgence of [the interests of others] to the detriment of one’s own.” This ideal seems ill-suited to the arena of politics which is, after all, about finding a balance between multiple, competing interests. A great deal of Christian thinking about politics, government, and citizenship deals with this very conflict between the supererogatory ideal of Christian love and the essence of the struggle to obtain, and wield, political power. Thus many volumes have been written about the competing claims of love and justice. Many Christians, finding it impossible to reconcile these competing claims, have opted out of the realm of politics altogether, leaving the responsibilities of governance—and citizenship—to others. Such a decision makes obedience to the Sermon on the Mount less complicated, but it also renders impossible the idea of a democracy and of

WATCH

Solidarity is a political expression of the Golden Rule. government of, by, and for the people. Solidarity is an attempt to reconcile politics and love by insisting that, ultimately, our interests and the interests of others can also be reconciled in the pursuit of the common good. It requires us to consider others’ interests as our own. It is, in other words, a political expression of the Golden Rule. It may seem to you, at this point, that we’ve gone the long way around only to arrive at a fairly simple point. And, in a sense, you’d be right. But consider the vast difference between the politics arising from this simple point—a politics grounded in solidarity—and the kind of interestgroup politicking in which American Christians are now engaged in the name of advocating values. It’s the difference between a “pro-family” agenda that circles the wagons to protect our families and an agenda that works for the good of all families. Solidarity also helps to correct something else we overlook when we embrace the idea of politics as a struggle between competing interest groups. Many groups and many people—quite probably most groups and most people—are not powerful enough to jostle their way to a seat at the political table. Solidarity demands that we also respect, consider, and defend the interests of those people as we would our own. ★ Find former PRISM editor Fred Clark at http://slacktivist.typepad.com.

PRISM 2004

27

Free worship resources — to help end hunger housands of churches across the country celebrate Bread for the World Sunday as an opportunity to renew their commitment to ending hunger in God’s world.This year marks the 30th anniversary of Bread for the World as a Christian citizens’ movement.

T

Bulletin inserts . . . special prayers for the day . . . and a preaching resource by Dr. Kathy Grieb of Virginia Theological Seminary are all available free of charge to help churches and worshipping communities observe Bread for the World Sunday on October 24—or another suitable Sunday in October or November.

To r e q u e s t FREE resources:

1-800-82-BREAD (1-800-822-7323)

or visit w w w. b re a d . o r g l YES, please send me a sample of the free worship bulletin inserts and information about Bread for the World Sunday. NAME __________________________ PLEASE PRINT

ADDRESS _______________________ CITY ___________________________ STATE _______ ZIP_______________

Bread for the World Seeking Justice. Ending Hunger. 50 F Street NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20001 04XA-PRZ


WASHINGTON

FRED CLARK

Subsidiary 101 When we think about a Chr istian approach to politics, we tend to think primarily of Christian values. This is appropriate—our faith entails a set of values that ought to shape our political goals and priorities. Although the dominant example of Christian political activity in America, the religious right, bases its approach on a rather limited notion of Christian values (basically sexual morality, “family values,” and avoiding vice), there are fortunately groups like ESA that have helped to remind Christians that a truly biblical list of values would be more comprehensive and include things like economic justice, a concern for the poor, and environmental stewardship. But even embracing a more holistic set of biblical values is not sufficient for a meaningful Christian approach to political questions. Christian teaching has much more to say about politics than just the values that shape its goals and priorities. It also offers valuable insight into the appropriate structures, roles, and responsibilities of citizens and government

WATCH

in their various capacities. One pillar of a Christian approach to politics is the idea of subsidiarity. In the Reformed tradition this same idea is expressed in the notion of sphere sovereignty. (The two differ somewhat, but they are similar enough for our purposes here to use both terms interchangeably.) Subsidiarity is a subtle idea.The classic definition comes from Pope Pius XI, who summarized subsidiarity as the principle that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” (Sphere sovereignty, helpfully, avoids the hierarchical implications of “higher and lower” orders.) But it’s easier to understand from an illustration than from a definition. Consider the following situation: You see an old man sleeping in the doorway of a church. His blanket is thin and the night is cold.What do you do? The answer depends on who “you” are.You may be a local beat cop.You may be the pastor or a parishioner of that church.You may be a professional social worker.You may be a volunteer at the local homeless shelter.You may be a member of the city council. You may be the old man’s daughter or niece or his longago college roommate or Army buddy. You may be a stranger who lives across the street from the church.You may be a despised Samaritan just passing through. Regardless of who “you” are, you are responsible.But the nature of your responsibility—particularly in the longer term —differs according to the differentiated responsibilities of the various examples above. Subsidiarity refers to understanding these differing, complementary roles and responsibilities and the way they work together for the common good. This PRISM 2004

28

rescues us from two of the most common, and most damaging, mistakes in American politics. The first is to view these different responsibilities as exclusive—thinking that “the State is responsible for the homeless and therefore neighbors are not,” or “neighbors are responsible for the homeless and therefore the State is not.”The principle of subsidiarity helps us to avoid the either/or foolishness of thinking that one actor's particular responsibility precludes any responsibility on the part of other agents or agencies. The second mistake is the idea that there are only two such agents—individuals and the federal government. Remembering that there are many such agents, many sovereign “spheres,” keeps us from this mistake. It also helps us to avoid bizarre and irrelevant arguments about the size of government by keeping our focus on the actual question:What is the proper role of government? One of the few places where something like subsidiarity is recognized in American political talk is in the metaphor of the “safety net.” This metaphor recognizes the responsibility of the State in the last resort.When other institutions and actors—families, markets, civic groups, neighborhoods and neighborliness—are fully functioning this safety net will go unused.Yet the State—the government(s) —does not have the option of abandoning its responsibilities just because these others may fail to fulfill theirs. Libertarians and other reflexively antigovernment sorts tend to worry foremost about an expanding government usurping the rightful roles and responsibilities of these other institutions. While I agree that such usurpation would be a bad thing, I think this tends to misread the situation. I think they have it backwards. More often the situation is one in which these other institutions have abdicated their particular responsibilities, abandoning them to the actor of last resort—the State.


WASHINGTON

Consider orphans.These children, by definition, face a situation in which the institution primarily responsible for their care has failed them—their parents are gone. An either/or approach can conceive of only one alternative—a vast, centralized, federal orphanage (probably something with lots of cinderblocks and fluorescent lighting). In reality, America’s response to the plight of orphans is shaped by the principle of subsidiarity. The next best thing to children being raised by their parents is for them to be raised by other members of their extended family. If those relatives are unable or unwilling to fulfill this role, the next best thing would be for these children to be raised in the care of friends or neighbors. If the friends and neighbors are unwilling or unable to fulfill this role, the next best thing is to find a caring foster family. The foster care system is really a marvel. Despite all the horror stories we may hear of cruel, Dickensian exploiters, such stories are the exception.The system actually consists of an army of people willing and able to open their homes and lives to the children of strangers.They do so at a considerable sacrifice. Here the government (usually at a local level) plays a limited role, providing both oversight and a supportive stipend. But the primary responsibility for the children’s care rests with the foster family. If no foster family that is willing and able to care for the children can be found, then they may be placed in the care of a private orphanage.These “homes for children”—usually run by religious or charitable groups—are the next next best thing.They are the next resort after a series of next-best-things have failed. Again,there are horror stories of exploitation, but these are, again, the exception. Finally, if no such charitable institution can be found willing or able to take responsibility for these children, they are left in the hands of the State (city, county, state and, finally, federal government).

WATCH

It is absurd, in such a case, to suggest that the State is “usurping” the rightful role of all the failed actors that have come before. As the last resort, the State finds itself faced with a task for which it is ill suited and at which it is inefficient.The State is much better at writing checks than it is at raising children.That is why it is both more just and more efficient for the government to provide financial assistance to those other actors in order to make them better able and (sadly) more willing to step in and prevent things from getting to this point. Yet when things do get to this point —the last resort—the State, unlike all the actors and institutions that have gone before, does not have the freedom to reject its responsibilities. ★ Find former PRISM editor Fred Clark at http://slacktivist.typepad.com.

PHOTO © JAMES STIPE

Hunger is one problem we can actually solve ♦ In Africa, severe drought and

famine threaten the lives of 35 million people. In the United States, one out of ten families lives in poverty and struggles to put food on the table. ♦ Fortunately, there are time-tested, cost-effective ways to provide food and nutrition, as well as training and tools, that enable hungry people to feed themselves and their families. ♦ By taking just a few minutes of your time, you can help persuade our nation’s decision-makers to take steps to end hunger.

To receive our FREE 12-page booklet What You Can

Do to End Hunger —

Call toll-free 1-800-82-BREAD  YES, please send me — free of charge — What You Can Do to End Hunger, with its practical tips for helping end hunger. NAME _______________________________ P L E A S E

P R I N T

ADDRESS ____________________________ CITY _________________________________ STATE _________ ZIP __________________

Visit our Web site at www. bread. org.

Bread for the World Seeking Justice. Ending Hunger. 50 F Street NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20001 AD03P

PRISM 2004

29


WASHINGTON

FRED CLARK

Are You In or Out? Alan Greenspan is doing his best impression of Danny Ocean. The Federal Reserve chairman looks nothing like the roguish thief played by Frank Sinatra and George Clooney in the Ocean’s 11 movies, yet, like that character, he’s planning a grand heist. And Greenspan’s scheme is more ambitious, more audacious than anything Hollywood ever dreamed up. The gang in Ocean’s 11 heisted $150 million by tricking a casino owner into thinking that his safe was already empty. Greenspan hopes to steal $1.8 trillion from taxpayers by tricking them into believing the Social Security system is bankrupt. To understand where that money comes from, you first have to understand how Social Security works. Here’s how the Social Security Administration describes it: “Many people think that the [payroll] taxes they pay are held in interestbearing accounts earmarked for their own

WATCH

future retirement needs.The fact is that Social Security is a pay-as-you-go retirement system—the [payroll] taxes paid by today’s workers and their employers are used to pay the benefits for today’s retirees and other beneficiaries.” The pay-as-you-go structure of Social Security, as originally designed, was a brilliant system. The only problem was that it assumed that America’s workforce and economy would grow continuously and, more or less, in a linear fashion. The baby boom that lasted from 1946 through 1964 thus created a bit of a problem. This sudden surge in population was a short-term boon, ensuring that the promise of Social Security would be kept for those who reached retirement age while this larger-than-usual generation remained at work. But the baby boom was followed by a baby bust. The next generation was smaller, spelling potential trouble down the road for the payas-you-go model of Social Security. After the boomers begin retiring in 2011,there will be fewer people of working age able to contribute to the benefits for a larger-than-usual number of recipients. This problem is further complicated by the fact that American life expectancy is increasing, meaning these eventual retirees will collect benefits longer than expected. Fortunately, the same demographic bubble that created this dilemma also provides for a solution.While the boomers have been working, far more money has been collected by Social Security than is needed to pay benefits for the smaller previous generation of retirees.This extra money is set aside in a “trust fund” so the fat years can fund the lean years to come. Unfortunately, after President Lyndon B. Johnson tore down the wall keeping Social Security separate from the rest of the budget, all that extra money was just too tempting for the folks in Washington. They used it instead for things such as the Vietnam War and for making the PRISM 2004

30

soaring federal deficits of the 1980s seem smaller than they really were. By 1983 it became clear that more deliberate steps would need to be taken to ensure that Social Security would remain healthy throughout the babyboom bottleneck, and a high-level commission was formed to study the issue and make recommendations. Its co-chairs were Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Alan Greenspan.The commission’s proposal was drastic, but decisive.Their plan, which became law, increased the payroll tax from 11.7 to 15.3 percent. This plan guaranteed that from 1983 until most of the boomers began retiring, the program would take in vastly more money than it would pay out in benefits. This also meant that Social Security was no longer strictly a pay-as-you-go system. For the last two decades, payroll taxes have been used to fund both benefits for current recipients and the trust fund that will help to pay benefits in the future for those now working. One serious downside was that payroll taxes became, for most Americans, the largest source of tax liability. Incometax cuts introduced by President Ronald Reagan further shifted the balance from the progressive income tax to the regressive payroll tax. In every year since 1983, Social Security has collected more money than it has paid out in benefits. The nearly 30-percent increase in the payroll tax has reaped a $1.8 trillion surplus for the program over the last 21 years. Contrast that with the rest of the federal government, which has in almost every one of those years spent far more money than it has taken in. Faced with shortfalls year after year, the government has had to borrow trillions of dollars. One place the government turned to borrow all this money was to the Social Security trust fund. The trust fund was invested in U.S.Treasury Bonds that have helped to fund deficit spending in every year except 1999 and 2000.


WASHINGTON

In recent years this money—funds borrowed from the trust fund created by increased payroll taxes—has been used to fund even further reductions in top-tier income taxes, dividend taxes, capitalgains taxes, and estate taxes. In other words, the surplus created by an all-time high tax on wages has been borrowed in order to reduce taxes on everything that isn’t wages. None of this necessarily threatens the long-term health of Social Security.The trust fund has all been borrowed, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty. It’s full of U.S. Treasury Bonds—$1.8 trillion worth. And the trust fund is still growing. In 2004, Social Security will take in about 50 percent more than it will spend. That growth will continue, the trustees of the SSA say, until at least 2018. After 2018, enough boomers will have retired that the SSA will need to begin using the trust fund for the purpose for which it was created.The trust fund will, in turn, keep the program running smoothly until at least 2042. At that point, things start to get tricky. Alarmist pundits speak of the “Social Security crisis.” I can’t think of another “crisis” that allows us 38 years to plan and prepare. Over the next four decades, the program will need to be tweaked and reformed. The next 18 Congresses will need to consider possible steps such as raising the retirement age to account for Americans’ increasing life expectancy. But the idea that drastic, immediate action is needed now to avoid calamity in 2042 is simply false. Far more immediate, more serious, and more urgent is the fiscal crisis afflicting the rest of the federal government. This crisis was the subject of Alan Greenspan’s remarks to Congress in February. The Fed chairman suggested that the government cannot afford both to keep the current historically low income-tax rates and to fulfill its other obligations, such as the Social Security benefits promised to future retirees. One

WATCH

or the other, he said, but not both. Greenspan’s suggested remedy? Cut Social Security benefits and don’t bother repaying the $1.8 trillion borrowed from the trust fund. Now that Pat Moynihan is dead, Greenspan is no longer constrained to use their former plan to ensure the future of Social Security. Instead he proposes dismantling it. After 21 years we learn the real purpose of the historic 1983 tax hike on wages. It was to create a surplus that would fund what may be the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the United States. This seems to be the goal of alarmist talk about a Social Security crisis. By convincing the people that the system is bankrupt, they’ll trick us into opening the safe so they can loot the place. It’s just like Ocean’s 11. ★ Former PRISM editor Fred Clark records his take on everything from faith and politics to Buffy the Vampire Slayer on his weblog at http://slacktivist.typepad.com.

PHOTO © JAMES STIPE

Hunger is one problem we can actually solve ♦ In Africa, severe drought and

famine threaten the lives of 35 million people. In the United States, one out of ten families lives in poverty and struggles to put food on the table. ♦ Fortunately, there are time-tested, cost-effective ways to provide food and nutrition, as well as training and tools, that enable hungry people to feed themselves and their families. ♦ By taking just a few minutes of your time, you can help persuade our nation’s decision-makers to take steps to end hunger.

To receive our FREE 12-page booklet What You Can

Do to End Hunger —

The PRISM ePistle is a free, biweekly e-zine for Christians concerned about issues of social justice. The PRISM ePistle includes: ● a forum for sharing ideas and debating issues ● social-justice news in the making ● book, music, and film reviews ● thought-provoking essays ● links to exciting websites ● quotable quotes ● ministry ideas Sign up for FREE at ESA’s website, www.esa-online.org, or e-mail us: e-pistle@esa-online.org

PRISM 2004

31

Call toll-free 1-800-82-BREAD l YES, please send me — free of charge — What You Can Do to End Hunger, with its practical tips for helping end hunger. NAME _______________________________ P L E A S E

P R I N T

ADDRESS ____________________________ CITY _________________________________ STATE _________ ZIP __________________

Visit our Web site at www. bread. org.

Bread for the World Seeking Justice. Ending Hunger. 50 F Street NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20001 AD03P


WASHINGTON

FRED CLARK

Hooters & Polluters As I write this, Congress is locked in debate over an omnibus energy bill that purports to create outlines for a national energy policy for the 21st century.Two things need to be said about this measure: 1. America desperately needs a coherent, responsible energy policy. 2.This ain’t it. The energy bill is a hodgepodge of industry subsidies, tax incentives, and deregulation. Its 1,100 pages introduce more than $25 billion in new tax breaks and another $72 billion in new spending. The bill was written, then debated, largely in secret. Once details of its contents became public, observers from both the left and the right began criticizing the billions of dollars in “earmarks” (pork-barrel projects that have little to do with energy policy) that it contains. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) calls it the “no lobbyists left behind act.” Others have called it the “Hooters and Polluters” bill—a reference to one particularly egre-

WATCH

gious piece of pork that would fund a new shopping center,including a Hooters restaurant, in Shreveport, La. Pork draws the ire of deficit hawks because of its wastefulness, but the main problem with such “earmarks” is that they entice lawmakers to support otherwise unworthy legislation. And this energy bill is unworthy legislation. The measure’s major thrust provides tax breaks and incentives aimed at increasing domestic energy production from oil, coal, and natural gas. This might have made sense if lawmakers were crafting an energy policy for the mid-20th century, but it makes little sense now, provides little guidance, and does little to prepare us for the impending hard choices we will be forced to face in the coming decades. Many petroleum experts predict that global oil production will peak within the next decade. Most of you reading this will outlive the age of oil. The energy bill fails to account for this and fails to prepare for a future that will be different from the past. Long-term thinking is not this Congress’ forte (for proof of that, reference the current, recordbreaking deficit). An energy bill that considered the needs of future generations would put more emphasis on the cheapest, most readily available current source of energy: conservation.

The good news—of a sort—is that we have become so wasteful in our energy use that conservation need not involve sacrifice. America wastes more energy in a given year than most countries use. Recovering that wasted energy through conservation and increased efficiency would mean substantial savings for individual Americans as well as for the country as a whole. Consider, for example, the fuel efficiency of our vast fleet of cars, trucks, and SUVs.The Model T Ford averaged 25 miles per gallon. Today, the average for Ford’s fleet of vehicles is 22 miles per gallon.That’s not progress.The Sierra Club estimates that, employing technologies that already exist, the fuel efficiency of America’s entire fleet could be improved to 40 miles per gallon within 10 years.That would save about 4 million barrels of oil every day—more than we’re currently importing from the Persian Gulf. The National Resources Defense Council recommends requiring that replacement tires be as fuel-efficient as the original tires on new vehicles, and it estimates that this would save about 5.4 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years. When combined with overall fuel-efficiency improvements in automobiles, this would give the average

“Eventually the United States will have no choice but to turn to greater energy efficiency and renewable sources of power. Demand for fossil fuels surely will overrun supply sooner or later, as indeed it already has in the case of U.S. domestic oil drilling. Recognition also is growing that the air and land can no longer absorb unlimited quantities of waste from fossil fuel extraction and combustion. As that day draws nearer, policymakers will have no realistic alternative but to turn to power sources that today make up a viable but small part of America's energy picture. ... Precisely when they come to grips with that reality—this year, 10 years from now, or 20 years from now—will determine how smooth the transition will be for consumers and industry alike.” The National Resources Defense Council,“A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century”

PRISM 2004

28


WASHINGTON

WATCH

WHEN OMNIBUS BILLS ATTACK

driver more than $1,000 in savings a year at the pump. Similar energy savings could be found by adopting more efficient technologies and higher standards for heating, appliances, lighting, and electricity use. Such steps will entail short-term costs for consumers, but those costs would be more than made up for by the ensuing long-term savings. This is the exact opposite of the calculus driving the current energy bill, which promises short-term savings that will be exceeded vastly by the not-solong-term costs it will incur. Not least among those costs is increased pollution of our air and water. The energy bill does include some tax incentives and subsidies for conservation, efficiency, and the production of renewable energy, but these measures are overshadowed by its overwhelming emphasis on increased, unfettered production. This shortsighted approach imposes a heavy burden on future generations. Congress would do well to reject the

Courtesy of Northwestern University

A summer-camp counselor once told me, “If you can’t tie a good knot, tie a lot of them.” Congress seems to be following this advice in recent months as they have considered a series of massive, messy omnibus bills. These proposals, often sprawling for thousands of pages, do not lend themselves to careful, responsible lawmaking. Take, for example, the expansive and expensive legislation recently signed into law that began as an effort to add a prescription drug benefit to the federal Medicare insurance program. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne best described this bill when he wrote that Congress “went in to design a prescription drug benefit for seniors and came out with an aardvark.” The centerpiece of the bill—the drug benefit—does not take effect until 2006. And no one is entirely certain what else is in the bill. News coverage of the measure the day it was passed by the House of Representatives was based on sketchy summaries provided by legislative aides to members of the House leadership. It is possible that some of those aides had the opportunity to skim the entire bill before it was voted on. It is almost certain that their bosses did not. Giant omnibus bills—like the Medicare law and the current energy bill—do not allow lawmakers to vote responsibly. Members of Congress shouldn't be voting on bills that they haven’t had a chance to read. I’d like to see some member of Congress have the courage to refuse to go along with the charade that these unwieldy measures can be responsibly considered.

short-term thinking of this energy bill and embrace the task of crafting a national energy policy that our grandchildren can live with. ★

During World War II, energy conservation was seen as every American’s patriotic duty. Times have changed.

PRISM 2004

29

Former PRISM editor Fred Clark records his take on everything from faith and politics to Buffy the Vampire Slayer on his weblog at http://slacktivist. typepad. com


WASHINGTON

FRED CLARK

The Rhetoric of Revenue Late this summer, the House of Representatives passed H.R.7,“The Charitable Giving Act of 2003,” by a vote of 40813. Mary Dalrymple of the Associated Press neatly summarized the main component of the bill as follows: “[It] gives new charity-contribution incentives to taxpayers who can’t deduct charitable donations from their taxes because they don’t itemize their deductions.Taxpayers using the standard deduction could deduct up to $250 in charitable contributions. The new deduction would be in effect for two years.” Despite the lopsided vote in the House, the bill still faces an uphill battle. Versions of this proposal—which has been kicking around for a decade—were passed by both the House and Senate in the previous Congress, yet were never reconciled. And with this year’s federal budget deficit projected at nearly $500 billion, now may not be the most propitious time for a proposal that would further reduce revenue.

WATCH

One argument for this proposal is that it corrects an apparent inequity in the tax code.Taxpayers who itemize their incometax returns—roughly the top third of taxpayers—enjoy a deduction for their charitable contributions. The majority of taxpayers do not. Most tax analysts point out, however, that charitable deductions are considered in the standard deduction, which in 2002 was $4,700 for singles and $7,850 for married couples. This deduction, taken by all non-itemizing taxpayers, is designed to include charitable giving—and by most measures does so generously. The main argument in favor of this bill is that it will create a flood of new charitable giving. Rep. Roy Blunt (RMo.), the majority whip and the bill’s chief House sponsor, says it will leverage $50 billion in new charitable giving over the next decade.This is pure humbug as the bill creates only a two-year deduction before expiring Congress included similar “sunset” provisions in each of the massive tax-cut packages it recently passed. While the congressional leadership and the Bush administration have made it clear that they do not intend to allow these cuts to expire on their appointed dates, they still rely on these fictive sunsets to reduce their projections of future deficits. You may recall Enron using a similar trick. It got them in a bit of trouble. This Enronian accounting has become such a standard part of Congress’ modus operandi that Rep. Blunt sees nothing strange about discussing the 10-year effects of a two-year measure. Let us, for the sake of argument, pretend along with Congress that these expiration dates do not exist. Blunt’s $50billion claim—$5 billion a year for 10 years—is still unrealistically optimistic. First of all, non-itemizers may not yet enjoy a deduction for their charitable giving, but they do already contribute to charity. The Joint Tax Committee estimates that in recent years, the twoPRISM 2004

28

thirds of taxpayers who do not itemize have contributed about $20 billion a year to charity. If the goal is to promote new charitable giving, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) wrote regarding an earlier version of this proposal, then “the bill must create incentives to increase charitable donations, not simply reward people’s existing level of generosity.” Non-itemizing taxpayers may increase their current giving somewhat as a response to the newly available tax deduction, but the $250 cap on deductible giving will limit that increase.This also means that the reduction in federal revenue as a result of this bill will necessarily exceed the amount of new giving it hopes to leverage. Both the Urban Institute and the CBPP have endorsed creating a new charitable deduction for non-itemizers based on a threshold instead of on a cap. Like H.R. 7, this would allow a deduction in addition to the standard deduction. But this deduction would apply, for example, to every dollar given beyond $250 instead of every dollar up to that amount. This would be far more costeffective as a means of producing new giving rather than merely sweetening the existing reward for existing giving. It would not produce anything like the $5 billion a year that Blunt’s proposal promises, but then neither would Blunt’s proposal. At least they’re honest about it. An additional concern involves the complexity of the new tax code.While it won’t be unduly burdensome for the IRS, it may seem so for many of these non-itemizing taxpayers. Keeping receipts and cancelled checks and otherwise accounting for all of this previously untracked giving is a hassle to which these taxpayers are not accustomed. Many may decide that this extra complication and effort are not worth a modest reduction in their tax liability. Most non-itemizers earn less than


WASHINGTON

$50,000 a year and are in the 10 percent income-tax bracket.The cap for deductions is $250. How much extra work will they be willing to do for at most a $25 savings? Another reason I believe Blunt is unrealistically optimistic has to do with something called “Sutton’s Law.”Willie Sutton was a bank robber in 1930s.When asked why he robbed banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is.” By focusing on non-itemizers, H.R. 7 seeks to leverage new charitable giving from where the money isn’t. Non-itemizers simply don’t have very much money. Blunt is hoping, however, that what non-itemizers lack in personal wealth, they can make up for in sheer numbers. In 1999, the latest year for which I have the figures, 85.8 million taxpayers did not itemize. That’s a lot of people—which helps to account for that earlier estimate that this group contributes about $20 billion a year to charity. But of those taxpayers, 56.2 million had a gross income below $25,000 a year. Another 21.3 million earned between $25,000 and $50,000.These people are not awash in disposable income and may not be able to afford much of an increase in their charitable giving. Blunt argues that his bill will turn this group’s $20 billion a year in charitable giving into $25 billion.That means an additional $50 or $60 a year from each and every one of these taxpayers. That increase exceeds the size of his promised tax deduction. It also puts the average contribution for non-itemizers well above his $250 cap. A final reason to question Blunt’s optimism has to do with something else he is pushing in Congress—the permanent repeal of the estate tax, for which he whipped up a 264-163 vote in the House. Let’s assume, again for the sake of argument, that H.R. 7 will succeed in generating the $5 billion a year in new charitable giving that Blunt claims it will. Then let us consider this in relation to

WATCH

the estate tax, perhaps the largest single tax incentive for charitable giving.The Brookings Institution estimates that the estate tax is directly responsible for about $10 billion in charitable giving every year. Blunt wants us to get excited about a proposal that he claims—against all credible calculations—may leverage as much as $5 billion in annual charitable contributions. At the same time, he is fighting for another proposal that will definitely reduce charitable giving by $10 billion a year. If Rep. Blunt succeeds across the board, he will effectively reduce charitable giving by $5 billion a year. H.R. 7 also includes a grab bag of other worthy provisions, such as the reauthorization of the federal IDA— Individual Development Account— program. I like IDAs and many of these other measures. I simply want to see the bill’s supporters live up to their own procharitable giving rhetoric. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to defend the estate tax against the anti-charity class warriors who seek its repeal. ★ Former PRISM editor Fred Clark records his take on everything from faith and politics to Buffy the Vampire Slayer on his weblog at http://slacktivist.typepad.com

The PRISM E-pistle is a free, biweekly e-zine for Christians concerned about issues of social justice. The E-pistle includes: • a forum for sharing ideas and debating issues • social justice news in the making • book, music, and film reviews • thought-provoking essays • links to exciting websites • quotable quotes • ministry ideas

PHOTO © JAMES STIPE

Hunger is one problem we can actually solve ♦ In Africa, severe drought and

famine threaten the lives of 35 million people. In the United States, one out of ten families lives in poverty and struggles to put food on the table. ♦ Fortunately, there are time-tested, cost-effective ways to provide food and nutrition, as well as training and tools, that enable hungry people to feed themselves and their families. ♦ By taking just a few minutes of your time, you can help persuade our nation’s decision-makers to take steps to end hunger.

To receive our FREE 12-page booklet What You Can

Do to End Hunger —

Call toll-free 1-800-82-BREAD  YES, please send me — free of charge — What You Can Do to End Hunger, with its practical tips for helping end hunger. NAME _______________________________ P L E A S E

P R I N T

ADDRESS ____________________________ CITY _________________________________ STATE _________ ZIP__________________

Visit our Web site at www.bread.org.

Email us at: e-pistle@esa-online.org

Bread for the World Seeking Justice. Ending Hunger.

PRISM 2004

29

50 F Street NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20001 AD03P

Washington Watch  

PRISM Archives