Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Three Deaths and a Campaign Announcement

If you follow U.S. politics and have anything CLOSE to my progressive commitments, you have to feel sorry for former Sen. John Edwards (D-SC). He chooses what should be the perfect setting and timing for his formal announcement as a candidate for the Democratic Nomination for President in ’08: Wanting to emphasize a campaign against poverty and for peacemaking, he chooses to announce in New Orleans–a city that symbolizes the malign neglect of the poor by the current administration and whose rebuilding has been hindered by the war in Iraq. Then he chooses the perfect timing to announce: Friday, 29 December–end of what is usually the slowest news week of the year. Brilliant.

But events just didn’t cooperate. Between the deaths and funerals of singer James Brown and former president Gerald Ford and Iraq’s execution of Saddam Hussein, Edwards’ announcement was all but drowned out. He drew good crowds in New Orleans and in his quick trips to Iowa and New Hampshire (early primary states in U.S. presidential elections), and the print media covered him well. But clips from his announcement and subsequent trips should have been played repeatedly on all the major news networks–giving him a powerful megaphone prior to the announcements of presumed Democratic “heavyweights” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). But I didn’t see ANY coverage in the networks or 24-hr cable news stations. The deaths of the famous and notorious drowned him out.

And that’s too bad. Because, although I wasn’t all that impressed with Edwards in ’04 (especially after he became John Kerry’s echo–I mean running mate), I have been very impressed since then. He was one of the first big name Democrats in the senate to renounce his vote for the the ’04 “authorization to use force” that gave a veneer of legitimacy to Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Hillary still won’t even call her vote for the same “a mistake.”

Edwards created a think-tank on poverty and he has become far more knowledgeable about foreign policy and more aggressive in defending international law, human rights, and peace. He has boldly called for universal health care (not just universal availability of insurance)–long a dream of progressives. But now that health care is the largest labor cost of business and is one of the problems of the airline and auto industries, Edwards could get support for this long overdue social safety net from both business and labor.

Edwards’ message–economic justice, ending poverty, the U.S. rejoining the international community (instead of trying to command its obedience) and reestablishing human rights and peacemaking, repealing the absurd tax giveaways to the richest at the cost of everyone else–is one that needs to be heard and should find a hearing in today’s USA. Now, if only Edwards can get that message out.

This may turn out to be an interesting primary season for the Democrats–the 2 announced candidates, Kucinich (D-OH) and Edwards (D-SC) are both more progressive than media darling Hillary Clinton. Have times begun to change from our long slide from democracy to plutocratic oligarchy? One can only hope.

December 31, 2006 Posted by | peace, politics, poverty | 1 Comment

Saddam Hussein’s Execution: No Cause to Rejoice.

I joined with others here in asking the church universal back in November to condemn Saddam Hussein’s sentence of death. Now that it is too late to save his life, I still hope that Christians (and Muslims and others, but my first concern is with those of my own faith) everywhere will condemn the execution. Not because we find Saddam Hussein “worthy” of mercy (whatever that would mean), but because the death penalty is ALWAYS wrong. God alone can create human persons and give them life. To take that life away is to usurp the sovereignty of God. Jesus commanded us to imitate God’s mercy and forbade us to imitate God’s wrath or judgment.
By keeping the worst offenders alive, we bear witness to the infinite worth of all human life–no exceptions.

President Bush claims that this execution is a step in the right direction for Iraq. How? Sure, he was guilty of crimes against humanity–but taking his life didn’t bring any of his victims back to life. And the specific crimes for which Saddam was tried involved the use of chemical weapons sold to him by the U.S. in the persons of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. They remain unindicted co-conspirators. Saddam’s Baathist party came to power in Iraq with the help of the CIA. Executing this one man is the classic scapegoat: a multitude of others’ sins are hidden by being placed on one man. Except that unlike the biblical scapegoat, this man WAS guilty–just not by himself.

Saddam’s execution, like all executions, participates in the myth of redemptive violence–a false myth, a lie. Prison sentences are imperfect balances of justice and mercy, but, at least, by refusing to kill the killers, we unmask the lie of redemptive violence and expose it. We tell the truth that ALL human life is of infinite worth. That truth was hidden by Saddam’s execution. His execution and the rejoicing by many all over the world, including the U.S. president, repeated the lie.

Speak out Christians. Speak loudly churches and church organizations. Tell the truth. Expose the lie. Not for Saddam’s sake (he believed the lie of redemptive violence as deeply as anyone and lived by it), but for ours–for the world’s sake. For the sake of the truth of the gospel, churches must renounce “justified” violence, including support for the death penalty. Let our pulpits speak the truth–now, today.

December 31, 2006 Posted by | death penalty | 3 Comments

A Tribute to James Brown

James Brown (1933-2006) changed music in the U.S. as profoundly as anyone. The “Godfather of Soul,” and the “Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness,” he pushed soul and R & B/rock from a concentration on melody to hard-driving rhythym. No one minded that his harsh vocals could be difficult to hear correctly. The power of his voice was in his passion–a passion which had him dancing and sweating all over the stage. It blew you away.

A man of contradictions, he could belt out the veritable anthem of black pride (“Say It Loud–I’m Black and I’m Proud!”) while wearing a pompadour instead of an Afro–and then turn around and vote for Richard Nixon! Born into poverty, raised in a brothel, he never quite shook off his demons–and the drugs and other self-destructive behavior clearly shortened his life.

But he embodied a more hopeful era and outlook for all that. Sure, some of his sung attitudes were anachronistic even when he composed them (e.g., “It’s a Man’s World.”). But the absolute contempt for women in much of modern rap is entirely missing–There are no “bitches” or “hos” in Brown’s lyrics. And his self-destructive behavior with drugs was not celebrated. Nor did he celebrate violence. Passion (on many levels), and sometimes anger came through his music, but never hate–and always hope. The generation that first made his music their own took all that powerful energy and tried to reshape a world into one that cared more for others–and that stopped rather than started wars.

I hope he found peace and I hope his passionate hopeful music lives on and inspires new generations.

December 31, 2006 Posted by | music | Comments Off on A Tribute to James Brown