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

Vets Peace Groups Transform U.S. Iraq Debate

votevets1.jpgI have long maintained that peace groups, including faith-based peace groups and pacifist churches, need to work with military veterans, especially those involved in military-related peace groups.  Many of these military and veterans-related groups are NOT committed to nonviolence as a way of life (although some are–Veterans for Peace is composed of military veterans converted to nonviolence). Most follow some form of Just War Theory and/or celebrate military culture in a way that makes many traditional peace churches and pacifist Christians squirm.   Tough. Get over it and get to know these folk as real human beings.

Look, the simple fact is that very few nations (Finland and Costa Rico are exceptions) are doing without standing militaries in the near future.  The U.S. has a national culture that celebrates an independance achieved by a military revolution.  Our national narrative (somewhat inaccurately) celebrates our military as the defenders of all our cherished freedoms. We honor military service as among the most patriotic and selfless ways of service.  None of this is going to change overnight. So, if peace groups want to make a serious impact on foreign policy then, above all, they must not seem contemptuous of the military.  Rightwing militarist policies win over more peaceful, or even more realistic, policies time and again by the simple tactic of making peace groups look and sound “anti-soldier.”  They constantly paint opposition to militaristic foreign policy as failure to “support the troops.”

Traditional and faith-based peace groups can work with military and veterans-related groups to transform this debate–though differences between pacifists and just war theorists will remain.  The picture relates to this article about Iraq veteran Jon Soltz and the organization he leads, VoteVets.org  which played a major role in the 2006 elections and is seeking both to help members of Congress take a stand for ending the Iraq war and to play a major role in the 2008 elections, especially in helping elect progressive Iraq veterans.  But VoteVets is not the only such organization.

Perhaps the most pacifist/nonviolent of these military veterans peace groups is the aptly named Veterans for Peace.  A national organization founded in 1985, VFP is composed of U.S. military veterans who have dedicated the rest of their lives to working for peace and justice through organized nonviolence.  Some came to be converted to a form of pacifism during or after their military service.  Some are repentant of their former lives.  Others in VFP are quite proud of their military service, but want to make sure that U.S. military forces are used only in defense and in the highest standards of U.S. and international law and the protection of universal human rights. 

Perhaps the oldest of these military-related peace organizations is Vietnam Veterans Against War (originally “Against THE War”) which started in 1967 with 6 vets marching in a peace march in full uniform.  Perhaps the most famous member of VVAW is U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), whose testimony in the “Winter Soldier” hearings before Congress in ’67 gave the nation its first view of VETERANS arguing for withdrawal and an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.  VVAW is still working for peace, for an end to wars of “choice,” and for veterans rights.  It was VVAW which organized the Vietnam Agent Orange and Responsibility Campaign in which U.S. Vietnam Vets, often themselves Agent Orange victims, work to get the U.S. government to take responsibility for this chemical weapon (defoliant) and its side effects–and also travel to Vietnam to help their victims of Agent Orange.

Military Families Speak Out breaks the traditional “culture of silence” in which the families and loved ones of military members are intimidated to keep silent about the crass and reckless ways their loved ones are sent into harm’s way, to kill and bleed and possibly die for selfish or narrow reasons.  Another organization with the same focus, Gold Star Families for Peace, is composed of the families and loved ones of those who have died in the war and/or occupation of Iraq.  Such families (who are given gold stars and a U.S. flag when they would rather have a living loved one!) are often paraded before the public to drum up support for continuing the war.  GSFP defuses that exploitation to prevent its use against real debate about policy alternatives.  GSFP’s most famous (and controversial) member is, of course, “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan.

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is modeled on the older Vietnam Veterans Against the War and also has ties to Veterans for Peace.  Membership is open to anyone who served in the U.S. military (active duty, reservist, or national guard) since 9/11, but especially those who served in any part, even support, of the invasion and/or occupation of Iraq.  Veterans for Common Sense, like VoteVets.org, wants to be seen as a mainstream organization, not a part of a peace counter-culture. VCS is composed of military veterans who opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq and who believe that terrorism and other threats to the nation can only be successfully opposed by a sensible foreign policy that respects international law, cooperates with other nations and international organizations, and vigorously defends the human rights of everyone, including national enemies and suspected or captured terrorists. 

These organizations, and possibly others like them, have the potential of transforming presidential and Congressional races, debates in legislatures, the way the media covers military-related stories and peace-activism stories, and even the social culture of mainstream America.  That last transformation may not be as dramatic as pacifists would like (at least, not in the short run), but the transformation will be larger and longer lasting WITH the involvement of such groups than without them.  Traditional peace groups, especially those which are church-related and/or faith based, need to have as much contact and cooperation with these and similar groups as possible–and without delay.

August 30, 2007 Posted by | foreign policy, human rights., Iraq, just war theory, politics | 10 Comments

Pacifism Series

Ahem. Halden Doerge has the latest update in his “My Peace I Leave Unto You”series.

August 28, 2007 Posted by | pacifism | Comments Off on Pacifism Series

John Smyth (1554-1612): Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite

28 August 1612 is the day historians believe (records are shaky) that John Smyth died in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  Smyth was a pivotal figure in church history–a major link in the growing radicalism of the Separatist wing of the English Puritan movement; a tireless champion of democracy and religious liberty; a biblicist and radical congregationalist who strove to defend liberty of conscience against what he saw as the tyranny of extra-congregational bishops; the “founder” of the modern Baptist movement; and an Elder in the Waterlander congregation of Mennonites in Amsterdam. 

John Smyth was born in Lincolnshire to “middle class” English commoners and educated at a Grammar School in Gainsborough.  Feeling a call from God to the ministry, he studied for the Anglican priesthood at Christ’s College, Cambridge University (A.B., 1575; M.A., 1595) becoming a life Fellow of Christ’s College.  During this era, many in the U. K. thought the English Reformation was not nearly thorough enough. The Church of England was still “too Catholic” for these dissenters.  Those wanting further reform, wanting to “purify” the Church of all unscriptural “papist” accumulations of tradition, were known as “Puritans,” and several of the colleges of Cambridge University were hotbeds of Puritan sentiment. Smyth’s teachers were Puritans and by the time he earned his M.A. and was ordained an Anglican priest(1595), Smyth knew that he could not go along with the Anglo-Catholic majority.

He managed to get appointed as a private chaplain to a minor noble in order to avoid the restrictions and scrutiny of a parish priest, but his Puritan preaching soon became too radical and he lost that post.  Since physicians did not need licenses to practice medicine in those days, and Smyth had studied biology at Cambridge, he supported himself as a family doctor while deciding his next move.

The mainstream Puritans wanted to work for reform within the Church of England, to “purify” the Church from within.  Those who lacked the patience for slow reform, or who had concluded that the Church of England had strayed so far from the gospel that it was a false church, became known as Separatist Puritans, or simply, Separatists.  Smyth became convinced of this need for reform “without tarrying for any” as one famous Separatist put it.  He gathered a congregation of like-minded London reformers and they met in secret since Non-Conformity to the established Church was illegal.  As their numbers grew, the group had to split peacefully to avoid notice, one group meeting in Scrooby and the other, led by Smyth, meeting in Gainsborough.  The Scrooby congregation, led by John Robinson, soon fled to the Netherlands–which had more religious tolerance than any other Western European nation at the time.  From there, the Robinson congregation would eventually sail to New England and enter history as the “Pilgrims” of American Colonial history.

Meanwhile, by 1607 Smyth’s Gainsborough congregation was again growing too large to keep hidden and to escape persecution they too fled to Amsterdam–financed by a prominent layperson in the group, Thomas Helwys (c. 1550-c. 1616), a lawyer (solicitor).   In Amsterdam, the Smyth congregation was offered a place to meet for worship by one Jan Munter, a member of the Waterlander Mennonite congregation in the city.  Smyth’s congregation met in the bakehouse owned by Munter.  At first, however, though grateful for the hospitality, they were wary of the Mennonites because Anabaptists had a reputation across Europe as heretics and revolutionaries–spread both by lies told by the Magisterial Reformers and by the horrid involvement of a few Anabaptists in the bloody-but-failed Peasant Revolution in Germany and by more in the even-more-disastrous attempt to bring in the Kingdom of God by revolutionary force in Münster, Holland.  The language barrier between the English Separatists and the Dutch Anabaptists probably didn’t help, either.

For that matter, the Mennonites had their own reasons for being wary of the Smyth group.  First, only recently had persecution against Anabaptists ceased in the Netherlands–and that persecution had taught them to be wary of outsiders.  Second, many congregations of English Puritans and Separatists, refugees like Smyth’s group, were fighting with each other and denouncing one another, which the Mennonites rightly considered scandalous.  So, the two groups approached each other cautiously, at first.

But by 1609, doubtless influenced by the Waterlander Mennonites, Smyth and his group had undergone several changes:  1) They had arrived convinced, like most Puritans and Separatists, of Calvinism. They now adopted a mild form of the Arminianism of the Remonstrants–as had the Mennonites.  2) They came to even higher views of Biblical authority than they had previously. Smyth would allow no translations to be used in worship, but preached extemporaneously from the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament, translating as he went.  3) They began to argue, as no other English Puritan or Separatist group did, for complete religious liberty and church-state separation, something Anabaptists had been advocating for nearly a century.  4) Finally, they came to adopt adult, or more precisely, believers’ baptism, on profession of faith.  In his 1608 book, The Character of the Beast, Smyth had already argued that the sacraments of a false church must also be false. Thus, those baptized in the Church of England had not really been baptized.  Some other Separatists argued similarly, but Smyth went further and rejected infant baptism altogether, since baptism clearly must follow repentance and faith.

 Some have argued that Smyth’s adoption of believers’ baptism was influenced not by the Mennonites, but by his own Bible study.  Yet, the timing of this conclusion is suggestive, and the mode these first “Baptists” adopted (pouring water over the head 3 times in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was the same as that of the Waterlanders and, indeed, most Anabaptist groups–whereas simple Bible study would suggest full immersion as later Baptists argued.  But Smyth was still not sure of the orthodoxy of the Mennonites–he was not sure they were a “true church.” So, instead of seeking baptism from them, his congregation dissolved based on a written covenant and re-formed based on believers’ baptism.  Smyth baptized himself with a bucket and a dipper or ladle and then proceeded to baptize the rest of the congregation.

This act of self-baptism was shocking to all around. It forever earned Smyth the nickname, “the Se-Baptist” or “self-baptizer.”  Not even Jesus baptized himself, argued Smyth’s critics.  This criticism began to get to Smyth and he investigated the Mennonites more closely.  He came to agree with them on almost everything, including their pacifism and their rejection of swearing oaths, and he sought to merge the two congregations. 

  There were one or two sticking points. 1) Although it is embarrassing to modern Mennonites, Menno Simons and most Mennonites until the Dordrecht Confession held to a really peculiar theory of Christ’s birth, whereby he got none of his human nature from Mary, “passing through her like water through a pipe.” Smyth, and most others, considered this weird Christology to be an example of the heresy of Docetism, i.e., of making Christ only seem human.  2) If Smyth was wrong to baptize himself, would the Mennonites require him and the other Baptists to be rebaptized?

   The lawyer, Thomas Helwys, led a handful of others to break with Smyth over these points.  They saw their baptism as valid and wanted no other baptism.  Helwys, as a lawyer, had strong disagreements with the Anabaptist rejection of all oaths.  And, although he was a near pacifist, Helwys defended the right of governments to raise armies for purely defensive wars–although he quickly agreed that governments would claim that any wars they wanted to wage were “necessary,” “defensive,” and “just,” and this was often a smokescreen.  But Helwys and his followers could not agree to complete pacifism.  Finally, if the two congregations merged, then the exile in Amsterdam was not temporary, but permanent.  Helwys believed they had a duty to return to England and bear witness to the Baptist faith and take the suffering that followed.

In the end, the majority followed Smyth and became Mennonites–Smyth’s name is listed on the church wall today as an Elder.  Helwys and about 10 others returned to England in 1611 and founded the first Baptist congregation on British soil in Spitalfields outside London. But these first Baptists (later called “General” Baptists to distinguish them from the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists that arose a generation later) kept in touch with the Waterlander Mennonites, exchanging letters and members and considering one another “of like faith and order” for the next 50 years.   Despite the influence of Helwys, many of these early General Baptists also became pacifists.

Some have considered John Smyth to have been unstable because he changed his mind so frequently.  Yet, the changes were all in one direction and one could admire his willingness to revisit doctrine and practices repeatedly in light of fresh readings of Scripture.  There have been a few recent works on Smyth’s thought and, as Baptists approach our 400th anniversary in 2009, they might be good to study.

Mark Robert Bell, Apocalypse How?  Baptist Movements During the English Revolution (Mercer University Press, 2000).

James R. Coggin, John Smyth’s Congregation:  English Separatism, Mennonite Influence, and the Elect Nation.  (Herald Press, 1991).

Jason K. Lee, The Theology of John Smyth:  Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite (Mercer University Press, 2003).

August 28, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, church history, heroes | 8 Comments

Torture’s “Usefulness”


Thanks to “The Maiden” for this gem–on a subject that really isn’t funny.

August 26, 2007 Posted by | torture | 3 Comments

This Day in Church History

25 August 1560, led by John Knox, the Reformed Church of Scotland is established along Calvinistic Protestant lines.  The Scottish Parliament accepts the very Calvinist Scots Confession, forbids the mass, and declares that the pope has no jurisdiction in Scotland.  Like all other Constantinian state church systems, the Church of Scotland is intolerant of all dissenters, not only Catholic, but Protestant, Anabaptist, or Jewish as well.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | church history | Comments Off on This Day in Church History

Great Blog Series Alert: My Peace I Leave Unto You

Over at his great blog, Inhabitatio Dei, theologian and peace blogger, Halden Doerge has begun a series of guest posts called “My Peace I Leave Unto You” on varieties of Christian pacifism and how they relate to different Christian theological traditions.  Thom Stark of Semper Reformanda began the series with a post on his pacifism as a part of the Restoration or Stone-Campbell movement (i.e., the Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, and independent Christian Churches–the movement is less fragmented outside the U.S.).  Kim Fabricius, ex-patriate American living as a university chaplain in Wales (and the most prolific “blogger without a blog of his own” in the theo-blogging world) has continued with a post describing his journey to a Reformed/Barthian form of pacifism.

Future contributions will include at least the following: An Eastern Orthodox pacifism, an Anglican pacifism, an Evangelical pacifism, and a Baptist pacifism (contributed by yours truly).  Stay tuned to the series. If you want to contribute to the series, especially if you come from a tradition not included yet, contact Halden here. But many traditions are large enough that more than one contribution could be illuminating. For instance, if one was a non-Barthian, traditional 5-point Calvinist and a pacifist, that perspective would make a fascinating addition to Kim’s Barthian-Reformed perspective.  And a pacifist from the Disciples of Christ would probably approach the problem differently than Thom did as a conservative Restorationist.  But I hope that before the series is concluded we see at least one Catholic perspective (the number of Catholic pacifists seems to be growing exponentially), a Pentecostal contribution (especially since pacifism was dominant in first generation of Pentecostalism, but is a small minority, now), a Lutheran essay, a feminist contribution, at least one essay from a Black Church perspective, a Wesleyan-Methodist essay, etc.  The series looks extremely promising. Check it out–and thank Halden for his work in creating this series and hosting it on his blog.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | blogs, pacifism | 1 Comment

Hospitality to Strangers and the Immigration Debate

I was asked by my friends at the Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship to contribute an article last year on biblical perspectives on immigration–during the height of the debate in Congress here in the U.S.  My contribution was one of several–all very good.  With the death of the flawed -but -better -than -we -have -now comprehensive immigration reform bill, the debate has somewhat died down.  But the issues remain. So, I have received permission to reprint my article here.


By Michael Westmoreland-White

“Hospitality to Strangers” is a moral practice that pervades Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  This practice was vital to the survival of the wandering nomadic clans from which the various tribes of Habiru came that would come to be the “Hebrews” who settled in Canaan.  Genesis 15, famous for reassuring Abram of offspring and the faithfulness of God to the covenant, also gives the less than reassuring promise, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for many years, but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with many possessions.” (15:13-14). To be aliens in a land not yours—the lot of most refugees and immigrants around the world and through the centuries.  Slavery and other forms of oppression follow naturally from that vulnerable refugee state—as any glance at migrant workers will tell you.  Genesis 19, the Sodom story, is not about “homosexuality,” but about the terrible crime of inhospitality to strangers—something considered grossly immoral throughout the Ancient Near East, not just in Hebrew tradition.  The men of Sodom, all of them, not the few gay men who might live there, threaten the angelic strangers with gang rape—which then as now was the ultimate way that males humiliated other males or women.  Lot’s offer of his virgin daughters (which would have made no sense if he was besieged by gay men), as horrible as it rightly sounds to us, was motivated by his determination to respect the rules of hospitality and do everything in his power to protect the strangers under his roof.  Later, in the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Israelites are reminded to offer hospitality and justice to resident aliens “because you know the heart of the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  Even in the Christmas narratives of the Gospels we find that Mary and Joseph, forced by the whims of empire to travel late in her pregnancy, must seek hospitality as homeless strangers in an Innkeeper’s cave.  In Matthew’s version, after the visit of the Magi, the Holy Family become refugees seeking hospitality in Egypt until it is safe to return to Nazareth.  When Jesus sends out his disciples two by two, they are to expect hospitality and the early church practiced hospitality to all strangers, but especially to itinerant missionaries.  I could multiply these illustrations of a major biblical theme beyond count.  Yet, when it comes to thinking about immigration today, those U.S. Christians who most want politicians to decide all questions based on the Bible appear to have forgotten the biblical practice of hospitality to strangers.


I confess that this topic touches me personally because of my own family history.  On my father’s side we are from Ireland and, like so many others, we came to this country in the 1880s when Ireland was experiencing severe famine and U.S. expansionists were promising “free land.” (No one told us that the Native Americans would consider the land theirs and object to our living there! The bigwig politicos didn’t really care if the settlers were killed—they were only Irish—but the Irish were “white enough” to be an excuse then to send in the military to wipe out yet another Native American nation. Once again, we were pawns in others’ power plays.) When my ancestor, Sean Bhain and his wife and five kids arrived, however, they were told that the Irish immigration quota was filled that year. The boat was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  But Sean and his family sneaked into the U.S. and then, to be certain they weren’t caught, changed their last name by translating the Irish “Bhain” to its English equivalent “White.” Yes, I am a descendant of illegal immigrants.  (From a Native American viewpoint, nearly all of us are the descendants of illegal immigrants, although in the case of African Americans the Middle Passage abductions could hardly be called by such a voluntary-sounding term as “immigration.”) We didn’t find much hospitality at Ellis Island, but once in the country, we were welcomed far more than immigrants from Eastern or Southern Europe, not to mention those from China who were arriving about the same time!  Doubtless much of our ease in assimilation came from already knowing English (since bloody Brits had dominated us so thoroughly for so long).  And, unlike most Irish immigrants, Sean Bhain (turned Sean White) didn’t attract the hostility of late 19th C. “Nativists” by being Catholic.  My family were composed, even that far back, mostly of Methodists and Baptists.  That was another reason than the famine to leave—whether the English-loving Anglican Loyalists were dominant or the Republican Catholics, dissenting Free Church folk were going to be marginalized.  But, in America, we would find it easier since Methodists and Baptists were the fastest-growing denominations of the day and, at that time, Catholics were a distinct minority who were seen as a threat to democracy and Protestant America.  So, we not only survived, but largely prospered—and, like so many immigrants, became so thoroughly “American” that Ireland became only a place of old stories, a place we might wish to visit (but none of us has), a land with vague connections to us—but no longer home.  America became home and the White family thrived.  (I’m not saying that the hostility toward Catholic, Southern European, and Chinese immigrants was right—it was disgusting—but just explaining why my family had an easier time of it.)


But America benefited too. Of all the nations in the world, only Canada is as much an immigrant society as the U.S.  Immigrants built this country, but each wave of immigration has been met with hostility and fear.  America has greatly benefited from immigration, but has too seldom been grateful.  Our current attitude is so very far from “hospitable” that we should change the inscription on Lady Liberty (herself a Frenchwoman, you know!) from “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 tossed, to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden door”  to something like “No vacancies!”  Shameful.  And it is all justified by the supposed burden that immigrants are supposed to be on the economy—a convenient scapegoat for incompetent government policies of rewarding the rich at the expense of the common good.


The latest Sojourners uses data from the Justice for Immigrants website  to explode the myths about immigration with the cold light of truth:


·         Myth:  Immigrants, at least, illegal immigrants, don’t pay taxes.  False.  Even undocumented immigrants pay taxes:  income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes at the local, state, and federal levels.  The Social Security Administration has a “suspense file” of FICA taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and Social Security Numbers—evidence of the taxes paid by undocumented workers using fake names.  That suspense file grew by $20 billion between 1990 and 1998, the last year for which data was released to the public.

·         Myth:  Immigrants come to the U.S. to take welfare.  No one who sees how poor our welfare system is could believe that.  If someone was going to emigrate in order to take advantage of the social safety net, they would be far better off going to Canada where health care is free! In fact, the ratio of immigrant use of public benefits in the U.S. and the amount of taxes they pay is consistently favorable to the U.S.  In one estimate, immigrant tax payments total $20-30 billion MORE than the amount of government services they use.

·         Myth:  Immigrants send all their money back to their home countries.  False.  Certainly “remittances” or payment to relatives back home amounts to a considerable amount in many cases, and some poor nations depend heavily on such remittances from relatives in rich Western nations.  But, in addition to all the consumer spending that immigrants do, immigrant households and immigrant businesses contribute $162 billion in tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments in the U.S.

·         Myth:  Immigrants take jobs and opportunities away from U.S. citizens.  This is probably the favorite scare tactic of politicians, but the largest wave of immigration in the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with the lowest national unemployment rate and the fastest economic growth.

·         Myth:  Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy.  The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually.

·         Myth:  Immigrants don’t want to learn English or become “real Americans.”  Within 10 years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak fluent English.  Moreover, demand for adult-level English classes far exceeds supply.  We don’t need an “official language” or other discriminatory laws to be sure that English continues to be learned.  Only in the U.S., moreover, does the average person seem totally fearful of ever learning more than one language.  Further, immigrants learn American history faster and more thoroughly than most who are born here—while Americans stubbornly refuse to learn much about the rest of the world.

·         Myth:  Immigration in the past was great because the country needed more population.  But now we have simply become too crowded and the percentage of immigrants is greater than ever before.  False.  The portion of the U.S. population that is foreign-born now stands at 11.5 % whereas in the early 20th C. it was approximately 15%.

·         Myth: Most immigrants cross the border illegally.  Well, my family did.  And the U.S.-Mexico border used to be far different. Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and California were all once Northwest Mexico.  But, in fact, around 75% of all immigrants have legal permanent (immigrant) visas.  Of the 15% who are undocumented, 40% have not snuck across any border, but simply overstayed temporary (non-immigrant) visas.

·         Myth:  Weak U.S. border enforcement has led to high levels of undocumented immigration.  Look, the way to decrease illegal immigration is to solve the terrible political, economic, and other problems in countries of origin that lead desperate people to try anything to get to the promise of a better life in America.  From 1986 to 1998, the Border Patrol’s budget increased six-fold, and the number of agents stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border doubled to 8,500.  During the same period, the undocumented immigrant population also doubled to 8 million.  One reason for the problem has been mentioned.  Another is that a dwindling number of legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S., compared with the number of jobs in need of workers, has led many to seek unofficial ways into the country.

·         Myth: The so-called “war on terrorism” can be won through immigration restrictions.  This myth seems popular even with Democrats, and even with some otherwise progressive and justice-oriented Democrats!  But, since 9/11, the many measures targeting immigrants in the name of national security have resulted in ZERO terrorism prosecutions.  In fact, several of these measures could have the opposite effect and actually make us less safe from attack, since targeted communities of immigrants are afraid to come forward with information they may have overheard.

So, since the “practical case for immigration restriction” is mythical, and the history of this nation and most of our families is the history of a country built on immigrant labor, immigrant hopes, immigrant dreams, and immigrant talent and ingenuity, why don’t we tune out the harsh, cruel sounds of anti-immigrant bigotry and re-introduce ourselves to the biblical traditions of hospitality to strangers?  I suggest that it is past time for such a move.

August 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical exegesis | 6 Comments

One Million Palestinians and Israelis Call for Peace Talks

August 2, 2007 – 8:00am IDT


Mid East: One Million Palestinians and Israelis Call for Immediate, uninterrupted Negotiations for Two-state Solution


Dennis Ross, Saeb Erakat, Muhammad Ali, Dov Lautman, Klaus Schwab

Among Global Leaders Supporting Grassroots OneVoice Movement


Landmark Public Summits in Jericho + Tel Aviv 10.18.07
Message to Abbas and Olmert: Moderate Majority Silent No Longer 



Jericho/Tel Aviv, August 1, 2007 – Frustrated with ongoing instability in the region, the recent crisis in Gaza and lack of progress, the OneVoice Movement today announced that nearly 500,000 Palestinian and Israeli citizens have united to demand immediate, ongoing, uninterrupted negotiations until a comprehensive two-state agreement is achieved. OneVoice has committed to recruit one million signatories to join the movement by October.


On October 18, 2007, Israeli and Palestinian citizens – together with international supporters – will mobilize to call for a two-state solution and an end to the occupation and terror. OneVoice, a non-partisan mainstream nationalist movement working in Israel and Palestine for an end to the conflict, will organize separate, simultaneous public summits in Tel Aviv, Jericho and Jerusalem, with international “Echo” events in London, Washington D.C. and Ottawa. The summits will be broadcast via satellite for the world to see the international solidarity towards ending the conflict. Hundreds of thousands are expected to participate and to add their signatures to the OneVoice mandate for a two-state solution. 


“The people need to start leading the way, to create the conditions necessary for their elected representatives to fulfill the will of the moderate majority,” said Daniel Lubetzky, Founder of the OneVoice Movement. “Excuses and disclaimers won’t get us anywhere. Each of us needs to ask, what can I do to help end the conflict? What am I willing to do to ensure negotiations do not stop until the Heads of State achieve an agreement that can be presented to the people?”


Bringing together international co-producers Michael Lang (Woodstock Productions) and Chris Wangro (Zaragunda Inc.) with the top Israeli and Palestinian production teams, programs for the One Million Voices to End the Conflict public summits will include live statements from foremost dignitaries and religious leaders, a variety of international and regional musical talent, messages from celebrities and luminaries, a magical performance by David Copperfield and raw commitments from OneVoice activists on the ground. The events will create an unprecedented shared reality, in which the Israeli, Palestinian and international communities are linked by their commitment to end the conflict. 


In 2004, as a result of ground-breaking citizen negotiations, OneVoice revealed that 76 percent of both Palestinians and Israelis support a two-state solution. By late 2005, over 150,000 Palestinian and Israeli citizen negotiators had achieved consensus on Ten Pillars for Conflict Resolution. However, to date moderates on both sides have kept silent, allowing a small minority of violent extremists to hijack the will of the people and capture global media attention.


“The most difficult thing in this region is to be a person of peace and moderation, especially at times when people are being killed,” said Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator. “Sanity, wisdom and courage tend to disappear when violence is prevalent. Peacemaking is not just about negotiating an agreement – it’s about having the people demand peace. OneVoice’s initiatives on October 18 are a major step towards making that happen.”


“OneVoice’s October 18th events are poised to inject the political situation in the Middle East, rife with complexities and contradictions, with a new hope by enabling the Israeli and Palestinian people to take part in the process,” said Ambassador Dennis Ross. “There have been failures of leadership on both sides, but what the OneVoice Movement is doing goes beyond blaming politicians, focusing in on the people of this region, empowering and mobilizing them to build a bold, absolute mandate for an end to the conflict.”


By organizing the moderate majority, OneVoice aims to empower its signatories to challenge the current dynamic of weakened leaders and divided populations. The public summits on October 18th will serve as a mandate for Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, both of whom were elected on a platform for a two-state solution, to make a sustained push for peace. As momentum builds towards the event, OneVoice aims to expand its support base to one million, thus bringing together One Million Voices to End the Conflict.


International support is growing for the OneVoice Mandate and for October 18th One Million Voices To End the Conflict public summits. The list of global luminaries who have proclaimed their support for OneVoice continues to expand. Board members and supporters thus far include:


·         Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and President of the World Economic Forum

·         Muhammad Ali, philanthropist and former heavyweight boxing champion

·         Sheikh Taysir al Tamimi, Chief Palestinian Islamic Justice

·         Rabbi David Rosen, Chairman, International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations

·         Ambassador Dennis Ross, Mideast Envoy during Clinton and Bush Administrations

·         Saeb Erakat, Head of Negotiations, Palestinian Authority

·         Dov Lautman, foremost Israeli business leader and winner of Israel Prize

·         Stuart Eizenstat, former US Deputy Secretary of Treasury and Undersecretary of State

·         Samer Khoury, foremost Palestinian business leader; CEO, Consolidated Contracts International


OneVoice Palestine Executive Director Nisreen Shaheen said, “With the Arab Initiative on the table and the entire world’s attention on the Middle East, ordinary people have an extraordinary opportunity to make their voices heard.”


Dr. Fathi Darwish, OneVoice Palestine Director General, added, “We need to create a sense of urgency among all parties involved – Israelis, Palestinians, and people everywhere – to once and for all end the occupation and the violence and suffering on all sides and enable Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace.”


About the OneVoice Movement:


The OneVoice Movement is a mainstream nationalist grassroots movement with nearly 500,000 Israeli and Palestinian signatories, and 3,000 highly-trained youth leaders.  It aims to amplify the voice of the overwhelming but heretofore silent majority of moderates who wish for peace and prosperity, empowering them to demand accountability from elected representatives and work toward a two-state solution.  OneVoice counts on its Board over 60 foremost dignitaries and business leaders across a wide spectrum of politics and beliefs, joining as OneVoice against violent extremism and for conflict resolution. Learn more by visiting www.onevoicemovement.org.

For more information and to tell us what you think, please visit our blog:

August 22, 2007 Posted by | Israel-Palestine, peacemaking | Comments Off on One Million Palestinians and Israelis Call for Peace Talks

Conservative Myth: GOP Politicians Serve in Military More Than Dems

 Myths or “Urban Legends” abound.  I am not speaking of “myth” as an identity shaping story that might or might not have historical basis, as biblical scholars use the term. I am using the popular definition of “myth” as a fictitious story with no clear author.  In the spirit of the cable TV show “mythbusters,” I am starting a series of posts (irregularly posted) on “conservative myths.” Liberals and progressives have their own myths, but I think that conservative ones are far more pervasive in contemporary U.S.A. popular culture.  I want to expose them. 

Myth #1 Republicans are more patriotic than Democrats and one excellent measure of this is the fact that so many more Republican politicians than Democratic ones have had military service.

As a pacifist, I am not convinced that military service is the only or even best demonstration of patriotism. (Patriotism is variously defined and some definitions should make Christians wary.  Christians have primary loyalty to the global Body of Christ, not to any nation-state.  But whereas nationalism is forbidden to Christians, I don’t think that chastened, critical, and humble forms of patriotism are forbidden us.) But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that military service IS the most obvious litmus test of a politician’s patriotism.  Are Republican politicians really more likely than Democratic ones to have seen military service?

The short answer is “no.” In the 109th Congresss, when the GOP was in charge, there were 233 GOP members of the House of Representatives and 206 Democratic members.  There were only 110 House members altogether who had any form of military service.  This is low number is a reflection of the class bias in Congress.  Getting elected takes much money and usually the kind of education and connections that come from the upper class and upper middle class. Since the end of the draft (compulsory military service), much fewer middle and upper class people in this nation see military service. So, the younger members of Congress are less likely to have seen military service, regardless of Party. 

But of that low number (110), 59 were Democrats and 51 Republicans.  Source: Congressional Database.  

In that same 109th Congress (with GOP in charge), there were 55 GOP Senators and 44 Democratic Senators and 1 Indep.  Only 31 of those Senators had military service, 17 of which were Democratic and 13 were Republican. Source: Congressional Database.

Things have shifted slightly in the GOP favor since the Democratic Party has gained ascendancy in the current 110th Congress, but things are still fairly even.  There are 20 senators with military service, 10 Democratic and 10 GOP.  Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) is the only member of either the House or Senate to have a family member (his son) serving in Iraq.  There are only 70 House members with military service, of which 37 are Republican (including one who has died in office this year) and 33 are Democratic (including the only member of Congress who is a veteran of the Iraq invasion and occupation).

The decline of military service in Congress is clearly continuing, but neither major Party has any kind of clear pattern of enthusiastic joining of the military or clear avoidance.

What is fascinating is the “Chickenhawk factor,” that is how many high-ranking Republican leaders who were cheerleaders for the Iraq war, but who avoided military service themselves in time of war.  The term “chickenhawk,” is rude and may not even be fair in all cases.  But there does seem to be a pattern in which some of the most enthusiastically pro-war refused to go themselves.  They weren’t opposed to the Vietnam War, some of them were cheerleaders for that war, too, but they wanted others to fight it. 

Consider the following list of pro-war Republicans:

Vice President Richard B. Cheney had several deferments, none for medical reasons such as his later poor health.  He infamously said that he “had other priorities.”

Former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft did not serve–received 7 deferments to teach business ed. at Southwest Missouri State University.

Former Florida Gov.  Jeb Bush did not serve, receiving a deferment during Vietnam.

“Bush’s Brain” Karl Rove, did not serve, receiving several deferments so that he could plan future wars and GOP “permanent majority.”

Former Sen. Phil Gramm, did not serve, received several deferments.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not serve, avoided the draft with several deferments.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a major hawk, avoided combat during World War II by making training films for the army while remaining in California.  Later, he seemed several times to have confused his movie role as a tailgunner with the real thing.

President George W. Bush used his father’s influence to get into the Air National Guard in order to avoid going to Vietnam, though he loudly proposed using nuclear weapons on the North Vietnamese.  He was Absent Without Leave (AWOL) several times and eventually failed to finish his 6 year term in the Air National Guard, serving only 4 years.  His father’s influence kept him from being prosecuted for this.  For some reason, “W” still insists that he “has seen war.” Maybe on TV, but that’s all.


Not all big-league Republicans have been chickenhawks, of course.  Former Sen. Bob Dole, one time Pres. candidate, for instance, served honorably in WWII. Dole was permanently injured and earned several medals.  Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB), earned two purple hearts and a bronze star in Vietnam.  Sen. John McCain (R-UT), was, of course captured in Vietnam and spent several years as a prisoner of war. In the 2000 presidential race, the Bush campaign smeared McCain’s reputation (was this practice for the later hatchet jobs to be done on Democrats Max Cleland, John Kerry, and others?) by claiming that he did dishonorable things in Vietnam, but he was defended by several prominent Democrats.

But its interesting that these honorable, sometimes even heroic, Republican veterans are much less hawkish than their civilian chickenhawk counterparts.


By contrast, many prominent Democrats who have been smeared as unpatriotic by the GOP have served honorably, sometimes even heroically, in the military. 

Former VP Al Gore enlisted in the military when he could have avoided it and volunteered for a tour of Vietnam to prevent some poor kid from going in his place.  He did this even though his father was one of the most prominent anti-Vietnam war senators at the time. 

Former Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle was a Lt. in the U.S. Air Force from 1969-1972.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) a very high ranking Democrat, served in the U.S. Army when his family was interred in U.S. concentration camps for citizens of Japanese ancestry.  He lost an arm and earned the Medal of Honor.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), presidential candidate in ’04 (although not my first choice), was a Lt. in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1970, going to Vietnam and earning 3 Purple Hearts, a bronze star with combat V and a silver star for valor.  Then, and in my view, this was just as courageous and patriotic if not more so, he testified before Congress in the Winter Soldier hearings, helping to end the Vietnam War and helping to create Vietnam Veterans Against the War. (It’s too bad that he was so hawkish in his ’04 campaign.)  Chickenhawks smeared his record in the ’04 campaign.

Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA), lost both legs and one arm serving in Vietnam.  He lost reelection when Republican Chickenhawks, led by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, smeared his record and tried to claim that he was unpatriotic. !!!

Former Presidential Candidate (and still a political activist) General Wesley Clark:  Had a 38 year career of public service in the Army culminating in being the Supreme Commander of NATO. (He was a prominent critic of the Iraq invasion and occupation.)

Former Democratic President John F. Kennedy was highly decorated during WWII.  As was former Sen. and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy.  Whatever else one could say about Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), served in the Army in 1951-1953 and was in the Korean War.

Former Pres. Jimmy Carter, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, was commissioned an Ensign in 1947 just as WWII ended.  He  spent 7 years in the Navy helping to create the nuclear submarine fleet and becoming a nuclear engineer. 

Former VP Walter Mondale, served in the U.S. Army from 1951-1953, including a tour in the Korean war.

Former Sen. and Presidential candidate, George McGovern, a famous liberal politician, was in the Army Air Force in WWII and earned the Silver Star for valor.


The list could be expanded on both sides.  Other forms of national service, such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or alternative service as a conscientious objector, etc. should all be counted as patriotic service, in my view.  But even for those who claim military service as THE form of patriotic service, this should disprove the conservative myth that Republicans are more patriotic and respect the military more than Democrats.  There is simply no basis for this view.

August 22, 2007 Posted by | human rights., myths, nonviolence, politics | 8 Comments

U.S. Evangelicals Send Bush Letter On Israel-Palestine

In case you missed it, as I did, at first, on 27 July 2007, a group of U.S. Evangelical Christian leaders sent President Bush a letter endorsing a two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace and urging more vigorous U.S. engagement in the peace process! They were, of course, denounced by Hagee and the “Christian Zionists,” but this did manage to quell the media-induced view that all U.S. evangelical Christians believe, with the “Christian Zionists,” that Palestinians have no claims on any part of the Land of Promise and that ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from “Greater Israel” is God’s will.

To view the original letter and its initial signatories, click here.  On this page you can add your own name in support, plus additional comments to the White House. (Keep them clean and Christlike, folks.)  You can see the names of additional signers (including yours truly) here.  I’d also suggest sending a copy of this letter to your local newspaper and to your Congressional Representative and both Senators.  Write an op-ed about it for your local paper.  If we break the image of evangelicals as uniformly “Zionist,” we may do as much for Middle East peace as anything else. After all, U.S. politicians of all stripes know that Evangelical Christians are a powerful voting bloc.  Many may be more stridently pro-anything-Israel-wants not out of personal conviction, but out of a desire to remain in office. So, maybe it would be a good idea to send the letter to your favorite presidential candidate (or all of them in both major parties!), too.  Maybe the simple realization that Jimmy Carter isn’t the only evangelical Christian who wants a two-state Middle East peace will allow these politicians to act on their best convictions, instead of out of a mistaken belief that they will lose ALL of a powerful constituency unless they back every move of the Israeli far right.

August 21, 2007 Posted by | Israel-Palestine | 6 Comments