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November 30, 2007

An Evangelical Christian for Peace

by Ronald J. Sider

(Photo by Robin Holland)

The following essay by Ronald J. Sider was originally posted on the blog on October 4, 2007. Since issuing this letter to the President urging for further Israel/Palestine negotiations, Evangelical leaders issued a new statement this week urging for a two-state solution to the conflict. We invite you to continue the conversation where it left off.

The religious right - whether Pat Robertson, James Dobson or Rev. Hagee of Christians United for Israel - simply do not represent the evangelical center.

Earlier this year, James Dobson and friends sent an open letter to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) – the largest evangelical network in the U.S. representing 30 million evangelicals – urging them to discipline or fire their VP for Public Policy. Why? Because Rich Cizik was speaking out on global warming. Dobson insisted the NAE should focus on what Dobson called the great moral issues of our time – i.e., the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and sexual abstinence outside marriage (Hagee would have added uncritical support for Israel).

What Dobson failed to understand is that the center of the evangelical world has changed dramatically. In a historic action in October 2004, the NAE's board of directors unanimously approved "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility (pdf)" as the official framework for all their political work. "The Bible makes it clear that God cares a great deal about the well-being of marriage, the family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, care for creation, peace, freedom, and racial justice," this document explicitly states. And it goes on to conclude that "faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda." This is an explicit rejection of the notion that the only "moral issues" evangelicals care about are abortion and marriage. And the second part of the NAE document devotes major sections not just to the sanctity of human life and marriage but also to economic justice, peacekeeping, religious freedom, human rights, and creation care.

Meeting on March 8-9, soon after they received the Dobson letter, the president and board of the NAE strongly supported Richard Cizik and pointedly and unanimously reaffirmed their commitment to the broader pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-creation care agenda developed in their historic declaration, "For the Health of the Nation."

In July, 34 prominent centrist evangelical leaders sent a letter to President Bush affirming his support for a two-state solution that is fair for both Israelis and Palestinians and urging the President to work much harder on this agenda. The letter also corrected the widespread view that all or most evangelicals are uncritically, one-sidedly pro-Israel. All evangelicals want a secure, safe, democratic Israel. But large numbers of evangelicals also want a just two-state solution and oppose a pre-emptive military strike on Iran.

Centrist evangelicals reject the key arguments of Christian Zionists.

Is there a biblical basis for supporting Israelis more than the Palestinians? Some point to God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you." Does that text mean that we ought to uncritically support the modern state of Israel? Hardly. The biblical prophets repeatedly taught that God demands justice of all people, starting with his chosen people. When the Israelis acted unjustly, God punished them. The best way Christians today can bless the descendants of the ancient Israelites is to urge them to practice the universal justice that their prophets proclaimed to the world. Today that means a fair, two-state solution.

Others will argue from a dispensationalist, pre-millennialist theology that God has established the modern state of Israel as a necessary part of the end-time scenario, preparing for Christ's second coming in the very near future (see Hal Lindsey's LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH and the Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins' LEFT BEHIND novels.) But this idea poses huge problems. For one thing, Christians for centuries have been pressing the imagery of Daniel and Revelation to find detailed predictions about the end of the world – all of which have proved foolish and wrong!

To suggest that we know that Christ will return in the next few decades is flatly unbiblical. Jesus even said he did not know the time of his second coming (Matthew 24:36) – beware of people who claim to know more than Jesus!

I pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I pray for peace and justice for all people in Israel/Palestine. I pray that American politicians exercise vigorous leadership to urge all parties concerned to make the necessary compromises to bring about a just, two-state solution.

Ronald J. Sider
Evangelicals for Social Action

Bill Moyers Rewind: Tu Wei-Ming (1990)

This week, THE JOURNAL examines the interconnections between Christianity, Judaism, Islam and modern politics. For an alternative perspective on how religion and politics can inform one another, we bring you an excerpt from Bill Moyers' 1990 conversation with historian and Confucian scholar, Tu Wei-Ming for the series, A WORLD OF IDEAS.

(To watch this interview in full, click here)

Bill Moyers' first question asks:

"With all the world's major religions being 15 centuries old or older, do you think in this new era that these old faiths have anything to say to us?"

How would you answer this question? Tell us by commenting below.

Update: Minority Media Ownership & Consolidation

Readers following the story of minority media ownership amidst increasing consolidation will want to take a look at Out of the Picture 2007 (pdf), a newly updated report on minority and female ownership of commercial broadcast TV stations. Issued by Free Press, a nonpartisan media reform organization, the report finds that minority ownership steeply declined in 2007 and argues that it is likely to fall further if FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s reform proposals are implemented.

According to S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press and lead author of the report:

“Minority television ownership is in such a precarious state that the loss of a single minority-owned company results in a disastrous decline. Permitting any more consolidation will only further diminish the number of minority-owned stations.”

We invite you to discuss this topic by commenting below.

November 29, 2007

Manuel Vásquez Addresses Your Questions

After the lively immigration discussion on this blog over the past few weeks, sociology professor Manuel Vásquez has addressed some of the questions that viewers had asked following his interview.

Stay tuned in coming weeks as the JOURNAL delves deeper into the immigration debate to explore various perspectives on this most contentious issue, and feel free to discuss Vásquez's response below.

November 20, 2007

Bill Moyers Asks: What is the Meaning of the Nooses?

In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers put the following question to Dr. James Cone:

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the current spate of the appearances of the noose again? Up comes this story right here from the suburbs of New York -- a noose found in the basement locker room of the village police department. The deputy chief of police is black. And then you've got Jena and you've got what happened at Columbia [University], near your office.

Do you think these people understand what that's the symbol of? Of what actually happened to human beings when that noose was placed around the neck? Or is this just some kind of grim game?

We invite you to discuss your answers to Bill Moyers' question below.

Photo: Robin Holland

Bill Moyers Rewind: The Songs are Free

Below is an excerpt from THE SONGS ARE FREE with Bernice Johnson Reagon and Bill Moyers, which originally aired on February, 6, 1991

We invite you to respond by commenting below.

November 16, 2007

Examining the Discourse on Immigration

Photo: Robin Holland

In this week’s JOURNAL, Professor Manuel Vásquez suggests that some vehement grassroots opposition to extending citizenship to illegal immigrants is based in prejudice:

“Perhaps that’s one of the things that threatens some of the people who are restrictionist – that they see some of these immigrants maintaining loyalty, maintaining their language, maintaining their culture to some extent. And for them this is a threatening situation because they think of sovereignty very much in an exclusivist way… [After] the first World War, we shut the door. And for a while that door was pretty much closed. And we had tight limits on who could be admitted. And of course, before that, we had the Asian, the “Yellow Peril,” right? The Chinese Exclusion Act... this whole concept of illegality is really problematic, because it really doesn't go to the complexities of the situation.”

But political analyst Michael Barone writes in a column that while allegations of nativism — hostile exclusion of immigrants simply to protect the cultural dominance of existing citizens — are common, restrictionists are motivated by other concerns:

“Democrats — and Mr. Bush — are out of line with public opinion on this. That became clear as the Senate debated a comprehensive immigration bill in May and June. Most Republicans and many Democrats, in the Senate and among the public, turned against the bill. Its supporters tended to ascribe that to something like racism: They just don't like having so many Mexicans around. But if you listened to the opponents, you heard something else. They want the current law enforced. It bothers them that we have something like 12 million illegal immigrants in our country. It bothers them that most of the southern border is unfenced and unpatrolled. It bothers them that illegal immigrants routinely use forged documents to get jobs — or are given jobs with no documents at all. You don't have to be a racist to be bothered by such things. You just have to be a citizen who thinks massive failure to enforce the law is corrosive to society.”

What do you think?

  • How big a part does prejudice play in the current discourse regarding immigration?
  • Is it fair to group the current grassroots movement against illegal immigration with nativist movements of the past?
  • Do accusations of racism ignore "the complexities of the situation" in a similar way that Vásquez argues the terms "amnesty" and "illegal" do?

    Still have immigration questions? Manuel Vásquez addressed viewer questions at this link.

  • Watch & React: Turkey Creek

    While investigating the state of Katrina recovery along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, JOURNAL producer William Brangham met a local community activist named Derrick Evans. For several years, Evans has been trying to protect his hometown community -- the historic black settlement of Turkey Creek, Mississippi. Filmmaker Leah Mahan has been following Derrick Evans and the story of the fight to save Turkey Creek for several years.

    The video clip above is an excerpt from Mahan's documentary, which is still in production. The clip begins in 2001 and is an introduction to the story of how this citizens' movement began when Turkey Creek's historic cemetery was bulldozed to build an apartment complex. Now, in the aftermath of Katrina, Turkey Creek has joined dozens of other communities along the Gulf Coast to push for an equitable recovery. To find out more about Leah Mahan's film, please visit www.turkeycreekproject.org.

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    Media Consolidation: A primer on making your opinion heard

    By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

    Media laws and regulations are complex. And the process that establishes them is positively byzantine – a complex dance that involves not only the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but also Congress, the White House, courts, cabinet-level departments, and other agencies, as well.

    So here's a primer on how to tell the powers that be what you think about the current controversy over media consolidation that we cover on this week's JOURNAL:

    (Photo: Robin Holland)

    The first steps are likely to be taken by the FCC. Its chairman, Kevin J. Martin, has proposed changing what's known as the ”Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule” (pdf) – in other words, he wants to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations in the cities where they're published.

    Martin argues that the change would only affect the country's 20 largest urban areas, but his Democratic colleagues on the FCC disagree (pdf). Martin has set a deadline of Dec. 11 for public comments; sources in Washington tell us that the FCC is likely to vote a week later, on Dec. 18.

    You can file a comment with the FCC online. Click on the circle next to "Media Ownership Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking - Docket 06-121," then click "Continue" at the bottom of the page. You can also send comments straight to each of the five commissioners – or the FCC as a whole – via email, phone, fax, or mail. If you choose one of those routes, make sure you mention that you're commenting on "Docket 06-121" - the bureaucracy's name for Martin's proposal.

    Congress is getting involved, too. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) have introduced The Media Ownership Act of 2007, which would delay the FCC vote on Martin's proposal and require the Commission to examine how local communities have been affected by media consolidation. You can find out how to contact your Senators here.

    At the FCC hearing in Seattle – which we cover on this week's Journal – Commissioner Michael J. Copps offered one more suggestion: Go straight to the top and let the White House know what you think.

    This debate may drag on for months. Martin's agenda has taken flack from Democrats and Republicans alike. Some media firms say it doesn't go far enough. The last time the FCC voted to loosen ownership rules, in 2003, both the Senate and the federal courts got involved.

    So keep watching THE JOURNAL, because we'll follow the story.

    Ask Manuel Vásquez...

    After watching Bill Moyers' interview with sociologist and religious scholar Manuel Vásquez, do you have further questions about immigration policy? What are the current options on the table? What would his ideal program look like?

    We are no longer accepting questions, but you can find Professor Vasquez's response to viewer questions and offer your comments at this link.

    Photo: Robin Holland

    November 12, 2007

    Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace

    On this Veterans day, we invite you to take a look back at Bill Moyers' interview with author, Maxine Hong Kingston, originally broadcast on Memorial day of this year:

    For the past 15 years, Kingston has been working with veterans - more than 500 soldiers from World War II, from Vietnam, and now, from Iraq - as well as other survivors of war to convert the horrors they experienced into the words and stories that Kingston believes will help them cope and survive. Read excerpts from the collection of writings by veterans and their families.

    Photo: Robin Holland

    November 8, 2007

    Bill Moyers Rewind: Henry Steele Commager (1974)

    Back in 1974, on the first season of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with American historian Henry Steele Commager about the Presidency, impeachment, and the Constitution, on the the eve of Nixon's resignation. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

    Click here to watch this interview in its entirety. To watch Bill Moyers recent impeachment panel featuring conservative scholar Bruce Fein and journalist John Nichols, click here.

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    November 5, 2007

    Bill Moyers Essay: Takin' It to the Streets, Again

    Can't Play This Video? Click here for quicktime and windows media versions

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    The Net @ Risk update

    by Rick Karr

    Since we're talking about media this week, it seems to be a good time for an update on the fight over “net neutrality."

    (If you're not familiar with the term, all you need to know is that this battle is a lot like the one over media ownership that we cover on this week's show: It involves the FCC, and it pits media conglomerates – in this case the cable and telephone giants that Rick Karr by Robin Hollandprovide most Americans with Internet service – against the public interest. For a more detailed explanation, check out the web page for the documentary that we broadcast on the subject last year.)

    Public-interest advocates say net neutrality is essential to preserving openness, innovation, and free expression online. Cable and telephone conglomerates and their allies argue that net neutrality is a “solution in search of a problem” -- in other words, that they'd never censor or otherwise interfere with online content.

    But a few recent incidents have cast doubt on the conglomerates' claims, according to net neutrality advocates.

    (Photo: Robin Holland)

    In August, phone and Internet giant AT&T offered an exclusive webcast of a Chicago-area concert featuring the band Pearl Jam. When the band played its song “Daughter,” singer Eddie Vedder altered some lyrics to take a swipe at the President, singing, “George Bush, leave this world alone," and "George Bush find yourself another home." But the concert's online audience never heard those lyrics because AT&T cut them from the webcast. A spokesperson for the telecom behemoth said it was a mistake, but later admitted to other, similar “mistakes” in the past.

    In September, another phone and Internet giant – Verizon – prohibited abortion-rights group NARAL from sending a mass text message to supporters' cell phones. Verizon quickly reversed the decision, but neutrality advocates called it a chilling sign of the power that telecom firms have over free speech. While the incident involved cell phones, rather than the Internet, neutrality advocates said it showed how Internet firms could – and would – censor online content they don't like.

    Finally, just last month, cable and Internet giant Comcast blocked some customers' access to an online network called BitTorrent, which allows users to share music, movies, and TV shows for free – much like the original Napster program that incurred the wrath of the record industry in the late 90s. But neutrality advocates said Comcast's move wasn't merely a strike against online “piracy”: BitTorrent could also become a new (and legitimate) way for TV and movie viewers to see whatever they want, whenever they want – in other words, competition for Comcast's existing cable TV business.

    A coalition of pro-neutrality groups has asked the FCC to look into the Comcast incident. Meanwhile, politicians have been speaking up for net neutrality: Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has promised to defend net neutrality
    if he's elected, and Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have renewed their call for a law protecting net neutrality.

    We hope to update the story on a future broadcast. Stay tuned.

    November 2, 2007

    News Polarization & Ethnic Media

    In this week’s JOURNAL, WVON Chicago radio program director Coz Carson says:

    “There’s a great deal of mistrust for mainstream media when it comes to African-American issues. So when we approach people, when we ask them to speak to us, they feel like they’re speaking with family, they’re speaking with people who understand their plight.”

    A paper from Stanford University's Political Communications Lab about political preferences and news polarization argues that since “people prefer to encounter information that they find supportive or consistent with their existing beliefs” there is a “real possibility that news will no longer serve as the ‘social glue’ that connects all Americans… [as they turn] to biased but favored providers.”

    What do you think?

  • Can this conclusion be applied to ethnic media as well?
  • Does news coverage from specific ethnic media outlets for specific ethnic groups contribute to the polarization of the news?
  • Do ethnic media serve their communities in ways the mainstream media can’t? If so, how?

  • The Missing Class

    This week, professor Katherine Newman discussed the “missing class” – millions of Americans who are technically above the poverty line but still far from a middle-class standard of living.

    “It’s a fragile existence because they don’t really have the security that comes with owning a home, for example, or having a savings account, or any of the other buffers the rest of us have – and they don’t qualify for federal benefits for the most part… They can’t get Medicaid because they’re too wealthy for that. They don’t get food stamps. They don’t get subsidized housing, for the most part. So we don’t really think about them very much. We don’t even track how many of them we have.”

    Most of the estimated 50 million members of this class remain missing, at least in the national discourse. In the interview, Newman introduced us to just two families from the nine that it took her seven years to write about, and all from the New York area.

    What do you think?

  • Do you have stories of “missing” individuals and families? How is this class represented in your community?
  • Given professor Newman’s perspectives and analyses of a “missing class”, how can we best serve this demographic? What should the government’s role be?

  • Photo: Robin Holland

    Is the Internet the antidote to media consolidation?

    by Rick Karr

    Rick Karr by Robin HollandA majority of Americans (pdf) think media consolidation is a bad thing, as we report in this week's JOURNAL. So why do Republican members of the FCC want to allow more consolidation?

    The answer, in two words, is "the Internet”. Let's look at the argument that leads up to that conclusion:

    (Photo: Robin Holland)

    It goes like this: From the 1930s through the 90s, it made sense for government to limit how many broadcast stations a single firm could own because the number of broadcast frequencies was itself limited. In a big city, a hundred or so radio and television stations might be able cram into the available slots on the AM and FM radio and VHF and UHF TV bands, but no more. The ownership limits ensured that no individual or company could monopolize a city's airwaves.

    But the Internet changed everything, according to this argument. Republican FCC appointee Deborah Taylor Tate made the case in her opening statement (pdf) at the Commission's September hearing in Chicago: Earlier in the day, she said, she'd spoken to students at Northwestern University's Law School, and asked them how they got their news:

    While some of the students continue to rely on local radio and television, the most significant response might have been one that we didn't even ask about – blogs. From student responses it was clear that blogs represent a growing sector of America's news information sources. Today, the Internet enables individuals of any age to be writers, editors and publishers of news....

    She could easily have added “broadcasters” to that last sentence, because of all it takes to set up an Internet radio or TV station is a decent home computer, a microphone for radio or camcorder for video, and a high-speed Internet connection. In other words, nowadays anyone can be a broadcaster; there's no longer a limit to the number of radio and TV stations that can be heard or seen in a given city. So there's less of a need to limit how many traditional radio and TV stations a single firm can own.

    That's the argument. Reality is more complex.

    Bloggers and online broadcasters are filling in gaps left by the traditional media – and covering topics rarely heard on radio or seen on TV. Sticking to Chicago, as we do on this week's show, and merely scratching the surface, one can find blogs on the city's real estate bubble, its blues music scene, a passionate devotee of knitting, even a blog on blogs. And some alternative news, too. The city's also home to Internet radio stations that feature music and information rarely heard on the air.

    So the Internet has changed the media landscape. But traditional media still have the advantage: You can't listen to live internet radio as you drive home from work. You can't effectively read a blog as you ride a train or bus to work. And when it comes to journalism, online media lack the resources to compete with old-media giants like the Chicago Tribune, with its hundreds of reporters and editors – employees whose salaries are paid, in part, by advertising revenue generated by the newspaper's radio and TV stations.

    Perhaps more importantly, radios and television sets are cheap and nearly ubiquitous; they pull signals out of thin air and turn them into sounds and pictures ... for free. Internet connections, on the other hand, aren't as ubiquitous, and they cost money. It takes a high-speed connection to receive a good web radio signal – and an even better one to broadcast online. But the phone and cable companies that provide those internet connections – again, keeping our focus on Chicago – have been slow to hook up minority neighborhoods. Even when good connections are available, they're too expensive for many residents. So the very people who say they've been shut out of the traditional media – in part as a result of consolidation, as we report on this week's show – have a hard time turning to the internet as an alternative.

    One last note: The phone and cable companies that provide online service want the right to pick and choose – to decide which blogs you can easily read and which webcasters you can easily tune into. If those conglomerates get what they want, Big Media will have an even greater advantage over bloggers and webcasters. That's known as the “net neutrality” debate, and I update it in another post here.

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