God's Politics

God's Politics

Fasting for Jubilee on Capitol Hill by David Duncombe

From September 6 – October 15, individuals and congregations will commit to fasting for a day or more in order to call for debt cancellation for desperately poor nations, joining Jubilee USA in supporting the Jubilee Act, H.R. 2634. (See Sojourners’ August issue for coverage of the debt crisis.)

Rev. David Duncombe will be fasting, praying, and lobbying for all six weeks of the Jubilee USA fast. In 1999 and again in 2000, he engaged in 45-day lobbying fasts, part of an effort that helped to bring about Congress’ authorization of $435 million to forgive some debts owed to the United States. Here, Duncombe reflects on what it’s like to fast for justice while offering a prophetic—and pastoral—voice on Capitol Hill.

A typical day in the sixth week of my water-only fast would find me hobbling down the corridor of the House office building, leaning into my walker and headed for the office of a Republican member of the Financial Services Committee. Today I had with me a published statement on debt cancellation by the bishop of the congressman’s church—which I hoped he would read.

This would perhaps be my fourth visit to his office. Although I had yet to meet him personally, I’d gotten to know his chief of staff and some of his front-office people. We’d talked of how foreign debt is crushing impoverished third world nations and how Jubilee’s bill (H.R. 2634) proposed to cancel most of it. (I’d also done some informal marriage counseling with their harried receptionist.)

I’d been up since three this morning, in prayer and preparation for the six or seven office visits I’d make today if my strength held out. Each day it was harder to make my rounds down these long corridors. Yet often when I felt at the end of my rope, a refreshing surge of new energy came and I hobbled on.

As I grew thinner and weaker, office staff would ask, “How’s it going today, Reverend?” Some began to worry about me. With a smile, I told them I was doing better than most of the 50,000 or so who starved to death that day (and whose plight I hoped to symbolize by my wasted body).

If my upcoming fast goes like my previous two extended fasts for debt cancellation in Washington, its effectiveness will depend not so much on what I say on my office visits, but on what is said by the fast itself—the day-to-day silent witness of a body growing visibly weaker. In a sense, a fast like this takes on a life of its own apart from me. There is something of a sacramental quality to the fast, something that carries its own grace and power. I am simply a vehicle for a fasting body, the sight of which seems to touch the souls of others.

Rev. David Duncombe, a retired campus minister and social activist, lives in White Salmon, Washington.

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Beth Johnson

posted August 7, 2007 at 5:31 pm

To David Duncome, one of my favorite mentors at Yale Divinity School —
I can’t believe you’re “still at it” — fasting for theological and political issues — at YOUR AGE!
Wow! I totally admire what you’re doing. I’d like to support your upcoming fast. What do you need? Maybe I should fast along with you, at home (now in Arizona) and rally others to fast as well.
I am currently Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of CrossWalk America, a small-and-growing national organization that had 6 of its members walk across this entire country last summer, 2006, to stop in towns large and small, to encourage dialogue about Jesus’ core teachings – mainly Jesus’ teaching about compassion and love for all of humankind. Is there any way that CrossWalk America can help with your fast? We don’t take political positions, but we have been known to support the initiatives of other organizations when they align with our theological premises (captured in the book, “The Phoenix Affirmations”).
I’ll look forward to hearing from you, David.
Peace and grace,
Rev. Beth Johnson, UCC, YDS 1984

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Carole Powell

posted August 7, 2007 at 6:29 pm

David, thank you for your witness to God’s prescence in our world. Such faith cannot go unrewarded. You are an inspiration and i pray that one day i to will develop such faith that i will follow your example. My prayers join yours in freedom from debt for all those who suffer and i pray that those of us that have so much recognise the part that we play in this sufferring.
May God bless abundantly all that you do.
Carole, Queensland, Australia

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posted August 8, 2007 at 8:50 am

Why aren’t we talking about the resturcturing of the debt so that it can be repaid but at a rate that the country can handle. The money was offered in good faith. I think that restructuring should be the first thing considered because that is a ‘win-win’ for everyone.
Just my thought –

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Truth Seeker

posted August 8, 2007 at 11:38 am

I must agree with Moderatelad on this one, but I must add an aditional factor. The loans procurred by many of these smaller, poorer countries were done so by their own government with the full-knowledge of repaying them back. What many fail to recognize is that the majority of the money is lining the pockets of corrupt African and Asian politicians who absolutely refuse to give it to their country men.
Instead of cancelling the debt, we need to go after the corrupt politicians and demand that they give the money back. To cancel the debt would give the politicians a green light and would say “it’s okay that you are mean and evil” which would be a greater injustice to the poor. No, true justice would demand that these corrupt politicians be held responsible for their actions and made to repay the money back. True justice requires the calling out of evil men.
A pointless fast will not bring justice to Africa. Bringing these men to court and exposing them for the liars, theives, and evil men that they are will bring justice.
Thank you!

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posted August 9, 2007 at 10:23 am

I respect what David Duncombe is doing. Fasts are powerful vehicles to move the hand of God. What I am unclear about is the message it is sending to the politicians. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18
16″When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
I understand politicians are all about the show, the impact and the “what’s in it for me.” How does this show of a fast impact them on a spiritual level?

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jennifer h

posted August 9, 2007 at 3:28 pm

John, I believe this fast is different because it is meant to show the effects of poverty and hunger. I think the verse is getting at trying to look spiritual by telling everyone about your fast (a fast to pray and reconnect with God).
While this fast certainly has spiritual elements, it is designed to encourage justice. Seeing the effects of this fast isn’t designed to get personal attention, but to direct attention to the nations that don’t have the choice.
Thanks David for all you continue to do! I plan to encourage friends and family to join in.

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posted August 10, 2007 at 1:17 pm

What is the Biblical warrant for forcing the forgiving of lawful and voluntarily engaged loans? My Christian duty and obligation is to fulfil my committments…and to make sure I don’t take on debts out of a coveting heart.
Many of these countries are not even Christian in character, and are perversely corrupt.

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posted August 14, 2007 at 1:27 am

Adamswulff, I don’t think it matters that many of these countries are not Christian in character or are perversely corrupt. Frankly, the United States is most definitely not Christian in character (and has never really been) and our government is also perversely corrupt.
The fact is people are starving and dying because of these debts. Perhaps we disagree on the method to relieve the people of the effects of debt, but regardless, something must be done.
Also, no-one is suggesting we should “force” the forgiving of these loans! Where did you ever get that idea? There is nothing we can do to “force” our government to pass the Jubilee Act. All we can do is show our support through prophetic witness and acts of solidarity. It’s up to our members of Congress and our government to decide how they want to act.
When you post, don’t try and misrepresent that which you argue against. It’s not very “Christian in character”, and it’s just not a very good debate tactic.

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