Magazine article The Christian Century

Running on Hope: Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

Magazine article The Christian Century

Running on Hope: Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

Article excerpt

IN JUNE, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a professor in the justice and peace studies program at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, ended his bid for the US. Senate after Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party picked Al Franken as its nominee. Nelson-Pallmeyer was endorsed by 35 percent of the delegates at the DFL state convention. A Lutheran with a degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York, he is author of more than a dozen books about religion and politics, including Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus (Trinity Press International, 2001) and School of Assassins: Guns, Greed and Globalization (Orbis, 2001).

How would you describe your career?

I heard someone describe me as a liberation theologian rooted in the nonviolence of Jesus. I would describe myself more as an activist academic who has dedicated his life to the relationship between faith and politics.

How did you come to run for the U.S. Senate?

Over the years people who have heard me speak have approached me and said, "You should run for public office." My response was always very quick: "No, I am not interested." I value the independence of my voice.

In fall 2005, at the annual School of the Americas Watch protest at the combat training school in Fort Benning, Georgia, a man whom I did not know said, "Jack, some of us have been talking and we think that you should challenge Martin Sabo." Sabo was a 28-year incumbent Democrat in Minnesota's fifth congressional district. I said, "Maybe." I had to pay attention to that maybe. I ended up running for Congress. Sabo dropped out of the race, and Keith Ellison got the DFL endorsement and was elected.

I became a candidate because I believe that the political arena is too important to leave to special interests and because I feel a profound sense of urgency. Our country is like a car going 150 miles an hour headed for a cliff, and the best our leaders are offering is to slow the car down to 100 miles an hour. We have to stop the car, and we have to choose a different path.

But I also believe that this urgent time can be a hopeful time if we face problems with honesty and courage. That's what I was offering people in this race--a different kind of politics, rooted in honesty, hope and a call to action. I was very clear that this election was not about how bad someone else was. The election had to be about us: what we are willing to do, our vision of the future and how we are willing to work toward that future.

What were the positive outcomes of your campaign?

Although I did not get the party endorsement, my message clearly won. I find that very hopeful.

We have to help our country transition from the role of being the dominant military power to being a good global partner. Everything depends on that transition. Right now the country's leaders are trying to hold on to that dominant role. The result is that we are unraveling from within. Every effort to hold on to our dominance in the world through military means is accelerating the pace of our economic decline. This is what I was talking about in the race. I was talking about it in VFW halls around the state. Just ten years ago, people would have thrown me out. This time around they were nodding and saying, "He's right."


I would say, "Here's a choice. Either we can spend $10 trillion to import oil over the next ten years and fight an endless series of wars to access that oil or we can build a renewable-energy economy." Everywhere I went, people wanted that alternative option.

I viewed my role in the campaign as an educator. So when I would tell people that we were spending 88 times more on developing new weapons systems than on addressing climate change, they would be alarmed. When I would say, you've got $79 billion and you can spend it in two areas: building new weapons or developing renewable energy. …

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