August 31, 2005

Our Creator is NOT a Murderer


Sollicitudo Rei Socialis
Nathan Nelson, Webmaster

People of Faith Declare: "Our Creator is NOT a Murderer."

(08/31/2005, 10:30 P.M. EDT) - In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people of faith are coming together to speak out in protest against those who claim that the hurricane was an act of God to punish New Orleans and the rest of the United States. A petition condemning such claims and affirming a loving Creator is being sponsored by Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, a weblog committed to examination of social justice and politics from a Catholic perspective.

Addressed to the American faith community, the petition also addresses a statement made by Michael Marcavage, director of the evangelical Christian organizaton Repent America. In reference to New Orleans, Marcavage stated that "this act of God [Hurricane Katrina] destroyed a wicked city." Marcavage also made reference to an annual festival held by the New Orleans gay community, called Southern Decadence, stating that "Hurricane Katrina has put an end to the annual celebration of sin."

In response, the petition, entitled "Our Creator is NOT a Murderer," states that the signatories "do not believe that the Creator of all things would destroy whole cities, kill hundreds if not thousands of innocent people, and damage our whole nation's infrastructure as punishment for purported sins." The petition goes on to say: "Our various faith traditions teach us that our Creator is loving and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness. If there is one thing we can come together to affirm even in our diversity, it is the basic truth that our Creator loves us and also calls us to love one another." The petition concludes by exhorting those "who have committed this act of scandal" to apologize and affirm an all-loving God. The petition affirms the need for acts of kindness in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, and declares that "it is through love, not through hatred, that we will come out of this time of national crisis."

The petition was written by Nathan Nelson, one of eight contributors for Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, a Catholic weblog founded in February 2005 to address social and political issues from the perspective of Catholic social thought. Although sponsored by a Catholic weblog, the petition is intended for all people of faith in the United States and in other countries.

To view the petition, visit:

For more information, visit:

Or contact: Nathan Nelson, or

# # #

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis is a Catholic group weblog seeking to joyfully proclaim moderate, left of center, and nonpartisan social and political principles from the perspective of Catholic social thought. Nathan Nelson is a 21-year-old gay activist from the Catholic tradition and a proud member of both the Green Party and the larger Reality-Based Community.

Did It Have to Happen?

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which has still not been fully realized, some are asking the question: Did this have to happen? According to the Editor & Publisher, it didn't. An article published yesterday is accusing the Bush administration of diverting funds for hurricane- and flood-control to the Iraq War, leaving New Orleans' levees vulnerable to breaches. Of course, we know that the flooding in New Orleans would not have been nearly as devastating if two of New Orleans' levees had not broken. According to the article, local officials said that if the funds had been there for hurricane protection, "the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be."

As Catholic Christians, our primary responsibility right now is to pray for and offer assistance to those who have been so affected by Hurricane Katrina. That doesn't mean that this should be a period of zero accountability for President Bush and the federal government. After September 11, we were too ready in the face of national disaster to sit back and pretend that the President was some kind of demi-god who could do no wrong. We must not let that happen again. If President Bush and the federal government are in any way responsible for the destruction in New Orleans or other parts of the Gulf Coast, we the people must hold them accountable. If indeed funds were diverted from protection of our own national infrastructure to President Bush's unjust war in Iraq, it's time for him to be held accountable for that. We have been told time and time again that the Iraq War is keeping us safer at home; in light of this evidence, it seems that the opposite is true.

We must demand accountability. If not now, in the face of our nation's worst disaster, with the possibility that its worst impact could have been reduced, then when?

August 30, 2005

Poverty Rate Rises to 12.7%

Whoa! …. this just in from the Washington Post … Poverty Rate Rises to 12.7 Percent!

Even with a robust economy that was adding jobs last year, the number of Americans who fell into poverty rose to 37 million - up 1.1 million from 2003 - according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday. It marks the fourth straight increase in the government's annual poverty measure.

Not good people. Not good at all. This is getting serious!

Argue if you like about what the numbers mean. That seems to be what the usual suspects are doing in predictable fashion, according to the Washington Post article.

But poverty is not good, whether it's 12.7 percent or .07 percent of the population. We need to do something not just argue about it. And by we, I do mean we. All of us.

In their 2002 Statement "A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God's Children," the US Catholic Bishops used the image of a table as a way to understand the problem of poverty - and its solutions.

A table is a place where people come together to eat, but many people do not find a place at that table and go hungry.

A table is where people meet to discuss and make decisions. I think of the debates we had as a family at Sunday dinner. But many people do not have a place at this table either and have little or no voice in economic or political life.

A table is where we Catholics come together to celebrate the Eucharist so we can go forth to live the Gospel and transform the world. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "The Eucharist commits us to the poor" (no. 1397).

The Bishops continue their table analogy by talking about the four legs the table stands on.

1. People like you and me provide for our own families and work to ensure the rights of others.
2. Churches and other community groups help families make good choices, fight injustice and build community.
3. Business and labor act as both engines of growth and contributors to the common good by insuring decent work and wages.
4. Government provides a safety net for the vulnerable, overcomes injustice and addresses problems beyond the reach of the individual and small communities.

With a poverty rate of 12.7% in the United States the table is obviously too small, not enough places are set, and the legs are wobbly and not holding up their end of the bargain.

I suspect that if this figure gets any press, the debate will focus on business doing too much or too little or government doing too much or too little or the need for churches and non profits to do more or for people to pull themselves up by their own boot straps.

The bishops recognize this tendency in their 2002 Statement:

The debate about how to address poverty in the United States and abroad too often focuses on just one of these four foundations and neglects others. While these four elements work together in different ways in different communities, a table may fall without each leg. …

These narrow positions are not our tradition. The Catholic way is to recognize the essential role and the complementary responsibilities of families, communities, the market, and government to work together to overcome poverty and advance human dignity.

I end this post with word from the First Letter of St. John that also close the Bishops' Statement. They say it best:

"If you have more than enough material possessions and see your neighbors in need yet close your hearts to them, how can the love of God be living in you? My children, our love must not be simply words or mere talk – it must be true love, which shows itself in action and truth." -1 John 3: 17-18

How to Help

Hurricane Katrina seems to be winding down now, but there can be no question that the people of New Orleans and other parts of the South are going to need a lot of help in Katrina's aftermath. Here's what you can do to help:

  • Our Catholic readers can donate to Catholic Charities' Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Fund. Monetary contributions only, please. Find out more here.

  • Our Non-Catholic Christian readers (or our Catholic readers) can donate to the Church World Service, the relief agency of the National Council of Churches. The Church World Service accepts monetary contributions for the U.S. Hurricane Response Fund, contributions to the Tools of Hope & Blanket Program, and contributions to the Gift of the Heart Kit Program. More information here.

  • Any of our readers can donate to the American Red Cross. Contributions for Hurricane Katrina should be directed to the Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund. Monetary contributions only, please. For more information, click here.

Let us also lift up the family and friends of Ed Deluzain, many of whom live in New Orleans, in our prayers today. And let us remember all of the people of New Orleans and the American South who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina, as well as those throughout the United States who will be affected by Katrina as she becomes a tropical storm and then a tropical depression. May God our Father take all of those who have lost their lives into his arms; may he comfort their families and friends; may he help all of those who have lost homes and other property; and may he strengthen and guide those who will be providing disaster relief. We ask this through Christ our Lord, in union with the prayers of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, St. Louis IX, and all the angels and saints. Amen.

Please Note: The information for the Church World Service and the American Red Cross has been updated. Both have now created funds specifically for hurricane relief. Instead of donating to the American Red Cross National Disaster Relief Fund, donate to the Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund. For the Church World Service, monetary contributions should be directed to the U.S. Hurricane Response Fund. Any further updates will be posted to this entry.

August 28, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans is my home town, and I've got a great many relatives there. My chief concern is my sister and brother-in-law, my two nieces and nephews-in-law, and my great-nephew, Luke, who is only three months old. I think they're all as safe as anybody can be there now, and they're in a huge Hilton Hotel downtown. They have four dogs, a cat, and a baby, and they're going to be just fine. I just talked to my sister and my niece, and they have several rooms.

In his last post, Nathan mentioned Our Lady of Prompt Succor in relation to the hurricane. I don't think Our Lady of Prompt Succor (Our Lady of Quick Help) is that well known outside of south Louisiana, but she should be. She's the patron saint of New Orleans. That's the Blessed Virgin Mary, of course, just under a slightly different title than most know.

She was introduced to New Orleans is 1810 by the Ursuline Sisters. The Ursulines had been in New Orleans since 1727, when they founded their school. That school is still very much in existence, by the way, and doing very well. Ursuline Academy in New Orleans is 278 years old. The Catholic high school I went to is only 136 years old, so we're kind of an upstart by the standards of the Ursulines. I wonder how many other Catholic high schools or colleges can match either of those longevity records.

Anyway, the Ursuline Sisters brought devotion to Our Lady of Prompt Succor to New Orleans, and it took off. Catholics in New Orleans have always stormed heaven with prayer in the name of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in time of war (the War of 1812 and the Civil War), and especially, and more frequently, in time of hurricanes. We say, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us. And she does.

As Hurricane Katrina is about to attack the city of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, I can only say, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us.

Pray for New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina, now a Category 5 hurricane, is going to slam directly into New Orleans. According to all reports, this will cause massive flooding and overwhelming structural damage. All we can do is pray. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Patroness of Louisana, and St. Louis IX, Patron of New Orleans, pray for us.

August 27, 2005

Catholic Contributions

Today the Catholic News Service reported the following:

Catholics in the U.S. contribute about 1 percent of their income to the church while Protestants contribute 2 percent to 2.5 percent, a Villanova University economics professor told a stewardship conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Here's the link: click here.

This is definitely an apples and oranges comparison. The study compares the contributions of Catholics to their parishes to the contributions of Protestants to their parishes. But Catholics have so many more claims on their contributions.

Colleges, high schools, grammar schools; the communities of the nuns, brothers, and priests who ran those schools they attended; the missions; the education of seminarians; the retirement fund for religious; Peter's Pence. And the list goes on.

I have no data to back this up, so just know that this is total speculation. But I would dare say that Catholics in the United States are the most generous Catholics in the world. We contribute a whole lot more than 1%.

August 25, 2005

Waiting in Venezuela

While the focus of late has been on Pat Robertson's rather unfortunate slip of the tongue, an article in today's Independent looked at how people in Venezuela feel about their president and about those who want to "take him out."

Since the Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez, their own left-wing democrat, in a 1998 landslide, they have been waiting for their 11 September. That's why it did not surprise anyone here this week when Pat Robertson - one of America's leading evangelicals and a friend of George Bush - openly called for a US-backed murder of their President.

In the four corners of the Plaza Bolivar - Caracas's Trafalgar Square - there are groups of citizens who work in shifts, waiting, permanently waiting, to mobilise for when an attack on Chavez happens. They are known as the "hot corners", and everybody in the city knows to head there if there is an attack on Venezuela's elected leader.

Laydez Primera, 34, has been doing an eight-hour shift. He explains: " Los esqualidos [the squalid ones, as the opposition is often called] and Bush have tried everything to get rid of Chavez. They know we have elected him in totally open elections, but they don't care. They have tried forcing a recall referendum in the middle of Chavez's term, but the President won by 60 per cent. They have tried saying the elections were rigged, but the opposition asked Jimmy Carter to come and watch the elections, and he said they were totally free. He didn't say that about the election of Bush in Florida! And they even tried staging a coup. We will never, never forget that."

Several months back there was an article in the Washington Post about how Liberation Theology has not quite died out in South America. Reading the Indy article reminded me one, why it has survived despite the Vatican's attempts to stamp it out, and two, why we still need it. While it's had its problems and excesses, it has also matured, as have leftist movements in South America. And I look with a cautious optimism to see how a renewed preferrential option for the poor will play out down South.

A Prayer Request

Hey guys. As you've probably noticed, I've not been blogging much over the past few days. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I've been busier than usual. But the second reason is that I've been in a bit of a funk, which is mostly a spiritual funk but also somewhat related to more "worldly" concerns. ;) I would appreciate your prayers for me, and I hope to be back to normal in a week or two.

I've cross-posted this to all three of the blogs I contribute to; my apologies to those who regularly read all three of them.

Pope Benedict, XVI

I think we are the creatures of our educations. What we are taught as young people is pretty much what we live with the rest of our lives. I went to Catholic high school and Catholic college in the 1960's (when Catholic high schools and Catholic colleges were staffed overwhelmingly by religious Brothers and priests), and the Catholic culture in those schools in those days was the culture of Vatican II.

Those were also the days of the civil rights movement for Blacks and of anti-Vietnam War protest. That's what the people of my generation so situated absorbed. Our teachers mocked the "Jesus-and-me" mentality of our parents, and for my generation Catholicism was social justice issues, protests against an unjust war, and "doing something." It wasn't contemplation or mysticism. Those had little or no place in my Catholic education.

For us, THE BOOK was The Documents of Vatican II under the general editorship of Father Walter M. Abbott, S.J. That's the book we studied and quoted and loved about all things Catholic. That book is, right now, on a shelf in the room I'm sitting in, and I just pulled it out to get Walter Abbott's name right.

Contrast that book with "The Catechism of the Catholic Church" (CCC). I don't own a copy of CCC, and, frankly, I don't feel as though I need one. I studied my Baltimore Catechism for many years. I haven't forgotten that. I know my catechism, and I can still recite the answers to some of the questions. Young people might need the CCC because they might not know what the Church believes, but I do. I might not agree with all of it, based on nuanced theological arguments by my religion teachers and writers in the more liberal Catholic press, but I know what the Church "believes." And I know how Vatican II interpreted how the Church believes. I'm not putting down the CCC, but I know what the Church was like before and after Vatican II, and the younger generation doesn't know the "before."

Benedict XVI? This man is still every bit Ratzinger, and don't ever forget that. He'll excommunicate an obscure 85-year-old priest in Sri Lanka for some obscure book he wrote years ago about the Blessed Virgin Mary (the book was distributed in mimeograph form; hello) but not a cardinal who fostered and encouraged child sexual abuse.

Ratzinger is a classic flip-flopper. During Vatican II as an advisor to Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany, the site of his first international appearance as pope (how ironic is that?), he was a liberal reformer. Then he became a conservative believer in the "old ways." Now, as pope, Ratzinger has flip-flopped again into a benign peace maker. Sort of. Does this man not think Catholics have the faculty of memory? He's not some virgin meat the way John Paul I and John Paul II were when they became pope. Ratzinger has a history, and it's well known.

August 24, 2005

How to get out

While I'm very critical of Bush's misadventure in Iraq, I have to admit that I haven't really had an answer to the question, "what do we do now?" Pull all troops out now and Iraq will descend into civil war. And if the civil wars in Lebanon and the Balkans have shown us anything, it's that this is a very, very bad thing. But keeping U.S. and British troops in Iraq is definitely not an option in the long term and our continuing presence smacks of imperialism.

Juan Cole, a well-respected history professor from the University of Michigan (one of the top ten when it comes to Middle East History), appeared on Democracy Now! to talk with Amy Goodman yesterday about just what should be done. He outlines a ten-point plan for getting out of Iraq that would include a gradual draw down of troops, district-based elections rather than proportional, and using indigenious Iraqi firms to hire indigenious Iraqis to rebuild the country. It's one of the best plans to come from the Left that I've seen and merits the attention of those of us wanting to see peace in Iraq.

August 23, 2005

Update on Comments

On August 13, I disabled anonymous commenting because of a rather serious spam problem we were having. Since then, Blogger has created a new option, in which commenters will be asked to enter a verification code to prove they're real people and not spam robots. For our readers' convenience, I have once again enabled anonymous commenting, but I have also enabled the new code verification system -- and this new option will be permanent. Thanks for your patience!

The Robertson Brouhaha

I'm sure just about all of our readers are aware by now that Pat Robertson, one of the most prominent Christian evangelists in America, has suggested the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. I don't think I could sum up my disgust with Robertson any better than Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, did in a recent statement:

Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is appalling to the point of disbelief. As a former member of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, I am convinced of the immorality of political violence and know its unpredictable and devastating effects on millions of people. One wonders if Robertson's premise would one day be applied to opposition candidates in this country who might be a threat to an incumbent's re-election.

It defies logic that a clergyman could so casually dismiss thousands of years of Judaeo-Christian law, including the commandment that we are not to kill. It defies logic that this self-proclaimed Christian leader could so blithely abandon the teachings of Jesus to love our enemies and turn our cheeks against violence. It defies logic that a former candidate for the presidency could skirt the brink of international law to call for the assassination of a foreign leader on the grounds that he might some day be a danger to us. It defies logic that this so-called evangelist is misusing his media power not to win people to faith but to encourage them to support the murder of a foreign leader. I have no doubt that most of Pat Robertson's viewers have already rejected this idea, and that the 45-million people represented by the member communions of the National Council of Churches resolutely condemn it.

I would point out that the preemptive or preventive assassination of a foreign leader is the logical final conclusion to be reached in a worldview of preemptive/preventive aggression. That's why the Christian Church must speak out in the strongest possible terms against all preemptive/preventive aggression, including (and especially) the ongoing Iraq War and Occupation. The system of preemptive/preventive aggression is inherently inconsistent with Christian principles of just war, with the general principles of all religion, and with the norms of international law -- and that system leads to the same kind of thinking that Pat Robertson has now so forcefully displayed. We are moving quickly down a one way street to chaos; I hope people are beginning to realize that.

August 22, 2005

Judge John Roberts, Supreme Court Nominee

John Roberts is a Catholic, and he's apparently a serious one. If he's appointed to the Supreme Court, he'll be the fourth Catholic on the Court, out of nine justices. It pretty much looks like a fact that George W. Bush will also get to appoint a new Chief Justice when Rhenquist either retires or dies. The name that's been bandied about for a long time for this one is Alberto Gonzalez, the U. S. Attorney General and a Catholic. That would be five of nine justices on the Supreme Court who are Catholic.

When asked by a senator how he would react in cases before the Supreme Court that had the potential for violating his Catholic conscience, Judge Roberts said, after a long pause, that he would recuse himself. Given the vitriolic condemnation of John Kerry by some bishops ("He should be denied Holy Communion for his pro-abortion views and votes."), can we be sure John Roberts wouldn't be the target of this rhetoric, as well? If John Roberts recuses himself for religious reasons, can the other Catholic justices NOT recuse themselves?

I mean, think about Scalia. He's a Catholic who has pretty consistently voted against abortion issues. In his dissent in the Lawrence decision he raised a stink (no pun intended) against the abolition of sodomy laws. As a faithful and highly visible member of a Church that has taken very stern positions against both abortion rights and homosexual rights, can Scalia really vote against them without appearing to be bowing to the Vatican and the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? If Roberts recuses himself, shouldn't Scalia do so as well? And Kennedy? And Thomas? And (presumably) Gonzalez?

So, we've got 5 of the 9 Supremes recusing themselves on major cultural issues. How do they get business done?

The Emergency Room

Earlier this evening my wife asked me to proofread a grant application she had just finished writing for the education foundation she works for part time. I was happy to do it, of course, and, as usual, it was well-documented, tightly reasoned, and extremely well written (yeah, okay, so she does read this blog, but it really was all those things). She's asking for $100,000.00 to fund scholarships for poverty kids to go to college in the health-care professions.

Beth quoted some statistics that really struck home. "'[I]n Florida, more than 2.3 million people live in areas with insufficient health care providers.'" "The entirety of Bay County [our home county, population about 165,000] is designated a Health Professionals Shortage Area (HPSA) for Low Income/Migrant Farm Worker Populations, and major areas in the county are designated Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUA/MUP)." And, "Not only is the shortage of health care workers expected to grow by 29%, but also the number of jobs will increase by 45%"

Those are some pretty startling statistics, but they're just that. Statistics. They don't mean a thing to my life, do they? Well, this afternoon before I read the grant I learned that yes, they do.

This morning my friend who has Parkinson's Disease and I delivered Meals on Wheels, just like we do every Monday morning. We went to his house to eat lunch, and his wife noticed that he couldn't hold his silverware in any kind of conventional way and that he couldn't get the food into his mouth. She started feeding him, but he wouldn't stand for that. After several profanities (obscenities?) from him, she let him eat by himself. It took a long time, but he finally got his dinner down. It was ribs, cornbread, and collard greens with okra, so it was kind of tricky for me with a fork and very tricky for him even with a spoon.

His wife was in the kitchen straightening up after I finished eating, and I went in to talk to her.

"I think he might be having a stroke," I said. She agreed, so we called his neurologist and took him to the emergency room at Bay Medical Center. Supposedly, if you get a stroke victim to the emergency room in time, they can stop the stroke and reverse its effects. Addie and I weren't taking any chances.

We got him into the ER a little before 1:30, and promptly at 4:30 they called him back to see the doctor.

Three hours sitting there with a man who has a very serious neurological disease who might have been having a stroke. Three hours.

On the way to Bay Medical Center, we passed another huge hospital near their house called Gulf Coast Medical Center. We chose Bay Medical, though, because, supposedly, it's the only National Center of Excellence for Heart Attack and Stroke in Florida. It's also, supposedly, one of the 100 Best Hospitals for Heart Attack and Stroke in the country. Really. There are billboards all over town to this effect and lots of ads on TV, too. I don't know what the criteria are for those honors, but I mean if you had somebody you thought might be having a stroke, wouldn't you drive the extra ten minutes to get the best?

The good news is that my friend didn't have a stroke. His problems were related to hydration issues associated with Parkinson's, but who knew that? All we knew was we were cooling our heels in a waiting room for 3 hours until he was called. Shortage of medical professionals? I'd say so. The whole time I was proofreading Beth's grant, the only thing I could think of was the irony of my day. Oh, and how good the grant is.

As if they don't already have enough to worry about...

Okay, this has got to be one of the most irresponsible "be afraid of the terrorist" stories I've seen. Yahoo News, via the Associated Press shouted the headline "U.S. Says Terrorists May Pose as Homeless." (They've now changed it to "vagrant" instead of homeless.)

People already have an unreasonable fear of homeless people as it is, but to now lump them in as possible terrorists is morally unconscionable. Homeless people are regularly subject to police harassment, so why on earth would a terrorist become a homeless guy and attract police scrutiny?

The story is based on a case from Somerville, MA where a homeless guy looked suspicious (which is almost all of them to police) and upon questioning him discovered that he had a passport from a suspect country. In other words, the poor guy gets here and then can't make ends meet to either get home or pay for decent shelter.

Yeah, yah know? How about this headline: "Politicians may pose as terrorists."

August 21, 2005

Nachamu, Nachamu Ami...

Console, console my people says your G-d... (Isaiah 40).

David Bogner (Treppenwitz) reminded me that yesterday was the Shabbat (Sabbath) following Tisha B'Av, the commemoration of many of the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish People, especially the destruction of both the first and the second Temple, and the subsequent exile of the Jewish People from their homeland. As readers of my personal blog know, I have Jewish ancestry, so in a sense I feel that I am praying today in solidarity with a People that is in some sense my own. I would ask all of our readers to remember Tisha B'Av today at Mass and other religious services, and to pray that the Jewish People (and all people) will be able to establish safe home for themselves and for the generations to come. Let us pray in solidarity with one another: "Console, console my people..."

(Cross-posted to Here I Stand).

August 20, 2005

More on Gaza

As the news is all about the Gaza withdrawl these days and the so called "painful sacrifices for peace," I thought I'd direct you all, gentle readers, to the ISM site where they give their perspective on what the pullout from Gaza means. International Solidarity Movement is a group of Israelis, Americans, and Europeans who work with and at the request of Palestinians seeking to resist the Occupation through non-violent means. Part of their job is to inform the world about what is going on in the Occupied Territories and give voice to those who are quite frequently ignored. While Israelis extremists have been given several minutes a night on network news to talk about how much they are suffering having to move, the thousands of Palestinians (and if you include refugees from both the 1948 and 1967 war, we are then talking about over 1 million) who have been forced out of their homes every day are rarely given time at all. And that is what makes groups like ISM so important. Please have a read.

August 19, 2005

Anti-War Icons

I haven't written about Cindy Sheehan here yet, although I see that Susan Rose Francois wrote about her in the previous post. I've been reluctant to write about her because I'm hesitant to turn her into an anti-war icon -- I think the anti-war movement is about all of the American people, and about all of the troops and civilians who have lost their lives in the Iraq War, not just Cindy Sheehan or her lost son. I think she would even agree with that. So I'm reluctant to turn her into the anti-war icon, because I think that each American who is opposed to this war, each soldier who has lost his or her life, each Iraqi civilian who has died, is the icon of the anti-war movement. And I think that's how it should remain.

To illustrate my point, I would point out that Cindy Sheehan had to leave Crawford to tend to her mother, who recently had a stroke. We should all pray for Mrs. Sheehan's full recovery. Obviously, no one can blame Cindy Sheehan for leaving Crawford to go immediately to her mother -- but now that she's left Crawford, the remaining protesters at Crawford have been unable to hold the attention of the media and the rest of the nation. This has happened because, rather than the nation and subsequently the media viewing the protest at Crawford as a holistic event, they are viewing it through the lens of just one person: Cindy Sheehan, who has now left, and who may be unable to return despite her desire to do just that. That's what happens when anti-war icons can't be icons anymore; and that is very harmful to the anti-war movement as a whole. We must all be icons, and our ideas must be our foundation, not our leaders.

With that said, I do support the cause of Cindy Sheehan. I think we should withdraw from Iraq before anymore lives are lost, and specifically I think that President Bush should meet with her to answer her questions. It's the least he could do, since he committed her son to a war that now appears unjust to most Americans, to a war with an ambiguous purpose and an even more ambiguous end. She lost her son because President Bush committed him to this war, and now she deserves to hear honest answers from the President about why her son and so many others had to die. With that in mind, I'm posting the link to the Green Party Peace Action Committee's (GPAX) online petition to President Bush, asking him to meet with Cindy Sheehan. I hope all of our readers will sign the petition and stand up for Cindy Sheehan and all of the mothers who have lost children in the Iraq War, American mothers or Iraqi mothers.

August 18, 2005

the sheehan factor

Last Friday an apolitical non-religious coworker of mine asked me, "How would I found out how many members of Bush's cabinet and Congress have kids in Iraq." She knows I'm a Catholic peace activist, so she'd figure I know. In fact, I don't other than what I remember from Michael Moore's movie Farenheit 911 (which was one member of congress, but I don't quote that as fact).

I was intrigued as to what sparked her interest. Can you guess? … Yep, Cindy Sheehan. Which is why I was not surprised by Dan Froomkin's column in the Washington Post today. Froomkin quotes another columnist, Joe Garofoli of the San Francisco Chronicle: ""Whether one supports Sheehan's position or not, she put the war back on the front pages in the middle of August and brought the war home to suburbia in a way other antiwar organizers hadn't been able to do."

My interaction with my coworker would seem to confirm this, anecdotally at least. She falls into the soccer mom, not really engaged with civic events category. I'm not even sure if she voted in the last election. But she is paying attention now.

In his June 22, 2004 Statement on Iraq, then US Bishops Conference President Wilton Gregory said: "We reiterate the grave moral concerns previously expressed by our episcopal conference about the military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of an invasion and occupation. The events of the past year have reinforced those ethical concerns." It's over a year later, and even more events have transpired that continue to reinforce these ethical questions. We need conversation and discussion as a nation.

We also need to pray for peace. There were more than 1,500 candlelight vigils for peace inspired by Cindy Sheehan last night. Anything that gets folks praying for peace is a good thing in my book.

August 16, 2005

Uprooted in Gaza

The Israeli disengagement from Gaza is the big news from the Holy Land at the moment. Though part of my academic specialty is the Israel/Palestine conflict, I find that I have little to say about the pullout. Yeah, I'm glad the Israelis are withdrawing, but I know it's only because Sharon is going to hang on to parts of the West Bank, which is against U.N. Resolution 242. And it's been hard for me to feel a lot of sympathy for those settlers who are being evicted from land on which they have been squatting illegally. I guess Danny Rubenstein's article in Ha'aretz sums it up for me. Have a read.

August 15, 2005

Recruiting Priests

You don't hear much talk these days about Catholic priests being heroes, but that's the take a new vocations poster is pitching. It's the brainchild of Fr. Jonathan Meyer of Indianapolis (pictured on the poster), and it shows a young priest in a cassock (huh?) holding a rosary and a cross. It's supposed to evoke the character of Neo from The Matrix, and it looks just like a movie poster, including the R-rating logo ("restricted to those radically in love with Jesus Christ"). They're sending 5,000 of these things to the World Youth Day meeting in Cologne, Germany, this week as a means of recruiting young NeoCons, er, NeoCaths, er, Neos for the priesthood. Here's the link: click here. Here's the picture.

Priest as Hero?

I certainly don't object to using ideas and images from popular culture to recruit for the priesthood and religious life, but this image doesn't really evoke a commitment to social justice or a fundamental option for the poor or anything else that the post-Vatican Council II Church is all about. It seems more 1955-ish than 2005-ish, sunglasses notwithstanding. I'm wondering if we really want guys in the priesthood who find this imagery appealing.

Let them eat white, irridated bread

I remember a few years back I was at a New Year's Eve party where a woman was talking about her trip to India. She talked about how it made her appreciate just what an affluent society we live in. "I mean, even our poor people are fat," she exclaimed. What I thought at the time but didn't say was that it is our poor people who are fat. Poor people don't have the money to spend on healthy food. And they are often working far too much to cook.

What was then just a feeling I had as a fat girl who grew up on food stamps (and lives on them again, along with disability) is now the findings of a study from the University of California at Davis.

Our results show that most people had access to healthier foods, though there was sporadic availability of some healthier items in lower-income neighborhoods. The healthier market basket was more expensive by about $32 to $41 due to higher costs of whole grains, lean ground beef, and skinless poultry. This higher cost is equal to about 35 percent to 40 percent of low-income consumers’ food budgets. (Italics mine)

The study goes on to point out what I know all too well: good bread with real fiber costs two to three times as much as the cheap-ass stuff. Chicken or beef without the fat is also more expensive. A variety of vegetables are often not available. And don't even get me started about organic produce. (Apparently it's okay for the poor to die of toxic overload.)

I can't say that I know the solution to this. I often wonder about putting taxes on unhealthy foods to subsidize healthier ones, though that is also unfair to the poor. But I do think that Americans need to the look long and hard about our relationship with food. And that includes how much we work, keeping us from being able to cook healthy meals.

August 14, 2005

Dems Become War Hawks

From the Boston Globe (registration required):

After months of internal debate and closed-door discussions, Democrats have begun to develop a more aggressive foreign policy that focuses heavily on threats they say are being neglected by the Bush administration, while avoiding taking a contentious stance on Iraq.

Even Democrats who have been associated with liberal positions on international affairs are calling for more troops in uniform, proposing that threats of force be used to stop nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea, and pressing for potential military intervention to ease famine and oppression around the world.

This is a large part of the reason that I left the Democratic Party. Even as Americans are becoming disgusted with our misadventure in Iraq, the Democrats are calling for more troops there while many Americans want to see a complete withdrawal of our troops. Even as Americans are growing suspicious of President Bush and his intentions toward Iran and North Korea, the Democrats are calling for the threat of force -- which, as we saw with Iraq, quickly becomes just plain force -- against two nations that will not be intimidated by our threats. Even as most Americans are realizing that war never actually brings about peace, the Democrats are proposing that we use military intervention to ease famine and oppression around the world. People are starving, so let's bomb the hell out of them. That makes a lot of sense.

It's not just a few meaningless Democratic names making these proposals. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) wants to increase the size of the military and wants to make "a strong commitment to using our military in smart ways that further peace, stability, and security around the world." It's widely believed among idealistic women (and some men) that a female President will put an end to war. Elect Sen. Clinton, and we'll see if that rings true -- she's certainly singing a different tune right now. She's sounding worse than President Bush and his Defense Secretary, who have said that we need fewer troops in the military. Other important names embracing this war hawk attitude include Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN). Big names. We've got three presidential hopefuls, the minority leaders of both the Senate and the House, and the man who was a leading candidate for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

It's important to remember, as well, that the most outspoken congressman calling for a return to military conscription was none other than Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY). Although we've not heard much about that lately, I doubt very much that Rep. Rangel has dropped the issue. Given the Democratic Party's past with military conscription, we can't dismiss too quickly the possibility that they will institute the draft, even if it may seem like political suicide to rational human beings.

Rep. Roemer has proposed that Democrats should embrace the foreign policy visions of Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy. Let's bear in mind who these men were. Woodrow Wilson was the U.S. President who led us into the atrocity that was World War I, a war which was repeatedly condemned by Pope Benedict XV. President Wilson was the only one to formally respond to Pope Benedict XV's peace plan, and he promptly dismissed it out of hand. Do you remember when we observed the anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki recently? That was sixty years ago -- and sixty years ago, Harry Truman had his finger on the button both times. And some of our readers lived through President Kennedy's legacy: the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, both of which threatened to escalate the Cold War to the point of no return.

Yes, let's please embrace the foreign policy visions of these guys. That's precisely what the world needs right now. In all three cases, the strategy was to "bomb the hell out of them."

As Catholics, it's time for us to move beyond politicians who will either threaten to kill or actually kill other people for the sake of political gain. If the Democrats are unwilling to stand up and say that the time for war is over, then it's time to start electing people from third parties who are willing to stand up and say just that. Let's remember, Catholics of both parties and no parties, that the consistent witness of all of the popes of the 20th and now 21st centuries, a tone set by Pope Benedict XV, has been that the senseless bloodshed of war must come to an end. Beloved popes and less beloved popes alike have issued this clarion call for the nations to lay down their arms. They do so because this is not just the call of the popes, nor simply the call of the Catholic Church, but the call of Christ himself. When Jesus Christ disarmed Peter, he disarmed every soldier -- and it's time for Catholics and all Christians to start unambiguously living the truth of that.

August 13, 2005

Anonymous Commenting

I have (temporarily?) disabled anonymous commenting due to a problem we've been having with spam. In the meantime, all you have to do to be able to comment here is go to Blogger and register an account, if you don't already have one. I hope to be able to once again enable anonymous commenting soon, but if the spam problem persists we will have to stick with registered users only. Sorry for the inconvenience.

War Without End?

The big news today is that President Bush has announced that "all options are on the table" with regard to putting a stop to Iran's uranium enrichment program, a suggestion that the United States may use force against Iran in yet another preemptive strike against one of the three nations in a group that our President called an "axis of evil." I should note that the President has said we will only do this as a last resort, but I would remind readers that President Bush also said that all options were on the table with regard to Iraq right before he decided to invade that nation, which was the first in his list of "axis of evil" nations. We were told then that force would only be used as a last resort. The question is this: If President Bush is considering war as a last resort, does he think that we'll be at "last resort" status before the end of his presidency? That seems to be what he's implying by even discussing war with Iran as a last resort.

It's clear to me that President Bush is gearing up for war with Iran, even though our own intelligence tells us that Iran is more than a decade away from developing nuclear weapons, if (and this is a big if) they're even trying to develop weapons. We must speak up often and early against another preemptive war. As German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in response to President Bush today: "Let's take the military option off the table. We have seen it doesn't work." Amen.

August 10, 2005

Various Announcements

We're sorry to announce that Steve Bogner (Catholicism, holiness and spirituality) has decided to leave us. Steve becomes the first -- and hopefully the last! -- of the four founding members to resign from Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. In his e-mail, Steve mentioned time constraints and also expressed his concern that the blog has moved too far left. I think I can speak for all of the contributors in saying that we understand about the time constraints, and we wish Steve all the best.

On the matter of moving too far to the left, we're still striving to maintain a nonpartisan and non-ideological atmosphere. Our contributing team is composed of one registered Republican, four registered Democrats, two registered Greens, and one registered Independent. Our views range from more moderate to fairly left of center. The social justice focus of each individual contributor tends to differ significantly from other contributors, allowing for a diverse blend of social justice issues and points of view. At the moment, we are seeing the blog lean a bit toward the left, but that's because some of our more leftist contributors (myself included) have been more active in recent days and weeks while our more moderate contributors have been less active due to vacations and other serious time constraints.

Secondly, we'd like to announce that Abby Kraft (Sic Friatur Crustum Dulce) and Joe Cecil (In Today's News) are still with us, but are only able to post on a limited basis due to time constraints.

Finally, we'd also like to announce at this time that Rick Grucza (Faith-Based Politics) has been placed on hiatus. We have unfortunately heard nothing from Rick since the end of May, and he has not posted to his blog since May 31. We're a bit concerned about him and hope to hear from him soon. Until then, we've placed him on hiatus so that our readers will be aware of his status. We would ask all of our readers to keep him and his family in their prayers until we've heard from him.

August 09, 2005

Clarence Thomas

I have tried to be somewhat cagey about Justice Clarence Thomas' religious affiliation. I knew he had had a Catholic education as a little kid, but I didn't know this:

At his grandfather's urgings to become a priest, Thomas left his black high school after two years to attend St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, an all-white boarding school located just outside of Savannah dedicated to training priests.

Or this:

Thomas attended the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri as his next step towards attaining priesthood. He left soon after, though, due to the severe racism he encountered in the school. After taking some time off, Thomas enrolled at [Jesuit-run] Holy Cross [College in Massachusetts]. He participated actively in the formation of the Black Student Union. Thomas also supported the Black Panthers and once urged a student walkout to protest investments in South Africa. In 1971, Thomas graduated ninth in his class with an English honors degree. The following day, he married Kathy Ambush, a student at a nearby Catholic woman's college.

Source: click here.

So I guess Thomas really is a Catholic, after all. I knew Clarence Thomas had deep Catholic roots, but I didn't know until tonight he had studied to be a priest at 2 different seminaries. That's extraordinary.

This information makes my previous post all the more critical, I think. We already have 3 Catholics on the Supreme Court. Can we really stand a 4th one--i.e., John Roberts? Or a 5th one--i.e., Alberto Gonzalez? I don't think any liberal is more Catholic than I am, but can this country really handle a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court? Especially if the bishops threaten them with virtual excommunication (i.e., withholding Holy Communion) if they don't step to the bishops' marching orders on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia (think Terri Schiavo), gay rights including marriage. I wonder, and I really don't think this is a good place for us to be.

Isn't it ironic?

The Catholic Church in Haiti

There are three religious communities I've been very close to and very interested in all of my life. They are the Sisters of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and the fathers and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). In this post I'm going to concentrate on the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. Yesterday I got mail from the alumni office at their school in New Orleans informing me that my class is having its 40th reunion in September, and that freaked me out a little bit. Forty years? How can that be? I'm still a kid!

The Brothers of the Sacred Heart ran two big high schools in New Orleans when I was in high school, but they've since consolidated them into one. It has about 1,500 boys, and the President and Principal these days aren't Brothers. I had two lay teachers in the four years I was taught by the Brothers, but today Brothers are as scarce as hen's teeth, at least in New Orleans.

But this is the North. In the South, vocations to the Brotherhood are booming. Here are some pictures of five Brothers of the Sacred Heart who are making their final vows this week.

Haiti: Five perpetual professions August 15th






These guys aren't boys. They're grown men, and they're willing to give their lives to service forever for others as teaching Brothers. Based on my experience as a high school student in a school run and taught by teaching brothers, and based on my experience as a teacher in a public high school for many years, I can't imagine a better life for these men.

Source: click here.

I congratulate these five Brothers from Haiti, and I wish there was some way I could join them to celebrate their commitment to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the People of God. If you read my blog a few days back about the awful conditions in Haiti, the perpetual profession of religious vows by these five men represents a commitment to the poor. Notice that none of these guys is smiling. Why would they?

Catholic Supremes

Catholic Supremes

I just came across an op/ed piece in today's Boston Globe that I think warrants serious consideration. The writer starts out by asserting that some Catholic bishops of the United States put the whole separation of church and state matter on a whole new level when they threatened to withhold Holy Communion from John Kerry because of his pro-choice position. Withholding Communion is tantamount to excommunication, and it represents a serious disciplinary move designed to force individual Catholics to change their minds or their behavior.

The writer of the op/ed goes on to say,

The Senate Judiciary Committee is now fully justified in asking these bishops whether the same threats would apply to Supreme Court nominee Judge Roberts, if he were to vote to uphold Roe v. Wade.

The bishops have made this question legitimate because Americans no longer know whether a Catholic judge can hear abortion cases without an automatic conflict of interest.

When judges may derive a financial gain from the outcome of a case before them, they must disqualify themselves; this requirement should be even more urgent when the gain in question is full Communion and the promise of eternal life. According to the American Bar Association's Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Canon 3, Section C 1 (c), a judge must disqualify himself when he has ''a financial interest . . . or any other interest that could be affected substantially by the outcome of the proceeding." Maintaining one's membership in the church and the prospect of eternal life surely count as such an interest.

Immanuel Kant held that no decision could be considered impartial or ethical if personal interest in the outcome played any role in it. It is time for this principle to be observed in our judiciary.

Asking the bishops to testify would be healthy. If they rescinded the threats made against Kerry, then Roberts would feel free to make his decision without the appearance of a conflict of interest, and Catholic politicians who support Roe v. Wade would gain renewed confidence in their advocacy. If the bishops repeated or confirmed their threats, the Senate Judiciary Committee should draft legislation calling for the automatic recusal of Catholic judges from cases citing Roe v. Wade as a precedent.

Source: click here.

The article in the Globe only mentions John Roberts and Antonin Scalia, but they wouldn't be the only Catholics on the Supreme Court, if Roberts is confirmed. Justice Anthony Kennedy is also Catholic, as is Justice Clarence Thomas (at least some of the time). If these justices had to recuse themselves from cases involving anything related to Roe v. Wade, that would only leave 5 justices capable of voting. I don't know what constitutes a quorum for the court, but I'll bet it's more than that.

I find this greatly ironic in several ways.

First, the Catholic bishops who tried to railroad Kerry on pro-choice matters are perfectly capable of doing precisely the same thing with Catholic members of the Supreme Court, on this and on other issues. Unless the bishops back off their threats of denial of Communion to Catholic politicians, they're basically making it impossible for Catholics to be taken seriously as political or judicial figures. True, somebody like Scalia might be opposed to Roe on its face, but, given the threat of virtual excommunication if he doesn't toe the party line on abortion, can we really be sure that his anti-Roe votes are motivated by anything but fear of what many traditionalist Catholics feel is almost-certain damnation.

Second, I think it's amazing that almost half the members of the Supreme Court (assuming Roberts is confirmed and Thomas really is a Catholic) are members of the Catholic Church. That would be 3 out of 9, or 4 out of 9, depending on where Thomas stands. And if Bush appoints a Catholic Chief Justice--an Alberto Gonzalez, say--that would be a majority of Catholics on the Court. As far as I know, the only Catholics to serve on the Court before the present crop were Chief Justice Edward Douglas White of Louisiana and Justice William Brennan.

Third, certain Catholic bishops, in their attempt to provide "strong moral leadership" by threatening Kerry and others, might have inadvertently made it impossible, at least on a logical and philosophical level, for other Catholics to provide "strong moral leadership" in the public sphere. It's almost as though the Al Smith-era concerns about Papal bulls grazing on the White House lawn have come true, only it's the White House staff, and some lacky bishops, who are out there feeding them.

It will be interesting to see if Christopher D. Morris' editorial in the Globe gets any attention from the Big Boy bloggers or the mainstream media. I think Morris makes some very good points, proving yet again, perhaps, that the intellectual leadership in this country really does reside in New England.

Another Reminder

On Saturday, I posted a reminder for the sixtieth anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Today I'm posting a reminder for the sixtieth anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. Please refer back to the resources posted by Susan Rose Francois on August 4, and see also a reflection I posted to Quo Vadis on August 6 by Dr. Takashi Nagai, a witness to the bombing of Nagasaki and one of Nagasaki's many Catholic citizens. Let's be sure to remember to keep the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in our prayers today, and let us also pray for peace in the world.

Journey Together Faithfully

As readers of Quo Vadis already know, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) began its Churchwide Assembly yesterday. It might seem unusual that a Catholic blogger would be covering the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's events, and normally I would agree that it is unusual. The difference this time is that the Churchwide Assembly is considering ecclesiastical legislation that would somewhat relax the ELCA's current policies on committed same-sex partnerships and ordained ministers who are in committed same-sex partnerships.

There are two things I usually don't talk much about here at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: 1) ecclesiastical issues and 2) GLBTQ issues. I don't talk much about ecclesiastical issues because this blog isn't primarily for ecclesiastical issues; rather, this blog is devoted to social justice issues and how they intersect with political issues. I don't talk much about GLBTQ issues here because I am a gay man, and I don't want to injure the credibility of Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and my blogging colleagues by making it appear as if Sollicitudo Rei Socialis is on some kind of "gay crusade" under my direction. There are times, however, when both ecclesiastical and GLBTQ issues come together in a potent combination that can't help but intersect with issues of social justice. With the beginning of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, we have come to such an intersection.

To understand the controversy, we must first understand the legislation that is being proposed. It's nothing too radical. We're not looking at legislation like we recently saw in the United Church of Christ, when its General Synod decided to endorse same-sex marriage. Nor are we looking at legislation like we've seen in the Episcopal Church USA or the Anglican Church of Canada; we're not looking at the very public ordination of the first openly gay and partnered bishop, nor are we looking at legislation that would change the ELCA's policies to approve of same-sex unions or marriages across the board. In comparison to what we've seen in the United Church of Christ and the Anglican Churches of North America, what the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is considering appears to be relatively modest.

First, the Church Council has recommended a resolution that would reaffirm the ELCA's commitment "to concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements, recognizing the God-given mission and communion that we share as members of the body of Christ." This sounds nice, and it is. But the fact of the matter is that this legislation won't change anything, except maybe the tone of dialogue, within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This shouldn't in and of itself be controversial, but I suspect that it will be. There are some, after all, who don't want "to live faithfully together" with Queer Christians, and I expect that their voices will be heard at the Churchwide Assembly. Nevertheless, I think it's somewhat likely that this resolution recommended by the Church Council will pass.

Second, the Church Council has recommended a slight relaxation of current ELCA policy on the blessing of same-sex unions. I refer to this as a slight relaxation because it can only be considered slight. The resolution would still uphold the guidance of a statement made by the Conference of Bishops in 1993, which absolutely ruled out the possibility of blessing same-sex unions. The slight relaxation comes in the second part of the resolution, which expresses trust in "pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care to same-sex couples." This resolution puts more discerning power in the hands of individual pastors and congregations, but it doesn't by any means change the ELCA policy of refusing to bless same-sex unions. I think this resolution has some chance of passing, but it may be defeated by a majority who are unwilling even to slightly relax these policies for the sake of Queer Christians' pastoral care.

Third, and most contentious, the Church Council has recommended a difficult process by which women and men who are in committed same-sex partnerships may be ordained to ministry. This process will involve the congregation to be served, the bishop, the synod, the synodical Candidacy Committee, and the Conference of Bishops. All must be in agreement before a man or woman in a committed same-sex partnership can be ordained. Rather than being a change in ELCA policy, this is an exception to the standing rule. The rule that women and men who are in same-sex partnerships are not to be ordained will stand, but this will provide an exception that will allow congregations, bishops, and synods to discern better the needs to be met in exceptional cases, always with the prior approval of the Conference of Bishops.

Although this third resolution is a modest piece of legislation, it is also the most controversial and the biggest point of contention. Unlike the previous two resolutions which only require a simple majority vote, this resolution requires a 2/3 majority vote. Even if the first two resolutions pass, it is extremely unlikely that this one will pass. What this will mean for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America if the third resolution doesn't pass is that its Churchwide Assembly is not even open to the most modest of changes when it comes to the pastoral care of Queer Christians, effectively expressing to GLBTQ Lutherans that they're not really wanted in ELCA congregations.

Even though the language of the first two resolutions about "living faithfully together" and "pastoral care" sounds nice, it means nothing if it isn't backed up by concrete action. What all Queer Christians should be looking for is the passage of all three resolutions. The passage of the first two, without the third, should be seen as nothing more and nothing less than the defeat of inclusion within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The passage of the first two, without the third, will be business as usual: pretty language about inclusion, without any inclusive action whatsoever, however modest it may be. On the other hand, the passage of all three resolutions should be viewed as a victory, even if it can only be viewed as a small victory.

The theme of the task force which created these recommendations was "Journey Together Faithfully: A Call to Study and Dialogue." The theme of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly this year is "Marked with the Cross of Christ Forever." Both themes speak to the unity of the Church, the indivisible unity of Christ's Body, and the simple fact that all Christians are in this struggle together. All Christians are carrying this cross, which is in some mysterious way the Cross of Christ, together. We'll see if the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is really interested in journeying together faithfully with Queer Christians, or if these are just more pretty words with no action behind them. We'll see if the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is really interested in being the Body of Christ, if it's really interested in being marked with the Cross of Christ as a communion, or if it is only willing to thrust the cross onto the shoulders of others. I'm hoping that the Churchwide Assembly will indeed choose to journey together faithfully, with all Lutherans agreeing to be marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We'll begin to find out on Friday, when these resolutions come up for a vote.

In the meantime, I've been offering prayers and support for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly over at Quo Vadis. I hope all of my fellow Sollicitudo Rei Socialis contributors, and all of our readers, will join me in my efforts to offer prayer and support.

A plague 'o both your houses

One of the things that has always bothered me about the debate regarding Iraq for the last 15 years has been the bipolar fashion in which it has existed. It's either you support the U.S. or you support Saddam Hussein.

A story in today's Times (London) reminds me of why I always rejected this binary approach. "A British cow that died in an Oxfordshire field in 1937 has emerged as the source of Saddam Hussain's 'weapons of mass destruction' programme that led to the Iraq war." The ear of this cow was sent to an English lab and then a culture of the anthrax that killed the cow was sent to the United States where it was then sold to Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s while he was still our ally fighting a war with Iran. Indeed, a congressional investigation even found the invoices of the sale.

Saddam Hussein was an evil guy in the 1980s when we sold him the anthrax. When Donald Rumsfeld was shaking hands with him. When we expected him him to be moral in the 1990s while he and us starved his people and withheld the medication doctors needed to treat the cancers caused by our depleted uranium bombs.

Both of us are to blame for the disaster that is Iraq today. Not one or the other. Both.

Lord have mercy.

August 07, 2005

World Youth Day--The Jesus Olympics

World Youth Day is a Catholic event that happens every summer, and Pope John Paul II used these international gatherings of young people to promote himself as a rock star. He whipped up the crowds to near idolatrous enthusiasm for him personally without really teaching anything of substance. JP2 was a media star of the first magnitude at those occasions, and they've become major tourist events.

This year the thing is in Cologne, Germany, and it's the only out-of-Italy trip Pope Benedict XVI has planned for the foreseeable future. The organizers in Cologne were worried to death last spring that the pope would die and the new pope wouldn't want to come to their event. Benedict, the good German, announced early on that he'd be there.

At the moment, the organizers of a bid for Sydney, Australia, to host the 2008 World Youth Day are in negotiations with Mel Gibson, the actor and the director of The Passion of the Christ, to stage a mock crucifixion to open what they hope will be World Youth Day Sydney 2008.

SYDNEY, Australia - Actor-director Mel Gibson has been asked to recreate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the streets of Sydney if the city is selected to host a major Catholic gathering in 2008, a newspaper reported.

Gibson's staging of the Stations of the Cross, a live interpretation of Christ's final hours, would be part of a bid by the city to secure the Catholic Church's World Youth Day in 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Saturday.

The crucifixion reenactment — similar to scenes from Gibson's hugely successful film "The Passion of the Christ" — would begin with the Last Supper staged at Sydney's landmark Opera House at sunset, and would end with the crucifixion of Christ at St. Mary's Cathedral, according to bid documents the newspaper said it obtained.

Source: Click here.

There's a lot of money at stake, of course. The World Youth Day in 2008 is likely to draw 400,000 youths and chaperones from around the world. They'll all need places to stay, food to eat, and souvenirs to buy.

This is very ironic to me on several levels.

First, Mel Gibson belongs to a schismatic church that doesn't believe Pope Benedict XVI is the real pope. They believe he's an anti-pope, the spawn of the devil.

Second, Mel Gibson believes his own wife, who is an Episcopalian, is going to hell because she's an Episcopalian. He's sorry, but there's really nothing he can do about that. I can imagine what their pillow talk must be like.

Third, The Passion of the Christ was roundly condemned by professional movie critics as thinly-veiled sado-masochistic pornography. That says a lot to me about the people who loved that movie.

Fourth, World Youth Day was conceived, presumably, as a kind of spontaneous gathering of young Catholics to participate in intense religious education and fellowship and worship on an international level. It's turned into a kind of quasi-Olympics event, with no games. I'm sure there will be medals aplenty, but they'll all be religious.

I don't care if Sydney gets the Jesus Games in 2008 or not. I do care that something with as much potential for good as World Youth Day has become a bidding war among cities. And I care that somebody like Mel Gibson, who believes Roman Catholics are headed straight to hell following Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, is being solicited to "stage" the crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


August 06, 2005

A Reminder

This is just a reminder that today is the sixtieth anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing. Susan Rose Francois posted some excellent resources on August 4 to commemorate this occasion, and I highly recommend them. Let's all take the time today to remember what happened, pray for the dead, and pray for peace in the world and nuclear disarmament.

Open Letter to Sen. Bayh

This is an open letter to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), and is a bit of a follow-up to my previous post: "Evan, Bye." As with any of my posts, it should not be thought of as the majority opinion of the Sollicitudo Rei Socialis contributors. It's just my opinion.

- - -

Dear Senator Bayh:

The Associated Press is reporting that you made comments about Democratic policies on national security and the general direction of the Democratic vision in Iowa on Thursday, August 4. At the end of one report, they quoted you as saying the following: "We've got a few voices out there who would be a little bit more on the fringe. Unfortunately, too often they define the entire party." I assume by this statement that you were referring to liberal Democrats, as opposed to the moderate Democrats represented by the organization that you're so strongly affiliated with, the Democratic Leadership Council.

I'm writing to you as a former liberal Democrat who has recently decided to leave the Democratic Party and join the Green Party precisely because of comments like the ones that you made on Thursday. As a liberal, as a former Democrat, and as an American voter, I am writing to you today to ask you not to run for President in 2008.

I don't know if you're aware of it, Senator, but you've been in the news a lot lately. Air America Radio's Rachel Maddow is describing you as the man who killed the Peace Corps, because of the amendment to a defense budget bill you cosponsored with Senator John McCain that would force the Peace Corps to affiliate with the U.S. military against its strong objections. You've also been in the news criticizing your own party's position on national security. Now, you're in the news referring to the liberal majority of the Democratic Party as "a little bit more on the fringe." While this may be great publicity for you among Republicans, I don't think most Democrats are pleased. If they wanted "Republican lite" for President, Senator Bayh, they would elect Senator Arlen Specter. They would be members of the Republican Party. They wouldn't be Democrats.

Let me tell you a little bit more about myself and my history with the Democratic Party, to give you a better idea of why I'm asking you not to run for President. I'm a 21-year-old gay liberal from a small town in Ohio, where it's anything but popular to be either gay or liberal. I've voted in every election since I reached voting age, and I've consistently voted for Democrats. I was involved in the 2004 primaries, and I favored candidates like former Senator John Edwards, Representative Dennis Kucinich, and former Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun. I did not favor candidates like Senator Joseph Lieberman or Representative Richard Gephardt, precisely because I believed that they would take the party in a moderate-to-conservative direction antithetical to the liberal values traditionally held by the Democratic Party. I was ambivalent when it came to the man who would eventually be the Democratic frontrunner, Senator John Kerry.

When it became clear that Senator Kerry would get the nomination, I threw all of my support and energy behind him. I attended campaign rallies. I volunteered at local phone banks. I proudly displayed a Kerry/Edwards '04 bumper sticker on my vehicle, and I often wore campaign buttons and other accessories to show my support. I was never wild about Senator Kerry, but I believed that he would take the country in a better direction than President Bush would. I believed that he was committed to the liberal values that the Democratic Party has traditionally committed itself to. Despite my reservations, I believed in him. I was very disappointed when, after all of my hard work for his campaign, he proved to me after losing the election that I had been right to hesitate in supporting him. As I'm sure you're well aware, after the election was over Senator Kerry came out in favor of a constitutional amendment in his home state of Massachusetts that would ban gay marriage, which is now legal thanks to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. In doing this, Senator Kerry basically thumbed his nose at all of his gay and lesbian supporters, many of whom had worked very hard during his presidential campaign.

Senator Kerry's betrayal contributed significantly to my decision to leave the Democratic Party behind for a party that is truly committed to liberal values, in season and out of season.

Like Senator Kerry's betrayal, your recent dismissal of those who are "a little bit more on the fringe" looks like a thumbing of the nose at some of the Democratic Party's most hardcore supporters. It looks like you're thumbing your nose at the liberal majority, while giving a wink and a nod to Democratic moderates like Senator Mary Landrieu and conservative Democrats who really should be Republicans like former Senator Zell Miller or Pennsylvania senatorial candidate Bob Casey, Jr. -- to the exclusion of the many Democrats who identify with more liberal voices like that of Senator Ted Kennedy or Senator Barbara Boxer. It sounds like you're being particularly critical of Democrats who don't support the Iraq War, like Representative Dennis Kucinich whose district in Ohio recently lost twenty soldiers in Iraq. And it sounds like you're saying that Democrats need to be more like Republicans on national security matters in order to get elected. In other words, it sounds like you're proposing a Democratic Party that should rename itself the "Republican Lite Party."

You have said recently that the American people don't trust Democrats on national security, and that Democrats need to show the American people that they're willing to use force. You cite poll numbers, although all of the recent polls show that the American people are fed up with the Republican use of force and what it's done to our national security. The Republicans aside, let me remind you what happens when the Democrats show the nation they're willing to use force. As I'm writing this, the world is observing the sixtieth anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, the unspeakable act committed by Democratic President Harry Truman. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are what happens when Democrats show the nation that they're willing to use force. The NATO bombing of Kosovo is what happens when Democrats show the nation that they're willing to use force. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which have made our nation more secure but both of which a significant number of Democratic representatives and senators voted to approve, are what happen when Democrats show the nation that they're willing to use force.

Democrats must now show the nation that they're not willing to use force, in clear contrast to President Bush and Senator Kerry, both of whom decided to use force against Iraq irresponsibly. Is a commitment to strict nonviolence the answer for the Democratic Party? I think it is, but maybe I'm wrong. At the very least, a commitment to responsible use of force is absolutely necessary. A repudiation of what has been done in Iraq is absolutely necessary. Taking the hawkish position of the Republican Party is not only politically stupid, it is also morally reprehensible. What has this war done for our national security, what has this war done for the security of the international community, and what has this war done for the security of Iraq? Across the board, the answer is that it has hurt worldwide security and increased the fervor of global terrorism.

Finally, Senator Bayh, I would like to remind you that there are more important things in life than getting elected. I realize that's probably difficult for you to remember as a politician. You may be right that adopting a more hawkish stance similar to that of the Republicans will help Democrats get elected, but it will also deal a devastating blow to liberal values and crush the voice of America's liberal tradition, which is rooted in the Constitution and our other founding documents. Are we really willing to betray our most valued principles in order to get elected? After the abominable presidency of Bill Clinton, and after the mediocre and unprincipled presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, I think the answer must be that we are emphatically unwilling to betray our principles. If we betray our principles, then all we'll have left is our politicians, and that is a very sad place to be.

I believe that you have betrayed the Democratic Party's liberal values, Senator Bayh, and that's why I'm asking you not to run for President in 2008. What the Democratic Party needs now is someone unambiguously committed to the liberal principles it has held dear for a very long time, not someone looking to crush them and replace them with principles that can only be described as "Republican lite." Even if such a person never gets elected, we will be far better off for having him or her as a leader than having someone who is willing to betray our principles for the sake of political gain in the White House. We have already been there and done that, Senator Bayh; it's time for new wine and new wineskins.

Nathan Nelson

August 05, 2005

Evan, Bye

I am coming out early (and often) in opposition to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) as the Democratic presidential candidate for 2008. Why, you might ask? Because Sen. Bayh is "Republican lite," another Bill Clinton or John Kerry in the making. He is exactly what the Democrats don't need in 2008, and he is exactly what the American people don't want in 2008. If we're going to elect Sen. Bayh, we might as well elect a Republican.

Why do I say that? Well, first there is the fact that Sen. Bayh helped the likely Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), kill the Peace Corps by passing an amendment inside a defense budget bill (because, I might add, it stalled as a separate bill). What the amendment does is allow military women and men to serve part of their military time in either AmeriCorps (the national service organization) or the Peace Corps. Since its inception in 1961, the Peace Corps has actively resisted any affiliation with the U.S. military on the grounds that it would seriously erode the credibility of the Peace Corps if people internationally believe that it is affiliated with our military. Thanks to Sen. McCain and Sen. Bayh, who did not consult the Peace Corps before introducing the amendment into the defense budget bill, the Peace Corps is now being forced to affiliate with the military. In case Sen. Bayh forgot, the Democratic Party doesn't force affiliation with the military -- that's what Republicans do.

Second, Sen. Bayh said on Thursday that Democrats need to convince Americans that they are willing to use force when necessary. In saying this, he did not note that Democrats already have strong and contrasting positions on national security but a terrible image problem, nor did he note that the Republican approach and use of force has hurt our national security. In other words, what Sen. Bayh did was lend credence to the Republicans who say that Democrats and liberals in general are weak on national security, and he also implied that Democrats need to be more like the Republicans on national security and the use of force if they're going to succeed with the American people. I find that to be a false notion; in fact, all signs point to the fact that being like the Republicans on the use of force, i.e., supporting Iraq, will be incredibly unpopular with the American people. It's time to get out of Iraq, and that's the unambiguous message that the Left needs to be sending. No more voting for the war, voting against it, voting for it -- just against it. Period. Exclamation point!

The picture I've chosen to include with this post is the reason that we don't want Sen. Bayh as the Democratic presidential candidate. We don't need someone else who's going to keep us in Iraq indefinitely just because he has a D instead of an R after his name. We need someone in the White House who's going to get us out of Iraq. Not later, but now. We don't need "Republican lite" in the White House; if we're going to have that, everyone might as well just vote Republican.

(Shout out to Air America's Rachel Maddow Show for much of this information).

Not Christ's way

War is now, always has been, and always will be bad, bad news. I was there. I saw real war. Those who have seen real war will bear me out. I assure you, it is not of Christ. It is not Christ’s way. There is no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus. There is no way to train people for real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.

The morality of the balance of terrorism is a morality that Christ never taught. The ethics of mass butchery cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus. In Just War ethics, Jesus Christ, who is supposed to be all in the Christian life, is irrelevant. He might as well never have existed. In Just War ethics, no appeal is made to him or his teaching, because no appeal can be made to him or his teaching, for neither he nor his teaching gives standards for Christians to follow in order to determine what level of slaughter is acceptable.

So the world is watching today. Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what the world needs from the church, although it is what the world has come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter. He or she must love as Christ loved, live as Christ lived and, if necessary, die as Christ died, loving ones enemies.

From a speech given on the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima by Geoge Zabelka, the priest and Air Force chaplain who blessed the pilots who dropped the bomb. He later repented and embraced non-violence as the true Christian response to war. You can read his full speech here.

August 04, 2005

Roberts Watch: Commerce, Guantanamo, Gay Rights

Here at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, I think we have all been trying to give Judge John Roberts, President Bush's nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a fair hearing. Making a rare move, I've decided to withhold judgement instead of coming out with guns blazing against the nomination. My reason for this is a prudential judgement on my part that perhaps Roberts is not the extremist conservative that both conservative and liberal interest groups are depicting him to be, and I think it's important for us to wait for the Senate confirmation hearing before passing any kind of judgement either for or against him.

While we wait for the Senate confirmation hearing, though, I think it's important to keep an eye on what the media is (or isn't) saying about him. Right now there's some interesting news in the St. Petersburg Times about his view of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, some interesting news in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (yes, Australian -- we're international, baby!) relating to a decision he made regarding Guantanamo Bay as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and some interesting news in the Los Angeles Times about some pro-bono work that Roberts did on a gay rights case. The former two stories I discovered via Air America Radio's highly informative Rachel Maddow Show, and the latter story I discovered via the Boi from Troy blog. Thanks for that, guys!

Okay, first up is the Commerce Clause. And this is not particularly good news. Apparently, Roberts takes a very narrow view of the Commerce Clause. Rachel Maddow has told her listeners to forget it when they hear "narrow view of the Commerce Clause," and instead hear: "He's trying to kill the government." There's something to be said for that. The Commerce Clause has often been called "the everything clause" of the U.S. Constitution, because it is the basis for much of the federal government's current regulatory policies. It was initially designed by the American founders to allow the federal government to regulate interstate commerce for the purpose of both free and fair trade among the states, but a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause by the Supreme Court beginning about a hundred years ago has allowed the federal government to interpret the Commerce Clause so broadly that it allows them to regulate everything from civil rights to environmental protections, even if the regulations or protections in question only involve one state.

It seems to be the case that Judge Roberts takes an extremely narrow view of the Commerce Clause, which means that he would be likely to oppose most federal regulations, especially if they are based on the Commerce Clause (and most of them are). This has its ups and downs for liberals as well as conservatives, but the fact of the matter is that overturning precedent related to the Commerce Clause will overturn over a hundred years of federal regulation, which could turn the country on its head. This will affect all Americans, not just liberals -- even well-meaning conservatives will be adversely affected, and corporate big business would get the best fruits of a narrow view of the Commerce Clause while everyday Americans would get the short end of the stick. Thus, it is not a good thing that Judge Roberts takes a narrow view of the Commerce Clause. It lends credence to the belief that he has a libertarian/originalist judicial philosophy like that of Scalia or Thomas, and that's precisely what liberals don't want.

Let's travel now to Guantanamo Bay, where three federal prosecutors are asking to be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay because they say that the trials there are rigged. Let's bear in mind that this is not the ACLU, this is not even defense attorneys, this is the federal prosecution saying that these trials are rigged. In fact, a federal judge also found fault with these trials last November and blocked them. Unfortunately, they are now going to begin again within the next few weeks, and this is where Judge Roberts comes in. Because Judge Roberts (and two other judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals) decided last month that these trials look okay, overturned the lower court's ruling, and allowed the trials to proceed. Now, this is not to say that Judge Roberts intentionally decided to allow rigged trials to go ahead -- that would be saying too much. But it is to say that a federal judge believed there was a problem, and Roberts overturned that ruling. It now appears that he was very wrong, since federal prosecutors are in fact saying that the trials at Guantanamo Bay are rigged. Catholics must look at this very closely, because what's going on at Guantanamo Bay either borders on or actually is a non-negotiable issue for Catholics, because what's going on at Guantanamo Bay may be torture and a complete lack of due process. We don't want a Supreme Court justice who will allow either of those things.

I would also mention that this aspect of Judge Roberts' story lends credence to the belief held by some that the reason the Bush administration is appointing him has nothing to do with abortion and everything to do with the likelihood that he will rule to uphold unpopular and possibly unconstitutional policies created by the Bush administration, such as the policies related to Guantanamo Bay or the Patriot Act.

Finally, there's a story in the Los Angeles Times reporting that John Roberts did pro-bono work on a gay rights case. Most liberals would assume that Roberts worked against the gay rights activists, but au contraire. In actuality, Roberts did pro-bono work for the gay rights activists. What's more, this case led to the 1996 Supreme Court decision Romer v. Evans, a landmark decision that overturned a 1992 initiative in Colorado that allowed employers and landlords to exclude people from jobs and housing based on their sexual orientation. It is widely acknowledged by the gay rights movement as a landmark victory, which set a Supreme Court precedent in favor of legal protection based on sexual orientation. Now, some conservatives have noted that Roberts was an attorney at the time and that his work here cannot be misconstrued as his personal views. That's true, but the fact that this was pro-bono work does lead one to believe that this was more than just a case of an attorney taking a client's case. It's one thing to take a paid case for gay rights activists, it's quite another to do pro-bono work for them. This lends credence to the minority belief that Roberts may be a conservative like Justice O'Connor or Justice David Souter, a traditionalist/pragmatic conservative who respects the Supreme Court's judicial precedent and who believes that the court must work practically in our times despite the original intent of the founders.

It must also be pointed out that the three dissenting opinions in Romer v. Evans were Justice Rehnquist, Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas -- all of whom conservatives hope and liberals believe that Roberts is modeled after, but all of whom were on the side opposing Roberts on this issue. This does, then, lend credence to the minority belief that Judge Roberts will not be a Supreme Court justice quite like Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas, even if he is a bit more conservative than O'Connor and Souter.

In summary, I am very concerned about Judge Roberts' view of the Commerce Clause, because a narrow view of the Commerce Clause by a majority on the Supreme Court could turn the entire country on its head. The Commerce Clause may in fact be the most important issue in this nomination, but it's also the one you'll hear the least about. Why? First, it's not politically sexy. Second, both Republicans and Democrats are owned by corporate power, and corporate power doesn't like a broad view of the Commerce Clause -- so you're not likely to hear any great number of Democrats, and certainly not any Republicans, grilling Roberts about his view of the Commerce Clause. I am also quite concerned about his judicial position regarding Guantanamo Bay, and I'm wondering if it's a sign that he will uphold other Bush security policies that I view as an unconstitutional infringement upon civil liberties and a violation against human rights. I'm cautiously optimistic about his pro-bono work in Romer v. Evans, but I'm hesitant to read too much into it at this time.

And so I am basically where I started: I don't oppose his nomination, but I don't support it either. I can't stress enough the importance of the Senate confirmation hearings. I can't stress enough how important it is that he get a fair and full hearing in which all questions are put on the table and then candidly answered, and I can't stress enough how important it is that the White House turn over all requested and relevant documents that relate to his career. The fact that his position on so many things is so ambiguous makes the Senate confirmation hearings all the more important, because he is without question a stealth nominee. The only question is whether he's a stealth nominee designed to get in under liberal radars, conservative radars, or possibly both.