Franciscans on Moral Discernment in an Election Season

In the middle of this crazy election season, I’ve appreciated the thoughtful leadership of the Franciscans in how to approach difficult decisions.

The Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate is presenting short pieces to help introduce particularly Franciscan and Catholic approaches to the decision-making process. Here’s an excerpt from their first installment. I urge you to read the whole article:

In the election sphere today, there is often an attempt to link our Catholic faith squarely with one political party. Although most religious leaders assert that our faith is not adequately represented or served by the platform of any particular political group, some, overtly or tacitly, strain to demonstrate how one party is the only morally acceptable choice. Such effort is wasted. The world is a morally complex and ambiguous place, especially when it comes to political decisions.

Taking a wider view as Catholics inspired by the Franciscan path of following Jesus, how can we approach the elections? Is there a political party or candidate for whom it would be morally unacceptable to vote? Does our faith compel us to pull a particular lever in the ballot box? If not, is it all just relativism?

The problem is not the clarity of our moral foundations; these are clear. The challenge comes from the complexity of our globalized world, the pluralistic society that is our nation, and the limitations of our fallen, yet still blessed, human condition. While our faith tradition offers us principles by which to live in a complex world, they don’t translate into a litmus test for choosing between candidates. Rather, our faith invites us to engage in moral reasoning—weighing the pressing issues of our day in the light of our tradition. While this is a process that often yields no categorical answers, it does provide us a method of discernment to guide us through troubling ambiguity as we make our decisions.

Our Franciscan tradition offers us a framework of five interconnected parameters that can guide our discernment: care for creation, consistent ethic of life, preferential option for the poor, peacemaking and the common good. …

Read the rest of “Franciscans are not ‘party animals'” (Part 1).

Leslie Fields: Obama Honors Cesar Chavez

Obama-at-Chavez-dedication
Official White House photo by Pete Souza

By Leslie Fields, Sierra Club

On October 8, on a gorgeous early autumn day in the oak-dappled foothills of California’s Tehachapi Mountains, President Obama formally designated the César E. Chávez National Monument. The designation is the fourth of Obama’s presidency, but the first-ever national monument dedicated to a Latino.

Below, the president with Helen Chávez at her late husband’s gravesite at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or La Paz, in the town of Keene, California, site of the new national monument.

Obama-with-Helen-Chavez
Official White House photo by Pete Souza

“César Chávez was a true labor and environmental champion whose work helped result in the passage of landmark laws that protect our air, water, land, and—most important—people,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “His work helped link people’s health and the environment, and his fight for environmental justice is one that the Sierra Club remains committed to today.” …

Read the rest of  Monument to a National Treasure by Leslie Fields.

South African Ambassador: Where’s the Climate Change Debate at Party Conventions?

This morning Amy Goodman conducted an excellent and informative interview with South African ambassador Ebrahim Rasool at the Democratic National Convention.

I traveled with Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool in 2011 on a civil rights tour of Alabama. He is a delightful and thoughtful man who spent time in a South African prison with Nelson Mandela. Rasool is a committed disciple of nonviolence, a member of the ANC, a Muslim, and currently South Africa’s ambassador to the United States.

Here’s an excerpt from Goodman’s interview regarding Obama and climate change:

AMY GOODMAN: We were just in Durban, South Africa, for the climate change conference. There is a group of donors to the Democratic Party that are now raising deep concerns that President Obama has not raised the issue of climate change in this convention through the various speakers. What about that? You’ve been observing this election, and you’ve been—you’ve been observing this convention, and you’ve been—of course, South Africa, just as the United States, is deeply affected by climate change.

AMBASSADOR EBRAHIM RASOOL: I think that that’s precisely the reason why someone like myself, representing a country like South Africa, can’t give any party a blank check. I think that there are global issues which are being subsumed by certain narrow discussions within the U.S., namely the desire to elect a president, that there is not the requisite leadership to say we need to make sure that the world is a better place, that it is a world that is freer of carbons than before. And what is amazing is that Tampa was threatened by a hurricane, that there are floods, there are fires, there are droughts, there are enorm—heat waves through the United States, and yet the elephant in the room is not being addressed. And that’s the shortcoming of conventions. If this had been an ANC convention in South Africa, it would have been rough. It would have been a rough policy debate. It would have been a rough electoral contest. But we expect that the U.S. is different, but it can be substantially out of step with the world. And so, part of what my job is, while South Africa is the president of COP17, it is to bring greater awareness to the challenges of climate, to the global warming situation, and to be able to assist in ways in which the United States can begin to face up to that debate.

Read or watch the whole interview.

The Perversion of Obama’s ‘Kill List’

President Obama’s drone policy and his assassination “kill list” not only infringe on the sovereignty of other countries but the assassinations violate laws put in place in the 1970s after scandals enveloped an earlier era of CIA criminality. What’s more, by allowing the executive branch to circumvent judicial review, the kill list makes a mockery of due process for terror suspects, even U.S. citizens—in clear violation of the Constitution.

Send a protest to President Obama telling him you want him to ground lethal drones and end the “kill list” policy.

Here’s an excerpt from the column I wrote for the May issue of Sojourners related to this topic:

AS THE HUMAN soul matures, we are confronted with moments that force us to let go of yet another thin veil of self-delusion. The “right road,” the moral high ground, sinks into a thicket of gray.

Two examples from this Lent: An American Army staff sergeant, with four deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and probable concussive brain trauma, allegedly pulls 16 unarmed Afghan civilians, including nine children, out of their beds in the middle of the night and shoots them. The thin cloth of protection that allows us to believe “if we weren’t there things would be worse” slips to the ground.

The U.S. attorney general explains in a logical manner why it is legal and lawful in some circumstances for a U.S. president to order the “targeted killing” of an American citizen. These deaths shouldn’t be called “assassinations,” the attorney general says, because assassinations are “unlawful killing” and, if the president approves it, then it’s not “unlawful.” More veils fall—“a person is innocent until proven guilty”; “intelligent people will make morally right decisions.” Our soul runs terror-stricken into the dark woods; our complicity with evil simply too much to bear.

THOMAS MERTON describes these moments as encounters with the Unspeakable. “It is the emptiness of ‘the end,’” Merton writes. “Not necessarily the end of the world, but a theological point of no return, a climax of absolute finality in refusal, in equivocation, in disorder, in absurdity …” In the face of the Unspeakable, our nakedness is complete. All meaning is stripped away. Our carefully collected coverings lie in a heap. We are running into a silent, disorienting night. …–Rose Marie Berger, read more here

Read Secret ‘Kill List’ Tests Obama’s Principles and Will
Read Obama’s Kill List: Silence is not an option.

Send a protest to President Obama telling him you want him to ground lethal drones and end the “kill list” policy.

Eric Holder And The Targeted Killing of Americans

11 June 1963: Vivian Malone entering Foster Auditorium to register for classes at the University of Alabama. Vivian Malone, one of the first African Americans to attend the university, walks through a crowd that includes photographers, National Guard members, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.

Recently, I listened to the 5 March 2012 speech by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in which he defend the targeted killing of U.S. citizens at the sole discretion of the president of the United States.

It sounded to me like the death knell of the great democratic experiment. If citizenship doesn’t convey the right to protection by the State balanced with just due legal process to address criminality, then citizenship really doesn’t mean much. And when one can be put on a “death squad list” without ever having a chance to be judged by a jury of one’s peers (not members of the NSA, CIA, etc), then The great Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the U.S. Bill of Rights–two cornerstones of modern, liberal, rights-based democracies–have been tossed in the shredder.

I believe Eric Holder is a “good man.” I think he understands the very real consequences of inhumane laws through the life story of his sister-in-law Vivian Malone Jones, who along with James Hood, stood a “the schoolhouse door” while Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocked their entrance to the University of Alabama. Wallace was defending “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” The courageous stand by Jones and Hood led to the integration of the University of Alabama.

In Holder’s speech before Northwestern University’s law school yesterday he said, “Some have called such operations “assassinations.”   They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced.   Assassinations are unlawful killings.   Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.”

As Thomas Merton reminded us in Raids On the Unspeakable,

“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will he suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot.”

Richard Rohr also explores this issue of the “good man’s” capacity for unspeakable evil in his book Things Hidden. Rohr writes:

“The ego is that part of the self that wants to be significant, central, and important. It is very self-protective by its very nature. It must eliminate the negative to succeed. (Jesus would call it the “actor” in Matthew 23, usually translated from the Greek as “hypocrite”.)

The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, that we’re afraid of and we don’t want others to see either. If our “actor” is well-defended and in denial, the shadow is always hated and projected elsewhere (we tend to hate our own faults in OTHER people!). One point here is crucial: The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without recognizing it as evil! That is why Jesus criticizes hypocrisy more than anything else. He does not hate sinners at all, but only people who pretend they are not sinners!

Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as the “splinter in your brother’s eye.” Jesus’ advice is absolutely perfect. “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).”

The American body politic has long denied the “plank in our own eye.” And so we inexorably become more and more like those we deplore. The rarefied air of the White House and Justice Department is a super-food for the ego and slowly strangles self-reflection, self-doubt, or anything that might lead to embracing one’s shadow side. And, truth be told, even if one did find space to embrace the shadow, the system is so deeply entrenched that it would brook no opposition.–Rose Marie Berger

Van Jones: The Problem of Confusing ‘The Movement’ With ‘The State’

Van Jones is cofounder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change, and Green for All and a former adviser to President Obama on “green economy.” His new book, Rebuild the Dream, examines what the movement for social transformation needs to learn from the Obama campaign and his presidency.

Jones lays out the issues with the complexity that they deserve but also makes it clear why it is important for “the movement” to not confuse itself with “the State.” It’s a lesson the Jesus Movement also needs to continually reckon with. Here’s an excerpt:

In America, change comes when we have two kinds of leaders, not just one. We need a president who is willing to be pushed into doing the right thing, and we need independent leaders and movements that are willing to do the pushing. For a few years, Obama’s supporters expected the president to act like a movement leader, rather than a head of state.

The confusion was understandable: As a candidate, Obama performed many of the functions of a movement leader. He gave inspiring speeches, held massive rallies, and stirred our hearts. But when he became president, he could no longer play that role.

The expectation that he would or could arose from a fundamental misreading of U.S. history. After all, as head of state, President Lyndon Johnson did not lead the civil rights movement. That was the job of independent movement leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, and Fannie Lou Hamer. There were moments of conflict and cooperation between Johnson and leaders in the freedom struggle, but the alchemy of political power and people power is what resulted in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As head of state, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not lead the labor movement. That was the job of independent union leaders. Again, the alchemy of political power and people power resulted in the New Deal. As head of state, Woodrow Wilson did not lead the fight to enfranchise women. That was the role of independent movement leaders, such as suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells. The alchemy of political power and people power resulted in women’s right to vote. As head of state, Abraham Lincoln did not lead the abolitionists. That was the job of independent movement leaders Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman. The alchemy of political power and people power resulted in the emancipation of enslaved Africans. As head of state, Richard Nixon did not lead the environmental movement. That was the job of various environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, and other leaders, like those whom writer Rachel Carson inspired. Once again it was the alchemy of political power and people power that resulted in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The biggest reason for our frustrations and failures is that we have not yet understood that both of these are necessary-and they are distinct. We already have our head of state who arguably is willing to be pushed. We do not yet have a strong enough independent movement to do the pushing.–Van Jones, excerpted from Rebuild the Dream

Read a longer excerpt here.

Douglas Kmiec on Birth Control, Bishops, Religious Liberty, and ‘Obamacare’

All this hoopla from the Catholic Bishops Conference on birth control, and from the Vatican on religious liberty, and from everybody on “Obamacare” can leave one wanting to ignore the papers, radio, and TV and just bury one’s head in the sand. But, in the end, all that really gets you is a sandy head and grit in your lashes.

If you’ve got 15 minutes to read and think (and I ask that seriously because most of us don’t), then I’d commend to you Douglas Kmiec’s essay War No More … Or, At Least, Peace With Obama published this week in the National Catholic Reporter.

Kmiec, a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine, carefully thinks through the forces surrounding the contraceptive debate, health care, religious liberty, the Supreme Court deliberations, Obama and the Catholic bishops, and frames them with American jurisprudence and Catholic moral teaching. It’s worth reading the whole thing. But here’s an excerpt to get you started:

When the president chose to not grant an exemption from the mandate that employer-provided insurance should include contraceptive coverage, some bishops called the decision an act of war on the church and religious freedom.

With due respect, I believe this overstated matters considerably. This is especially so, since the president responded promptly to begin discussions on how the ethical concerns of the church might be met more satisfactorily. In particular, the president proposed that no Catholic employer would be directly asked to supply contraceptive coverage; instead, that coverage would be provided by the employer’s insurance company.

To a good many theologians, this worked well enough to avoid formal cooperation with evil, but left unanswered how the problem could be avoided where a Catholic employer did not use a third-party insurer, but was self-insured. Discussions continue, with some now suggesting that it might be possible to create a public entity by implementing regulation to offer the contraceptive benefit in this self-insured context in a way that similarly separates a Catholic employer. Continue reading “Douglas Kmiec on Birth Control, Bishops, Religious Liberty, and ‘Obamacare’”

Video: Bill Moyers on Victory in Stopping Keystone XL Pipeline

Thanks Bill Moyers and Bill Maher!

[Note: Bill Maher describes the Keystone XL pipeline as bringing “natural gas” from Canada to the United States. This is wrong. It was intended to bring a non-traditional heavy crude extracted from the tar sands in Alberta — a process that releases 3 times more greenhouse gases into the environment than even traditional crude oil.]

The Osawatomie Speech: Obama and Roosevelt

President Obama is slowly swinging back toward his base as he moves toward a reelection campaign. Yesterday, he gave an important and revealing speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Building on Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism language from Roosevelt’s 1910 Osawatomie speech, Obama lays the framework for reprising his platform of populist economics.

But Obama is not yet Roosevelt. “We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community,” Roosevelt said in his speech. “We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.” For Obama to get to that level, he needs to ask Elizabeth Warren to write his speeches and run as his 2012 vice presidential candidate.

Here are some highlights from Obama’s speech this week:

… Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes – especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.

Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory. …

We simply cannot return to this brand of “you’re on your own” economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future. We know it doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citisens.
Continue reading “The Osawatomie Speech: Obama and Roosevelt”

Breaking News: Western Canada Tar Sand Pipeline Decision Delayed Until Late 2013

Sliammon First Nation member Ta'kaiya Blaney at pipeline hearing (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

While citizens across the United States have been demanding President Obama deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadians and First Nations folks have been organizing as well.

One question I’ve been asked repeatedly during the Tar Sands organizing is: “If we stop the mining and oil company from building a pipeline from Alberta to Texas, won’t they just a build one from Alberta to the Pacific and ship the oil to China?”

The companies were only too happy to have us buy their logic. But the truth was that our job in the U.S. was to keep the pipeline out of our backyard, and trust that the Canadian movement would do the same. Well, it turns out they have. First Nations folks pledged to block construction with their bodies and widespread public concern has forced the Harper government to review environmental concerns.

Thanks to Brendan DeMelle at DeSmogBlog for his summary:

The Calgary Herald reports that the decision on the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline was delayed today until late 2013, a year later than planned. The three-member panel said it “would anticipate releasing the environmental assessment report in the fall of 2013 and its final decision on the project around the end of 2013.”

The joint review panel of Environment Canada and the National Energy Board announced that it will take the additional year to review the widespread public concern over the proposed pipeline, which would cut through First Nations lands in order to shuttle the dirtiest oil on the planet, Alberta tar sands, to Asian export markets.

The delay is not a good sign for Enbridge or KinderMorgan, the two major tar sands pipeline interests hoping to enable the export of Alberta’s climate-killing product overseas. As we learned last week, the oil industry will face a powerful adversary since BC’s First Nations pledged, as a united front, to halt construction and prevent the proposed pipelines from crossing their territory.

Marking their commitment against the pipeline projects, 55 First Nations leaders from across BC signed the Save the Fraser Declaration.  “These First Nations form an unbroken wall of opposition from the U.S. border to the Arctic Ocean,” said the group in a statement.

In response to the firm commitment of First Nations leaders, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said today that Northern Gateway “shouldn’t be held hostage by aboriginal and environmental groups threatening to create a human “wall” to prevent construction,”according to the National Post article, “Oil industry’s ‘nation-building’ pipeline won’t be stopped by protesters.

“The joint review panel will begin community hearings in Kitimat, B.C., on Jan. 10 to hear from both sides on this contentious issue.  The hearings are sure to attract a lot of attention, and chances are pretty good that much of it will not be favorable to Enbridge or any other proposed tar sands pipeline.

In the wake of the delay and likely demise of the Keystone XL pipeline, all indications point to a difficult, and perhaps insurmountable, challenge ahead for any tar sands pipeline construction. …

Canadians have been very active in supporting the U.S. fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. Now it’s time for us to return the favor. If you can get to any of the community review hearings to support organizers there, please back up your kit bag and go!

Read Brendan’s complete article.